OFF AIR, by Catherine M. Harris (Dreamcat)

Official NaNoWriMo 2004 Winner!

Chapter 1 - 12 Hours

"What would you do if you had only twelve hours to live and you knew it?" Emma's heard her daughter's friend say through the bedroom wall.

Emma wanted to stick around and hear the answer, but that would be snooping and quite frankly she wasn't sure she wanted to hear what Olivia said. At fourteen, she could say anything, anything at all.

Emma finished putting away the last of the laundry and poured herself a glass of wine, feet up on the living room table she began to write in her journal. Not the best of ways to spend a Friday night, what with laundry and giggling teenagers upstairs, but what else to do. Husband was long gone, off to greener pastures she hoped, and there wasn't too much of a glimmer of hope for somebody new just banging on the door right now.

Wrote down the date and began with the weather. She put "friggin cold" and left it at that. "It is November now, of course it's friggin cold!" she could hear her long gone great aunt's voice saying to her. Yup, some things don't change. She wondered if there would ever be a time that somebody would sit down many years after she was literally dust in the wind and think of something she said. Ah, probably not. She thought she always projected a rather beige persona, not something that attracted swarms of people in droves.

On to other words. All she could think of was the twelve hours to live thing. Certainly what would she do if she had twelve hours to live? It wouldn't be laundry, that's for sure. Wine, maybe. In her more silly and desperate moods she had wondered what would happen if she were to strip naked and run into the middle of the street screaming, "somebody take me!" or, words to that effect. Probably nothing, she guessed, except maybe phone the police or 911 or something. There goes nutso Emma, finally gone all the way off her rocker.

Yup. So after her glass of wine she would call everyone she ever knew and ever thought of at any given time. The nasty ones whose names she had hoped would vanish forever from her mind but never did (was this because she could never forgive them?) - she always had the suspicion that were she to call any one of the nasty ones who had so hurt her in the past it was very likely they wouldn't even remember her. Oh, and the people she had let slip away. What would be a good name for those people she wondered. The scatterlings? Like the song maybe? Not bad. She would take a few minutes on the internet and check the online phone book for scatterlings - she may not find anybody, but you never know.

And what about the people who had walked away from her? Who are they? Would they even care if she only had twelve hours? Probably not. And for that reason, it may just give her a little bit of pleasure hunting them down and saying whatever came to mind as they picked up the phone. She laughed. That actually seemed like fun. Something to consider. Someday.

Of course there would be relatives to call and those she'd probably leave to last because quite frankly there were quite a few she simply wasn't interested in talking to. She would be only too happy to haunt the funeral parlour after she was gone and listen in then, but just before...nah.

Twelve hours isn't enough time. Not at all. There would be time for a run down a ski hill since there is a ski hill nearby (and that's assuming she had the money in the bank to do whatever she pleased for that length of time). So rule number 1: there would be money in the bank whenever she has only 12 hours left to live. That means mortgage money, or bill money or grocery money or who knows what - it would be used for fun.

A spa. Hmmm. Might be fun but what is the point of smelling nice and feeling relaxed if you are dead anyway?

Write a book? Not enough time. Not even for a bad one. A poem? Well sure. A will? Yes, that would be a good idea. A painting? Possibly.

But then she'd have to eat. It goes without saying that she would be going to a restaurant. Should she be like Bacchus and eat until she is full and then puke it all up and start over again? That's an idea. That way she could have everything.

She'd have to write out what she wanted for her funeral. She didn't want to be cremated and certainly not in her ratty jeans or something crappy like that. She knew her family though, and she guessed that's where she would end up, nobody wanting to take responsibility except for the responsibility peons who she really didn't like to be around because how dare anyone assume they know what is best for her, even when she's dead.

But then she would be dead, wouldn't she? She wouldn't feel anything. She'd just be...


Chapter 2 - In The Eye of Darkness

At 38, Emma knew one thing for certain, that every one and everything she counted on really weren't meant to be counted on at all. It was far better to understand that her world and all there was in it, really just meant anything at all to her, and continue on in her own way.

She had almost, but not quite, given up on trying to be the woman all men desire. In her heart she understood that there was no way, short of some pretty extensive surgery and a height improvement and then of course whoever fell for that wouldn't be falling for her at all, they would be falling for silicone. Nicely moulded silicone. But silicone none-the-less.

At times she caught herself slightly envious of her daughter and the wonderful firm no-thought body an even marginally athletic teenage girl has. She didn't envy her the teenage angst though. Emma loathed being a teenager. It truly was awful, the mood swings, the back-stabbing, the lies and strutting and just general nonsense.

Okay, so the girls upstairs were now watching something loud and musical on t.v., and she was on her second glass of wine. Probably not good to do that, but then it wasn't as if the world were about to end anytime soon and she would be driving them somewhere urgently. On second thought...
She should probably cool it. She never drank more than a glass or so at one sitting usually and it just wouldn't do to have one of the girls do something stupid and she couldn't deal with it because of the wine.

So she got as far as writing how her day went and the bit about the twelve hours in her journal when she corked the wine bottle, put it back in the fridge, and turned on the news.

The talking heads were a bit frantic this evening. There were a lot of "this just in"s and "back to you Lloyd"s but since she came in in the middle of the news she still had no idea of what was happening. For some odd reason there was no photos or videos of awful things exploding or mangled bodies draped over rocks or headless people, no it was just the newscasters talking talking talking and it seemed she didn't understand a word of it.

She was tempted to call the girls down and see what they made of it all, but what it was was like the day planes were falling from the sky and slamming into buildings. Not good for man or beast to watch those images over and over again. It warps the mind. Words have the same effect. She needed to find out exactly what in the name of god these newscasters were so worried about.

Ten minutes later, no commercials and still, no answers. She'd had enough. She called up to the girls, "come see this" and they thumped down the stairs seriously annoyed at being interrupted. Emma asked them to explain what they thought was happening on t.v.

Charming daughter answered, "It's a tampon commercial mom. Get a grip." But it wasn't. It was some blonde newscaster who called herself a guy's name with an "othy" on the end to make it sound feminine going on about some set of numbers or something so she asked Alexia, daughter's friend what she thought they meant by "the median rate of decomposition being 43" meant. She gave daughter an alarmed look and Olivia told Emma to have another glass of wine and laughed that nasty teenage girl snarl-laugh she hated so much.

"Fine", Emma told them. "What's on now?"

A beer commercial.

She apologized for interrupting them and Olivia whispered in her ear, "Mom, if you do this again I'm going to dad's. I mean it. I mean, like, Alexia is never gonna be able to come here again if you keep saying shit like this."

Emma face drained of blood as she watched her totally angry daughter stomp up the stairs. This was bad, very bad. She wasn't drunk, and she wasn't watching any damned beer commercial or tampon commercial either. It was two very scared now newscasters clinging to each other and looking panicked into an almost imperceptibly shaking camera lens. This wasn't good at all and she still had absolutely no idea what in the hell was going on out there.

Switching the channels was more of the same, and the music upstairs became thumpier and louder. At that moment Emma was eternally grateful she didn't have to get a townhouse in this particular residential incarnation.

And she said the hell with it, dug out a very old and dry package of cigarettes, lit one, and poured herself a glass of wine.

The smoke burned like all hell, but the rush after five years more than made up for the pain in her lungs.

Chapter 3 - And the Band Played On

Emma downed her third glass of wine in as many hours. There were but drops left in the bottle, which she thought was funny - ha ha funny - because normally she bought a bottle of wine a payday. Her stomach felt weird, her head was spinning, and then t.v. screen still held various forms of mentally disintegrating t.v. personalities on whichever channel the t.v. was tuned to at the moment.

On a brilliant flash of unwinefogged inspiration, she turned the sound down on the t.v., which was just as well because it had now devolved into various mathematical formulas, some of which sounded like physics and none of which made sense coming out of the mouth of a blonde busty weather girl anyway, and turned on the radio.

At first there was music and Emma thought, okay, maybe I am nuts. Maybe what I am hearing and seeing really is some figment of my imagination and I should be calling some medical somebody in the morning when it dawned on her that the music coming from the radio from something by Frank Sinatra. Now if that weren't bad enough, it was coming from her usual radio station that never, ever played Frank Sinatra, even when he was alive. And she was sure they wouldn't be exclaiming how wonderful his latest release was. Honestly. Then they played another song from the album, this one him and Ray Charles crooning together and that was just about enough for her. Her father had loved Frank Sinatra while he was alive, had everything he ever recorded and this song had nothing whatever to do with the songs she knew.

She picked up the phone. "Numba please" came the slightly French accented voice. "Excuse me?" She said. "Numba please" the voice repeated.

"Ah, I forget!" she said, banging down the receiver in shock. This wasn't good at all. When was the last time she had heard a live operator? She was a little girl and playing phone pranks. That's when. Everything is automated now. Even the damned Operator.

This was really starting to scare her, but she just had to see what would happen if she asked for her own number. She picked up the receiver. "Numba please" came the voice on cue.

"Ma'am, I'm sorry, I'm forgotten my own number. Isn't that silly of me. And I wanted to tell somebody it. Would you mind? My eyes aren't what they used to be."

"That would be Glashen 23510. Numba please?"

"Thanks so much ma'am." she said and hung up. Glashen. She wasn't sure if that was what this area had been called before or not, but she guessed it was.

But then if she was to test if things had now gone totally screwy and she was who she thought she was, at least phone-wise, she needed a "numba" to call. She thought for a few minutes. Hadn't her father said his number was something like Frank 49879? Worth a try.

"Numba please." "Yes, may I have Frank 49879?" "Just a moment please"

There was a hum and a crackle on the line. Faraway disembodied voices had barely audible conversations in the distance.

Then a ring. And another. A woman's voice answered. "Hello?"

Emma panicked. If this were really the right number, then that would be her grandmother. She didn't really know because she had never heard her voice; she died before she was born.

"Uh, is Johnny there please?"

"Jack you mean?" Asked the woman.

"Sure. Yes. Pardon me. Jack."

"Who is calling?"

"Just ... it's a friend from school. I'd rather not say, I don't know if he really likes me or not."

There was a silence on the other end. Then a slight chuckle. "Alright then. Just a minute dear." In the background she heard a thunk of the old phone receiver falling to the ground (in her mind's eye she saw the old black receiver, uncurling at the end of its twisty cord) and a "Jack, telephone! .... I don't know who, a girl, from school she says..." and footsteps.

"He's a little busy right now. Could he call you back?"

Sure she thought. Isn't that always the way. She gets her dad on the phone as a teenager, and he blows her off just like all the guys did to her when she was a teenager.

"You know what?" She said, "You can tell him that Emma phoned. Emma is the same name as his great-grandmother who died young. He doesn't want to talk to me, that's okay but tell him I'm never going to forget this."

"Who are you really?" her grandmother said, sounding quite upset. "What is this? A joke?"

"No. I don't know. It's just a blast from the future, calling the past. Hey, do you know what day it is? What year it is?"

"It's 2004. Now get the fuck off my phone." Said a woman who banged down the receiver.

Chapter 4 - In My Day

She picked up the receiver. This time no "Numba please" just the dial tone. She put the receiver back down on the cradle.

The radio was playing something new from Leonard Cohen, and on t.v., there really was a commercial this time. A bouncing red period was going across the screen. She looked at it for a minute and thought, you know, that's not clever, it's just gross. All of this is.

Just then the phone rang. Nothing showed up on the call display, but that wasn't new, it was capricious at best, that screen. What she was concerned about was that it was now 2 something a.m.

It rang twice, three times. Four times. The telephone answering machine didn't pick up. On the fifth ring she picked it up. "Hello?"

"This is the Operator" came that same familiar voice. "We've had a complaint ma'am. Something about prank calls from this line?"

"Yes?" Emma replied, bemused more than anything else now. "Can you tell me when these incidents occurred?"

"Incidents?" Questioned the Operator. "No, no incidents just the once."

"Well, okay," replied Emma, "but if I'm going to read someone the riot act I have to know when they supposedly happened."

"It's not supposed ma'am. When a called is placed your number lights up and we plug you in. It's recorded who is plugged into who and when."

Emma stifled a laugh. Three wines made something like that just hilarious.

"Yes, but I need the date and time. I'm not the only person here at this number you know."

"Of course ma'am. It was at 10:15 p.m. on the 18th."

"18th of what? What month? What year?"

"Well ma'am, November of course. And this year."

"What year is it this year?"

"Ma'am have you been drinking?"

"No, I'm just really tired. You just woke me up, and I don't really know what you're talking about, and if I'm going to pick on my kids or something I need time to think about it. Okay?"

"Well, tomorrow morning then. It is late and thank you for bringing that to my attention. Praise be with you dear."

"WHAT? What did you just say?"

Nothing but a dial tone. It was actually closer to 3 a.m. now and she was still no closer to what time and day her telephone thought it was.

The clocks read the right time, but everything else was so totally messed up.

She thought for a moment, then realized there wasn't a peep from upstairs. They must have fallen asleep, and a good idea it was too. She wanted to do the same thing. So she hid her journal in its usual under floor board spot, cleaned up the living room a little, made coffee for the morning and topped up the water bowl for the cats.

After that, one more check of doors and windows, evening vitamins taken, and dishwasher started. It was now 3:18 a.m.

As she turned out the light she remembered her grandmother all those years ago laughing about the numba please lady you got when you picked up the horn and asked for a number. On Monday Emma would definitely have to call her doctor and make an appointment. This whole evening was so totally strange, it had to be some sort of mental problem manifesting. Had to be.

She wanted to turn on the t.v. and see what was happening, but then she decided against it. What if it were those freaked out newscasters again? Then what? She was so bad at math, she never even thought of attempting physics. There was no way she could even record what those people said much less decipher it.

Chapter 5 - Sweet Dreams Are Made Of This

Man she was tired. At nearly 4 a.m., a slightly lighter band of blue - indigo blue - was edging the horizon. She lay down, her body a mass of aches she attributed to stress, and tried to do some relaxation exercises she learned years ago in yoga class. She didn't remember much of her yoga, but the relaxation thing she never stopped practising because she found that it worked very well when her mind is a whirl and she couldn't relax enough to sleep.

Back when her daughter Harmony was a baby Emma couldn't imagine a time when she would actually have problems falling asleep. Back then it was a problem staying awake. She had so many dreamless nights she worried that she would become psychotic or something, and wasn't there a possibility of dying if you don't get enough sleep over time? Heart attacks or something?

Harmony. Damn. Poor little Harmony. As loud as she was small and never made it to her second birthday. SIDS they said. One day here, the next day gone. She would be eleven if she were still alive. Some days it felt so much like she was still here in spirit, others, gone forever, a wisp of life come and gone.

They say - the mysterious all encompassing they - that there is no harder thing for a person to live through than the loss of a child. They are right. There is nothing so hard than losing that part of yourself and nothing that makes a mother feel more helpless than to not be able to do something, anything, to help their child. How could it be she gave life to this wonderful being only to have her live for so short a time?

This was probably the beginning of the end of her marriage, and no doubt had some serious effect on Olivia. But Olivia even then didn't want to talk much about it. She hardly talked to her about anything, definitely not any more. Here now, nine years after, and still Olivia didn't like to be reminded of losing her baby sister or even acknowledging she ever existed most of the time. Her father didn't see anything wrong with that at all, as good as he is at burying things deep down inside. It all comes back though, doesn't it?

If not in spirit, then in body? Doesn't it?

The last thing she wanted after this very odd night, and half corked to boot, was to be thinking of Harmony. She wiped a tear from her right cheek, stretched straight out, and, like they told her to do in her class, tensed and released her toes, her feet, her legs, all the way up to the top of her head.

Relax, relax, relax, over and over she said this in her mind, blotting out thoughts that were attempting to intrude, drowning out the tears that wanted to fall, the aching that still burned inside, the guilt, the helplessness, all of it. For this moment, this instant in time she felt light as a feather, and her spirit rocked back and forth floating first inside her body and then it seemed, outside and up, up higher and lighter and faster and she felt as though she were nothing but pure energy apart and part of everything around, not knowing what year or even what plane she was on, she wanted to open her eyes but didn't afraid that what she felt was really what she saw in her mind's eye.

And so it was, Emma fell asleep. To sleep, perchance to dream (or so says Shakespeare) and dream she did. Realistic, movie type dreams, the ones with scripts and characters and people you've never seen in real life and yet here she knew them well and so strong that when she woke up around nine with a desperate bladder, she at first didn't know whether the dream was real or this was real.

She went to the bathroom and curled back in bed, one headache pill and a full glass of water later, with a firm resolve never ever to drink so much wine in one sitting again. As soon as her head hit the pillow though, she was back dreaming where she left off.

She never heard Olivia and Alexia get up, never heard them get ready, never heard them make breakfast or toss the dishes in the sink or slam the door on the way out in a fit of giggles.

Chapter 6 - It's The End of The World As We Know It

It was one thirty in the afternoon when the movie in Emma's head stopped and her eyes opened to the glare of an incredibly bright day rudely burning her eyes. Bacchus was also the god of wine, she remembered. Damn him and his nasty stuff.

She tried to sit up too quickly and her stomach lurked dangerously. She flopped back down, her head throbbing, trying very hard not to throw up. How in the name of whoever did she ever do this almost every night in university and still survive? Still pass? Still remember anything?

Right now the only thing she could remember clearly from last night was her dream. She was sure it was only one dream, and it just went on and on from a clear start to a cl ear finish, she had to write it all down; dreams like that sometimes made wonderful short stories, she had done that often enough.

In her desk drawer she keeps a dream journal and a pen for just such an occasion. The trick with writing dreams as stories is to first get the dream down, every detail, every incredible colour and especially the words, sounds, smells, sensations. The wonder of dreams is everything is so surreal the challenge is to recreate that sense of wonder on paper in such a way that people reading it can feel it, see it, sense it, know it themselves.

A friend of hers when she was in high school couldn't believe she could write these stories, and yet she did. Try as Emma did, she never could explain to Sarah the addictive feeling of creating, how each word is really a voice, how each character literally comes alive like a person on stage in a play and you're it, you really are, and the fun thing is you are all of it. Everything. Man, woman, dog, cat, hamster, boweevil, what ever you want to be!

Her friend always titled the things she wrote for her English class with song titles that may or may not relate whatever to do with what she was writing. No, it was usually what was her favourite song at the time, or a song she danced to with that hunky guy from 12thgrade or what was playing on the radio at the time.

That's how life is when you're 14, 15, before real boyfriends and part time jobs and life starts intruding and of course, by that time you know everything and school is a waste but you do it because you need to to get to college or university or get a job, you know, where the real learning starts.

The last thing she had written in the dream book was something about melting snowmen. Three years ago.

Okay, so now she had this dream where this world she was in was so totally different that even just how to describe the vegetation would be difficult. There were trees, yes, but they were almost dripping leaves like weeping willows with tiny tiny shiny bright green leaves instead of the lovely long strand-leaves that reminded her so much of long hair, and the grass it wasn't your typical grass it was more like a soft moss; she could imagine even now walking through it in her bare feet and feeling the softness caressing her every step. There would be no mark when a foot fell, no indication that things had ever been disturbed or that she had ever passed by this spot and she liked that idea, she really did.

How to create the aura that lived in the dream; of a place where the underlying sense of tone was not anger, or hatred or bitterness or fear or hunger but simply the joy of being alive, that electric energy of life itself and colours so bright and clean you can smell them, air that tastes like clean cool water?

She tapped her pen against the page, then rubbed her eyes. The painkiller she took earlier was wearing off and she could taste the stale wine in her mouth, smell it on her breath. This is awful! She thought. How on earth do people become alcoholics if you're like this every morning? How would you ever get up and go to work? Yick.

Ever so slowly she stood up, the room slightly twirly the sun hot through the window, though being November it normally isn't; certainly wasn't yesterday, just bright is all. Thing is, the brighter it is, the colder it is usually. Odd, but there you have it.

Today was going to be a total write off, this she knew. So, one more lesson learned. At 38 your sense of recovery from too much booze is not nearly as good as at 23 and so not something to be done too often, if at all. One more thing too, she guessed, that perhaps she should feel a little bitter not being able to indulge in it so freely any more.

It isn't quite the end of the world being 38, in fact by some standards that's really pretty young still. You know, like when somebody dies of a sudden congenital heart attack they always say, "oh but he was only 38!".

If you're a woman though, and single, well, it's more like, "Yes, she's 38 ... was pretty good looking in her day." Like she had become an old woman overnight or something. Anybody that is still young enough to have children and worry about birth control, forget it, that's not old. Even if she could have a 23 year old kid herself if she was, um, precocious...The joys of double standards.

No, it wasn't quite the end of the world as she knew it, but she did feel like an old woman this afternoon.

The first thing she needed was to brush her teeth, swallow another pill, and soak in the tub. She coughed as she walked down the hall. Gah! Her lungs hurt, and that cough brought up the delightful ashtray taste from deep within. No wonder she felt so foggy, she was three smokes short of topped up. Five years blown in one evening, and what for?

Because sometimes you just have to do stuff like that.

If there's anything Emma regretted about being at this point in time is that for as much wonderful freedom that exists, there was someone, something, some rule, wet blanket, pick your favourite phrase just waiting to suck the life out of it and make it totally unsafe and downright suspect.

What one hand giveth, the other makes you so damned guilty you don't dare do it. I mean, smoking isn't illegal in and of itself, but you are a social pariah if you indulge. Oh, and you're killing everyone and everything around you so yes, you can smoke but if you do you're a heartless killer bitch.

She laughed at the thought herself in black leather with a big red no smoking sign plastered on her chest, three or four cigarettes burning away in her hands.

It seems we lost our societal sense of humour somewhere around 1982 she thought. She was too young to really do anything like that t.v. show about the 70's but she remembered her older cousins being the long haired pot heads listening to Boston and Rush and singing songs about zircon incrusted tweezers and actually pretending they understood what in the hell it meant, and...

She hated the 80's.

Her water was poured, teeth brushed, she eased herself into the tub. It was so quiet today. The girls were obviously gone off somewhere. As she thought of that, memories of the night before started flooding in, including the harsh words her daughter had whispered to her. Okay, yes, mom is a little weird. But who was to say the grass actually would be greener over there, that is if new girlfriend was willing to be step mom all the time. Hmm.

Someone told her when they split up that it didn't really matter with teenagers who had what custody. Teens vote with their feet, they told her. Yes, perhaps they were right there. But she remembered being a teen, and at the time, the place with the most money and fewest questions would have been the favoured place to be. "Ask me no questions, I'll tell you no lies" her best friend Sarah was fond on saying.

Sarah. God, it has been what? Twenty years? Where is she? Now she really wondered what water had flown under her bridge and were the years as kind or unkind to her as they were to Emma? If she had to classify Sarah, she fell firmly in the scatterling category, because life has a great way of yanking people to their destinies quickly after high school.

Chapter 7 - Spam spam spam spam spam!

Coffee. If her stomach would take it, she needed a coffee. She put on a big pot, being the eternal optimist. She turned on the computer while she waited for the coffee to perk. Judging from the mess in the kitchen, the girls had fed themselves. No note from Olivia of course. Left it up to her to figure out where the heck she was, though she had a good idea. One thing about Olivia though, she never did anything overly crazy, just enough to bug her. It could be much much worse.

A piece of toast did the trick. Stomach a little better, headache pill kicking in, she felt almost alive. The coffee would be the nice little touch that would help. The pot was nearly done, and she opened up her email. There was the usual assortment of offers to increase innumerable body parts - and what if a guy answered all of those, would he look like a humuncus? She couldn't shake the image of the gigantic tongue in her mind, and huge hands and dong (as one variation of the emails stated it to be). Laughing, she poured herself a coffee and labelled a bunch of junk as spam, and was about to empty the junk folder when she noticed one that wasn't spam in there. It came from a spamish site, but it wasn't spam at all.

In fact, it was an email from one of those sign up and tell the world how life has been wonderful or sucked royally since you left school and maybe get a little bit of surreptitious sense of the vagarities of life. The balding track king, the most likely to succeed actually succeeding but that's about all where she's succeeding, that sort of thing. There's enough people like her, they went to school, finished school, got a job, got married, had kids, got unmarried, still have are turning 40 still living at home and about to put you in a home...

Okay maybe there was a little bit of the wine left in her. So there was a message from someone who she didn't remember really. It was funny her name was still on that list. At first she scoured the lists and entered messages and paid the fee to see everything and then it occurred to her; she wasn't popular, she wasn't hated, she just, wasn't. Yes, beige even then.

Okay. Message flagged as not spam and sent to her inbox for future reference. Rest of the spam was indeed spam. The inbox well, post junk clean up still held over forty email messages. Twenty of them were those silly ones with sickeningly sweet pictures of puppies in incurably cute poses perched on pillows and nonsense like that, but of course there was the heart rending bad poetry and a plea to send it on to a million people or the world will collapse (lot of good it did her, her world had collapsed several times and still these emails came to her inbox to taunt her) and of course there were degrees of hell that you would be sent to if you only sent it to (a) no people, (b) two people, (c) 3 to 5 people, and on. She decided that who ever devised these things had to be extroverts, after all, who else could honestly say they had 300 good friends they can get to send their soul for sure to heaven?

Some things she gets are funny, and those she keeps in a folder to look at when she needs a laugh. Some were pretty raunchy, from friends who knew she had a strange sense of humour; nothing too tasteless, just a little silly, like the series of credit card commercial spoofs involving real photos from weddings and things. Hilarious.

Then there were the ones of articles sent from faraway newspapers and wonderfully written pieces from magazines or lists or somethings sent to cheer her up or stuff like that. Every once in a while the email provider would scream "stop, we are not kidding, you must clean out this inbox or you don't exist!" and then things would get saved or printed or deleted or forwarded somewhere else and that would be fine for the next little while.

She did not though, have a folder from long lost acquaintances checking in on how she was doing. She didn't have acquaintances then and she sure didn't now; there is something about death and divorce that drives people away. Oh well. They'd learn when it happened to them she figured.

Would she need a folder or was this just some spam in the guise of someone wondering how she was and then telling her of the great deal she will get if she signs up for an internet provider that doesn't even believe Canada exists?

Chapter 8 - Give A Little Bit Of Your Heart To Me

The phone rang. It was Olivia, now at Alexia's and wondering if she could spend the night there. Feeling not a little suspicious she asked to speak to Alexia's mom. She wasn't home. Okay well, when she got in, have her call and then she'd make up her mind. There was a flurry of chatting beyond the hand held over the phone, and the final decision was that they would do just that. In the meantime, could she go to the mall? Alright.

She knew there would be no Olivia tonight. Which was fine. She wanted an evening to herself, a nice long bath, maybe read or watch a movie; if she felt particularly brave she could go to a movie but then what if Olivia needed her? She could go have a nice bite to eat though, bring a book, be sat by the bathroom, ah forget it. She would order in some Chinese. That would do it.

Another cup of coffee, and she made herself a poached egg. The afternoon was inching into evening already. God, where did the time go? Still, there was no repeat of last night. The phone worked fine, the computer worked, the day on the newspaper was today and then she thought of the email. Well now. That seemed to be something from the past. Maybe she should read it.

Bath first. She started running the water and the phone rang.

Yes, Olivia could stay, no problem. That was great. Olivia back in minutes, running through the house laughing, bursting into the bathroom to grab her toothbrush "sorry mom!" and whoosh out the door. It reminded her of the Warner Bros cartoons with the witch rushing through the house, little hair pins flying out behind her. Emma smiled. She had plenty to worry about, more than enough to wish were different, and in it all, daughter wasn't too bad. She would be a good person. She knew it in her heart that yes, Olivia would be just fine.

She sank back into the bath, topped up the hot water and bubbles and didn't come out until everything including her palms were totally pruned up.

She thought about the evening. First she would read the newspaper. Then she would check and see what movies were playing on t.v. After that she would order some Chinese. Hot and Sour soup, steamed dumplings, salad rolls, Buddha's vegetarian delight with lots of tofu. Expensive, yes, but makes for great lunches for a few days.

The newspaper read today's date but there was something odd about the stories. Everything was new. And okay, yes, this is a newspaper, but normally the front page is the alarm bell ringing page, the rest is not so alarming and updates of ongoing stuff. How could it be that every single story in it was new today? She checked the Horoscope column. The date was right, the signs were right, heck even her forecast was right.

It read: "Whatever you dream of be careful, like the curse it may come true. Are you sure that's what you really want? Things hidden may be revealed in a way you least expect. A quiet day, expect it to be filled with minor interruptions and even a note from a friend you haven't talked to in a while. Wouldn't it be nice to have a coffee and a catch-up after all this time? Tomorrow it's back to the grindstone, enjoy your relatively calm day today."

Beyond that, who were they talking about this, nasty American president; this socialite turned whore; this little boy lost in the woods? None of the names seemed familiar at all, even though the story about the little boy read like it had been going on for days. Surely to God she would have remembered who the American president was? A sword of fear ran through her. What if she was developing Alzheimer's or something? What if she had a tumour?

Stop it. Stop it right now. She told her herself. This is the very worst possible type things that can happen. Life is more often than not somewhere closer to the middle between worst and best. Harmony's death was an aberration. If it weren't, such a thing would be commonplace, and people would know what to say to you afterwards. People would realize that taking the toys and stuff she had left behind was not something dangerous, but sharing a piece of what was once good.

And great. Now she was back thinking about Harmony. Why on earth would she be thinking about Harmony so much lately? It's not as if anybody ever mentioned her name since the funeral. Like the summer clothes, her little girl was packed up and put away, but for her there would be no spring. Not here anyway. If hope is eternal, than maybe she will go on to another life, though Emma sometimes felt like she was right there beside her, and other more darker times thought no, like all corporeal things, she is just flesh decaying in box. No. She had to be more than that, there was too much spirit, too much energy not to be out there in the ether somewhere.

Now Emma was crying and thinking that perhaps all of this was impending middle age crisis and perimenopause and all that bologna - the muddled memory, the fixation on a lost daughter, the tears, yes this is what it had to be. PMS on steroids. The thought of that brought a smile to her and she laughed out loud. Okay, be nice to Emma day today. Tomorrow buy some red clover or soya or whatever the heck hormonally haywire women are supposed to take when they feel like this. Tonight she is enjoying her solitude. Mommy time. Yay.

Somehow the time slipped away today. She glanced at the clock on table by the window; it read 6:15 p.m. She was missing the news. A part of her was curious, another part totally afraid she wouldn't recognize any of it. Curiosity won out though, and turned on the t.v. Okay. So far so good. The freshly coiffed newscasters were jabbering away looking their normal selves. There were pictures in the background, and they didn't seem to be anything strange. She turned up the sound. "Coming up next, the channel eight weather!" chirped the busty blonde. The bulked up sports guy was beside her, hamming it up for the camera and trying to look as testosteronly charged as he could. Yes, this did seem to be pretty normal right now.

The weather was all pretty normal for this time of year. A bit chilly, a bit windy, a chance of snow (which in Canada means, get out the shovels, it could be a dusting or it could be a fwump of snow, fwump being the sound that a ton of snow falling all at once makes). The rest was sports and honestly, she never watched the sports so she wouldn't know if anything were different there anyway. Oh and after sports they had community announcements, birthdays and anniversary announcements, other feel good crap she really wasn't in to today. After that would be Jeopardy, and that Ken guy who most definitely was the person with the most useless junk in his head.

She clicked off the t.v. Now what? Already it was dark outside, mid-November, and the clouds overhead threatening some form of precipitation. If anything happened right now, at minus one there would be a chance of freezing rain. Another thing nobody really knows how bad that can get. Back in 1998 where she is now there was no power and fallen trees coated in sparkling ice for a couple of weeks. People died. People ran out of food, and heat, and did silly things like trying to drive on a several hundred kilometre skating rink and after all that and Y2K too, the best she could scare up for emergency supplies was a couple of cans of beans, a couple of bottles of water, a few candles here and there and some wood (but not a lot this year) for the stove. In 1998 she had been living out west. She had missed this most Canadian of experiences but it was for the best. Had she and the ex had to live through that they would probably have come to blows over the disputed length of an actor's arm pit hair or something.

She mentally shook herself. Enough already. Why she felt the need to bring herself down with garbage and sad stuff from the past she didn't know, but it really was time to stop it. Life goes on and there is no sense dwelling in the past. It is over and done with. Sometimes small things don't get large, and sometimes love turns to contempt and what can you do but put it behind you and get on with today?

Back to the newspaper. She looked at the obituaries, a la her mother and friends, and was quite thankful there was no name she recognized in there. Births, same thing but no surprise there. She was a little old for friends having babies, a little young for grandkids. Classifieds. Jobs all looked like the same sort of thing that was in there, but then again she didn't often read the classifieds.

It was just the articles. Could it be her short term memory was failing? She had read too much stress can make people forgetful, and to be perfectly honest she had been so busy lately that she was thinking of cancelling the newspaper. All it was for her at the moment was cheap fire starter and cat pan liners.

And on this rare day alone, a very perplexing thing indeed. She was feeling a little hungry and so pulled out the Chinese food restaurant flyer. Sure, she could go out and eat but honestly, the bathroom door table
just wasn't what she wanted tonight. Being introspective as her moods did take her sometimes, going out often is a good thing, bringing her into the world at large.

Tonight, no. There were days that seeing happy couples and smiling babies and cheerful old folk all just depressed her. I mean how long had it been really since she had known what it was like to be loved? Too long. Way too long.

She didn't even want to think about it. With ex and his assortment of whatevers on the side, he wasn't interested in her (in fact, never was really, she never could figure out why) so the last 5 years were a write off. Then, after the break for freedom well, she became a single mother. How do you drag strangers home with a young girl there? How do you go to a stranger's house when you don't even trust yourself alone with a stranger? Nah, it wasn't in the cards back then.

There was that time she almost did, almost said yes to somebody she used to work with, but then the thought was, what if she lost the current job (as sometimes happens) and she needed a door to knock on? No, she was flattered beyond belief, but, aside from the awkwardness of what to do now after all these years, she played dumb and pretended this fellows hand wasn't caressing her back and he wasn't leaning in just a little too close. It would have been so tempting to say yes, if she didn't know he had a girlfriend. They'd been together for a while though, and if his thoughts were on breaking up, it wasn't going to be because of her.

Still, when she said goodbye she felt a warm happy tingle she hadn't felt in a very long time.


Okay. Hot and Sour soup - full size. Salad roll, (four: two for tomorrow), steamed dumplings (12), garlic sauce (nummm!), sizzling rice and a full size Buddha delight. That would cost almost all her spending money for two weeks, but you only live once, and a night alone is nearly as rare.

Busy night they said. It would be an hour. She lit some incense, made herself a nice hot cup of green tea, put her feet up on the table and began to write in her diary.

It started: None of this makes any sense to me... and she continued on with her dream and the weird t.v. and newspaper stuff. The phone though. That was the icing on the cake. It really was. How on earth did she manage to call an old party line from decades ago? The "Numba please" lady was probably dead by now, as was her father and paternal grandmother and it occurred to her that was it. She had just somehow slipped into an electromagnetic disturbance or something that left her dialling years ago when in fact she was actually here.

She'd heard of that happening before; what's more, isn't that what ghosts are supposed to be all about? Electromagnetic energy caught out of time? Like a photograph but more like a hologram? Hmmm. She wished she had been better at things like math and physics.

Tea drunk, diary finished for now (she was pretty sure there would be more, in her more introspective times she may be unreachable by humanity, but boy she could write stuff inside her that had been festering and get it out into the open where it could finally be laid on paper to rest) she still had about half an hour before the delivery guy got there. She checked the t.v. guide. There was nothing interesting at all tonight, and the movies on the shelf she had left her feeling flat.

Let's face it, she thought, you really don't know what you want. So she sat down and played the piano, badly at first and from a long ago creaky memory, but then the feeling of flow and losing herself to the music came through and before she knew it the door bell was ringing and a part of her just didn't want to stop.

Somebody once told her that that was a sign of talent, that you could fall in love with doing something and not realize the time has gone by so quickly. Someone else described that as being manic but she didn't think so, mania has its own special ways of being.

Mmmm. Hot and sour soup, loaded with mushrooms and tofu, just spicy enough to burn the tongue but not so peppery she couldn't swallow. Delicious. That was something else. Not too many people understood how come she loved that weird hot soup with the eggs and the mushrooms and little bits of things all thickened with corn starch and notoriously different depending on where you got it. To Emma though, this was comfort food, great when she had a cold, delicious when they put rice noodles or glass noodles, and mushrooms just plain tasted healthy to her.

It was eight thirty when she couldn't eat another bite, even with chops sticks made of black lacquer and mother of pearl. She put the leftovers away, resisted the temptation to go have a nap (that would waste the rest of the night!), debated buying more wine and decided she would be crazy if she did, thought about having a cigarette, decided she would be even more crazy if she gave in to that one (come on, nearly $7 a pack? No way she could afford that on a regular basis).

She had some spirit candles that somebody gave her on a whim thinking that the energy emitted by a Gemini would benefit from this candle infused with essential oils and supposedly dipped in the full moon light. She thought her friend was a bit dipped for buying it, but it was a pretty blue with sparkles in it so tonight she lit it. It had been ages since she had done a proper meditation, so, with nice candle to focus on, sweet smelling lavender incense burning, she set herself down on a pillow in the middle of the floor, cross legged (though her knees were aching, yes she was out of shape), and cleared her mind with a gently hummed monotone ohmmm.

Soon all parts of her were relaxed, and in her mind she was flying to various places in a peripheral way, not really seeing, just sensing when a face very plainly popped in her mental vision. She didn't know who it was but she thought it may be an old childhood friend all grown up. It smiled at her and popped away. That was replaced by a huge tornado whirling, rain slicing down like daggers against a very black pavement, while the sky up above was a weird green. She didn't like the feeling of that. Had no idea where it was or when or why she was seeing it, but she willed her mind to go blank, and then some beautiful music filled her ears and very softly a voice said, "Time above all things is relative - be yourself dear, you are here now."

With that she came out of her meditation, refreshed, and wisely wrote down what she saw. So she must have been in a kind of time warp or something yesterday, she thought. Had to be.

Chapter 9 - Smokin in the Boys Room

Something urged her to smoke another cigarette. She couldn't stand the yearning any more, so she went and got the old stale ones, knowing that with each one was an even stronger possibility that she would be back on them every day again. She vowed to herself and to the night air, that she would finish this package if she felt the need to, and if it took her thirty years to do it, but she would not buy or ask for any more cigarettes.

Besides, the way the world was turning on a very sharp and unforgiving angle these days, cigarettes would soon be outlawed and she would be like millions of others huddled under fume hoods with charcoal filters and praying that everyone that knew about this continued to like you and didn't turn you in.

She wondered who would be the next societal scapegoat in the States. There had been Muslims, and middle-easterners, and who else would be the next to just simply be put away with out trial or sent away to who knows where, some never to heard from again. She was thankful at that moment, that for the time being, this was not her concern. They were never that extreme where she lived, thought certainly being neighbours, the possibility was there.

Politics. Ugh. She lit up the cigarette, coughed, welcomed the burning and the wonderful just lit smell, and all of the pleasant things of smoking she missed. She wondered why it had to be this way. Cigarette so dangerous health-wise and also by setting fires, ruining budgets, burning holes in clothes, yes, very sad they couldn't have been made more for the nicotine and the rush than the burning and the oral fixation it solves.

She stubbed out the cigarette. Daughter was not going to be happy about this. She is adamant against smoking, having bought the lines completely that they feed in school. So what if you don't see teachers smoking anymore (remember the blue aired staff rooms?) They still do, just not on school property any more.

And kids still do, just not in the bathrooms any more.

Nothing's changed really. We've just all gotten much more sneaky about it. That's all.

She didn't like smoking in the bathroom back then. Stale smoke smells like cat pee. Stale smoke in a bathroom that already smells like pee just isn't good. Add to that the permanent gaggle of the "elite" girls who could be found at any time of day in there, eating their lunches and laughing at whoever came in to do whatever (god help the girl who made a bodily noise) and it was enough to drive Emma to smoke outside by the back wall where you actually were allowed to smoke, and also to avoid the bathrooms if at all possible since she was horrified by some of the remarks the girls made while she was in the stall.

Even to this day, at 38, if there was someone else in a public washroom, it unnerved her to go while someone was there also. Those girls no doubt didn't remember the nasty things they said, but they probably did remember sitting on the floor smoking with their friends, and probably would never admit ever, that they smoked or cut classes. Elite girls marry elite boys and have elite children while working at elite jobs and dreaming of being whole heartedly human somewhere where the grass doesn't need to be trimmed to within a millimetre of its life, and where shiny happy people really didn't take a truck load full of calm-me-down pharmaceuticals to ease their dangerously perfect lives.

She wished them well. She really did. A huge part of her thought that perfect was just too painful a thing to try to be. A few imperfections are much more fun.

Chapter 10 - If You Could Read My Mind

She decided that instead of smoking herself into a path of ruin, she should check her email and fool around on line, see who was chatting, what news was there.

She fired up the computer again, and remembered the email she hadn't read - the one that purported to be an old friend from high school. Sure. And she was class valedictorian. Too bad she quit before then.

She sorted through another 50 junk emails this time urging her to buy all sorts of fun Canadian pharmaceuticals online! Being Canadian, these always made her laugh, knowing there was no way they would actually send her that but of course they would be very happy to take her money.

There were several written in real words but reading like gibberish. They scared her a bit. Too much like the t.v. last night. Maybe daughter was right, it was the wine. Could it be that there was a weird chemical or something in there? Probably not. Anyway, she thought, if this were world war two, and were back then sending messages in the newspapers like they did, certain words coded, then with our technical ability that's what I would do to send spy messages. The so much like that is what the should be, that really, why wouldn't they be? It would be fun to copy one out into a problem and have it run a few algorithms, but then what algorithms would she run? She didn't know any algorithms from her left boob. It would be just as effective if she tried to write one as if her left boob did. In fact, her left boob could probably write it better.

So. The former high school catch up site email. She clicked on it. It wasn't an ad that she could see. It was just a very cryptic, "Is this the Emma that sat by the window in Mr. Sampson's biology class in grade 12? I would like to contact that Emma. If you are, would you reply to my message? I know you probably don't remember me and if you have a yearbook still around you could look me up, I'm Sean Fitzgerald."

Sean Fitzgerald. She thought back for a few minutes. Let's see. For the few classes she actually attended that year (pissed off her friends royally she could just show up for the odd class and tests and pass without having to write an exam) if she remembered correctly she was near the window. Now this was a rare blessing since window desks are treasured and not easily obtained. It was her mental escape to anywhere else having a window to look out of. Maybe that was why they rarely ever let her sit near one. She didn't buy the hooey that it had to do with her last name. If it did, there was always be the same people by the windows and that just wasn't how it was done.

Okay, so yearbook time. She did have them handy, daughter had been asking for a school project not long ago. She looked up grade 12. Aha. Sean wasn't in her home room, in fact from the looks of things wasn't in many of her classes at all. He hadn't been at the grocery store she worked in part time either. No, looked like that was the only class he was in. She sort of recognized the face; like many people back then, the longish hair and the polyester shirt, he wasn't anything that leaped off the page at her.

Still, she stared at the photo, and as she stared, she was carried away for a few moments, mentally lost with a scene of her and a man in a restaurant. He leans across the table, grabs her hand and says, "You know it then too do you? You are so special." and then back to the year book, the smiling faces now approaching middle age and no doubt looking nothing like they did back then. Oh, except for one nasty girl she had known back then, she saw her picture in the newspaper a while ago, she still looked the same, but then she had heard that that's what happens when you make a pact with the devil.

She laughed. There is this lady at work, thankfully not someone she deals with every day, but she is so religious she is constantly warning her about evil people and how yoga will bring the devil into your life. She nods dutifully and wonders if this person ever looked beyond the version of the bible she had to understand that in all truth, there are more muslims, Buddhists, Hindu, Sikh, Jewish, name it than there are her particular brand of Christianity and so it stands to reason that the souls prior to her religion probably were saved, and no god is so vengeful that only one particular trade marked religion would be his or her copyrighted soul saver. No. It just couldn't work like that, and so she pretended she had nothing to do with yoga (which these days was more truthful than not) and smiled sweetly not arguing, not rocking the boat, not screaming out, "Who died and made you the vessel of the answer to everything? Who says you can't be happy and still get into heaven? And why should I care what you think anyway?" Good thing too. She needed her job. Put bible-Barbara up against her, almost certainly she'd be the one to go. Why? The squeaky wheel gets the grease and she just isn't that squeaky.

She hit the reply button. Up popped that nice blank space before his email. What to say? She had no idea. I mean, if it were a friend or something, there would be a starting point, but just someone who remembered she sat by the window? Jeez. More to the point, why on earth would this guy want to write to her? Bored? A creep? Class reunion specialist? Aha! Light bulb went off. Of course that was it. Why else would a near stranger write her. Let''s see now……yes, 20 year reunion coming up was it? That had to be it. Almost certainly.

She filled in her nice blank space with: "Yes, I am one and the same. I don't have a subscription to the high school memories site though, I'm just a freebie put your name down and see if anyone is silly enough to remember you. I'm guessing this has to do with a reunion or something? I don't normally go to those, but I might since it's been about 20 years and time is a great leveller. Feel free to write me back if you like."

She hit send, and then looked at the help file for her email program to see how to block a person. Just in case of course.

The phone rang. Olivia on the phone. Did she know where her dark blue and purple sweater is? Emma thought for a minute. No……she replied, perhaps the laundry? An indignant voice rose on the other end. "YOU MEAN YOU DIDN'T DO THE LAUNDRY???" roared in her ear. It was seriously tempting to bang down the phone. Instead she said quietly, "No, I did not. There did not appear to be enough to do a load, particularly the dark colours. There is nearly enough white. I could wash your undies and socks if you like. But no, I DID NOT DO NOR DID I SEE ANY SWEATER. AND IF THIS IS THE TONE YOU WANT TO USE WITH ME, THEN YOU ARE CERTAINLY WELCOME TO WASH YOUR OWN CLOTHES FROM NOW ON!"

There was a silence on the other end, and then, "Oh, maybe I loaned it to somebody. Never mind." Click.

Back to the computer. She didn't expect to hear from Olivia again this evening, she knew that when the shouts came back, Olivia was in trouble and very likely to be doing not only her own laundry but her mom''s as well if she kept that attitude up.

Back to the junk mail. Let's see. Even in the time she answered the phone, there were six new messages. Four were "no possible way of losing investment deals, what are you waiting for?" Hell to freeze over, she thought. Delete en mass. An email from an old friend asking if she had ever read the book "Jonathan Livingstone Seagull by Richard Bach?" She had. Did she like it? Yes. The next, a reply to her reply. My goodness, that was fast.

She wasn't too keen on opening it because if she did, would she seem a little anxious? She thought for a second. No, not at all. She was after all at the computer right now. Most people don't just answer an email and turn the whole machine off, you usually turn the machine on for stuff and answer email at the same time. At least that's what she does.

So fine. She had been planning on checking a couple of her favourite lists so she signed into them. After a suitable time, she opened the new email.

"Hello again," Sean wrote, "I am glad you got back to me so quickly. I hope I'm not intruding, I'm not a reunion organizer, in fact I have never been to one either. Now that you mention it's 20 years, I am now kind of curious too. If you hear something will you send the info to me? I will send to you if I hear something. It's more likely I will since I did give in and buy a subscription to that place. Anyway, I am looking for information on a few things, catch up with people, that sort of thing, and so I did this. Were it not for that, like you, I would not bother. Actually I wouldn't have even known about this place had it not been for the fact I was doing a web search and an ad for this place came up. A bit interesting, but like you, I was never much into the gang of friends thing, I pretty much just attended to get my grades and get out."

"I hope you don't mind my saying that," he continued, "I don't mean it in a bad way, I just know you were yourself and did your own thing, much like me. That's all. There is nothing wrong with that at all. You said you still had your yearbook and saw my picture. That's great! So do I. I do remember you very well, though I doubt you remember me at all. I wasn't in many of your classes at all. I was more into history and geography and courses like that. You I know were into music and art and languages. Do you mind if I ask, are you still into those things? I hate to see talent wasted."

"This email is too long. I am sorry." He went on. "I'm just so glad I found you. I did have a purpose for finding you, and it involves Sarah. I don't know if you want to call me, or continue email, I also have MSN chat if you're into chatting. It's up to you. I'll understand if you don't want to answer this, but if you do, don't worry, I'm not a freak. Really. Yours sincerely, Sean Fitzgerald."

She left the email up on the screen. Now what? How in the hell do you respond to something like that? It was just too strange. Well, no, not strange, he sounded very nervous to be writing her, which I guess was fair since she was pretty nervous herself reading it.

Still, how was she to respond to that? Even though she had asked Olivia not to print something unless it was absolutely necessary (ink is literally worth its weight in gold) she figured the best answer for the moment would be to print the email out, sit down and draft something first.

And of course, she lit up a cigarette. She also sincerely regretted not buying any wine this evening. Oh well. Probably much better she didn't answer a virtual stranger after a wine anyway. Especially after last night. She still did need to go see a doctor about that, or at least see about hormones since she was feeling a little forgetful she assumed.

A boss she had once has a plaque on his wall, "When you ASSUME you make an ASS out of U and ME" it read. Yup. That was one of the better office wall things she had read. She was due for a check up though, and 38 is definitely too young for middle age stuff to be happening. Being forgetful at this age usually is stress, but it should be checked out, if only for peace of mind.

She sat down at the livingroom table, lit up a cigarette, and read the email carefully. Okay. First, he was looking for something. Second, he remembered her a whole lot better than she did him. Why? Third, and most important, he felt the need to contact her because of Sarah. Last night she had been thinking about Sarah. How was it this person she barely knew back then had to talk to her about her old best friend? And why were they both thinking of it at the same time? How could he have known what she was thinking?

It was a coincidence. Nothing more. There are books out there though, Celestial Prophesies being one, that remind people there is no such thing as a coincidence. Hmm. She had to answer this Sean. She really did. That was it. Finish her cigarette, and like him she would just write what entered her head and see where it led. That was all.

Chapter 11 - Hey, Won't You Play Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song

She was wrong about Olivia. She did phone again. Just as Emma was about to get a cup of nice hot tea and poured herself into her mysterious Sean person, Olivia was on the phone, asking her, "Oh mom, you know how Alexia has these cool blue streaks in her hair? Well we went to the store and they had some streak stuff you just put in and it washes out sometime and Alexia knows how to do this so she wants to know if she can help me put blue streaks in my hair too since it's almost black it might look really cool, you know like really green with really red hair is a bit like Christmas and the box says it's non-toxic and washable and will come out after ten washes or something like that and..."

Emma cut her off right there, "Yes I know the stuff you mean, yes it's pretty harmless. Is that all you guys are doing tonight? Is Alexia's mom there?"

Sounding a little furtive, Olivia answered, "No we're watching t.v. and talking to friends on computer. Her mom is here but she's in her room doing homework I think, something about a book or something, she takes courses in stuff, university I think. So yup, she's here, everyone is okay."

"Alright then, have fun, and if her mom is studying, I hope you guys are keeping it down a little and not asking her for stuff every five minutes."


"Night sweetie."

"Night." This time it did sound like she probably wouldn't call again unless it was something really desperate. After all it was nearly 10 p.m. She could tell by the neighbour's cat yowling - they always let it out at 9:45, when, she guessed, they were locking up and heading up to bed.

One hot cup of tea in hand later, she stared at the reply message. "Hi Sean" was all she had for the moment. She really didn't know what to say to this guy, but she had to admit she was just a little intrigued, so she picked up on the thing that had hit her first, the bit about Sarah. Did he know where Sarah was? How she was? Worth finding out.

"I wasn't sure if I should answer you," she wrote, "since I don't really remember you - I'm sorry to say - however two things, one that you remember me so well (I am sorry I don't remember you, honestly, I just tend to be in my own mental cocoon most of the time, was then and still am now) and then other that you mention Sarah."

"It was interesting to me to have to write about her since for the first time in years, and before I got your email, I had been thinking of Sarah. Do you know anything of her? Anything at all? I haven't seen her in years and it is often a thought will cross my mind that reminds me of her. We were very close friends for a while at a time in our lives when we were becoming people and women - that's a lot of important stuff, as I am sure you can remember with your guy friends. We went out separate ways after high school as most people do. She called me once when I was about twenty one or so, but that is the last I heard of her. Have you heard anything?"

"Thank you for the offer of email or MSN or whatever. I think right now email is fine. I do actually use MSN but I don't give it out to everybody because then I would be doing nothing but chatting online all the time if I did; I'm sure you understand. Plus, as a mother of a teenager, it is sometimes a very rare event to be able to spend any time on the computer." On it went.

"So out of curiosity may I ask, how are you? What did you do after school? Did you move anywhere? Get married? Have kids? You know, all the usual stuff. You know that I have a teenager, and I am still alive, LOL. I did get some university but not a degree. My high school sweetheart (if you remember him with me?) - he moved on to bigger and better things with his university which was in Vancouver. I stay here then married a person I knew from work, and we also moved out to Vancouver for a while but came back close to here. I moved a little closer to the hometown but chose beauty and space over convenience. It is very quiet here; you almost never hear traffic much less sirens and city busses and things like that. I'm babbling now. Forgive me. Well, thanks for writing, Emma."

Almost as soon as she sent the email, a reply came through (she clicked on the reply notification just for fun for this one) and she thought, this is kind of fun. I know he opened the email, and I guess and I am here, looking at the email, he is reading it. She knew it would probably take him a while to respond, so she went back to reading her lists.

A woman in Kansas is pregnant and not sure she wants another one. At 33 she just doesn't have the energy to cope with five kids and a full time job and a husband who works nights. At first Emma thought, okay, this lady is yanking our chains, but then no, the power of the internet means that people, and lifestyles, that previously she may not have paid much attention to winds up in print in front of you.

She thought about writing something about birth control, then thought no, it could be a birth control failure, forgetfulness, religiosity, her husband insisting they have what they wind up with, sheer ignorance, not enough money for proper birth control (she could, and probably was Emma figured, using a library computer), any number of reasons, and who was she to judge anyway?

She didn't know what to say except her grandma's advice of keeping her knees together, and wishing her luck. This woman was looking for real advice. It wasn't going to come from her.

Next thing, a long diatribe about the evils of gay marriage. Scroll. There would be no convincing people like that that really, it's none of their business who is sleeping with whom and under what circumstances and if they love each other and want to commit to each other, then why can't they? The whole issue was more or semantics, she thought, beyond the obvious churchie complaints.

The next was something about things not seeming quite right lately. This peaked her interest a little. The writer, one sparklyshinydime was saying that though he reads the newspaper every day, lately it seems like everything he read the day before is not what has to do with what is happening today and is he going crazy?

Oh my God! Emma thought. It isn't just me. She looked at the thread, there were a couple of answers, nothing like the 42 for the pregnant lady. She read the answers to this first; one was something to do with a joke about reading the right newspapers and which dimension did he think he was on? Another about how great it would be it we could all just change the shit we didn't like to read and put in the shit we did... okay, all this was pretty much what she would expect to read as responses. She clicked on the reply to and selected the drop down for reply to author only.

"Dime," she wrote, "I hope you aren't joking because last night I had the same thing happen to me. Except I didn't keep the paper like I should have, I used it line kitty litter boxes. But yes, if you are telling the truth, that did happen, I didn't recognize anything in the paper at all, and that just doesn't make sense. It all goes beyond that but I would interested in hearing what if anything you have come up with before I reveal. There's too many crazies out there and I am sorry to say I really don't want my inbox flamed for saying what I have experienced. Write me back if you like. Spoiledbratbabe."

A sproing sound came through her computer speakers. A message notifier told her that "fitzthecatsea" just sent her an email. Okay. She looked in her inbox. Yeegads it was a long email. No idea what that would entail so she just hit print and went to the kitchen to make herself another cup of tea. Post-bathroom break and nice hot cup of lemon zap tea in hand, she picked up the very long email and sat down at the table, a lit cigarette burning in the ashtray, email together and waiting to be read.

"Thank you so much for your honesty Emma, I knew you would remain an honest person. I am glad you have reiterated that for me. I say reiterated because I had a dream that said you told me this. I hope this doesn't make you feel strange, me talking about dreaming of you, but it was indeed strange for me to dream of this girl that I am sorry to say I didn't pay enough attention to. Can I be honest here? I'm going to be anyway. I liked you back then, I thought you were very cute and sweet and funny and smart and had a nice body and all that, but you weren't one of the populars and you weren't a sports person or a drama person or any of those things and I wished I were in more classes of yours because I tried all year to talk to you and couldn't. I was like that. I am still like that. We are blessed by email I think."

"Emma, I thank you for what you said about Sarah. Yes I know the bond teenagers have for one another. Girls it's almost sexual or so it seemed to me - they are so passionate and protective of one another."

Emma smiled. He hit the nail on the head with that one. Teenage girls are fiercely loyal and loving to their best friends, and she remembered at the time wondering if how she felt (platonically, she was never physically attracted to girls) was somehow going to be how she felt about guys. It was, but that came in her late teens. Very hard to explain unless you've been a teenaged girl.

"I could tell you about boys sometime, they are interesting in their own macho ways, but no less vulnerable I'm afraid. I think girls, women, are really that much stronger than boys/men. But you didn't hear that from me. LOL. Sarah got to be a close friend of mine, in fact we dated. I last talked to her about ten years ago. We both went to the same university, and she meant a lot to me. She talked about you a lot. I asked why she never called but she knew I had had a crush on you (did I just say that? :o ) and maybe she was afraid that would affect her and I or something if she called you. I am sorry about that. I didn't mean to come between you and her, I really didn't. I loved Sarah for her own qualities and of course I never did get close to you at all so whatever I felt or thought of you were really just impressions I had made. It is easy to create this image of something that is nowhere near reality and that is fine, as long as you recognize it for what it is. It took me until my mid-twenties to see that I have a tendency to idealize people and not know who they are really until it is too late."

Emma didn't know whether to laugh or cry. She knew exactly what he was talking about, and she was guilty of the same thing. She read on, "Sarah and I, for what it is worth, we dated for about a year, and we went out separate ways. It wasn't angry or bitter or anything, we just moved on to other interests, other people. I was sad, and I'm sure she was too. She was my first real lover. Oh, maybe I shouldn't say that. But I am hoping that at 38 or 39 I can talk openly with you. It is so hard to tell these days; so many people who shoved little spoons up their noses in university are church deacons now and would never admit they had an all night bang with a group of people twenty five years ago."

"I am sorry if my language offends you. For the record, I never did what I just wrote - no, didn't even try the cocaine, the idea of burning my nostrils out bothered me. Plus I didn't see the need for pouring thousands of dollars of money into something so ethereal and deadly as coke. I just don't like hypocrisy and I seem to be seeing a lot of it lately."

No kidding, Emma thought. Sean had all the earmarks of being a good pen pal if he didn't get too weird or start asking for money or something. She was tired yet, even though it was approaching midnight. She didn't want to appear desperate or silly or something but she did want to keep writing more to Sean. She rationalized another email with the fact that probably he won't reply right now, and she is never on for this long a time normally, in fact it is sometimes a few days before she reads her emails.

"Sean," she started on a new email entitled continuation of previous long email, "thank you for that bit of history. I am glad to know that it wasn't something I did or said that caused Sarah to drift away. We were such close friends back then, and to lose her was a little like losing a part of myself. It did hurt when phone calls got farther and farther apart, and then she was always busy. I blamed it on university and whatever and left it at that. Still though, I think of her often and wish that fate would blow us on the same path, if only for a cup of coffee and to see how she is doing."

"For myself though, I prefer to live in the present, not the past. Life goes on you know, and to always be in the past means you have reliving hurts constantly - how can you ever grow and move when you are constantly dwelling on long finished things? I have discovered that very often the words that cut like a knife when said by someone are so rarely remembered, and a lot the slights that truly cut me, the people who did them don't even remember. Most of the time, my world, my thoughts, my feelings aren't even on somebody's radar unless they truly love me. Do you know what I mean? As for me, I am a person who is often lost in my thoughts; shy, but not timid, just shy I am also independent and so I don't intrude on another's life unless they want me to. And even then....for instance, I don't just drop in on people. Can't. The thought makes me nervous. I just don't like the idea of interrupting someone." She thought for a moment. Where was she leading with this? Who knew.

"I'm rambling. I will tell you a bit about me if you tell me what has happened with you. To start, I never did finish university; being on my own meant more and I couldn't afford on my own and university at the same time. Got part of it, enough to do something with myself. I'm a webmaster for a non-profit organization. Not a lot of money, but I like what I do. I have a daughter who is a teenager, and live in my own house in the country. Love it out here, it so quiet. And you can breathe. We tried Vancouver, back when I was a we and I was young enough to find the busy city fun, but that got old after a while, and more than anything we needed to come home - parents get old and start dying and suddenly 5000 km is just a bit far away to be, especially when I didn't always have the plane fare to get home quickly if I had to. So that's it for me, not much else to say unless you write back. Cheers! Emma."

Send. Her inbox bleeped a few times quickly, just junk and a reply from sparklyshinydime.

Chapter 12 - Do You Hear What I Hear?

Sparklyshinydime said that he was kind of sorry he wrote that. He has had more email saying he was off his rocker and to stop messing around with the list. The moderator has put him on notice that all of his posts are going to be screened for the time being, and he hoped that her response wasn't just more of the same or somebody messing with him. He said it sounded like Emma had experienced what he did, and he'd talk more about it with her if she wanted, but only if she was for real. Did she have something specific they could look up?

Emma thought for a moment. Yes she did! The missing child. Now what was his name...John Deluca, that was it. He was seven and lost in the woods after he climbed off the back of his dad's ATV.

She replied: "I'm sorry they're giving you such a hard time, Dime, I think there are just not a lot of people who want to talk about stuff that isn't tangible, or at least blessed by the powers that be. So I fully understand and no, I am not messing with you. Here's my example. The newspaper I picked up to read literally had nothing I recognized. It was all new. All of it. Have you ever read a newspaper where absolutely everything in it was new? I mean, you can pick up a newspaper half way around the world and there will still be something you recognize. I didn't recognize the US President's name, but that isn't most trackable thing because I don't remember the name I read. Instead, the thing that stood out the most for me was a story about a missing boy. It appeared they had been talking about his for days but I hadn't read anything about it before. It was a seven or eight year old boy, named I think John Deluca, missing the woods in Northern Ontario. Of course today, I didn't read or hear anything about it. Have you? And what exactly would you write? Spoiledbratbabe"

She yawned. She was about to turn off the computer when came the bleeble bleep that signalled new mail. One last check before bed. It was Sean's reply. And it was quickly followed by what looked like an invitation to MSN. Yes, she probably should accept it, but not until after she had read what he replied back.

"Thanks again, Emma." He said. "You're right. Why should we dwell on the past if it is over and of course the painful events just don't go away if you don't let them go. There is a lot to be said for people who forgive and forget; forgetting is sometimes not possible, but even the most horrendous thing should be forgiven if it is possible. You know, I hadn't thought about it but, yes, the people who do these things very often don't remember, if you're not part of their inner circle you're nothing. That's why it is fine for them to take from you and back stab you and still sleep just fine at night. It is all just a game, didn't you know that?"

"LOL, what they don't realise is the only one playing the game is them, at least if you're not into that garbage. I tried to play the game. I did. I failed. Now much better doing what means more to me which is researching the history of unknown Canadians. Kind of like Pierre Burton but not nearly so good at it, or as famous. <weg> (that means wicked evil grin if you don't know ;) )."

"About me, well after Sarah there was a bit of dry spell in that I went out with a bunch of women but nothing serious. Was more concerned about career and that sort of thing. The I met Maya. I fell hard for her. We lived together for five years, were going to get married, have kids the whole thing. She fell ill and died five years ago. I haven't really looked for anybody after that, I dated a little bit, especially when I was over the shock and into the angry stage but I haven't really connected with anyone and a part of me is glad of that for now. Maybe someday but I'm not looking. And you? You were a 'we' and now are a 'me with child' what's up with that if I may ask? Where am I? Like you I went west for a while, Edmonton, came back, am in Montreal at the moment but I'm not staying here. Honestly I'd like to go down east if I could."

"I've sent you an invite to MSN if you'd like to chat instead of a bunch of emails, it's up to you, I won't mind if you don't accept. Lots of people don't like chat. Besides, I'm not really trying to monopolize your time, I'm just enjoying 'talking' with you. If you get tired of this, tell me and I'll stop, okay? Night, Sean."

Night Sean she said to the screen. She accepted the invite with the answer, "I'm not on much, but when I am, I'd be pleased to talk to you. I have to go to bed now and not sure if I'll be on the computer tomorrow, but I will be writing you back, we have stuff in common I see...misery loves company, lOL. Emma aka Spoileddbratbabe"

Reluctantly she shut down the computer. When she woke up in the morning daughter would probably be home, and there would be laundry and nagging about homework and who used up all the hot water and....

Yes it was fun having a teenager daughter. On the other hand, this quiet evening was delightful.

Chapter 13 - Black Magic Woman

Ha ha ha ha ha! A voice in dark called. Almost a bird but not quite, it sank into her soul and scraped like nails against a blackboard on it. Dark. The sound itself was dark, if there were any sense of good or love about it, it had long been sucked out of the marrow of this creature's being. She had no desire whatsoever to see what this thing looked like. The sound of its call was more than enough.

Emma looked around. The ground, a spongy green and purple, sank around her feet. Not like quicksand yet unnerving just the same. Hello? She cried out but it was like yelling into a pillow all muffled and going nowhere. Where in the hell was she?

She looked around but the darkness was nearly palpable and she had no idea how she got there. Or why.

She pinched herself. Ow! Okay, it hurt. So she wasn't sleeping. Or so they say. You can't pinch yourself when you're sleeping, right? Then she thought about the dreaming only in black and white, and the idea that if you hit the ground while falling in your dream you're dead. Well, she always dreamed in colour, and had had many dreams where she fell and hit the ground. She'd even had dreams where she could breath underwater. Never had one where she flew though. She wondered if maybe she jumped up here she could fly? She crouched, sprang up and

Landed flat on her bum. That didn't explain anything though. She could just not be someone who can fly in dreams is all. Well, if this is or isn't a dream, she should at least figure out where the heck she was and why.

She got up, dusted off the spongy stuff from her pants, looked around. There were a lot of trees, and they looked quite a bit like the Dr. Seuss trees in the book The Lorax. And if indeed she had transported herself into a Dr. Seuss book, well, that just couldn't be good. She laughed. This was a dream. She was in bed in her flannel nighty last conscious moment she had before this.

That concluded, she decided to explore this interesting place. She wasn't anxious to see what kind of a creature made that eerie laugh, but then if this is a lucid dream, then she would just have to wish herself somewhere else.

She walked down a hill to a path that was made of shiny black stones like malachite maybe and she just walked, looking at the oddly silent forest and clear clear sky. It wasn't cold but it was a little cool, a slight breeze sending shivers down her spine. Being not a little spooky here didn't help either.

"Emma? Emma!" Somebody was calling to her. She turned. Not a sight of anyone. "Up here!" Said the voice. A squirrel sat on branch above her, its long black tail waving at her. She laughed. "You're a squirrel!"

"Not just any squirrel, YOUR squirrel." and it chuckled a cartoon animal laugh, kind of like one of the Chipmunks after a beer or two.

Emma sat down on the ground, laughing so hard she held her head in her hands. "This is fun, what is your name?"

"I'm just a squirrel. Isn't being a talking squirrel enough? Sheesh." He tossed an acorn at her head.

"Hey! You almost hit me!"

"Good. Snicken shracken ungrateful person you."

Okay. This was one messed up squirrel. Even if it could talk. "You're the one that called me over. I'm impressed. Alrightie? So what did you call me over for?"

"Just wanted to see if you were Emma. You are. And now I go." With that he turned tail and disappeared up a branch.

"Hey! Hey!!" Shit. The one thing she could talk to and it was gone. Then the same eerie animal hahahaha'ed in the distance.

She picked up the acorn it had thrown at her. On the top was painted one of those arrows they put on pill bottles and tops of things to show which direction to turn the top. So she turned it.

Out popped a glowing blue sheet that sprang out to a standing billboard. Bright red letters illuminated themselves one at a time, until it spelled out: Don't listen to the squirrel.

She shook her head. What a waste of a fun glowing blue sign. She kept walking. In the distance she could see the horizon, a shimmering lake, and iridescent clouds shining opalescent in the indigo blue sky.

She kept walking. A sailboat glided in silhouette in the water. Something in her made her yearn desperately to be on that ship, the winds flapping the sails, the lines squeaking, wood creaking, waves lapping on the bow.

It had been a long time since she had been in a boat. She had forgotten how much she enjoyed it. Perhaps there were good things about Vancouver she missed but didn't know it. She kept walking.

Things rustled in the leaves on the forest floor beside her. She ignored them.

Get your tickets here! Tickets to paradise! Get your tickets here. All for only one acorn!

What? She whirled around. A racoon with a decidedly leering gaze held an old popcorn cone with the end chewed off up to his mouth like a bull horn.

In his hand he held two tickets, she could see they were emblazoned with the sailboat silhouette.

She went up to the racoon. "I had an acorn. I opened it. Sorry. But I'd really like to get on the boat. Do you know where I can get an acorn around here?"

He lowered the bullhorn from his mouth. "Ask the squirrel," he said.

Get your tickets here! Tickets to paradise! Get your tickets here!

She looked up, and sure enough, on a branch not too far from her head was the black squirrel. "You opened it. I can't believe you opened it."

"And it said 'Don't listen to the squirrel.'"

"Oh who pays attention to acorn boards. Everybody knows they're biassed."

"So do you have another acorn? I promise not to open it."

"Why wouldn't you? This time it might tell you to listen to the squirrel."

"But I don't care what the sign says, I want a ticket on the boat."

"Oh but are you sure the raccoon is selling tickets to that boat? And what if what the acorn says is more important to read than the boat trip is to go on? What if there isn't a sign inside, what if it's just an acorn?"

"I'm beginning to believe the sign was right, squirrel. Toss another acorn at me please."


"What? Why not?"

"Because you don't appreciate everything I do for you. You are taking me fore granted missy and just for that no, no extras for you. What's more if that room isn't cleaned up by bedtime you are in big trouble!"

As the squirrel said this it morphed into her mother and she was a teenager just desperate to blow this joint and go out with her friends. She watched her mother, the lips moving and she could hear a sound, then she was her mother and it was Olivia being yelled at and she thought she was going to be sick. Another girl was sitting on the bed beside Olivia and she looked up at her and said, "Mom, why are you yelling at her? It's my fault."

She realized it was Harmony.

She was crying when she woke up. She shouldn't have listened to the squirrel, she thought. And she wondered what would have happened if she had gone one the boat in her dream. A part of her wanted to dream it again, this time she wouldn't open the acorn, and she would go on the boat. Maybe then there would be no mom yelling at her, no Harmony taking the blame.

That was it! Harmony, where ever she was, she was taking the blame! That was why she had these dreams with her in them, reaching out, protecting Olivia, oh man, the poor little girl. How do you tell the spirit of a baby that it is not her fault she didn't live? Oh my god.

In the dark it all made sense. So much so that she pulled out her dream diary, turned on the light and started writing.

The clock on the bed side table glowed blue at her: "4:04" it read.

Chapter 14 - The Sunday Morning After

Two p.m. Olivia was still not home. Emma had been awake since ten o'clock and had already done the laundry, the dishes, the kitchen floor and was defrosting a chicken for dinner. She checked the messages on the phone - nothing. She'd give it an hour before she called Alexia's place. They were probably just getting up now, knowing them. She didn't think Olivia had any important homework or anything truly pressing so she didn't worry too much.

She sat down with a nice hot cup of coffee and the newspaper. Still no sign of the little boy it said. This paper, though the stories were the continuation of the previous ones of two nights before. There was still a problem with that, though, because that wasn't what was happening on the Thursday of last week. What happened to that news?

She turned on the radio. It was her usual station, playing its usual music. Phew. Oh well, maybe she had gotten so out of touch with reality lately that the news was the right news, she just hadn't really paid attention to what she was reading, and then of course everything she read would be new to her. As for the t.v. and phone, um, well, that was probably the wine. She will have to apologize to her daughter, she never did anything like that, and she certainly wasn't about to repeat it any time soon.

A song she never heard before started playing on the radio. Its first notes where beautiful, a single violin starting, leading into a piano and then faintly, in the background, a flute. Absolutely wonderful.

A woman sang:

When in the darkest

Night I seek you

Call your name

But you aren't there

And honey can I tell you

Honestly my heart is

Breaking broken frozen

Lost without you

Here beside me

There could be thousands

Of others like you

Other men willing

To spend the time

With me and yet

There is none I have

Found whose whisper

Stirs deep inside me

Calls my soul

And damn it all

Why did you go

Where did you go

Do you remember

Remember remember

There will be days without you

And years can go by

Without your voice in my ear

And still I will never forget

The feeling of your skin

Against mine

Your breath against my ear

How we fit together darling

Dancing our dance

I will remember you

And I find you once again

In the sands of time

I'll find you

Even if it's only

In my dreams

She listened for the singer or group or whatever but they didn't mention it, three songs after the phone rang, and if they mentioned it then, well, she missed it. She'd just have to listen for it again.

When she picked up the phone there was no one there, and the call display showed nothing. Oh well, if it was a valid call they'd leave a message.

Four o'clock. Time to call Alexia's house. She picked up the phone.

"Numba please."

Damn! This again! "Ma'am," she said, "would you mind telling me what the date is today, the full date including the year? My grampie is a bit soft in the head lately and he doesn't believe me when I tell him. If I hold the phone up to his ear will you tell me? He swears he'll believe the Operator. Would you?"

"Yes, put him on I'll give him the date."

"Oh thank you so much! Grampie! The Operator will give you the date, come here I'll put the phone up to your ear. Hold on a moment, ah, here he is" she said, and then muffled so the numba lady would think there is someone there, "said okay, go ahead."

"The time is 4:14 p.m., eastern time. The date is Sunday, November 18, 1928. Good afternoon to you sir."

There was nothing else but a click. 1928. What the? Just then the door opened and in walked a blue streaked haired Olivia.

She slammed the door behind her. "I AM NEVER TALKING TO ALEXIA AGAIN!" she roared.

Her bag was slammed on the floor, and she slumped into a chair by the kitchen table. She gave an evil glare to her mother, put her head on the table and cried piteously.

Emma went to her, rubbing her back and asking, "What happened?"

Daughter looked up, tears pouring down her face and simply said in a dark monotone, "You know what mom? Leave me the fuck alone."

Emma pulled away from her, shocked. She was literally at a loss for words. Leave her alone she did then. She turned on the oven, washed and dressed the chicken, put it in a pan and in the oven. At the same time she threw in a couple of potatoes to bake. There would frozen peas later, but the chicken itself would take about an hour and a half so she poured herself a glass of water and left Olivia in the kitchen, sobbing, while she went to the living room and continued reading the paper.

In the back of her mind, she couldn't help thinking of the date. November 18, 1928. Today is November 14, 2004. The house they live in was built in 1908, and stayed with the same family for 80 years. It had been renovated a few times, the last time she understood in the mid-nineties. It was probably due for a new furnace and hot water heater, but they weren't quite on their last legs yet. They worked, they could just be a bit better was all.

Daughter was now snivelling and giving heaving sighs. Normally that was her cue for mom to go pamper her with something but this time she thought, forget it. Speak to me like that, you're on your own, girl.

She expected the evening would be filled with a drama complete with unanswered phone calls and bleeping MSN messages and the various who done who wrong nonsense and in all of it she knew she would be puzzling why her telephone still thinks it's 1928 and would Dime or Sean be writing her back tonight? That settled it. They were going to have to get another computer, even if it was nothing special for mom to check her email and do MSN and writing.

"I want to move to dad's." Came a small voice from the kitchen. "I can't stand it here anymore."

She supposed she should answer but what could she say? Anytime that there was something Olivia didn't like about the very moment her dad was used a chip to bargain, but what, what was she getting at here? Emma couldn't fix her friend problems, or do her tests for her, or get some guy to like her or another guy to not like her. She just didn't have those answers. Heck, she'd like to know those answers for herself, god knows she'd been asking them for long enough.

"If I come talk to you will you promise not to swear at me? It hurts me to be spoken to that way."

No answer. "Fine I'll stay in here then. We do need to talk but honestly, you need to get over the idea of running away from problems, they never really disappear entirely. And if you run to your dad's do think that there will be no more problems? No more friends that piss you off? No more rules? Wake up. No matter where you are there will always be people who are mean, people who are petty, people who are out to get you. Why? Who knows. Some people get pleasure out of hurting people, but most don't do it purposefully to hurt you, things just happen that way."

"Mom you have no idea what's going on. Just leave me alone. I just want out of here. I hate this place."

Sigh. She decided that nothing she could say would make her happy so forget it. She turned on the computer. At first sound of the whirr of the printer starting up, the voice from the kitchen said, "I need to go on the computer. Don't sign in."

Well now. That was nice. Emma counted to ten. Then twenty. And then she said, "Dear, this is my computer. Mine. I bought it, I paid for it, I pay for the internet, and the telephone line it runs on, and you will get on when I say you can get on and not before. Now I might have thought differently had you asked nicely, but you didn't, and you still haven't apologized for what you said earlier. And if you don't like it, you can damned well buy your own computer, and the router we'd need for you to run it. GOT THAT?"

She heard the back door slam. Guess she did get that.

Emma was tempted to run after her, but you know what? It occurred to her that this was abuse, and she wasn't going to give this the attention she craved it to create. No thanks. She could either be nice to her or if she continued with this attitude then going to her dad's might just be the right idea.

She hated people who play games. Especially those who supposedly love her. Hard to have games when you're the only one playing.

She clicked on her email. It scrolled through something silly like sixty new emails, most sending themselves automatically to the junk folder. That left her with fifteen that looked normal-ish.

Most were friends and acquaintances sending cute pictures and things. One was from her ex, apologizing that he would be out of town for the next three weeks on business and would therefore not be able to see Olivia.

She immediately wrote him back: Please call her before you go, and if possible give her your phone number. She is really upset about a friend this afternoon and as usual when she's like this is threatening to pack her bag and go to you. You really need to talk to her before you go. You didn't say what day so I will tell her to call you tonight."

Damn. She didn't like her daughter being disappointed and how crushed is she going to be when she realizes that dad didn't leave room for her in life on an every day basis. Gads.

"Olivia?" She called out the door. "You need to call your dad tonight, he's going out of town he says."

A glowering girl slumped from beneath a tree and dragged herself towards the door. "K" she said and grabbed the door from Emma's hand, pushed her aside and went to the phone.

Emma went back to the computer.

"What?" Olivia said to the phone. "Who the hell is this? What do you mean Numba Please?"

Emma ran and grabbed the phone. "Pardon me, kids playing. Sorry about that."

She went white. "Olivia, what day is it today?"

"November 14, 2004. Why? Who was that?"

"That's the Operator. I asked her the date. She said it's November 18th, 1928."

Olivia rolled her eyes. "Mom that's not funny. I need to use the phone. I do want to talk to daddy."

"Try again then. It might be fine now. Doesn't happen all the time."

She picked up. No dial tone. Clicked, picked up, and on the third try she got the regular dial tone. "Go for it," she said.

Olivia dialled and her father answered.

Emma heaved an internal sigh of relief. She was afraid he would be already gone and she'd be left holding a girl with one more disappointment on this very disappointing day.

Chapter 15 - Long Day's Journey Into Night

If Emma thought that by calling her dad, Olivia would be at least a little happier, she was wrong. After about twenty minutes, Emma thought she heard the phone slam against the wall.

She ran upstairs. Olivia's door wasn't locked as it usually was these days, and behind it, her daughter was crumpled on the floor, crying as though she'd just lost her whole world.

"Sweetheart, what happened?" Emma asked, trying not to sound alarmed.

Her heart was sinking. She really felt for her daughter; she had so many days like the one she seemed to be having, and there wasn't much she could do to make her feel better.

"Everyone hates me," came a muffled voice from the floor.

"Ah sweetie, nobody hates you. You've just had a bad day. Do you want to talk about it?"

"NO!!!! AND THEY DO HATE ME!" She screamed.

Okay, this wasn't good. Emma's ears were ringing, and she knew that the mood that Olivia was in, if she pushed her any more, there was no telling what she would do, but Olivia being Olivia, almost invariably she did it to herself.

"I'm going to leave you alone now, and when you're a little calmer we can talk about this. Would you like me to run you a nice hot bubble bath?"

"I'd like you to get the hell out of my life."

Emma pretended not to hear that. "Okay then, well, I'm downstairs if you need anything. There's chicken in the oven, you can have some or not, it's up to you."

On the way out of the room she picked up the phone. From the looks of things she wasn't going to have to worry about the Numba Please lady or any other phone person for the next few days. The handset was totally smashed, the speaker hanging perilously by two colourful wires, same with the battery, its plastic casing shattered. As she held it in her hand going downstairs she thought, if this weren't so sad it would be funny. It really would.

It was going to be a very very long night, and the likelihood of either of them getting to school or work tomorrow was diminishing; Olivia was going to have to calm down very soon or she'd be up most of the night.

Emma checked the timer on the chicken - 45 minutes. She put in a pot of rice in the rice cooker in the microwave, then put together a fresh salad. It was getting a bit cold for lettuce and celery and the like, but there was nothing more than Emma liked than the crisp crunch of cold vegetables contrasting the toasty warm chicken. She had read somewhere that haute cuisine chefs believe that hot and cold and temperatures do not belong on the same plate. What did they know? It's great, it's like the contrast of hot and sour.

So now there was twenty minutes left. Two plates were out on the counter, the only thing to do was to wait for the chicken and the rice.

Oh, and to try to remember where the old phone was packed. She went back to the computer. Still working on the email that weren't stupid stuff. One bill to be paid. Long distance. Eeek! Had to speak to Olivia about the long distance calls to her old friends back in Vancouver.

Emma started laughing. What about calls to 1928? How much does Ma Bell charge to dig up the numba please lady from the grave? Soon she was laughing so hard she was crying.

A very bedraggled Olivia slumped down the stairs. "What's so funny?" she glowered.

"It's," gasp, "the long distance" hahahahaha! "bill, how much" she caught her breath, "if Vancouver is so expensive, how much do you think 1928 is?"

"Oh my God, mom," Olivia said, and soon too she laughing.

It's healthy to laugh, and it shows hope. Emma loved the sound of her little girl's laughter.

Ding ding ding ding! Chicken and rice were ready.

"Are you hungry?" Emma asked. She got a nod she thought was a yes so she went to the kitchen and made two plates. She didn't bother to try to get her to eat at the table, that was almost pointless. Instead she motioned her to the living room and asked if she knew where the old phones were packed up.

Olivia did. Down in the basement with the old keyboards and stuff. Sure, that made sense.

Emma and Olivia ate in silence. Olivia turned on the t.v. The screen was black with a high whine, then there was a Breaking News Announcement! President Oakley is closing the borders to Canadians unless they want to give blood samples. A frantic announcer came on, decrying the planes and helicopters in the sky, stating that nowadays it was hard to tell which belonged to which and did it really matter?

Olivia looked at that, wide eyed. "Mom?" she asked, "Who is President Oakley? What happened to the old President?"

Emma went white. "You see it then too. It wasn't the wine. And it isn't just me. Man. I have no idea. People, like you and Alexia, think I'm crazy mentioning this. But this is worrying. If you see it, then who else? Or is it just this house? There is someone on a list that knew what I was talking about, I should see if he wrote me back. I don't know how we can ask anyone else if they see this without them thinking we are crazy. Do you have any ideas?"

"Mom, dad is going to the States tomorrow. He's going to Boston for three weeks. What if he goes there and they throw him in prison or something?"

"Why would they do that? He was born here and I doubt he'd give them a hard time about giving blood, he has nothing to hide and it's pretty hard to fake a blood test."

Olivia looked a little sceptical, but agreed maybe he'd be alright. "He has to know this, mom." And with that she put her plate in the kitchen and went downstairs to dig up a phone that worked.

Emma finished her dinner, put away the left overs and put their dishes in the sink. Then she went back to the computer to see if sparklyshinydime wrote back.

He did. "I'm glad you know what I'm talking about. I really did think I was going nuts but it all seemed too real and plausible. Yes, my President is different from the President who appears to be there. Is it that we see what is real and everyone else is seeing a chimera?"

Oh my gosh, yes, thought Emma. That could very well be it. By why Olivia? She hates this kind of stuff, absolutely hates it. Not even astrology for her, she likes life tangible, thank you.

Emma wrote back: "Things are taking a decidedly more intense turn. Now my daughter is seeing this stuff. I'm thinking maybe it's the house. The telephone says it is November 18, 1928, and our President that we see on the news is a President Oakley, he's introducing a blood test at the border for everybody, and there are planes and helicopters and very scared news people on t.v. right now. I even spoke to my deceased father and long dead grandmother. Who is in your world? How do we tell if other people are seeing the same thing? Are we foretelling the future? Seeing a parallel world?" She hit send.

Daughter came back with a push button phone with a cord. Not the best thing since who ever is talking is chained to where they are sitting, but it will work.

"Can I plug it in upstair so we at least have some privacy talking?" she asked, a little sheepishly.

"Yes, there's a live phone jack in my bedroom. Oh, and the phone to replace the one that you broke comes from your pocket. Right?"

"Right." No argument this time but it could be a long while before they saw a new phone.

She plugged in the phone upstairs, dialled her dad. Emma didn't hear what they were saying, but she had the idea it was going to be pretty short. There was no announcement in the regular world of a blood test or a President Oakley. Her dad would say it was all just a weird program or something, not real life.

Sure enough, when daughter came down, that was what she said, and she was back being a little more her smug self and not the scared and sad self. In a way Emma figured that was good. Olivia asked to use the computer for a bit. Emma thought for a moment and decided, okay, for an hour. I need a bath and then will do the dishes, but after that it would be her turn again.


And so was it that it wasn't Olivia having a long bubble bath soak, it was Emma. And though the news was just going off and the Sunday evening shows about to begin, and on the surface it appeared that everything was fine, she knew it wasn't. This was just a calm blip, with the strange energy in the air that she sensed, it was indeed going to be a very very long night.

Chapter 16 - Time In A Bottle

As Emma soaked in her tub, scented candles burning, water up to her neck and bubbles her landscape, she could hear Olivia downstairs laughing and typing away furiously. As she sometimes did, Emma sang, and the song she couldn't seem to let go of from her mind was "Time In A Bottle".

She loved that song. It was so poignant, even more so now with so many people gone from her life, and her daughter very nearly a woman grown. Four more years and she's gone, if she can hold her home that long. She was out the door the very second she could herself, and though children are different now, they aren't that different. Deep down, people aren't so much different from previous generations, it's how they need to behave in society and what is allowed to them that's different.

There is something that no parent can ever convey to their children. Not even if they sit them down and shout it to their face or scream it on paper or carve it on the highest wall they can find, and that is my god, the concept of time is so very strange when you are a parent. No matter how many classes you can take, how much babysitting you can do, how many books you read, nothing will ever be able to tell you what it is to be a parent.

How do you convey the sense of knowing that person, the internal dialogue that goes between mother and child long before they are born? Back when they are just glimmers at night in a dream, or like her, the sense of a person hovering just beyond her left shoulder for so long, things you just know as a mom. And as a parent, the sheer joy, the wonder, the incredulity and let's face it, the baseness of pregnancy and film can show how it feels for instance, to be reduced to feeling like the cow in the corner getting cervix checked for the umpteenth time in an evening, or how you realise for the first time if you've been healthy that your body really does control you, not matter how magnificent your mind.

And then, when children are born. So much waiting. At first when pregnant, if the child is wanted of course, you watch its development in weirdly drawn examples of zygotes and embryos and things that look like fish and later aliens and you consider how many cells this thing is this week, and then somewhere around the fourth month it is more a person, that is when you start faintly feeling it, when the words you say mentally to the lump in your abdomen somehow feels like it knows and you know and...

After the endless hours of birth where every second is felt one second at a time, and then when they are a baby, when the days and night blur into noisy smelly madness and you forget to eat, forget to bathe, everything is the baby and then the next thing you know, well, they're walking and talking and doing things for themselves and dressing themselves in mismatched socks and pooping in toilets and sleeping through the night and...

The next thing you know, they are teenagers, able to be parents themselves and some of them are (way too soon) and they know everything, just like you did, and you wonder how you became so stupid and so full of a brain full of useless crap like what the violet coloured file folders really mean and...

Time goes by way too quickly in days and far too slowly in seconds.

If Emma could save time in a bottle herself, she would save her two year old Olivia's laugh, the sweet grip from Harmony as she held Emma's finger while nursing; she would save the smell of their baby skin, and the wonder of the first snowfall in their eyes, and the giggle of a small hand outstretched and feeling the luxurious fur of a cat, and all of the questions that get asked as children that really should be asked as adults like Olivia asked as a two year old: "why are there only old ladies left and no old men?" when her last grandfather died. Why indeed.

And nothing, no horror movie, no scary book can ever capture the abject fear a parent has. Every day, every hour and second at first when you hold mirrors to tiny noses and watch little chests rising and falling in the middle of the night and the endless worry of cars careening towards wayward toddlers and bicycles with wheels spinning in the air caught on the nightly news and your baby, your child lies still slightly warm and bloodied beyond recognition beneath blankets these are the things that haunt a parent's night and it doesn't ever get better. Each age brings something different. From hideous things like child molesters to the more usual event of the foolish accident...all of this is beyond mommy or daddy's control and there's not a damn thing you can do about. Nothing. You can only appreciate every second you have, even if they are taken for granted, and hope against hope you aren't the parent who is burying their child. There are no guarantees. Ever. But, Emma thought, there is still no pain greater than the loss of a child.

She could sense Harmony there, as she often did, and as she often did, she wished Harmony would move on and leave her alone. Not that she didn't want her around, but here was a spirit she had brought here for only so long; she had a history before and would have a history after and in the meantime, every day was an ache in the loss of Harmony.

She opened her eyes and thought, enough. It is enough feeling guilty for things she couldn't control, and there is a reason for everything, even if she didn't understand it. Really. She had to let stuff go, if only for her sanity. And that included the guilt of smiley little girls who don't wake up in the morning, it included husbands who though marriage meant they did whatever they wanted and she picked up the slack (read, everything) and not even a kiss or a thank you to show for it, and all the cluck-clucking relatives who were very sympathetic at first hint of a problem but suitably shocked when she actually did something about it, and all those people who had been friends but conveniently disappeared at tough points in her life, and especially, most especially, who held their children that much closer after Harmony died and then had nothing to do with her or even Olivia when they dearly needed the company - not even the words, just the damned live breathing bodies - most and were left alone, and most especially the fact that Emma spent most of her days after Harmony died consoling her husband and trying to see some form of emotion from Olivia other than her hiding the toys they played with under her bed.

On the other hand, the rebel part of Emma enjoyed the well placed comment about something totally unexpected among chatty women, for instance, watching the lead balloon descend when mothers spoke of how great Blue Clues is and she would say yes, Harmony loved it.

It was sad, but she did get a perverse pleasure watching the silence fall and seeing which of the more extroverted and insensitive people would declare the time was ridiculously spent in some way and how quickly, like birds after buckshot, they would scatter leaving her there on her spot in the sunshine alone.

Ha ha ha.

And Emma decided more than anything right now, she needed to feel not 138 but in her 30's which is really a great time of life, and discover once again the joy of discovery itself. Perhaps a class, perhaps go on a date and actually try to pay attention and play the game....who knows. But she realised now that no matter what was going on out there in the great big world, she really needed to do something special for herself.


Olivia wasn't going to like that. Not at all. This had all the earmarks of laundry and the occasional dinner being made and god help her, maybe even dishes!

And like it or not, she didn't know if Olivia had guessed it by now or not, but there really wasn't much of a chance of her living with daddy, not with new girl friend and all that. And that, she realized, was life and daughter would just have to get used to it. The sooner she did, the nicer life would seem to her. But how to convey that?

You can't. Some things you just have to have people figure out for themselves. That, definitely, was one of them.

Chapter 17 - Dance me to the end of time

Emma saw a message from Sean Fitzgerald. She paused before opening it, wondering if it was going to be all about Sarah again (well, sort of) but at the same time curious to talk to a guy who did know her back then even if she didn't remember him. Hey, a little conversation can be fun.

She clicked. "Will you be going online tonight? Chat I mean? I find it easier to chat online, it's like talking on the phone but with time to think. It's 9 p.m. right now here."

Okay, so he just sent that. She clicked on her MSN and after the spinning bodies (those creeped her out a little bit, she didn't know why) and the three people she had on as friends all seemed to be on. On MSN you can change your name, so one person was Imhottotrottonightbaby and there was Fitzthecatsea and Icantwaitforfriday. Hmm. She tried to remember who exactly those other two were until she remembered that putting her mouse pointer over the names would show the email address. Okay. Now she hoped they wouldn't notice she was online.

Back to email. Beedle-eep! Up popped a blue square that read: Fitzthecatsea says, "hi!"

"Hi" she typed back.

"How are you tonight?"


"Did you get my email?"

"I just got on. I got the one that asked if I was coming on tonight. Other than that, I haven't gotten a chance to read anything. It's been a strange night. Daughter is upset about something, phones are flying into walls, daughter is seeing the crap I've been seeing and nothing makes much sense. How about you type something here and I'll check the email."

"It wasn't all that important" he wrote back.

"Yes, but I have to fight over the computer with a teenager. I need to see my mail. Hang on."

"Okay." Popped up the blue window.

He sent her 3 emails. One was a link to a message on the high school friends site that was him asking if anybody had heard from Sarah. It was dated yesterday. Emma decided she was getting tired of this. Maybe she wasn't all that interested in knowing what happened to her. She hoped she was having a nice life and was happy and that was it.

The second was him telling a little more of life with Sarah. Sigh. She really didn't want to know this. Honestly. She wanted to know how things were in Montreal and why he was there and what his deceased wife's name was and why she died, stuff like that. She would have to tell him, please no more Sarah or she'd have to just block him. It was enough when she was a teenager all the attention Sarah got, cripes, after all this time she really didn't need to be reminded how hot and wonderful she was.

Especially now when she was feeling especially unloved and unwanted. Hey. She realized then that she did feel a little like she did as a teenager then now, standing on the sidelines, the pretty but not spectacular geek, too brainy for talking with, not titty enough for the guys not to care what she said.

Okay, last email from him was the one asking if she was coming on. Oh, and there was one from sparklyshinydime. It looked long. She clicked on it and he was talking about stuff he had seen and sent a bunch of links for her to look at. Now this was interesting, and she had to tell him about the fact that her daughter is now hearing stuff too. And seeing things. And breaking phones, lOL.

LOL. There are some things about email and chat and the whole scene that goes with it, and that includes the new generation of acronyms. She hated acronyms in the 80's. It seemed every damn thing was an acronym back then. Remember Yuppie? And what KFC stands for? LOL. This one she loved. It means laugh out loud, and how often have you wanted to indicate that something you wrote or are reading are funny or meant as a joke? That simple little acronym creeped in her vocabulary and she happily accepted its existence, not like KFC which she never used, on principle.

Beeple-eep. Up popped, "You done reading?"

"Yes," she answered. She wanted to tell him, Sean, tell me your hopes, your dreams, your deepest desires, the nastiest thing you've ever done, the nicest thing you've ever done and, oh, get lost. But she didn't. "Just about done reading."

"Good. Don't you have to work tomorrow."

None of your effing business, she thought. "I can be up for a while yet. You?"

"Yes, but I start at 9 and I'm only a ten minute walk away."

Lucky you, she thought. A ten minute walk in Montreal no matter where would still feel like a trip down a European street to her. "Well, I am a little farther than that. I'm out in the country, so I start early. But today I am staying up late on account of my daughter, she's a little out of sorts."

"Sorry to hear that. So, did you read my emails?"

She thought, okay, now's the time to tell him what she really thinks. "I did."




"LOL. You win. Alright. I want to say something. I need to say something. Here goes. Back when I was in school, and even after, I was never the prettiest girl, or the most popular girl, or the skinniest or fattest or sportiest or friendliest, hell some people thought I was a snob but I'm not I'm just shy even now, but I am smart. And I'm not ugly."

"Yes. I know."

"Still. Even after all these years. And you sent me three emails. One was to ask if I was on tonight."


"And two were about Sarah. I told you before and I will tell you again. I do not know where Sarah is, you talked to her after the last time I did. She was my friend then, but that was 20 years, a failed marriage and two children ago. A lot of water has flowed under my bridge."


"And I am sorry that your bridge is stuck in lift on Sarah. I really am. I am even more sorry that you feel the need to pester me about it. I had enough of people trying to get to Sarah through me. Blondes still fart, you know. Anyway, it really bothered me then that guys especially couldn't look past Sarah and see me."

"I didn't mean for you to take the emails that way."

"But I did. I hated that then and I hate it that much more now. Grow up. I have."

And with that she put up a block on his name and that was that.

Why is it, she wondered, that some people can meet up with people in their childhood and still be around them on their deathbed eighty years later? What was so wrong with her that she just couldn't keep the things that meant the most to her around for very long, not even her own children? Was she not sexy enough, not stupid enough, not rich enough, not needy enough? No greedy enough? Or was it, as she suspected, that she was just "not". Not worth thinking about, not worth dreaming about, not worth chasing after. Not worth needing as a mother, not worth living for...

She started to cry. Oh damn, how could she let high school crap bother her? For heaven's sake!

She clicked on the link to the high school site, went to her profile, deleted it, deleted her freebie membership. Then she went to her inbox, clicked on all the Sean emails, hit delete. As she did that, an email from him came in. She had to read it.

I'm sorry if I offended you, I didn't mean it that way. Can we still be friends?

To borrow from her daughter's line tonight, she wrote the very simple and succinct "Fuck off" in reply and hit send. Then she blocked him from her email, and just like that he was gone from her life.

Wouldn't it be nice if it were always that simple?

And wouldn't it be nice to know somebody that will still dance with you, eighty years later and who looks at you the way you were all those years ago? She wondered why in this incarnation, she would have no one to dance her to the end of time.

Chapter 18 - Love is A Drug

Okay, it was now after 10 p.m., daughter was quiet upstairs and so she figured maybe she would be able to go to bed and be up and at work without problems tomorrow. Stranger things have been known to happen.

She knocked on Olivia's door, not checking to see whether it was open or not. From within came a muffled "come in."

Olivia was lying in bed, in comfortable pajamas, reading a book. Looking at her, she was her sweet little girl, complete with the big fuzzy slippers.

"It's chilly in here, would you like me to put on a fire for tonight?"

She shook her head no.

"I'm going to go to bed soon, it's been an odd weekend. Would you like to talk? Like about Alexia, or your dad or why my phone is a mangled wreck?"

She looked up from her book with tears in her eyes. "I'm sorry mom, I know you can't buy another phone right now. I was just mad. Dad said I can come visit all I like but Jerri won't go for having kids living there, she's trying to build a house or some stupid thing I don't understand. But I'm his daughter! Why won't he?"

Emma sat down on the edge of her bed, rubbing her back as she cried into her pillow. "I wish I could help you understand but really, you just have to live this to understand. First of all, I'm not sure it is Jerri who is saying this, it might be your dad thinking that's what Jerri wants. Or maybe this is what Jerri wants, but if so, she knew he was coming with baggage - a kid and an ex - and if your dad is a good person, he won't put a new lover over his own children. He just won't. Still, I can't speak for him, I have no idea what is going on there at all, and maybe you misunderstood what he was saying. Thing is, he can't say yes or no anyway, neither can I, we have joint custody, it's got to be both of us decide or the default is me. That's the way it was worked out. I could have been mean and said only me and set dates and times and shit like that, but come on, there's no reason for that unless he's abusive or something, which he isn't. I hope this isn't too much information."

"I don't know. I don't understand. How come Jerri means more than me? I'm his daughter!"

"She doesn't sweetie, honestly she doesn't. It is so hard to explain, and for me, it's been so long, but that first blush of falling in love and being with someone who you care for and they actually care for you back and what's more you have chemistry, biology makes you want to be together all the time. That's the sickening stage. It's called limerance. Anyway, after that things settle down and you either fall deeper in love or you don't and it's that time that makes all the difference. There has to be other things too that click, tempers, philosophies, things you like to do, places you like to go, whether you want to be around people or whether you don't, even silly stuff like whether you like your beef rare or well done, or whether you need to have relatives dropping in all the time or nobody in your family speaks."

"It sucks. Big time."

Emma laughed, "Yes I guess it does if you're an observer. Falling in love is really an amazing collaboration of chemistry and sheer luck. Honestly. That's why try as scientists might, no one has been able to bottle this feeling or to recreate it. There are no aphrodisiacs really. Some things can mimic it a little, heroin is one, but it's not a forever and heroin can kill you. So can love, it just takes longer. "

Olivia mumbled "What?" into her pillow.

"I'm sorry, this probably makes absolutely no sense to you does it?"


"Well, if it's anything, your dad said he's travelling a lot and will be gone for the next 3 weeks and it's nothing to do with you, but to look after somebody you really need to have someone there for them. Now for him, if that meant Jerri, and she doesn't know you that well and the idea freaks her out, then it just isn't time yet. It wouldn't be fair to either of you. I'm guessing that's probably what he meant."

Emma nodded. "That makes sense."

"Yes it does. I know it hurts sweetie, and sometimes it just doesn't seem right, but we do always try to do what is best for you. That's why we're here, he's there and everyone is happy. Well, as happy as we can be in this situation. But I knew, growing up in an atmosphere where you never knew from one day to the next, one moment to the next which way the wind was blowing and whether or not I was going to be yelled at or what and not understanding why, if my parents so clearly couldn't stand each other or the situation they were in, why in the hell did they put us through that? Why? So I wouldn't and couldn't do that to you. I guess there is no answer here. It would have been easy to let life slide but I would have died young from anger and self destructive stuff, your dad too. Some people act out when they are angry, some people act upon themselves. We both do that and we were killing ourselves and each other slowly, day by day, hour by hour, nasty word by nasty word. Tell me you still have nightmares every night."

"No, not very often anymore."

"Yes. Children are like sponges. They absorb stuff whether they realize it or not. Again, another reason to be careful what you do and say around kids. I wanted you to know what love was, how good men and women treat each other, how loving parents behave towards each other and how could I when we could barely say two civil words to one another and couldn't even be in the same room for any length of time. I mean, what were you learning there but how selfish and cruel we could both be. But we aren't that, we really aren't and it was the situation that made it so. Exit situation, exit problem. Yes?"

She sat up and they hugged a deep warm, mom daughter hug, something she hadn't had from Olivia in a year or so.

"Thanks mom, I needed to hear that I think. I'm not sure I understand, but yeah, remembering, you guys weren't happy I know that and dad is like a kid around Jerri, he really likes her."

Emma laughed. "Yes, that's how love is. It's fun and quite addictive. I assure you. When you first fall in love, you will be putting milk in the cupboards and you will feel a zing inside you every time you think of something silly like a special expression or the way he looks at you at certain times. You know you're a goner though, when he leaves and you are terrified you will never see him again, he'll be hit by a car or some other ungodly thing and it hits you that this isn't just infatuation, it really is love, you can't imagine him not there. That's how it is, and that stage is special, because so often you go out with someone and it all seems so promising and then he kisses you and it all falls flat you feel nothing - that's no chemistry. Or you do feel a little glimmer of yum and then he says or does something totally stupid and you just can't see it at all. Some people get told by their parents, oh this person doesn't have enough money or education or has the wrong back ground or shit like that but you know what sweetie?"


"No matter what any body else thinks or says or even god help you, demands, when it comes to who you end up with, you're the one that has to love them, to be there when they are sick, to have their children if that's in the cards, to talk with them, and it has to be right. For you. For him. Now if you remember some things, them main one being he is not to hurt you ever, emotionally and most definitely physically, and you have chemistry and it's all mutual, well then, I don't care if he's a two foot green toed cyclops from the Isle of Begorrah, it is you in the end who must love who you are with or it will be awful. To be alone with some one is far far worse than being alone. Promise me you will remember that."

"I guess. I don't know what you mean exactly." She yawned.

"Anything else you want to talk about? Alexia?"

"No, I don't know what's up with her. She was pretty mean and I didn't do anything. I'll find out sometime I guess."

"Suppose so. This is an odd time of life. If it's any consolation things get better in your twenties when nobody has any time for the high school 'he said she said and what were they wearing?' crap."

Olivia laughed. "I'm okay mom, really. Sorry I told you to fuck off earlier."

"Out of the mouths of babes. No problem. I did a 'play it forward' and said it somebody who was trying to chat and email with me."

She laughed again. "You didn't! Who was it?"

"An old high school person. He was in one class, and wound up dating my old best friend in university. He's wondering where she is and was pestering me. I told him that because he was annoying. I don't have time for somebody trying to dig up old bones."

"You're weird mom."

"I'll take that as a compliment." She brushed some errant hair away from her forehead and gave her a kiss. "You okay now?"

"Fine. Really. And tired. Night mom."

"Night love."

And so it was the night of broken phones ended with a kiss.

Chapter 19 - A Hard Day's Night

Emma felt wonderful after that talk, like all this gunk that had been sitting inside her was out there in the ozone now. There was no taking it back, the words were said, but for once, she was fine with what was said. She had laid bare her soul, and there was no shrinking back and look of horror, or whatever else her imagination had led her to believe that when she was honest would happen, but then again that is often exactly what happened. Oh well. This time it was the right thing and that was what mattered most.

As she got ready for bed, she thought about Sean Fitzgerald. "This is a first," crossed her mind. It was true she didn't think of him, didn't know him back in high school. And okay, so what if he was the reason she lost her best friend. Who cares? She was lucky she had a best friend for as long as she did. Most people had pretty much lost their childhood best friend by the time high school graduation came around. Life is a great leveller. Even though you could be bosom buddies with someone if that someone happens to be rich and you're not, well, that pretty much is where the twain stops meeting because water seeks its own level, they say, and they're off to the fancy schools, leaving you in their dust. She wondered sometimes, in her more bored moments, whether any of these people remembered her at all, but most especially Sarah.

And in that, she guessed, she really did have something in common with Sean. Too bad he was such a jerk. Oh well.

So, teeth brushed, cup of cold cold water - just like she likes it - in hand, hair brushed and face washed with the mid-thirties version of face slime that smells nice and is really only different in title and cost (goes up as you get older) and she thought about her grandmother's answer to everything skin; it was: mercurochrome or iodine (though that stung like all hell) and nivea creme. Not what that company is doing now, no, the nivea cream she was thinking of came in a blue glass jar and was indisputably white and thick, really think, with a smell she hasn't smelt since she was a child. Her grandmother would put a streak of this white nivea on her nose and lips and cheeks before sending her out into the cold, where she would immediately wipe it off before any one saw her, and then she would proceed to getting her tongue stuck on metal things. That or she would walk and listen; if her feet squeaked it was cold, very cold, the kind of cold that meant that there would be no good snow ball snow out there, and car exhaust would be white spumes behind cars and every house would have a chimney pouring the same up into the clear blue sky, because when its that cold it's too cold to snow more than just the odd flake.

Minus 40 meant nivea on the nose and chapped lips and beautiful frost paintings on the windows that shone bright white and blue lines and sometimes the frost would enwrap a pipe coming through the wall or something and a tiny little drop of water would be frozen at the elbow. You don't see that stuff too often anymore, at least not in the city, except in the places where they warn you not to go.

Tonight though, it wasn't minus 40, it was mid November, and while there had been a dusting of snow and an morning of hoar frost there hadn't been a serious dump of snow, and nothing was so frozen that pipes would be anywhere near bursting. It was almost time to start lighting wood fires though; it was pretty much cold enough with the minus 5 in the nights and the dead plants in the front dreaming of a nice comfortable blanket of snow.

She checked the alarm and curled up in bed. Brrr. She remembered it was sock time and put on some bed socks then got back under the covers. This being single business really bit when it came to cold beds, that's for sure. There are not enough electric blankets or duvets or whatever combination of those you desire that will take the place of a human furnace there beside you warming up the place.

Someday, she said to the air and the walls and the powers that be, there will be a human furnace here with me, and he will be here because he wants to be and likes being there.

And she felt really good that she didn't fall for needy creep, and that she was able to make her daughter understand that some of the stuff that doesn't make any sense actually does if you look at the whole picture, not just a part of it.

This was a rough day indeed, but as she drifted off to sleep she knew that it was going to be a good sleep. Here there be dragons would wait for another time.

Chapter 20 - Do You Know Where You're Going To?

The alarm buzzed at its way too early time of 5 a.m. She hit the snooze and dozed for ten more minutes. I came back on again and she switched it to radio. "Goooood morning sunshine!" screeched the radio voice. "Or there would be sunshine if it weren't 5:15 eh? Ha ha ha. Well there will be sunshine later on, I promise! And now for the next song..."

Oh she was not up for the cheerful silly business. She had to get to work, tired as she was, and she was, because what else could she do? So far no magical busloads of money arriving her doorstep, no big lottery wins (like that accursed email she keeps getting, for God to let you win you gotta play....) And highly unlikely some rich guy would come on his great white steed and fall madly in love with her and her crazy life. Would that be hilarious if someone like that did just drop from the sky?

As she got dressed, she thought about the week ahead, and what to wear for today, and damn, she didn't hear the weather, but what if the radio was back to being weird and from a different time? She dressed for cold and put on make up then checked on Olivia. Sound asleep; the alarm clock was set (she had a habit of turning it off hoping Olivia wouldn't notice and she could miss school) so all was right with the world.

Olivia poured herself a big cup of coffee, toasted a piece of toast, gulped both, grabbed her purse and lunch, put her lunch in her bag with the umbrella and her book, and ran out the door as she usually does. At 5:45 it is dark here, except for those few blessed weeks during the summer and then it's back to being dark.

Her running shoes were slipping on the frosty ground - there had been a little bit of freezing rain and then frost on top, not a good combination. Still, she made it to the bus stop in plenty of time. Her fellow early bird travellers made it too, and after the usually rounds of good morning, the bus arrived and all was going like clockwork. Just like it usually does.

She got into town about 40 minutes later, which gave her time to get her usual gigantic cup of coffee - getting up that early meant she really wasn't hungry and didn't have time to drink coffee; it was just as well, she'd fall asleep if she did she was sure. She couldn't ever understand those people that get up at 4, run a few miles, have a shower and a nice leisurely breakfast, feed the kids, make their lunches, send them out the door, go to work, work a full day, come home....and still be able to be a den mother or some such thing.

Maybe that was a fiction created by t.v. Or maybe that is just wealthy people that live like that. Most people she knows have to work the usual 8 hours and normally needed to be in by 9 - so how, if you have children, do you do that when school starts at 9? And you commute for half an hour or so? It just doesn't add up.

Oh well. Coffee in hand she arrived at her office and turned on all the lights, turned up the heat, dropped off the faxes and stuff that came in overnight as she usually did. Then she would call Olivia and make sure she was up. So that was what she did.

She dialled her number, no problem. Then the sound of faraway voices on the line and then a click and Olivia sounding like she was calling ship to shore. "Olivia?"

"Yes?" and an echoing (yes) in the background, "is that" (is that ) "you?" (you)

"Yes it is. Is everything alright? The line sounds screwed up."

"It (it) is (is)....I'm (I'm) okay (okay) though (though) I'll (I'll) call (call) on my (on my) cell (cell) on the (on the) way (way) to school (to school)."

"Sounds good. Call me if there's anything - and it might be good to use your cell until we get these lines fixed."

"Okay bye! (Okay bye)"

She turned on her computer. As it booted up she looked in the phone book for telephone stores. She slammed it shut. Ah, who was she kidding. She would have to check out the used stores, she just didn't have the money for that right now. So, which was the best place for used electronics? She remembered, one of the big stores sells reconditioned returns, that would be the answer. She'd go there on her lunch hour. She dialled the telephone banking thing - yup, there was enough money to spend about $20 for a reconditioned phone.

Next up, another few sips of coffee, and catch up on email. As usual, there was about a hundred; most were junk because her email was up on the company website as one of the contact people. Never mind she was also the mysterious webmaster, that was a whole different email and one she usually opened a little later after her normal work was dealt with. After the quickly deleting the most obvious of spam, she went on to the less obvious of spam.

Then came this: From: no sender To: this was blank (some email programs let you do that, as do Javascript email forms); To: (nothing scary here, that was just a common trick, send everything as a bcc with no real to person and nobody shows); Subject: About Last Night ;) - now this had every indication it was a spam one, but she opened it anyway. She had some silly friends who sent things like this as a joke. The body of the message read:

"Time is relative. The doors of worlds are opening but do you hold the key? Why you? Why me? Why now do you ask? Click on the link to reveal world and knowledge only those who should know do. Are you speaking a different language it seems? Is what you know different than what seems to be in the media today? If so, go to this link...." Eep. She didn't open it. She had no idea what it would do to her work computer if she tried so she forwarded it to herself at home. It was just too weird not to check into.

Once she forwarded it, she deleted the original and the sent copy. If it worked to go to her home email, fine, if it didn't, no problem. It was just kind of odd was all and she couldn't just click it away for good, even if it did probably lead to a porn site.

Next up, and invitation from the high school friends website. What the hell? Okay, it was spam, something can trawled her email from the company website. She permanently blocked the sender address. She had had more than enough from that place.

Three of the usual Nigerian scam (you'd think they'd try something else after all this time, but no, she still got them) - these ones no point blocking the email, they just send them out with different addresses. Several weird lotteries from foreign places.

And this one: "Are you Emma Tarlington? The one from First Avenue Public School? If so, can I write you? I need to ask you something. Sincerely, S. Ouimet." Emma nearly spit out her coffee. She didn't remember anybody named Ouimet off hand, but then that's not an uncommon name around here, and if this person was a woman, that may well be her married name. Or, it could be somebody posing as somebody.

She drank some more of her coffee, the message staring at her on the screen. She didn't know whether to send this one home to freak her out there, or send a response with her home email, or maybe hide a code in the body of the email that would send a copy home, or...

She closed it. She would deal with this later, and send it bcc to herself at home when she did. Then she would set a rule that from this email address, messages would be copied to her home address. Right now she needed to look at something at least as normal as it gets here in her job. In other words, work related.

There were ten emails regarding a server problem. She had noticed there was something a little screwy on Friday, but it was starting to affect the performance of the website, from the looks of these emails. She fired up her browser and called up the outside website as if she were a regular person. The little spinning hourglass spun away, the little green bars at the bottom were very slow indeed, in fact it had two bars for the longest time before she got the error message, time out in response from the server. Hmmm.

Next she tried going on as an employee. Nope. No deal.

She continued reading emails about the website and server problems. On Friday evening response was still slow. Saturday they tested again - still slow. Saturday afternoon, it appeared there was a storm of requests and well, so long server, so long website. Everything crashed around 5 p.m. and that was that. Repeated attempts, based on the remaining emails proved that the server was most definitely toast.

The last email was a rather pathetic one on Sunday stating that it looked like they would need a new server at least temporarily, and that was fine but now they were a little nervous of running the back up until they had fully scanned that and made sure there were no trojans or spyware or viruses that would cause the same problem again if they restored the site using the back up. At the end it said, "please tell me you've got a local version of the website in your production area that we can upload just in case?"

She replied, yes she did, but she would copy the files, not let them get their paws on them directly just in case it was something on their end - she didn't want all her files ruined and to have to rebuild her site from scratch again.

On to other emails, but first, the phone. It was ringing and on the other end was Olivia, cheerfully telling her that she was at school and not to worry, and if it would help she could give some of her allowance she had saved up to pay for the phone, and Alexia walked with her to school so she guessed everything was okay.

Emma laughed, and made a comment about the thrill of hormones in teenaged girls and not to take her mood swings so seriously, she didn't when Olivia got them. She told her to have a good day and that she loved her, and then it was back to work.

Her coffee was nearly empty, and what was worse, it was cold. Damn. She looked at the clock. It was around 8:45; a little early for a coffee break but then she hadn't even had a pee yet and no one was in either. She made a mental note: Check the email in the webmaster account before she did anything else.

She put on her coat and grabbed her purse. This truly was odd. She wasn't always the first one in, but more likely a half and half proposition. She would see a steady stream of people (for there were about 18 give or take a few students) in her office, most of them arriving between eight and nine. Was this some sort of company holiday? Was there a meeting or something she didn't know about? Hmm. She needed a coffee more than anything else.

It was as busy as every other Monday when she stepped outside to go to the coffee shop. She decided also that she needed a toasted bagel with egg; she was getting hungry now and it really did look like it was going to be a very busy day indeed. She needed her energy.

One more really big coffee and a bagel in hand (and, she noted, no more spending money for her until payday) and she went back to the office. Almost everyone was in now. Now that was truly odd. How did every one just happen to get there in the five minutes she gone? Some seemed like they had been at the office for at least an hour or so.

She nodded at everyone as she passed. One said, "oh, I didn't know you were in, it was quiet."

"Yes," she replied, some server stuff she's been dealing with since the moment she got in, that's why the coffee and bagel, she needs it to keep her energy up.

"Good idea." Celia said and that was that.

She went back to her desk and her message light was blinking, and on her screen was the website, not her email, where she had left it. Had someone been here?

There was regular mail on her desk that hadn't been there before, and so she sat down with her coffee and bagel, sipped her coffee, took a bite and looked at her mail. The usual assortment of forms and junk. Nothing special there. She enjoyed her breakfast and coffee, this time on the web reading the daily news. At least the headlines. There wasn't anything too unusual this morning, but again these were headlines, of course they would promote the new stuff before the continuing sagas. But before she flipped back to her work email, there was one headline near the end that caught her eye: "Blood tests at border more than meets the eye." Shit. She clicked on the link and it lead her to a web page that asked for a subscription to their newspaper
Forget that. She'd just have to watch the news or buy a real live newspaper.

She called over the baffle: "Doug, did you get a newspaper today?" A yes response called back. She asked if she could see if after he was done with it. "Fine" was the response.

Good. She didn't have to pay either. She'd have to buy her "new" phone at lunch quickly so she'd have time to read the newspaper without anyone's nose getting out of joint that she was taking too long. Of course she could always read it on the bus. But what if there were phone calls or something she'd need to do?

She decided to check her voice messages. There was only one, from a garbled cell phone it seemed like; she couldn't understand a word of it, and when she checked the caller numbers, she didn't recognize it. She figured they would call back.

Now back to email. A bunch more, and again, mostly spam. This was getting to be too much. She started flagging some of the ones that repeat as spam and to automatically delete. That should help.

More messages about the server. No, still not up, not likely to be for a while. Would she mind creating a redirect page for the site? She would then be given the spot to send her site files to.

Sounded good to her. She needed the address of the redirect page and pertinent details like how long to wait, what link, etc. She replied back.

Now, on the webmaster email. She was curious. It would either be empty, or full with emails from people who figured out all you need to do usually, to get the webmaster of a certain site is to type webmaster @ and the site address. Not always, but normally.

Sure enough. There were three hundred with various forms of "website down?" in the subject line. She drafted a generic response in her text editor, the copied and paste and hit reply to all of these. With that many she didn't both reading the full text or look at who sent it; if it was really important they'd write back. Next were about 40 normal questions; your typical ones that needed to be forwarded on to the subject expert to deal with. People ask the oddest things, like why we stock a blue version of something but not a fuschia one, and there was a list of names on her desk of who would be the best person to deal with that. It never ceased to amaze her that there would actually be committees who decide whether the shade of something should be fuschia or puce. Of course committees would likely eliminate the possibility of a lime green disaster.

Next thing she knew it was lunch. She hurried out before somebody could grab her for something, as it seemed they always did when she had to pop out quickly for something. Taking the bus meant that leaving had to be on time or she'd miss it; so lunch time it was if there were something to do. Outside. Yes! She made it.

She rushed past the usual gaggle of smokers; she wanted so much to join them but honestly the money was too much, and Olivia would be so upset; and given they seemed to have reached some sort of understanding this weekend she really didn't want to blow that.

So on she went. At the big store that had shelves of used electronic stuff, there it was; not only a halfway decent telephone, but one that was identical to the one that was broken. $15. Perfect. She was pretty sure it wouldn't break the bank for Olivia to pay that back. Responsibility and problem solved in one quick trip. Good stuff. Back at the office she sat and down and quickly ate her lunch as she surfed on some of her favourite websites. A newspaper magically appeared when she had gone to throw out her lunch wrappings and take a pee.

The rest of the afternoon was busy with page redirects and testing pages on the new server and links, etc., so it was that when she left the office that afternoon it was with a newspaper under her arm, still unread by her. On the bus, and often happens, she started to read and began to drift off to sleep, dozing with the motion of the bus on the road.

She fell asleep. As she dozed a voice was speaking to her: "Hey did you see that? No? It was an airplane. Yes it was. I saw it, it flew right overhead. No, I don't know why it would be up there. Do you? No." And there was a baby crying and images of water lapping on a rocky shore, it looked warm and very inviting. Then the bus slowed for a stop and she jerked awake. Two more stops and she was home, finally.

She needed a nap tonight. She hoped Olivia was busy with homework at Alexia's, as she often was. That would give her a couple of hours before she banged in door and asked for her to give her some food. The easiest answer tonight would be to start a stew and just let things simmer while she napped.

Sure enough, when she got home a note from Olivia said she was at Alexia's but would come home for dinner, please keep whatever she made warm. So she would. Stew meat quickly defrost then coated in flour, salt and pepper, fried until the pink was gone, and by then the big pot water was boiling and vegetables, some legumes, beef and some boullion were all simmering nicely.

She laid down and had a nap. This time there was nothing in her dreams, or if there was she didn't remember. When she woke up Olivia still wasn't home so she sat down to read the paper. Again, there was a lot of stuff that made no sense to her at all. She looked for the article that was the link on the website. She couldn't find it. That didn't make sense though, it had to be here. She flipped through all the pages again. Nope. Nothing. It had to be in a different paper then, or maybe it was just online information. There were a few newspaper websites that did that. She didn't exactly like that; the first versions were so reader friendly, but that was how it is. Anyway, if she hadn't misread it would be on the news at the late version - it was past 6 now and Jeopardy! was on so she gave herself a nice bowl of stew and left it on warm for Olivia.

That really hit the spot, and after that it was a toss up between a quick bath or head straight to the computer. Oh, and flip the laundry. And load the dishwasher. Sigh. She loaded up the dishwasher but it wasn't full so she left it at that. She tossed the wet things into the dryer after pulling the dry from the dryer and tossing it into the basket. This she brought upstairs, folded and put a stack of clean Olivia clothes on her bed, and a stack of her clean clothes on her bed.

The bath was calling her, she started the water and pour in some bubbles. As she did this the front door closed. She shouted down to Olivia to take some stew, she'd be down after her bath. From the living room came the response of okay. As almost an afterthought she remembered she had a phone in her bag. She called down for Olivia to go in the bag and plug in the phone so it could charge. She did.

"Mom?" came a little voice up the stairs.

"Yes?" Emma shouted through the pouring water and the closed bathroom door.

"There's nothing wrong with the phone!"


"The phone is fine now!"

Emma shook her head. That was impossible. They both remembered the mangled mess of phone from last night. What the heck?

"I'll come see when I get out. In the meantime would you plug the new one in somewhere else so we've got 2 good phones charged? Thanks!"


Phones fixing themselves. That was a first. She'd need to look at the old one; she'd pushed the wires back so it might look at first glance that the phone was fixed but really wasn't. Yes, that had to be it.

She soaked for a few minutes, not the long leisurely one she kind of hoped for, but enough to have at least two toes pruney.

She washed her hair and was draining the tub and towelling off when the phone rang. Olivia answered it; there was a murmur of talking and silence and then feet running up the stairs and "MOMMMMM!" right outside the door. She opened it. "Yes?" she said quietly.

"Sorry mom," Olivia said sheepishly. And she handed her the phone. "It's Jerri, she's all messed up about dad...I'm scared mom, I don't know what she's talking about!" She whispered in her ear. "Okay," Emma whispered back and gave a slight kiss on her ear, "I'll figure it out."

Inside she was scared herself, Jerri, though they didn't have a curlish relationship like some ex's and newbies have, it was the usual suspicion on both their parts. How could there not be? The difference here was, Emma wasn't jealous in the slightest, and Mike wasn't feeling guilty enough to be trying to make it all up to her so he didn't go out of his way to be nice to either herself or Olivia.

"Hello?" she said to Jerri, while Olivia hovered nearby.

Jerri seemed really upset. She was babbling so fast she had no idea what she was talking about.

"Whoa whoa whoa, slow down, I have no idea what you're saying!" She told Jerri.

Jerri took a deep breath and started over again. "Mike left this morning for Boston. He brought his passport and his tickets and stuff, and left me an envelope 'just in case' he says and he should have called by now. So I went shopping and came back and there's a message from his work. He hasn't arrived at the hotel. I called the airline - they didn't want to say anything at first but they want to talk to family and they don't think I'm family since we just live together and I don't know what to do! They said something about people being detained by US Customs but I don't know why and they won't tell me if he's one of them or not! I'm scared he's one of them! And why? He hasn't done anything wrong!!!"

"Wow," Emma said, "that does sound serious but you know what, he probably is okay. Knowing Mike he got there, went out for dinner or something before he checked in - he always gets confirmed reservations at the hotel, and since he's staying for 3 weeks he may have sent the bags on ahead or, who knows. Don't count him among the missing yet - I was saying to Olivia last night that why would they hold him? He's a natural born Canadian not an immigrant and he's so clean he squeaks, no criminal record or anything. When was he supposed to arrive in Boston?"

"11 a.m."

That had her a bit concerned. Time to grasp at straws. "Vancouver time or Eastern Standard time?"

"Eastern. That's what they put on the ticket. Makes the flight look really short when it isn't."

"Yes, that's right. So maybe there was a delay or something. Have you been on the website? Sometimes you can find out more information there than they'll tell you on the phone. They can be real dips that way."

Jerri laughed nervously. "Okay I'll do that."

"I'm dripping wet from a bath here. How about you let me get dried off and call me back if you still can't get any information...actually, call me back anyway because we've got a rather alarmed Olivia here."

Jerri agreed and hung up the phone. Emma got into some clean sweat pants and sweat shirt, puffy slippers and padded downstairs. In her hand she held the telephone. She looked at it and thought it had to be the new one, but how could that be? The hand held part needs to be charged for a good six or eight hours. She turned over and over in her hand. It looked perfect.

"See mom?" Olivia said from the couch. "It's not broken anymore. But we're not crazy, I found this on my floor." She handed a black piece of plastic to Emma. It was part of the battery door, the one with model number stamped on it. She looked at it, and at the phone in her hand. Same model.

Emma sank down onto the couch. She looked at the phone, and the piece and just had no explanation. "Did you lock the door this morning Olivia?"

Olivia thought for a minute. "Yes I did, I remember having to dig for my keys to get in after school."

Well, there had to be some sort of explanation for this, it wasn't going to happen tonight she didn't think. She looked at Olivia, then noticed there were no dirty dishes on the table waiting to be nagged into the sink.

"Have you eaten yet?" She asked her.

"No. I was going to but the phone rang."

"Okay well, I think you should grab yourself a plate of stew. I'm going to have a cup of tea. Hang on, I'll get it for you."

"Thanks mom," she said.

Cup of water in the microwave, stew in bowl, when microwave beeped, a tea bag in the cup. Both out to the livingroom, complete with spoon and fork and serviette.

Olivia cautiously ate her stew, sniffing the spoon first. Emma didn't know why or how Olivia picked up that annoying habit. She planned to mention to her someday that really, that isn't such a nice habit.

"Jerri said she'd call back if there was anything. She hasn't called back yet." Emma observed.

"No. She hasn't." Olivia said. "Do you know what flight he was on?"

"No, only that it was supposed to land at 11:00 a.m."

Olivia looked really panicked. Obviously Jerri hadn't told her that fact. "But Mom!!! It's like 9:00 p.m. can he be lost for ten hours?" Her bottom lips quivered as she said this.

Emma told her, "First rule of life is, don't panic. It solves nothing. And usually, the worst things you can think of are the least likely to happen, so think the thoughts then push them away and work on what it probably is. We don't know the airline or flight number, but we do know the airport, and we can check the airport web site and see if there is a problem with the flight."

"Oh mom, do!" Olivia said.

"Mind you, I sent Jerri off to do the same thing so I don't know if she knows already and so isn't bothering to call or what. How about I sign on and you call Jerri when you're done eating."

"I'm done mom!" She said as she tossed down her spoon. She had had two sniffed bites.

"I don't think so. I mean, when you are done eating that bowl."

"Alright," she huffed.

She checked the flights coming in that day for Logan Airport. Damn. It just showed back to about the last five hours, not the whole day. She tried to search the site. The information was there, but only if she had the flight number or the airline. There's a lot of airlines arriving through Logan. From the Vancouver International site, on Mondays there are 3 flights arriving in Boston at noon but also some that left Vancouver at 11:00. Two of those flights that arrived at noon were Air Canada, the other, United Airlines. The ones leaving Vancouver at 11:00 were two Air Canada and one Alaskan Airline. If he, for any reason, missed his flight there were more than enough others to catch, and how it would take depended on which milk run he was stuck on, which could include Los Angeles or Texas of all places. She guessed he has miscalculated time or something and now was flying somewhere over Texas, not able to use his cell phone, on a flight that didn't have those cute in-flight handsets you could use for some ridiculous minute rate.

"Okay, want to know what I've found?"

"Yes." Olivia responded.

"That there are about six flight he could be on, and what time they actually arrive depends on how they get there. If he didn't make his first flight he might be anywhere right now, and that would explain why he hasn't called Jerri or his work. With a guaranteed hotel reservation, like he always gets, he doesn't have to worry about calling the hotel unless it's going to be after midnight. I'm sure he's fine and the airline probably doesn't have information because there's really nothing to say."

Olivia looked quite relieved. "What about Jerri?"

"I'd wait and see if she calls. She's probably figured out the same thing herself. If she does call, you answer, okay?"

"Okay," she said. "Mom, about the new phone? Can I have it in my room?"

"Well, okay, you're paying for it right?"

She blushed. "Right. How much?"

"15 dollars. Jeez."

"That's for a reconditioned one. A new one is $120. The one it was supposed to replace I bought new."

"Remind me not to throw electronics anymore." She mumbled as she went to get her wallet.

"Don't throw electronics anymore." Emma laughed.

She just looked at her mother and sighed.

Oh how she loved bugging her daughter like that.

Chapter 21 - Leaving On a Jet Plane

Jerri never did call back that night. Emma read through her email, but only halfheartedly. Really, it was all pretty boring and after her little episode with Sean Fitzgerald, she really wasn't into getting to involved with online strangers.

Then she remembered the email from work. The curious one that asked: "Are you Emma Tarlington? The one from First Avenue Public School? If so, can I write you? I need to ask you something. Sincerely, S. Ouimet." She wasn't sure she should but then, she is this person. Aren't too many Tarlingtons around. S. Ouimet could be anybody, a teacher, a classmate, a classmate's parent, a classmate's sibling, who knows. She had to at least give them the benefit of the doubt here.

She hit reply all and wiped out her own address. Then she replied with: "Dear S., yes that is probably me. If you are thinking 1968ish? I wasn't there for the whole kindergarten to grade 8 thing; I was grades one to four. Who are you? I don't remember any Ouimets there though I have known people called Ouimet. Is that your maiden name or married name or are you acquainted with someone I knew back then? Oh, please reply to this address, not the original one you used, that's my work and I try to limit the personal stuff. Thanks. E."

Then there was the one with the no sender, no "to" names, just that link she thought might be interesting. After tonight though, she really wasn't into any more weird stuff.

Sparklyshinydime wrote back but she didn't open it. Someone from the high school friends list wrote her; she opened it and as she suspected it was spam from the administrator using a different email so it by-passed her email filter. Good stuff. More proof she shouldn't have been on that list. And another email address added to her blocked list.

Then there was this from a bluelight001, with a subject Today: "I'm really sorry I upset you. I hope that before you block my email address would you please read what I have to say?"

Damn. He used another email address. Of course he still had her email address. Why didn't she use a crap account for lists and stuff instead of her good one? She decided that would be next. Well she might as well read it, he won't know if she did or not other than it was opened.

She read on: "I didn't mean to go on about Sarah like that. I can see how it would appear to you like I was mining you for information. Honestly I wasn't. I did hope that maybe you had spoken to her, but I was also very happy indeed that the girl I had the crush on way back when would talk to me and tell me stuff. That meant something to me. Looking back, I can see how the very idea of a man ingratiating himself to you so that you would divulge information about your best friend was a common thing for guys back then to do, and it is an abhorrent thing to do. I am very sorry. Not just for everything I have done just now, but for all those guys who were so stupid as to do that to you."

God this guy was full of shit, she thought. Who can compete with long brilliant blonde hair when you are a stick-like brunette with thick glasses and pimples? Give me a break.

"Please forgive me, and I would appreciate it if we could start our conversation again, on a new slate, with no mention of Sarah, unless you bring her up. Okay? Sincerely, Sean."

She thought for a minute. Then she hit reply. "Sean, okay, you played an old trick. I am a webmaster, I have trained in computer science. Yes, you can change your email a million times, no problem, you'll get through unless I get really tough with my spam blocking. But then I might let in decent people I only hear from once in a while. It's a delicate balance. You must know though, that I am not above changing my email address; I've done it before and have no problem doing it again. I can also contact your ISP and explain you are spamming me. No problem.

So. You want to start on a new foot. Start what Sean? Your tone smacks of desperation. I am not desperate Sean. Busy, tired, wishing life had turned a better turn for me, frazzled on occasion but not desperate. Am I stupid for answering your email in the first place? Yes, a little. Am I stupid for answering this one? Definitely. I have met your kind more than once I am sorry to say and being with someone like you is like treading on the edge of a bottomless pit. I can toss stuff in there but ultimately it will always come back with Sarah in the end. I know it. I want to ask you many questions on how you were feeling and felt with the loss of your wife, but hell you never told me her name even. How important was that really? I think you need to take a close look at yourself dear, why must you cling to old thoughts and ideas?

I'll give you the benefit of the doubt Sean. Write to me with something from inside that tells me you are a whole person and if I like what you write, I'll respond. If I don't, I'll block you. We play this game enough and I change my email because I really don't have the time or the patience for this. Got it? Perturbed, Emma."

She remembered she hadn't checked the phone messages. She picked up the phone and turned it on, listening for the tell-tale beep beep beep. Sure enough, it was there, as was the "numba please" lady in the background. Now that was interesting. She strained to hear what she was saying, because it was her that she was talking to, it was somebody on the party line. "How are you Madame Jonstone? Is the knee better? Oh that's good to hear. You'll be up and around in no time. So who would you like to speak with tonight? Sure thing, I'll connect you." Then click and on to the "numba please" routine again. Then there was a young girl on the phone. "Oh help, I didn't mean for it to happen, help me please" she pleaded and faded off into a hiss. Emma's blood ran cold and she clicked off the phone. Oh my god that was awful!

She clicked it on again and immediately dialled the code to listen to her voice mail, not putting the phone up to her ear until after the number was dialled and the machine generated disembodied voice said, "please enter your pass code" which she then did. There were five new messages. Good lord! She hit 1-1. The first message was her mother, reminding her she promised to go shopping this Friday. She wrote that down, and saved it. She had no idea what she was going to go shopping with, but hey, her mom obviously had stuff to buy and wanted her company. Next was a girl she worked with, phoning about the website. Emma snarled at the phone. How dare this woman call her at home about an office problem, not to mention it wasn't her problem to solve, it was a hardware problem. She listened to her complaint, then forwarded the message to her boss saying "Who gave this person my home number? This is inexcusable. We need to talk about this in the morning!" and then she forwarded it to her office number so she also had it there too. The next was a hang up. The next, some machine trying to convince her she needed to buy some alarm system or something. And lastly, a message from Mike. She was almost glad to receive it until she heard, "I did get on my flight but I don't know where I'm going it was supposed to land in Toronto and then Boston but we're somewhere near New Mexico and I have no idea what they are talking about. Ask them what happened to Flight AC008 please would you? I'd call Jerri but she doesn't know much about airlines and travelling. I'm sneaking this call in the bathroom of the plane at 8:15 p.m. and my cell phone number is (604) 555-8918."

Holy shit. Now she felt bad about not checking it earlier. She looked up the number for Air Canada, called and asked whether flight AC008 had arrived in Boston on time or had been diverted. No she was told, it had arrived on time. Could she ask whether passenger Michael Vandenboscht had arrived as scheduled? This is his secretary. Yes, he did? Why thank you. Okay. His phone call was before the plane was expected to land. Maybe he was a little drunk and confused. Flight AC008 left Vancouver at 11 a.m. That wasn't the time he was supposed to arrive. She saved the message anyway, just in case.

Then just for fun she dialled the cell phone number he gave, and there was no answer. Not his usual thing, but on planes you are supposed to turn them off and he probably turned if off again after he called her, and hadn't turned it on again.

Everything was fine, she was sure. And with that, ignoring the new email from Sean, she turned off the computer and shut up the house for the night.

Teeth brushed and lying in bed, her mind was a whirl. There were odd things happening, that was certain, but on another level, the very fact that Olivia also was experiencing these things was beginning to bond them again.

This felt good but she also knew on a different level that whatever unity they had with this was tenuous and certainly wouldn't heal every issue they had going between them, but then what teenager ever fully liked being near their parents? Emma thought, she'd worry if she do everything she said. After all, being a teenager also means that this is the time where you break away mentally, then physically from home and become the adult. God, where did the time go?

All was quiet, and she was sure that if Olivia wasn't asleep she reading or something, which is fine. Emma decided to put on the mediation tape she kept by her bed, and then relax her way into sleep. She loved that tape; she always felt so much more relaxed the next day, complete with nice calm dreams if she remembered them.

Listening to the music and the soothing voice instructions, she first relaxed her toes, then her feet, then her legs, hips, stomach, back, shoulders, neck, head, arms, hands. Totally relaxed, her mind was clear and she felt like she was rocking and light as a feather and next thing she knew, she was outside watching the world go by down below, the moon a beautiful harvest moon, stars sparkling in a midnight blue sky. On a thought, she was far away somewhere else, a sunny version of where she was now, but different somehow.

She looked more closely. The cars were model A's and various other 1920s style; at first glance it didn't look that much different to be honest, but the horse drawn milk wagon up the street was a give away.

Fascinating! The 1920s; she had always been curious about this era, the clothes, the art deco style, the extravagance, the societal relief post-world war one, on the precipice before the great depression. People were living high off the hog where they could. In the States, there was Prohibition and rum running and the Al Capone and speak-easies. There was radio and early planes and it was indeed an exciting time. They tried as hard as they could, it seemed, to break free from the awful things that had just happened and celebrate life. The Dadaist, Picasso, Enrico Caruso, moving picture shows! It was all so exciting, a glimmer of hope after so many dark years.

As she flew over the town Emma felt somewhat sad, in a peripheral kind of way, not that she herself was actually feeling it, but a knowing sad of what was to come. A thought passed through her head though; what if Black Tuesday hadn't happened? What if Oct. 29th were just another day? And what if the German people actually saw Hitler for what he was before he made it that he couldn't be ousted? What if?

She continued flying and saw oceans and decided to go visit the stars and the sun and the planets. She was marvelling over Mars the last she remembered.

What an incredible ... dream? Visit to the past? What?

The telephone rang. Emma bolted awake. She turned to look at the clock; it said 3:13 in blue. The phone rang again. She got up, ran for the phone, but didn't get to it in time before the answering machine kicked in. Okay, she thought, the world will not collapse if she goes to the bathroom, and if it did, she wouldn't know about it.

As she was on the toilet she yawned, trying to decide whether to check the message or leave well enough alone. Heck it could be a wrong number. And she remembered the advice someone had given her that if somebody called in the middle of the night, don't answer, because if someone is dying, by the time you'd get there it's too late, and if someone is dead, they can wait until morning. They're not going anywhere.

That idea was just a little too cranky for her taste though, so after she washed her hands and had a sip of water, she checked the messages. Yes, there was one, but for some reason the number didn't show up on the telephone callers list. To hear it, it was a bunch of static, some words so faint she couldn't tell if it was a man or a woman, and then, at the end very clearly it said: "For every thing there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven." Then a click. She hit the message information and instead of something like "the time was...the number is" she got the numba please lady - recorded! - saying, "the number is division-5901 at 3:13 a.m. November 20, 1928."

Holy shit. Not knowing what else to do, she saved the message, hung up the phone, and like they tell you to do, she pinched herself hard enough she drew blood. Yes, it hurt. And yes, in the morning there would be a nice dark bruise and a moon shaped nail mark scab where she pinched; there would be questions, and she would have to think of something to answer.

But for now she wrote down the "number" and went back to bed, first turning the ringer down to nothing.

Chapter 22 - I Wanna Be Loved By You

As she drifted back to sleep for the remaining hour or so she had, in her ear was playing a Helen Kane song, the one with the boop boop be boop in it. 1928. Just before 1929.

The alarm clock beeped way too loudly; she didn't bother to put the mouth pieces of the morning airwaves on just yet, she couldn't handle it. Even though she had actually gone to bed early and slept soundly until the phone, and really didn't stay up long after the phone and fell back to sleep, she had slept fitfully afterwards.

As usual she checked in on Olivia. She seemed okay. Off to brush teeth and get the coffee started. Button pushed on the coffee maker, as she walked back to the washroom, she could see the message light blinking on the phone. Crap.

She picked up the hand held and brought it in with her to the bathroom. While she sat on the toilet she listened to the first of 6 messages. "Why won't you talk to me?" asked a plaintive small voice sounding so far away. Save. Next: just a click. Next: nothing but static that she had to speed through several minutes of. Also saved to see what number that came from. Next: "I turned off my cell phone so they wouldn't know it was me calling. I have turned it on for this, but I don't have my bags so I can't charge it. I don't know where I am. Really I don't. Please call me back at 7 a.m. My watch is on EST, just like you. Please don't say anything at all about this to Jerri or to Olivia. ..." he read off his cell phone number again. Just to be safe, she forwarded the message to her cell phone, then forwarded the calls themselves to her cell. 7 a.m. She is normally at her desk by then. No problem. She checked the next message: it sounded like interference from a radio, but it was crackly and the song that was playing was West End Blues by Louis Armstrong.

She flushed the toilet, washed hands and face, brushed teeth, put on make up and fixed her hair. Then she went downstairs and poured herself a very large cup of coffee before going back upstairs to get dressed. Every fibre of her being was screaming that she really should stay home, but she also knew that her going to work wasn't going to change anything, and in fact meant that instead of an odd day continuing into an odd night, well, she'd come home to odd stuff clogging up her phone line and god knows what else.

And of course there would be whatever is going on with Mike. That took some looking into for sure, like for instance who the heck was being him in Boston if it wasn't him them, and for heaven's sake, why? He was nothing special, just your usual business person, MBA whoopee, not quite the god he was supposed to be getting that degree. She tried not to be bitter, but sometimes when it came to having to find somebody in another country half a continent away, when he had a new significant other, well, that's taking advantage, she thought. On the other hand he had a point, she had learned how to bail him out from trail and error. What did Jerri know about wiring money or phoning to find out where he was? Ah what the heck. It's good to know there's somebody out there you can turn to, even though she knew that were she to call him there would be a million excuses why he couldn't help and no suggestions worth noting.

She dressed quickly, grabbing whatever seemed reasonable and gulping down her coffee. All this was taking time and she was going to miss her bus if she didn't get her act in gear. She threw her in lunch in her back pack, finished her cup of coffee, put on coat and mitts and hat and raced out the door, remembering half way down the laneway to lock the door.

Then, just barely making the bus, she settled into her seat, put the backpack underneath, closed her eyes and tried to make her mind go blank. As the bus trundled down the road towards the highway, she drifted off in a semi-doze, her last few minutes of rest before the day truly began.

She was tired. There is always a cachunk, chunk, as the bus slows down to exit the highway, just before a sharp right turn. She always woke up here, and it gave her four stops to shake the cobwebs from her brain and get her stuff together. She joined the lurching people stumbling their way to the front before the bus stopped. Then, again arriving in plenty of time to buy a cup of coffee to bring to work, she got that and sat down at her desk. The time on the phone there said 6:55 a.m.

She put her cell phone down on the desk, then took off her coat, hung it up, turned on the computer. 7 a.m. the cell phone rang. She answered. "Oh man, is that you? Emma?" It was Mike on the other end. At least it seemed that way.

"Yes. Mike?"

"Yes. I wasn't sure I'd be able to reach you and then if the battery dies, what then?"

"Where are you?"

"I'm still on the plane. They've landed a few times, gassed up, continued on. Nobody has gotten on or off, nobody seems the slightest bit upset. It's just like a regular flight."

"So you've been flying 24 hours then? Can you see anything out the window?"

"No. No details. I don't have the window seat and all the people on my side closed theirs because the sunset was too bright and then it was night and people were sleeping. Not me, but they were. Yes, 24 hours."

"Okay Mike, I'm thinking somehow you got on the wrong plane. Hard to do these days, but I'm guessing not impossible. You are living proof of that. Do they have the air to ground phones there?"

"Yes but they cost a fortune."

"For heavens sake, spend a little this time, okay??? Jeez. Stranded and he doesn't want to spend a fucking dime. Unbelievable. Okay next thing you need to do is get chatty with the person next to you and find out where they are going, why, stuff like that. Pleasure? Business? Usual small talk. Next, ask the flight attendant to tell you how long before they land and what time because you don't know what time zone and the hour difference to fix your watch. That should tell you a lot. Beyond that I don't have much to say except there is a person in Boston who got on the plane in your name and supposedly is there as you. Are you not telling me something?"

"No! Dammit! They did those blood tests, took our passports, then handed everything back with boarding pass but not the ticket. They have these new tickets. They're for each portion of the trip. You have to have printed a new one each time you board a plane. Time consuming. Damn. Somebody is banging on the door. I gotta go. If I can I will try to call you back if its still all screwed up here. Wonder if they mixed up my ticket with somebody else's - had to be. Thanks. I'll call if anything special, but if not I'll just leave a message to show everything is fine."

Sounded good to her. She hung up, and, taking a cue from Mike's predicament, plugged in her phone to charge up. Her office phone was blinking messages like crazy, and she still hadn't signed into the network. This she did and automatically came up a notification of eighty new emails in her inbox. Whee! Welcome to Tuesday morning.

She opened her day planner and thankfully there were no meetings scheduled. Then she took the top off her coffee, took a long sip, and turned to the telephone. She had gotten into a habit of checking the caller numbers before she checked the messages, just to get an idea of what she was about to hear. A lot of unknown numbers it seemed. Oh and her boss. Must be responding to her message from last night.

She called Olivia to make sure she was up. Yes, she was, she was fine and she was checking to see who it was calling before she picked it up and leaving unknowns to the answering machine. Okay. Anything special she'd be sure to call, but she warned her mom there was probably three or four messages on there.

Back to the work messages. There was five actual messages, the first two were hang ups. With work hang ups she doesn't bother checking to see who it was; it's common practice to hang up at a voice message and send an email if you'd rather not leave a long story on somebody's voice mail. Next up, IT. What about the back up? They were asking. Next up, IT. They think they may be restored the site but it could be a few days before they are sure it is okay. Then, IT again. The new server has now crashed and it doesn't look good. They don't know why but there are becoming suspicious of the website itself. Could she please run a scan on her hard drive, better yet, call them.

This didn't sit well with her. She copied her site onto a CD twice. One she meant to hand over to IT, the other she would keep on hand in case there was something on her hard drive that had wrecked a number of things, but not the site and they still need to wipe out everything because of the one thing. Confusing yes, but such things sometimes happen. Of course if it was the site itself, well, it is self contained on a destroyable CD but she could at least print off the pages and the links tables so reinventing the wheel won't be so bad.

It was not yet 7:30 so she the person who called her, knowing that they wouldn't be in yet, but at least touching base so they would call as soon as they were settled in for the day.

Okay, now email. And yet another morning where her really big coffee was nearly gone by 7:30. She took a quick trip to the bathroom, and came straight back to her desk. Already two other early birds were in. She said good morning to both and then back to spam. Again, it was mostly spam. She took the time to set rules for some of the more continual spam addresses. The rest were the usual and the usual unusual, mainly, the problems with the web server.

She checked the webmaster account. Fewer than yesterday, and almost all easily handled with the response she had created yesterday. Then near the end was an email that had no sender and no recipient, no subject. The body simply said: We know all about you. Is anything really ever as it seems?

Now normally she would just delete that as spam, but she decided to run a virus scan on it just in case there was a trojan or something lurking there. Nope. It was clean. She then checked the header information. It didn't say much that meant much to her, but she could tell the sender was through a webmail account that was run through a java form. Spammer tactic. Might be worth advising the ISP they have a spammer. She put it in her Infected folder for future reference.

So far so good. Back to work email, but first, another coffee. As she headed for the door her boss waved her over to his desk. "What was that voice mail you forwarded to me?" He asked.

"That was somebody calling me, at home no less, to complain about the web site. I am very glad I didn't answer that because I don't know what she would have said to me. Still, what gives these people the right to be calling me at home for stuff like that? I mean, you call me, yes, that makes sense, but anybody? No way. My phone wouldn't stop ringing and my day wouldn't end."

He just watched her as she told him about this. When she was done talking, he said, "You're right. There shouldn't be people calling you at home, and we will look into that. It is unacceptable. Now, I would but you didn't send me that voice mail. What you sent me was a recording of a scratchy old version of the song Mack The Knife. I'm not sure what you were trying to do, but people sure do leave you odd messages. Anyway, forward the right one and we'll look into it."

She could feel the blood draining from her face. She stammered something about oops sorry and went to get her coffee. 1928 it seemed, was staging a comeback through her.

She bought her coffee, carefully checking how much money she had left in her purse. Did she have enough change for coffee till payday? Didn't look like it. Maybe Olivia could spare her a toonie or something. There was only 2 days but when you are down to pennies, two days to pay day is pretty long. She sighed inwardly, putting her wallet back in her purse and bringing her coffee back to her desk. As she passed by the desk of her boss's secretary, she glanced at her and giggled a little.

Again, sigh. If there was some thing in this life of hers that didn't change is that a lot of people found her a bit strange. Oh well. She knew that little twit with the ubitiquitous bleach blonde hair that looked like she just stuck her tongue in a light socket must have screened the messages for her boss, must have heard the song she forwarded, laughed her tight little ass off, all the while preening for her boss who, in his mid 40s loved the attentions of this 19 year old dim bulb. All in all she is pretty useless but she can answer a phone and turn on a computer, and of course was a source of endless amusement for the other middle aged men waiting to meet with her boss, a source of prideful optimism for the younger bucks who were silly enough to think they actually had a shot at her, but what she didn't think of was that she was intimidating to women around her own age, and in general totally pissed off the olders ones who know what's she's up to and what stupid little games she's playing. Emma thought about the long line of Ashleys and Brittanies and name your favourite trend name for their birth year people she had met in the sixteen years she had been working in an office. Then it occurred to her that she was wasting her energy thinking about Ashley because Emma was among the "those who don't matter and aren't on her radar so are okay to laugh at but beyond that aren't worth shit" people so no matter what Emma could ever say or do to or for Ashley wouldn't make a damn bit of difference anyway.

But what Ashley didn't realize or perhaps didn't believe was that her boss actually was one of the few who happened to be deeply in love with his wife, happy to do stuff with his children, and the most that she would or could ever mean to him is somebody amusing and flattering to have around. Eye candy, to use a hackneyed phrase.

She got back to her desk and the phone was blinking as usual. There was also a pile of mail on her chair, a stack of papers on her desk that hadn't been there before she went for coffee, and of course 3 or 4 more little yellow post-its stuck to her monitor. Nice.

She loved being a webmaster, really did. It was far better than the help desk and the network stuff she had done before. Being a webmaster meant that she could be creative and use her brain with the programming end of things. Quite a fun combination; that and the fact that it was always changing, always evolving, well then that was the sort of thing that made her happy. Now if people would just leave her alone to do her happy programming then it would be great. But there were endless meetings over background colours and silly nonsense like that, and there was the mind numbing planning sessions for the people who like to have everything laid out all their duckies in a nice straight little line which is a fabulous thing for an accountant, but not so much fun for a creative soul.

She moved the crap out of her chair, ignored the blinking phone, shifted the about to be ignored post-its, and called up her home email account. She was on coffee break after all, and damn it she planned to actually take it.

She didn't know if she was looking for anything special but there was a Sean one, a sparklyshinydime one, one from the Ouimet person who was looking for her, the site for high school memories using a different spam address, a couple of cranky looking responses to something she posted on a list, several offers for her to enlarge her woman disappointing shlong, a dozen offers of Canadian drugs at ridiculously low prices delivered the next day!

Yup. She didn't have time to respond to sparklyshinydime, didn't have the patience at the moment for Sean, so that left the one from S. Ouimet. She opened it.

It read: "Let me again apologize for bothering you. It's just that many years ago you were in a class with a friend of mine who was later a friend with another friend of mine who I am now looking for. It is a long shot, I know, but it is important to me. The friend of mine who was in your class has been in schools and has kept in touch with you off and on I know, and through her I knew you worked where I sent you the email. I'll give you her name if you ask, but I won't just say it because she doesn't know I am doing this, I only asked once a while ago if she knew how to reach you and she said well, if I wanted to I'd probably email her at your place of work because you are listed on the internet, and yes! She was right!

To stop wasting your time I will ask: do you know how to find Sarah Robinson? If you do, would you write back? Thank you!"

She closed the message. She was really getting sick of this Sarah nonsense. But at the same time she was also getting curious as to why everyone seemed to be trying to find her.

She hit the reply button. "Would you mind telling me why you need to find her?" and hit send.

She closed the browser. A few more sips of coffee as she checked the callers list on the phone. Nothing unusual she thought. She figured she should go through the messages at home and see if she could transfer the right one over. She also thought that going through the company phone lines might be a better solution to the numba please lady interference. She dialled the outside message retrieval number.

There were eleven saved messages, four new messages. For heaven's sake. She couldn't listen to her old messages without hearing at least part of the new ones first. Normally that wasn't a problem. At this rate of messages it appeared like it would be a very long time before she could just happily check old messages quickly.

The first two were hang ups so she deleted them. Next was another song: Makin' Whoopee. She listened to it, trying hard not to laugh. At this rate she couldn't quickly listen to them again. This one she saved for posterity. The next one was the voice of a woman, crying. The message she left simply said, "Please, help me. It is so very dark here. Won't you help me? Division 5301." Emma felt a shiver jolt up her spine. She saved the message and wrote down the number. She had to figure out who had division 5301 in 1928. The library probably had old phone books, but then how would she know what the address was? Flipping through it page by page? This would take some time to figure out.

She then hit the key to review the saved messages. She couldn't find the one that had been from the office. Crap. Now she just looked like an idiot, and even though she remembered the name of the woman who had phoned her, there was no point without the proof. She'd just have to tell her boss that she had accidentally erased the message about work instead of the Mack The Knife one, and if there were any more calls from this lady she would be sure to send it immediately before saving. Cripes. She really would look like a fool. Ashley will be in her glory. That actually brought a smile to her face, because she knew how the Ashley story always ends up: saddled with some man making a good salary, home bearing children and trying to look good while losing her figure because it is hard to stay slim and eat kraft dinner with the kids all the time and the guy she gets will probably be older and moderately successful because while she is cute she is not stunning and in the big leagues as far as bottle blondes go. So when hubby trots off with the Brittany from work twelve years down the line, she will be back, a disappointed bitter person, but in love with her children and regretting ever saddling her future to that one particular man. Still, she guessed, there would be no revelation that she really needs to learn and that it, it will almost always end badly if you do not be with the one who is truly suited to you as a partner, no matter how rich or poor or ugly or handsome or tall or educated or good with his hands....Emma smiled. Being good with hands is good on so many levels.

She hung up, then checked her office messages. More stuff about the server. Instead of calling directly, she hit the reply button and left her responses. One more call from her mother about shopping on Friday. She had to remember to call her. Really. She wrote down on the pad beside the phone and circled it a dozen times, CALL MOM! Okay, now she'd remember. Next a couple of hang ups. Then, a very quick crackly message from a man saying, "'s not true. again when...cksksk...can....." That was nearly terrifying to listen to so she saved it and hit the call details key - out of area was all it said. That meant it was most likely a cell phone. Shit. That had to be Mike. Malaysia though? That would explain the long long flight. Now she had to figure out how what was supposed to be flight AC008 turned out to be him going to Asia and somebody else showing up in Boston as him.

Just then she had a brilliant idea. Call the hotels in Boston, see where he is registered. He's supposed to be there for 3 weeks so it would be one of the mid-priced ones, not the fancy ones. He wasn't high up enough in the company for the business class stuff, especially to the States. But first, the rest of the messages.

Olivia on the cell saying she was at school and all was well. Then someone named Simon called, and left a message asking if she would call, it's a personal matter. This one she deleted. Either they stated their business or they were not good news - salespeople or people complaining about a bill paid a week late or something. If it was important he would call back.

Okay so, next up were the piles of junk and the post-its. She looked at all of this and suddenly felt very tired. It doesn't end, she thought. It never ends, and they don't care. It could be me, it could be a monkey with a really good html editor, hell a fifteen year old hacker would probably be better at this that her. That moment of self doubt passed quickly though, and she reminded herself that people that good wouldn't be here, they'd be in a profit place raking in stock options and bonuses and selling their souls for the bottom line.

The post-its were more phone messages, except for one from bible Barbara giving her a thought for today: Gods sees all. He even sees the crystal pendant you are wearing around your neck. She crumpled it up and tossed it in the wastepaper basket. Yes, that is harassment, and no, she didn't care. Emma honestly had other things to worry about other than how annoying her with religious stuff was against what ever rule.

A few more emails, a few more answered calls from IT and she was well on her way to helping them get the new server up and running again. She gave them the CD of her files to scan and test on the test server after first testing it on a stand alone one. Once she gave them that, she her own virus scan on the cd she kept, found nothing. If there was something there would need to be something added to the pages that was calling in something from somewhere else. In other words, a coding change that would not ring any alarm bells on the pages themselves, but in fact sent a message somewhere that said, hey! Here we are! Come see get us! That would mean going through the code line by line looking for something that shouldn't be there. On three hundred pages, plus cascading style sheets, that's a lot of code.

She still didn't believe the problem was her web pages, but something on the server itself. And for that, IT would have to load up things one at a time and run them and see where things start going wrong again. It wasn't fun and meant for very very long days. She was quite thankful this was not what she did for a living.

She looked at the clock. Eleven fifteen. Well, she'd have to swallow her pride, she thought, and go tell her boss what happened with the message she passed on to him. She needed to go the bathroom anyway; time to tackle both at the same time.

On the way back from the bathroom, she peeked in her boss' door. He was just reading email. He waved her in. "Yes," he said, "that was totally unacceptable for Linda Ducharme to call you at home like that. I've left a message with Paul, he should know what his employee is doing. One of us will talk to her."

Emma just stood there, wide eyed. "Uh, um thank you, it, uh, really offended me to be honest. Web sites are important, but hey, we're not selling anything yet, it's just information so the world is not going to collapse if the web site is down."

"Yes exactly. Oh, tell me, do you know when it's going to be up? If you need to work overtime, no problem, you know that."

"Yes, thank you. So far I don't need to work overtime - I've run a scan on the web files, there's no trojans or virus so either there's some malicious code calling something else in, or, what is more likely, is there is a problem on the server end, either server soft ware or the server itself. Most likely the software I'm guessing. The kind we use has a lot of holes - not the best security wise to be honest. I'd be happier if we ran Linux or Sun or something like that - cheaper too, but then we'd have to worry about retraining experts in what we have. They may not want that, it's like a whole new certification dealie, thought to me, it never hurts to be an expert in more than one thing. IT guys though, they can be very focussed. Truly, to be a software or hardware engineer, or a network specialists, to ask one to jump from one to another is asking a lot if they've been working on one for ten years."

She thought for a moment. She really wanted to ask about this morning, but then, what would she say? Okay, she figured it out. "Jacob? This is weird but I have had literally a couple of dozen voice and email conversations today and for the life of I can't remember what it was you asked me this morning when I passed by your office."

He looked at her quizzically for a moment. "Earlier? Emma, I only got in an hour or so ago, and with Ashley off today, well, I'm a little behind stuff. Actually that reminds me - people have been asking about you coming in late yesterday, but I didn't think you were late, you take the bus don't you?"

"No, no, I was here! Yes I take the bus and it wasn't late or anything, and if you remember there are only two busses and the other comes in two hours later so you would have known for sure if I wasn't here. But remember, I came back to a weekend's worth of 'eeeeeek!' with the server being down. There were 300 emails on the webmaster account alone asking what the hell happened to the web site. So I was probably pretty quiet, but I was the first person here and I came in with my coffee and didn't leave my desk until I was gasping for a cup of coffee. It struck me funny too, that I came in nobody here, went for coffee and every one was."

"Yes, that's what I thought. You are very busy with this aren't you?"

"Definitely. On the other hand, day to day maintenance stuff I can't do I'm also doing very very basic plan drafts of things I'd like to see happening the near future. Do you want me to start a bit of preliminary research on what we could sell on the web site, maybe generate a few more dollars?"

"Excellent! I was going to suggest that."

"By the way, I could have sworn I saw Ashley this morning too. Shows you how messed up my head is with all the stuff going on with the server being down."

He chuckled a friendly chest laugh. One of the charming things about her boss was that deep, from the gut laugh. She could imagine him lying in bed next to Eileen and her head leaping at the sound of his laughter.

"Oh, want to hear something strange?"

"Sure." She laughed.

"You know the elevator music they play on the phone while you're waiting for the Chairman? That shit from the mellow station they use?"

"Yeah, pretty awful! Last time I called they had Tie a Yellow Ribbon on a loop or something."

"Ha, ha, yeah, I heard that one too. No today there was a bunch of stuff from the early part of the last century, you know, like Charlie Chaplin time. I heard Mack The Knife - the original. That was pretty interesting actually, I hope they do that more often. I'd like to hear some original Big Band Era stuff, you know, Glen Miller, that would be different."

Emma felt like she was going to be sick. She really should call the doctor. This stress really was getting to her brain. Making her hear and read all sorts of things that just weren't there.

"Well, all right then," she said, "I guess I better get back to my disaster area. There's so much going on I swear soon someone will need to remind me to breathe."

He laughed again. "You'll be fine. When it's all over, remind me to tell you to take a stress day, okay?"

She nodded yes, and left his office. Sure enough, there was no giggling Ashley at her desk. There were piles of things on her chair, a black screen on her monitor, and from the looks of the parcels and envelopes and gazillion post-its she definitely hadn't been in at all today.

She got back to her desk. It was nearly lunch time. Thank God. She scrolled through the caller list and nobody she knew so she checked the blinking light and there were just two hang ups. She would check her email. Then she remembered the barely audible Malaysia message. That's right, she would need to see if a flight headed towards Malaysia was leaving from Vancouver airport and also to see about mid range Boston Hotels.

She had too much on her mind, she really did. The more she thought about it, the more she realized that she was probably thinking about her doing that yesterday and just processing the inanity of it today.

Okay, 3 minutes to twelve. Time to pop her lunch in the microwave, crack open that ginger ale and start checking the flight information. As she put her lunch in the microwave and set the time, she thought about what she was about to do. It didn't sit right with her that Mike and Jerri too, just assumed she would take care of this. Why? For heaven's sake, why?????

Then it occurred to her that the reason why right now, for her, was just sheer curiosity. How in the hell did he manage to get himself on a plane to Malaysia? Inside she was laughing like crazy because only Mike could be so smart and do something so stupid and what's more get away with it. That's just the way he is.

So for lunch, she fired up her browser and first checked her own email, because really, she needed to come first. It's sad that at 38 she had to remind herself that she had to come first, but such is the life of a mom and daughter, employee, and ex.

She glanced at the note pad by her phone and remembered the note to call her mom. She really needed to do this, right now. It's easy to shuffle her off with other more pressing thing but it's just not fair. She'll be in the same boat in all too short years from now she knew, so she picked up the phone and called. A little bit of normalcy in a decidedly unnormal week.

Chapter 23 - Keamanan

She did a quick search on the destination Kuala Lumpur to be the easiest thing all in all. As she suspected there were no flights to Malaysia that day from Vancouver B.C. In fact, as far as she could tell there was only one and it was from some place in Texas was it? No, didn't make sense at all that he could accidentally be there. Unless it was actually a charter flight and he thought he was going to Boston and really he was being taken away to Malaysia. But then why would anyone bother taking him there? That made no sense at all.

He used to go to Boston fairly regularly when they were still together. In fact, she often thought he had a girl friend there. She had no proof other than a gut feeling, and in the long run now, did it really matter? Not really. If he had to find somebody else, it wasn't the situation that she was thinking back then and that she was no good and not sexy, but that she was no good for him. Big difference, she realized now.

She called up one of the travel sites destination pages and asked for mid range hotels in Boston. There were three or four names she recognized so she wrote them all down and the 1-800 numbers. The second one she called, sure enough, he was registered there. Still pretending to be his secretary, she had them put her through to his room. It rang four times and he answered.

"Mike?" she said to the very familiar voice.

"Yes? Emma? Is that you? Is everything alright?"

"Yes, I'm fine, but I was curious about you. Jerri had called because you didn't arrive on time and had forgotten the flight so I phoned the airlines and found out you arrived late, but then Jerri never phoned back so I wasn't sure if every thing was alright or what. Then I checked the list of hotels we have for Boston and remembered your old haunts and here you are."

"Yup. Jerri knows I'm here. She forgot the flight. Didn't tell me she called you though."

"Oh no, don't say anything please, she was just worried. Nothing to get upset about, okay? Oh, could you answer me a couple of things, is your cell phone number (604) 555-8918? And are you involved in something to do with Malaysia?"

"No, it isn't. Did Jerri tell you that's what it was?"

"No, it's a long story but there was a phone message that I thought was you. So, Malaysia. You have anything to do with Malaysia?"

There was an uncomfortable silence, then he answered, "Uh, no, not me. Look I have to go. Tell Olivia I'm fine and I'll call her when I get back, okay?"

"Fine. Good bye." And she hung up.

Well that was a bunch of mysteries solved, but then who the heck was pretending to be him and calling her on some fictitious cell phone?

Oh one more thing to the list of very odd things. She would get to the bottom of this, she would, and she hoped it would make sense. If it didn't then she really did need to see the doctor.

Well, lunch was over (actually it was over about 15 minutes before, but this was kind of important). So, back to the immediate crisis and then on to home. More things about the server. The latest update was, please start checking for malicious hidden code, but in all probability there was an exploit being, well, exploited, and they needed to find out what and where. Even with just the operating system running, no programs, no files the server would crash and all their hardware tests came back fine. Even the remote scans from the manufacturer showed nothing wrong. Any ideas on her end? Nope. She had none. So she told them, okay, I'll look at the code but I think it's your server software. I really do.

She wanted to say, put on your phone message that the server will be up and running just as soon as somebody coughs up enough money for us to install some decent server software. But she didn't. She was sure someone else had thought of that though.

So it was she spent the rest of the afternoon going through lines of code looking for anything odd and there wasn't too much alarming there, so far, and she suspected she wouldn't find anything. It isn't that easy to change somebody's web page, you have to know how to replace a page on a server and that means you need to know how to get into the server in the first place which would be....tah dah!...a security problem which because of the authentication routines they had going here meant that in all probability it was a hole in the operating system.

It was so tempting to take her boss up on the offer to work overtime, it really was. But then she thought, it means taking the car in, which means gas and parking and hopefully the car would not be cranky, and she really didn't think it would be worth it financially. Now if she had a lift home, that would be another matter. But she didn't.

Reading lines of code is boring. Reading lines of code you wrote and know very well is even more boring. So as she scanned for stuff that had even a hint of a change, she thought about the fact that Mike was annoyed and upset that I had called, was happy with Jerri, and if it weren't Jerri it would be someone else. Then there was Ashley at her little desk in the corner near the front door, the first thing anyone sees, and she reminded herself that although she was someone who was very good at making her feel old, she wouldn't be around long. These girls never are.

She felt a little sad and tired. She was too young she decided to give up on romance just yet. Physically she still felt the need and doubted that would go away any time soon, she just wasn't one of those cold people who can shut of the sex and not notice a difference. For the longest time she worried about Olivia, but you know, Olivia needed at some point to understand that she is human, and a woman, not just a mom, and that she had feelings and desires and the very natural yearning to be close to someone.

Still the thing that has held her back the most - other than the obvious who - was the thought that really, she didn't want to play any more games, didn't want to try to be something she wasn't for somebody else, wanted once, just once, to have someone who truly cared what she thought and how she felt. God that would be so good. How do people find someone like that though? They don't just pop out of the sky or something.

Sigh. A reminder popped up. Time to get ready to go! It said. She was glad she had set those up, she would probably forget otherwise. She wrote down in her agenda where she stopped with the checking, (she had printed off a list of all the files she had) and then started her usual go home routine.

Out the door on time, on the bus at the regular spot with all the regular people, she got a window seat this evening, and it wasn't long at all before she was sleeping. As she dozed she dreamt of laughing Buddhas and green leafy places with waterfalls and it felt so warm, there were birds in the background singing bird songs she had never heard before. The energy felt very beautiful and restful and she enjoyed the whole ride home until the stop after the highway that always woke her up.

She opened her eyes. Man, she had a bad headache. Too much code reading - she'd need to rest her eyes tonight or it would be so bad tomorrow she'd be sick. Her stop came, she got off and walked home. Already it was dark, even though it was only 5 p.m. That was the thing she found so depressing this time of year, leaving in the dark, getting home in the dark, and if she was lucky seeing a little spot of sun in the day time if she went outside for coffee. She wasn't high up enough to rate a window, and as a quasi IT person, probably never would be. Oh well. She enjoyed the fact that where she worked was a non-profit organization geared to helping the less fortunate. She didn't bother to tell her boss that really, she was a payday away from needing their services herself, but what can you do. Single mother, either live like this or live dangerously in a low rent apartment. She preferred broke and happy.

As she entered the house she noticed all the lights were off. That meant Olivia wasn't home and that was fine. Probably doing homework with Alexia, as usual. She preferred her doing that them being here alone. Even though this is a small village, there was still a slight danger. The danger of being girls. Doesn't matter where you are, there is always that slight danger. Always had been.

She flipped on the light. Nothing. What the hell? It felt a little chilly in here too and looking at the little indoor outdoor thermometer thing she had, it was 60 degrees Fahrenheit. She didn't know what was going here, but she was awfully glad she had at least a little wood and a wood stove. She loaded it up, and started a hot fire going. She hoped this wouldn't last more than a few hours because if it did, she only had about two cords of wood left from last winter and no money to buy more. She reminded herself to calm down, it almost never happened that the power is out for days and days. Well, except for the winter of 1998, and the summer of 2003, and... oh shit. She just quietly wished that this time it wouldn't be that long, and made a mental reminder to herself to really try and rejig the bills so she could buy at least 4 more cords of wood just in case.

She got a nice hot fire going and it didn't take long before the house was toasty warm again. She picked up the phone to see if was working. It was, but it was the numba please lady. She asked her where the numbers that start with division are from. Why Division Street, naturally. Was her reply.

Sure, that made sense, she thought. She thanked the woman, hung up and then wondered where the heck division street was. Oh well, it was a start.

It would be difficult, she realized, to find out how long the outage would last or if it was cause her bill wasn't paid in time if her phone was stuck in 1928. She should use her cell and call Alexia's place. That was the answer!

She did, and yes, while the phones were still working nothing else was, not even the gas. The girls were freezing. She invited everyone over since she had enough wood for a day or two, and she also had candles and a wind up radio. The water wasn't working (no pump) but she would fill the tub with whatever was left of the water in the pipes, and she did have a couple of 40 litres drinking water bottles on hand. The water cooler wouldn't be keeping anything cool, but it would still pour clean water. She asked Alexia's mom to bring over any thing that might be easy to cook for dinner that she might like, and she offered a few cans of beans and some cans of soup she could bring. Emma had a thought; bring the cans, but bring anything spoilable - we'll cook the most likely to spoil first. Alexia thanked her, saying that it was below zero outside, so the chicken and the roast she had in the freezer would do fine in the window wells if she kept the cover down to protect it from animals and that she would do that if she needed to. She was close enough to come back and do that and there was enough of them with the four that with Emma's snowshoes if this was because of a coming storm they'd be fine.

It seemed a little silly to Emma, but Alexia said that power and heat had been out since noon, and they had been calling for a huge storm all up the eastern seaboard, them included. Hadn't she heard?

No, Emma told her, she was so caught up at work she had no time to check the weather or the local news like she usually did on her lunch.

So okay. They'd have a girls' sleep over and probably everything would be fine in the morning. It was questionable whether she would be able to make it to work the next day, but she'd figure something out.

The first thing she did after filling the tub with water was to put a pot of water to boil on the wood stove. She then put some popcorn on just for fun. The girls arrived just as the popcorn was happily exploding.

Keira came stomping in the door. "Hi honey, we're home!" she laughed.

"Come on in, make yourselves comfy, I'm making some hot water and popcorn right now."

They went over to the wood stove, hands outstretched. "Oh thanks, mom," Olivia said, "I was freezing! They let us out of school because of this and we've been brrrr ever since."

"Why did nobody think to call me?" Emma asked.

"I forgot your number." Keira said.

"No point." Olivia said. "We all thought it would be over in a couple of hours, and you have to take the bus anyway."

That made sense. Emma handed Alexia the wind up radio. "Ever used one of these before?" she asked.

Alexia shook her head no.

"No problem. You get to do the honours." She said as she showed her how to wind then flick the switch.

A couple of minutes later they were sitting with hot chocolate in mugs, butter melting in a pot on the stove, popcorn steaming in a big glass bowl, listening to the radio by candle light.

The girls were giggling as they took turns trying to find something interesting on the radio, and Emma thought, this really was fun. It might not be so much fun if it lasts more than a day, but right now, yes it was.

Olivia found the CBC news station. At the same time Keira and Emma reached for it. Olivia, laughing, handed it to her mom. They were talking about war clouds in Europe and how now was a good time to invest.

Nothing too out of the ordinary. They were anxious to hear about the weather. "And now in local news, Prime Minister Arthur will be inviting US President Oakley to Parliament next month, it has now been confirmed. Details to follow later. The news headlining at the moment is the storm on the eastern seaboard. If you are anywhere in Eastern Ontario, Quebec, the Maritimes, Maine, New York or Vermont, you have a battery or solar powered radio. Yes, once again weather has caused a major power emergency. Hydro officials have no estimates on how long it will take to get the power grid up and running again, but say that even if you are in an area where the storm has not hit yet, it will be after the storm and the clean up before all power will be restored. If you are in one of the areas where it hasn't hit yet, you may want to stock up quickly before it does. It may be Thursday or Friday at the earliest before it is restored. On that note, here is Tom Bagly with the weather...Yes Tanya, the big news here is the huge weather bomb we have hitting the eastern seaboard. Right now the maritimes, Maine, and parts of Vermont and Western Quebec are being hit, but its arrival is imminent in the rest of the eastern areas you just mentioned. With it will come high winds, freezing rain, heavy snow with accumulations of upwards of 70 centimetres and with the combined blowing snow there will be white outs and wind chills in the range of minus ten to twenty, coupled with an expected drop in temperature overnight, the freezing rain will taper off into snow, and no end in sight at the moment..."

Emma and Keira looked at each other, alarmed. Keira leaned over and asked Emma quietly, "do we have enough wood?" Emma shook her head no. Keira said, "I know where we can get some. Thank god I have a truck. Do you have any money?" Emma felt like crying. "No I don't that's why there's not enough wood."

"No problem, I just got my cheque so I have cash. I'll do get some wood from my Uncle Doug and then I'll run around to the house and pick up clothes and stuff, enough for a few days."

Emma hugged her. "Oh thanks so much," she said, wiping a tear from eyes.

"Hey, don't worry about it. You're putting us up and keeping us warm. We're lucky we have the time to do this and aren't in Nova Scotia or something, eh?"

"Yes. Do you need help?"

"Actually, yes, girls, would you like to come with me? I need you to help at the house while I'm at Uncle Doug's getting loaded up. Okay?"

They nodded yes, and off they all went into what was becoming a windy evening.

Nobody had noticed that they said President Oakley instead of Bush, and Prime Minister Arthur instead of Martin. And she was glad they weren't around also to hear the piece they were doing about the economic upswing of industry in Kuala Lumpur this quarter. Very glad indeed.

Chapter 23 - Hard Rain's Gonna Fall

Emma thought she should probably be making dinner, but what exactly. There was the salmon; maybe stir fry some vegetables that will probably go back in the fridge. That was the ticket. The salmon she wrapped tightly in tin foil after putting in a little olive oil, lemon, and dill. This she would place in a corner of the wood stove to bake. The vegetables she chopped and put in a colander, then poured a cupful of the bathtub water over them to wash them. These she would put on top of the stove in heavy cast iron wok that she loved to do her stir fries in. With a can of broth and some of the left over rice she had in the fridge, this was going to be a very nice meal indeed.

She didn't know how long the girls and Keira would be; she guessed about an hour and a half; it takes time to load wood on a truck. Luckily for them they really wouldn't need to unload. The garage was attached to house; park the truck in the garage and they're all set. It could do whatever they like out there, it's still nice dry wood. Which reminded her; she should probably add a log since it was so nice and hot.

She did, and the phone rang. She picked it up, and there was a woman's voice on the other end. In the background there was something that sounded like It's a Long Way to Tipperary being played on a gramophone. "Is it you?" the voice asked.

"Um, I guess so," she replied.

"When he gets back from Kuala Lumpur, would you tell him he needs to be in England."

"What? Who are you talking about?"

The voice said, "You heard me. After Kuala Lumpur, he needs to be in England. Forget Africa, there's no time for that now. Understand?"

"No, I don't, I don't know which he you are referring to! And why is he in Kuala Lumpur? He called me from there but.."

The voice cut her off. "Hush! Not now! For mercy's sake, what are you thinking talking like this on the telephone? We can discuss this later - there is a letter in your mailbox. If you must call me, you can dial Somerset 8993." Then she hung up.

The mailbox? She poured some boiling water over a tea bag in a cup, set it on the counter, then went out to check the mail. She had forgotten to check it before. There was the usual junk it appeared, but it was getting terribly windy and the wind was the kind that is sharp enough it feels like it could cut you. She set the flag up on the mailbox and came back inside.

She sat down at the kitchen table, hot cup of tea in hand, pile of mail in front of her. Junk, flyer, junk, bulk mail, bill, bill, bank statement, bill...sigh...bill, and stuck to the bottom of one of the bills was a small envelope handwritten and addressed to her.

It was almost the size of a birthday invitation but slightly larger. Lightly scented, it smelled like what? Lilacs? Lilly of the Valley? 1920's scent. Of course. The stamp was of King George V, three cents. Cancelled on November 18, 1928 Ottawa. There was no return address.

She sniffed it, wanting to rip it open, but at the same time, wanting to savour the lilac smell. She loved that smell and was grateful there was a nice old lilac in the backyard. Well, it was a choice of lilac letter or bills. Hmm. Gas bill. Water bill. Hydro bill. Visa bill. Yikes. Lilac letter it is then.

In keeping with the times, she got a knife from the drawer and slit it open.

Dearest Emma,

Our investment in Malaysia appears successful. Soon there will be money rolling in from all that palm oil and petroleum! Oh we look forward to Michael's return. It seems unfair to me that he should be gone for so long after being in the Great War and gone for four years, alas that is his industry. He could be a rum runner! Dear girl misses her auntie (don't worry none of us have divulged our secret) and fear not, we will not speak of things best left unsaid. It would do your heart good though, darling, to come and visit or perhaps invite us out for another sojourn in the country. Do you need to do shopping in the city perhaps? The have the most charming fur mufflers I'd love for you to see at Oglivie's.

I must tell you on the quiet that Peter has been asking for you. Will you not consider meeting with him again? I think you were a little hasty when last you said no. The war has changed him, dearest Emma, he is a good man. If you did ever return Peter's affections again, I cannot promise that it would be in our darling girl's best interest for the secret to be told, but maybe perhaps it could be told then? Please don't discount him Emma, there are so few good men left since the war and the flu, you know that. I will call you when I can.



She reread it a couple of times. This was so curious! It was addressed to her it seemed, and there was a Michael, but she didn't know any Daisy, and she wouldn't either since she wasn't alive in 1928. Very odd. It could be that the previous owner was named Emma. That had to be it. Odd though they would have the same first and last name.

She wasn't sure she wanted to look at those utility bills. Try as hard as she might, they were always too high. One of the prices of an old house she guessed. She was looking into solar power, which she would do, or wind since she had an acre out the back, with enough area that wasn't close to trees to try the wind power thing. She just needed the costs and she would plan. Anything had to be better than the nasty surprise bills she gets once or twice a year.

She tossed the junk in the newspaper pile. Oh, the radio had stopped. She wound it up again. Hello ma baby, hello ma honey, hello ma ragtime gal.... This she got her laughing so hard she was crying. All she could think of with that was the looney toons singing frog, one of her favourite characters. She almost expected to see the little green frog with the long legs and top hat come leaping out of the radio. Then she hoped that the 1920s stuff would stop when everyone came back in the door, because it's really hard to explain Stephen Foster songs crackling in the background.

She finished her coffee and noticed that there were small droplets of freezing rain on the window. She really hoped it would hold off until they came back. She went into the garage and opened the door. That way if things froze, at least Keira would be able to park the truck in the garage. She walked outside. Already things were starting to glisten. Beautiful, but dangerous. She got out the back of salt and sprinkled it back and forth the very long laneway. She tried to use it sparingly because who knows how much she would need later. That wind was awful! She thought. She held the bag down close to the ground and sprinkled quickly - then still hunched down, ran back gingerly, shivering. She didn't bother to wear a coat because she hadn't thought she would need one just to open the garage door.

She ran inside then stood in front of the wood stove, shaking. Oh man that got really cold really fast. They would need to huddle in sleeping blankets on the floor in the kitchen tonight, it would be way too cold with the drafts in here not too. When she was finally defrosted enough to pour herself another cup of tea, she sat back down at the table, both hands wrapped around the mug, breathing in the warm fragrant steam. This cup was jasmine tea, one of her favourite flavours, mainly because of the scent it gives off. She looked at her watch; it was 7:30. When did they leave? She had forgotten to check. She told herself to calm down. Listening to the news was enough to make her really nervous, and she knew that in buying this old house she was actually quite prepared for bad storms like this, more so than if she were in a new apartment.

The phone rang. There were faint hints of conversation way off in the distance, but she didn't know whether that was old stuff or new stuff because when the weather was like this, there was no telling what you hear on the lines, if there was any phone at all. This time though, it was now. It was Olivia calling from Alexia's. "Alexia's mom told me to call you, she's on her way back with the wood, oh - Alexia says she's in the driveway - and we're all done getting clothes and stuff so we should be back in about ten minutes. The freezing rain has started."

"Yes, I noticed. I put salt in the driveway for you guys. Tell Keira not to rush, just drive safely and get back in one piece."

Olivia laughed. "We'll be fine mom, the salt trucks have already been by. Don't worry. Gotta, bags are all in the car. Bye!"

Phew. Of course the salt trucks would have been by. The full storm hadn't hit yet, the roads were still okay. She was jumping the gun on the paranoia here.

And on that note, she put the fish in the oven, noting that when she took it out she'd have to put on another log. Then she put the broth in the wok, it boiled quickly because the wok was already nice and hot. With the broth boiling she added the vegetables, and stirring quickly and, when they felt almost soft, put it the left over rice and stirred everything up. She could smell the fish and the vegetables and the broth and that, with the wood smoke, smelled wonderful. Even though this was inconvenient, she had to admit that she just adored the type of heat wood stoves give; it is so cozy, and with a pot of water on top adding much needed humidity, so very comfortable. There are also metal round things you can find at antique stores that have little clips on them to hang mitts and socks and stuff like that.

She heard the crunch of wheels against old concrete and the engine turning off. Outside the wind was howling now, freezing rain and sleet going click click click on the window and walls. "We're back!" Keira called cheerfully. "Good idea about the garage, I was afraid we'd be out there freezing our arses off stacking wood. Yay!"

"Dinner's almost ready!" She called back. Keira told the girls to put the bags in Olivia's room; "but mom it's freezing up here!" Alexia shrieked. Keira and Emma laughed at that one. It was going to be fun going to the bathroom tonight.

She got out the plates while Keira put various forms of food on the counter. In a cooler she had meat and stuff that were very frozen. These she would put out in the window wells. Later. For now she put them out in the garage.

Then she came back. Emma was putting the food onto the plates. "Oh my gawd, that smells delicious Em!" She grabbed the plates and put them on the table. Then put down forks - no knives, weren't needed and they didn't want to create more dishes. Before she called the girls down, she said, "I brought some wine and a bit of rum I had in the house. No sense leaving it there, we could be here for a while."

"Okay, thanks," Emma said, a little worried that Keira would want them to get half blasted when they had to keep their wits about them just in case.

"GIRLS!" shouted Keira. There was giggling from Olivia's room. "Come and have dinner before it gets cold!"

"What is it?" Olivia shouted back.

"Food!" Emma roared. "Get down here now!"

The girls clumped down the stairs. Keira and Emma talked about the wood - Doug had loaded up the truck not asking where it was going. It was for Keira, that was enough. Emma told her, if he ever asked her for payment, tell her and she'd work something out. Keira just waved her hand, dismissing it. She knew she just got herself a load of wood, all for the small price of keeping some friends warm.

Emma asked about school, and whether they'd finished their homework. They had. After putting the dishes in the sink, they sat around the kitchen table. 8:15. Now what?

The girls went back up to Olivia's room. Emma assured Keira that no, they wouldn't be spending all their time up there. It was still almost warm up there, but with this wind and the temperature dropping over night, it would be too cold to sleep up there. What were they going to do about showers? They'd have to take bird baths, she said, fill the sink with warm water and work with that. If hair was involved then a small jug to rinse. It could be done, she'd had to do it at her grandmother's cottage all this time ago.

"So," Keira said, "wanna find out what the radio says now?"

Emma glanced out the window, which was now a sheer coat of ice. "Sure," she said, "You wind it, I'll stoke the stove."

"How about you get the wine?" Keira asked.

So Emma got out a couple of wine glasses. Keira finished winding the radio and set it down. Phew. It was CBC radio. They were talking about international news - nothing too exciting. Keira poured the wine, Emma added another candle to the table. They toasted each other. "Well, here's to a sparkly Tuesday," Emma said.

The local news came on. No power, some gas but it depended where you were. People without a reliable source of heat were strongly recommended to seek a community shelter, because getting out would be too difficult. People who could go west before the storm hit were also suggested to do that. But really, who would do that? What about your home? Work? Better to stay put unless you absolutely had to go. Best guess, it would probably be Friday. People were told not to report to work unless they were one of the essential services people, and the rest should stand by. They were also requested to stay off the phone unless it was absolutely necessary, because the lines were now overloaded. Emma felt like saying something about the 1928 lines weren't, but she didn't.

Keira was talking about kids and school and exes in her rat-a-tat way, sipping her wine in between breaths. It was going to be a long few days if she had to be constantly talking. Keira leaned over, put her hand on Emma's forearm. "Still not smoking?" she asked.

"Well, mostly not, yah," she said.

"I brought some cigs. I'm going to go have one. Want one?"

"Oh why not?" she replied, then got an ashtray from the cupboard and gestured her to the back porch. Thankful for screening, they sat on the porch swing, cigarettes glowing on the ends.

"Olivia's going to have a fit if she smells smoke on me," Emma said.

"Well, first, so what? You're the mother. Second, blame it on me. You joined me outside. Okay?"

"Yes." She smiled. She could hear the phone ring. "The girls will get it," she said. And they did.

"Mom!" She stubbed out her cigarette. Then she went inside. There was only one good phone, not hand held because when the power goes out, so does the base station. Fortunately Olivia had left the phone spinning on its cord and gone back to the bedroom, where the girls were singing songs at the top of their lungs and laughing.

"Hello?" She said.

"How could you?" Sobbed the voice on the other end. Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on your point of view, on the other end was Jerri. "You called him! Why did you call him?"

"Whoa, hang on a minute there. I did what you asked. You were worried about Mike, remember, you turned to me. I got your answer, you didn't call, I called Boston to be sure everything was okay. It was. End of story."

"But it's not okay!!" she sobbed, "he says I need to butt out and be sending people like bloodhounds after him and if I don't trust him then to fucking forget it, it's not worth his time! God almighty he never spoke to me like that - what the fuck did you say to him???"

"Okay, first off, watch the language. One fuck was quite enough. Second, congratulations, he kept his true self from you for quite and a while and you found out about it before you guys got married or pregnant or whatever. Now how you deal with it is up to you. Leave me out of it."

She cried piteously on the other end, sputtering.

"Hey. In case you haven't heard the news, we're having a really bad storm here. They've told people to say off the lines unless it's an emergency. Is this an emergency Jerri? Is it? Being pissed off isn't an emergency, dear."

Sniff a big wet sniff. "I'm pregnant," she whimpered.


"I said I'm pregnant. If this is how he is, what am I going to do, I mean, abortion, that's just, just scary and I can't look after a kid not knowing if he's going to treat us like shit or not, and..." again the piteous weeping.

Oh for god's sake. "Hang on a second, okay Jerri, I'll be right back."

The tiny from the swirling receiver said, "ooookaaaay"

She ran downstairs and said to Keira, "Fuck me sideways I've got the ex's girlfriend on the phone, she's all upset, pregnant, looking to me for advice, hit me with a wine and cigarette, the hell with the kids, I need a smoke right now."

Keira laughed, handed her the pack and the lighter in one hand, a wine glass in the other. "Thanks!" Emma said as she headed back for the stairs. Still laughing, Keira slipped a small plate in her pocket for an ashtray.

Then back upstairs, Emma opened the window and locked the bedroom door, picked up the phone. "You still there Jerri?"

"Yes," she sobbed.

"Alright," and she put a cigarette in her mouth and light it. "How far along are you?"

"Four months."

"Does he know?"


Great. That must have been why he was so distant with Olivia. "Is he happy about it?"

"He was."

"Then what's the problem?"

"He yelled at me! He was really mad! He said I never should have called you, that I should have trusted him, that when he's gone on business people are to wait for him to call them and not the other way around, and oh he was so mean! I don't understand!"

Emma felt like laughing, but this was just too pathetic. She'd been there, she knew what the receiving end of that was like. It wasn't pretty. Pregnant. Hormones too, making things too sensitive. "Look, Jerri," she said, taking a drag from the cigarette, coughing, "sorry, I have friends staying here because of the storm, she gave me a cigarette. Don't normally smoke, but what can you do. Anyway, first of all, don't worry. But don't be too clingy, he really hates that. I knew I'd stepped my foot in it by the way he reacted, and maybe I shouldn't have been too chatty about business and I am sorry I brought your name up, but hey, he's your responsibility now, not mine. What happens between you two you have to figure out. What makes you think that me, the ex wife, the woman he never fought to keep and was so upset at my leaving he immediately shacked up with somebody twelve years younger than me? I'm supposed to be your bosom buddy? What planet do you live on? But okay, we do share a person in that he is my daughter's father and we need to be civil and good to each other for her sake. And let's face it, for our sake too. Nobody wins when people are fighting over garbage. Life's too short for that."

"But I'm pregnant," she whined.

Oh this was going to get very old very quickly. "Jerri, you have a mother don't you?"


"Then why aren't you telling her this? For heaven's sake, what makes you think I should be your shoulder to cry on? Come on, like I don't have enough troubles of my own?"

"I just that since you've been through this that you'd know and could help me."

"Look, how people are with people are different with each person. I'm guessing Mike has learned a few lessons over time, and if there is stuff you guys need to talk about, why drag me into it?"

"I guess cause if something goes wrong, my mom won't have anything to do with me. She keeps hoping I'll be fine and redeem myself if I get married, but right now I'm going to hell, literally. She keeps trying to get me to go to church and Mike won't and he won't marry me, and now I'm having this baby and I am so afraid because what if he can't handle this, I'll have nothing, nothing at all, I'm not prepared for this."

Emma lit another cigarette. From outside the door came a livid girl saying, "HEY! Is somebody SMOKING in here? Mom?" She rattled the doorknob. "Mom! Are you smoking!" She banged on the door.

Emma said to Jerri, "hang on" then shouted at the door, "hey! Desperate times call for desperate measures. I've got Jerri on the phone, no lights, no heat, and some cigarettes. What more do you want from me? When you are totally perfect, then you can tell me what to do. Got that?"

A muffled yes and feet stomping downstairs. She laughed. "Can you believe it? Caught smoking in the bedroom by my daughter. Do I feel twelve or what?" Even Jerri laughed at that.

"You're right." She said. "About everything. The smoking too. If I wasn't pregnant I'd probably be having one too. I feel better and I'm sorry for bothering you."

"Jerri," she said, "don't be so quick to assume you know how your mom will feel. She might be holier than the Pope but you know what? She's going to be a gramma. That can be a pretty powerful feeling. Grammas have been known to move heaven and earth to meet their daughters half way when there's grandchildren involved. Just remind yourself always, she can have her opinions, but it truly is your life and you have to live it. If she's too nasty, then in one ear and out the other. Okay?"

"Yes. Thank you. Good night. I hope the storm isn't too bad."

"Ah don't worry. A snow day once in a while is fun. Bye now."

She said bye and hung up. Emma stubbed out the cigarette, closed the window, picked up the wine glass, ashtray plate, and flashlight and went downstairs to face the music.

Chapter 24 - Cat's In The Cradle

So downstairs they were laughing and Olivia glared at her mom. "We need more wood in there." She said.

"Okee dokee. I'll get right on that," she said and put another log in the fire.

Alexia looked at the ashtray Emma had put on the table and she said, "I didn't know you smoked."

Olivia seethed, "She doesn't."

"Give your mom a break Olivia," Keira said, "she's human and this is a weird night. Relax and enjoy yourself. We are. If I know your mom at all she won't be smoking when it's time to go back to work. Let her have her little sins. We're all entitled to one or two. Life would be pretty boring if we didn't."

Olivia shrugged. Alexia said, "Mom's right. What do you want to do now?"

"I don't know. Mom, is your guitar around?"

"Yes. Who wants to play it?"

"You do." She said.

Emma smiled. "Alright I guess. I will."

Emma got her guitar out, tuned it up, Keira topped up her wine, and she was all set. "Do you know Like a Virgin?" Alexia asked.

"No." Was her simple reply, and then quietly and sweetly she sang Cats In The Cradle, as she had done so many times when she was alone with her girls and no word from her husband for the second week in a row. She found that song so touching, and a reminder to parents everywhere that children will grow up whether you are there or not, so enjoy the moments while you can. Life is just like that. And far back in a small corner of her mind, she wondered if Jerri knew this song, or how to sing or play the guitar or, if she knew that now that she was pregnant, these trips would get so much more frequent, especially to Boston. Forget the four month pregnant randies, Mike wouldn't be around to be a participant in that. That is, unless he really had changed.

She sang a few more songs, passed the guitar to Keira who, surprisingly was a wonderful singer and a pretty good guitar player, and they chatted and laughed, and before they knew it, snow was falling outside blanketing the ice that had already fallen, and another log was put on the fire. Before they knew it, it was midnight and Emma was saying no to another glass of wine, but lighting another candle to replace the one that had burned down to nothing.

Soon it was true confession time, well as much as it could be with two fourteen year old girls, not quite old enough to say everything, but more, question and answer time really. They chatted about being teens and how different things were but then again, human nature is human nature and people don't really change, they adapt to the society and the rules they live under, and they all agreed that there were some nerve wracking winds blowing politically around the world, and the girls quite honestly asked, was there going to be another world war? Would all their guy friends go and god forbid, would they go too now 'cause of changes in what women are allowed to do and why down in the States is it that suddenly there's a bunch of stuff people their own age aren't allow to be taught and stuff like even adults not being allowed to buy birth control and wasn't that supposed to be the land of freedom?

Keira said something sarcastic about they now have the freedom to agree or too bad. Emma shushed them all saying, who are we really to worry about there when we are here, and with not a little bit of concern Alexia asked if that kind of stuff was going to happen here, and Emma told her that probably not, it's a different dynamic, but also she had faith in the people down south and it was entirely possible that what was happening now would offend just too many people's beliefs and force too many people to pay lip service to stuff that is totally against what they stand for. People will bow only so far, and when the bow breaks, they stop bending. Simple as that. As so it is, democracy will prevail, the voice of the people will be heard. Just not tomorrow. Olivia was still scared about a war. Mom, I have dreams about that she said.

And with that Keira pulled out a deck of tarot cards from her purse and said, time to read the cards then! She handed them to Olivia asking her if she'd ever had her cards read. She said no. Well, no time like the present she said. She shuffled the cards and split them like Keira told her, after having thought of a question, and then she laid them out in a Celtic Cross pattern. "This is your far past," Keira began.

Emma left the room. A part of her really didn't want to hear this. Another part was very curious. But more importantly, she had a pack of cigarettes and a lighter in her pocket from the pack she kept in the drawer; she went upstairs to go to the bathroom, the cold so bad her kidneys hurt, then washed her hands with the waterless cleanser, came back downstairs and went out to the porch. Olivia was so caught up with was Keira was saying, and Keira was having so much fun reading her cards, that nobody but Alexia noticed her sneak out the back door.

Two minutes after she joined Emma out on the swing. "Why did you start smoking again?"

"I haven't really," she said. "I had some left and your mom brought some. I don't plan to buy any more. I just kept a few packs lying around as a sort of comfort thing. These are going to be illegal someday soon you know. It'll be easier to get marijuana."

Alexia laughed. "No."

"Oh yes," Emma said, "That's the way society works. Some people have agendas, and they get backing and the next thing you know it's okay to publicly vilify people for doing perfectly legal things and say whatever atrocious things they want to perfect strangers and hey, they brought it on themselves because they are smoking, you get the idea. Anyway, back in 20's it wasn't smoking that was publicly vilified, it was drinking. Thing is, when there's a will there's a way, and you make it illegal and it's a great black market thing, and there is underworld activity and people make huge sums of money and other people make huge sums of money for pay offs and it's really whatever the flavour of the day is. Oh there's always a good reason to make something a horrible thing to do, and it's always effective if it's health because then it's mom and her babies and people are fighting against this evil thing that will have their children in its grip and destroy their lives forever."

Alexia just watched her, wide eyed. "Uh, okay. So you're not going to keep smoking then?"

She laughed. "Nope. This is just a now thing."

"Okay, that's good. Olivia is worried, I know. She hates smoking."

"Yes, I know, I feel bad, but hey, I'm human too. Really."

"Yeah, that's what my mom said."

It's very easy to be self righteous, Emma thought, when you've never wanted or needed to do something others wouldn't agree with. Oh well. They swang in the early morning hours together, Alexia's breath looking like smoke and Emma's smoke like frozen breath. The snow was coming down very heavily, the wind blowing so strongly the tree limbs rattled like bones and you could smell the cold and all the wood smoke and the darkness was positively eerie. The silence too. The only thing that could be heard out here was the wind, nothing human, in fact, nothing living at all.

Out of nowhere Alexia asked, "how do you know if you've been reincarnated?"

Emma thought for a second. "My guess would be dreams of stuff you couldn't possibly know. Memories of places you've never been, knowing languages you shouldn't, and to me, any time I just really connect with someone, I know I must have been around them before."

Alexia smiled. "Yes. But how do you know if your dreams aren't stuff from movies or school or things you've read or something?"

"Well, normally the dreams start when you are very young. You may even say or do something that is very odd for a small child. There are people who say they can hypnotize you and bring you back, but to me the idea of that is a little scary. What if you remember something so horrible it paralyses you and you can't come back?"

"I don't know. Would be interesting to find out, wouldn't it?"

"Yes it would."

"Have you ever had dreams like that?"

"Honestly? I think so. I'd really need to be hypnotized to be sure though."

"I keep dreaming of this waterfall. It's very pretty. And beautiful green hills. From photos I've seen I think those dreams are Ireland."

"Oh wouldn't that be fascinating to dream these things all your life and then go there and actually see them?"

"Yes, it would be so cool!"

"Speaking of cool," Emma said, "I'm starting to get cold. I think we better get inside."

"Yes," she said and they both went back inside. Olivia and Keira were still deep in discussion over the cards. Emma asked Alexia to help her bring down the sleeping bags and the pillows to the kitchen so they wouldn't freeze over night. Then she put in another couple of logs, got the fire roaring hot.

"Oh mom, those tarot are so cool, you have to try it." Olivia said, giving up her chair to Emma. I gotta go write this down before I forget.

Emma sat, a little reluctantly. What she didn't tell her daughter was that up in her drawer wrapped in purple silk lay a pack of well loved tarot cards, the desk that she had used whenever someone asked, occasionally someone would pay and of course she would read them for herself. They never told her what she wanted to hear about Mike other than they would be joined, but there was never the lover card, always the tower, or some such thing. When she tried to look to the future for Harmony on whim, the final outcome was the 5 of swords. It scared her, but since it seemed they had so often been wrong, how could you get the death card for a toddler. No, she wasn't paying attention or something. When Harmony died, the cards weren't taken out again, dangerous things she thought, but she knew you shouldn't just throw out tarot cards, not with the energy of yours that they carry they must be disposed of properly. What was that then? Who knew but she felt more comfortable respecting their strength and leaving them alone.

Looking at the cards in Keira's outstretched hand, Emma felt like she was going to be sick. Keira looked at her expression, put the cards down, grabbed her hands in her own, "Oh my god, Emma, are you alright? You look so pale! Quick, one of you girls get mom here cup of something cold. Now!"

They had put the little bottles of water and coke and juice out in the garage near the door so they'd be cool but hopefully not frozen. Once nice ice cold water for Emma plunked down on the table beside her. And a few words from Olivia, "Oh mom, it's not so bad, really it isn't. They're only cards. It's just a game, pretty cool one, but a game anyway."

Emma waved everyone over. She opened the water, took a deep long drink, long enough that swallowed quick before she started coughing. Keira laughed, "Are you okay?" she asked her.

She nodded yes. Soon everyone was laughing, watching Emma to see what was upsetting her so. "I have nothing against tarot cards really, if you are sensitive and gifted they are very useful in helping people see where they have been, where they are now and where it could all lead if you follow on the same course you are now. Sounds like a good idea, and yes, it is kind of a game because if you think about it it is just cards and whether they are true or whether they are bunk, well that's all up to the reader and the person being read."

"Exactly," Keira said, "and isn't it fun to do something like this on such a night with the snow whipping around and fire crackling and mystery in the air."

Emma laughed and laughed at that one. "Oh you guys you just really don't understand. You don't understand at all. This whole thing, the cards, that's just the tip of the iceberg and in playing the game you had better know the game you are playing. It isn't as simple as all that."

"Ah come on mom, you make it sound like drugs or something." Olivia huffed.

"Well then I guess I have a rather long story to tell you folks. Perhaps it's a good thing there is no power and no interruptions. But first let me clear up something for you all. Am I chicken of these cards? No. I have a deck I have had for more than twenty years upstairs, wrapped in purple silk and tied with the ribbon that has my hair intertwined, and every so often I used to sleep with it under my pillow to infuse it with my energy, and I would let them sit on the window sill beneath the full moon to cleanse or the bright summer sun, either one is good, because if you haven't already figured this one out, all life is energy and energy never dies. There is good energy and dark energy, negative and positive, and there are things that suck your energy and people who are bottomless pits of energy stealing, and people who will recharge you with a touch or a smile. Some people radiate, some negate. I do have the gift. I am an empath though, and for that I must be careful whose energy I am near. I must also not draw negative stuff to me, even if it is my own negatives. I have not used the cards in ten years. Do you want to know why?"

Olivia paled a little. She had an idea why. The other two, no, they were curious. So she told them:

"Back when Harmony was small, she was such a beautiful baby. You could look into her eyes and see the world in them, oh man she was sweet. You know though, there's something I've found that it isn't wise to be too happy or too proud because life has a way of knocking you back in your place if you take things for granted. I used to be very good at doing tarot cards, all my friends asked me to read them, sometimes I even got paid by people who were so impressed by what I did for a friend at party or something, and anyway it was fun. I used to read for myself too, though all I ever got was that there were doors closing and dark night of the soul and things about giving for no return and you know, so much cheerful junk that I didn't do it often. It didn't work to read it for myself. Or so I thought. Then, when Harmony was a baby, life seemed good. Sure, the marriage wasn't the greatest, but I was off work with the babies and playing mom for a while and I was happy. It seemed to me that with Olivia and Harmony, life for once was beautiful. I had done well for myself. So it wasn't perfect, who cares. We three were a good group of girls. Olivia, do you remember this at all?"

Olivia looked like she was about to cry. A tiny tear slipped down her cheek unnoticed. "Yes mom, I do." She could barely talk. Maybe Emma was on to something here. Maybe we could finally reach an understanding of something unspoken for so long.

"Well, one night, alone as usual, I was doing the tarot. You girls were sleeping, I was wide awake and bored. I asked what Harmony's future would look like, imagining she would be a singer, she had such a sweet little voice and the final card read the 5 of swords. I never used the cards after that, I hated that I had seen that and not paid attention. It's silly I know, but what if I had paid attention?"

Keira gasped. "Oh my, Emma, you can't do that to yourself. You can't! You mustn't. You did not determine her fate. Her path is her path, your path is yours, and she was to be a part of your lives for just as long as she did and in that way. She was here for a reason as you are and as well all are. She did was she was meant to do, and now, it is your path to learn and grow from that. Do you see? Do you understand that for every bad or good thing, there is a fork in the road. Your choice is this. You can choose to be angry and bitter and feel the world owes you something, and you can yell and scream and pull your hair and maybe, just maybe somebody will listen. Or, you can say to yourself, this is the hand I have been dealt, and this is what I must learn from. You take it for what it is, and move on. It's hard to let go, it really is, I know, but that's how you grow isn't it? It's by looking ahead, not behind, right? Isn't it??"

Emma swallowed. She knew they were opening a door that couldn't be closed. It was already opening. What else could explain the odd phone calls and lilac letters and hit songs from the 20's left on her answering machine, the numba please lady....So this was it then. It was what was meant to be. She couldn't close what was already opening, whether she wanted it open or not.

She took a deep breath, got out her wine glass, poured a glass of wine, took out a plate for an ashtray. "As long as we're being honest," she said, and lit up a smoke. Olivia wrinkled her nose but said nothing.

"Pass me the cards," said Emma.

Keira did.