Family Lines

stories for you

Tag: ghostwriting (page 1 of 17)

Where is Winnipeg?

Wong Nai Chung Reservoir Park.

Wong Nai Chung Reservoir Park

While visiting Hong Kong in May, my friend told me about a plaque near the start of a hiking trail that commemorated a Second World War soldier from Winnipeg. She suggested I go see it and so I took a taxi to the Wong Nai Chung Reservoir Park path. However, I couldn’t find the sign when I started out. What I did find were crumbling pieces left over from when Japanese forces overran Hong Kong’s defences. They were part of the Canadian soldier’s story.

“Take the trail with the wooden gate,” said my friend Digger. She had given me a map, too, showing the route I was supposed to take. When I got to the path via the taxi, I saw a wooden gate and a trail sign. So I went through it and started my trek.

The air was about 25 degrees and the humidity was high but I didn’t find it too bad. I was in the shade of the trees and there was a slight breeze. The path wound around water pipes tucked near a berm and there were men working on the reservoir every few metres. They stopped what they were doing to let me continue my jaunt.

There was a sign up ahead and I stopped at it.

“This must be the Winnipeg mention?” I thought to myself.

Indeed, the plaque said the Winnipeg Grenadiers were part of a larger force defending the valley. I had found the sign!

I walked on through air tinged with the scent of dead leaves and damp earth. It didn’t smell bad to me; it’s like an interesting spice. I followed the pipes as far as I could until I got to a fork in the road. There were three ways to go and no signs — and my map had none of the features I had encountered.

“Okay, I’ll continue straight.”

I did, until I came upon a Road Closed sign.

“Okay, I’ll turn back.”

I walked all the way back to the fork and decided I would go up the stairs. Up is always good.

On the ascent, the steep ascent, I came across two decaying structures. They weren’t sticking out of the earth or rock but out of concrete. What’s this?

Pillboxes that had been defended in the fight against Japanese forces. (Some Canadian troops were positioned in pillboxes in the area. I’m not sure if they were at these ones.) Japanese soldiers discovered these pillboxes and dropped grenades through the ventilation shaft, seriously wounding many. The Japanese eventually got control of the pillboxes but not before sustaining heavy casualties. (In fact, it was a company of Winnipeg Grenadiers that fought hard to keep its position and killed many of the enemy. So many, the Japanese forces didn’t believe they had been held off by only 50, mostly wounded, Canadians.

I was putting the pieces together. I was hiking in an area that had seen heavy fighting. These were battles I had never heard of in my time at school, and I was a history major. I kept going, following the faint trail.

Digger had said the terrain was challenging and it was. The path was overgrown and bushes were crowding in on me. I had a stick with me to clear the cobwebs away although some still managed to grab my face. The slope was straight up and I was scrambling to get to the top. The views were rewarding and I could see the harbour and the hills of Kowloon. I saw beautiful black and blue butterflies and heard enchanting bird songs. All while I was dripping in sweat.

I kept going…and popped out onto a well-manicured trail.

I had been on the wrong path the whole time. Where was I now? I asked a man hiking past that question and showed him my map. He said I should turn around and walk back. He was going that way so I tagged along.

Roland and I chatted along the route. He was retired and hikes around Hong Kong. He didn’t know where Calgary was but he knew lots of stuff about Canada.

“Do you know Osborn?” he asked. “From Winnipeg?”

“Oh, I’ve heard there’s a sign about him somewhere.”

“Here it is.”

The plaque was at the end of the trail (what would have been the head of the trail for me). The words have been worn down by the sun and heavy rains but what John Robert Osborn did will always stand out.

On Dec. 19, 1941, Company Sergeant-Major Osborn was with a company of the Winnipeg Grenadiers. They were stationed on the hillside being attacked that morning by Japanese forces. Under heavy fire and with no regard for his own life, Osborn guided Canadian soldiers to join the rest of the company.

In the afternoon, the fighting ramped up, leaving Osborn and other Canadians in the company isolated from their battalion. Japanese forces were now lobbing grenades at them and Osborn tossed them back. Then one landed out of reach. There was no way he could get to it and throw it back.

He used himself to protect the other men. He covered the grenade and was blown up with it. He died to save others.

I had heard this story of sacrifice before. It was a Heritage Minute in 2005. However, I didn’t remember the name of the man in the story. Now here I was, in Hong Kong, near the site of the heroic act, and I felt ashamed I had forgotten him.

Often, the Second World War is synonymous with Europe. To some people, the Asia war was far away. Yet, it isn’t — especially for those people who had loved ones fighting in the Pacific. I had a great-uncle who spent time as a Prisoner of War in Malaysia. One of my family friends saw photos of my Wong Nai Chung Reservoir Park hike on Instagram and asked if I had found her father’s leg. He had been a solider in Hong Kong during WWII as well.

I had been walking around Jardine’s Lookout, which has a fascinating history even before the Battle of Hong Kong. But that’s another story.

Hollywood Hong Kong

Re-tail therapy - shopcat.

Re-tail therapy – shopcat.

Looking out across Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong, I see lightening split the sky. It’s only noon but it’s as dark as a Calgary winter evening. I had hoped to be shopping right now but my friend, Digger, just texted and told me to stay in.

“Don’t go out in the storm,” she said. “Wan Chai can wait.”

I’m glad I listened to her because minutes later, the wind is easily plucking palm branches off trunks and the rain is as thick as a velvet curtain. It’s hard to see through it to the other side. Thunder is loud and shakes the floor of the apartment. I sit in front of the open patio door and watch as the storm takes over the city.

Nothing slows down in the tempest. Buses keep going. People keep walking. Vehicles splash through the new streams snaking down the street. Nothing is keeping this energetic city down. (Digger said when there is a typhoon warning, Hong Kong does stop. A tropical cyclone is comparable to a major snowstorm in Canada.)

Well, if the locals are out, I can go out too.

Digger had already taken me to Hollywood Road. Hollywood in North America connotes celebrities and movie stars. In Hong Kong, it’s a great place to find trinkets and antiques. It’s also dotted with art galleries and is home to a Man Mo Temple. The shrine is used to worship two gods, a civil/literature god and a martial god, by students. We visited the Sheung Wan area temple that was built as a place of worship in 1847. It’s now a monument and a popular tourist attraction.

After viewing the wonders of the shrine, Digger and I headed straight into the heart of Hollywood. Shops and vendors are lined up along both sides of the street. There’s so much to look at that I couldn’t stop from swivelling my head this way and that. There are pretty blue-and-white porcelain bracelets, animals intricately carved from mammoth bone, posters with Mao Tse-tung (Mao Zedong), the founding father of the People’s Republic of China, and other communist leaders saluting each other (to my horror), and so many other interesting bits and pieces and odds and ends of shelf life.

I didn’t buy anything the first time I went to Hollywood Road because I was waiting for Wan Chai. Wan Chai is a shopper’s paradise. It has anything and everything. It’s only a hop, skip and a bus ride away from where Digger and her husband live. My friend said I could get colourful china bowls and lovely iron dragon locks for cheap. (Well, cheaper than Hollywood Road.)

One Hong Kong dollar (HKD) is .17 to the Canadian dollar. Goods, like a decorative comb, start at 9 HKD (about $1.50 CAD). I get my cash ready for Wan Chai, got an umbrella and head out in the warm rain to the trusty Bus #15 stop. I don’t have to wait long before I’m hopping aboard and on my way to Wan Chai.

Oops.

I get off at the wrong stop and have to backtrack about ten minutes in the rain to the main shopping area. But even though the rain’s steady, it’s not cold.

I wander through the crowds, lifting up my umbrella to avoid hitting people in the face. My first stop is at the Wan Chai wet market. I had been warned about some of the smells. Digger said it could get rank at the wet market and the odours would hit me right in the face –  just like the umbrella of a passerby. However, it isn’t too bad. I’ve been other places overseas that were worse. Saying that, the air is pretty pungent, steeped in a ripe produce, ripe meat and wet spice smell, but it’s all part of the charm.

From the wet market, I head out onto the street. There are tiny shops as well as booths set up along the sidewalks. I saunter from stall to stall, looking for the best bargains and deals. There’s a lot of outlet clothing for sale from names such as Adidas and Ann Taylor. There are also a few no-name shops that have the most delightful skirts screen-printed with shimmering butterflies and flowers. However, when I stand in front of a mirror to see if a skirt fits, it’s yanked out of my hands by a shop clerk.

“No fit,” she says.

Then no buy.

I’m not really interested in clothing anyway. I’m interested in dishes. When I lived in South Korea in 1998, I used to buy delicate green ceramic bowls from women who would set up alongside a residential street. In Wan Chai in 2017, I have dreams about finding some of these beautiful treasures.

Alas, I never do — although I do find some brightly-decorated porcelain bowls and soup spoons to buy and send home as presents to my family. I start collecting a pile and add and subtract to it. There are many lovey patterns and colours and I’m finding it hard to choose. At last, I’m done. Now I have to pay up.

I had heard that I was supposed to barter in Wan Chai and I did. However, I guess I look desperate to keep my stash of pretty plates so I don’t get too much of a bargain…only ten HKD are dropped.

Strolling around in the rain, I go up and down and down and up and all around the Wan Chai market. I look at thing and touch things and buy a few things. The rain has tapered off and I decide to go downtown and try and find some beer to bring back for my husband. He’s a beer writer (on his down time) and I want to get him some local HK brew. Easier said than done.

I had googled beer stores before I left the apartment and found most places are delivery services instead of walk-in stores. I get that. HK is busy and traffic is constant and so it’s hard to jump into your car to grab a case of beer. It’s much better to have someone bring it to you. Well, I wished I had gone that route too.

I have the address of HK Brewcraft and I know (sort-of) where it is. I walk here and there and up stairs and then when I’m tired of climbing stairs, I go left and I’m in a school playground somehow. Dead end. (A lot of HK’s famous escalators were being repaired.) I continue up the stairs and then back down and over there and under that and.. is it in this apartment building?

I open the door to what I think is the small lobby of a family condo building. Hit the button for the elevator and get it. There’s the sign for the shop. Phew. I talk to the knowledgeable beer guy and get three beers for my man. Then, with my aching feet and bag filled with goodies, I go home.

A few days later, Digger and I head to Temple Market, a night market in Kowloon. I’ve been to a night market in Richmond, just outside of Vancouver, but the Temple Street Night Market is a different kind of experience. The Canadian night market is full of offerings of food while the Temple Street Night Market is full of electronics and counterfeit designer handbags: good quality counterfeits.

To get to the HK night market, Digger and I take the MTR (Mass Transit Railway – subway) to Kowloon, an area across the harbour from Hong Kong Island. (The MTR actually goes underneath Victoria Harbour.) The night market is more than purses and wallets, it’s fortune tellers and cards that when opened, show you worlds you’ve only seen in your dreams.

Don’t expect the vendors to be light and fluffy about their prices. Here, they bargain and bargain hard. I want to get six cards and Digger turns into my middle-woman. She barters with the seller to gets them down in cost. She also helps me secure a handbag. Thanks to her, I now tote a nice floral handbag all over Calgary. And it’s not a knock-off: it’s Kowloon original.

 

The French un-connection

Photo of a French woman.

Could this be Beatrice?

Beatrice,

Reads the start of the e-mail message sent to me.

Beatrice is not me.

J’ai essaye do t’envoiyer des photos de ton sejour avec nous il y a asse longhtemps maintenant et j’ai cru que tout alle bien, mais peut-etre pas!

(The gist of the note: I tried to send you photos of your time with us but they didn’t go through.)

Still not me. Nevertheless, I’m happy to read further down in the message that Beatrice sent a lovely card to the writer and she is writing back to thank her.

This isn’t the first time I’ve received an e-mail for Beatrice. It has been happening for many years. I’ve been privy to gossip and travel plans and even a weekly French clothing store newsletter, from which I unsubscribed after a month. (Although the clothes were tres chic.) When I started receiving Beatrice’s personal e-mails, I always replied to the sender:

Salut,

Vous avez la mauvaise adresse. Je suis une femme qui vit au Canada.
SVP, essayer une autre adresse pour Beatrice.

(Hi, You have the wrong e-mail address. I’m a woman who lives in Canada. Please use another address for Beatrice.)

Photo of a French woman.

Or is this Beatrice?

Usually the person e-mails back and says thanks for letting her know. However, once someone accused me of being Beatrice and told me I wasn’t being nice. If I wanted to cut ties, I should just say so. That was just a one-off thankfully.

Since most of Beatrice’s friends know to use her address now and not mine, I haven’t had any of her messages end up in my inbox in two years. Until yesterday morning. It was a surprise and kind of like hearing from a long lost friend. Except I have no real connection to this woman. The only tie we have is through an electronic address: not even a physical space.

I guess Beatrice and I have similar personal e-mail addresses. There are many stories on the web these days about mix-ups with people who have the same name. (There is another Lea Storry but she spells her first name differently. We were Facebook friends for a while.) While I was searching for some stories, I came across this website. It’s a U.S. site that tracks how many people have your name: first and last.

http://howmanyofme.com/search/

Pretty cool. I hope Beatrice gets her merci card in the mail.

Instant Hook Runner-Up

Slave River, NT.

Slave River, NT. This is where my story starts.

In November, I printed off the first 300 words of a novel I was working on and mailed it off to the Fourth Instant Hook Writing Contest. This past weekend, I found out that I’m a runner-up.

The Instant Hook contest gauges how well a writer can “hook” a reader in the beginning of an unpublished novel. Many of you know that if you’re not grabbed at the start of a story, then you’ll probably never turn the page. Authors have to make their words compelling and interesting and worth your time.

The competition was developed by Paul Butler, a writer and creative writer instructor in Lethbridge. Over one hundred first pages from across Canada were submitted to him. The winner is Bianca Lakoseljac from Ontario with her novel Where the Sidewalk Ends. I was a runner-up along with Shawna Troke-Leukert, an author from Newfoundland and Labrador, who wrote Forgive.

Paul said there were a large number of very strong entries this year and “the runners-up represent a small shortlist made up from a very good long shortlist.” My story, Me, You and Here, is about a couple who go on a canoe trip in the Northwest Territories. One of them doesn’t make it back.

  Me, you and here

At first, there was only a sprinkle of rain. Now it’s an angry storm. Rain pours from the sky. Thunder shakes the earth. Lightening slashes the clouds in half and the wind whips the lake into a frenzy. The only thing we can do, you and I, is get off the water.

There’s nowhere to hide on this rocky and wild shore. There’s no dock to pull up to and no warm cabin to keep us dry. There are only millions of trees reaching for the tempest and rejoicing that it’s rain, not snow, falling in the middle of the northern bush.

I’m not sure who suggested turning over the canoe for shelter – you or me? I think it was me. Once I got stuck in weather like this with my family when I was little. My dad paddled us to shore and we all hid underneath the boat until the pelting rain stopped.

That lake is thousands of kilometres away from this one. That lake is much, much closer to civilization. Unlike here, where no one would ever find us if something went wrong.

This morning had dressed as a sunny day. No dark clouds had threatened our journey. No signs of anything to impede our way. Except for your shadowy face. I didn’t dare ask what was wrong this time. We had miles to go and not hours to wait while you explained to me what I did or who I wasn’t.

We had planned this trip years ago. When we were both younger and more energetic and… happier? I put a question mark beside “happier” because I can’t answer that for you. I only know I was happier. I could be happy now too. If I knew you would stay with me.

Heading south – to Nashville

Trying on cowpoke boots and hats in Nashville.

Trying on cowpoke boots and hats in Nashville.

I headed south last week with a group of Calgary friends. We didn’t go to Mexico or Florida or the Caribbean. We went to Nashville, Tennessee — the first time for all of us — where we listened to some music, did some dancing and heard some interesting stories from the past (and created some new ones too).

Nashville is known as the capital of country music and it’s also the birthplace of its country cousin, bluegrass. Bill Monroe, Earl Scruggs, Lester Flatt, Chubby Wise and Howard Watts popularized the American roots music in the mid-1940s. The genre supposedly got the name from the four musicians who formed a band called Blue Grass Boys.

One bluegrass song I know is Cripple Creek. We had to sing it in music class while at Gaspereau Elementary in Nova Scotia. I don’t remember the following verse being included in the lyrics.History of blue grass sign.

I went down to Cripple Creek
To see what them girls had to eat
I got drunk and fell against the wall
Old corn likker was the cause of it all 

Things weren’t as strict in school in the 1980s but I don’t think any parent wants his/her child trilling about being half-cut.

Printers Alley is a little side street in downtown Nashville. It doesn’t look like much but it’s full of alcoves with doors set in them that lead to adventure. In the 1800s, the area was home to newspapers, print shops and publishers. When the printing presses weren’t in use, the workers would meet in the street and the alley became a meeting place.

Printers Alley sign. In the 1940s, Printers Alley turned into a mecca for liquor (when the sale of booze was prohibited) and entertainment. Today you can buy wine or vodka or have a pop and catch up with friends, like I did with a buddy from Nova Scotia who lives in Tennessee. He filled me in on what’s happening with his family as well as former university schoolmates who I haven’t thought about in years.

Food is always a big part of a trip. I tried grits for the first time. Gone with the Wind is one of my favourite books and Scarlett and co. ate a lot of stuff I had never heard of before. Collards, salt pork, hominy and grits are part of Southern Cuisine. Before having grits at Biscuit Love (where we had to stand in line for about 45 minutes), I thought grits were fried lumps of dough. They are not. They’re like porridge made from cornmeal. I think the fried lumps would have been tastier. My grits had cheese in them and I didn’t like the slightly salty flavour and the coarse texture. The biscuits, however, were amazing.

Haunted bar?

The Honky Tonk Pub Crawl took us to historical spots with historical stories (as well as a shot or two). We were regaled with tales about musical legends, pioneers, brothels and visited a haunted bar where a man (it might have been a woman) may have been pushed out of a top floor window by a ghost (or rum vapours?) Nobody knows.

I know that my time in Nashville is now the stuff of legends. My friends and I have good memories of the place and will laugh about the good and the bad and the Southern for years to come.

Flight path

This is the first page of The Raven named Flight and How She Learned to Fly.

This is the first page of The Raven named Flight and How She Learned to Fly. Click on the photo for a better view.

Flight has flown all the way to Yellowknife! The Raven named Flight and How She Learned to Fly is available at the Northern Frontier Visitors Centre. On her way, she stopped in Enterprise and copies of her book can be found at Winnie’s Dene Art Gallery and Gift Shop.

The Raven named Flight and How She Learned to Fly

Flight is a young raven born in Fort Smith in the Northwest Territories, Canada. She loves her family and hanging out in their comfy, cozy nest. When it comes time for Flight to spread her wings, she first has to overcome her fear of flying.

Ebook: http://bit.ly/2hCFIxI

Frozen in time: lives behind photos

My grandmother as a toddler with her aunty, Scotland around 1924.

My grandmother as a toddler with her aunty, Scotland around 1924.

The little girl in the photo on the left is three years old. She’s my grandmother. The child’s joy with being outside with her aunty is frozen in time. But the 94 year-old’s memories of that moment are fresh in her mind.

I took the photo and restored it as best I could. I covered the holes, brightened the image, framed it and then gave it to my grandmother last September. She smiled and smiled and smiled when I handed it to her and she couldn’t stop looking at it.

My paternal grandmother lives in Thunder Bay and I don’t see her often. We talk on the phone and correspond through letters but nothing beats seeing her in person. Nothing beats being able to hear stories and ask questions and more questions and see her eyes brighten when she tells me about her past.

The story behind this photo starts in Scotland. Grandma was playing with her Aunt Elise Booth, a favourite relative. The picture was taken three miles from Huntly, in Aberdeenshire, at the farm where my grandmother lived with her parents. Beyond the haze of the photo are trees and a church and an ice cream shop run by Italians were grandma used to get sliders: ice cream sandwiched between cookies. Beyond the photo are scenes of life and living long gone — but alive to my grandma.

Then, she spoke English in a “Scotch style,” a Scottish dialect.

“Foo are ya the day?”  How are you doing?

She had quite the accent when arriving in Canada at age 7. She won a public speaking contest at her little school in Saskatchewan but lost at the regional event. The Saskatoon judge marked her down for her brogue.

On her Canadian farm, grandma was needed for the thrashing in September. She didn’t work outside with the threshing: 12 men did that hard work. She was in the kitchen in the heat of cooking and baking non-stop. Breakfast was at five in the morning and that meant she had to fry potatoes and bake ham. There was also a lunch in the morning, around 11. Dinner was at noon: meat, more potatoes and pie. Grandma says sometimes a man would eat a quarter of a pie. At 3 in the afternoon, sandwiches and big squares of cake were sent out to the field with coffee in the cream can. At 7, supper was served. Grandma says food tasted better back then.

This is the original photo. I restored it by covering the holes and making the image brighter.

This is the original photo. I restored it by covering the holes and making the image brighter.

Back then, my poppa wasn’t allowed in the delivery room when my uncle and dad were born: delivered by their grandfather, who was a doctor. Grandma and poppa and the boys moved from Saskatchewan to northwestern Ontario where my dad grew up. Where my grandma is today.

When I talk to grandma she opens up another world to me. It’s a world my ancestors walk in. I’m the link between their world, grandma’s and mine. Without her stories, they would fade away.

Shared stories

ebook cover.

Cover by Eveline Kolijn.

Stories bind us. Words tie society together with strands of familiar narratives and shared experiences. Not all stories are happy ones but there’s value in listening to how people are dealing with tough times. You may also learn others are more like you and me than you know.

I heard a lot of these types of stories when I was a volunteer artist facilitator for This is My City Calgary Art Society (TMC). TMC is a not-for-profit organization that brings art and people together no matter what income bracket or social status.

The following is a story I wrote a couple of years ago after a memoir writing session at the Calgary Drop-in and Rehab Centre.

Shared stories

Today only two participants showed up for my last life writing workshop at the Drop-In Centre. Two regulars. Four other people were in the same space painting and drawing and playing the piano.

I was disappointed one man hadn’t made it to my class. He had been to the three other sessions and was an active learner. He asked a lot of questions and even wanted homework, which he always completed. I asked the other writers where the man was.

“Cheques are out,” one participant told me. “He usually disappears for a while after he gets his money.”

At first, it was a let-down that the man was missing the class. I liked him and having more than two people in my workshop made the low numbers easier to handle. Nevertheless, I gave my lecture like I have the other times. The two men were just as interested in what I had to say and asked questions. They took part in the writing exercises and wrote interesting and compelling memoirs. It was a lesson to me about numbers and participation. Even though there weren’t many people, two people wanted to learn. Wanted to write. And now have stories to share.

A collection of stories by the authors above as well as Alpha House and the Women’s Centre is now available for sale: http://bit.ly/2jHfyvu Profits from Voices in the Wind fund TMC artistic workshops: http://bit.ly/2k4Wymv

Oh Canada

Canadian flag and US flag.There’s been uproar in Canada over what’s happening to our neighbours – the almighty and powerful United States of America. What their new president is doing is abhorrent and nonsensical and as my husband paraphrases Trudeau (Pierre, that is), “We’re the mouse beside the elephant.” However, it’s bothering me that many Canadians are taking an active interest in politics stateside while there are issues in our own country that need voices. Now.

The local Calgary news, my Facebook feed, Twitter and so on are full of anti-Trump rhetoric, calls for protest and moves to avoid the U.S. – all by Canadians. It’s valid to be upset by the megalomaniac living beside us and concerned for our American friends. But why not focus some of that energy on issues at home? Here are two major challenges Canadians should be speaking out about.

Some First Nations and Inuit communities are in the midst of a suicide crisis: it’s a catastrophe for Canada. An investigation done by The Toronto Star found the federal government has done little to help. Federal, provincial and territorial governments should be offering ongoing support or solutions – rather than simply reacting during emergencies. Say something about this, Canada.

Homelessness still exists in our country. According to The State of Homelessness in Canada 2016 (Stephen Gaetz, Erin Dej, Tim Richter, & Melanie Redman (2016): The State of Homelessness in Canada 2016. Toronto: Canadian Observatory on Homelessness Press.), 35,000 Canadians are homeless on a given night. 235,000 Canadians are homeless at some point every year.

These are men, women and children who are our neighbours. A national housing strategy could help end homelessness and one of the recommendations is for our government in Ottawa to adopt a national goal of ending homelessness with clear and measurable outcomes, milestones and criteria. Let’s make the call, Canada.

Of course there are issues beyond our borders that are important and require attention and immediate action. But a danger of turning our thoughts away from home is allowing a Trump-alike to sneak past us and into the lead of the federal Conservatives. If you’re wondering what I’m doing about the above concerns, ask me. If you’re Canadian and you raised your voice about Trump – raise your voice for Canadians too.

Respond, Canada.

Lost Andy

Andy talks and talks and talks. Talks and talks. Then talks some more.

“At school we painted pictures,” he says.

“I can make super-sonic laser beams come out of my eyes.”

“Can I take Jasper out for a walk?”

Andy is annoying me with all his talking. I want to tell him to shut up but I won’t. He’s only seven years old.

Andy is my foster brother. He stays with my family on weekends. Mom and Dad decided to become foster parents since all their kids have grown up and moved away for university. I admire the fact that my parents are doing something for children who need help and love but it’s Christmas. I don’t want Andy around. I want my Mom and Dad all to myself because I’ve been away for four months and have a lot to tell them.

Andy never stops chattering. He follows me around telling me about his latest ninja adventure.

“Me and the ninjas hang out a lot. We just went and beat up some bad guys real bad. They’ve got blood coming out of their noses,” he says.

Andy’s mum doesn’t like him. In fact, she hates him. She never asks how school was or looks at him or kisses him goodnight.

He likes coming to our house because we don’t hit. He said that once. He likes coming to our house because we don’t ignore him. He said that too.

A friend and I were catching up during that same holiday Andy was part of my family. After Katherine and after our coffees, we found a kitten behind the café. It was a freezing cold Saturday and it took a long time to capture the baby. Every time Katherine and I got close she would dart into the brambles.

I managed to catch her when she climbed a tree and was too weak to get very far.

I put the kitten in the car and she howled all the way home. She was starving and wild and scared. At my house I gave her some warm milk and mush to eat. I cleaned her up and she’s beautiful. She tried to snuggle into my collarbone. She looked up at me asking for love with her enormous eyes. She made me cry. She made me put Andy into perspective.

Andy is like the kitten, abandoned and scared. He wants attention and love, except he’s not cute and cuddly. He’s a skinny little boy. He can’t fit into the nook of my shoulder. So he talks constantly to get people to notice him, even if all they’re going to say is be quiet.

After this revelation I try to be nicer to Andy. We walk through the woods together. I show him how to play the piano and how to build a house out of Lego. But he still keeps talking.

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