Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Bedtime Story



A street in an older neighbourhood. The houses are all over hundred years old. Many of the houses have large front porches. The street lights are on, casting orange light. No cars are on the road and no people are walking on the street. Only one house has an exterior light on.

A young MAN, in his mid-twenties, sits in an old ARMCHAIR on the lit PORCH. He is drinking a BEER and listening to the RADIO.

As we move closer, we see that he sits slumped in the CHAIR. He is attractive, but his face is pale and he has dark circles under his eyes. His skin glistens with sweat. He wears a faded t-shirt and shorts.

Another record-breaking day on the way. The daytime high will be thirty-five degrees, but with the humidity it will feel more like 50. We’re over 30 days into this heat wave and no relief in sight. Right now, it’s 25.

MAN shuts off the RADIO and sips his BEER. We hear CRICKETS and FROGS in the background. As MAN speaks, we begin to hear birds singing.

MAN (V.O.)
I hadn’t slept in weeks. All I could get were a few restless hours of not awake, not all the way asleep.


Life got strange. Out of focus and lacking all colour. All I could think about was sleep. The one thing I couldn’t get.


So I spent my nights watching the street and listening to the sounds of the river at the end of the street.

I learned what the sky looked like as night lightens towards day, that the birds sing loudest just before sunrise.


I waited for sleep or sunrise. Whichever came first.

MAN looks up the street. He sees a young WOMAN, also in her mid-twenties, walking slowly down the street.

She walks very slowly, with her body held very straight, like a dancer. She is beautiful. Between the orange glow of the STREETLIGHTS, she fades out of view. She wears pyjamas in a bright printed fabric. Her feet are bare. Her face is blank and her gaze is fixed forward. The MAN watches the WOMAN walk by.

MAN stands up and walks to the bottom step of the porch. He watches the WOMAN walk to the end of the street. As he watches, we see his face change from confusion to understanding.

MAN runs out into the street and past the WOMAN. He stands in front of her and places his hands on her shoulders. She stops walking, but her face remains blank and somewhat slack.

Hey. Wake up.

MAN shakes WOMAN gently. Her expression changes as she wakes up. She looks around as if unsure of where she is, but she is not afraid or startled.

I – uh – I, where am I?

Well, you’re on Knox Street. Almost at the river, actually. You were sleepwalking, I think. You just about went for a swim in the river.

I do that. Sleepwalk, I mean.

She smiles at MAN. Her smile is open and friendly.

Thanks for stopping me. Although, you know, a swim would be kind of nice in this heat. Don’t you think?

I guess, but not in there. Smell that? That dead smell? That’s the river. It stinks a bit more every day. I think it’s drying up. You’d end up more dirty than clean in that water.

They say nothing for a few beats. They stand on the street looking at each other. It is not an awkward pause. MAN appears to be sleepwalking now.

MAN becomes alert again and takes his hands from her shoulders.

Can I give you a ride home? Where do you live?

I’m over on Leslie. Usually, I don’t leave the yard, but sometimes – I walk a little farther. But I think this is the farthest I’ve ever gone.

Let me take you home.


The car is stopped. WOMAN is asleep with her head against the window. MAN watches her sleep for a few moments and then wakes her. She stretches and yawns.

We hear BIRDS singing loudly.

Sorry! Since the heat wave started, all I do is sleep. As soon as I sit still, I’m out.

She snaps her fingers.

Like that.

I wish I slept like that. Ever since it started, I’ve had the worst insomnia. Pills, booze, herbal teas, counting sheep, nothing works. Every night, I sleep less.

WOMAN takes his face in her hands and looks into his eyes. They are very close. They look as if they are about to kiss.

You’re the most exhausted person I’ve ever met. I feel sleepy just breathing the same air as you.

She sits back and pats his cheek. She undoes her seatbelt and gets out of the car. She leans in the door.

Good morning! Thanks for saving me from the river.

MAN watches as she walks away. We only see him watching her. We do not see her. He leans his head against the steering wheel.


MAN sits on porch in an armchair. He is looking at the street.

We hear CICADAS buzzing in the background. MAN is tired and sweaty.

WOMAN comes in from off frame. She moves quickly, bounding up the stairs. She carries a PILLOW. She is smiling. She is wearing different pyjamas, but these are also brightly coloured.

Hello, sleepy-head! Or should I say, sleepless-head?

Hi! How are you? Did you sleep OK once you got home?
(He is more energetic as he speaks to her.)
He stands up to greet her.

Yes. But you didn’t.
So I’m here to sleep with you.

MAN hesitates. He looks surprised. WOMAN walks past him and into the house.

Literally, I mean! Where’s your room?

MAN is confused. He pauses to think about what she means, but he’s too tired to understand. He shrugs his shoulders and follows her inside.


WOMAN makes the bed. She tucks sheets in and smooths the surface. She closes blinds so the room is dim. MAN watches her. Her PILLOW is on the bed.

There. The bed is very important. You should feel secure when you’re sleeping. It should feel like the safest place in the world. You should be able to slide into the sheets like a letter into an envelope.

I’m not sleeping because I don’t make my bed?

Well, it doesn’t help.
Now get in.

She past the bed firmly. MAN gets into the bed. WOMAN gets in beside him. She lies on her side, facing the wall. He lies on his back. His posture is stiff. He does not touch her. As she speaks, he follows her directions. She is relaxed.

Come closer. I want you to feel me breathing.
That’s right.
Now, put your arm around me. There.
Now, close your eyes.
Breathe in deeply.
Exhale slowly.
Relax your muscles. One at a time. Let it go. Feel how relaxed I am? How loose? Melt into the bed. Let it hold you up.

Now what?

Pay attention to how I breathe. Breathe with me.

Her voice is slowing her words are harder to hear.

Breathe slowly and relax.

We hear them both breathing together. Their breathing slows as they sleep. We watch them sleep for several moments.


We hear RAIN outside. LIGHTNING lights the room bright blue intermittently. THUNDER rumbles in the distance.

MAN is alone in the bed. His eyes open. He sees that she is gone. Her PILLOW is also gone. For a moment, he lies still, looking at where she was. He appears lost for a moment.

He sits up, yawns and stretches. As he gets out of bed, we see the change in his appearance. He looks relaxed, but awake. He lays his hand on the place in the bed where she was and smiles.


The RAIN continues. MAN is standing on the porch looking at the street. He holds his hand to catch rain. He is smiling.

We hear the RADIO faintly:

As a cold front moves in, we’ll have rain and thunder for most of the evening.

Tomorrow’s high is 23 degrees. Right now, outside our studio, it’s 20 and rain.
We hear faint music on the RADIO.

For the first time in weeks, I could sleep.
For the first time, I was awake.


Monday, February 20, 2017

A Brighter Green

I heard people like stories like mine. Do you think you’ll be able to sell it? Remember what we agreed on. I get half because I’m giving you the words. You are my amanuensis; I am your muse. Sure, you’ll stretch it out. You’ll add colour. After all, you get paid by the word.

My story has an ordinary enough beginning. Once there was a little girl who was very happy. She had everything her heart desired. It is true. I only had to say, “I want that” and my doting mother and father would be sure to get it for me. My mother was a great beauty. My father was a great industrialist. They had conflicting ideas about what my fate would be. My mother wanted me to grow up to purchase them nearness to the aristocracy through a titled marriage. My father, realizing he wasn’t destined to have sons, wanted me to be equipped to take over the family business.

My father died when I was twelve years old. My mother remarried quickly, although not so quickly that it was unseemly. She was young enough and very beautiful. My father’s will had left his factories and works to me with an uncle acting in my stead until I was of age. So my mother had no access to our family’s former fortune. Did my father suspect she’d shut down his beloved industries? Very likely.

At any rate, my mother married a man who seemed to make money from air. My stepfather was not titled, but was a gentleman. He had properties from which he drew an income. He had nothing to do but go back and forth from country to city as the season required with intervals of travelling. He was not unkind to me, but he was very often not there.

He too had a daughter and no sons. My stepsister, Charlotte, was very beautiful. She was two years older than me and was well schooled in all the necessary talents for a woman of her station. She had a quick mind that had not been developed with any sort of learning, but she had not wasted it. Rather, she put her considerable intelligence into making use of the people around her. I was of no use to her, so she ignored me.

My mother saw Charlotte and realized right away that in the marriage game, she’d be better to back Charlotte than me.They shared a common view of the world.

It’s not that I am ill-looking. I know that I am not. After all, if I were ugly, your readers would have no interest in my story, would they?

My mother transferred all of her attentions, all of her affections to my stepsister. My stepfather drifted the periphery of our lives, supplying money, but little else. I was very lonely. My mother refused to send me to school. After all, why waste any resources on the ill-favoured child? If she had any plans for me, I believe it was to care for her and my stepfather once my stepsister had made her glorious match.

Yet, I kept up my studies as best I could. I corresponded with my uncle to keep informed about my business interests. I fully intended to take them over the moment I turned twenty-one.

I built a laboratory in one of the outbuildings on the property. My father’s main business had been in creating synthetic dyes. I wanted to keep up his work and see if I could develop a greater variety of colours. Only, I wanted to make ones that were not poisonous to both the wearer and the worker. One of the virtues of being unwanted and ignored is freedom.

To occupy my hands during the times I was forced to sit with my mother and stepsister, I learned to sew. After all, constructing a garment is no different than engineering. It is all about fitting pieces together.

My stepsister was enormously proud of her green eyes. She despaired of ever finding a dress that would exactly match her eyes. I saw my opportunity to reach out to my stepsister, to do something for her.

One day, while she was complaining of this, I happened to mention that I had developed a green dye that might suit her. I showed her a silk handkerchief I had dyed with it. She clapped her hands and said that was exactly what she wanted for her ball gown. For once, she was interested in my work. She followed me out to my shed to see what other colours I could create for her.

I dressed her in bright greens, vivid blues, blood reds. I designed dresses for my stepsister that put Parisian dressmakers to shame. I hired children from the village to stir my dye pots and girls to sew my creations. I wouldn’t let anyone enter our workplace. My mother, seeing how my work would set her favoured child off to advantage, permitted this work.

Everything Charlotte wore, from her stockings to her gowns to the artificial flowers in her hair and the gloves on her hands passed through my little factory.

She had so many proposals. That season, she shone like a butterfly, a tropical bird, a rare flower.

All those men who didn’t see that her beauty was only on her surface. She had no heart. She thought only of herself. And my mother thought only of her and they both thought only of the status of the sir or lord or duke they’d catch in their web.

She landed a duke. But you know this. Your paper covered the preparations for her wedding quite extensively if I recall.

Of course I made her wedding dress and her trousseau. I laced her into her corset with my own hands, pulling the laces so tightly that Charlotte could span her waist with her tiny hands. I helped her shove her feet into her tiny silk shoes. I hung the veil over her face.

The vows were read. The groom kissed his bride, the bishop announced them as man and wife, the bells rang.

We all retired to the wedding breakfast where the guests, were shocked to see the bride, the beautiful new duchess, collapse. She was dead before she hit the ground. The bride’s lovely stepmother who treated the bride as her own daughter also collapsed and died. Her beautiful purple dress ruined when she spilled her wine down her front.

It would’ve been a medical mystery except for one particularly sharp young doctor who read the paper, saw our names and remembered treating a child who worked on our property for a nasty chemical burn. The child had made me out as some kind of witch, with boiling cauldrons of terrible poisons.

She wanted colours that didn’t exist in nature. I gave them to her. They wanted her to catch a title. She did. It’s too bad the experimental dyes I created were poisonous.

I hear your readers are angry that I’m being transported rather than hanged. But after all, I was found guilty of manslaughter.

What the papers did not report is that I married several weeks before my stepsister. I married one of my father’s former employees. My uncle transferred the company to him. He’s coming with me to Australia. A new world is full of new possibilities.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

In From the Cold

Heart's desire

The coming here was hard. He said it will be worth it, Mary. Don’t fret on it. Because what was there behind us? Nothing, he said. Just rocks and land that don’t belong to us. And I would add, under my breath, nothing but home. Nothing but our families. Nothing but our hearts.

When our youngest girl died of dysentery on the way over, I learned that I’d brought pieces of my heart with me from Scotland. And I would be strewing them along my path to this new land. Like the children in the story do to mark their path to home.

The first year was hard. The lord’s big words amounted to not much. We did not come to a utopia. We got the land he promised. But what of it? What wasn’t marsh was full of trees we had to clear ourselves. Our first months were spent in tents and then shivering in log huts when the winter came. So many died. I would look to the east and think of home, all through that long winter. Perhaps it wasn’t Christian of me to sorrow so. But I did.

He said, Mary, don’t take on so. This is our home now. Our children will be free. They won’t see their labour go to fill a lord’s pockets, to be wasted on sport and women. And that was true. But it wasn’t enough for me.

He said, Mary, you should be happy with the new bairn. She is the spit of her sister, the one we lost. She was beautiful and so like her sister. So very like, indeed.

I never said much in reply. The women in our settlement thought I was a bit unfriendly, but I never turned a stranger from our door. Nor did I refuse a neighbour any help. It was just the pieces of my heart were in the way of my voice. If I spoke, my anguish threatened to come out and I would never get it back inside again.

Life got better. Everyone worked together to clear the trees, drain the marsh, plant the crops. Our house grew a little more comfortable with every harvest. My children, the ones who survived the coming and the ones born here, thought of this place as home. He said, look at these fine Canadians we’re raising. And they were so fine. They were strong and handsome and smart.

My husband brought me seeds from the city. For flowers, he said. So I could have something beautiful of my own. My daughters and I sowed the seeds so that in the summer, I would see flowers from my kitchen window. He said, they are to gladden your heart. Tell me how to gladden your heart. But I couldn’t say, take me home because that would be impossible. He loved it here as did my children.

The flowers were lovely. When another of my babies died, the flowers looked beautiful in his coffin. A piece of my heart went into this Canadian ground with him.

Still, I liked my flowers. The flowers of home mixed with the flowers of here mixed with the flowers that fine ladies would grow. The colours cheered me and the girls pressed them so that we could enjoy them through the long, dark winters.

The old woman from the cottage down the lane would come begging for a few flowers every summer. I never asked what she did with them. They were poor, her family. The boys, men, really did not work as hard as other men here. And she was a strange one, always muttering to herself. It was said she walked into the long woods to talk to the Devil.

One day, she looked at me with her one sharp eye. The other eye was white and blinded. But her sharp eye was young and like a bird’s eye, always roving, dark and glittering.

She said, I can get you what you desire most. My tattered heart stopped in my chest. But what is the cost? I asked her. Because I knew, under that dark eye, the stories were true and she did have powers and secrets.

She said, it would only cost your husband’s joy. And one of your fair daughters. I said, yes. Even though I had thought she meant to kill one of my daughters. She laughed at my firm yes and she said, I only mean for one of my sons to marry one of your daughters. She said, you were ready to give one up entirely. I replied, I have already given two. One to the sea. One to this land. What is another?

My husband’s trials began that very day. Indeed, our whole family was bedeviled.

Bullets came through the windows at all times. Yet none ever pierced a person. Still, my eldest daughter said, I cannot live here, always waiting to be killed. When the old lady’s son came and asked to marry her, my daughter said yes and was gone.

Soon after, the fires started. Little fires everywhere. He said, we need to leave this cursed place. My heart leapt. But he only meant to go to another home. My eldest son married and left us to our troubles.

The fires followed us. Tables jumped, dishes flew, animals died. But my husband had enough of moving. And he stayed. Although our barn burned. Then our house so that we were reduced to tents.

The old woman would see me on my way to prayer meetings and she would wink and tap her nose. Soon, she would whisper to me as she handed me a basket of eggs or fruit. Soon, you will have your heart’s desire.

Men, though, love to solve a problem when the best solution would be to leave, to quit. No. They want to stay. They want to win. So the men of the settlement put their brains to it. Although we were shivering in tents and only the littlest children remained with us because they could not marry or work in other households.

First came the schoolmaster. He nailed up a sign asking evil to be gone from our place. He had read it in a book, he said. The minister did not like it, nor did the law. A magistrate came down from the city and arrested the schoolmaster for taking pay to hunt witches. After several months in jail, he was set free because my son wrote to say the schoolmaster had done it on his own, for no money. The sign caught fire in the night.

The fires burned through the summer. Every time my husband attempted to rebuild, a fire would consume his work. He said, we must have done something to earn God’s wrath. I would say nothing.

Then the French sent their priest to us. He said words in Latin and wrestled mightily with something, but to no purpose. Stones still fell from the sky behind my children, bullets ripped through the tents, although there was no gun and the fires yet burned.

Be patient, the old woman said. You will get your desire.

Then a doctor said he knew of a girl who could see into the next world. My husband agreed to go with him. He said, I will be back soon. I don’t want to deal with witches, but something must be done or we will have to leave this place. I said nothing, but I smiled as he walked away.

He was gone a week. In my dreams, I saw him in the woods, beset by wolves. He was devoured by them, ripped apart. And when I woke, I said, if he doesn’t return, I will go home.
He returned.

He said, I need a silver bullet. Have you not seen the great dark bird that watches us? The children see it. I said, this is foolishness. A silver bullet. How will you get such a thing?

He took my silver cup and had the blacksmith melt it down and form it into a ball. The cup had been my mother’s and it had belonged to her mother and so on back through the years. It was to have been my oldest daughter’s.

When he left with his gun, a great fire came and took our tent and our cart and our fields. All but my flowers were devoured.

Pain ripped through my chest. I have shot it, he said. Come see, he cried. Come see the great bird I’ve shot. Right through the breast, he cried. But I stood in our neighbour’s home, bleeding onto the floor, a great red puddle spreading around my feet, soaking the hem of my dress.

Come see, he said, rushing through the door as if he were a young man again. He stopped in the doorway, his face white. He dropped the gun, little caring if it should fire by accident. What happened, he said.

I’m going home, I said to him. I laughed and laughed. I had never told the witch what I had wanted. I thought I had wanted to go home. But then I knew. I had wanted my heart to stop being ripped away piece by piece. So she made it that my heart would go all at once.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

My Love Has Gone to Sea

Once upon a time, in a faraway kingdom, a young king married a young queen. While their parents had arranged their marriage, the king and queen soon fell deeply in love. At court, all the lords and ladies were charmed by the love the two beautiful young people felt for each other. The two were never apart and were usually within arms’ reach of each other.

Then one day, a young woman arrived at court. She performed magic tricks, she danced, she sang, she charmed everyone around her. Never had the lords and ladies been so entertained. All except the young queen. Something about the sorceress bothered her.

“It is not real magic, though,” the young king said to his queen when she questioned the wisdom of allowing a sorceress to live with them. “It’s all tricks. But she does them so cleverly.” But the young queen was not so sure. She would often notice the sorceress staring at her with a strange, hungry smile. And whenever she came close to the other woman, all the young queen could smell was salt air.

While the sorceress was not especially beautiful, nor was she kind at all, many of the men and some of the women, were in her thrall. Everywhere she went, she was surrounded. They gave her gifts of jewels and fine clothes until she looked quite the lady and not at all the vagabond entertainer who had first come to court.

Gradually, the young king joined the throng of admirers. He was no longer always sure to be within arms’ reach of his young wife. At first, the queen did not like this and she would try to stay near him. But she did not like to spend her days following her husband following the sorceress. So, gradually, the young queen found other things to do with her days. She read books. She learned how to fence and how to ride astride a horse instead of side saddle. She spoke with her husband’s advisors since someone had to manage the kingdom.

The sorceress left one night. Her rooms were empty. All of the fine goods she’d been given were gone. It would have taken a cart to haul all her possessions away, but none of the horses or carts was missing.

For weeks after, many of the lords and some of the ladies were laid low with grief. No one dressed brightly. No one smiled or laughed or sang. The young queen was surrounded by sad faces.

The young king would sit on the parapets, sighing. “Don’t you find life here very dull?” he would ask his queen.

“No. I’m so busy,” the young queen would say. And she would tell her husband about how she passed her days. But he was not interested. He would look at the horizon and sigh.

Finally, the young queen was able to convince the young king to go riding with his brothers along the coast. She spoke of the beauty of the sea and how much he would enjoy the ride. He agreed to go.

She hoped her husband would come back to her.

The brothers returned several weeks later. The king was not with them. They told the young queen that they had taken their brother to the highest cliff along the seashore so he could admire the view of the ocean and sky meeting each other in the distance.

He had smiled at them. And then he had dove into the sea. A great fish had come up out of the water and had swallowed him whole. “A pike. With huge teeth. After, it rose up out of the water and opened its mouth. We could see our brother, so far down. And he looked so happy.”

The king’s advisors wrung their hands and said nothing could be done. They passed the crown to the next brother. But he was very young and inexperienced. He had never expected to be king and so had not prepared himself. He often asked the young queen for help.

Late one night, the young queen disguised herself as a maid and left the court. She went to an old witch in the woods. None of the king’s men knew what to do. So she would ask a woman.

“You can get him back. If you want,” the old woman said to the young queen.

“Of course, I want to bring him back. I love him!” the young queen cried.

The old woman snorted. “They always say that. But does he love you? You can’t steal what someone gives willingly.”

“He loves me! He was enchanted. They all were!”

The young queen begged the old woman to tell her how to rescue her husband. She promised to pay the old woman any price.  The old woman asked for five years of the young queen’s life. The young queen gave it. She was young. She could live a long time. Five years were as nothing to the absence of her husband.

She returned to the court and told the new king she was going to rescue his brother. The new king asked her not to go. But she would not listen. She dressed herself as soldier and took the best horse from the stables. With her sword at her side, she was ready for battle.

When she reached the highest cliff at the seashore, the young queen got down from her horse and she waited for the tide to come in. She waited a long time.

Close to night, the water finally came as close as it would to the cliff’s edge. The young queen walked to the edge and she whistled the tune the old witch taught her. She waited. In the distance, she thought she could see a darker shape moving among the waves. The shape came closer.

It was a large pike. It smiled at the young queen and showed its pointed teeth. Then it leaped onto the cliff’s edge beside the young queen.

The fish became the sorceress so quickly, the young queen hardly knew how the transformation had happened. But when the sorceress smiled, she still had her pike teeth.

The young queen took her sword from its sheath and rested the blade’s edge against the sorceress’s throat. The sorceress laughed.

“Why are you here girl?” the sorceress asked.

“Give me back my love,” the young queen said. “Or I will cut your throat.”

The sorceress smiled even wider. Water streamed from her hair and her dress shimmered like fish scales.

“You won’t. Threats won’t work. You know this. What did you bring me?”

The young queen let her sword fall to the ground. She looked at the ground. She wanted to hurt the sorceress, but she was afraid that would hurt her husband. She called the horse over and reached into the saddle bag.

“I give you every jewel he ever gave me,” she said. “Each one, a token of his love for me.”

The sorceress took the jewels from the young queen and put them on. Her neck was covered with necklaces, bracelets ran up her arms to her elbows, every finger wore several rings. She lifted a crown onto her wet hair.

“And?” the sorceress asked.

The queen bit her lip. Finally, she slipped her wedding ring off and handed it to the sorceress.
“Where is he?” the queen asked.

The sorceress smiled and opened her mouth wide. Far down the sorceress’s throat, past her pointed teeth, the queen could see her husband. He was smiling.

“I’m here to bring you home,” the queen shouted to her husband. He frowned.

“But I don’t want to go. I am happy here,” he said.
“No. You’ve been enchanted. The old witch in the woods told me how to break the spell. I’ve given the sorceress every token of your love you’ve ever given me. You’re free now.”

“But I haven’t been enchanted. I chose to go to her,” he said.

The sorceress snapped her teeth shut. “I cannot take what is not willingly given,” she said. “But I can give him back to you. You have made a fair exchange.”

The young queen picked up her sword. She looked at her hand, now free of the ring she had worn.

She sheathed the sword and mounted her horse.

“Keep him. He no longer has my love,” she said and rode away. The sorceress laughed and laughed and when the young queen looked over her shoulder, she saw the sorceress dive into the water.

The young queen returned to court and became the new king’s most valued advisor and strongest warrior. No one saw the young king or the sorceress again.