Islanders : Chapter Seven

Retirement

The third time that week he had pulled dandelions out of the same spot. Daniel cursed thinking of his son as he pulled out the weed. Assisted living Brian had called it. He had brought with him glossy brochures praising a new retirement home in Perth.

“You’re eighty-three, Dad,” Brian had reminded him, not for the first time during his visit.

The brochures had gone into the recycling bin.

  Assisted be damned thought Daniel as he yanked another weed.  He should have assisted Brian out of the house. Anyway how could he take care of the garden all the way from Perth? Amanda had always fretted about her plants. He had promised that he would see to them and see to them he would. 

“Hard work?”

    Mei Ling Foley leaned over the front gate of his yard. A red toque had been pulled down over her hair. The collar of her blue windbreaker had been turned up to keep out the chill of the late May morning.

Daniel stared at her. “Mei Ling Foley?”

 She smiled. “I might have a job for you Daniel, if you’re interested?”

  He pulled off his garden gloves. He had first met her three days after being dismissed by the agency. She had been seated next to him on the plane taking him from Wellington to Vancouver. During the layover in Vancouver for their next flight she had offered him a position with her father and Benjamin Dzingira. During the years that followed Daniel had gone back to teaching in Toronto while maintaining a safe home for Home’s agents, a job that had remained unknown to Amanda and their two sons. He had closed the home once he had retired and resettled in the village of Kilmarnock. Seventeen years had passed since.  Now Mei Ling had reappeared looking as young has she had been the first day that he had seen her. And himself? A withered up old man

 “What kind of work?”

 “Pulling up something else besides weeds.”

 So Daniel found himself sitting in The Royal Arms nibbling at a roast beef sandwich and worrying about Amanda’s plants. Since her death three months before, he had been conscientious in his caring for them. In those blooms he thought he had found a way of keeping his wife alive.

They left the Royal Arms He next stepped out of the car at a gerontology clinic on the Island of Penang in the hills overlooking a small fishing village. He spent two weeks there having his cells rejuvenated, dieting and exercising on the beach. As guest of a Kuala Lumpur firm, the Dat Lee Hong Trading Company, he had a suite of rooms to himself.  This form of assisted living he could become used to he thought as he lay on the beach sipping a pineapple latte. All very well he thought, eyeing two young bikini clad girls but the fact remained that he was too old for this nonsense.  He might not admit it to others but he could not deny it to himself    

“Something is troubling you?” Mei Ling asked peering at him from underneath a broad brimmed straw hat.

          “It’s not important.” murmured Daniel trying not to look at her slim young body. She could be his grandchild he scolded himself.

         “Don’t you think you could have found someone younger?”

          “You believe that your age takes away your ability to be useful?” Mei Long in her excursions into North American society of the twentieth and twentieth-first centuries had encountered this phenomenon before. Advanced age had its physical inconveniences to be dealt with by appropriate treatments but the attitude that these inconveniences somehow negated decades of accumulated experience had left her puzzled and sad. “I should point out that I was born twenty centuries before you. I do not feel useless.”

                 She patted his right hand. “We would not have brought you here if we did not think you suitable. Believe me Daniel, you are important to us. Very important.”

                Daniel kissed the side of her cheek. “I wish that I had known you forty years ago.”

Mei Ling smiled. “You did.”

She walked with him back to his hotel room. At the door she whispered, “If you would like some company, I would be glad to stay the night with you.” Bishop made a half-step towards her but stopped. What would Amanda think? “Thank you but no.”

He had done the right thing Daniel told himself as he watched her walk away. He had done it for both for himself and Mei Ling. He almost believed it.

***                             

Matthew Foley always prided himself upon choosing with care how and where he would meet with potential recruits. To create the maximum possible positive effect he tried to choose each site to match the newcomer’s personality and past history. For Daniel Bishop he chose Dicken’s Lane in Kingston, just outside his old family home. There he waited on a cold October morning. The large maple tree in front of him was shedding its gold and red leaves drifting down to the ground. He shivered. Matthew missed the warm air of home. He may have been born in this city but in long the years that lay ahead or behind him depending upon which temporal plane he was viewing his life from he had developed, or would develop, a taste for a more tropical climate.

Mei Ling’s MG stopped beside him.

“You shouldn’t keep him waiting,” she said. “This cold air isn’t good for him.”

Daniel looked at the old man standing beside the roads but he was also looking out of a van window. Beside him sat Joanna. All those years ago he thought.

Foley smiled at his daughter and strolled on waiting for Bishop to join him.

The treatments had done Daniel good. He looked and walked like a healthy fifty year old.

“I am sorry about Amanda, Daniel. She was a good woman.”

“Yes.” They both knew that was not why they were here.

“Good to see you again Daniel. You remember the house?” he asked.

“I remember.”

“Many years ago you tried to help two children who lived in that house. It cost you your job.”

“Didn’t seem to have done much good, did it?”

“Still the intent was there. I have never thanked you for that. Neither have I ever thanked you for your assistance in providing our people with shelter.”

Daniel shrugged. “Just bed and breakfast.”

“It is a bit late I know but I would like to make amends. I would like to offer you another position, one you might find less distasteful than the one you held with the agency.”

“Which is?”

“To gather colonists for the North American settlements. You’ll be in charge of retrieval and of establishing your own settlement.”

“My home?”

“You’d have to give it up I’m afraid. We can make suitable arrangements. We synthesize a body fitting your appearance suitable fingerprints, etc., found dead of heart seizure.”

“And if I don’t want the job?”

“We send you back, a little refreshed from your holiday.”

 “Just like that?”

“Just like that. But do you truly want to go back to being eighty-three again?”

“I have no objection to being eighty-three. I just don’t like being told that my life is over.”

“No one does. We’re not gods Daniel. We can’t save them all. We’re just trying to give people a second chance.”

“I know. There was a man in Kilmarnock once who believed in doing the same.”

“Usually we can’t save the ones we care for the most. Even so … are you willing?”

“I’ve always believed in second chances doctor.”

Foley nodded. “Good. How would you like a sea voyage?”

                                                                                *** 

Captain Benjamin Brigg, his wife Sarah Elizabeth his two year old daughter Sophia Matilda daughter and crew of seven sat huddled in the lifeboat watching the brig Mary Celeste her sails half-furled drift away from them. Seated at the stern the captain still awaited the explosion that he knew would come.  Seventeen hundred barrels of wood alcohol would flare engulfing the ship and all souls within in her. The scent of fire had sent himself his wife and daughter and crew of eight scrambling into a lifeboat, pausing only to grab a small basket of bread and barrel of water. Perhaps he should have hesitated to determine the cause of the fire but the presence of his wife and child had forced his hand. No time to examine the cargo. No time to furl sails. Scramble for the lifeboats and get away as fast as possible.

“Why doesn’t it blow,” twenty-eight year old Albert Richardson, first mate, asked. He cursed. He should have known better than to sign on for this voyage. An unlucky ship, this.  Once the Amazon, now the Mary Celeste, as if changing the name would help? Some ships like people were just born unlucky. Changing a name, only made it worse as if they trying to hide the ship-‘s past from God and men.

 It will blow, Benjamin told himself. It has to once the flames reach the cargo. Yet he could see no sign of smoke. Could he have been wrong? My God, he begged. Let me not be wrong. He had been having his breakfast in his cabin having just split open a boiled egg when Nash had come to him reporting the smell of smoke coming from the cargo hold. Should he hesitate? Once the cargo caught flame it would be all over. He had looked over at Annie working at her sewing machine doing up a pinafore for little seven year old Amanda.

He looked at the sailor’s eyes. Even an experience mariner like Gilling could not conceal the fear. Twenty years as a seaman from ship’s boy to captain had taught Briggs that hesitation in a crisis could mean death.

“Abandon ship.”

The small boat lifted under the growing swell of the sea. The Mary Celeste had dwindled to a dot. Apart from that dot the ten people in the lifeboat were alone.

“Someone will find us,” Benjamin had told Sarah. He tried to tell himself that it was not a lie. She had looked up at him, had smiled and had turned back to comforting Sophia. Benjamin watched the darkening of the eastern sky. He estimated that the squall would hit within the hour. How long could eleven people in an open boat hope to survive a North Atlantic squall? My God, what had he done?

“A whale, captain.”

The ship’s cook Edward Head was pointing to the starboard.

Through the growing hills of water Briggs could see a large gray forehead with a black eye peering at him.

“A porpoise” Ed asked.

“Never seen a porpoise swim like that,” said  Richardson.

The “porpoise” had turned its snout towards the life boat. Benjamin told himself to dismiss the porpoise and concentrate on the more immediate need for survival. “There’s a blow coming. Tie everything down.”

No one was listening. The porpoise had swelled in size growing to that of a young upright, but unlike any that Benjamin had ever seen. His command faded tossed away by the growing wind.

The whale surged to within a few yards of the boat and then stopped. By now the frightened group in the boat could see that this was no whale. The sides where made of metal plating. The hissing of air could be heard and the top of the whale’s head opened. A human head popped out. Despite the black cap protecting it the eleven huddled in the boat could recognize its features. 

 “A bloody woman” said Richardson

“Bloody Chink.” said Ed.

“Do you need any help?” she asked.

                                                                                ***         

Daniel watched the North Atlantic roll away beneath the stern of the RMS Titanic. Except for a couple standing off to one side he was alone. Dressed as a steward, he had stepped out of the four bed cabin in steerage to give the three engineers more space in which to work. Besides he had felt the need to be alone with his own thoughts. Having walked the length of the ship, he slipped out of steerage strolling past decks emptied by the coldness of the night. Somewhere beyond the bow the ice waited to bring it back to life for a few terrible moments. Below him a thousand people were settling into sleep. For most of them it would be their final rest but not for all. Many would escape upon the too few lifeboats. Others, who would never be found, those were the ones that he would have to concentrate upon saving. Deep within steerage slept hundreds of immigrants, Irish German, Slav; they could form the nucleus of a new colony, his colony. Within the midst in a tiny fourth class cabin three technicians had assembled a portal. 

The first attempt at Maritime rescue, which of the crew of the Mary Celeste, had been based upon the use of a submersible had worked well although they did have difficulty in persuading Captain Briggs that they could not return him to his ship. Borrowing a leaf, if not a few chapters form Jules Verne they had persuaded the captain and his companions that the submersible’s survival had depended upon absolute secrecy. While still feasible for small craft, the Nemo, could only take on small numbers of people.  For the larger ships of the twentieth and twentieth-first centuries better results would be derived from placing a portal upon the ship itself.

Once the link was made agents disguised as uniformed White Star Line officers would cross. They would fan out through the narrow steerage class corridors, armed with lists of the dead. Awakened, drowsy from sleep, confused passengers, intimidated by uniforms, would be herded towards the portal.

He would be eighty-four in two more months. He knew that he looked and had the physical strength of a man of forty but he felt eighty-four. Some things could not and should not be changed. Every time Mei Ling brushed against him, he time he saw her smile, he had felt a resurgence of sexual desire that he had not felt for many years. He told himself that a man his age could not fall in love. Amanda had been his life. They had enjoyed a log life together, physically, emotionally. He could not just …..

A soft beeping sounded in his left ear. Daniel turned away from the stern. “Yes?”

Chief Engineer Patricia Mekarski pressed the on switch. The portal hummed and the back wall of the tiny cabin vanished. “We’re ready here, sir.”

“I’ll be right there.”

                                                                ***

Three weeks after leaving the Titanic Doctor Foley asked Daniel to accept a new commission. Daniel had savoured the success of the Titanic mission. Three hundred saved, sent through the portal to begin a new life in the new colony of America. Only one dark moment had sullied that accomplishment. An Irish peasant woman had slapped Mei Ling for having the temerity of daring to touch her.

Mei Ling had shrugged it off. “We don’t save them because they are the best. We save them because they are human. We have to expect that they will share in the weaknesses of their time.”

Daniel had nodded and had agreed to say nothing more about it but he could not forget the hatred in the Irishwoman’s eyes.

The air redolent with the smell of ripe grapes, Matthew Foley sat in his garden. Sharing the small round table were Louise and Daniel. Between them sat a holoviewer which projected the image of the sunken remains of a ship. What had once been a great ship lay upon its side on the muddy bottom of the Saint Lawrence. Its bow reared up out of the mud as if after centuries it still strained to rise towards the sun.

“The Empress of Ireland,” said Matthew” switching off the holoviewer.

“The Empress?” Louise asked.

Matthew nodded “Over a thousand people went down on it in 1914, just off Rimouski in the Saint Lawrence. Can you do there what you did on the Titanic, Daniel?”

Daniel hated what he was about to say. The old man seemed so intent upon repeating the success of the Titanic. He had asked the same question a week before giving him time to frame an answer. Everything that he had learned about the Empress led to one answer. 

“Impossible.”

“Why?” asked Matthew, disappointed but not willing to abandon the idea.

“The Empress went down in fourteen minutes at night in conditions of almost zero visibility only a few hours after leaving Quebec City. We wouldn’t have the time to assemble a portal. Besides that the Titanic stayed upright. The Empress turned turtle trapping hundreds in their cabins.”

The holoviewer showed the Empress being struck towards the rear. It listed, turned over onto her stern and plunged towards the bottom of the Saint Lawrence.

“Personal portals?” asked Matthew.

Daniel shook his head. “We couldn’t take out more than two or three people at most.”

“The Nemo?”

“Might pick up a few in the water but we would have to separate those who survived from those who didn’t. Given the time span, it’s just not feasible.”

“Personal portals then. Even if we can only bring out a few, that would be something.”

Daniel nodded. “And the rest?”

“Given enough tries Daniel, we might be able to save most of them. For now I want you to look for two.”

“Who?”

“Colin Brightman and his daughter, Alice.”

A grainy black and white photo of three people dressed in formal Edwardian attire appeared on the holoviewer. “The only picture I’ve ever been able to find of them,” said Matthew. “Taken in 1911.”

 The pictures showed a young moustachioed man wearing a straw boater, a woman her hair tied in a bun wearing a mutton leg jacket and a little girl her hair topped by a ribbon. 

“Why them?” Louise asked.

“They’re family. My family. At least they were.”

The Titanic expedition had caused Matthew to flip through his holoviewer searching for other possible wrecked from which survivors could be extracted. Under the Es he found the Empress of Ireland. As he had read about the great liner memories had seeped up, memories of an old woman lying in a hospital bed, of the last words that she had spoken. 

“This is most…irregular,” said Louise.

In expressing dislike Louse was not given to displays of temperament. Anger she considered undignified. A brief emphasis on a syllable or simple silence was enough to indicate disagreement to her listeners.

Foley smiled. “Your choosing me was once considered to be irregular.”

Louise sniffed. “That was different.”

“Was it? If you were given the chance would you not tried to have saved Tom?”

She looked away as was her wont when felt herself to be uncomfortable.  “He would not have wished it,” she muttered. “Anyway I don’t see how that applies. However, if you are so intent upon doing this, then so be it. Just don’t expect me to agree with it.”  

At least thought Daniel, as he lay on his bunk deep within the bowels of the Empress, they would not have to worry about separating survivors from the dead. This deep within the ship no one had survived.

Dressed as a Quebec City policeman Daniel stepped out of his cabin at three minutes after eleven. A list of passenger manifest had given him the third class cabin number for Colin Brightman and his daughter. Behind him his companion Francois LeClerc, also dressed as a policeman, stopped to knock at the cabin door next to their own.  While Daniel saw to the Brightmans Francois would try to bring out as many as he could with his portal. Bring them out first.  Answer questions later. He wished that he could have brought Mei Ling but in 1914 how many police women were there, least of all of Chinese origin.

Daniel could feel the floor vibrating beneath his feet as he walked down the passageway. It reassured him reminded him that the ship still possessed life.

The Reverend Colin Brightman lay on his cot, his wife Elizabeth sleeping next to him.   He looked up at the cot upon which his daughter lay. He thought of the great adventure that lay ahead, the journey to London and then south through the Mediterranean and the Suez Canal along the coast of Africa. He would be doing God’s work in the African wilderness.  He is thoughts were interrupted by a firm knocking on his cabin door and the calling of his name.

Colin staggered to his feet and stumbled into his trousers.

Some emergency he wondered. He opened his door to see a policeman.

“Mister Colin Brightman?”

“Reverend Colin Brightman. May I help you officer?” He wondered how a police officer had gotten aboard the empress.

“I must speak with you sir. A matter of some urgency. Best to discuss it out in the corridor sir, so as not to waken the young lady.”

“Excuse me but I thought all Quebec City police officers were French speaking.”

“Not all sir.” “What is your name constable?”

“Bishop sir, Daniel Bishop.” No point lying about that thought Daniel  ”“As I said sir, if we could discuss it in the corridor?”

“Very well.” Colin stepped forward.

Daniel placed a hand upon his shoulder. The air shimmered. He and a surprised Reverend Brightman were gone. A minute late Daniel reappeared. He stepped into the cabin where Alice still lay sleeping. As gently as he could he picked her up wrapping the blanket around her.

She murmured in her sleep. “Mama.”

“She’ll be coming as well.” Daniel murmured. From beyond the cabin came the faint sound of the engines driving the ship on through the dark. He lifted Alice up and stepped back from the bed. Daniel told himself that he would have to pop back to fetch Elizabeth after dropping off Alice. Then they vanished.

The treatments had done Daniel good. He looked and walked like a healthy fifty year old.

“I am sorry about Amanda, Daniel. She was a good woman.”

“Yes.” They both knew that was not why they were here.

“Good to see you again Daniel. You remember the house?” he asked.

“I remember.”

“Many years ago you tried to help two children who lived in that house. It cost you your job.”

“Didn’t seem to have done much good, did it?”

“Still the intent was there. I have never thanked you for that. Neither have I ever thanked you for your assistance in providing our people with shelter.”

Daniel shrugged. “Just bed and breakfast.”

“It is a bit late I know but I would like to make amends. I would like to offer you another position, one you might find less distasteful than the one you held with the agency.”

“Which is?”

“To gather colonists for the North American settlements. You’ll be in charge of retrieval and of establishing your own settlement.”

“My home?”

“You’d have to give it up I’m afraid. We can make suitable arrangements. We synthesize a body fitting your appearance suitable fingerprints, etc, found dead of heart seizure.”

“And if I don’t want the job?”

“We send you back, a little refreshed from your holiday.”

 “Just like that?”

“Just like that. But do you truly want to go back to being eighty-three again?”

“I have no objection to being eighty-three. I just don’t like being told that my life is over.”

“No one does. We’re not gods Daniel. We can’t save them all. We’re just trying to give people a second chance.”

“I know. There was a man in Kilmarnock once who believed in doing the same.”

“Usually we can’t save the ones we care for the most. Even so … are you willing?”

“I’ve always believed in second chances doctor.”

Foley nodded. “Good. How would you like a sea voyage?”

                                                                                *** 

Captain Benjamin Brigg, his wife Sarah Elizabeth his two year old daughter Sophia Matilda daughter and crew of seven sat huddled in the lifeboat watching the brig Mary Celeste her sails half-furled drift away from them. Seated at the stern the captain still awaited the explosion that he knew would come.  Seventeen hundred barrels of wood alcohol would flare engulfing the ship and all souls within in her. The scent of fire had sent himself his wife and daughter and crew of eight scrambling into a lifeboat, pausing only to grab a small basket of bread and barrel of water. Perhaps he should have hesitated to determine the cause of the fire but the presence of his wife and child had forced his hand. No time to examine the cargo. No time to furl sails. Scramble for the lifeboats and get away as fast as possible.

“Why doesn’t it blow,” twenty-eight year old Albert Richardson, first mate, asked. He cursed. He should have known better than to sign on for this voyage. An unlucky ship, this.  Once the Amazon, now the Mary Celeste, as if changing the name would help? Some ships like people were just born unlucky. Changing a name, only made it worse as if they trying to hide the ship-‘s past from God and men.

 It will blow, Benjamin told himself. It has to once the flames reach the cargo. Yet he could see no sign of smoke. Could he have been wrong? My God, he begged. Let me not be wrong. He had been having his breakfast in his cabin having just split open a boiled egg when Nash had come to him reporting the smell of smoke coming from the cargo hold. Should he hesitate? Once the cargo caught flame it would be all over. He had looked over at Annie working at her sewing machine doing up a pinafore for little seven year old Amanda.

He looked at the sailor’s eyes. Even an experience mariner like Gilling could not conceal the fear. Twenty years as a seaman from ship’s boy to captain had taught Briggs that hesitation in a crisis could mean death.

“Abandon ship.”

The small boat lifted under the growing swell of the sea. The Mary Celeste had dwindled to a dot. Apart from that dot the ten people in the lifeboat were alone.

“Someone will find us,” Benjamin had told Sarah. He tried to tell himself that it was not a lie. She had looked up at him, had smiled and had turned back to comforting Sophia. Benjamin watched the darkening of the eastern sky. He estimated that the squall would hit within the hour. How long could eleven people in an open boat hope to survive a North Atlantic squall? My God, what had he done?

“A whale, captain.”

The ship’s cook Edward Head was pointing to the starboard.

Through the growing hills of water Briggs could see a large gray forehead with a black eye peering at him.

“A porpoise” Ed asked.

“Never seen a porpoise swim like that,” said  Richardson.

The “porpoise” had turned its snout towards the life boat. Benjamin told himself to dismiss the porpoise and concentrate on the more immediate need for survival. “There’s a blow coming. Tie everything down.”

No one was listening. The porpoise had swelled in size growing to that of a young upright, but unlike any that Benjamin had ever seen. His command faded tossed away by the growing wind.

The whale surged to within a few yards of the boat and then stopped. By now the frightened group in the boat could see that this was no whale. The sides where made of metal plating. The hissing of air could be heard and the top of the whale’s head opened. A human head popped out. Despite the black cap protecting it the eleven huddled in the boat could recognize its features. 

 “A bloody woman” said Richardson

“Bloody Chink.” said Ed.

“Do you need any help?” she asked.

                                                                                ***         

Daniel watched the North Atlantic roll away beneath the stern of the RMS Titanic. Except for a couple standing off to one side he was alone. Dressed as a steward, he had stepped out of the four bed cabin in steerage to give the three engineers more space in which to work. Besides he had felt the need to be alone with his own thoughts. Having strolled the length of the ship he had slipped out of steerage strolling past decks emptied by the coldness of the night. Somewhere beyond the bow the ice waited to bring it back to life for a few terrible moments. Below him a thousand people were settling into sleep. For most of them it would be their final rest but not for all. Many would escape upon the too few lifeboats. Others, who would never be found, those were the ones that he would have to concentrate upon saving. Deep within steerage slept hundreds of immigrants, Irish German, Slav, they could form the nucleus of a new colony, his colony. Within the midst in a tiny fourth class cabin three technicians had assembled a portal. 

The first attempt at Maritime rescue that of the crew of the Mary Celeste, had been based upon the use of a submersible. It had worked well although they did have difficulty in persuading Captain Briggs that they could not return him to his ship. Borrowing a leaf, if not a few chapters form Jules Verne they had persuaded the captain and his companions that the submersible’s survival had depended upon absolute secrecy. While still feasible for small craft, the Nemo, could only take on small numbers of people.  For the larger ships of the twentieth and twentieth-first centuries better results would be derived from placing a portal upon the ship itself.

Once the link was made agents disguised as uniformed White Star Line officers would cross. They would fan out through the narrow steerage class corridors, armed with lists of the dead. Awakened, drowsy from sleep, confused passengers, intimidated by uniforms, would be herded towards the portal.

He would be eighty-four in two more months. He knew that he looked and had the physical strength of a man of forty but he felt eighty-four. Some things could not and should not be changed. Every time Mei Ling brushed against him, he time he saw her smile, he had felt a resurgence of sexual desire that he had not felt for many years. He told himself that a man his age could not fall in love. Amanda had been his life. They had enjoyed a log life together, physically, emotionally. He could not just …..

A soft beeping sounded in his left ear. Daniel turned away from the stern. “Yes?”

Chief Engineer Patricia Mekarski pressed the on switch. The portal hummed and the back wall of the tiny cabin vanished. “We’re ready here, sir.”

“I’ll be right there.”

                                                                ***

Three weeks after leaving the Titanic Doctor Foley asked Daniel to accept a new commission. Daniel had savored the success of the Titanic mission. Three hundred saved, sent through the portal to begin a new life in the new colony of America. Only one dark moment had sullied that accomplishment. An Irish peasant woman had slapped Mei Ling for having the temerity of daring to touch her.

Mei Ling had shrugged it off. “We don’t save them because they are the best. We save them because they are human. We have to expect that they will share in the weaknesses of their time.”

Daniel had nodded and had agreed to say nothing more about it but he could not forget the hatred in the Irishwoman’s eyes.

The air redolent with the smell of ripe grapes, Matthew Foley sat in his garden. Sharing the small round table were Louise and Daniel. Between them sat a holoviewer which projected the image of the sunken remains of a ship. What had once been a great ship lay upon its side on the muddy bottom of the Saint Lawrence. Its bow reared up out of the mud as if after centuries it still strained to rise towards the sun.

“The Empress of Ireland,” said Matthew” switching off the holoviewer.

“The Empress?” Louise asked.

Matthew nodded “Over a thousand people went down on it in 1914, just off Rimouski in the Saint Lawrence. Can you do there what you did on the Titanic, Daniel?”

Daniel hated what he was about to say. The old man seemed so intent upon repeating the success of the Titanic. He had asked the same question a week before giving him time to frame an answer. Everything that he had learned about the Empress led to one answer. 

“Impossible.”

“Why?” asked Matthew, disappointed bit not willing to abandon the idea.

“The Empress went down in fourteen minutes at night in conditions of almost zero visibility only a few hours after leaving Quebec City. We wouldn’t have the time to assemble a portal. Besides that the Titanic stayed upright. The Empress turned turtle trapping hundreds in their cabins.”

The holoviewer showed the Empress being struck towards the rear. It listed, turned over onto her stern and plunged towards the bottom of the Saint Lawrence.

“Personal portals?” asked Matthew.

Daniel shook his head. “We couldn’t take out more than two or three people at most.”

“The Nemo?”

“Might pick up a few in the water but we would have to separate those who survived from those who didn’t. Given the time span, it’s just not feasible.”

“Personal portals then. Even if we can only bring out a few, that would be something.”

Daniel nodded. “And the rest?”

“Given enough tries Daniel, we might be able to save most of them. For now I want you to look for two.”

“Who?”

“Colin Brightman and his daughter, Alice.”

A grainy black and white photo of three people dressed in formal Edwardian attire appeared on the holoviewer. “The only picture I’ve ever been able to find of them,” said Matthew. “Taken in 1911.”

 The pictures showed a young mustachioed man wearing a straw boater, a woman her hair tied in a bun wearing a mutton leg jacket and a little girl her hair topped by a ribbon. 

“Why them?” Louise asked.

“They’re family. My family. At least they were.”

The Titanic expedition had caused Matthew to flip through his holoviewer searching for other possible wrecked from which survivors could be extracted. Under the Es he found the Empress of Ireland. As he had read about the great liner memories had seeped up, memories of an old woman lying in a hospital bed, of the last words that she had spoken. 

“This is most…irregular,” said Louise.

In expressing dislike Louse was not given to displays of temperament. Anger she considered undignified. A brief emphasis on a syllable or simple silence was enough to indicate disagreement to her listeners.

Foley smiled. “Your choosing me was once considered to be irregular.”

Louise sniffed. “That was different.”

“Was it? If you were given the chance would you not tried to have saved Tom?”

She looked away as was her wont when felt herself to be uncomfortable.  “He would not have wished it,” she muttered. “Anyway I don’t see how that applies. However, if you are so intent upon doing this, then so be it. Just don’t expect me to agree with it.”  

At least thought Daniel, as he lay on his bunk deep within the bowels of the Empress, they would not have to worry about separating survivors from the dead. This deep within the ship no one had survived.

Dressed as a Quebec City policeman Daniel stepped out of his cabin at three minutes after eleven. A list of passenger manifest had given him the third class cabin number for Colin Brightman and his daughter. Behind him his companion Francois LeClerc, also dressed as a policeman, stopped to knock at the cabin door next to their own.  While Daniel saw to the Brightmans Francois would try to bring out as many as he could with his portal. Bring them out first.  Answer questions later. He wished that he could have brought Mei Ling but in 1914 how many police women were there, least of all of Chinese origin.

Daniel could feel the floor vibrating beneath his feet as he walked down the passageway. It reassured him reminded him that the ship still possessed life.

The Reverend Colin Brightman lay on his cot.  He looked up at the cot upon which his daughter lay. He had tried to think of the great adventure that lay ahead, the journey to London and then south through the Mediterranean and the Suez Canal along the coast of Africa. He would be doing God’s work in the African wilderness. He should be concentrating on what lay ahead and yet he could not keep thinking of Elizabeth, of the colour of her hair of her lying beside him in the night. He turned his head at the knocking on his cabin door and the calling of his name.

Colin staggered to his feet and stumbled into his trousers.

Some emergency he wondered. He opened his door to see a policeman.

“Mister Colin Brightman?”

“Reverend Colin Brightman. May I help you officer?” He wondered how a police officer had gotten aboard the empress.

“It’s about your wife, sir,” said Daniel latching upon the first thing that came to mind.

Colin stared at him for a moment. Was she ill? Had something happened? He remembered what he should say.  “My wife?”

“I must speak with you sir. A matter of some urgency.”

“Is she ill,” Colin whispered.

“Best to discuss it out in the corridor sir, so as not to waken the young lady.”

“Excuse me but I thought all Quebec City police officers were French speaking.”

“Not all sir.” “What is your name constable?”

“Bishop sir, Daniel Bishop.” No point lying about that thought Daniel.

“You have news about … my wife?”

“Yes sir. As I said sir, if we could discuss it in the corridor?”

“Very well.” Colin stepped forward.

Daniel placed a hand upon his shoulder. The air shimmered. He and a surprised Reverend Brightman were gone. A minute late Daniel reappeared. He stepped into the cabin where Alice still lay sleeping. As gently as he could he picked her up wrapping the blanket around her.

She murmured in her sleep. “Mama.”

“There’ll be mamas enough where you’re going” Daniel murmured. From beyond the cabin came the faint

sound of the engines driving the ship on through the dark. He lifted Alice up and stepped back from the

bed. Daniel told himself that he would have to pop back next to his own cabin to help Leclerc after

dropping off Alice. Then they vanished.

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Islanders : Chapter Six

Settlements

Louise watched the blizzard lash the window.  A storm like this she knew could last for days. Not that it mattered. There was no one outside to be affected by it. Inside she was warm and if she got too bored there was always the portal.

                She closed her eyes shutting out the waves of white. An aching tiredness filled her, something she had not felt since Matthew had died. Of course she had told no one of this. Louise, the imperturbable, the unmoveable: everyone had to believe that. It may irritate them but in the end that was what they drew their confidence from. Only Tom and Matthew had known anything else. Richard had guessed that she was not what she appeared. Anyway what did it matter? The pieces were in play now. Janet and Paul, Richard, Gehlen  and that insufferable snit, Joanna.  With any luck they would never guess at the game that they were playing.

For the first settlement she chose an island.  Not a large one like Borneo.  Not a tiny one like Pitcairn.  She chose one the size of Ireland, thirty miles off the western coast of a large continent. A moderate maritime climate, abundant rainfall and fertile soil, the site seemed promising.   Its position protected it from large predators and large scale migrations.  On the island the largest predator resembled a  fox. In the centre of an island she found a valley, well water with good soil.  Tests showed the soil and water to be identical even on a microscopic level to that of the earth mankind had evolved on.

Surrounding the valley was a deciduous forest, filled with trees that resembled oak and beech. There she sited the first settlement.  She did not give the prospective settlement a name.  That she would leave to the ones who would come later.

In a forest clearing beside a small spring she raised a large green three-roomed tent brought in through the portal. Only after it was finished and stocked with supplies could she begin to bring through the first settlers.  Just before leaving she knelt down beside a large tree.  With a small penknife she dug a hole out of the ground.   Out of a jacket pocket she took out a small plastic vial.  She unscrewed the blue cap.  She poured the contents, a gray powder into the hole.  She covered the hole patting the sod back into place. She remained kneeling by the tree as if lost in thought.  Then she stood. The last remains of Thomas Bascombe having been interred she stepped back through the portal.

***

Alice awoke to the sound of birds.  That in itself was not unusual. What was unusual was the sound of the birds. The sound of their chirping seemed … different. But then …. everything seemed different. The wallpapered walls, the location of the window, the window itself and even the bed, none of them resembled those of the room that she had fallen asleep in.   The room seemed attractive, lace curtains, and fresh flowers placed by the window but it was not her room. She sat up and called for her father.  The room door opened.  An old woman stepped into the room.  Dressed in a white sweater and blue jeans, the woman her white hair tied back in a bun frowned and then told her that breakfast was ready.  Then, almost as an afterthought she added, “I’m Susan.  Susan Foley.”

“Like Doctor Foley?”

The woman was so old she thought, not old like her father was but old like Doctor Foley had been.

The woman granted a nominal smile. “Yes. Like Doctor Foley.”

“My father?  Where’s my father?”

“He’s not here, but he will be.  There are some clothes for you in the dresser.  Come. ” The woman’s voice while not unkind was determined.  Without a protest Alice rose.  The woman she surmised must be from Doctor Foley.

            The girl should be screaming thought Susan as she watched Alice rise   Any normal person would. What had Matthew done to these people?  Perhaps it was Louise more than Matthew.  A manipulator that one.  Best she had ever known and she had known quite a few. At least Louise had not stuffed the child with lies about a past life.  Her memories, apart from the addition of some language and survival skills, had been left intact.

“Where am I?”

Susan shrugged and pointed at a small door that led to a bathroom. “Shower and breakfast first.  Questions later.”

Somewhere, deep in her innermost being, Susan Foley still hated what her brother and Louise had done.

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Islanders : Chapter Five

Paul

            A long time ago Paul had concluded that whatever it was that women wanted, he did not have it.  Pretending otherwise just made him look and act like an idiot.  If he had any doubts about that he had only to think of Susan.  He could see now that he had blundered his way into that disaster out of the belief that if he loved someone long enough that ultimately they would return that love. He had been too in love with the idea of loving someone to see the person that he was trying to love  He had realized that while standing in the departure terminal waiting for her to come to say goodbye and knowing all the while that she would not be coming.  Well, he would not be making that mistake again.

                He had been back to Canada once, on leave after completing his first year. He had gone back to North Bay to see his parents. They had asked him about Africa and he had tried to explain about the dust and the heat, the poverty but above all about the warmth and dignity of the people. They had listened but did not understand. For them Africa was hunger, war and HIV. “When are you going to get a real teaching job?” his mother had asked

            There had been an opening for a history teacher at the local secondary school, the same one that he had been a student in. At his mother’s urging he had applied for it and had been invited in for an appointment.

                The panel of three men, experienced middle aged men, one a principal, one a vice-principal and the other a H.OD,  had leafed through the copies of his C.V.’s as he had told  them of working at the mission, often fifty students to a class, often without electricity in forty degrees centigrade heat.  He was about to begin to explain about the clinic for the students infected with HIV when the principle spoke.

                “But what’s your Canadian experience?”

                After being told that Paul had supply taught for three years in Toronto, the principle had frowned.  “You do realize that if you want to work you have to be mobile.”

                Paul left for Botswana two weeks later. He had never been back to Canada.  An exile? No. Not so. He looked out over the passing yellow fields of maize Here he had come home. He did not feel that out of any romantic illusions. There had been nothing romantic about malaria, tick fever or amoebic dysentery.  What bound him to this obscure, drought-stricken, country was that here not once had he ever felt useless or unwanted.

            Through the white dust cloud following the Hiace streamed the strains of Stan’ Rogers “Make or Break Harbour.”

                Paul leaned forward in his seat and with half an eye on the dust road before him turned up the CD player.

                “How still lies the bay in the light western airs

                which blow from the crimson horizon

                Once more we tack home

                with a dry empty hold

                Saving gas with the breezes so fair.”

                He accepted that the song written about a dying fishing village seemed somewhat incongruous here in the plains of Botswana but what did it matter? In his first days he had ridden in public buses with Dolly Parton’s Rocky Top Tennessee blasting away. Stan seemed positively sedate compared to that.  One of the things he liked about Africa was that incongruities ceased to be incongruous here.

                “Fishing nets  hung to dry, are

                forgotten grow rotten

                Forgotten, blow away”

                As the song ended he went over the mental list of what he needed to pick up in Maun. Parts for the school generator. Chemicals for the lab. Ten sacks of fine mealie meal for the kitchen. Then his own personal needs had to be looked to; groceries mainly but he would also have a look at any new books and DVD’s.that might have come in. Last on the list was a note to pick up the new teacher at the lorry park, a Miss Janet Gleason.

                She would be replacing Miss Olsen who had taught Fourth Form for five months. Deciding that Africa was not for her Miss Olsen had decided to go off skiing in New Zealand. How long would this new one last, he wondered. During the past six years he had seen so many come and so many go. They had come seeking an adventure, willing to accept the mission’s miserly wage. Each one had seemed to believe that he or she possessed that unique blend of talent and humanity that would uplift Africa.  Then he had watched them go, drained by the heat, the poverty and the vastness of Botswana. This one he suspected would be no different from the others.

                                                                                      ***

                Janet made two mistakes while waiting for her ride, mistakes common to any one new to Africa.  She had bought an orange from a market woman.  At first refreshing it left her mouth and hands sticky. She washed her hands at a public tap and then bought a coke .The second mistake, this only increased her thirst.

                A man, a white man clad in gray shorts, a white shirt, and a wide-brimmed khaki bush hat came towards her. The hat brim and dark sunglasses concealed much of his face.

                “Miss Gleason,” he asked.

                “Yes.” She stood.

            Paul held out a small cold bottle of Aquafina that he had taken out of the cooler at the back of the Hiace. “Pula” he smiled. “Welcome to Maun Miss Gleason.”

                Janet looked out over the plain of yellow grass, bound only by the blue brightness of the cloudless sky.

                He nodded in disapproval of her gaze. Three months thought Paul. That was what he gave this one before she packed up and left. “Looks better after the rains.”           He did not sound very convincing..

“When do they come?”

                “In about four months.”

                “How long have you been here?”

                “Six years. Place kind of grows on you.”

                He led her through the milling market day crowd.  The dust-covered Hiace sat parked under an acacia tree.  Paul tossed the woman’s luggage into the back of the van.  They then drove out of the pounded red dust of the parking lot.   Now that the van had turned away from the sun, Paul removed his sunglasses and slipped them into his shirt pocket.

                He had changed, thought Janet. He had been burned and scarred by the years and by other things. But she could see that one thing remained unchanged, the gentle patience of the eyes. It shone through the grime of the mirror. That, she knew, would never change. She shifted a little closer to him.

***

                Thirty-eight  years passed.  Paul slipped away one warm spring day, sitting in his favourite chair while reading a newspaper.  They buried him in the mission graveyard under the shade of an ancient Baobab.  The villagers came, the schoolchildren and  his fellow teachers.  There was one other mourner, Louise Miller.

“I am one of the family after all,” Louise smiled.  “What about Paul’s family?”

“In Canada? I never met them,” said Janet giving Louise a formal peck on her left cheek.  “They’ve probably forgotten about him.”  Then she added looking out over the crowd.  “They were his family.”  Then she looked back at “Louise.  “So why have you come?”

“To pay my respects to Paul and to ask you for a favour.”

Louise watched a tiny green gecko skitter across a wall.

“You never had children?”

“No. When I was young I had an abortion.  After that I couldn’t.   Paul would have loved to have had children, but during all the years that we were together, he never blamed me.  Not once.  I have known one truly good man.”

“And your brother?”

                “I never knew him. Both of us tried to escape, he into his books, I into my anger.  In doing so we lost each other.”

                Louise placed her tea cup on the red mahogany table.  “What will you do now?”

                Janet knew what she would not do.  She would not go back to Canada.  Grey skies.  Cold rain. 

No.  She knew no one there.  Here was her garden, her primary students, her friends and Paul.

                “Stay here I suppose.  What else can I do?  I suppose that you have another choice?”

                “Well you are a Foley.  I thought that you might to go into your brother’s business. ”

                Susan smiled.  “His business was never mine.  This is my place.  I will stay here until my

dying day.”

                Louise nodded.  That would be agreeable.

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Islanders : Chapter Four

Changes

Janet did have to admit that jogging on a Barbadian beach would be  a decided improvement over the main street of Campbellford in winter. Pity she could not do it.. That would have offended local nineteenth century sensibilities. A perfect prison thought Janet as she looked out to the sea. Behind her rose the two story home belonging to Louise. No walls, except the normal iron and stone railing kept by any estate in Barbadoes   No bars. No guards. No need for them. She could walk out the gate anytime she wished. Then what? Here time itself kept the prison.

Janet could see a brig sailing out to sea.  She could wave at it. But what good would it do unless it could give her access to what Louise called a portal.

She had been hysterical when Louise had brought her over. A Chinese woman had been waiting to sedate her. For days she had lain in semi-consciousness as her past life, or the sham of her past life had been stripped away. Then she had awakened here almost two hundred years into the past. To a past in which everything that she had known had been a lie.

The Gleasons had been there, the two who had claimed to have been her parents.  At first she had understood nothing of what they had been trying to tell her. Their words she attributed to a misunderstanding caused by the sedatives.  It was not until the next day that she understood what they were saying. Then the Louise woman told her about what she had been, about Susan Foley.

                                                                ***

 Louise and Janet sat together on the verandah. Louise always liked to sit there in the evening to catch the breeze from the sea. Louise considered what she would say. Janet sat in glum silence refusing to consider herself to be anything else than a prisoner.

The first mistake we time travelers make, thought Louise, is thinking that we are different from the people we are living among. The second mistake we make is thinking that we are the same.

                Mistress of time and Space. Some called her that. Able to go anywhere, do anything that she wished. Almost true, except that she could never spend too much time at any time or place. She would have to leave again, but first the matter of Susan Foley had to be settled.

                “Your very earliest memory is of two large farm horses pulling a hay wagon.”

                “My grandfather’s  farm. How do you know this?”

                “I gave it to you. There was no farm. Just the memory.”

                “So everything I know, believed in, is just a lie?”

                “Not everything. There is Matthew.”

                                                                                ***

                Louise poured Janet a cup of Earl Grey.  “They say he was a brilliant man, a great scientist. Perhaps he was. History can determine that. I do know that he was a good friend. I’ll have you returned to the moment to when you were taken. You will remember nothing and you’ll be free to go on with your life. You won’t be bothered anymore. I promise you.”

                Susan looked up at the stars glistening in the Barbadian sky. “Just like that?”

                “Just like that.”

                “You play with human lives as if they are toys.”

                “Do I?”

                “Then when you’re bored you just forget about them.’. 

                “I wish I could.” She thought of Matthew. “Do you know that Matthew’s love for his sister, for you, changed the known laws of our universe. Susan never saw it. She was so obsessed with her own pain.  Susan or Janet.  Personally I wouldn’t have lifted a finger to save either one of you”

                Janet turned away from her, staring at the sea. “But you did.”

                “I could not have Matthew die thinking that he was a failure. In the end it doesn’t matter what I think of you or what you think of me. Right now the only thing that matters is that Matthew will die being able to say goodbye to his sister.”

                “That is why you brought me here?”

                “Yes.”.

                “You want me to pretend that his sister has come back to him when you know whatever there was left of his sister you stripped away. Well I’m sorry, but I won’t lie to a sick old man.”

                “Your principles forbid it?”

                “You can say that. I know you must think it amusing.”

                “No not amusing. Not at all. Survival requires a belief in something. Susan believed in nothing. That nothingness is what destroyed her. It’s just that I’ve seen so many principles thought to be eternal that people, especially young people, died for Then the next generations after them would die for another eternal set of principles. Do you want to know the three great consistent principles of youth throughout the ages? The three C’s  Conceit. Cynicism. Copulation.”

                “Isn’t that rather unfair?”   

“There is another C, not quite as universal as the others. Cruelty.”

                “You do seem to go for sweeping generalities.”

                “Then prove me wrong. Show me that something is more important than your precious principles.”

                “When all this is done you will just let me leave?”

                “Yes.”

                “How do you know I won’t…”

                “Tell people? Go to the authorities?” Louise shrugged. “You won’t because you didn’t. The complicated thing about time travel is not so much the technology but the philosophy.”

                “It must be nice being so certain about everything.”

                “Yes. It must.  Matthew and I chose a timeline for you where time travel had not been developed, where there was no famous Matthew Foley. I will just do that again. That’s all.”                     

                “That’s all? I don’t know where to go. What to do.”

                “I can’t choose your life for you. I did that before. I’m tired of it. As I said you can  go back to being Janet, but you must choose. What I will do is show you everything we have concerning Susan Foley. I will also give you as much time as you need to choose. One thing we have plenty of is time. Also as Matthew Foley’s sister you are entitled to part of his estate. That should establish your financial independence in whatever time you choose to settle. The rest is for you to decide.”

                                                                                                               ***

She looked down at the old man in the hospital bed. That withered fossil was her brother?  Matthew Foley. There lay the weak point of the woman’s scheme. With a few words Janet could shatter this woman’s scheme. All she had to do was to tell the old man the truth.  She was not his sister. Yet as she considered the frail old man laboring for breath she asked herself, if that were the truth.

                He looked up at her and he tried to smile. He mouthed one word. Susan.

                The old man’s bony fingers clutched her sleeve. Janet knew what she should do. She should pull herself away from him. Then she would look into his failing eyes and tell him the truth.

                She looked towards the door through which Mei Ling and Louise had left.

The man’s grip on her sleeve was so feeble. She could break it with the push of a finger. and yet that grip feeble as it was, would haunt her for the rest of her days. She looked at the old man at the fear, pain and the love in his eyes. Janet knew then that this entire scheme had not been an attempt to twist history and time for power or some deluded political purpose. It had just been to allow this old man to die in peace.

                She leaned forward and kissed his forehead. “Forgive me, brother,” she said.

                                                                                ***

                During the days that followed Janet spent much of her time going over the records pertaining  to the life of Susan Foley. Then just over a week after Matthew’s burial Janet asked Louise a question, a question that Louise had not expected.

                “What ever happened to Paul?”

                “Paul?”

                Paul McKellar.”  In a few sentences she explained who he had been.

                “I’m afraid that I don’t know him, but I could make enquiries.”

Three hours later she handed him a thin folder.                            

                “He went to Botswana in 2014.  He never returned to Canada. He spent the rest of his life working in Africa. From what I could gather, he died content. Not entirely I suppose. We all have our regrets.”              

                “Did he ever marry?”

                “Yes. Yes, he married.  In her sad little life only two people ever saw anything in Susan that was worth trying to save. What it was, I don’t know. I never saw it.  Matthew did. Paul did. In all my years the most difficult thing I’ve had to understand was the human heart, its infinite capacity for both good and evil.” She looked up at Janet. “Go back to your world, little girl. You’ll be safe there.”

                “I’m not a little girl.”

                “No. You’re not a child. You’re just an infant. Go home.”

                “What home?”

                                                                        ***

            You do not have to do this Alicia had told him. Louise had told him the same thing. Logic lay with them.  She had not been his daughter. It had all been a sham that had served a useful purpose, a good purpose. but nothing more. So why did Dennis stand here on the beach waiting for her to come?

                “Daddy. Tell them you’re my father.” She had begged him when Louise had told her that she was a stranger. She could still remember his sad little smile. “I wish I had been. Janet, how could I have been your father? You had been dead a half-century before I was born. This isn’t my time anymore then it is yours. We are all strangers here.”

                Now on the beach he was saying something different. “You don’t have to go away.”

“Is that what you wanted to tell me?”

                “You can come back to and be my daughter.”

                “You already made that choice. Remember?”

            Dennis nodded knowing that it would come to this. “One more thing. You have to make a choice too. Susan was loved. Bad as she was, she was loved. Her brother loved her and Paul loved her. At least they tried to.  But she could never see that.  Don’t make her mistake. I know that we can’t change the past but every so often we do get to give a person a second chance.”

                “I thought that this was my second chance?”

                “So did I. We were both wrong.”

            That evening as she sat with Louise she told her what she had decided. “I can’t go back to being Susan. I wouldn’t want to even if I could. I can’t go back to Campbellford. I’d be living a lie. Whatever I do, it has to be me. That much I know.”

            Louise nodded. “Matthew told me many times, that if we can’t do anything else; at least, we can repay our debts. There is a life that you could choose that could be yours. It would not be easy, but then no life ever is. But it would be yours.”

                                                                                ***                        

            A long time ago Paul had concluded that whatever it was that women wanted, he did not have it.  Pretending otherwise just made him look and act like an idiot.  If he had any doubts about that he had only to think of Susan.  He could see now that he had blundered his way into that disaster out of the belief that if he loved someone long enough that ultimately they would return that love. He had been too in love with the idea of loving someone to see the person that he was trying to love  He had realized that while standing in the departure terminal waiting for her to come to say goodbye and knowing all the while that she would not be coming.  Well, he would not be making that mistake again.

                He had been back to Canada once, on leave after completing his first year. He had gone back to North Bay to see his parents. They had asked him about Africa and he had tried to explain about the dust and the heat, the poverty but above all about the warmth and dignity of the people. They had listened but did not understand. For them Africa was hunger, war and HIV. “When are you going to get a real teaching job?” his mother had asked

            There had been an opening for a history teacher at the local secondary school, the same one that he had been a student in. At his mother’s urging he had applied for it and had been invited in for an appointment.

                The panel of three men, experienced middle aged men, one a principal, one a vice-principal and the other a H.OD,  had leafed through the copies of his C.V.’s as he had told  them of working at the mission, often fifty students to a class, often without electricity in forty degrees centigrade heat.  He was about to begin to explain about the clinic for the students infected with HIV when the principle spoke.

                “But what’s your Canadian experience?”

                After being told that Paul had supply taught for three years in Toronto, the principle had frowned.  “You do realize that if you want to work you have to be mobile.”

                Paul left for Botswana two weeks later. He had never been back to Canada.  An exile? No. Not so. He looked out over the passing yellow fields of maize Here he had come home. He did not feel that out of any romantic illusions. There had been nothing romantic about malaria, tick fever or amoebic dysentery.  What bound him to this obscure, drought-stricken, country was that here not once had he ever felt useless or unwanted.

            Through the white dust cloud following the Hiace streamed the strains of Stan’ Rogers “Make or Break Harbour.”

                Paul leaned forward in his seat and with half an eye on the dust road before him turned up the CD player.

                “How still lies the bay in the light western airs

                which blow from the crimson horizon

                Once more we tack home

                with a dry empty hold

                Saving gas with the breezes so fair.”

                He accepted that the song written about a dying fishing village seemed somewhat incongruous here in the plains of Botswana but what did it matter? In his first days he had ridden in public buses with Dolly Parton’s Rocky Top Tennessee blasting away. Stan seemed positively sedate compared to that.  One of the things he liked about Africa was that incongruities ceased to be incongruous here.

                “Fishing nets  hung to dry, are

                forgotten grow rotten

                Forgotten, blow away”

                As the song ended he went over the mental list of what he needed to pick up in Maun. Parts for the school generator. Chemicals for the lab. Ten sacks of fine mealie meal for the kitchen. Then his own personal needs had to be looked to; groceries mainly but he would also have a look at any new books and DVD’s.that might have come in. Last on the list was a note to pick up the new teacher at the lorry park, a Miss Janet Gleason.

                She would be replacing Miss Olsen who had taught Fourth Form for five months. Deciding that Africa was not for her Miss Olsen had decided to go off skiing in New Zealand. How long would this new one last, he wondered. During the past six years he had seen so many come and so many go. They had come seeking an adventure, willing to accept the mission’s miserly wage. Each one had seemed to believe that he or she possessed that unique blend of talent and humanity that would uplift Africa.  Then he had watched them go, drained by the heat, the poverty and the vastness of Botswana. This one he suspected would be no different from the others.

                                                                                      ***

                Janet made two mistakes while waiting for her ride, mistakes common to any one new to Africa.  She had bought an orange from a market woman.  At first refreshing it left her mouth and hands sticky. She washed her hands at a public tap and then bought a coke .The second mistake, this only increased her thirst.

                A man, a white man clad in gray shorts, a white shirt, and a wide-brimmed khaki bush hat came towards her. The hat brim and dark sunglasses concealed much of his face.

                “Miss Gleason,” he asked.

                “Yes.” She stood.

            Paul held out a small cold bottle of Aquafina that he had taken out of the cooler at the back of the Hiace. “Pula” he smiled. “Welcome to Maun Miss Gleason.”

                Janet looked out over the plain of yellow grass, bound only by the blue brightness of the cloudless sky.

                He nodded in disapproval of her gaze. Three months thought Paul. That was what he gave this one before she packed up and left. “Looks better after the rains.”           He did not sound very convincing..

“When do they come?”

                “In about four months.”

                “How long have you been here?”

                “Six years. Place kind of grows on you.”

                He led her through the milling market day crowd.  The dust-covered Hiace sat parked under an acacia tree.  Paul tossed the woman’s luggage into the back of the van.  They then drove out of the pounded red dust of the parking lot.   Now that the van had turned away from the sun, Paul removed his sunglasses and slipped them into his shirt pocket.

                He had changed, thought Janet. He had been burned and scarred by the years and by other things. But she could see that one thing remained unchanged, the gentle patience of the eyes. It shone through the grime of the mirror. That, she knew, would never change. She shifted a little closer to him.

***

                Thirty-eight  years passed.  Paul slipped away one warm spring day, sitting in his favourite chair while

reading a newspaper.  They buried him in the mission graveyard under the shade of an ancient Baobab.  The

villagers came, the schoolchildren and  his fellow teachers.  There was one other mourner, Louise Miller.

“I am one of the family after all,” Louise smiled.  “What about Paul’s family?”

“In Canada? I never met them,” said Janet giving Louise a formal peck on her left cheek.  “They’ve probably forgotten about him.”  Then she added looking out over the crowd.  “They were his family.”  Then she looked back at “Louise.  “So why have you come?”

“To pay my respects to Paul and to ask you for a favour.”

Louise watched a tiny green gecko skitter across a wall.

“You never had children?”

“No. When I was young I had an abortion.  After that I couldn’t.   Paul would have loved to have

had children, but during all the years that we were together, he never blamed me.  Not once.  I have known one truly

good man.”

“And your brother?”

                “I never knew him. Both of us tried to escape, he into his books, I into my anger.  In doing so we

lost each other.”

                Louise placed her tea cup on the red mahogany table.  “What will you do now?”

                Janet knew what she would not do.  She would not go back to Canada.  Grey skies.  Cold rain. 

No.  She knew no one there.  Here was her garden, her primary students, her friends and Paul.

                “Stay here I suppose.  What else can I do?  I suppose that you have another choice?”

                “Well you are a Foley.  I thought that you might to go into your brother’s business. ”

                Susan smiled.  “His business was never mine.  This is my place.  I will stay here until my

dying day.”

                Louise nodded.  That would be agreeable.

***

Louise watched the blizzard lash the window.  A storm like this she knew could last for days. Not that it mattered. . There was no one outside to be affected by it. Inside she was warm and if she got too bored there was always the portal.

                She closed her eyes shutting out the waves of white. An aching tiredness filled her, something she had not felt since Matthew had died. Of course she had told no one of this. Louise, the imperturbable, the unmoveable: everyone had to believe that. It may irritate them but in the end that was what they drew their confidence from. Only Tom and Matthew had known anything else. Richard had guessed that she was not what she appeared. Anyway what did it matter? The pieces were in play now. Janet and Paul, Richard, Gehlen  and that insufferable snit, Joanna.  With any luck they would never guess at the game that they were playing.

For the first settlement she chose an island.  Not a large one like Borneo.  Not a tiny one like Pitcairn.  She chose one the size of Ireland, thirty miles off the western coast of a large continent. A moderate maritime climate, abundant rainfall and fertile soil, the site seemed promising.   Its position protected it from large predators and large scale migrations.  On the island the largest predator resembled a  fox. In the centre of an island she found a valley, well water with good soil.  Tests showed the soil and water to be identical even on a microscopic level to that of the earth mankind had evolved on.

Surrounding the valley was a deciduous forest, filled with trees that resembled oak and beech. There she sited the first settlement.  She did not give the prospective settlement a name.  That she would leave to the ones who would come later.

In a forest clearing beside a small spring she raised a large green three-roomed tent brought in through the portal. Only after it was finished and stocked with supplies could she begin to bring through the first settlers.  Just before leaving she knelt down beside a large tree.  With a small penknife she dug a hole out of the ground.   Out of a jacket pocket she took out a small plastic vial.  She unscrewed the blue cap.  She poured the contents, a gray powder into the hole.  She covered the hole patting the sod back into place. She remained kneeling by the tree as if lost in thought.  Then she stood. The last remains of Thomas Bascombe having been interred she stepped back through the portal.

***

Alice awoke to the sound of birds.  That in itself was not unusual. What was unusual was the sound of the birds. The sound of their chirping seemed … different. But then …. everything seemed different. The wallpapered walls, the location of the window, the window itself and even the bed, none of them resembled those of the room that she had fallen asleep in.   The room seemed attractive, lace curtains, and fresh flowers placed by the window but it was not her room. She sat up and called for her father.  The room door opened.  An old woman stepped into the room.  Dressed in a white sweater and blue jeans, the woman her white hair tied back in a bun frowned and then told her that breakfast was ready.  Then, almost as an afterthought she added, “I’m Susan.  Susan Foley.”

“Like Doctor Foley?”

The woman was so old she thought, not old like her father was but old like Doctor Foley had been.

The woman granted a nominal smile. “Yes. Like Doctor Foley.”

“My father?  Where’s my father?”

“He’s not here, but he will be.  There are some clothes for you in the dresser.  Come. ” The woman’s voice while not unkind was determined.  Without a protest Alice rose.  The woman she surmised must be from Doctor Foley.

            The girl should be screaming thought Susan as she watched Alice rise   Any normal person would. What had Matthew done to these people?  Perhaps it was Louise more than Matthew.  A manipulator that one.  Best she had ever known and she had known quite a few. At least Louise had not stuffed the child with lies about a past life.  Her memories, apart from the addition of some language and survival skills, had been left intact.

“Where am I?”

Susan shrugged and pointed at a small door that led to a bathroom. “Shower and breakfast first.  Questions later.”

Somewhere, deep in her innermost being, Susan Foley still hated what her brother and Louise had done.

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Islanders : Chapter Three

The Street

                There were times when, standing on the corner late at night waiting for a customer, even after all these years that Susan would think of Paul.  She always considered that odd almost as odd as Paul had been. Why should it be he that lingered in her mind? All the others, Howard, her husband of a year.  and after that  a stream of boyfriends and johns, none of whom  she would  think of here  on this cold street. Why Paul?           

                She had slept with him three times. She had johns more regular then that. The sex had been nothing exceptional. God knows she had known far better more experienced lovers. Why him?

                At seventeen despite or because her brother’s objections, she had left school, dumping her books in the garbage bin on the way out.  Three days later she had married her boyfriend Howard, a part time carpenter and fulltime drug dealer. To her marriage had meant drugs, sex, freedom from teachers and her brother, and money from welfare. Four months later she had found herself pregnant.  Howard had told her to get rid of it or he would leave her. She did. Five months later Howard drove off to look for work out west leaving her with forty dollars in the bank and two months unpaid rent. The police picked her up three days later on suspicion of drug dealing. Matthew had paid her bail. Howard, she had never heard from again.

                She had met Paul at the basement of Saint Andrews Presbyterian during the free Christmas dinner a year after Howard had left. Between welfare and turning an occasional trick she felt that she was getting by. Occasionally she would write attempts at verse in a notebook .A poetess she called herself.

                I lock my brother’s door behind me

                And vomit on the steps.

                 I stand beside my mother’s grave

                And spit upon her name.

                Paul had been serving as a volunteer helping to serve free Christmas dinner to the street people that inhabited Yonge Street. Apart from doing volunteer work at the church he had al so worked as a supply teacher for the school board. It did not he admitted to Susan allow him to live in luxury least of all in Toronto but he earned enough for his needs.

                                The last thing she was expecting was Paul’s asking her to join him for a cup of tea. Sex, yes she would have understood that, but tea?  She had not been asked out for a date since High School.

                Two weeks later as they sat in the local Starbucks she had suggested that they make love. Paul told her that at twenty-nine he had never slept with a woman before. Liar she had thought. She had heard that line so many times before. Yet the clumsiness of his lovemaking and his profuse apologies more than half-convinced that he had been speaking the truth.  When it was over she had asked him why he had remained alone for so long. He had shrugged and had said that there had been his studies, lack of money and reluctance to force himself upon anyone.

                Why had he not just applied for welfare she asked him. He shook his head. “They give you money. You give them your soul. No thanks.”

                The fourth week after they had become lovers, as they lay together in bed  in Paul’s one-room apartment, Susan had told Paul about Howard and  about how he had left her.

                “He sounds like a piece of human garbage” Paul had muttered. Then he fell asleep

                As the night crept by Susan had brooded on that remark. An hour after Paul had fallen asleep she rose, dressed, took twenty dollars out of his wallet and left. On the subway ride back to her cubbyhole Susan continued to consider the meaning of Paul’s statement. On the surface it seemed a simple expression of sympathy but as she considered it became much more. If he thought that about Howard what did he think about her?  All relationships were based upon control. If there was to be a long term relationship between herself and Paul it would be upon her terms. Once he had realized that and settled into his rightful place then she would allow him to be part of her life. But fist she would have to show him that she, not he, was in control. She would have to hurt him, not too much, just enough to teach him. Then she would consider restoring him to her bed.

                At their next meeting she had told him that if he wanted to, he could be a friend, nothing more. Something had flickered through his eyes, disappointment, confusion. That she had expected What she had not expected was for him to smile, nod his said and say in a soft voice, “sure, of course.”

                She told him that things were moving too fast. Better for them both to think things over, to have a little more room between themselves..

                His easy agreement strengthened suspicion that Susan had, that he had been planted by the cops or by her brother to spy on her. Why else would he stick around once the sex had been removed? In some way she reminded her of Matthew the way he would keep prattling on about the importance of education, when he could barely afford to make ends meet.  He even managed to persuade her to sign up for a creative writing course at Ryerson. She paid for the tuition with the money that he had given her. She went to one class got bored and decided not to go back. The tuition she got refunded and spent on a new winter coat.

                One thing she did know. Whoever put the least into a relationship while extracting the most was the one who remained in control. It had always worked that way with her boyfriends. It should work with Paul.

                In some ways it did. He kept giving. She kept taking.  Dinner invitations, gifts, assistance around the apartment and someone to talk to on the phone in the depth of night; these were  hers.  All of these were satisfactory in their way but he never seemed to grasp the essential point of her displeasure. He never recanted his statement about Howard, not that she ever asked him too. Why should she?  He should have guessed that something was wrong. He should have told her that he knew that he had offended her and that he begged for her forgiveness. She would have granted it and have taken him back into her bed. He never asked.

                As the months passed it became clearer to her that something was very wrong with the man. Any sensible person would have left her and found a girlfriend. Maybe he was incapable of it. Too weak. When they went out, she would often spend time talking to other men leaving him sitting alone at the table. Instead of rousing him into some kind of jealous rage, he would just pick at his food and say nothing.

                Almost two years had passed. He would not recant. He would not go away. The sexual passion he once had for her seemed to have ebbed away. When he told her that he been offered a teaching position in some African country she had greeted the news almost with relief. He would be gone for two years. Every week he would try to send a letter. She had nodded. As she did so she thought of calling a guy who had given her his number the last time she and Paul had been out together.

                He called her the night before he left and said that he would miss her.  Would she see him off at the airport? She said that she would but the flight was early and she woke late. Two weeks later she got a postcard from Amsterdam. After that, nothing., No letter from Africa ever came The two years went by.  Paul never called. She thought of trying to contact the agency that he was working for but she had misplaced the number and name.

                The men she called drifted away after a few weeks. Drugs and prostitution interrupted by short prison terms became the staples of her life.  Ten years after Paul left she came across his name in a telephone directory she wrote to him asking him where he was and telling him about how she was thinking of hiring a private detective to find him.  The words were crammed together on both sides of a single piece of paper to save postage.  Two weeks later the letter came back. Someone had scribbled “wrong address” on the envelope.

***

                Janet guessed at what had happened. Somehow this strange woman had infected her with a drug causing these hallucinations. PCBs? LSD? She had heard of these noxious drugs and their hallucinatory side effects. She would be sent to the states or even overseas as part of a white slavering ring. Jenny had talked about that on television last night.              

                Louise touched her left arm ” A long time ago I learned that even if one cannot understand the impossible one can still learn to accept it.”

                Janet struck her face then screamed and ran down the street, forgetting that on her feet were her bedroom slippers not the best thing to bear wearing on an icy Toronto street.

                Janet had always disliked Toronto. She had thought it to be too big, too crowded and too expensive. Her father had once told her that any city over a hundred thousand in population  became too uncomfortable to live in.  Unlike many of her friends she had never had any great desire to leave the hills and rivers she had always known. When she had last gone there with her father she could not wait to go back home. Now everything in her being told her to get away from her as quickly as possible..

                 The strange woman standing at the corner turned to look at her. Susan was not in a good mood. She had almost concluded a deal with a John when a police cruiser had passed by. The cops had looked in their direction. The John had sped away ignoring Susan’s frantic reduction in price. Only when she resumed her search for other customers did she see the two women.

                As she watched Janet try to flee Louise knew that it was time to end this. She wished that she could.

                Susan had seen the scene before. Some junkie off her head.  She assumed her to be a new one from the freshness of her looks.  Those she would lose fast enough. An older woman stood at the other end. The younger  woman’s lover? Who cares. With any luck the junkie might pass out close to where Susan stood. A couple of minutes would give her a chance to check the junkie’s pockets. With any luck she could find enough to get out of this damn cold.

                For the first time in a very long time luck seemed to drop into Susan’s life. The young woman in her panic failed to see a streak of ice. She slipped and sprawled upon the sidewalk. Susan curled her cold fingers around a small knife that she kept in her coat pocket and with an eye open for a police cruiser walked towards the fallen woman.. It was only then that she saw the fuzzy blue bedroom slippers.

   Louise knew that Janet could not recognize Susan but could Susan recognize Janet? She might ridicule her   brother’s theories but she knew of them.

            Ignoring the knife Louise bent over the sobbing Janet.  “Look at her, Susan. Don’t you recognize her?”

          “Who the fuck are you?”

          “A friend of your brother.”

     “A friend?” The bitch was sniffing after his money. She laughed. “That idiot wouldn’t know what to do with a woman if he fell over one.” Matthew and his stupid theories. The money that he had wasted on them he should have given to her. She would not be standing here on this shitty corner. She’d have a nice place.   She could receive her clients there.  Charge top prices.

 Louise lowered her head.  All those years, Matthew believing in what his sister had never been. Louise knew that beneath Susan’s clothes was a body worn to a skeleton by too much heroin and too little food. Whatever life her eyes once had, the years long since had burned away.

“He was right you know.”

“What are you talking about?”

“She is what you could have been.”

Susan’s reply was as venomous as it was as it was automatic.  She aimed it at both of them.  “Fucking bitches.”

Susan had first been called that by a schoolmate when she was twelve.  She had hated the words and reserved them for women she disliked, which included every woman in her life.  She looked down at the two.  The older woman ignored her.  But something about the younger one, innocence…weakness attracted her, peeping out through the fog. The woman reminded her of someone that she had known once. The face …. The way that she moved.

“It’s cold” Janet whimpered. 

“It’s always cold” said Louise.  She helped Janet up to her feet.   Janet winced from a twisted ankle.

Susan lowered her knife.  “You better get Looney-tunes there home before she freezes.”

“Looney-tunes” asked Louise.  “Oh yes. The animated cartoons you used to watch with Matthew.  He told 

me that after the age of five you never laughed at the cartoons.”

                Susan frowned.  That sounded like Matthew. He could never keep his mouth shut about anything.  “So what’s that to you?  You his shrink?”

The woman ignored the question.  “And you Susan? Where do you go?”

“Fuck off.”  Susan thrust her hands deeper into her pockets their lining riddled with holes and turned away. A moment later she looked back.  The two women were gone.  She stood alone on the empty sidewalk shrouded by the falling snow.

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Islanders : Chapter Two

                                                      Family

To understand time travel one must first understand that one and one may result in three.

                                                                                Matthew Foley: p. 1, A Brief Guide To Time Travel

                For millenia the elders had toiled to restore the planet to what it had once been before industrialization had ravaged it. They had brought back once extinct species. They had restored the fertility of the land, cleansed the waters and purified the air. What they could not do was to replace the fossil fuels and the minerals that had fed the industrial revolution.

                                                                                Benjamin Dzingira: p. 17, The Early Years

Matthew  tried to concentrate upon his salad. Across the table from him Mei Ling fretted. Her father was too old for crossing through the portal but he had insisted. The reason for his insistence sat at the next table a black-haired thirty year old woman named Janet Gleason. Janet would never be a famous. A Grade Three teacher at Prince Charles Elementary in a small Ontario town, she would spend her life there as a teacher and as a mother, or so the historical records claimed. Matthew knew that Janet would never be burdened by nightmares, or by memories of a troubled past.  Neither would she ever remember him. On this timeline there been no famous Matthew Foley.  Even now she did not see him, only the man who sat opposite her, another teacher from the school. . The two of them laughed over some trivial matter not because the matter was comical in itself but because of the joy they took in each other’s company.

Mei Ling touched her father’s hand. “She’s not your sister anymore.”

Foley nodded and tried to taste his salad.

                                                                ***

     Every morning at six Janet Gleason would leave her one room bedroom apartment on Carlton Street and begin her morning jog.  The frigid January weather would not stop her run. Clad in red ski jacket with Trent University emblazoned on the back, her hair protected by a red and yellow toque, thick snow mitts and snow boots, she challenged the cold grey morning.

She jogged towards the great concrete arch that spanned the Trent River. A thick coat of frost clung to the black railing. She slowed and glanced down at the sidewalk and searched for ice. Not much point jogging if it resulted in a broken leg.  Her portable CD player let Dvorak’s New World Symphony flow through her mind. Soon she would be over the bridge.  She followed her usual route, a quick run down Main Street to the Federal Building and then back across the bridge to home.  Then shower, change, breakfast and then she would drive to her father’s store … Gleason’s Collectibles: Fine Antiques and Gifts.  With her parents away on holiday in Barbados she was now the entire staff, not that there was much business this time of year.  Between her concern for the ice the music and her thoughts about her parents and the store, Janet never noticed the man and woman that appeared at the top of the arch. If she had she would have concluded that an old man and his daughter were out for the early morning air.  She passed the couple without looking at them.

.    Having crossed the bridge she continued down an empty Main Street.  Passing the Trent River Inn she ignored the street ignoring a red light.  Her mind told her that this was a silly, even dangerous thing to do but her legs told her not to break her stride.  There being no cars in sight she followed her legs. 

She passed the great stone cross, the memorial to the district’s dead of the two world wars.  She did not give the memorial a glance.  Pointless deaths from pointless wars.

Louse looked down at the retreating woman.  It would be another ten or fifteen minutes before she would return.

“I’ve forgotten how cold it can get here,” said Matthew.

“I must get you home.” Louise could feel the shivering of his body and the wheezing of his voice.  “You should not have come.”

He nodded his head but did not look away from the approaching runner.  “A fine woman.  A fine woman.”

 “Yes,” said Louise.  She should not have brought him her but he had insisted.  “Come Matthew. It’s time to go. Please.”

A gust of wind sent dry snow swirling in front of Janet.  The frigid blast stung her face. Rising in front of her was the bridge’s great arch.   A delivery truck topped the bridge.  As it descended she could see a woman standing alone on top of the bridge. 

For the third time Louise told herself that she was making a mistake.  It would be better, much better, just to leave things as they were.  Yet … after all these years she could not forget that she had lied to win Matthew’s support.  The driving force behind his building of the time portal  had been to save his sister, the one thing that he could not and should not do.  According to the records of her time Susan Foley had died a drug addict a prostitute stabbed to death, her body thrown into a trash container by an unknown killer.  The Susan Foley that Matthew had loved could not be restored to him.  The woman that they had rescued had nothing in her left of his sister.  Louise had known that long before meeting Matthew.  Yet she had allowed him to keep believing that he could save his sister so that she could get what she had wanted from him.  Now he lay dying; lover, student, teacher, friend.

Liar.

Since she had been very young Louise had understood certain basic facts about herself.  She was a creature of logic, prizing efficiency and fact.  Yet, buried beneath her jacket and sweater she could feel the cold weight of the firestone.  There had to be something else.  She had seen that belief shimmering in Richard’s eyes.   She watched as the runner approached the bridge.  There were times when she hated what she had to do. This was not one of those times.

The woman was gone when Janet reached the bridge.  She did not notice the envelope until almost at the top of the arch.  Green with gold trim the envelope had been taped to the bridge railing.  Janet would probably have left it there except that printed on it in large black letters was her name.  She slowed and then stopped.  Could someone be playing a practical joke on her?  Then, curiosity overcoming caution, she plucked it off the railing.

Inside she found a short note.

Meet me at the Trent River Inn Coffee Shop at 7 A.M.

         Nothing more. Try as she might Janet could find no sign of a signature on either paper or letter.  She surmised from the neatness and delicacy of the handwriting that it was a woman’s hand but the identity of the writer eluded her.  Why would someone pick such an odd means of trying to communicate? Best to ignore it. Stuffing the letter into a pocket of her parka she resumed her jogging.  

                Mummified remains of bass, trout and pickerel shared the walls of the cafe with reproductions of old posters devoted to pedaling a carbonated drink. Bowing to Matthew’s insistence Louise had tried it once. Once had been enough. She looked out the window at the street. Janet might not come. She might have jogged past the envelope without seeing it. She might have seen it and decided to ignore it. A gust of wind might have blown it free of the bridge. The might haves multiplied with each moment that crept past.    

                Is this what it came down to she asked herself. All her training, her years of experience and she remained as ignorant as a band of Neanderthals huddled in a cave terrified of the noises in the dark. Unwarranted interference? Of course it was. It had always been that.

                Dennis and Alicia Gleason, both retired mainlander agents had not wanted to be Janet’s parents. Matthew and Louise had insisted.  Out of respect for Matthew the two had been too reluctant to refuse outright. . Matthew and Louise would provide memories, documents and knowledge. All the Gleasons would have to provide would be a home and a name.

                Dennis and Alicia had listened to the proposal and then after a moment’s silence had begun to raise several questions. The first one he always used when faced with an unfamiliar situation. So, what’s in it for us?”

                Within a few minutes Dennis had raised another point. “Childhood friends, people who knew her?” Dennis protested. “You can’t just make them up. What if she wants to look them up sometime?”

                “You moved around a lot?  You spent a great deal of time overseas. People lose track of each other. It happens.”

                Inwardly Louise could only agree with him that over a long period of time this would not work.  But she only had to make it work for a short while. The four of them, the Gleasons, Matthew and she had sat around the Gleason’s dining table to develop the means by which Susan Foley could be transformed into Janet Gleason.

                Implanting false memories consisted of two stages. The first was the creation of the event and implanting it. “Fairly simple” said Louise. “The difficult part is giving the false memory a sense of depth. The reason why dreams fall apart under examination is that they have no sense of being part of a greater whole.  We must make her believe that what she remembers is part of an actual life.”

                “How do you do that,” asked Dennis.

                “”By using the same tool that nature uses, time.”

                “Neighbours and friends” asked Alicia. “Won’t they consider the sudden appearance of a daughter rather strange.”

                Louise flicked a fly off her napkin. “You’ve only just settled here yourselves. They know nothing of your background. Why shouldn’t you have a daughter?”

                For years Alicia had watched the administrators and agents of the agency go about their important missions, while she, a simple clerk had sat at her desk. They had always seemed so certain about themselves and their work. . Matthew and Louise reminded her of that sense of confidence .seemed to “Will time convince us that this stranger is our daughter?”

                Louise shrugged. “It may. We can of course implant memories in you to help strengthen your belief. It is important that you make the first days with you seem as real and as natural as possible.”

                Matthew said nothing.

                Alicia looked down at the brown earthenware mug between her fingers. She should have known better than to think that one could retire from this business. “Not being content to meddle with one person’s mind, you wish to do it with others.”

                “That was always part of our work? You know that.”

“It was never part of mine.”
                “Saving lives was.”

                “Yes.” Maybe the agency had a point when it had warned against meddling. She looked at Dennis.

                Dennis was leaning back in his chair his eyes half-closed in thought.  Many years before, he had walked the streets of ancient Rome. Now advancing arthritis made it difficult for him to walk down to the local corner store.  “I always wanted to have a daughter.”

                “Until they take her away,” said Alicia. She had been the one who had come up with the name of Janet. “My mother’s name” she had told them. The others had agreed.

                Janet woke. Her skin was aware of the gentle warm weight of soft clean blankets. Her eyes watered from the white light filling her bedroom. She stretched and turned under the blankets. Such a strange dream. An old man, a very old man had kept calling her Susan. Again and again she had repeated that her name was Janet. The old man did not seem to hear her. Odd the dreams one has. Her mother and father had been there, They had told the old man her name was Janet. The man had not listened .Susan he had said, again and again.

                As she opened her eyes the dream faded giving way to more practical needs.  Rubbing her eyes with her right hand she shuffled towards the bathroom.  As the water streamed down over her face she groped for the soap to find her hand touching the tiled wall.  She felt along the wall until she reached the soap container three feet to the left of where she thought it would be.  Assuming that her morning grogginess was the cause of the confusion Janet checked to her right .Finding the soap she resumed her shower.

                Janet rubbed away the white mist coating the mirror. As she dried her hair she considered the day that lay before her. Mom planned to go into Belleville for shopping. She would go with her more out of a sense of duty then out of any real desire to buy anything

                Her hair no longer damp she switched off the hairdryer. As she placed the dryer on the counter Janet looked at the face in the mirror. The dream she had of the old man had receded and now was almost forgotten.

                                                                                                ***

                Louise touched the small package wrapped in green paper. She thought of her first meeting with Matthew. She had been so confident almost arrogant. Now? Then she had been offering to give him a life. Now she would be trying to destroy a life. She had asked Dennis and Alicia to join her thinking that it might be easier for Janet.  She had not received a reply.

                At seven minutes past seven Janet entered the café. No longer clad in a jogging suit she had dressed for the shop.  Whoever she found waiting for her, if there was anyone, would not change the fact that she had to be at the shop within the next half hour.  

                She took a quick look about. Apart from Agnes Spinks who ran the lunchroom the only other person there was a middle-aged woman in a black overcoat sipping a cup of tea.  She strode over to the woman and dropped the envelope on the table. She then pulled back the hood of her parka revealing close-cropped black hair.  Small diamond studs decorated her ear lobes. Not very different from Susan Foley. Coincidence? There was no way of telling..

                Knowing that if she were wrong she would both look and sound ridiculous Janet asked, “Excuse me. You left this for me?”

                Louise nodded. “You’re late. Would you like some tea?”

                Janet found the woman’s casualness to be the oddest part of this odd situation. “I don’t know who you are or what you want but I have to be at work in thirty minutes. Would you tell me what this is all about beginning with who you are.”

                That at least reminded Louise of Matthew. “Of course.”  She stood and extended her right hand. “Louise. Louise Bascombe. I have had other names but that one seems most appropriate. I have come a long way to see you Miss Gleason. A very long way.  Tell me.  Do you enjoy your life?”

                “Yes I do. Very much.”  But what  did that have to do with the woman?

                Louise nodded. Matthew would be glad to hear that. Teaching had been his choice for Janet Once the choice had been made all Louise had to do was to insert the proper information into the proper computer banks, implant the appropriate memories and print off the necessary documents. The problem was not what had lain behind but what lay ahead. Matthew had believed her because he had longed to know that time travel; was possible. Susan Foley and Janet Gleason had no interest in time travel. The Gleasons had done nothing to discourage this disinterest. If Louise were to raise the notion Janet would consider her to be mad.

                Somehow she would have to make Janet aware of her past.  The grown woman, Janet Gleason was only seventh months old.   Her new life had begun at the sound of an alarm clock. An unconscious form had been placed into a bed in the Gleason’s home, a room filled with memoirs of an unlived life. With the ringing of the alarm, Susan Foley had awakened to a new life. 

                Revealing herself to Matthew had been simplicity itself compared to revealing herself to Janet. The best way thing to do would be to let Janet discover the truth herself with just a little nudge to move her onto the trail. “Good.” She handed Janet the package. “This is for you. Look at it when you are alone in a secure place.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll go to the ladies. I won’t be long.”

                “I only have a few minutes. If you could just tell me what this is about.”

                “Soon. Soon.” She nodded rose and then walked off towards the ladies room.      

                Ten minutes passed. Janet looked at her watch. She could not risk waiting any longer. Should she leave the woman a note? As she waited she had fingered the package. It felt heavy. Flat and square in shape, it reminded her of her portable CD player. Jane decided to tell this Miss Bascombe that she was going. 

                In the small ladies room she found the two stalls to be empty. She stepped out of the bathroom and glanced at the end of the hallway to see if there was another exit. The hallway ended in a solid wall. Puzzled she stepped back out into the dining room. 

“Agnes, the lady who was having tea, did she go out the back way?”

                Agnes looked up from her newspaper.  “Can’t do that without going through the kitchen.. I would have seen her. Anyway she paid her bill.”

                “But… she must have.”

 Agnes shrugged and went back to her paper

                Not knowing what else to do Janet picked up the package and left.  Later that morning as she wiped a display of silver spoons she considered the strange woman. Had she been a lunatic? Possible. But what had she done? She had delivered a package and then somehow had left. Probably she had slipped out through the kitchen without Agnes noticing it. Strange yes, but not insane. As for the package itself she would investigate that when she got home.

                    That afternoon as the day darkened she sped home in her cherry red Mazda GLC. As she waited at a red light  she glanced at her briefcase. Under it lay the package she had received from the Louise woman. 

                 After she had returned to her apartment Janet made herself a cup of tea. She turned on the radio and to the mellifluous voice of Joachim Goethe.  As she listened she changed into blue jeans and white shirt. Then Janet prepared her supper popping a  Dinner- Lite  tray of roast pork into the microwave. As she ate her phone buzzed.  David was calling to ask about the weekend. They chatted for almost twenty minutes. After supper she showered and pout on her pajamas robe and slippers. Cross legged she sat on her bed and dried her hair. Only after she had switched off her hair dryer did Janet open the package.

                A rectangular metal box, it was ten centimetres long, six centimetres wide and four centimetres thick. There seemed to be a small round lens in front. On  top was  a black keypad of nine white numbers, twenty-six white letters and two dials, the left black, the right red. There were no wires, no sign of a battery case or solar cells.

                She touched the black dial. Nothing happened. She touched the red. A small beam shot out of the lens striking off the wall of her kitchen. The wall disappeared. Instead of a wall she saw a street scene. Billowing gusts of snow whipped pedestrians as they hurried down a street. A red streetcar rattled by.  A new form of video machine thought. The images seemed so three dimensional.

“It’s a window.” said a voice. Janet turned to see Louise sitting on the edge of her bed.  She The blankets were dampening from the melting snow on the woman’s white overcoat. “I’m sorry for intruding but a long time from now I learned that the only way most people can understand something is to experience it themselves, something like learning to ride a bicycle I suppose. Do you see the woman standing on the corner?”

Janet glanced at a woman in a shabby green woolen overcoat edged with synthetic fur. She seemed to be walking back and forth as if waiting for someone. A black pickup truck slowed and stopped. A window lowered and the woman began talking to the occupant. Something about the woman seemed familiar to Janet but most of her interest remained with the woman sitting on her bed.

“How did you get in here?”

“I did say that I would be seeing you soon. How did I get in here? The door is still locked See for yourself.  Shouldn’t the question be how did you get here?”

“I’m going to call the police immediately unless you leave. I don’t know who you are or what you want but if you …”

“The police.” The woman smiled. “We wouldn’t want to bother them, would we?” She was gone the only sign that she had ever been the dampness on Janet’s blankets.

Janet was still trying to absorb the woman’s sudden disappearance when she felt a sudden chill. A gust of snow stung her face.

“A window can also be a point of entry.” Louise held out an overcoat to her. The warm, comfortable bedroom was now a lamp lit street down which the winter wind gusted.

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Thank You Mister Trump

            Just over a month from now, the Trump presidency will fade into history.  Its passing will leave behind it a divided nation.  Over time the divisions may heal but America will never be the same again. Donald Trump took away America’s innocence.  For that he should be thanked.

            Since its foundation the United States has held the belief that it was the most blessed of all nations, that being an American made you the most fortunate of human beings. Partly this was because of its wealth and size.  Mainly it was because of the American adherence to freedom and rule of law. Every citizen has inherent rights protected by the constitution. So Americans have been told since the creation of the nation. What Donald Trump did over the last few weeks was to demonstrate that this belief was not shared by the inhabitants of his white house and many members of congress and the senate.

            One of the great principles of American politics has been the uncontested, peaceful transfer of power from one administration to the next. Before 2020 the only time this was disputed was in 1860 when the election of Lincoln led to secession and civil war. The key to political freedom is not a constitution but the willingness of the governed to accept that constitution.  What President Trump and many of his followers demonstrated over the weeks since the election is their unwillingness to accept that constitution if it runs contrary to their self –interest.

            Democracy is not a supernatural force. It is a very human creation as is any other form of political government.  It survives only as long as people are willing to support it. By demonstrating his willingness to strip millions of voters of their right to vote because he did not like their choice Trump demonstrated what he thinks of democracy. Bad as this was what is far worse was that eighteen state attorney generals and the one hundred and twenty – five Republican congressmen  put themselves on record as being willing to support Trump in overturning the constitution.

            The Trump presidency has shown how eroded democratic beliefs have become in the United States. Perhaps many will take warning and try to put country ahead of party or economic interests. Perhaps but there are no guarantees that they will.

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Islanders : Chapter One

Part One

Susan

 Prologue

                Three million years before Australopithecus had first stepped upon this world. For half a million years it had existed, scavenging for food, reproducing, slowly multiplying. But its numbers had never been great. The climate changed. Its food supply dwindled. Like so many other species before and after it, its failure to adapt had meant its extinction. But it had also failed in another greater sense. It never evolved into another race. Man never came to this world.

                Thirteen planetary probes had failed to find anything closer to man then tribes of monkeys. Louise stood by the banks of the great brown river that flowed through a land of deep rich soil covered in oak and cypress trees. A breeze cool and heavy with moisture brushed past her. She found it hard seemed to believe that after all this time that it existed. Yet here it was. A world that man had never stepped upon, rich as Earth had once been rich. Yes. It would do. As she waked along the great brown river she could see the houses rising. It would be good to hear voices again.

 Chapter One: The Outsiders

            The twenty-four hour diner held two customers. The young Chinese woman sat in a

corner booth sipping a cappuccino. Four tables away sat another young woman nursing a cup of

brown  tea. Although the diner was warm the woman still wore her overcoat and sat with her

shoulders hunched in an attempt to retain heat. A smear of cheap mascara did little to hide the

hunger  lurking in her eyes. Skeletal fingers clutched the handle of the mug.

                Just another junkie thought Mei Ling as she spooned the cream off her cappuccino. What

more had she expected? Yet she could not help feeling a little disappointed. She noticed the

frilled cuffs that concealed the woman’s wrists. A good way to hide scars, at least some scars.

                From a radio in the back of the room a voice screamed above a thumping of electric

guitars. The rumbling of a passing bus drifted into the restaurant. In an hour the street would be

filled with people going to work but not her. She would stagger back to a cheap hotel room to a

needle and welcome oblivion.

           Mei Ling placed a five-dollar note on the table. She then picked up her purse and opened

it. She took out a fifty-dollar note and wadded it between fine tapering fingers. She then rose,

careful to brush out any wrinkles in her two piece black suit. As she passed the woman seated at

the table she dropped the fifty-dollar note next to the cup of tea.“Come with me.”

                The woman looked up. For the first time she saw a shorthaired Chinese woman in an

expensive suit. A lez she thought. “You got another fifty?”

                One more Robert Borden dropped onto the table.

                The woman stubbed out her cigarette and pocketed the money. Whoever the lez was she

had money. With any luck she could rip her off for more. “So where are we going?”

                “My place.”

            “Yeah, where’s that?”

                “Does it matter?”

                “I might have to catch a bus back.”

                “No you won’t.”

                The yellow MG reassured her. There would only be the two of them. No unpleasant

surprises. It also meant money. As she settled into the bucket seat she fantasised herself being at

the wheel. If she could rip off the car Lester could keep her supplied with smack for a month. No

more asking for money from her stupid brother.

                “Would you like some music,” the woman asked her.

                She shrugged. “Whatever.”

                Mei Ling punched in a cassette. Bach’s Jesu Joy of Man’s Desire filled the car.

                “I’ve always liked that,” said Mei Ling.

                “Yeah?” The woman settled her head against the seat. Matthew liked that, She had a

vague sense of having liked it once before the dope. “We going or not?”

                “Of course.”

                Mei Ling turned the ignition.

                The woman looked out the window at the grey emptiness of the parking lot. The

pavement  seemed to shiver in the frigid night air. Have to get more sleep the woman thought. A

faint humming filled her ears. Her stomach twisted. Then the pavement vanished.

                The car sat in a small clearing surrounded by pine trees. She blinked. The trees remained.

Across the open field a groundhog waddled. Beside her she heard a car door open. As it opened

her ears caught the sound of waves beating against rocks.

                Mei Ling stood outside the car speaking into a tiny cell phone. She nodded and smiled as

she noticed the woman looking at her. Pocketing the phone she then stepped away from the car

into nothingness.

            “Shit.”

                The woman gawked at the empty space. Her numbed fingers fumbled with the latch as

she tried to open the door. The sight of a woman disappearing into air, of a world vanishing was

too large to grasp but what truly terrified her to was the silence. Her life had been marked by

sound, television, radio, Walkman, traffic, people, and all the incessant, comforting racket of

modern life. Here, wherever here was, she could hear the waves, birds and herself.

                She pressed her hand against her ears to shut out the silence. Whimpering she slid down

deeper into the bucket seat of the car curling against its soft leather.

                “Susan?”

                Ignoring the voice she reached for her purse for the needle that would bring oblivion.

                “You won’t find it there.”

                She looked up to see him.  Standing on the other side of the door  was her brother.

                “Matthew?”

                He smiled. “Yes, Susan. Your brother, Susan, please come with me.”

                “Bastard!”  She flung herself against him. to find herself striking air. Screams alternated

with whimpering and weeping. Matthew knew the sounds. He had heard them so many times

before. Mei Ling touched his left his arm. “Come away, father.”

***

                The sanitation workers found the body when they emptied the bin. Wrapped in a black

plastic bag it dropped into the truck as they tilted the bin. The autopsy revealed three stab

wounds, one to the left breast, another to the right lung and another to the heart. Fingerprints

confirmed the corpse to be Susan Foley, prostitute, petty thief, heroin addict. Her one known r

elation was informed. Doctor Foley travelled to Toronto, identified the body and took it home to

Kingston for burial.  The murderer was never found. Within a year the case had been buried in

the files of the police department.

***

                Mei LIng held him back. “It’s not safe, father.”

                “She’s my sister.” Matthew looked at the woman her voice  his voice   muffled by the

Window

                “No. She’s not.  The only relation she has is with that damned drug. She will never be

your sister until we clean it out of her.  The only thing she feels for you and for anyone else is

hate. You know that.”

                The sleeping gas began to seep up from the floor of the car. Soon it would envelop Susan

ending the cries.Matthew pressed his hand against the window and then turned away.

***

                She floated in a womb filled with Luke-warm water. Umbilical cords carried nutrients,

air and blood into her.  Other tubes carried away her waste products.  Smaller cables were

attached to her shaven scalp. For Susan Foster time had stopped.  She dreamed dreams as warm

as the water  that sustained her. Her mind lived, dreaming dreams of gentle people loving her,

keeping away the pain.

                “Is this wise?”asked Matthew.

                “Wise? Maybe not.”said  Louise.  “Necessary, yes.”

                “I wanted my sister.”

                The man had waited so long.  During all the decades that had passed since meeting him in

Kingston, through all their travels and work the one thing Matthew had wanted most was to

regain his sister, the one thing he could never have.

                “Matthew you know that what you want doesn’t matter.   What matters is what she

needs.”

            “Yes. I know.”

                Her earliest memory would be of two great farm horses.  They plodded down the road in

front of her house pulling a hay wagon that towered above her.

                “Why the horses?” Matthew asked Louise.

                “They represent gentleness, strength, trust.  Those are things that she needs.”

                “Sounds rather naive.”

                “This is what a four-year-old is. Naïve. Depth is the problem.” Louise continued.

“Memories  have to be laid on in layers much like a fine oil painting.”

                “And the old memories?”

                “Buried like an ancient nightmare.”

                “But still there.  Will the new memories hold?”

                “What is the past but memory? The old memories will seem like a nightmare, intimations

of a past life but nothing more.”

                “Are you certain?”

                Louise touched his hand. “Even if I were proven wrong, how could her new life be any

worse than her old?”

                More layers of memory were added. Parents and brother, at home in a valley, life in a

small city.  Girlhood faded into womanhood. A love of poetry and music, an interest in

astronomy and in philosophy, the things Susan had been stripped of by the nightmares of her

life.  As the days passed Susan continued to float in her watery womb.

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