A stump off the path in the woods.

Given a choice, he’d be anywhere but here.

Although quite close to the street, the thick stand of trees means the road noise is almost nonexistent. A paved pathway meanders through the woods, interspersed every so often with concrete stanchions bearing street lights. The worst of it is all the leaf mold. Tree stink. Fresh air. Cold. Who needs it. At least there’s this stump to sit on.

But there isn’t a choice.

Resting elbows on knees, deep in forest shadow, he takes a deep drag on the cigarette he’s just lit.

He hears giggling and tenses a moment.
False alarm.
Too loud, gotta be a pack.

He needs a cull, packs are dangerous. He draws deep on the cigarette and quietly strokes himself as he watches the long limbed college girls sweep past his hidey hole, never once glancing his way. After all, why would they? The world is theirs for the taking. Look at that firm flesh, so casually parading past. Teasing glimpses of breast and buttock make him stiffer than ever. He knows that he’ll never be allowed to touch; so he touches himself as he watches them. On parade. Just for him.

Then that bunch is gone, and he’s left alone again. A smile touches his lips and he drags deeply, watching wisps of smoke curl sensuously in the air above the cigarette. Watching the smoke he luxuriates in the cherished memory of that time in the elevator, the day the ice queen from the seventeenth floor got on the elevator with him.

The unattainable goddess who never registered his existence didn’t see him. They never did. As the car filled up, everyone pressed more tightly in the confines of the corporate box and she brushed her buttocks deliciously against him. Teasing his penis, she swayed with the elevator’s rise. And she smelled so good. He felt his blood rising. He knew it was impossible but he couldn’t stop.

Was it her soap or perfume or her very own girl smell? Whatever it was he tightened his grip on the briefcase and tried to hold his breath, to pull away, but there was nowhere to go.

She leaned back into him and stiffened as his hardness strained into her softness. An unexpected rush of pleasure– he knew she could feel him. She froze in place, tantalizing, connected. He couldn’t breathe … blood was pounding in his ears … pounding. He closed his eyes as she squirmed, rubbing against him deliberately. He couldn’t believe it. Surely this was more than any man should have to bear. He breathed in deeply, more of a shudder as he could feel he was about to …

He bit his tongue to stop from crying out as the elevator stopped. Tasted the blood as she went, waving those buttocks saucily at him as she left the elevator with the others on the seventeenth floor. Had she done it on purpose?

As if nothing had happened. He tried for nonchalance, angled the briefcase in front to hide the painful erection from the other passengers. She’d done it on purpose. Was hurrying off to laugh about it with her friends. He was the last out on nineteen and it was all he could do to make it to the privacy of the bathroom stall to finish up. But the memory of her … it was glorious.

He breathes heavily, warmed by the memory of actual contact. The corners of his mouth twitch as he admires the memory, and savors its … deliciousness.

Footsteps. He snaps out of his reverie into the here and now. Listen. Footfalls clattering. Good. Stupid girl shoes. No giggling, no talking even. That means it’s just one. A cull. Perfect.

He smiles and rubs. Coming into view around the bend, she heads into the zone. A little plump, that’s good. Wavy brown hair, pulled back severely, tendrils escaping around the heavy looking backpack. Straps pull her sweater taut and emphasize juicy squeezable breasts. Cellphone strapped to her waist. Hell, they all have them. Not good, but what can you do. She won’t use it.

Perfect. A quick tug and the pantyhose leg is tight over his head, distorting his features. She won’t be able to recognize him. Best of all, she’ll be scared. This is gonna be so good.

He pulls open his coat, and he’s ready. It’s now or never.

His manhood thrusts forward like a sword, swelling with power as he steps out of the shadow and into the sunshine. He feels like a god.

Startled by his sudden appearance out of the bushes, the girl starts to smile an automatic greeting but she realizes right away that something is wrong. She registers stocking mask, the open coat … then she sees the out-thrust penis. His weapon of love.

He’s breathing harder now. She bites her lip, and he takes a step closer. Is she going to cry out at the sight of his power? He takes another step … she’s shaking now, bowing to his …

Startled by the snorting noise she makes– that’s so unfeminine– peering at her through the distorting fabric– he realizes she isn’t doubled over in fear, she’s … shaking with laughter. She’s snickering, spluttering … guffawing.

What the fuck? He is totally disconcerted. This is not right. He feels his masculine power draining away.

Her laughter gets louder. She lifts up a hand and points directly at his suddenly faltering manhood, still laughing, her other hand rubs the tears of laughter from her eyes and she says, “Is that the best you can do?”

This is wrong, he thinks, wrong, wrong, wrong, as her laughter gets louder and louder. What is the world coming to? He whirls around and sprints back into the safety of the trees, trying to stuff himself back inside his pants. He has to get away from this woman. The bitch. Get away from her laughter. Away. Just away.

He grabs the bicycle from its cover and runs back toward the path, past where she stands and laughs. He heads in the direction she’s just come from to get away. Out of her reach.

He throws a leg over the bike and grunts at the unexpected stab of pain generated by the impact of his sensitive bits with the bike’s cross bar. His back to that dreadful hyena, he rips off the stocking mask and stuffs it in his pocket.

Grimly gripping the handlebars he rides like the hounds of hell are after him.

When, really, it is just a little bit of laughter.

forward arrow


Couples slow dancing at the pubMusic leaks out of the building as the group of photography students approach the pub.

Liz complains, “I don’t know about this, guys, we’ve got a nine a.m. lecture and I am just not a party girl.”

Boris says, “Aw c’mon, Liz, it’ll be fine. You don’t have to stay late, but you have to go out at least some of the time. You’re supposed to get rounded.”

Natasha gushes, “But Boris, Dahhlink, Liz IS rounded.” Liz feels a blush rise to her cheeks as Jake and Boris laugh.

Natasha gathers her friend in a hug. “Just try it, OK? It isn’t like high school where you have to smoke up or drink yourself cross-eyed to be cool. You might hate it but maybe you’ll have fun. It isn’t a party, so there is no social commitment. You can stay ten minutes or two hours. It’s up to you.”

“It’s hanging out,” says Jake.

“Unwinding,” adds Boris.

Natasha grins. “Socializing”

Liz nods. “Okay, okay.”

They go in and the music is loud, although not as bad as Liz thought it would be. Boris and Natasha lead the way through the crowd to a group of tables at the back. From here Liz can see the dance floor but the speakers aren’t right in her lap either. Looking around, she recognizes a few of the faces.

One of the catchier Beatles songs is blasting; Natasha mimes dancing to Boris, who nods and they head out to the dance floor. As Liz and Jake settle, they watch Boris and Natasha step on the dance floor just as the song ends and the high energy dance number is replaced by the notes of a slow tune as the jukebox changes over. They keep on gamely, although Boris glares darkly at the jukebox, maybe hoping to frighten it into a song with a faster tempo.

Clearly Boris and Natasha have never slow danced together, and Liz knows all too well what that’s like. Still, she can’t help but smile as she sees what a hard time Boris has trying to figure out where to put his hands while Natasha manages to stay just far enough out of range to ensure they don’t accidentally wind up in full body contact.

The pub’s terrible acoustics mean that she only hears snatches of song lyrics over the hubbub. Something about dreams and desires. As if on cue, another couple she recognizes from Fyfield House dance through her view. In stark contrast to Boris and Natasha’s awkward circling, Eric and Elsie are engaged in a sinuous mating dance. As this couple sways in perfect unison it is clear Eric has no trouble knowing where to put his hands. Moving easily together, their synchronous movements appear almost choreographed as they float across the room. It would be a kick to photograph them.

Liz finds herself swaying and tapping her toe to the beat of the music, drawn in so she almost doesn’t register Jake asking her if she wants to dance. Snap.

Liz looks over at him with trepidation; she so hates this. They never believe her when she says, “Sorry, I don’t dance.”

Jake is crestfallen. “But I’m a good dancer.”

Liz smiles. “You probably are but I am not. I don’t dance.”

Jake sucks it up and shrugs pragmatically. “Okay. Want something to drink? I don’t think there’s table service here.”

Liz nods. “Oh sure, just a ginger ale or something.”

Liz digs for money but then realizes Jake’s is already off to the bar. Still, she pulls out a Toonie and sets it on the table for when he gets back. She does not want Jake thinking this is a date. Jake may be a brilliant photographer but he’s too young for her. Well. She’s almost twenty three, and Jake is maybe eighteen.

Sitting back, Liz’s eyes are drawn to a flash of auburn hair as Elsie spins into Eric’s arms like something out of one of those old black and white musicals she likes watching with Mom. Elsie draws Eric in, running her hands over his face then pulling him into a long slow kiss. They seem so secure in their own world, and Liz realizes their dance isn’t so much composed of skill as foreplay.

Maybe that’s what dancing is for, Liz thinks. Like a human mating ritual. It’s getting more erotic by the moment. Liz is starting to feel just a little hot and bothered, even.

Suddenly feeling like a voyeur, Liz turns away, flushed. With a start she realizes it’s not just the make out dance. It’s that the dance made her think about Ethan. Because she’s half hoping Ethan will magically arrive.

Wait a minute. Where did that thought come from? Ethan. Huh. Ethan.

Like that isn’t the last thing she needs. It’s a good thing he isn’t here. Except a bit of reflection makes her realize he’s the real reason she allowed herself to be talked into coming. That she had the idea Ethan spends most evenings here. With the other stoners. Serves her right to be wrong.

But what on earth is she thinking? Well. Apparently she isn’t. Thinking, that is. Well, not with her brain, anyway.

Being back in school isn’t like she thought it would be, that’s for sure. In some ways its a chance to be a kid again, without having to relive the hell that was high school. But everything happens so fast, who has time to think? Hmmm. But Ethan? She knew he made her smile, but, apparently that’s not all he makes her feel.

At least he’s older than Jake. Liz wonders what it would be like to feel the way Elsie and Eric do. Those two are so obviously in love. Wonders how dancing like that feels, wonders how dancing with Ethan like that would feel. Again her eyes are drawn back to the lovers dancing in total disregard of the rest of the world. The world that doesn’t seem to exist for them.

An acrid mix of cold air and smoke gets up her nose, and Liz looks up as Miese leads several smokers in from the cold.  Miese is another Fyfield housemate, inevitably nicknamed “Mouse.” Liz wonders momentarily if it bothers her that no one calls her by her real name. But Mouse is perpetually cheerful, the kind that takes everything in stride.

Liz doesn’t know any of the other smokers settling in at the adjacent table until she sees Ethan bringing up the rear. Liz feels an involuntary tingle at the sight of the guy she’s just been entertaining impure thoughts about. She looks away, afraid he’ll see her telltale blush. Where’s Jake. Or Natasha? She needs distraction.

Liz has no idea why she has a crush on Ethan. It makes no sense. But maybe it’s because he’s so relaxed. Liz herself is anything but. Ethan is a housemate too, and he’s a fine photographer, just not in Jake’s league. But then, no one is. Ethan is Professor Mol’s teaching assistant. Liz doesn’t really know him, just something about Ethan makes her mouth go dry. She’d like to run her fingers through his wild and curly mop of hair.

She glances furtively over but he looks up just as she does and catches her eye. Ethan winks right at her, inspiring another tingle. It occurs to her that part of what makes the wink so great is the sexy dimple it brings out in his cheek.

Doesn’t really matter anyway. Liz has been too tall for most guys since the second grade, and now she’s too old, too. But that’s good though. She doesn’t need complications. She’s not here for romance, she’s here for a degree.

But then Liz is a little surprised to realize that Ethan is sitting over there juggling. Juggling. How cool is that?

Liz pinches herself under the table. She’s got to stop this, it’s getting ridiculous. Any minute now she’s going to haul Ethan onto the dance floor. Which would be nuts because she really can’t dance. It would be fun to be able to do a make out dance except that she has no rhythm. None at all. Maybe she just wants to make out.

Jake sets a glass in front of her and Liz grins in relief.

Sipping innocuous ginger ale, she glances nonchalantly over and sees Ethan has finished juggling and is now listening to one of the computer geeks. What’s so striking about it is that that Adam guy is about as far from being a druggie as you get. Even dressed casually his neck cries out for a power tie. But somehow Ethan puts Adam at ease.

Liz can’t stay. She rubs her eyes; tell her friends the music is giving her a headache. Boris and Natasha come back to the table. Happy because now she can leave, Liz gets up and slips on her jacket. Natasha asks, “Heading home?” Liz nods.

“You want us to come?” asks Natasha.

Liz shakes her head. “No, that’s alright. It’s just a little loud for me. The quiet outside will do me good. See you later.”

“Wait a minute,” says Jake. “Why don’t we blow this pop stand. There’s this guy I want you all to meet, and since it’s so mild, tonight it would be perfect. There might not be another chance for a while.”

“Who is this guy Jake?” asks Boris.

But Jake is already heading for the door. “It’s a surprise.”

Following after, Natasha says, “I love surprises.”

Boris and Liz trail after, Liz is happy they’re using the rear exit because it saves her having to walk past Ethan. As she pulls the door shut behind her, Liz glances back and sees Ethan is still talking with Adam; as oblivious to her departure as he is to the solitary Eric and Elsie dancing slowly through the pools of light. Just as well.

As Liz follows her friends into the night, part of her wishes Ethan was along, while another part is relieved he’s not.

forward arrow


Don Quixote mock-up of a book cover picturing a windmill


Maggie and Amelia sip coffee at the big table in the Fyfield House common room when a bleary eyed Liz comes down. She wasn’t kidding when she said she wasn’t a partier.

Maggie’s make-up bag is open with pots of this and tubes of that scattered everywhere.  Amelia reads from a very thick paperback. Maggie looks up from applying mascara to give Liz a big smile.

“Look what the cat dragged in. Where were you ’til all hours last night Miss Lizzie?”

Liz pauses on her path to the kitchen long enough to say, “Star gazing,” flash a smile and continue on. In the kitchen she gets out a cup then starts a fruitless search of the fridge for milk.

There is milk.

Liz knows there is milk.

Because she bought a litre yesterday and hasn’t even opened it. But where is it? It is not here. It’s gone.

She feels herself tensing, then takes a deep breath and opens the cupboard where the disgusting powder cream substitute lives. Funny how that never runs out. She sighs and pours herself some coffee.

Liz can’t stomach black coffee at all but she sure needs coffee this morning. The gritty powdered cream she dislikes is better than nothing. Sighing, she adds it to her cup then takes the disgusting concoction back out to join the others.

As always, Amelia’s nose is in her book. Focusing on the title, Liz sits down and says with a smile, “Don Quicks-Oat? Sounds like a breakfast cereal.”

Maggie looks at Liz with a creased brow, then realizes Amelia is reading Don Quixote and Liz is talking about Amelia’s book. Amelia looks up, then she gets it too. Amelia and Maggie share a look and begin to smirk … then splutter … then howl.

Liz watches them. Irritated.

“What?” she says. Amelia and Maggie just laugh harder.

“What!?” Liz says again in frustration.

Amelia is laughing, hugging herself trying to draw breath. Maggie brushes the tears of laughter away and says “Don Quicks-Oat,” then doubles over again.

Liz purses her lips, and sits back watching them, shaking her head in annoyance. Any trace of her normally sunny disposition is gone.

She waits.

Finally they start calming down, getting under control.

Maggie grins at Liz and says, “Lizzie, you have just provided the laugh of the day.” Catching a glimpse of her raccoon eyes in the makeup mirror Maggie says, “Shit, I’m gonna have to start over.”

Liz narrows her eyes. “Wanna let me in on the joke Mary Margaret?” Venomous.

Maggie scowls. “There’s no call to get mean.”

Liz can’t believe it. The urge to slap Maggie is strong.

“Slow down,” says Amelia, realizing Liz is not a happy camper. “It’s funny. Truly. The name is Spanish. The book is Spanish. You pronounce it ‘Don Key-Ho-Tay’.”

Liz rolls her eyes, getting it. “The crazy old man and Sancho Panza all that? Man of La Mancha.”

Nodding, Amelia says “That’s the one, yeah. I know, I know, you’ve just never seen it written down. Part of what made it so funny is I remember the first time I saw it written. You’re not the first to sound it out English style.”

“Okay,” says Liz, “but tell me this. You’re an English major. Why study Don Quixote if it’s Spanish story?”

“It’s thought to be the first novel, and we’re studying the novel form. Before there were only epic poems and theater.”


“The musical is great, but the novel is the story Cervantes tells in the jail during the play.” Waving the thick book she grins. “There’s an awful lot more of it for one thing. The musical is about Cervantes being arrested for writing his seditious book ‘Don Quixote’ during the Spanish Inquisition.”

Maggie pipes up in perfect mimicry of the Monty Python faux Spanish accent, “No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!” and the three girls crack up. Together this time.

When they’re quite done, Liz stirs her coffee and takes a sip. “My mom took me to see that show on Broadway when I was in high school. It was so great.”

“That sounds awesome. Wanna trade moms?” asks Maggie, “mine would never do anything like that.”

Smiling, Liz thinks maybe Maggie isn’t so bad.

“It was just us girls. It was fun taking the train to New York and then staying in a hotel. My Dad wouldn’t go to a musical to save his life, so he stayed home with the boys. And it was great. I was bawling my eyes out by the end.”

“Wow,” Amelia smiles, “I’d love to see it done live.”

“The music was beautiful but it rocked visually, too. The set was amazing, I mean it was a dungeon and all but it was like… um … grotty, but artistic. And the lighting was amazing.”

“Broadway.” Amelia says almost reverently. “That is so cool. The closest I’ve come is the Peter O’Toole movie.”

Maggie asks, “Who’s Peter O’Toole?”

“An old movie star … he played Orlando’s dad in Troy.”

“Okay, yeah. He was good as Quixote but his singing was dubbed. You know, the play is as fictional as the novel, the musical was a way to make points about the importance of free speech.”

Maggie asks, “Isn’t free speech always important?”

Amelia says, “I think so, yeah. But the original play was actually a TV broadcast back in the days of the McCarthy witch hunt the Americans had in the 1950’s. The play showed how nasty the Spanish Inquisition was, so they could imply that the McCarthy ‘Un-American’ crap was just as bad.”

Liz says, “Kinda like that Wikileaks business is now.”

“Oh yeah, lots of similarities, out of touch government, erosion of civil liberties, like that. The irony is that there’s no evidence Cervantes was ever jailed.”

“It’s still a good story,” adds Maggie.

“Absolutely,” smiles Liz, mostly restored to good humour, until she looks at her coffee and grimaces.

“You know, I swear I bought a litre of milk yesterday and now there isn’t any.”

“Oh, that’s right,” Maggie nods, “Mouse got a care package from her mom with weird sugar cube things she calls anise blocks.”

“Anise. Isn’t that some kind of funny smelling veggie?”

Maggie says, “That’s it, the one smells like licorice. Anise blocks are like licorice sugar cubes you put in warm milk.”

Liz says, “Well, I like licorice. But putting it in milk?”

“I can’t stand black licorice and that’s what it smelt like. But you know Mouse. Everybody had to try it and that was pretty much it for your milk.”

Liz rolls her eyes, thinks about a year of powdered cream.

“Guess you don’t like ouzo either,” says Amelia.

Maggie shudders. “No way. Disgusting stuff.”

Liz grimaces as she finishes her coffee. “Now I know why people buy those over priced mini fridges for their rooms.”

“If you decide to get one,” says Amelia, “you might want to make sure to get one that comes with a lock.”

Liz stares at her in surprise. “What, I can’t even trust my own roomie?”

Amelia laughs. “Yeah, you can trust me. But we’re neither of us very good about keeping the room locked. There wouldn’t be any point in having a private fridge without a locked door.”
“Nobody swipes my knickers, just my food.”

Amelia laughs. “Probably because you’re the only one who goes shopping on a regular basis. You’ve gotta realize that most of us are used to having magically filled fridges.”

“When you live alone you darned well know house elves don’t fill your cupboards at night. It’s annoying, not to mention hell on my budget,” says Liz.

“So,” says Maggie, pretending nonchalance as she peers over the top of her glasses at Liz. “What’s this star gazing deal? I haven’t heard about any stars being in town since they shot that Justin Bieber video last month.”

Amelia’s eyes widen. “Justin Bieber, you’ve gotta be kidding right? That boy looks like he’s twelve years old.”

“Yeah, but what can I say, I like his music. So sue me.”

“Wrong kind of stars,” explains Liz, pleased to know something Maggie doesn’t for once. “You know, ones in the sky. The Seven Sisters, Betelgeuse, Mars, the Big Dipper. Like that.”

Maggie looks aghast. “Its one thing to lay out under the stars in summer but at this time of year? Baby it’s cold outside.”

“Maybe that’s why God invented winter coats.”

“Meow,” says Maggie swiping her talons through the air..

“What was it like?” asks Amelia.

“Pretty cool actually.” Liz raises her eyebrows in Maggie’s direction, “although not in a temperature kind of way. Jake’s friend built his own telescope.”

Amelia says, “Mars is a planet, not a star, though.”

“Wait a minute, Jake?” Maggie turns to Liz. “You mean that little guy could pass for Justin Bieber’s younger brother? The one looks all of 14?”

“Yeah, Jake. He may look young but he’s an amazing photographer. Ferociously smart too.”

Maggie says, “You’re not … I mean …” rarely at a loss, Maggie stumbles, and Liz suddenly understands the question.

“No, we’re not dating if that’s what you’re getting at. We’re friends. If its any of your business, it wasn’t just me and Jake. There were other shutter bugs too, like Natasha and Boris.”

“Mmmm. Boris is pretty hot,” says Amelia.

“Way too many muscles for me.” says Maggie. “But I’d walk softly there ’cause Boris and Natasha are joined at the hip.”

“I took some pretty cool shots of Mars through that telescope. They actually came out better than I thought. Not as good as NASA shots, but still, how cool is getting to take my own Mars picture. Jakes’s friend Larry thinks the visibility is better this time of year. You should see his telescope, it’s huge. Almost as tall as I am. Larry told me the mirror alone cost hundreds of dollars.”

Maggie says, “Sounds like a mirror for Barbie.”

“Barbie? Like the doll?” asks Liz.

“No, like the pre-med student.”

“Barbie? There can’t possibly be a real live girl who actually goes by the name ‘Barbie’? In med school? No way.”

“In pre-med.” Maggie nods. “Can you believe it? She’s even blonde. Boobs out to here, perfect skin, teeth, big blue eyes. Kate saw her file. It’s not a nick-name, it’s her honest-to-god name. I ask you, what kind of parents would name their kid after a doll?”

“Luckily, not mine,” says Liz, “Never saw the point in those dolls myself.”

“Yeah, talk about weird shaped.” Amelia nods, “I mean forget the physics of how wide her bra straps would have to be just to hold those babies up. Have you looked at those feet? The damage to those poor little doll feet is as bad as Chinese foot binding thing. Barbie doll feet look like they are in major pain. Can you imaging having to walk on tiptoes forever?”

“Physics?” asks Liz. “What do you know about physics?”

Amelia nods. “I was a Physics major last year. Just I lost my way in the math, so I flunked out. Only choice was English.”

“That’s a big jump.” says Maggie.

“Not really. The plan was always to be a science fiction writer,” Amelia tells them. “You know, maybe Barbie’s mom is one of those crazed Barbie doll collectors you hear about.”

“But a blonde,” Liz snorts, “named Barbie. I mean, what kind of place IS this. I’d have shopped around for another school if I’d known what kind of students came here.”

Amelia says, “You can’t hardly hold it against her, Maggie. Her parents named her, and if she’s pre-med, she must be smart.”

Liz shudders. “I dunno, if my folks saddled me with a name like Barbie I’d have legally changed that sucker by now.”

“Yeah really. Me too. Or at the very least told everybody my name was something like ‘Moonbeam’ or ‘Peaches.’ You know something with a bit more credibility.”

Liz snickers. She especially likes ‘Moonbeam.’

“There’s a reasonable probability Barbie may not actually be pre-med smart,” says Maggie. “Nick thinks Barbie is in med school to shop for an MD, not become one.”

“You mean marry a doctor?” asks Liz. “For real?”

“God. I thought we stopped doing that generations ago,” grumbles Amelia. “Don’t you need good grades for pre-med?”

Maggie says, “not as good as you need to get into the U of G Veterinary College but still …”

“You need better marks to be a vet than a people doctor?”

“Absolutely. The smart ones become vets.” says Maggie.

“Bet you wouldn’t say that if Kate was here.” says Amelia.

“Of course I wouldn’t.” Maggie rolls her eyes. “I want to live, don’t I? Doesn’t mean it isn’t true though.”

Amelia says, “You have to be plenty smart and dedicated either way. More people want to be vets. After all, your patients are guinea pigs, bunny rabbits and puppy dogs. They don’t talk back. I bet malpractice premiums are lower for vets too.”

“I don’t know about that. You should have seen all the blood the first time I tried to give our cat a bath,” says Liz.

Amelia grins. “Well, cats…”

“I miss my cat.”

Maggie says, “I wouldn’t mind having a cat around, Lizzie.”

Liz rounds on Maggie and says, “For the last time, my name is not ‘Lizzie’, Mary Margaret.”

Maggie narrows her eyes. “Fine. Be that way. Liz it is.”

Liz nods. “While we’re clearing the air, what I do and where I go is my business, so I’d appreciate it if you would stop giving me the third degree all the time.”

“Third degree? That’s called ‘making conversation. Sometimes I get worried when people aren’t in when they ought to be. Last night I was up way late and you still weren’t back. Then I thought maybe you had a hot date. So shoot me, I was just asking. You don’t have to get your knickers in a twist.”

“I don’t meddle in your love life, so I’d appreciate it if you didn’t stick your nose in mine.”

“I wasn’t meddling, girl, I was just hoping.”

Liz scoops up her cup, and stomps off to the kitchen.

Amelia shoots Maggie a look.

“What?” Maggie asks, defensive. “She’s mad at me for worrying about her?”

Amelia shakes her head, glancing pointedly at the clock. “Don’t you have a computer to fix, or a class or something?”

forward arrow


Leaves in the forest

The leaves crunch satisfyingly under foot, filling the air with the tang of autumn. The rich golds and reds seem to glow as they strike a satisfying contrast with the deep forest greens. The scents of trees, leaves, and mossy forest floor mingle with the last lingering sweetness of wildflowers.

Liz breathes a little easier, walking through the quiet forest, kicking at a drift of leaves makes her smile even as the tension slowly melts away.

Unslinging the oblong case from her shoulder, she unzips it, then slides out the tripod, setting it up efficiently in the small clearing alongside the creek. Liz has been doing this for years, which is why the necessity of getting a degree galls her.

Dad gave her her first camera before she even started school. When the pictures came back everyone laughed at how her perspective was so different, but being under three feet tall gave her a different world view and it showed. It made her realize, too, that people see the world differently. It was empowering to photograph her world. Addictive, too.

It wasn’t long before her photographs started showing signs of technical mastery. The yellow plastic kiddie camera with the cute little gorilla face didn’t have any manual settings. She learned how to position herself just the right distance from the subject.

She had to figure out light by trial and error.

They gave her a real single-lens reflex camera for her seventh birthday. The grown up camera was amazing, but it was awkward and heavy for her small hands. She emptied her bank account to buy a light but flexible tripod because she couldn’t wait until her eighth birthday. From then on her allowance always went on film and developing. She couldn’t get enough.

The folks wouldn’t allow her to set up a darkroom at home because they worried the chemicals would be too dangerous to have in the house with the boys. They said. Liz thinks the real reason is Mom wanted her to take dance lessons, be more of a girlie girl.

But in high school she started a camera club and it didn’t take much to get a darkroom up and running. Enlargers, developer trays, timers and other darkroom gear was cheap because so many people were going digital. Suddenly the popular girls wanted to be friends — because they wanted her to photograph them for the paper or school yearbook.

Screwing the camera on top of the tripod she perches on a fallen log to survey the terrain. There’s pine, a bit of maple, a stand of larches. Peripheral motion catches her eye and she gets a few snaps of a raccoon as it lumbers across the clearing before disappearing into the woods.

It is so nice to be out in the real world breathing real air. Warmed by the sunlight Liz peers through the zoom to see what else there is to see in the forest. A flash of movement draws her eye to three playful young squirrels chasing about. Maybe litter mates. Or perhaps it’s just a bit of adolescent flirting. Whatever they’re doing it’s sure not territorial warfare.

Not for the first time she wonders if winter will surprise the critters. Instinct ensures they gather food for the time ahead, but surely instinct can’t prepare them for the cold desolation of snow. She often wonders about the natural world when she’s out taking photographs, although she rarely engages in any follow up research. Sometimes just knowing the questions is enough.

The long lens and the low light of the forest interior make it impossible to get good sharp shots of the little guys from this far away, but she fires off a series of photographs in burst mode for some interesting motion shots.

It’s so easy to be cavalier about how many digital pictures she actually takes. It’s never the taking that is the problem, it’s all the the sorting and filing later that eats up hours on end. Or days. Doing everything on a computer instead of in a dark room is still a little weird to get used to. But she is learning.

Rubbing her neck ruefully she idly wishes she had a boyfriend. It would almost be worth the annoyance to have someone around just to give her a neck massage when she needs one. Since she wants to relax, Liz tries to avoid thinking about Ethan. To not think about his dimple that comes and goes, or the single silver skull earing that peeks out at her from under the curly dark hair he usually restrains in a ponytail.

Although her initial tension has dissipated, there’s still a dull ache at the base of her neck. Maybe she should see if she can find a more comfortable perch. Hoisting gear packs over her shoulders she stands and snaps the tripod legs together with practiced ease before tucking it, still extended, under her arm.

As Liz moves back into the forest proper she realizes that the forest is just a little too tidy. Although there are different kinds of trees and complimentary vegetation, the groomed wood chip paths are the big tip off. Probably the lawn mower guys come here to shovel wood chips. The forest floor is somehow too manicured, that’s what’s wrong. No decaying logs, no moss, mold, or fungus. Fallen logs are probably hauled away for free firewood. City people don’t realize fallen trees are a natural part of forest renewal.

It is more a park than a forest, then, but better than a parking lot. There is some wildlife. The new subdivisions going up probably means the school won’t care about forest renewal as much as selling off this ’empty space’ to pay for new buildings. The forest is a part of why she chose Christie, but Liz knows she’s the minority.

At the creek, Liz sits on the wooden bridge, dangling her legs over the side. Taking the camera off the tripod, she hangs it round her neck and slides the tripod back in its case. Who is she kidding? She doesn’t need any more nature shots. The assignment is covered and then some. As always.

That’s not what’s brought her out here today. What she really needs is a break from people. It’s hard getting a chance to think when you’re living in a house full of strangers.

Liz knows her folks would have a conniption if they understood she was living in a co-ed residence with boys on the lower level. It was weird at first, but not much different from living with brothers. The girl’s floor is supposed to be off limits to guys but they all share the downstairs common room. And though she’s a grown woman who makes her own decisions, Liz is well aware that her dad would not best be pleased.

She’s seen Eric sneaking up to Elsie’s room, nights; and Elsie sleeps down in his even more. Sleeps. Right. It may not be allowed but it’s an open secret. Thing is, Liz doesn’t want to know who’s sleeping with who. Or who’s smoking up. Or who snores. She quit Facebook back in high school because of that stuff, but it’s even worse here. Sometimes she thinks half of the students are here for the soap opera, with education coming last.

Although she’d thought she was well out of it, she’d found out the hard way she wasn’t going to get anywhere in the ‘real world’ without a degree. Proving herself over and over didn’t make a difference.

Her boss thought the only reason she brought in good pictures was luck. She’d never seen him even holding a camera, but he could judge her because she didn’t have a degree, and he was the boss. Did he turn down her best shots because he was jealous? He killed her low angle time-lapse Ferris wheel shot— called it ‘artsy-fartsy’— then was furious when that same shot won the Canadian Geographic contest. That was the straw that sent her to Christie. So here she is back at school with all these kids.

Because if she had to go to back to school the only choice was here to study with award winning photo-journalist Annie Mol. Liz grew up poring over the world framed through the eyepiece of Mol’s award winning photos in This Magazine and Maclean’s.

Making good pictures is what it has always been about for Liz. Focal lengths, f-stops, and developing your own. But now those heady chemical smells are gone— Christie doesn’t even have a darkroom. The closest you come is printer ink, which is not the same thing at all. Everything she’d known about cameras and chemicals and photographic paper is different.

Although digital is still photography, it comes with a different set of problems. It requires new technical skills and competence with a computer to get it all in hand. So, okay, there is stuff she needs to learn. All the computer background she’s missed. Which means she is motivated after all.

But it’s too expensive to not live in residence. Even after moving home last year and banking near every cent she made, between tuition and digital equipment that will be obsolete by the time she graduates, funds are tight. The government has only just begun giving grants to needy students, and it’s more on the order of a gesture than actual help. Maybe it’ll get better. Her folks aren’t poor exactly, but with Mom staying home with the younger sibs it means there isn’t family cash to help out.

It’s frustrating nobody warned her that most scholarships aren’t even open to mature students. She’s already decided to apply for a student loan next year, but she might need to take a part time job like Amelia this year.

Even so, money is not the real problem. It’s more an annoyance. Even if it takes years to pay off, she will be able to get work at the other end, and a degree will ensure she’s paid what she’s worth. Onward and upward to the big time. Maclean’s maybe. Canadian Geographic? Sky’s the limit. She knows very well what it will mean to her quality of life. She might even be able to help the folks send the boys to college. The ones that want to, anyway.

Not Randy, he’ll go into an apprenticeship, be the one making big bucks fitting pipe.

No, Liz’s real problem is living in the dorm. What they call “the Res.” It’s not the same as living with family, even hers, which is big by today’s standards. You can shut the door on brothers.

All the other students. Strangers to share bathrooms with. Communal showers are not her idea of fun. Different showers for men and women isn’t enough, it’s group bathing. Always being too tall made her an easy target. She isn’t comfortable being stared at.

It’s different when it’s your own family. It’s a lot harder with roommates, particularly the one who sleeps in the same room you do. She says a little prayer for being blessed with Amelia as a room mate. Liz knows she wouldn’t have lasted five minutes with Maggie.

Maggie is a trial. Just thinking of Maggie makes Liz tense. Like most of her residence mates, Maggie came to Christie straight from high school. Even though she’s years younger than Liz, Maggie seems to have elected herself house mother, wanting to know where Liz is going, what she is doing.

Is it prurient interest or is it what Maggie says, that she just wants to know if she should worry? Either way it’s driving Liz around the bend.

Okay, maybe, it makes sense to have some idea where people are. But that’s why they have sign in sheets. It’s not Maggie’s job, she’s just another student.

They aren’t even in the same program for God’s sake. Back home, Mom and Dad trusted her to come in when she said. They never gave her the third degree. Why can’t Maggie? It’s none of her business.

And although Maggie is the worst, the city slickers s think their life experience is more cutting edge because they grew up in the city with drug dealers on every corner. And although Liz knows things most of them never will, to them she’s a hick. Inexperienced. Just because she grew up in a small town she lacks ‘street cred’.

Liz attended a school so small that all the teachers knew her name, so for sure it was harder to get away with anything.

But the biggest problem for small town kids is no public transit. Going to the movies requires a ride from somebody’s parents, not fun for a date. So everybody rushes to get a driver’s license at the crack of their sixteenth birthday.

Farm kids have the edge over townies because they get a chance to boot around on the back forty, sometimes years before they’re sixteen, like her friend Gabe’s brother. Liz and Gabe had been inseparable since the third grade. Gabe’s brother loved driving the four by four, and their Dad let him take it to the Hallowe’en dance before he’d graduated to the full license.

Except he was just a little bit cocky, and wrapped the truck around a bridge abutment. Although Gabe was thrown clear, his brother was killed on impact. And you know how it is, even though Gabe lived he wouldn’t see her anymore after the accident. It’s tough being a fourteen year-old paraplegic.

Liz knows she hasn’t exactly been wrapped in cotton, but it’s seems to make it worse that she doesn’t do drugs or drink. Sure that’s how she was raised but what’s wrong with that? Her parents don’t drink or smoke. She’s seen people drunk and been around people wasted. She knows what can happen. Meh.

Besides, she knows she’s capable of being stupid all by herself. She doesn’t need alcohol or drugs to help, she can manage it all on her own, thanks.

Many of her classmates assume she’s naïve because she doesn’t try to fry her brain cells. But she knows she’s not. She’s just smarter than they are. Liz smiles to herself. Maybe that is enough.

Don’t let them. — especially don’t let Maggie — get to her.

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Coffee cup on a lecture hall table
Professor Cootes looks right at Kate when he says, “I seem to be boring your partner Ms. Stone.”

Kate looks at Maggie, canted to the right, her head resting on her fist, eyes closed, softly snoring. Kate gives her a shake and Maggie’s eyes snap open. Kate glances down to read a text message.

How about this one: ‘Women can discover everything except the obvious.’

Maggie drifts off while Kate gives Oscar the evil eye and texts back:

Ooooooh. That one was catty, Oz. You could get in big trouble repeating stuff like that.

Wilde was frequently catty. Um Maggie’s snoring again.

Kate tries nudging Maggie, but it just changes the timbre of her snores. A sharp kick to the ankle yields a better result. Maggie wakes enough to realize Kate kicked her, so she glowers.

Kate whispers, “You have to stop snoring.”

Maggie’s eyes narrow. “I don’t snore!”

Kate nods. “Sure you do, I’ve got witnesses to prove it.”

Maggie smacks herself in the head, “No way.”

“Way,” Kate smiles back, “Even the teacher cracked jokes about it. Good thing you have nice little ladylike snores. If it’d been Elsie’s honking he’d have fled screaming.”

“But I don’t snore.”

Kate grins. “If you want I can get a show of hands.”

Maggie holds up her hand. “No no no. Okay, shhhh, I believe you. So what’s the assignment?”

Somehow Maggie lives through the rest of her sleep deprived morning. Compensating with double doubles from the cafeteria keeps her moving, but she is in a fog nonetheless.

Only as the school day is ending does she begin to feel conscious. A bit more wired than awake, but it will do. Oscar comes in trailing Jake and Kate. He peers at Maggie, then bends over, cups her chin, gently tilting her head back and forth as he examines her face in the afternoon sun.

“Hate to tell you this, wee girl, but they’re called ‘the whites of your eyes’ and not ‘the reds of your eyes’ for a reason.”

Maggie wrenches her chin away and sticks out her tongue. “Sez you. It’s the new look, Oz. Get with the program.”
Kate says, “Maybe we should reschedule?”

Oscar is firm. “Can’t do it. If we pack it in, we’d make Linux look bad to all the noobs who might’ve switched over.”

“Oscar’s right” agrees Maggie, “We can’t. Every Ubuntu group in the world is having their release party today. I was just too excited to sleep. No way do we reschedule.”

“You were playing Farmville, weren’t you?” teases Jake.

“Of course I was. But only because I couldn’t sleep.”

Kate rolls her eyes at Maggie. “How about this then, you nip home for a nap.”

“No, no, no. It’s my party, I gotta be there.”

“Look at it this way, kiddo, if you sneak a nap you’ll have the pleasure of being conscious for your release party.”

“I’m awake now, I will be then. Don’t worry. If I slap on some war paint I’ll even look conscious. It’ll be fine.”

Kate asks “Gonna paint eyeballs on your eyelids like Captain Jack?”

“Ha ha.” Maggie rolls her eyes.

Oscar’s flipping though the school paper with a frown. “Wasn’t Krystal doing publicity? I thought she said she’d get something in the paper.”

“Yeah, I thought she had it all set up.”

“Nothing in here.” Oscar lays down the paper.

“Are you sure she’s even coming?” asks Kate. “She wasn’t in Gates’ class this morning.”

Maggie shakes her head. “You’re right, she wasn’t. I don’t know. She said she would.”

“Cheer up girl, Adam says, Canada’s got a higher proportion of Linux users than the States. How cool is that?”

Maggie grins at Kate, “Pretty cool. Look, save my spot and guard my coffee with your lives, ’cause I know I’m gonna need every drop today. Back in a flash.”

Maggie heads for the washroom where she splashes water on her face. Yup, Oscar’s right on the money. She could be the poster girl for a horror movie. Much more red in them thar eyes than white. Another splash.

Coffee coffee and more coffee is just what this girl needs to get through the rest of the day.

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