Cover Photo: Afterwards
Afterwards

Helen Finds Her Footing

It was well before Frank’s  5pm visitation dinner with Chloe, so it was unlikely he’d already be waiting outside. She hated the way adrenaline spurted into her bloodstream, making the vines on the side of the house blurry; hated leaving Blaze, her German Shepherd, behind. Dogs are not welcome on first dates in coffee shops. She would only be walking unguarded for a few blocks—think clearly, Helen said to herself, Frank wouldn’t jump out of his car—he only liked to torment her without a witness. 

Door chimes called the barista up from the lower shelves, and a woman with coiffed white hair and pearls glanced over from her seat at the window. Likely a resident from the Briton House retirement residence a few doors down. You’d need serious money to end up there. Helen looked down at her ragged nails and remembered reading that even here on Mt. Pleasant Avenue, the Vietnamese manicure shops could be a front for human trafficking.

“Tibetan Motif” wasn’t here yet. She’d recognize him from his picture: long silver hair (though likely not posing with his mala). However, she thought, I have to start somewhere.

She heard the jingle of the doorbell as he clearly gathered that she was the only candidate--it was just her and the pearl necklace woman, one table apart. He smiled--she saw he liked her. Not bad for 38? She wondered, touching the corner of her eye.

He peered at her, and she at him. He had a big, reddish nose. How much did he drink?

“Tell me about you,” he said, leaning forward and spreading his tree trunk legs.

“I meditate,” Helen said. “Do you?”

“Yes, for years. I lead a Meet-up group, the ‘Self-Realization Fellowship’. We get together on Tuesday evenings. You might like to come!”

“We’ll see.” She would not be joining him.Shifting her glance, she met the rapt attention of the elderly woman, who was auditing this conversation.

“What else do you enjoy doing?” she asked, aware of the audience.

“There’s my spiritual life, but you know, I like browsing E-Bay. I’ve found the most wonderful things there, but my wife isn’t keen.”

“Your wife?” Helen glanced at his hand—no ring. His fingers were thick, and hairy.

“Sure, I’m married, but she doesn’t want to have sex, and since the transplant—I got the heart of a 17 year old boy--they aren’t supposed to tell me but I found out anyway--I really need sex!”

Smiling while lifting his arms to stretch he said, “My wife feels fine to let me find other friends; she knows I’m on Dharmamatch.com.”

She must be relieved, Helen thought. “A heart transplant?” She asked.

“The kid had a road rage accident on his motorcycle and died instantly. Since I got his heart my life has completely changed. I feel like a new person. I like chili-dogs now, and forget it, never would have touched them before.”

There was a clatter, as the pearl woman crashed her cup into its saucer. Helen met her eyes, which didn’t lower.

Tibetan Motif waited expectantly for a response.

Helen bought time.

“Interesting,” she said.

She had been here 7 minutes.

“What do you buy on E-Bay?” she asked, switching to a simpler topic.

“I’ve found the greatest things!” he enthused, his silver and turquoise earring swinging. “Like an electron microscope. But Lucy and I had issues--she doesn’t agree it’s a good investment.”

“That’s something people could disagree on.”

“I feel so limited by her,” he plunged on, licking his lips. “We’re all boundless and need to be free. I mean, we’re beyond both space and time. Do you know what I’m saying?”

Helen scraped her seat back. I must be open to new experiences, she thought. Be accepting. Frank always called her a control freak. What would an enlightened person say? Helen tried to find her real voice. She opened her mouth, then closed it. The pearl woman looked expectant.

Helen could feel the heat surge in her face. He must see it too. What was happening at home? Had Frank arrived to pick up Chloe? The girl might not mind his erratic habits, or seem to notice-- if she was watching death metal videos on YouTube, or, horribly, porn.

“They say there are multiple universes…What do you think?” he asked.

Time to pull the plug? Helen wondered. Now would be a great time to leave, and with luck, Frank would have come and gone.

“It can be hard to know what’s really happening,” Helen ventured. “That’s why I like having someone qualified to guide me.”

“I don’t follow a spiritual teacher. We have all the answers within ourselves,” he said, with fervour.

“Like the Dalai Lama said,” Helen continued, “because we have a personal ego, it’s best to have a personal teacher.”

He looked at her with, could it be, a measure of pity?

“Well,” he sighed, “Nobody’s perfect.”

“Certainly not me,” Helen swallowed. “It’s been lovely meeting you. I have to run.”

Blaze greeted her at the door with a calm wag and Helen sank down to bury her face in his shoulder, relieved to be home.

A couple of hours passed before Helen began to nervously check the clock, waiting for Frank and Chloe with the familiar dull squeeze in her chest. The arsenal was lined up: lavender oil, chamomile tea. A shot of brandy in a  Baccarat glass.

She was running the wire slicker through the fur on his haunches when Blaze lifted his head, alert. Then she heard talking at the foot of the steps, and the doorbell.

“Brought you this,” Frank announced, brandishing the teddy bear, which had a fierce expression, Helen thought, reaching for it. He turned without giving it to her and strode towards the bookshelves. Pushing a cluster of amethyst crystals aside, her former husband placed the bear in a commanding position. Why? Helen wondered, ready to believe the worst.

“Good-bye, Sweetie,” Frank said to Chloe, as the pair stood hugging and swaying in the vestibule, for what seemed far too long to cling to a daughter with pear shaped breasts. With a smirk, Frank departed and Chloe went upstairs.

The next morning, as soon as Chloe left for school, well-supplied with cut up pineapple and a thermos full of home-made curried lentils, Helen made her way over to the book case. Replacing the healing amethyst to its rightful place of dominance, Helen lifted the bear and gazed into its strange-looking eyes.

“You smell peculiar” she informed him, sniffing the top of his head and then his stomach. “Are you covered in flame-retardant?” she asked carrying him along. “Sometimes people think that’s a good idea for pyjamas and toys,” she added, making her way past the gas stove to the basement steps and kicking off her slippers.

“Oh dear,” she cried, as she dropped him. “Are you hurt?”

She caught up to him at the bottom, while stepping on his head. Apart from the two beady eyes, there was no sensation of a small, hard object inside—that she could detect. But how large would it have to be? Electronics were so tiny these days. But, perhaps a little more grape-crushing movement, as is done in wine production, would yield evidence for the court. Improper behaviour? Her lawyer would know, she reminded herself, placing dear Teddy into the washing machine, and turning the temperature to Hot.

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Once upon a time, in a place called Under-the-Tent (in their language, which is difficult for us to pronounce), three gray haired sisters gazed into the fire, into the future, and saw a great-grand-daughter. We call her Suzanne.
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