There is only one single way. Go into yourself. Search for the reason that bids you write; find out whether it is spreading out its roots in the deepest places of your heart, acknowledge to yourself whether you would have to die if it were denied you to write. This above all - ask yourself in the stillest hour of your nights - must I write?
Rainer Maria Rilke

Friday, April 23, 2010

The beginning - a story

Oh for heaven’s sake! What now?” Rachel stomped to the side door as emphatically as she could in her knitted slippers, leaving pasta on the point of boiling over and tomato sauce conducting a Jackson Pollock experiment on the stove. Flinging the door open so hard the hanging stained glass “Peace reigns within” picture rattled against the window, she took a moment to see who it was before growling, “Typical. I’m too busy right now, David.” Flapping her hand at him in the hopes the man would vanish, she slapped at the door to shut him out and hurried back to the stove to rescue what was sure to be another disappointing meal.

“God in His heaven, woman, what are you doing?” Rachel jumped at the voice which came not from the stoop beyond the kitchen door, but from right behind her. She spun to glare at the man, dripping yet more crimson splotches over the stove and floor as she went.

“Don’t you say a word, David Wilkes. You haven’t spoken more than two words to a soul, so far as I can tell; it’s a wonder your voice hasn’t rusted clean out of your throat”

“I need to ask a favour.” David’s voice really did sound rusty, Rachel thought, startled to hear him speak. “From your dad, actually. Is Russell home?”

“It’s Wednesday night. If you did more than growl at people when you left your house, you’d realize Wednesday is card night at the Lion’s Hall, and my father doesn’t miss that unless the Queen is in town.” Got to work on that sarcasm, she admonished herself. Just as soon as she got a handle on the laundry. “Tell me what you need, and I’ll pass the message to daddy when he gets home.”

“Rachel, listen to me.” Tapping the back of her hand to get her attention, he continued “Timmy Mulligan is dead. His unit came under attack while on a recce, and he was killed by an IED yesterday. He was one of mine, and I want to be there when they bring him home on Friday. I need to borrow your dad’s car so I can get to Trenton for the repatriation.”

Having said it all at once, he waited silently for her reaction. Timmy was a local boy – Willoughby born and bred. This news was going to hit the whole town hard. “We’ll take my car, David. I’m going with you.”

“”Abby didn’t know him, Rache. Tim’s never been home since she was born.”

Struggling to process the news and her thoughts, she looked up at her old friend with grief-shadowed eyes. “You’re right. She never knew her uncle, but he was all she had left. After the accident, I promised myself I’d do everything I could to make sure she would know about her parents, that I would always tell her their stories. I wanted Timmy to be a reminder of her dad.” She angrily swiped at the tears on her cheeks.

“I get that. I do. Look, I know it’s been hard for you, Debbie dying and all that’s happened. But you don’t have to do this out of guilt. I should have been there with him so I owe him this, but he would understand that you can’t get away.” He held his hand up to stall her protest and continued, “It’s a long drive, Rachel. It’ll take at least 15 hours and that’s too much for a little kid. It’s going to be very sad, and hard to watch, and then it’s 15 hours in the car again to come back home.” He looked at her, and could see the newly etched lines on her face; this new responsibility was weighing heavily on her. He really should have pulled his head out of the sand and seen that she needed help. “Do you really want to come?”

Rachel nodded. “I feel like I have to do this for her. Even if she doesn’t remember, I have to be able to tell her we were there, that he was important to her, ‘cause he was family.”

He scrubbed his hand over his face, and sighed in defeat. “Ok then. Can you be ready to leave by six? I’ll pay for the gas if you can look after some food for us. Tell Russell we’ll be back late Saturday night.

She nodded once more, and getting up she briefly lay her hand on his shoulder, and began clearing the table.

Martina Bellini : a work of fiction

An Episode in the life of Martina Bellini, curly-headed nursing student.

In the Library

Here I sit, huddled over my laptop in my favourite study cubicle in the Health Sciences Library. I’ve chosen this spot carefully – I launched a campaign of reconnaissance worthy of a military manoeuvre and the result is that I have the prime spot in this whole mausoleum of a library. I have found the one spot that is both the farthest from the librarian, and still close to the washroom; I can’t be seen in any of the mirrors, and the books around me are obscure enough I’m not likely to have any but the most random people stroll behind me. There are seven or eight other little desks beside me, but this is the chair everyone wants. I bring enough gear with me to stake my claim and prevent anyone from thinking they can easily relocate me when I leave for a break.

Hmmm...I must remember to bring something other than Cheezies with me next time: they’re noisy, plus they turn my fingers bright orange which doesn’t look very scholarly. I’m afraid the librarian might evict me unless I can convince her I’m working very hard here. I’ll try frowning occasionally and flipping studiously through my books as if I’m trying to find an important reference.

Oh! Theresa is online! Yay! It’s been ages since we chatted. But I really must get this Morbid Forensics done. Or is it History of foot care that I’m supposed to be doing today? Darn it, where did I put my agenda? Oh, that reminds me, I have to write that letter to my academic advisor, too.

Rats, I’ve been here for over an hour now and I haven’t accomplished anything. Except: I did find those books on the geography of Inner Mongolia, and animal husbandry on the Steppes while wandering through the stacks. Quite interesting, really! And I ate that bag of chocolate covered almonds. They are such a good idea! Everyone knows chocolate is good for you – antioxidant or something, and almonds fight cancer, don’t they? So they’re a perfect food, really. I must remember to get more.

Well, honestly! A girl laughs a little, ever so quietly, and people look at her as if she kicked a puppy! It’s so studiously serious and quiet in here I fully expect the librarian to shush me. She looks the type to shush people. Her hair isn’t in a bun, but I’ll bet she’s wearing sensible shoes. She’s probably wearing contact lenses, and she’s got those horn-rimmed glasses at home. I’ll bet she looks at her husband over them, and shushes him, too. She goes on periodic rounds of the stacks, probably making sure none of her books are leaning against each other or not in an impeccable straight line!

This time I mean it. I will just do it, and tackle this troublesome letter. What is needed here is a little motivation, a little inspiration and it will practically write itself. Won’t it? Should I begin with ‘dear’ or with ‘to’, I wonder? It’s supposed to be an official document, so ‘to’ sounds better, but I’m hoping for a favourable response and am appealing to the kindness of their hearts, so maybe ‘dear’ is the way to go. I suppose I could do two versions and send them both, showing them I take the matter very seriously, and yet I am a real human being with a beating heart and simple needs. The humane society always sends pictures of sad-eyed puppies with their campaign appeals – maybe I should include a picture of myself...with a puppy?

I’ve been busted: while working very hard on my paper about Attention Deficit Disorder in Adults, I’ve been chatting online with Theresa, which led to silent bursts of inward laughter. I really did try to laugh through my ears, but it’s a hard skill to master and I guess what I thought was silent was maybe not so quiet and it seems to have come through my mouth after all. One of the Wonder Students sitting near me has lodged a complaint against me with the shushing librarian, who has of course shushed and warned me. If she has to shush me one more time I will have to pack my things and leave these premises “at once! And dispose of those vile orange things immediately” and did I not know that food is on no account permitted in the stacks, and do I not read the nutrition information on the packaging? Well duh! Who eats junk food based on nutrition values? What are they teaching people in library school these days?

The Squire of Milpond

The Squire of Milpond
In his ancient woollen cardigan, he certainly was a vision of agrarian gentility, unless you observed closely his upright carriage and quiet confidence; then, surely, you would guess at his soldierly past. As our story finds him, Soldier had laid down his sword, and taken up his ploughshare as Squire some time ago; however, it will be observed by our reader that a man truly a soldier will remain so whether he be on the field or on the land.

Our setting is the quiet hamlet of Milpond - a sleepy place it was, home to decent, hardworking souls. Its name derived from the flour mill, which harnessed the power of the pond as it tumbled into the Black River, bringing regular commerce to the few local shops. Its main renown, however, came from the hops grown in the fields outlying its borders, and the resultant beers and ales. It may be for this that our Squire chose this part of the country for himself upon giving up his uniform, but he always said it was the land which drew him here.

Squire took up residence in a tidy farmhouse, well constructed and proof against the elements. It sat protected by a hillock within a small garden beyond which stretched his land. He kept some few chickens and a cow, and had plans to graze sheep, but his main delight lay in the fruit orchard and vegetable garden. Squire was partial to pickles and preserves, and his pantry was richly stocked with the bountiful gifts of his harvests.

His property was overlooked – as if guarded – by the tall spire of the Church of St. Phillip, just visible over the top of the hill at the back of his garden. His neighbours were on one side a somewhat elderly couple whose son recently married and moved into the city; and on the other, a Town doctor and his wife who had bought a country property to play at being Land Owners but spent all their time attempting to cure the local populace of their simple ways.

Milpond, though small, was thriving in its quiet way. On market days vendors enjoyed a bustling trade on the fairgrounds. There was a Musical Society and frequent Amateur Theatricals for the artistically inclined. A small and somewhat unreliable restaurant owned by a temperamental chef who relied on whim for inspiration, and an even smaller though happily reliable pub addressed the gustatory needs of the people.

All in all, it was a happy place to enjoy peaceful years – so thought our Squire each night as he looked over his land from the fence dividing garden from field. Being a sensible man, and one of extensive reading, he realized he had much to learn about his newly chosen life. Would he, for example, have to construct a ha-ha if he did acquire sheep, to keep them from intruding on his vegetables? Was it expected that he would attend every church fete in the district? And just how often must he have the Reverend to the house for sherry? Country ways were very different, it seemed than what he’d been used to. This brought to his mind the fact that country folk enjoyed their victuals at an early hour; and even now his plate was most likely waiting for him alongside a tankard of his favourite ale.

How he loved this time of the day best of all: his labour was done till the sun rose again, and now as that sun slowly drooped below the horizon, his home glowed with the warmth of lamp light and happy souls. As St. Phillip rang out the hour, Squire left his fence perch and walked with eager stomach to his supper which tonight was surely going to be the rabbit promised by cook.

Scraping loose dirt from the bottoms of his boots, he stepped over the threshold of his back door, fully prepared to enjoy his meal and the book which arrived today by the afternoon mail. He’d ordered it months ago from a book agent who specialised in military history – an area of interest not well stocked in Milpond’s small lending library. Trading boots for slippers, he called a welcome into the house to signal his arrival and the need to have both meal and beer ready.

While our Squire had been bestowing his evening blessing on his land, his household had received a quite unexpected visitor. “The young sir just helped himself to the fireside, and took a glass of your port besides. As I didn’t think it right to toss him out, I’ve let him be, but I don’t like to see the young lads take advantage of you, sir.” Ever on guard of his master’s consequence and privacy, Joseph could be counted on to halt those whose encroaching ways presumed an intimacy with the Squire; the young men of the neighbourhood, however, conspired with the Squire himself to elude Joseph’s defences.

And so it was that on this night, when Squire anticipated tranquility, rabbit, and the company of a long-awaited book, he found young Matthew Gage sitting at his fire, sipping his port and sniffing appreciatively at the aroma of roasted rabbit in the air. He’d wrinkled the evening paper too, Squire noticed with chagrin. There was a great deal he could forgive army-mad juveniles – he’d been one himself, after all – but it really asked too much of a man to share his newspaper with someone who mangled it in such fashion. That Joseph was put out was very clear. Like most faithful retainers of longstanding, he had a way of communicating his opinions without resorting to words; which ability could at times disconcert his master.
Now, in order to offset the slight aloofness of Joseph, Squire entered his snug study and smiled at the young man sitting with such self-assurance in another man’s private room. That confidence must be the country-bred habit of believing one man equal to another -- if both worked equally hard. Not that Matthew was known to work hard for his bread, but he was willing to lend his weight when needed.

“Good evening, Matthew. I see you’re already quite at home, so I won’t offer you a drink. Does your father know you indulge in spirits?” While Squire sometimes sounded gruff, one needed only to note the twinkle in his eyes to know he was not really a harsh man. Military life had taught him decision and leadership, but he was by nature ever ready to see the joke; at this moment, the joke was the lad – all of 14 years old – sitting at his leisure by the fire, sipping port and looking for all the world as though he were about to light a pipe.

Matthew grinned at the older man, and drained his glass before getting to his feet and extending his hand in welcome. “Well sir, leastways he never said directly that I couldn’t. I enjoyed the port, and I don’t deny it, but I’ll admit to you I took it to annoy the stuffed shirt who didn’t want to let me through your door. I was just wanting to have a chat with you sir.”

This of course was the signal to invite his guest to stay for dinner, which Squire obediently did, not entirely regretting his lost solitude and book. During his short time in Milpond he’d come to like the people, and never minded when they showed up at his door ‘for a chat’. It was bound to be an entertaining evening.

Joseph unbent enough to share the information that “Dinner is served, sir. I’ve taken the liberty to provide lemonade for Mr. Gage.” Squire very nobly controlled his grin in order to preserve the dignity of both men, merely acknowledging Joseph’s announcement with a nod of his head, and with another directing Matthew to precede him into the dining room.

Pleased, he noticed that cook had provided well: there was plenty of rabbit for two. He settled in to enjoy his meal with deep contentment, and waited for the boy to reveal the real purpose for his visit. ‘Just a chat’ usually turned into a favour of some sort, such as the use of Squire’s barn as a shelter for the hunting dogs he planned to train and sell as a way to ‘make his fortune’. As he knew Matthew had experience in neither hunting nor dog training, Squire was able to resist the heady promise of riches and declared his barn off limits to the enterprise.

When glasses had been drained and plates were scraped clean, the men pushed their chairs back from the table in order to slouch with comfort. Getting down to business seemed to be taking longer than usual this night, so a direct question seemed to be in order. “Now, Matthew. What great plans have you got for my property this time?”

“Oh, none at all, sir; it’s not your land I’m interested in. Well...not this time anyway.” This was said with a grin, revealing to Squire that Matthew did indeed have schemes, but was willing to wait for a more propitious time to advance them. “It’s nothing really, only I was wondering, Sir, if you happened to have an old uniform around the place that you would be willing to let me have? You see, Thomas Redknapp and George Giggs have fathers who served, while my own dad was a farmer. When we act out the battles, there’s me in my usuals, while they drill in proper uniforms. I’d dearly like to see their faces when I show up next time in an officer’s colours with them dressed as enlisted men.”

“Matthew, there’s no pride to be had in a man’s rank unless the man has honour and courage. Those qualities are found in the enlisted ranks as commonly as among the officers. It doesn’t do to measure a man based on his rank or status. ” Realizing he was in danger of delivering a lecture, he answered the question: “I don’t believe I’ve kept anything from those days, but I’ll set Joseph to see what he can find laying about in the attics”

“That’s very good of you, to be sure. I’ll call back in a few days, shall I? I’ll leave you to your peace now, and I think you for a truly delicious meal. Good night!”

And so Squire was left to his pipe, his long anticipated books, and the opportunity to reflect on the goodness of his life on the land.

Felicity and the cats (intro)

Felicity was afraid of cats. And yet here she was, once again, in a room dominated by three bossy Siamese and one cranky old tabby tom. The cats belonged to Aunt Ruthie, but Aunt Ruthie was off on one of her adventures: trekking the Outback or mapping the ocean floor or similar. Ruth got to have fun in the sun, while Felicity got finicky felines, allergies, and dreams about suffocation and glowing eyes in the dark.

Every two years or so, Felicity would be recruited to watch over the abhorrent shedders for a month. They weren’t particularly needy or tedious in their daily regimen: water and food daily really. Mrs. Culpepper came twice a week to clean, and she took care of the kitty facilities along with the usual housekeeping chores of dust elimination and pillow fluffing. Pillow duty wouldn’t normally be an arduous task, but Ruth Alexander was not a normal sort of woman, nor did she keep a normal sort of house.

For a woman with such free-spirited and adrenaline-based inclinations in holidays, Aunt Ruthie lived in a surprisingly traditional, almost fussy home. This living room, for instance, bore the evidence of an explosion of chintz and florals in bold patterns on the overstuffed sofa and wallpaper. The windows were veiled in lace sheers and swathed in paisley poufs, admitting a controlled amount of sunlight while deflecting the curious eyes of passers-by. At night, Ruthie would pull across the matching chintz drapes, completing the illusion of being submerged in a surrealist’s interpretation of an English garden while on hallucinogenic drugs. Lace doilies were in evidence on some surfaces, a dog in china painted blue and white sat proudly and domineeringly on the mantel; a treasured Doulton Old Country Roses tea service could be seen in the breakfront – but never on the table for Ruth used a more prosaic set of ironstone mugs for her morning tea.

Mad chintz and scary cats aside, Felicity always enjoyed the time she spent at Ruthie’s, whether alone or with her beloved Aunt. The two were a comfortable pair – opinions about cats notwithstanding – believing in the need for sparkle in a woman’s life, whether in jewellery, ocean views, or fully-lived moments and no regrets. While the elder Alexander chose to physically explore her place in the universe, the younger had always chosen a more cerebral approach to discovery, preferring to read the accounts of other people coming into contact with exotic bugs and strange dietary customs from the comfort of her own home. When Ruth returned from exotic places afar to her chintz and her cats, she had tea with the ladies of the local historical society and cross stitched samplers for church bazaars, while Felicity would partake in an afternoon of geo caching, rock climbing, or off-road cycling.

The Story of a lass and a Glenn

He walked with the confidence of a man in uniform, one who knew he could keep 900,000 pounds of machinery, metal and human flesh aloft over mountain ranges and vast sweeps of ocean expanse; through storm and cloud and shattering sunlight. He was a pilot; a ginger-haired pilot with the clear, icy blue eyes of an Alaskan Husky. Even in the warm and contented fog of a week well-lived in New York City, Colleen recognised the masculine command emanating from the very presence of this man, and nearly swooned on the spot. At least, never having properly swooned before, she thought the limp spaghetti state of her knees was a precursor to an out-and-out swoon, and she clutched at the back of one of the moulded plastic seats riveted to the floor of the departures lounge in long rows, like prisoners in a chain gang. He heard her luggage tumble to the floor, turned to see if assistance was required (he could fly a plane - a lady in distress was nothing to this man) and that’s when it happened: their eyes met across the crowded room. His piercing blue gaze drew her own like a magnet draws iron shavings; it felt as if her very soul was yearning toward him.

Glenn…his name was Glenn. (He wore a helpful name badge on the breast pocket of his uniform) The name had a Scottish ring to it. Maybe he was Scottish, and had a lovely, lilting brogue in his speech, was able to sing like an angel, and could tickle trout out of creeks when hill walking through the heather. The beautiful man started to walk toward her, and it seemed there was a glow about him, like Maddy Hayes on Moonlighting (it was the Vaselined lens they used for her on the show). When he stood next to her, he reached out and touched her, holding her hand and helping her to steady herself. His nearness though, intensified the wobble in her knees, and she had to rely on his support in order to remain standing. He was warm and strong, and he smelled so good she couldn’t help leaning in to absorb him a little more. He smiled at her - a lift at one corner of his mouth and a flash of dimple in his cheek -- then without a word he patted her hand, and walked with confident, man-in-uniform strides to his gate, and disappeared from her sight.

What had she done? How could she have allowed this man to just walk out of her life like that? There had been a connection between them, she knew it; and in the brief contact of their hands, she had felt a lifetime of belonging. She would have to trust the Fates on this one, for she knew the door closing behind him as he went to his plane was not the door of possibility closing on their future happiness.

Christian and the cars

Christian and the cars

The sun woke up just minutes before Christian opened his eyes. He took a minute to stretch his arms up high over his head, and wiggle all of his toes as a way of saying “Hello!” to the new day. He yawned so hard, he couldn’t see the bunk bed above him, and little black stars swirled in front of his eyes.

With a little shiver of happiness, he remembered that today was a very special day. It was his birthday, and he’d been promised a very special treat – he was going to the big park; the one with the water wheel and the pirate ship, and the extra long slide that turned around two times before you landed with a bump in the sand.

He tucked his hand under the pillow, searching for his favourite car – the black and white police truck, with a yellow number 5 painted on the sides. The doors opened up, and if you dragged it backwards on the floor then let go, it would zoom away very fast all by itself.

Birthday breakfast meant waffles with blueberries – his very favourite – and chocolate milk. And right there, beside his plate, was a box covered with yellow paper and an orange bow. It had a card on top that said “To Christian: happy birthday, love Mummy and Daddy” but he couldn’t open it until he’d finished all of the blueberries on his plate.

And when he! It was a beautiful green dump truck, with big black wheels; and when he pushed the button, the back of the truck lifted up, so all the blocks or sand or rocks would tumble out, just like at a real construction site.

Being patient was very hard for a boy who had only just turned three, but eventually he was at the park, standing behind the wheel of the pirate ship: Captain Christian of the brave ship Ahoy, with its cargo of treasure and chocolate. Captain Christian had to be wily and cunning to outmanoeuvre the navy boats chasing him. He had to call his crew to battle stations, man the canons, and let the royal navy have it. Because he was a wily and cunning captain, Christian got his boat and his crew to safety, where they had a big party, eating almost all of the chocolate they had on board.

Happy that once again he had brought his ship and crew back home, Christian took a fast ride down the twisty slide, where he turned twice very fast before landing with a bump in the sand. He decided this might be the day he would be able to climb all the way to the top of the slide without sliding back down on his feet. Holding on to the sides as tight as he could, he tried walking up the ramp, curling his toes hard inside his shoes, pulling a little with his hands. But his shoes were too slippery, and his arms were not yet long enough for his hands to hold on strong, so he slipped back to the bottom after taking only five steps.

Because he was a big boy now, of three years old, he didn’t get upset at all. He thought maybe it was time to bring his shiny new dump truck into the sand box, where some other boys were playing with their cars. The way they looked at his toy, he knew they thought it was special, and that they would like the chance to play with it, too. But they didn’t know, like Christian did, that this truck was real.

As soon as Christian’s little fingers sat in the seat behind the steering wheel as if they were going to drive, the truck started to rumble with a deep engine sound, shaking the loose gravel of the sand box. The lights on the dashboard began to glow red and blue, telling Christian everything was working just right. With a loud ‘Honk’ of the horn, and a ‘Beep! Beep! Beep!’ of the backup warning system, he moved the truck into place to receive its load from the digger to deliver to the construction site.

Load after load he drove wherever it needed to go. Little sticks became giant logs when they were dropped into his truck. Pebbles turned into boulders when dropped from his fingers shaped like the bucket of a crane, landing with a big ‘thunk’ and shaking the truck. One of the other boys crashed his motorcycle just before their big race, so Christian lifted it on as cargo and delivered it safely to the garage for repairs. Everyone cheered, because now the race could go on.

Long before he was finished all the work he had to do, Mummy said it was time to go back home. The new truck had to stay outside because it was very dusty and dirty – just like Christian was, too. After bath time and supper, it was time for bed. Tucked in and cozy beneath his favourite fuzzy blanket, with the police truck under his pillow, Christian said goodnight to the sun, wiggled his toes, and closed his eyes, already dreaming about the adventures he would have tomorrow.

Gamel (Revised)

This piece was rewritten - not improved. It is as yet incomplete and needs a lot of work.


Behind our house, a group of trees stood together in a wood. It was a magical place of oak and chestnut, pine and elm. It had a high, arched roof where the branches meet and linger overhead, while moss and grass softened the floor below. My brother and I spent most of our time there, when we were not being good students at school. There were trails and paths that wandered through every corner of our forest; we knew them all so well we could walk through blindfolded with our hands tied behind our back, always knowing exactly where we were.

We didn’t get along all that well, Robin and I, until I was six years old. That’s when Donny Edmonds and Rebecca Tucci tried to bully my lunch money out of me for a week straight. Robin found me in the pantry after school one day, inhaling a second sleeve of soda crackers – evidence of the first scattered on the counter and down the front of my sweater. When I told him about Donny and Becky, he got really quiet and still, which told me he was seriously angry. He’s pretty territorial, you see and while at the time he didn’t harbour great personal fondness for me, it was not ok with him that someone else treated me badly. Even at the age of eight, Robin was a force to be reckoned with; to this day I’m not sure just what he did to the gruesome twosome, but they sure never bothered anyone else for their lunch money.

Two years after the lunch money episode, we moved from town to the country house because Mother believed it was better for us kids to grow up where we could smell cows in the field, not garbage rotting on street corners. At first it was hard to leave our friends behind, not to mention cable tv, and convenience stores well-stocked with candy; but being so far away from everything and everyone meant Robin and I had to depend on each other for company, and we discovered we really did like each other.

There is nothing more wonderful to a child than the chance to explore and discover. Our new house had cupboards, pantries, hallways and stairs enough to provide us with endless afternoons of hide-and-seek and treasure hunts. We quickly learned which doors would creak when we tried to sneak outside instead of do our homework, and that if we were really quiet in the attic trunk room, Mom would forget to call us to help her weed the garden.

It was in that attic room we set up our clubhouse. Over time we brought in pillows and blankets, a reading lamp with a supply of books, and a tin of cookies – as well as a few apples to keep us healthy. We plotted our grand adventures there, recording them afterward in our log book, which was kept carefully hidden in the back of a secret drawer of an old dresser. Well, we called it a secret drawer, but it was really just a drawer with the handle broken off, so we used a knitting needle to open it. Robin found a wobbly old globe of the world which he added to his collection of treasures. He loved to spin it, randomly land his finger on a country, then read about it in the one volume encyclopaedia we took from Dad’s study. He would make up stories for me about each new place, involving secret agents, deep sea divers, chocolate merchants, or orphaned princesses. It was an excellent way to learn geography.

When the weather allowed, we spent all of our time outside, under the trees of our wood. We discovered a little stream that cut through the middle of it, which was always a good place to find frogs and tadpoles. We found the place where a family of rabbits had their warren-home, and we learned that in early spring, deer were less timid and would come quite close to us, if we were very quiet. Red squirrels and chipmunks were always chasing each other up and down the tree trunks, fighting over nuts and bulbs as if there wouldn’t be plenty to go around. Robin thought it was a matter of team pride: Chipmunks Versus Squirrels in nature’s contest to gather the biggest harvest.

My brother and I usually did everything together because an adventure, no matter how exciting was never as much fun when experienced alone. He had the wonderful ability for turning hunting for frogs into an African big game safari, and going for a hike into a polar expedition. Our clubhouse walls were decorated with pictures of lions we had captured, and rich pirate ships we had plundered. He could turn even boring chores like washing dishes into a mission – should we choose to accept it – to save the world in 15 minutes or less.

One autumn, a few years after moving to our country house I came down with a double dose of the mumps and was kept home from school. Robin faithfully brought my homework each evening, and told me stories of what had happened on the yard at recess time. But after completing the four times tables and then reading Super Fudge for the third time, I started to think I was the unluckiest girl in the world for having to stay home. Eventually, after I had complained once too often that I was bored, Mother decided it would do me good to get some fresh air and use up excess energy; and so for the first time, I went into the woods without him. Wouldn’t you know it? That’s when the for-real adventure happened.

It was a day like any other, unless you knew what to look for: the sun shone especially bright, even though summer was well behind us; I saw a crow and a frog sitting on our swinging tire; and Mother let me have two peanut butter cookies before I ate my lunch. I should have realized that something special was going to happen, but you never really do, at the time.

There was a tree I was particularly fond of, because the earth formed a soft bowl at the feet of it, cushioned with soft moss. This little spot was exactly the right size and shape for me to curl up with a good book in the afternoon, when the sun shone over my shoulder perfectly so I could read, without having to squinch up my eyes. I could spend hours there, when I got lost in a story, looking up occasionally when I heard scurrying in the grass beside me, or the wind was being especially bossy in the leaves. It wasn’t far from the stream, so on the hottest days, we’d keep our drinks chilling in the water. Cool orange fizzy pop on a hot afternoon was as good as the ice cream cones we used to get from the bicycle carts in the city.

That particular day, I’d settled in with my soft-at-the-corners copy of Ballet Shoes, imagining myself as Posy, arriving at my adopted home in a basket of ballerina’s slippers. Gradually, the corners of my mind became aware of a soft scratching sound that repeated itself over and over again. Looking up from my book, though I was still vaguely in England 70 years ago, I somehow wasn’t surprised to find a very short but very stout little man standing beside me. He was only so tall that the leaves on the ground came all the way to his knees, and while I was sitting, the very tip of his hat didn’t even reach my shoulder.

I should have been startled, or afraid, or at least confused, shouldn’t I? But my brother had such a way of making the most remarkable stories seem real, that in my imagination we had already encountered and become friends with many strange creatures. This little man was just one more, along with the fauns and unicorns, white bears and flightless birds Robin told me about.

To look at, he was very like any man you might see buying tobacco for his pipe: he was round through the middle, with plump little red cheeks beside his smiling mouth. He was dressed in what I was sure must be tweed, with sturdy little brown leather shoes on his feet, glistening with a gold buckle on each one. He stood with his hands clasped behind his back, and he rocked back and forth from heel to toe, looking up at me with his head tilted so far back, I thought his hat would fall off with the next rock.

He kept smiling at me, so I knew he meant to be friends. Then I realized he was talking to me as well, though it sounded like he was chirping in Gerbil-talk, at first. I shook my head at him, lifting my shoulders in a shrug to let him know I didn’t understand him.

“I’m sorry,” I said, slowly and very clearly in a way that would have made Mrs. Evans, my English teacher very proud, “but I only speak English. Ing-gul-ish.” I frowned a little, to let him know I too, was friendly, and that I was trying to comprehend. As I listened very hard to the sounds he was making, they gradually became words I recognized -- chatter about spectacles and butter, which didn’t make a great deal of sense at first, but gradually it became clear he was talking about having lost his eye glasses somewhere in the grass and leaves; had I seen them? And that he wanted to invite me in for tea with bread and butter, only he was fresh out of butter that morning.

Looking for wee little glasses when the ground is covered with fallen leaves is quite a challenge; but, fortunately, even wee little glasses sparkle in the sun, and eventually we found them tucked under a mushroom cap. With his glasses safe once more, my new friend settled in for a good chat. I sat with my back propped against the reading tree, and took great delight in just looking at him. As a girl used to her brother’s wild stories about dragons, magic fountain pens and a secret world behind the bedroom mirror, it seemed perfectly natural to be deep in the woods talking to a...dwarf? And yet, how exciting to discover that sometimes imagination had its root in truth, and it was sitting across from me, with its legs crossed, swinging its foot back and forth as it talked to me.

This imaginary truth introduced himself as Gamel. He told me that he lived next door to the reading tree, and that he had often seen Robin and I, as we explored or whiled away the hours with a book or sketchpad. He told me that there were others like him living in various trees throughout the woods, and that he would introduce us in due time but not yet, as they were rather shy of big people. Gamel explained that he had lived in our forest for a very long time, and had known other boys and girls before we moved here. Not all boys and girls were capable of seeing the little people, because, as he said, they had ‘old souls’. Likewise, some grownups were remarkably young at heart, and could see Gamel and his friends their whole life long.

He invited me into his home to have some tea, but the doorway was too small for me to wiggle through, so I just peered in through the opening to see that he had a simple wooden table with two chairs in front of a little stove. Two shelves hanging on the wall held his collection of cups and plates and tins and things, and I saw a few pictures hanging up as well, though they were too small for me to see what they were pictures of. I noticed a lantern on the table, and imagined how cosy the room would be when the world was dark after the sun went down. There was a doorway that led into another room, and perhaps even more beyond that. How I wished I could sit at the table with Gamel, and even more I wished that Robin was with me to see it all for himself!

Gamel brought out two mugs, with curling wisps of steam drifting away in the slight breeze of the afternoon. We sat down again, not saying very much, merely enjoying each other’s company as we sipped the warm tea. It only took a few sips before my mug was empty, but I didn’t want to leave him yet, so I sat quietly until he was also done. Then he set down his mug with a satisfied swipe of the back of his hand across his mouth, and took up talking again – this time about his friends. Oh! The stories he had! There was his best friend and closest neighbour Dagen, who in their younger years, had set off with Gamel from their home forest, to discover the world before they settled in our backyard. Dagen was a daring sort, often getting the two friends into scrapes and near-disasters, relying on Gamel’s ingenuity to rescue them. Hedwig was a motherly sort who had taken on the job of making sure everyone in her neighbourhood was fed and warm, and cared for. Cullen and Ailith were a brother and sister who had never been anywhere but our Homewood, and were looked upon as clan elders. Cullen was sought out whenever there was conflict in the community, and Ailith was known for being able to fix absolutely anything. Needless to say, their home was constantly full of visitors. Gamel himself was known for being a fine artist with the sewing needle, and when he proudly showed me the waistcoat he had on that day, I had to assure him it looked very professional to me.

Though I was reluctant to return home, the afternoon couldn’t last forever. I knew Mother would be watching for me; probably beginning to fret a little about me being gone for so long while still mumpish. So I had to say goodbye to Gamel, promising him that I would return again as soon as I could, and that I would bring Robin with me. I looked back at the last possible moment – I think I wanted to prove to myself that it had really happened -- the little man was blowing smoke rings from his pipe, rocking back and forth on his feet like the first time I’d seen him.