29 May 2012

tilly with the others: part 13

From the introduction of We Came from Outer Space: A Study of the Human Extraterrestrial (© 1968) by Franklin J. Gibbs:

In the past hundred years, civilization has advanced by larger leaps, and at greater speeds, than in all of the centuries preceding. Consider the experience of an 80-year-old man living today. His childhood coincides with Edison's work at Menlo Park. Every few months something new is being invented and made a standard feature in American homes: the phonograph, the light bulb, the telephone.

In 1903, when our hypothetical octogenarian is 15, the Wright brothers make their first flight. During the First World War, of which our 80-year-old man is likely a veteran, airplanes are used in combat for the first time. 1927 sees Charles Lindbergh make his historical transatlantic flight. Commercial air travel grows in popularity throughout the 1930s.

By the 1940s, when our common-man octogenarian is in his fifties, aircraft technology is improved rapidly by both the Axis and the Allied powers during the war. Jet aircraft are developed and flown for the first time, and before the close of the decade, man breaks the sound barrier.

The space frontier opens with the launch of Sputnik by the Soviets in 1958. Technology development accelerates both behind the Iron Curtain and in the free world. In 1961 President Kennedy commits the nation to land a man on the moon before the decade is out, and now, as I write these words, we look certain to succeed in reaching that goal.

If our 80-year-old everyman ever gets a chance to stop and think, the pace of change that has happened within his lifetime must surely astonish him. However, our everyman is reasonable and educated, and he knows that the great technological leap forward of the past century arose from a confluence of previous developments, each of which enabled the inventions that followed them.

What is not so clear is how the civilization that is advancing so rapidly now came to be in the first place. Archaeologists all agree that civilization started around 10,000 years ago. They cannot agree, however, on what caused civilization to blossom forth around the world, near-simultaneously, at this time. The peoples of the Fertile Crescent in the Middle East, of Asia, and the native peoples of the Americas all made tremendous strides forward at more or less the same time. Furthermore, they all tended to make the same strides forward in areas such as architecture. Consider the similarity in shape the ziggaraut has to the pagoda, and to the stepped pyramids built in Central America. Consider also the early and immediate focus on astronomy: in ancient Egypt, in the Far East, in Great Britain by the builders of Stonehenge, and in the Americas.

A cynical man might argue that some of the accomplishments I have just listed occurred thousands of years apart. Perhaps he has a point, but as a counter-point I request that the cynical man remember he is looking at history from the vantage point of the present day, from a society that is so used to accelerated change that it sees it as the norm.

How did mankind, living in isolated communities separated by oceans, develop such similar markers of civilization without the benefit of global communication? This book aims to explore how this came to be through the markers themselves: the desire to build tall buildings reaching to the sky, the desire to study the stars, the desire to fly in the heavens. Startling new archaeological discoveries provide evidence that these global markers of mankind's advances are not coincidences.

I believe that one day, it will be accepted as self-evident that we are not alone in this universe. It is my fervent hope that this book will help guide us to a deeper understanding of where we truly came from, the better to allow us to return there.

Franklin J. Gibbs, Chicago, November 1968

25 May 2012

#fridayflash: knowing

It's like noticing that the light has turned greenish and realising that it will probably rain. It's like... it's like putting your hand on the hood of a car, and knowing from the temperature that the engine was turned off only recently.

But it's more than that. It's like hearing your boyfriend say "I love you" on the phone and knowing that the next time you meet in person, you'll be talking about breaking up. Or watching your five-year-old run up to you after swimming lessons and just knowing that she finally learned how to float today.

It's like none of those things. And the frustrating part is, it's uncontrollable. It comes and goes.

Usually the only hint that a bout of it is coming on is music in my head. I'll wake up in the morning with a song I never liked and haven't heard in years buzzing around my skull. Last Monday I woke up with "One on One" by Hall & Oates on the old cerebral jukebox.

The first thing I thought was, "Gah! Punch up the Black Flag playlist on the phone now now NOW!"

The second thing was, "Shit. It's happening again."

Nothing happened on the drive in to work, but as soon as I walked in and saw Kevin's back, I knew. He was leaning against the kitchenette wall, talking to some other people. I couldn't see their faces, but then Bernadette leaned around the entrance and said, "Hi Sheila!". I said, "So Gina said yes then, Kevin?"

And Kevin turned around and grinned and held up the hand with his engagement ring on it. "Yes on Friday, got the rings on Saturday," he said.

"Congratulations!" I said, and listened to the usual chatter about the date and the plans and booking the banquet hall and the honeymoon.

That's how they work, usually. It just seems like a regular, banal, communication thing, right?

Except Kevin came up to my desk at lunchtime, and  quietly asked how I knew his girlfriend's name was Gina. It's a good question. Hardly anyone knew for certain that he had a girlfriend, never mind her name. He's a pretty private person.

I didn't have an answer for him, so I just frowned and said he must have mentioned it at some point. Believe me, I've gotten pretty good at that frown over the years.

Kevin looked like he was going to start arguing with me, but then Tom from accounting came up to ask him something, and he sort of shook it off.

So I'm safe again, at least unless someone really notices that no-one actually said "marriage" or "engagement" or "congratulations" while I was within earshot.

It's like... it's like walking into a room that's empty, and you didn't see or hear anyone leave, but you know a huge argument just happened right before you got there.

Usually it's changes to relationships that I pick up on, even when I don't know the relationship exists. Marriages, divorces, deaths, pregnancies. The worst time was probably when I asked my next-door neighbour if she was feeling okay, two hours before she had a miscarriage. She was only three months along, wasn't showing yet, and her and her husband had decided they weren't going to tell anyone for as long as possible. They'd been trying to conceive for a long time. She met me on the sidewalk when she got out of the hospital and started screaming at me that I caused the miscarriage by suggesting it to her. Her husband accused me of reading their mail. I can understand why they got upset, but it was still scary.

It's like your spouse covering your eyes and saying, "Guess what I got you for your birthday?" and you guess right on the first try. It's like guessing exactly the right number of jellybeans in the jar.

I've been accused of stalking a few times. That's scary too, but mostly because I can't imagine half the stuff I pick up on being available even to a very dedicated stalker. The few times I've tried to explain it to people, they've told me that it's just déjà vu and I'm imagining things. That doesn't explain things like knowing Kevin's girlfriend's name, though.

There's a bookshop I like to go to on Fridays after work. They sell new and used, have a small but very cool selection, and they have a café at the front with the best gelato in the whole city.

There's this cute guy who works the café counter most Fridays. The afternoon I bought Punk is a Four Letter Word, I got some vanilla gelato and a coffee and tried pouring a little of the coffee over the gelato, like I saw in a French movie a long time ago. I sat there and ate my ice cream and read my book, and it turns out the cute guy is a huge Screeching Weasel fan, same as me, so we got talking about music and books and all sorts of stuff. Now we always talk for at least half an hour every Friday.

I'd never ask him out, because I know people who work retail can wind up getting hit on more than a Mexican piñata, but I always thought I'd love it if he asked me.

It's like walking into your apartment and realising you've been robbed before it registers which things are missing.

The cute guy wasn't there today, for the first Friday in eons. The woman behind the counter was completely friendly and polite, and everyone else in the shop acted fine, but I just know he's not coming back, and I just know it's not because he quit or got fired. I can never put my finger on the specifics before the news actually arrives. The mood in the shop... it's entirely possible that they don't have the news themselves yet.

It's like getting punched in the stomach by a ghost.

22 May 2012

tilly with the others: part 12

Tilly read Emily's note over again, then marched down the hall and placed it under her VOIP headset on the computer desk. She used the washroom, returned to the living room, and stood, thinking.

Emily was ten. All the e-mail web sites like Kmail always asked you to confirm that you were over thirteen before opening an account — otherwise you had to link it to a parent's account. Tilly couldn't remember if that was an American law, a Canadian one, or an American law the Canadian government had decided to go along with, but she knew it was very unlikely either Beth or Owen knew Emily had her own e-mail address. Most likely her little sister didn't know about it either, even though Emily had asked if Tilly had an e-mail address while Mercedes was within earshot.

On the other hand, e-mail addresses had a way of getting found. Ten-year-olds might not know how to clean up their browser history after themselves — or they might leave it so clean that Beth or Owen might get suspicious.

Tilly shook her head and walked over to her computer desk. She powered on the machine and sat down.

I have something important to tell you.

Just because it was important to a ten-year-old didn't mean it was actually important, Tilly thought to herself. Or maybe Emily just put that in the message to ensure that Tilly wrote her.

Or maybe something was wrong.

Tilly opened her e-mail, added Emily to her contacts list, and composed a message:

Hallo Emily:

It was lovely to see you and Mercedes again. I hope you had a good time at the Spaghetti Factory.

I found your note with your e-mail address on it. Now you have my e-mail. Maybe you can tell me how school is going.



There, now if Owen or Beth found it, it was just a nice note from grandmother, but if Emily really did have something important to tell her Oma in private, she could.

A thousand stories from the grocery-checkout tabloid headlines flashed through Tilly's head. She shut the computer down, grabbed the book she had chosen to re-read, and sank into the nearest armchair.

She glanced at her clock radio/CD player. Owen and the girls wouldn't even be at Yorkdale station yet to pick up the car.

Nothing to do but read the book.

The title was We Came from Outer Space: A Study of the Human Extraterrestrial, and Tilly had bought it at a bookshop on Queen St. in... 1968, if the copyright was a good guide. It sounded right. She couldn't distinctly remember buying it, but she did remember being annoyed with a shop clerk while she was heavily pregnant. It had been difficult to waddle out of the shop and try to maintain a dignified air.

The weather, she reflected, had probably been a lot like today's. You could feel the heat rising from the asphalt and concrete as you walked along outside in the sunshine. But if you could catch the breeze coming off the lake, you could feel the coolness, the water.

She flipped the pages until she reached the preface, and read.

18 May 2012

#fridayflash: do you remember me?

Have you forgotten me? I was your downstairs neighbour about ten years ago. Remember?

We both lived in that old house on that little cul-de-sac. Most of the road maps showed it as a through street, and cabbies were always getting lost on the way to pick one or the other of us up.

Ah, you remember the street. I knew you would!

I had that gorgeous Doberman pinscher you used to check up on when I left him in the back yard. Do you know my next landlord made me get rid of him? Just because he knocked over and bit a three-year-old who lived on the street. Poor doggie.

Wasn't the landlady awful? I mean the one who owned the house we used to share. What, you liked her? Oh, right, you always took her side about things. I remember you called her and ratted on me when I knocked down the wall between the dining room and the living room. It's okay, I'm not bitter. You two always insisted that renters couldn't make renovations, which is crazy, because, you know, it's a domicile, and you can decorate where you live.

I went by the house once after I moved out and saw the landlady tore down the detached garage. Wait, she actually told you the back entrance I put in it made it structurally unsound? That's complete and utter garbage, I never... look, it wasn't me who told the raccoon family to go live in the garage. I'm not exactly a wild animal wrangler.

Before we get carried away with that, there is one thing I wanted to ask you about. It's why I stopped you. I see you own a car now, right? This one is yours? So if you're not as anti-car as you made yourself out to be when you lived there... I mean, don't you feel like a hypocrite for reporting me to the city when I left the car battery on the front lawn? Seriously. I suppose you thought I should leave it in my living room or something.

Wait! Don't go! There's one other thing I never understood. You used to go to lots of concerts, right? You like music? I remember one time when we were discussing the baby gate I put across the front entrance I saw that you had two big bookshelves, one with LPs and one with CDs. So how come you were always getting at me to turn down my music? No. No, I do not believe that. If “MacArthur Park” sounds bad when you can hear it over your vacuum cleaner, then it's you who need to get a new vacuum cleaner. That's a classic song, right there. You need to turn it up so you can hear all the sounds.

I said, I'm not bitter. There are just things I need to know, come to terms with things, you know? It seems to me that you're a very harsh person. You should learn a little tolerance, you know, learn that not everyone has the same values as you. We all have to live together in this world.

Fine. Leave then. I don't think you realise how nasty you are. I'm not bitter, not at all, just trying to integrate the past with the present, and here you are, giving me attitude. You haven't grown at all.

Good-bye and have a good life. I mean that.

15 May 2012

tilly with the others: part 11

"Huh," said Owen, tapping his cell phone. "Beth called when we were just getting to your apartment, Ma. Must have been in the elevator when it happened."

"Are you going to call her back now?" said Tilly. They were walking with Emily and Mercedes along the Esplanade, heading back to the subway after lunch.

Owen shrugged. "If it was important she would have called again. She probably just wanted to say hi to you."

"Say hi for me when you get home."

"Always do." Owen automatically reached for Mercedes's hand as they crossed the street.

"Are we going to go back to Oma's now?" said Emily.

"I think we should go straight home," said Owen. "It'll cost extra to get off the subway and on again."

"No it won't," said Emily. "You got a day pass. Besides, I have to go to the washroom."

"Why didn't you go at the restaurant?"

"I didn't feel it until we started walking."

"Emily! You're ten."

"Sorry. I shouldn't have had the second glass of Coke."

Owen scanned the street. "Oma and I could buy coffees at that café and you could go there."

"I don't like public washrooms. They're icky."

Mercedes chimed in. "Sometimes she holds it all day at school if the Benton girls have been giving Ginny Siggorski swirlies in the girl's room."

"Do not!"

"Girls giving swirlies," said Owen under his breath. "Okay, we'll make a pit stop at Oma's. Okay, Ma?"

"Fine by me. We can have tea and cookies if you like."

"Cookies! The ones with windmills on them?" That was Mercedes. Tilly caught Emily looking embarrassed.

"I only have shortbread, sorry."

"We just had dessert at the restaurant," said Owen. "Ma, we ought to be getting back."

Tilly shrugged and reached for Emily's hand at the next street crossing. Just as their fingers touched she realised that Emily was too old to have her hand held while crossing the street, but Emily took her hand anyhow and gave it a light squeeze.

"Emily, are you sure you're going to be able to hold it until we get to Oma's?" said Owen. "It's still a long walk, and then we have to take the subway."

Emily looked down and bit her lip. "Yeah," she said. "I just don't think I'll be able to last more subway plus the drive home."

At the subway, Tilly and Owen had a brief debate about which train to use. He wanted to go north and then transfer onto the Bloor line to get to Spadina; she wanted to go south one stop and then head north on the Yonge-University line without transferring. Tilly won out.

Back at the apartment, Emily ran so quickly to the washroom that she didn't bother to take off her shoes or the little Hello Kitty purse she had insisted on toting around all day, even though it only had a tube of lip balm in it.

Mercedes flopped into one of the armchairs and said her feet hurt from the walking. Tilly sat beside her in the other armchair, and Owen stood for a few moments before self-consciously sitting on the couch, legs half-turned to avoid bumping his shins on the coffee table.

"Wow," Mercedes announced. "Emily's bladder must have been ready to burst. She's still peeing."

"Mercedes!" Owen glanced around the living room. "This really is a nice place, Ma."

Tilly smiled. "I like it."

"I guess it's less work to take care of than the house."

"It's plenty of room for one person."

Owen started to say something and then shook his head, giving Mercedes a quick glance.

"What?" said Tilly.

"Is the kitchen too small? I saw a box of tinfoil poking out from underneath the bed."

"Oh that! I did that right after I moved in. Honest Ed's had a sale on, and I bought too much. I forgot that I don't have a basement to put it in anymore. But it's not like it goes bad."

Owen shrugged. "I guess."

"Why, does aluminum on cars get rusty?" They could hear the toilet flushing in the washroom.

"It can. But are you just going to keep it under the bed?"

"Oh no," said Tilly. "I'll just keep moving rolls into the kitchen as I use up the old ones. It will be a good excuse to get some baking done."

Owen wagged a finger at her. "Don't forget you've only got the freezer in the fridge now."

Tilly smiled. "I'll just have to stop getting store-bought cookies for a while."

Emily walked into the living room. "Do you have to go too?" she said to Mercedes.

Mercedes cocked her head to one side. "No," she said. "I can hold it."

"In that case," said Owen, "we should leave." He stood up the same time as Tilly and gave her a peck on the cheek. "Good to see you again, Ma."

Emily and Mercedes gave their good-bye kisses at the door, and they were gone.

Tilly put the chain on the door with a sigh. The apartment seemed quieter now than before the visit. And after all that work Owen had spotted the damn tinfoil anyhow. She couldn't win for trying.

It was tempting to imitate Mercedes and flop into an armchair with one of her old books, but now that Emily had made such a production of it, it occurred to Tilly her own bladder could use emptying.

In the washroom she noticed that the little wooden bird carving she kept on top of the toilet tank was turned the wrong way. Emily must have picked it up to look at it. Tilly repositioned it and noticed a folded piece of paper underneath.

Not recognising it, she pulled it from under the carving's base and was about to throw it out when she saw there was writing on the side hidden by the fold.

She opened the paper and read. Oma: here's my e-mail address. Write me when you find this. I have something important to tell you. EmilyKZ@kmail.com

11 May 2012

#fridayflash: newsmagazine story v2

This is the "happy" version of the same story I wrote for #fridayflash last week. It's more like what I originally had in mind when I got the idea, but overall I think it wound up being a good exercise doing the two different versions.

May 2068: small-town life in the late 21st century

HORNPAYNE, ON — Jane Fenton wags her finger at me. "It won't be the first time there were no physical roads into this town," she says.

The first road was built in 1958, over a hundred years ago. Before that, the only way in or out of Hornpayne was by rail. Rail was why the town was built to begin with — the town marks the farthest point between the major rail stations to the west and south that a diesel engine can go before it has to be refuelled. By the turn of the century, Hornpayne boasted not only rail and road access, but an airport as well. More people worked for the local logging company than the railway that founded the town.

The rail, the road, and eventually the airport will all be phased out, because as of tomorrow Hornpayne is officially switching from being a railway division point to a teleportation service hub.

"That was one of the perks of moving here," adds Roger Fenton, Jane's husband. "This town had the highest teaching salaries in the province. Basically it was isolation pay." He grins.

We're sitting around their kitchen table, drinking coffee. Roger and Jane have lived in this town for their entire marriage — fifty-two years next month. Jane worked for CN Rail, and Roger was an English and History teacher at the local high school. They are Hornpayne's oldest residents.

Tomorrow, Jane will come out of retirement for one day to help officially shut down the railway and start up the teleportation maintenance office. "There's a comment field on all of the rolling stock maintenance logs," she laughs. "I'm half-curious and half-dreading what people are going to enter for the last time they have to fill them in!"

I ask if there's going to be any kind of "last train" ceremony, similar to the "last spike" events that marked the building of the railway in the nineteenth century.

"We're having a waffle breakfast," says Roger. "It's a working day, but the community thought it would be a nice way for the crew to start the new work. Then Jane will give that speech she's been working on, she'll collect the old logs and hand out the new task lists, and people will start heading out to do their jobs." He sips his coffee. "Then the retired stiffs like me will help clean up from the breakfast."

"Once you're done making your video," says Jane. Since retiring from teaching, Roger has become the town's archivist, and got special permission from Teleport Inc. to record the first-day events for posterity.

Aren't they worried about the town being so dependent on employment from a foreign company? Teleport Inc. is based in Australia.

Roger shrugs. "The whole idea of 'foreign' has been radically redefined in the last hundred years," he says. "Besides, thanks to the Americans in the last century, Canadians are used to having a branch plant economy and making it work."

The Hornpayne maintenance division will be responsible for the maintenance of all of the pad hubs on the North American continent. "We're in a great location," says Jane. "We're in the Eastern time zone, but just barely. So people can work regular day hours and cover the whole territory without getting too much pad lag." The geographical advantage is extra-appropriate, she points out, since it was for the Canadian rail system that time zones were invented.

Do they think other businesses will be promoted by the pad maintenance hub being here?

"Definitely," says Roger. "Anyone who likes the great outdoors would love to come here as a tourist, winter or summer. People love to fish and swim here in the summer, and ski or snowmobile in the winter."

"There's the commuter aspect too," says Jane. "Pads mean you can live anywhere. People who like the salaries of big-city jobs but not the lifestyle can live here and commute easily." She pours herself more coffee and shakes her head in wonder. "Everyone who lives near a pad has a commute time of less than twenty minutes. Even if they're going to the other side of the world. Who'd have thought we'd see the day?"

"I'll sort of miss it, though," says Roger. "Travelling."

"What do you mean?" says Jane. "We're going to Berlin next month."

"Oh visiting, sure, but travelling... you know, like the time we took the train from here to Vancouver... those days are gone," says Roger. "You know — watching the world go by while you sit at a window and drink your cocktail. And air travel — people are going to miss that, you watch."

Jane shrugs and sips her coffee. "Can't stop progress," she says. "Maybe if you're lucky, you can nudge it a little so it doesn't run you over, but that's about it."

08 May 2012

tilly with the others: part 10

Interlude 1: Beth

"Oooooooohhhh." Cherie dunked her feet into the bath. "I've been dy-ing for this."

"This is heaven." Alison leaned back in her chair and closed her eyes.

Beth bit her lip and pulled off the other trouser sock. "It's a pedicure."

"That was harsh," said Alison, opening her eyes and turning her head. "You still all wound up about your mother-in-law?"

"No. Yes. I guess so," said Beth, easing herself onto her chair and slipping her feet into the bath.

The pedicurist stuck her head in the doorway. "All set, ladies? I'll let you have a good soak for fifteen minutes and let the water jets give you a massage to start, m'kaaaay?"

"Perfect," said Cherie, giving the pedicurist a recently-whitened smile.

"Did you figure out how she spent the house money and her pension already?"

Beth frowned. "She says she didn't. She says  she just wants the job to keep her busy."

"That's the thing about old age homes," said Alison. "They have lots of... you know, activities and things."

"She say she's too young for a home. And Owen thinks so too. All the people in his mum's side of the family live to be in their nineties or something. If I remember right, one of his grandparents that lived through both the wars made it to a hundred and two or something."

"Wow," said Cherie. "Tough people."

"What did you say the job was again?" said Alison. "Tech support or something?"

"Order taker for a pizza chain."

Cherie giggled. "That would be so weird. Order a pizza and it's Beth's mother-in-law."

"It's only in Toronto!" Beth shrugged. "Maybe it's a good idea. Owen always said his mum acted weird before his dad's secretary quit to have a baby and his mum took over the job."

"Oh right, you told us about that," said Alison. "She'd get him ready for school and be normal about that, Owen's dad would go to work, and then Owen would get home and she'd be spaced out with her breakfast not eaten?"

"Valium," said Cherie. "My mum used to do stuff like that when she was on it. It was before I was born, but my brothers remember her being like that."

"But Owen says his parents never did any drugs. Ever."

"Oh please. Pot's legal there."

"Not when they lived there, I'm pretty sure." Beth adjusted her feet to let the water jets hit her in new places. "Nah, never mind drugs. What creeps me out is the story Owen told me about his mum saying she was too busy socialising to have breakfast."

"Ew, like she was cheating on his dad or something?"

"No... but he says that the time she told him that, she was still wearing her housecoat and pink fuzzy slippers from the morning."

"Oh please!" That was Alison. "The neighbourhood I grew up in was like that too. I used to see my best friend from Grade 4's mother in her bra and panties practically every morning. The families knew each other so well she wouldn't bother closing the curtains when she got dressed if she knew my dad was already out of the house."

"Owen's mum's not like that," said Beth. "She's really easygoing about some things, but she wouldn't be caught dead so much as taking out the garbage in anything but an outfit you could at least go to the mall in."

"I think you're making too big a deal out of it," said Alison.

"Yeah," said Cherie. "It was so long ago. And it does make it sound like Owen's mum has the right idea getting a job. Maybe she's just one of those people who needs to be busy."

"You'd think she'd find somewhere better to hang out than a call centre, though."

"She'll be working from home."

"Ooooh, smart!" said Cherie. "That's good. Call centre people can work some weird hours. She'll be safe that way."

"Cherie's right," said Alison. "Stop worrying Beth. Don't let your mother-in-law spoil your pedicure."

"When is Owen going to talk to her, anyhow?"

Beth leaned over and plucked her cell phone out of her purse to check what time it was. "They should be getting there around now."

"He took the girls?"

"Aren't you, you know, worried about them being around your mother-in-law? If she's unstable like that..."

Beth frowned. "I don't worry about them if they're with Owen..." She dropped the cell phone in her lap instead of putting it back in her purse. "I'll call them in half an hour and see how things are going."

04 May 2012

#fridayflash: newsmagazine story

The #fridayflash after this, I wrote the "happy" version of this story as I had originally intended. It was a good exercise to do both versions.

May 2068: Is small-town Canada disappearing?

HORNPAYNE, ON — "This is nothing," Jane Fenton tells me. "You should hear the stories about living here before they built the road."

The road was built in 1980, almost ninety years ago. Before that, the only way in or out of Hornpayne was by rail. Rail was why the town was built to begin with — the town marks the farthest point between the major rail stations to the west and south that a diesel engine can go before it has to be refuelled. At its height at the turn of the century, Hornpayne boasted not only rail and road access, but an airport as well.

"We used to have over twelve hundred people living here," adds Roger Fenton, Jane's husband. We're sitting around their kitchen table, drinking coffee. Roger and Jane have lived in this town for their entire marriage — fifty-two years next month. They are Hornpayne's oldest residents. Tomorrow, they will be the first family to be teleported out as the town officially shuts down and quietly wipes itself off the map.

They are philosophical about the changes. "This place was founded as a railway division point," says Roger. "Sure, other industries grew up here, like the logging, but now that there's no more rail..." He trails off and sips at his coffee.

Jane tries to fill in the silence. "Back in the early 1900s, when the town was founded, it was to support a relatively new technology — rail — in a relatively new country. Canada was only forty years old when Hornpayne was established. Now we're living through another major period of technological change. Vat-grown lumber means the logging industry has been killed off, and teleportation means no more rail or air travel."

"This is a wonderful place in the summer," Roger says. "Lots of boating, swimming, fishing... and in the winter, people ski and snowmobile all over. Great place for winter sports."

"But it does get cold," says Jane.

Roger shrugs. "It's Canada," he says. "It gets cold."

It's the cold that ultimately drove the decision to abandon Hornpayne. Teleportation pads don't work in weather colder than -12 Celsius, and even since global warming took effect the town has seen weeks each winter with temperatures colder than -20. The population is too small to justify having more than one indoor pad hub, but its layout makes walking to a hub in the depths of winter impractical. It's too small, too closely structured around the now-obsolete petroleum lifestyle.

Tomorrow, Roger's and Jane's neighbours will help them load the belongings they haven't already packed onto transport skids. First, their possessions will go into the specially-equipped, petrol-burning transport truck sitting in their driveway. The truck will be driven to the pad hub by a member of the relocation crew. Roger and Jane were offered a lift in a friend's car, but have decided they will walk the short distance to the hub instead.

"It's a way of saying good-bye," says Jane. "You know, see everything properly one last time."

When the truck gets to the hub, its cargo will be off-loaded onto the transport pad and sent to Sault Ste. Marie, where the Fentons have chosen to re-locate. They were married there, and have adult children who live in the area.

Roger and Jane will use the people-departure pad to follow their belongings to the Sault. Meanwhile, the transport truck will be pulling into their next-door neighbour's driveway to be loaded with another household's worth of belongings.

Jane starts to take a sip of coffee, then sets the mug down and says, "Oh! I almost forgot. I have cookies to use up. Please have some with us."

She rises and pulls a bag of cookies out of an otherwise-empty kitchen cupboard.

"It's always hard with moving," says Roger. "I remember the night we moved in here, we got into town after all the stores had closed and we couldn't get groceries until the next morning."

There are six chocolate chip cookies left in the bag. Jane puts two in front of each of us. "What about breakfast for tomorrow?" I ask. "By the time you get your things to your new house, it'll be almost lunchtime."

Jane smiles. "The community is putting on a waffle breakfast at the hub," she says. "I guess we'll get something to eat before we step on the pads. The relocation people said they'd do the cleaning up for us."

The pad hub will remain in place only long enough to secure the buildings and ensure nothing hazardous to the local environment has been left out in the open. The last load the petrol-burning transport truck will carry in Hornpayne will be the dismantled pad hub. Its driver will use the soon-to-be decommissioned highway to return to the relocation base in Thunder Bay.

I ask the Fentons what they think will happen to the town in the future.

"People still might come up here in the summer," says Jane.

Roger grunts and shakes his head. "Nobody uses cars anymore," he says. "Hardly anybody uses snowmobiles anymore, and they don't have the range of a car anyhow. Air travel is gone, even if the landing strip at the airport was maintained, which it won't be..." He sips his coffee, shakes his head again. "Nope," he says. "No-one will come here anymore."

"It's a pity," says Jane. "It's such a beautiful town."

01 May 2012

tilly with the others: part 9

Tilly was about two-thirds of the way through putting away her books when the phone rang. She'd been sitting on the floor for so long that her knees didn't want to work when she started to get up, and she swore under her breath at herself. The swearing came out in Dutch, which made her shake her head; whoever was on the phone, she'd probably need to use English with them. Sometimes she didn't switch over to the required language right away if she was already thinking in the other one.

She reached the phone halfway through the third ring. "Ma, my friends aren't bilingual!" she said in an imitation of Owen-aged-twelve that was accurate enough he would have cringed to hear it. She picked up the phone.


"Ma! It's me. I'm glad I caught you at home."

Tilly decided to ignore the last part. "I was just thinking of you," she said. There, she'd gotten her own back and he'd never even know. "How are you? How are the girls?"

"We're all fine... listen, I'm going to come down and visit you with the girls two Saturdays from today. The twelfth. I thought we could see your new place and take them to the Old Spaghetti Factory for lunch. Does that sound good?"

"That's the restaurant we used to go to for your birthday, isn't it? Is it still there?"

"Yeah, a guy at work just took his kids there... so that's good? We'll get there around, I don't know, say ten, and then we can walk around a bit and then get on the subway?"

Tilly thought. "That should be good. Even if I'm working by then, if I have a shift it won't start until four."

"Where are you working?" Owen said the question quietly, and it sounded like he had cupped his hand over the receiver, but still Tilly could hear Beth in the background saying, "Work? What does she need to work for? Ask her what happened to the house money!"

"If I get the job, I'll be working from home. I still have to go through the second interview."

"So, like, what, data entry, or doing somebody's accounting..."

Tilly held the phone away from her mouth long enough to take a deep breath. "Taking phone orders for pizza delivery."

"Ma!" In the background, Beth was asking Owen if rent was a problem.

"It's just to keep myself occupied. For pity's sakes, Owen! Please tell Beth to stop panicking. I don't need the money. It's just for fun."

"But Ma...."

"Do it now. I'll wait."

Tilly heard the phone get set down on something. In the background she could hear the TV set, playing what sounded like a cartoon. Owen's and Beth's voices drifted away from the phone.

She rolled her eyes. She had been there when they had bought their house phones, minding the girls while Beth and Owen debated price versus features in the big box electronic store. Both of them had insisted on having a hold/mute button.

The phone made clunking noises. "Oma?"

"Emily! Is that you?"

"Yeah. Mercedes is with me. Are we still coming to visit you?"

"Ya, on the twelfth your dad says! We're going to go have lunch at the Italian place we used to take him to when he was your age."

"Yeah, he keeps saying."

"Do they really have a streetcar inside the building?" That was Mercedes.

"An old one. They have lots of things in there. You'll have to wait and see."

"Oma," said Emily, "do you have an e-mail address?"

"The same one I've had for a while now. Why?"

But Emily set the phone down with a clatter. Tilly could hear her telling Mercedes to pretend they'd been watching TV the whole time.

"You still there, Ma?"

"I'm still here. I've been trying to figure out what's on TV."

"Oh, I dunno, the girls are watching it. So, ten o'clock, your place... what's the buzz code?"

Tilly closed her eyes. "It's on a slip of paper, I have it in my purse, hang on..." She tried to step around the box of books to get to the front hall.

"Never mind. I'll just call you on my cell phone and you can tell us then. See you on the twelfth."

"See you. Bye-bye." She heard the phone click and returned hers to its cradle.

A visit to look forward to, two weeks to get things ready, and it didn't even sound like Beth was coming. Interesting. All in all, it could be a pleasant visit. Besides, after this box of books was done with, she'd be entirely unpacked and...

Two weeks was a long time, really. Long enough for Beth to change her mind, if she was actually not going to visit in the first place, which was hardly guaranteed.

Tilly frowned at the bookcase. If it were just Owen and the girls she wouldn't worry, but Beth would have something to say about the old books being out. Especially since over half the ones in English were classics of the sixties counterculture.

She turned her head to the kitchen. And if Beth did come, she'd have to do something about the stash of tinfoil, too. Owen would never dream of going through her cupboards — not unless she asked him to get her something from a top shelf while he was there, and all the tinfoil was in the cupboards under the counter. But Beth would find an excuse to see how she had organised things.

This was going to take some planning.