Sunday, March 17, 2019

Tunnel (A Short Story)



                                                                                                                                                Photo credit: Spacing Magazine

My phone is busted. I downloaded, or I'm least sure, I downloaded Money by Cardi B, but it doesn't show up on the playlist I called Artificial Intelligensia. I like making playlists, so don't tell me to just Spotify it all. I get to be the DJ this way, tailoring my own personal atmosphere and my self-artistic expression and moving all the people I visualize. It takes talent to curate music this way, letting one song flow into another, the waves sometimes smooth, other times choppy. I have to fall into a space that's infinite and notate the algorithms that stream through my mind.

My dad says I didn't create the music, so it's not my artistic expression, I'm just a disc jockey, as he calls it. What does he know? I mean, really, what does he know? It's because of him that I go to therapy. My mom says I should do it for myself. but really, he's the reason I haul my butt on the TTC and head up to Forest Hill. Mom says I can't see a therapist in the Kingsway because that's where dad's therapist is. What is she afraid of -- that we'll be outed in the neighbourhood for being that family who goes to therapy in the building on the corner of Bloor and who gives a rat's behind? Right, as if. Nobody cares, least of all me.

Great. My Presto Card isn't working. I put money on it, but the gate declines my card. When I look at the fare collector's booth, the TTC employee, a young brown guy wearing a toque, is looking down at something, maybe the counter. I go over to the booth and speak into the speaking area and I say "My card isn't working and I just put money on it and I don't have anymore money to put on it". I see the TTC guy is looking at his phone, which is cool with me, hey I'm not a narc. He looks up at me with tired, droopy eyes, like he just got bad news that's sinking in. He acknowledges my presence, as my dad would say, and waves me through, like this is an everyday occurrence.

The tiles at Royal York remind me of the bathrooms in the two houses my parents bought in High Park. Whoever thought pinky-orangey tiles on the walls in a bathroom were chic should be shot. The designer must have been taking tranqs. She probably looked at the  little pinky-orangey pills in her sweaty palm, raised her heavy-lidded eyes to the blank wall in front of her and thought, yeah, pinky-organey tiles for everyone. The houses have been gutted anyway, their desperate little bathrooms demolished. Goodbye doleful, crying tiles. Hey. Maybe that's where the term weeping tiles comes from.

I never have much to say to Dr. Cohen, if she is a doctor at all. I like calling her doctor, even though she wants me to call her Ruth. When she wants me to talk or express my feelings, I play her God's Plan by Drake, because he says it all. Wishin and wishin and wishin and wishin. As in, my dad is wishin I'll enrol in STEM, but he knows I'm hostile to science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Hey, at least I know what that acronym means, dad, I say, that makes me smart right there. I could be good at it, but I don't want to be, because it feels like I'm lost in formulas as it stands. My mom will say 'why can't you be more like your brother Eric.' Well, because I'm not a business scumbag who'll end up like dad. She hit me once, my mom did. A little smack on my arm. I didn't speak to her for days. She kept texting me to come downstairs for dinner, trying to lure me with sushi and Uncle Testu cheesecake. She deserved a lesson. Hope that put the fear of Child Family Services in her.

Passing Ossington makes me breathe a little faster. Same tiles, different colours though. Some committee in the dark ages thought ripping off the London tube would elevate our public transit and stamp Toronto as worthy. Who has the last laugh now? Developers like my dad. The world became a dart board and Toronto a bullseye. Throw your money at this sleepy little backwater folks, the people will just say thank you and sorry. I'm only 16 and I feel 66 most days.

A woman is shuffling from passenger to passenger in the subway car, asking for a loonie, toonie, fiver. There's inflation for you. I'm only in the last half of my teenaged years and I remember when people asked for a quarter. I crank up the tunes on my phone and close my eyes. I imagine giving this woman a wad of bills. Because that's God's plan, according to Drake. I can feel her hovering over me now, I can smell sourness, wet wool and piss. Even with my earbuds in I can hear her say to me "loonie, toonie, fiver". Behind my eyelids, I picture me putting my arm around her neck and her screaming with surprise and joy. I wave a handful of hundred dollar bills over her head and then let them go, raining down on her like manna. She  kisses me on the cheek again and again. I can feel the loonie, twoonie fiver lady's scarf grazing my forehead. I hold my breath and bless her from behind my eyelids as she moves on, begging her way down the subway car until she gets off at Bathurst.

I'm wishin wishin wishin my parents were fire-breathing Catholics, like my friend Anika's parents. Her parents make her go to church and care about who she hangs out with and they won't let her date, which she does anyway behind their backs. But they don't let her, is the point. My parents would typically "understand" and show their "support" if I wanted to bring home someone. I wishin wishin they worshipped something other than the Bank of Bland. I'll make them understand me someday. 

For now, when I go into our tastefully recessed can-lit basement slash living space and see my dad binge-watching Netflix, headphones on, ensconced in his fat chair, hand wrapped around his drink, I won't take it personally. But OMG he binge-watches The Crown, for Drizzy's sake. One night when I went downstairs and pretended to look for a toy in our old toy box (as if that wouldn't tip him off) I glimpsed his face as the blue light from the tv flickered on him. His eyes were shining and tears were pooling in the bags under his eyes. I shot a glance at the TV. Queen Elizabeth was talking to a lady-in-waiting, as far as I could tell. I looked back at my dad. He blinked and had a sip of his drink. I pulled out some fucking old teddy bear piece of shit from the toy box and rang its neck. I know not to talk to my dad when he's like that, but I wanted to so badly. I wanted to say, dad, I know where you hide your stash and this is only a tv show and I'm sorry Aaron died of an overdose and I miss my brother as much as you miss your son, but, fuck, I'm here. Right here. Don't disintegrate on me.  But instead I start listening to Drake because at least I'm in forward motion when I listen to music. I don't look back.

I'm walking straight ahead now, because I transferred at Spadina to go northbound to St. Clair West. And I'm walking down the pedestrian tunnel. I could get off at St. George to have better odds of getting a seat, but I love this tunnel. It's like the hallways at Havergal (Haver-gul), which I can't believe hasn't kicked me out yet. I go straight ahead when I walk those hallways where I pace up and down with my earbuds in, ignoring everything around me, my friends, the teachers, the other kids. It brings me comfort to look ahead and ignore my peripheral vision. Too many doors to open and voices that may scream.

There's something I hear right now though. something high and wobbly outside my phone, which keeps fucking up because the 4G keeps dropping out so I have no data to keep Drake going. The sound is coming from the middle of the tunnel, from someone sitting on a stool, I think. A person in a  white coat drops something by the person on the stool. I squint to see them better because my vision is blurry. I can see my phone just fine, but distances are becoming a problem. This phone is becoming a problem. I stuff it in my coat pocket and take my earbuds out.

The air is cool, and the high wobbly sound grows and stretches. People hurry past me, their footsteps echoing. I'm getting closer to the person on the stool. It's an old man sitting and playing a musical instrument of sorts. The sound it produces is weird, like a warped violin. It makes me slow down because it sounds like a wail. The old man is Asian and he's fingering the long-necked instrument while running a bow along a couple of strings. He plays a note and it hangs over my head like one long cry. Its weirdness stops me. For like a minute I can't move. What is this thing he's playing? I'm by the instrument case he has open for donations. Suddenly the music gets very quiet and still. He leans forward and closes his eyes and lifts his head. His hand and arm is working the bow quickly, the bow hovering over the two strings creating a sublime tension. Then he swoops into the strings with the bow, making sounds that hurt my heart. The notes mourn and wobble and lift and my ears blush. In a burst with my eyes open I see a snow-covered mountaintop and an emerald lake and my brother Aaron dipping a cup into a stream and having a drink of water.  The old guy keeps his eyes closed and he's smiling a bit. He's right in front of me and I'm listening. He knows I'm listening. We're both listening.

I think I'm crying. I dig the palm of my hand onto my right eye socket and it's wet. I cough on the sigh in my throat.

I'm going to be late for my therapist appointment. I clutch for my phone and pop my earbuds in. There's a few coins in his case and, feeling sorry for him, I dig in my purse, find a loonie, drop it in and continue straight ahead. My face is red hot. Why do I feel sorry for myself? I hear the northbound train below and I start rushing down the escalator with the others to catch it.

What a strange instrument. Should I tell Dr. Cohen what it did to me? Maybe I can learn it, if someone teaches me.

Monday, December 17, 2018

NO CHICKEN




            An announcement finally came.
            "Can I have your attention, please. I don't know what to say, so I'll just say it. There's no more chicken."
            A baby shrieked, as if on cue.
            Customers sitting at tables craned their necks to look at the plump, middle-aged woman standing behind them offering the apology. She had snuck over while families and friends at the restaurant fidgeted with their utensils, sitting stony-faced and impatient, some attempting to comfort their small children.
            "There is chicken pot pie and wings though," she said.
            "What wings?" I asked. "The wings of chickens?"
            "Yes, chicken wings."
            "So there is more chicken, in wing form and in pie?"
            "In a way."
            Customers grumbled and shrugged at each other. Tables and booths of patrons got up to leave. The manager shrugged too.
            "I don't know what to say."
            Nobody had died, I thought. Nobody was just diagnosed with cancer. Those are the tough situations where consoling words, the words 'I don't know what to say' evaporate. This situation existed on an absurd plane, up there with a dog chasing its tail and Doug Ford as Premier of Ontario. Any explanation would suffice.
            "There's a Metro grocery store across the parking lot," Julie said to me. "Do you wanna just buy a chicken and bring it back?"
            Christmastime with the Schapman family always holds some adventure, whether that be shooting off forty rounds of ammo from a semi-automatic at the neighbourhood firing range, or laying down a concrete floor just for fun.  Paul Schapman had come all the way from Virginia hankering for some Swiss Chalet rotisserie chicken. Visiting relations was an add-on for him. I've noticed that Canadians who move down to the States have a ardent nostalgia for Swiss Chalet. St. Hubert, I could understand, but the Swiss Chalet fandom I find unwarranted. And now, in the festive gloom of an empty restaurant devoid of chicken, five hungry adults had to make a decision.
            "Let's order wings," said Paul. "And the pie."
            The Schapman sisters, Julie and Linda, began punching each other to pass the time. The smack of fist to humerus reverberated through the abandoned dining room. I was wise not to sit in between the sisters. I have made that mistake before, many, many times.
            Two teenaged servers made their way to our table, heads lowered.
            "I have some bad news," said the more senior of the two, "there is no pastry on top of the chicken pot pie."
            "So ... it's ... stew, then," I said.
            "No, it's still pie,"  the other one asserted.
            I didn't know whether to laugh or flip the table over. I was famished but now wary of eating anything coming out of that kitchen. Images of microscopic salmonella bacteria multiplying flashed in my mind's eye.
            "Do you have any crackers?"
            The servers scurried away and returned with armfuls of crackers, depositing them in a pile on our table. I tore into the individually wrapped saltines while the Schapman sisters drank wine and Paul explained to me the nature of his IT work in Virginia. I nodded, pretending to know what he was talking about. Stomach growling, light-headed, stone cold sober, I took in my childhood friends, the family that welcomed me as one of its own. So many years spent with this rowdy, loyal, industrious clan, so many years of being accepted for the mass of contradictions I am. It never failed -- the Schapmans always made me feel better. And on this night during the festive season, at an empty Swiss Chalet that had no chicken in Guelph, Ontario, only they could make the best out of a bizarre situation.
            The wings arrived eventually, dripping in some sort of sauce. Paul chowed down and the sisters picked at the offerings. I abstained and finished off the crackers. We called over the manager.
            "Rough night for you, eh?"
            "What can I do? The chicken ran out."
            "One chicken, or all of them?"
            She thought for a second and then smiled. "Oh. Now I get it. Now I get it!"
            "Any Lindor chocolates to go with our festive meal?" I asked hopefully.
            Her expression dropped. "I don't know what to say, but --

            Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from Cbennettworld.
           








Monday, November 12, 2018

A Garbage Bag Full of Memories



Photo: IndiaMART
I swore I would try my best to leave as little trace of me as possible when I kick off. When my aunt died two years ago, I was tasked with clearing out her house and putting it on the market.  She left the place as if she was going out to the corner store to pick up milk.  The day the paramedics took her to the hospital for the last time she had been reading that month's issue of MacLean's. She had no intention of dying and was obstinate in the face of death. She still had things to do. Attend the ballet. Go out for dinner.  Read the December issue of Maclean's.  But death has a way of sneaking up on us when we least expect it, or rather, when we choose to ignore it.  So as an executor of my aunt's estate, I was faced with the gargantuan duty of emptying out a four bedroom house.  After this emotionally and physically draining ordeal, I vowed to clean up my act, as it were.

     And who would tidy up after my carcass anyway? A far flung niece or nephew? An elderly sibling? Guys in Hazmat suits? I've decided to make it easy on the poor sap who ends up sweeping up the debris of my life.

     To this end, I recently purged my music collection (I say collection when I really mean broken cassettes and cds). Charity doesn't even want cassettes or cds. They are difficult to rid oneself of, especially if they are full of tunes from The Exploited or Crass. I listened to some cassettes one more time, to see if I really wanted to let them go. One listen to Bloody Revolutions expunged any nostalgia. It was much harder to say goodbye to the mixed tapes I made, with the needle drop onto vinyl and those sweet few seconds of scratchy anticipation before the opening notes and chords of a punk anthem or a Beethoven piano sonata.

     I don't miss those days. My youth was a smorgasbord of insanity. Mixed tapes for tortured emotions. Thank God for medication and sobriety is alls I'm sayin'. Still, my formative years shaped me into the bewildered yet loveable individual I am today.

     But why keep my extreme and eclectic taste in music to myself? I didn't want to throw my music collection out to the curb with the week's trash. That would not be environmentally friendly, on many different levels. Instead, I packed a garbage bag full of cassettes and cds, of memories both vague and horrible, and headed up to my local Best Buy, because it has an electronic waste program.

     The fellow behind the counter had a phosphorescent glow. I'm still not sure if he was a hologram.
            "May I help you," he said.
            "Uh, yeah. Do you accept e-waste?"
            "Yes we do. You can just leave it on the counter."
            "Really?"
     He sputtered, as if someone had poured water on the motherboard in his head. "Uh, er. I. Y-y-y-yesss. "Yes."
            I cradled the bulging garbage bag in my arms. I considered telling him what was in the bag. My anger. My sensitive and romantic soul. My wacky show biz side. Dreams. Sobbing. Angst. Why burden him with my memories.
            "Here you go, then. Thanks!" I unloaded the bursting plastic bulk onto the counter.
            On my way out, I waved goodbye at it. Goodbye Undertones. Goodbye Siouxie. Goodbye 1970s Organ Musak. When I hear those tunes again, perhaps when I'm gliding down the aisles at FreshCo or No Frills, I'll give my head a shake and wonder where, how and who I am. 

Next month -- The Closet.
           


Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Toronto the Not So Good Anymore



            A forensic identification services van blocks the entrance to the gas station. The other entrance has yellow crime scene tape restricting entry. This will not do. I need a slushie and I need it bad. The gas station serves slushies par excellence. That's French for excellent, I think. Anyway, they know me at the gas station, it's just down the street from my place. I am a preferred customer, according to my slushie card that gives me a free slushie after I buy 20.
            "Why do you come here, miss? Why don't you have a car?" the chap behind the counter once asked.
            "Because, sir, your slushies are a revelation."
            He had his back to me while I replied. It was a rhetorical question I realized much later in the day.
            WTF? Why are the forensic dudes at the gas station? I raise the crime scene tape over my head and head inside the On The Go Convenience store. I like the illusion of being "on the go." If I patronize an establishment called "On The Go", maybe through osmosis, I too will be "on the go."
            The chap behind the counter, wearing a reflective and carrying a mop, waves his arm at me.
            "No, no, miss. No. Go."
            "You mean 'On The Go'."
            "No. I mean go. Go out of here."
            I plead with him. "It's 32 degrees today -- 42 degrees with humidity! I can't stand this anymore. Look at what it's doing to my hair! I'd show you my overheated internal organs, but they're inside my body. You get my point -- I'm sick of this sweltering temperature. I'd kill for a slushie right now!"
            Two humongous police officers emerge from behind a chip rack.
            "This store is off limits. Sir, is this woman threatening you?"
            The chap shakes his head no.
            "Mam, I don't know how you got in here, but leave the premise immediately."
            I know better than to argue with authority. The last time I did that, on the Toronto Transit System, I was slapped with a $265 fine for not tapping my Presto card (that is true). I huff and hurry out the store, passing the forensic truck.
            WTF? Can't I go to my corner gas station convenience store without the forensic identification unit being there? My thoughts grow dark. Did someone die at 'On The Go'? Is that person now "On The Gone'? Was it a shooting? A targeted shooting gangland style, or a random act of insanity? Or a stabbing, someone blind with rage repeatedly plunging a knife into an unsuspecting victim? Did someone collapse from poison ingested from touching a railing at a dog parkl?
            This neighbourhood is upscale, with families living in two millions dollars homes and renters sweating it out in 'dirty mansion' -- how dare a ne'er-do-well commit homicide in our enclave!  We have no problems here in High Park. We excoriate our children, cheat on our spouses, drink and drug to excess, cheat and thieve the government, plot murder in our minds, curl up in balls from depression and anxiety and leverage our lives behind CLOSED DOORS! That's what respectable people do.
            Will this affect the slushie machine?
            This city is out of control.

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

On Acting, Stand-Up Comedy, and Being Directed



Through fault of my own, I am performing in a solo show I wrote. 
From July 21 to July 28, 2018, I will be showing and telling a darkly comedic tale at the Kingston Storefront Fringe Festival. I say “through fault of own” because I wanted to challenge myself creatively. Not content to churn out words on screen and paper, I thought performing my own play would be a suitable endeavour. After all, I'm a stand-up comic and although I may not tour anymore, I still perform at Hirut Fine Ethiopian Cuisine's Hirut Hoot, and other fine comedy establishments. How hard could it be doing my own stuff on stage?

Haaaarrrrddd. Hurry hhhhaaaarrrrrddd.

I am being put through rigorous dramaturgical analysis, a disciplined rehearsal schedule and a physically demanding process. This is all in thanks to my director, Jennifer McKinley. Ms. McKinley is a writer, performer and producer, once co-artistic director of Alumnae Theatre’s New Ideas Festival (2014-2017) in Toronto She is a lead coordinator with the Feminist Art Conference, and wrote, produced and performed her solo show, OperationSUNshine at the 2017 Toronto Fringe, as well as at the 2018 Feminist Fuck It Festival in Toronto.

She is a living, breathing theatrical artist. She is as far away from my comfortable stand-up world as I can get.

I saw Operation SUNshine at the FFIF and thought the work unique in voice. Not only is Jennifer a skilled performer, she has a rare ability to merge comedy and horror, sharing personal stories powerfully and with compassion. When I found out I won a berth in the Kingston Fringe, I contacted Jennifer, with the hope of her having the time and interest to direct my show. Fortunately she did and agreed to be my director.

Over the rehearsal process, I've been encouraged to feel the intensity of my character's situation. Here's the difference between stand-up comedy and acting in my opinion: stand-up is like being a commander. You hit the stage, grab the mic and deliver. Your job, above all, is to make people laugh. Material aside, that is your goal, to elicit laughter. It is not to delve into the back story, circumstances or sad psyche of a character. As I have learned, in theatre the actor creates a trusting environment. The actor embraces the audience, rather than controls it. I suppose a lot of stand-ups do this, but I must say that is not my M.O. I think a lot of stand-up comedy comes from a place of anger. At least, it does for me.

This feeling stuff is hard.

As a writer, it is essential that I feel a character. Thoroughly. Down to the bones. In space and time. But that feeling is transmitted through the written word. It's conjured in thought and relayed through the body by breath held, goosebumps raised, and once in awhile, racing heartbeat. This is the goal of the written word – to inhabit the imagination of the reader. Feeling is not thrashed out on stage. That is an actor's job.

This is the job I will be doing soon in Kingston.

As I said, I wanted to challenge myself creatively. That I am. I am having my ass kicked by a social justice warrior-artist almost 20 years my junior. And I love it, my creaking knees and aching joints aside.

My goal is to do right by my characters, by my director, and by my stage manager, the emerging triple threat theatre artist Natasha Rotondaro. 

I am one lucky stand-up comic and writer to have such a dedicated team. Hope to see you in Kingston.









Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Toronto the Good

Image result for toronto skyline
As some of you may know, I am a born and bred Montrealer. Being a Montrealer of a certain generation, we were inculcated with a profound mistrust and contempt for Toronto. We looked down our nose at Toronto because it symbolized everything staid and boring and grey. When I was growing up, Montreal was Canada's biggest city: its nightlife was legendary, its hockey team supreme, its arts and culture vital to the people. When the Parti Québécois and Bill 101 made it difficult for unilingual anglophones to imagine a life in La Belle Province's new reality, over 100 thousand or so fled down the 401 to settle in staid and boring and grey Toronto, I being one of them. It felt treasonous. How could I ever adjust to this place of 11 p.m. closing times and rehashed British influence? With the last name of Bennett I would have an easier time fitting in, but I could not relate to Toronto's bland reason. I was used to being surrounded by a culture that, by birth, was not mine, but one that held tremendous influence on me. I loved being in the midst of the French because I admired the way they lived (too bad I didn't listen more in French class when in high school). I didn't want to live exclusively with people who looked like me and spoke the same language as me. So for many years I worked and lived and played in Toronto, all the while feeling superior to the denizens of the city unlucky enough to have been born and raised in Hogtown.

And then something happened. Toronto transformed. It became a welcoming city for people from around the world who wished to settle here and raise their families. It became a city that truly embraced diversity, not just paying lip service to it, but actively promoting it as a source of strength. It opened up and began to celebrate the LBGTQ community, one of the most important groups in the city today. It moved with societal change, not against it. Today, it is a powerhouse for investment and business, science and academia, arts and culture. Who the hell would have thunk it? Not this ex-Montrealer.

So in the aftermath of one of the worst mass murder in Toronto's history, I will tell you now that ... I love this place. This bagel chewing, Hab loving, St. Catherine Street loitering woman loves T.O, the 6, YYZ. I love the stretch of Yonge Street between Finch and Sheppard, where you can get the best Korean food anywhere, where the North York Public Library has provided me with books and a quiet place to write, where I've danced to big band music in Mel Lastman Square. This unassuming, unpretentious stretch of Yonge Street north of the 401 is home to Canadians from many different backgrounds and ways of life. It is wonderful to see Korean businesses next to Persian businesses next to Russian businesses. Keep your food coming! is what I say. While this city is not without its racial tensions, on the whole Toronto comes pretty close to harmony. The biggest threat to this city is rampant greed, but that is another blog...

Toronto has been good to me. It's time for me to give that expression.

There is a vigil Sunday night at Mel Lastman Square for the people of Toronto to stand together and support the victims of the van attack tragedy. On Sunday I will take the TTC up to North York, and demonstrate my sorrow and solidarity with the community in Willowdale. My god, I love you. All who died, who are injured, who are hurting -- I love you. We'll get through this, together. Toronto is our home and we've built it together. No one can take that away from us.

Toronto is not all that has been transformed. 

Monday, December 25, 2017

The Christmas House


I had never seen anyone die. 

The rasping I read about in fiction was unmistakable. I was the first to hear it. The other women in the room were chatting, doing their best to keep spirits bright.

“Uh, I think it's near.”

I moved over to the bedside and listened to my aunt's breathing. My cousin and my aunt's friend gathered close. I held my aunt's hand. Her respiratory system spasmed. It's an uncanny sound, the death rattle. It's a signal for loved ones to ready themselves.

*

Around the corner from my apartment is an old house. It is home to a couple of professional set designers. This time of year the house is transformed into pure magic. Why they arrange and construct such an elaborate display and rack up enormous electricity bills year after year, I don't know. All I know is that it brings such inexplicable joy to my heart.

*

Auntie Martha was what my mother would call a “grand dame”. She never had kids and she had been widowed twice. She loved to travel and collected unique artifacts from her adventures. She loved the ballet and theatre. She had an archness I found admirable. She didn't take herself too seriously. But she was complex in her own way, hard to really know. I had to respect that. For some reason, she asked me to be her power of attorney for health. The honour I initially felt turned to distress when I realized the extent of the responsibilities. Could I do it?

*

I studied what was my aunt. She had been unconscious for awhile, probably left us some time earlier in the day, but her lungs continued to squeeze out breath. The gasps became fewer and fewer and at longer intervals. Then, one long sigh, and nothing else. I watched her shrink back into the hospital bed. “I'll go get the nurse,” I said to my companions. Not knowing what else to say, I made note of the time. “4:10 p.m. Christmas Day 2016.”

*

Riding the subway home from the hospital, I saw my aunt's house in my mind, with its bright Christmas decorations, its big red stockings, Santas, and candy canes. She lived alone for years, yet always decorated for the holidays. She had just left the house a week earlier. The little twinkling Christmas tree still stood by the front window. I wiped a quick tear away. Some power of attorney I was. There was no negotiation, not even a plea bargain. I couldn't stop death.

*

What do you do when you've just witnessed a loved one die, it's Christmas day, and you're on your own? For me it was one of two things: anesthetize myself to blunt the sorrow, or search for beauty to make sense of it all.

*
Almost every inch of the Christmas house is thoughtfully lit, the colours carefully schemed, the effect glowing. From front to back, lights are arranged in little snowflakes, snowmen, and candy canes. It is my ideal Christmas house. It fills me with awe. This is my hope for Christmas. It was my hope for my aunt that dark, cold night last year as I wondered through shining eyes at the mystery of it all, if her essence glowed in those lights. 

Last month I happened upon the fellow from the Christmas house toting a ladder, string of lights in tow. I stopped and told him about my aunt's passing last year, and what comfort his Christmas display brought me that night. I thanked him from my heart, and for the happiness he and his partner bring to the neighhourhood. I could see he was visibly touched. 

More than ever, I understand the spirit of Christmas.