Spring/Summer 2001

QW #52




She sat by the studio window, sun baking her sore neck. Stained fingers turned knots in a silver thread. Only a few grey strands, but each one a marker of time between them. Time seeping slowly, as air from a slightly pricked tire. Porous, malleable, transient, real. Did such time erase what lay behind?

They had agreed over the phone to meet tonight in the dining commons of the large arts centre. Ridiculous place, really, when they might have had a decent dinner in town. But they had made the suggestion simultaneously–neat? sentimental? romantic?–to rendezvous at a cafeteria like the one where they had met as students half the continent away and almost thirty before.

This morning Jeanne was vaguely conscious of risk as she posted the sign at reception, "Ride needed to Calgary Airport. Phone Jeanne Davies, Artists' Studio #6." Would some weirdo call? Maybe she'd get a driver who would talk non-stop to Calgary. She had never imagined Ted, not consciously. After all, Canada was a large country. And this was a vast arts complex filled with musicians and dancers and actors in repertory companies as well as writers and painters working solo at the adjacent colony. Why would Ted be here? He lived in Toronto, for Christsake. Well, she thought he lived in Toronto. He used to. She didn't even know if he were alive. No, of course he was alive; she would know somehow if he weren't. Jeanne posted the because she needed a ride. Simple.

Now she should take a shower, do something with this mop of hair. Instead, she just sat in the sun wondering how she had brought on this imminent encounter. She had never been good at taking hints and yesterday the universe had given her a massive premonition.


As she set off on a hike the day before, the trail was miserably mucky from a recent storm. Still, she told herself, maybe the Rocky Mountain air would open her imagination for those last canvases. Forward into the early summer afternoon she trudged, heavily sprayed against mosquitoes (she liked the French Canadian term for bug repellent, "Contre Sauvages"), carrying a book in her backpack to ward off loneliness and harboring confident thoughts to fight against the fear, if not the existence, of bears. The seven mile hike took her up one thousand feet, to the edge of cliffs, across fast washing creeks and along steep switchbacks. She didn't gain artistic direction, however she did forget about the grizzlies for 15 minutes at a time and felt absorbed, challenged by the terrain. A gulp of fresh air, a respite, is as good as a breakthrough, she told herself; this would help her start fresh in the studio that evening. The Northern mountain light was long and bright on summer evenings. Throughout the afternoon, she had seen only two other hikers, an old woman walking swiftly along the creek trail and a middle-aged man resting with his lunch at an overlook. She had nodded cordially to each, reluctant to break the cleansing silence. The woman had not even nodded in return. Browny-grey mud caked strange shapes on her boots, socks, cuffs. Relaxed, she approached the last half mile with a buoyant smile.

Then they appeared, the mirage people. The permafrost yuppies. Two women, daisy wreaths in their dark curls, wearing long pink flowered gowns. Behind them were three men in grey suits, one carrying a baby. Then a flushed fellow in a tuxedo, clutching female shoes in one hand, and with his other offering support to an ivory gowned, veiled woman, who lifted the hem of her lacy dress to reveal hiking boots. On second glance, she noticed the bridesmaids' brown boots.

Jeanne hoped they had brought bug spray. The baby, in particular, seemed vulnerable. She supposed this ritual was no stranger than getting married in a hot air balloon or in the ocean thirty-five feet below the surface, wearing matching aqua lungs. Truthfully, it was the getting married part that unnerved her, although she didn't know why since she had done it twice. Maybe the baby had been conceived at this very spot (at a dryer time) last summer. Or maybe the best man had brought his offspring as a fertility talisman. Jeanne told herself not to stare. Still, the image remained embossed on her brain. All evening she reviewed the wedding photograph, in minute detail, down to the maple leaf in the groom's lapel. Painting was hard going that night, so she spent the time stretching canvas and cleaning brushes. Not until she lay awake for an hour did she realize that this was July thirteenth and if she and Ted hadn't split up decades before, they'd be celebrating their twenty-fifth anniversary. Right then, she should have decided against posting the sign. She could have booked a damn bus to Calgary.

All night after the hike she lay shivering under thick covers in her well-heated room. Tears streaked down her face. What was going on? She had a lucky life in California. A lover she loved and who loved her. Two grown kids, who were healthy, happy and good company. A rising reputation as a painter, a secure teaching job. Her life was a small sanctuary in a world of wars, starvation, homelessness, car-jacking, AIDS, Cancer. Yet she felt overwhelmed by grief. Surely not about Ted, this man she hadn't talked to for ten years, hadn't seen for over twenty. She had left him. The decision to divorce, like all decisions in their life, had been Jeanne's. The right choice, for her and, she hoped, for him. Then, why this weeping--maudlin anniversary nostalgia? She should get some sleep, embrace the precious opportunity to focus on her work and finish the paintings for next month's show.


You can read Valerie Miner’s story, "In Summer Light" in its entirety in Quarterly West issue #52.