catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 4, Num 12 :: 2005.06.17 — 2005.06.30



Her eyes opened, but she wasn’t fully awake. Alice Doyle blinked at the darkness made less menacing by a mist of light coming through the bedroom window from the farm yard. Thoughts swirled about in her head, but without aim. And then, as if in her mind Alice slid two negatives together to form a single picture. She saw them again. “The grandmas are here,” Alice whispered into the air of the bedroom, her head still on the pillow.

She turned slowly to her left to see if Frank had been stirred. He looked dead. Hued pallid by the farm light haze. He was lightly snoring. Alice told her 66-year-old body to sit up in bed, and begrudgingly, it slowly and stubbornly obliged her. At times the farm wife imagined her bones floating free from her soul, detached pieces of metal, long ago rusted and stubborn to movement. As Alice sat up her bones creaked in a not-so subtle reminder. She glanced at the radio/alarm clock on her night stand: three o’clock in the morning. Alice brought a shaking hand to her mouth. She’d seen something, but was wholly unsure what it was. Alice glanced around the room, noting the shadows and the farm light’s glare. For the first time she noticed snow cut through the windowpane. Blackness followed. She eased herself back onto the pillow and under the down-filled duvet. She went back to sleep as quickly as she awoke.

She’d often talked in her sleep. The mutterings of Morpheus, of deep sleep. History borne from her pillow, Frank had said on other occasions. “It found its orifice, yer ear, and seeped intae your auld brain.” Alice had been praying for answers as she drifted to sleep hours before. Trying times lay ahead, the kind of period in life everyone goes through. It’s a time where the mists of uncertainty make cloudy the path ahead. She was praying for guidance, not for herself, but for her daughter, Brin Witter. The grandmas were long gone dead, buried at Mount Vernon, Edinburgh, Scotland: Annie and Peg. They had never met. But they had been at the foot of her bed, together, shimmering, for the first time. As Alice slept she imagined their intercourse in the firmament, their reconciliation, their joint purpose. Their quiet voices had said something. Into her ear their soft proclamation was uttered. Alice awoke with a start. Conversing with the dead, made her dead too, right? As soon as she awoke and sat up in bed, calm enveloped her heart. The grandmas came to call. They arrived on the wings of the early morning’s flurry of snow, hidden in flakes, no two alike.

Down two storeys, in the farm yard, two snow angels were impressed into the fall’s first blanket of snow. One wing was clipped and torn by a wayward footprint revealing junegrass. It had been a hot, dry summer. The fall was here and the harvest had been reaped. Old Man Winter approached slowly inching across the farm yard and onto the windowpanes one strand of grey hair at a time.

A pot of simmering Cock-a-Leekie, potato scones in a greased griddle, a crackling radio playing Glenn Miller, and a steaming brass tea kettle kept Alice company in the bustling kitchen. White cupboards, periwinkle blue counters, white sink and faucets accented the large, carpeted room. A large Alder wood table sat in the middle of the kitchen covered in magazines and stationery. Two windows gave the kitchen its light; one window faced south and the farm’s drive way, the other window faced north into evergreens and poplars; a hodge-podge of brambles too: Mother Nature’s barbed wire. The kettle boiled without Alice noticing. She was washing the breakfast dishes and staring out at the trees through the window. Alice withdrew her soaking hands from the sink to finally get the kettle, when the door opened and she heard her daughter calling.

“Okay, Nathan, Nathan! Nathan look after your little brother. He doesn’t know the farm that well. Make snow angels again, yeah. And stay out of the trees,” Brin, 38, yelled from the doorway. Alice took in her daughter standing at the door. She was turned away from Alice yelling out the door. Tall, dangerously slim, fine-boned, auburn hair. Skin the colour of milk. She was “classical, a real Blinker,” thought Alice who comforted herself at times using the Scottish slang of her youth. A ?blinker? meant a woman was so beautiful, you?d blink your eyes thinking she was unreal. But, she is real, Alice surmised. “I just wish she’d eat more.” Brin Witter closed the door behind her and sighed at her mother.

“You’d think by now she’d ease up on them the wee gilpies,” Alice whispered to herself going to the stove to get the boiling kettle. Grannies were supposed to worry about grandchildren. “Hi luv, how’s about a jilp n’ junt?” Alice smiled. Brin was expected a half an hour ago, but Alice didn’t mind. She liked the morning solace. “Where’s Joe?”

“Which question should I answer first? Hey, how about this first: Hello,” Brin said taking off her fall coat and gloves. She hung them on the brass hooks by the door. Her cheeks were burning and Brin felt slightly agitated by winter?s early arrival, the way it crept into her marrow. She sighed again and sat down at the kitchen table and fingered a magazine cover. “Joseph had to work a bit of overtime, don’t worry he’ll be here in time mom. Dad in town?”

“Hello. Still, you want some tea?”


“Dad’s in town, I didn’t feel up to it myself this morning.” Alice poured two cups of tea and brought them to the table. “Raik yerself,” Alice motioned to the table. A lazy Susan in the middle of the table had sugar and milk on it. Brin helped herself.

“So how are my bairns doing? How’s Nathan’s marks in school?” Alice asked holding the cup to her lips.

“You know I grill them every night at home,” Brin said sarcastically and stirred her brewing tea. “No television, no Bart Simpson. Not until your homework is done,” Brin added in a mocking tone. She wagged a finger at her mom and puckered her full lips as if sucking on a lemon.

“You’re sevendable, too strict, you know.”


“I know, I know. Hide yer weescht the now, and I shouldn’t nae try to telt you how to be a parent.” Alice mumbled to herself, “God knows, I’ve only been upfeshin’ myself for nearly 40 years.”

“What was that last part mumbled under your tea breath?”

“Ock. Nothing. Come on give us a peck now would ya,” Alice extended her cheek to Brin who kissed it and smirked.

“So, how’s the cuik, last mother of the Auld World daying these dais?” Brin tried on her fake brogue.

“Ock, nae tae bad, I’m not greeting.”

“No, you never do,” Brin said absently and looked out the window behind her seeking her two sons. They were on the ground, wrestling.

“Brin, nae argy-bargy; let’s nae argue about tha’ ov all things.”

Brin got up from the table, her slender and tall body nimbly maneuvering table corners and microwave stands en route to the south window. She stood and peered out. “Mom, what’s wrong with you?” Brin said suddenly and without turning to look at her mother.

“Whatja mean?”

“You sounding like Robbie Burns on one of his Dundee drunks. You always get that way…all that Scottish slang…when you’re pissed off, or scared, or stressed out, or drunk. You’re not knackered are you?”

“What ya on about?”

“Raik yerself?”


“Come on, fess up: What’s going on here?”

“I saw yer Granny last night,” Alice said looking at her finger nails. Brin walked back to the table and sat down. “Granny?”

“Well, not here. But…,” Alice looked toward the ceiling.

“What…oh, in your dreams?” Brin said, and then laughed.

“What now? This laughing?”

“Oh, nothing. It’s just seems funny.”

Alice pushed herself away from the table and went to the kitchen sink. There, she looked out the window at the bushes and trees. The grey sky was cut as if slashed with a scythe. “It’s a bit scary to see ya Ma at the food of yer bed in the middle of the night.”

“She’s been dead for years.”

“God Almighty.”

“Did she say anything?” Brin asked coming up behind Alice. She placed her hands on her mother’s shoulders and squeezed lightly. “No,” Alice lied, “No, she just stood there. So, if yae don’t mind I’m in no mood to squabble.”

“Why not?” Brin teased as Alice left the sink and went to the stove to stir the boiling pot of soup.

“It’s only since you starting working again and, and that group, what’s it called womb or something.”

“Wow, mother. It’s called Wow: Women of Work.”

Alice knew it was Wow. She liked to get it wrong to appeared not at all interested in her daughter’s business affairs. Alice loved the way it infuriated her daughter.

“Well, anyways, you never seemed to care what I did for a living until you joined womb, I mean Wow.”

“A living?you call this, this isn’t living mother. It hasn’t been for a decade. It’s a sentence. Mother you could go to school, you could…”

Alice shot back, “You could, you could keep that trap shut young lady, I’m still your mother. I’m not some young impressionable school girl you’re talking to in a high school classroom. I brought you into this world, and by God, I can take you out.” Alice liked Bill Cosby, the last line was his and she’d always wanted to use it.

“And you know it’s more than just a group. For years I stayed at home while Joseph worked, I raised the children, I went to law school, and I got the job when Nathan and little Joe went off to school. I’m out now, I know the difference.”

“Kindergarten. Little Joe’s in kindergarten, not school.”

“Whatever, you know what I mean.” Brin sauntered back to the table and dropped herself onto the white seat. She stared into her tea cup as if reading leaves. There were no leaves.

“Didn’t Joe get a promotion lately?”

“You’re changing the subject, Alice. But yes, he’s district manager now. He’d got a cellular phone and everything now. He’s out here once and awhile you know.”

“And you’re the bleeding lawyer eh? Well, I can see where the man has really suppressed your right and freedoms under the Charter. Boy your generation just got the guts booted out of it. Jesus above.”

“Well, at least I’m my own person, I’m not Mrs. Frank Doyle.”

“That’s right, you’re not because I married your father.”

“And you married a patriarchal system than dates back to the slash and burn era.”

Alice turned and pointed her dripping wooden spoon at the Alder wood table. “This dates back to the lean year, the hardship in Scotland, not any slash and hash.” Alice return to the pot and dropped the spoon in the Cock-a-Leekie soup. She went to the table and grabbed her tea cup. She went to the sink and dumped her tea in the dishwater which was already grey. She looked out the window at the swaying tree branches. Such a view, obscured by the twisted branches. Alice had wanted to prune them long ago. Things had gotten wild, out of her control. Ghosts at her bedside, she sighed to herself.

“Slash and burn mother, but you know what I’m talking about,” Brin said from the table. She lifted a magazine and began to flip through the pages.

“Rubbish and turkey guts,” said Alice absentmindedly.

“Open your eyes, I’m talking about us. Having your own bank account, a driver’s license, a career, a hobby, Christ, anything that you can point to and say, ’That’s me.’”

Alice turned around and leaned against the counter. Staring at her daughter, she said, “Well, I’d point to you and say that’s me, but for now I’m not sure where or from whom you came from. Well, missy, let me refresh your memory, but ifing I, ifing mothers hadn’t stayed at home and raised the bairns, well, you wouldn’t be who you are.”

“Oh, the poor immigrant song. Such a sad and tragic ballad of bygone days. Mother that sort of thing happens only in Rankin Family songs and bad novels about Newfoundland. It’s history, it happened before I was born, don’t you think it’s time to do something for yourself.”

“Some people are placed on this earth to help others,” Alice said going over to the stove. She grabbed the wooden spoon and stirred the boiling soup. Wafts of steam flowed up and around her face. “God bless them. Others are here to be looked after and to have the time to complain to others that others aren’t getting what they deserve. Rumgumption?”

“What a load of…”

“Watch that mouth. You’re in my…”

Just then Little Joe burst into the kitchen. “Mom, Nathan’s pissing in the barn.”

“Don’t be a tattletale.”

“Hi Granny,” Little Joe, six, said running towards Alice. She put the spoon in the pot and threw open her arms. She gave him a big hug. Little Joe stood at her waist as she pulled two fruit rollups from her apron. “Gee one to Nathan. And telt him to stop pissing in the barn. He’s nae a goat.” Little Joe giggled, took the fruit rollups and scampered from the kitchen. He blew his mom a kiss and slammed the door shut.

“Brin, why do we always have to have this conversation? Can’t we just get together and talk about our children and our husbands like other women,” Alice said turning her attention back to the soup. She turned off the stove, flipped the scones and placed them in wax paper. “What’s gotten into you? Oh, I cherish the day that we just sit on the porch with a cup of iced tea and yak away the clouds and welcome home the moon.”

“But I don’t drink iced tea. Makes me pee too much.”

“You’re missing the point,” she said returning to the kitchen table. She sat down and picked up a pencil by its erasure end. She tapped the kitchen table with the pencil.

Brin grabbed the pencil from Alice and put it in her breast pocket. “Mother, it’s just that my eyes were opened. For years I had to stay at home because of society.” When Brin said “society” she exaggerated her voice and threw open her arms dramatically. “Now, women’s lives are being opened up because we’re aware of the alternatives, the choices, the work that can be accomplished.”

“I’d say your eyes have been pried open by feminist claws.”

Brin squinted, feigning hatred. “That’s ugly. I just want you to know of the options, Mother. You know, read Germaine Greer.”

“She wishes she had that baby.”

“Before that, read the stuff before that.”

“Oh, okay. Why?”

“It’s before they got to her.”

“They-Who?” Alice asked, sensing conspiracy.

“The establishment. You know the Masons, the World Bank, the Pope, the ultra conservative right wing nuts.”

Alice shook her head in disbelief. “To live and die, is that one of your options?”

“What the heck is that supposed to mean?”

“It means out here, at this point, women don’t have a choice, really. That choice was made years ago and by a different person than what might be standing before you now. You follow?”

For a brief moment Brin chewed on that thought. “What a bunch of turkey guts this is,” was all she could come up with.

“Just listen wee missy, listen for a change. You lawyers have cloth ears, really.” Alice cupped her dishwater-chapped hands behind her pink ears, brushing back her gray shoulder-length hair.

“Okay, the prosecution rests. Your witness.”

Alice adjusted her weight on the chair. “Do you want to check on the boys?” Squeals came from outdoors. The sky was grey streaked with dirty clouds trailing snow like a gown.

“No, they’ll be alright.”

Alice cleared her throat. “When your father and I were married. Wait.” Alice got up pushing off the table with her hands. She went into the living room and brought back a tartan-covered photo album. She opened the album up. Grainy black and white memories floated up into her face as if soup steam. Brin seldom looked at the album. Most of the people pictured in it were dead.

“When your father and I were married he was very sick.” Alice said and rubbed a photo with her fingertip as if touching a flower petal. “The doctor thought he was going to die, he had this high fever, he was dopey half the time and belligerent the other half.” Alice coughed and pushed the photo album to the lazy Susan. She sat down. “I thought he was just sick from missing the work. Frank was one of the Seventeen Men of Tain, the men who made the traditional malt, Glenmorangie in the Highlands. Here, there’s a picture of them: Ian MacLeod the stillman; Stuart Thompson the Copper; ah, there’s Archie Murdock the Mashman. Your father the greens man of the Great Glen of Tranquillity. He made sure Glenmorangie’s stream was always fresh, you know free of garbage and such. He walked the Tain from the town down to nearly the Dornoch Firth.” Alice sat quiet for a moment as if to let the image of her husband, walking a green, lush glen, seep into her imagination.

“He quit the distillery to marry me; you didn’t know that did you?”

Brin quietly nodded that she indeed had not known. She eyed the photos carefully looking for her nose, her eyes, her candor.

“Well, anyways, he had to quit.”


“Willy made him quit. No daughter o’ mine is marrying no booze-maker. Bunch a drunks,’ he said.”

Brin interjected, “I remember Papa too, from the picture, he was a big man.” She wiped a piece of lint off an out-of-focus photo of a man standing on a set of church steps.

“Towering. We moved from the highlands, said good-bye to Tain and moved to the city. Edinburgh. There was more work there, you know. So, I thought that once we got married he’d forget about the glen, the Sixteen Men of Tain they were called then, but sure enough a month into being man and wife, he starts in with the coughing and suddenly he’s bed-ridden. Doctor Ambrose, you remember me talking about him, the doctor on the bike, anyways; he says Frank needs a lot of rest and quiet. He’s stressed out and heartbroken.”

“Mother, no one…”

“Hide your weescht the now. So, he’s in bed and we’re making due on money we’ve gotten from my dowry and then I find this envelope. It?s stuffed with money?and Frank says it’s from the Sixteen. Well, I’m livid. No scotch-makers are going to keep Mrs. Doyle in frocks and fish. ’I’m gaeing tae work, we have tae, we need the money, and I’m nae using this,’ I told Frank with the envelope in my hand. “Ya nae Jenny Muck,’ he protested, but I won out. I gave the money to Sister Brownwyn just at the school off Kier Street, on the condition that twice a day a school girl came and fixed Frank a spot of tea in the morning and a wee shot of whisky in the afternoon. I was going to work.”

The incredulous look on Brin’s face gave her away. “Work? Mother, you never…”

“Weescht! Are you following me ya scapegrace ya?”

“Of course.”

“Well, there are things in life dear that are best invisible, backstage, quiet or what have you. So, I go see the widow Mary Hardie. She’d been a widow for about half a year and had been running the furniture repair store in the Grass Market all herself, so I thought maybe she could use a hand. Mine,” Alice said holding up her left hand. “I went to talk to her and she said no, right away.”


Alice’s stomach gave a loud grumble. “Want a scone before lunch?” she asked Brin, rising. Brin nodded that she wanted a scone. As Alice went to the counter where the scones were cooling on the wax paper, Brin flipped through the album of old photos. She recognized few faces. Wakes, there were pictures of wakes. Frank tipping back a glass. Alice in a field hockey uniform. Alice put two raisin scones on a plate. She put the kettle back on.

“Imagine that,” Alice said breaking the silence and continuing her story. “No, right away. I left the store disheartened, dejected and confused. I went for a spot of tea at a shop across the way. Well, no sooner into my brew and in walks Mary. She explains that after her husband died of polio, she’s determined to keep the place afloat. Tea?”

“Uh, sure, thanks. I’ll butter the scones, if you like.”

Brin mispronounced ?scones." Alice looked at her out the corner of her eye. “Right.”

Brin walked over the counter and buttered the scones looking at the trees in the back yard. “Summer’s over, and winter’s started already.”

“She’s pregnant,” Alice said pouring tea into two new cups.

“What!” Brin said reacted quickly almost dropping the scones. “I mean, who? Who’s pregnant.”

“Mary Hardie. Mary. She’s pregnant with a child and the father dead…”

“Oh mom,” Brin placed the butter knife in the dishwater, and then noticed the color of the water and drained the sink.

“I’m bothered to say the least. She lifts up her baggy kit and shows me her tummy. Again, I’m stumped. She muckle boukit and lady refurnishing chairs and stuffing sofas,” Alice said excitedly. “What a thought. ‘But, Mary said, it’s been real tough,’ the community has been shunning her. Women don’t work; remember this is Scotland in the 40s. So, for two, maybe three months she’s starving herself. Here’s your tea love.”

They return to the table and each picked up a scone. Alice sat back in her chair. “Sister Brownwyn brought her food. God bless her soul. She’s about to sell the store and give up, she knows a woman wouldn’t get much for the store, but she’s willing to live as frugally as she can with a baby coming?her only child. Then…” Alice began, but stopped to sup some tea. “Late one night she hears a knock at her store’s backdoor. In the dark, she scrambles out of bed and carries a hammer with her to the door. Peering through a wee window she sees not a person, no one. But there in the shadows is a chair. When she opens the door,” Alice motioned as if opening a door, “there an old ratty chair on the landing with a note attached to it. The note asks her to fix the chair and that in two nights’ time, payment will be at the same backdoor. She fixes the chair without any instructions. She cleans up the wood, and re-stuffs the seat and the back. She uses fresh staples and applies a coat of varnish to shine the chair up. She places the chair back outside…”

“And someone stole it, right?”

Alice chuckled. “Ah, no. The next night an envelope is pinned to her backdoor and inside is the money. Too much money in fact.”

“Sounds like a fairy tale the kind I put Little Joe to sleep with.”

Alice ignored the jab and continued, “There was something else there too that night: Two more chairs. and that’s how she planned on keeping the shop. Furniture repairs at night.”

“Probably from women in the Grass Market, the auld town, Sister Brownwyn.”

“No, I’ve saved the best part from you because I knew that’s what you’d think.”

“Oh, you’re so smart mother,” Brin said, her mouth full of scone and tea.

“Don’t talk with your mouth full.”

Brin swallowed and shook her head.

“No, it was a man, just one man. Peter Rose from over The Royal Mile, past the North Bridge Street, before St. Giles’. He’s a furniture repairman himself. Knew David Hardie when they were apprentices together in Airdrie. But he’s a very busy furniture repairman it seems. Since the death of David, everyone’s been taking their work to the man, Peter. He was a good man. At night he’d take the work he couldn’t get to and placed it at her back door. He still made money. He charged his customers more than what he paid Mary.

Brin liked the story, but was befuddled at the same time. She didn’t want to break the magic of the moment, but her lawyering got the best of her. “What does that have to do with you?”

“Mary said that if a man can help a woman in her time of need, albeit on the sly, then surely a woman can help another woman. She offered me a job as an apprentice. She said she didn’t want to just have me sweep the floors, she wanted me to learn a trade.”

Alice swallowed the last of her tea and winked at Brin.

“So you’re an upholsterer?what happened to father?”

“Well, soon enough word got around that I was working and making the scrub in the family and he at home sipping whisky and supping tea in bed. He was shamed back into health, so to speak. He got a job driving trolley. An old school chum, from Tain, in fact, he’d been in the militia with, boy they’re as thick as thieves, got him the job. So, late one night we stayed up and talked. He really wished I could continue to work, oh Brin, we were so poor in those days.” Alice stopped and turned from her daughter gaze.


“Gee, I remember that flat. The lousy plumbing, the wiring. My ma, Peg, always coming around barking orders at Frank. The wiring was crappie too. Turn on a light too quickly and the wire went phoof! But the furniture was always in good shape,” Alice laughed at the thought.

“But he was told by his rugby club that members couldn’t be kept men. They bothered him senseless.”

“How’d father react?”

“Well, missy, his connections at the club would really help him in the transit authority. So he politely asked me to consider leaving the furniture repair shop.”


“How could I not Brin? Mary was paying me, sure, but it wae pittance to what your father could making driving his Waverly route. Mary gave birth to a son and was recuperating at Sister Brownwyn’s insistence. The store would be closed for a month or two at that time. So, I stayed at home making suppers, making arm covers for our chairs and I really worked at the table legs of our dining room table.”

“Table legs? Why worry about table legs?” Brin wiped her mouth with a napkin and balled it in her fist. “Why? Table legs?”

“We had guests quite often, you know from your father’s work and well, the table was the only place where we all could sit around and talk?and drink. The table really had to be the best. Most of the time I draped a tablecloth over it cover the chewed-up legs, but as time wore on I was able to get the legs up tae a presentable look and left the tablecloth in the closet.”

“What happened when you immigrated? Didn’t you know things would be different here?”

Alice thought about this for a moment, recalling in grainy black and white the harbor, the first snows, the great prairie dawn.

“It was a combination of things really. We came over after your father had saved for five years. We scrimped. We were told there were lots of work, land and money to be made here. We didn’t know any better when we got here; we assumed it was just like Scotland.” Alice stopped and looked over her shoulder and through the kitchen window. Branches blew in the wind.

“I made a pact with God, Brin,” Alice turned and reached out to grasped her daughter’s forearm. “Brin, I made a pact with God that this had to be my work.”


“Yes, Brin, you and your father…” Alice said and stopped when she heard one of the two boys?probably Little Joe?crying. Brin toward the window.

“Come on,” Brin urged her mother and got up from the table. She got her jacket and put it on. Brin stuck her feet into her boots and didn’t bother to tie the laces. Alice got her parka from the cupboard and put on her husband’s large pair of white tundra boots.


“Over there luv,” said Alice pointing westward to the barn. “There’s Joe.”

“What’s going on here?” Brin asked as she walked briskly toward her two boys. Joe was standing at the corner of the barn; Nathan was in the trees nearby.

“Quiet mom, we’re chasing squirrels,” said Nathan not looking at his mother.

“Why is Joe crying?” Brin said grasping Joe by the shoulders. Alice looked into the woods. “Are you okay honey?” asked Brin turning her son around to face her.

“Nat’s going hurt the little squirrels,” Joe said his face red and hot from bawling. The boys’ room was full of stuffed animals that hung from the ceiling and sat on bookshelves and windowsills.

“Nathan, stop bugging the squirrels, you’re scaring your wee brother,” bellowed Alice. Brin turned to face her mother and said, “Hey.” She then turned her attention back to the woods saying, “Nathan stop bugging the squirrels, you’re scaring your brother.”

“Mom,” came the whine from the woods.

“Nathan, you heard me, no more. Feed the pigs or make a snow man.”

“The snows not compact enough,” Brin’s mother whispered from behind. Brin closed her eyes. “Feed the pigs,” she said to Nathan, and to her mother: “If that’s alright with you.”

“Aye, feed the pigs,” Alice, said to Nathan in her best grandmotherly voice. Nathan turned from the woods and bounded through the waist-high bushes to where his grandmother, mother and brother were standing. “Feed the pigs, what a blast that will be,” he said sarcastically.

“Just take your brother and mind your mouth, buddy.”

Nathan took Joe by the hand and they walked toward the pig shed across the yard and to the southwest.

Alice put her arm around her daughter to share her thoughts. “Being a bitch is hard work,” she said and smiled. “Come on,” Alice said and tugged Brin over to a bench outside the barn. From there they could watch Nathan and Joe.

“So the pact. You see I took him away from the glen, and into the city. Funny, but did you know Morangie is Gaelic for tranquility? Well, his dreams died, but he stuck it out with me and we started a family. There’s nothing wrong with that, there’s nothing dishonorable about being a mother, or a housewife. All women are working women, not just female lawyers in Reeboks. There’s the Jenny Mucks too!”

“Nice shot mother,” Brin said viewing the horizon, the prairie and endless vista of snow and blonde grass.

“This is dignity,” Alice said with a wave of her gloved left hand, “bringing up a family and helping one another through life. I want to be happy. I’m happy, really I am. You know what? Behind closed doors men can be fair. Mine is.”

Brin felt vaguely strange speaking about her father a as ?fair man,? but had to admit, “Joe is too, I guess.” They held each other in their sights for a brief moment.

“And that furniture repairman a long, long time ago. But why all this blather, all this worry for such a pretty and educated lass,” Alice said emphasizing the word “educated.” She said, touching Brin on the knee, “Why worry about me, about this cross women have tae bear?”

“Well, I just want us to have what we want and not be tied to a giant umbilical cord called marriage.”

Alice winced. “Oh dear, you know what?”


“A pleasant dinner, with everyone around the table. Nathan, Joe, Jr., Joe, Frank, Brin and me. That’s all I want. That’s all. It’s always fulfilling to see your work complete.”

“Well, not quite complete,” Brin deadpanned.

“What do you mean Brin, not quite complete?”

“I’m pregnant.”

A silence fell between them. Alice, shocked, listened to the branches moving in the wind. The sound of a cow. Nathan laughing.

Alice gripped Brin’s hand. “I’ll get the good china out and we’ll put a linen tablecloth on…”

Brin sighed. “Yes, and can we talk, all of us, about everything at the table. All out on the table.”

“Is there any other place? Sure missy, such good news, and you know what?” Alice’s eyes twinkled as if mired in mischievous schemes.

“What mother, what?”

“We’ll even let the table legs show.”

Brin nodded and walked back to the farm house, her arm threaded through her mother’s. Alice spoke to herself in a voice she reserved for her soul, and for visiting dead grandmothers, “Sometimes you have to show people what they’ve got to know, what they really need. Like sturdy table legs.”

“Yae Rumgumption,” she said out loud by mistake. She giggled and pulled her daughter in closer.

“Nathan! Joe! Time to come in,” Brin turned as they got to the door. “Come on, the wind’s picking up.” The boys obeyed and ran toward the farm house through the winter’s early, light, gown of snow.

The July sun shot through the south kitchen window as if a spotlight. Dust danced in the shower of intense summer heat and light. Alice walked in from outside, and mopped her forehead with a purple handkerchief. Brin followed, waddling, her hand atop her enlarged stomach.

“You alright in this heat? Sheesh a wee bit of the auld South Pacific breeze blowing through taeday. Nice for drinking ice tea on the porch, eh Brin?”

Cranky and tired, Brin replied, “Oh yeah mother it’s a blast.”


“Crazy witch.”

“Fatso,” Alice said through her clenched teeth frozen in a wide smile. Brin didn’t pick up the jab, much to Alice’s relief. The pregnant woman sat down at the kitchen table and began to flip through a People


“Ever read Neil Gunn’s ?Machinery,? mom?”

Alice was taking glasses out of the cupboard. “Is that the story about the passing of legends?”

“That’s the one,” Brin said looking up from an article on Seigfried and Roy. “I’m reading it while I’m pregnant, figure it’ll give it some Scottish brains by osmosis,” Brin added glancing down at her protruding belly.

“So, how are you feeling?

Brin, irritated said, “Mom, listen, I’m pregnant, I’m not a child. Geeze, would ya let up with the motherly smothering already. Christ, it’s so hot in here, geeze, this isn’t the Sahara, oh God,” Brin placed a hand on her sweaty forehead and closed her eyes. ?I peed in a field just twenty, oh my Lord; twenty years ago I was a long-haired hippie carrying a bible and a knapsack through Banff National Park. Now, I’m this bloated Zepplin having its third child. OHOHOH! Yes, let’s have some ice tea mom and a cold cloth if you don’t mind. Have I told you about ?Machinery??"

Alice was at the kitchen counter staring at Brin. “Are you in labor missy?” Brin nodded. “Just a few acrobatic twists and turns. I hope it’s working with a net.”

Alice poured iced tea into the glasses and brought them back to the table. Brin’s tastes were changing and iced tea had been added to the things she could now consume. Next to gerkins, cheddar curds and coconut flakes, iced tea didn’t at all seem strange to Brin.

“Well, whatever, remember I was telling you about Caroline.”

“The articling nightmare you said.”

“The articling nightmare. Yes. Yeah, well, she’s not too bad, in fact, she’s quite f-ing good…”


“In fact…” her daughter continued.

“Before we sail forth once more into the frothy prose of Mr. Gunn, slow down. Take deep breath and relax. Go have a bowel movement. Something. Just relax. Chill, as they say.”

“Slow down?”

“We’re not going anywhere, you’re not due for,” Alice got up and went to the calendar hanging by the refrigerator, “Oh, in a week.”

Absentmindedly Brin echoes her mom, “A week. She’s my replacement.”


“Art—uh, Caroline, that articling nightmare lawyer from the University of Waterloo or something?”

“Art? University of something, well, why don’t we just sit at the table awhile and get some relief from the heat. The sun’s a bleeding bowling ball today and we’re the puny pins. Rumgumption.”

Brin grinned and then sipped her tea. Her hair, sweaty and pushed off her face, made Brin look like Phyllis Dillar emerging from a wind tunnel. “Remember, mom, remember we talked, you know last fall, about having this baby.”

“It was stressful for you I know that now…”

“Well, it wasn’t that I didn’t want the baby it’s just that it’s sort of like that game we used to play on rainy days?Snakes and Ladders.”

“Aye, I remember. Snakes and Ladders.”

“Well, getting pregnant again after all that ladder climbing was like stepping on a snake. Slip, OOPS, down you go,” Brin said excitedly at the end of her sentence for dramatic-sake.

“It’s not like that at all. It’s not a disadvantage missy.”

“No, no, I realize that ? OH MOM!”


“Oooo. Just a wee drop kick from the kid. Either that or the honey cruller isn’t biodegradable.”

“A cruller?”

“Hey, I’m drinking iced tea, aren’ ? OHOHOH,GEEZ,OH, STOP IT AND WIPE YOUR NOSE YA LITTLE FOOL. OH THAT LOUSY BITCH IS GOING TO TAKE MY JOB!” Brin blurted out, knocking over her glass of iced tea with her manic and panic-riddled gesture.

“Brin, you’re going into labor, aren’t you,” Alice said nervously.

“Hysterics (pause) OH.”

“I’ll call Joe at work, hey, on his cellular okay. Just, just, ah, rest,” Alice said going for the phone. She didn’t really expect her daughter to relax. She could probably tear a New York phone book in half, with her teeth.


“Don’t move,” Alice said and dialed up Joe’s cell number.

“I ca-ca-ca-…”


Brin nodded.

“What’s your doctor’s name, Brin?”

GUNN, no I mean, Noyce. Dr. Elijah Noyce at the general. And Joe’s?WHOA!?Joe’s my husband, father of this child.”

“Breathe, breathe missy, like you showed me on the porch outside. Breathe in and out godammit!”

“I never did like you really, I just ? OHOHOHOH,” Brin said sarcastically and instantly forgetting about it as the pain wave ebbed and flowed in her belly.

Alice phoned the doctor’s answering service and then called Joe on his cell. “Righty-o. Joe’s on his way, he’ll be here real soon. In the area he is, in the area.”


“Ah,” Alice said looking around. She cleared the table with a sweep of her arm. She lifted the lazy Susan off the table and threw it at the sink. It missed and landed on the carpeted floor with a thud. “Up here missy, up her.”

“I’m not a dog!”

“Up here, missy!” Alice screamed and left the kitchen in a hurry. Brin gingerly stepped on the chair and then kneeled on the table. Slowly fearing she’d tip over she managed to move her body to allow her to fall back on the table. It was blind faith to which she threw herself on the table hoping it would not only hold her weight, but also hold her in place. It was a rather shiny table, she thought in midturn, amazing herself.


Alice returned from the living room, an old quilt bundled in her arms. “Mother, I’m boiling…”

“Here,” Alice said placing the quilt under Brin’s head and neck. “The table’s nice and sturdy, better than that lumpy old couch.”

“Remind me?OUCH?to? WOW?get you for?OHOHOoooo…this.”

“Now, just lay back and relax. Joe will be here any minute from town; the doctor will be all ready when you arrive. Shit, I wish the car was here. But then I don’t have a driver’s license, I should…oh, sorry dear, I was drifting.”

Brin winced in silence and turned toward Alice. “Mother, it’s just that I’m scared.”

“I know missy, we all are girl. We’re all scared just before we give birth,” Alice then stands up straight, “Scared of what?”

OHOHOH, SWEET MERCY ABOVE….I’m scared I’m going to disappear, I’ll just vanish, behind my children…”

“Have I vanished?”

“Snakes and ladders,” Brin said as if awaking from a dream.

“What?” Alice turned toward the window. A car was entering the yard. “Joe.”

Brin got up on her elbows with the help of her mother. Alice turned to Brin, “So do you know?” Brin shook her head. “This a snake or a ladder,” Alice said pointing at Brin’s stomach.

“It’s definitely a roll of the dice, isn’t it? OHOHOH

“But it’s nae a game, missy.”
“Maybe that’s wh?WOW?what I need to learn over again that getting wha?EWE?you want isn’t always a game and whether?OH?here comes my Joe. The thing is?OUCHGEEZE!!!!”

Alice wiped Brin’s forehead with her apron. “What’s the thing? Quick, before the man comes in. What?”

“It’s not whether (labored breathing) you win or lose, it’s whether ? EWEGEEZE ? you’re around or not?to have the game, I mean it’s all?about big people helping little people to become big people, but I always,” Brin fought back the pain and the pushing, “I always thought I’d make a difference.”

“I know.”

“Rumgumption,” said Brin as Joe burst through the door.

“Honey, we’re okay. Ten minutes, fifteen tops, to the hospital,” Joe said brushing his thinning black hair back over his head. His tie was undone and a pencil sat perched on his left ear.

“It’s like Machinery,” Brin turned to her mother.

“Yes, it is. When Art runs out scared?”

“We better get…? Joe began.

”And?WHOA?what happens if, if, I get lost…“

”Lost?" inquired Joe who came to the table to help ease Brin down. Alice brought Brin’s shoes over and together they helped her put them on. As they went out to the still-running car, Alice said, “We’ll find ya missy, don’t worry. Bring up your children like little pieces of yourself. Instill in them all your hope, justice and equality. Use them as your own personal bread crumbs out of the forest, and for the love of Saint Andrew, continue to be yerself.” Brin was lowered into the passenger seat. Alice wrapped the quilt around her daughter.

“Just because you’re a mother doesn’t mean you’re no longer a woman, Brin. Don’t let yourself get lost,” Alice said with particular stress on “yourself.”

“Breadcrumbs, mother, AHHH, Joe put the metal to the pedal now.”

“You can always follow the bread crumbs home..” Alice said but the car door had been slammed shut and she was staring at the tail lights of Joe’s car. “They always bring you back. Just like if you kiss the four walls of your home before leaving on a trip you are assured a safe return.”

Alice turned slowly from the trail of dust and walked slowly through the farm yard. Frank was in town picking up groceries and some supplies. He’d be home soon. Alice walked around the back of the house and entered the brambles, the twisted roots and branches of the farm’s brush. There, in the day’s blinding sunlight and her exhilaration, Alice called Peg and Annie out of the limbs.

They appeared before her, infused with fog, a twisted snare of branches. It was almost inaudible, but Alice heard them say, “Rumgumption,” in unison, “Rumgumption.”

Alice Doyle smiled.

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