THE SEARCH FOR EL DORADO

by Ken Puddicombe

A search for El Dorado results in 283,000 hits in Google!

Including El Dorado Rum (famous in Guyana and North America); El Dorado Park; El Dorado hotels and numerous resorts; Movies set against the backdrop of a search for El Dorado. There is an El Dorado park in Brampton, Ontario, Canada. Even El Dorado Cannabis seeds now in the 21st Century!

The search for wealth and riches goes on, as it has from the very inception of the legend in the early 1500’s when Spanish conquistadores heard tales of an Amazonian king who often coated his body with gold dust and was showered with gold and jewels by his subjects. El Dorado—Spanish for Giilded One is the appropriate name the Spaniards came up with. As legends often do, this one swiftly developed from its embryonic stage to one where the entire country in the legend was paved with gold. Over the centuries that followed it attained a life of its own and has been used generically for any place that promises vast riches, abundance of wealth, or opportunity. It is also the name of actual cities in the Americas, like Kansas and Arkansas—Marketers love to use the myth!

England’s famous Sir Walter Raleigh is often the name most associated with the legendary city of gold. His objective of finding the city of El Dorado, which he suspected was an actual city named Manoa on Lake Parima in the highlands of the Guianas, led him on his first expedition in 1595. He didn’t succeed in his quest for gold and in the following year 1596 he sent his lieutenant Lawrence Kemys back to the Guianas in the area of the Orinoco River to explore further for the lake and mythical city. Again, Kemys didn’t find gold but his voyage resulted in a valuable mapping of the area with geological and botanical reports of the country, along with a sort of enumeration of the Amerindian tribes. This would prove invaluable for future British colonial aspirations.

Sir Walter Raleigh

Raleigh’s trip was followed by a number of other explorers, determined to find this mythical city of gold, most notably the Harcourt brothers, Robert and Michael who sailed for Guiana in 1609 and took possession of the area between the rivers Amazon and Essequibo (the Cinderella County western-most in what is now Guyana and bordering Venezuela which has laid claim to most of Essequibo) in the name of the English King, James VI. This would establish British claims to the area and prove invaluable in later conflicting counterclaims by Spain and its colony Venezuela. These claims exist to current times. Sir Thomas Roe made a similar trip in 1611 in search of lake Parima—sailed up the Amazon for approximately 320 kilometres but found no city lined with gold.

Lake Parime on a map by Hessel Gerritsz (1625)

Raleigh was determined though, convinced that the city existed, and he mounted another expedition in 1617, with his son Watt Raleigh and his lieutenant Kemys. But time was against Raleigh—he was 65—fairly old for that era and he remained in camp on the island of Trinidad while Kemys and the younger Raleigh went on. In this expedition, Watt was killed by Spaniards while Kemys committed suicide later. The older Raleigh didn’t fare better on his return to England as he was beheaded in 1618 by King James for acting contrary to orders to avoid conflict with the Spanish.

But the search for mythical city of El Dorado predates Raleigh by almost a century. At the heart of it is a rite-of-passage ceremony by the Muisca peoples of Central Columbia, as written by different Spanish chroniclers who arrived there in the early 16th century. They wrote about this ceremony of El Dorado where, when the selected new leader, typically the nephew of the previous chief, would go through a long initiation process ending with him heading out on a raft on the sacred water like Lake Guatavita in Central Columbia. In this ceremony, the heir stripped naked and covered with mud and powdered gold, would make offerings of gold objects and precious stones by throwing them into the lake. Around the lake, richly adorned spectators played music and committed to allegiance to the new leader, shouting approval from the lakeshore.

Image: a sacred offering to the Gods. British Museum

In the century following Raleigh’s execution, Europeans continued to probe the existence of the famed city of gold. The English crown was not left behind in these endeavours. 1627 saw two Englishmen, North and Harcourt obtaining letters patent from Charles I and forming a company to create the Plantation of Guiana and the start of trade between the new colony and mother England. In the following decade, two monks, Acana and Fritz journeyed to what is now Roraima in the Guianas but found no evidence of El Dorado for their efforts. The Dutch refused to be left behind and they commissioned Nicholas Horstman, a German surgeon with Dutch assistants to travel up the Essequibo River where he discovered Lake Amucu in the North Rupununi. Spanish governors sent Nicholas Rodriguez and Antonio Santos between 1775-1780 up the Caroni River where they reached the Pakaraima Mountains. By the end of the century famed explorer Alexander von Humboldt did his own surveys of the Guyana river basins and lakes and concluded that the seasonally flooded confluence of rivers was probably what had inspired the mythical Lake Parima and the golden city of El Dorado on its shore. And none of these explorers found any gold.

The legend continues…

POSTSCRIPT: The price of gold today: $2,560 (CAD) ounce. A premium bottle of El Dorado 750ml 50-year old rum cost over $6,000 (CAD). At 25 ounces this works out to $240 an ounce. Gold still holds its lustre!

SOURCES: Wikipedia; British Museum

Dave Moores -Author

Author Dave Moores

Raised in Bristol, UK, Dave Moores secured a place at Cambridge University where he took a degree in Philosophy. Since prospects for a lucrative career as a philosopher were non-existent, Dave’s interests quickly took a hard turn away from liberal arts to technology, resulting in a Diploma in Electronic Engineering from British Aerospace College. His inclination to write was sparked soon after by a short story contest in the industry journal Airframe.

Dave has long enjoyed a passion for competitive sailboat racing. One evening after a race, his crew of spirited ladies suggested he write a story based on their adventures and personal anecdotes. The writing gene was reactivated and the result was Windward Legs, Dave’s first novel, set in the sailing milieu of Ontario’s Golden Horseshoe and much enjoyed by the sailing crowd.

Attitude is Dave’s second novel. His third, Sparkles and Karim, set in Iraq during the ISIS incursions, is coming along.



Dave, thanks for taking the time to do this interview for my readers. I’d like to talk about your new book ATTITUDE just released in September 2020 in addition to general questions about your writing.

KP. You’ve said, in your Bio, that your “inclination to write was sparked by a short story contest in the Industry (Aerospace) journal Airframe.” Can you tell us more about this science-fiction piece?

A. It was about a man who invents a newfangled flight simulator using recently-discovered antigravity technology. A bad guy shows up to kidnap him for his unique knowledge but our man finds a way to get him into the machine, crash it, and kill him. It wasn’t bad.

KP. What do you read, generally, in terms of genre and authors?

A. I read quite a bit of commercial fiction by writers whose work I enjoy as writing: John Sandford, Lee Child, that kind of thing.

KP. Can you tell us what authors and books have influenced your work to date?

A. That’s hard. I am a huge fan of Martin Cruz Smith. His stories and his writing are top of the heap, his writing is a joy to read and an example to try and live up to. Some hopes!

Another author whose writing I greatly like is John Grisham. His novel Camino Island is all about writers and writing and it’s a lot of fun. And one of the things I like about Grisham is that he manages to make a bit of dry humour work even when things are getting scary.

KP.  How long did it take to write ATTITUDE? Has writing gotten any faster and easier for you since its completion and publication?

A. I started playing with Chapter 1 as a short story three years ago and it went from there.

KP.  ATTITUDE is described as a YA novel, and seems to be quite a departure from Philosophy and Aerospace. What took you down the path to write a YA novel?

A. I have always been a reader of fiction, right back to the classic James Bond novels of the 1960’s. And I always felt huge admiration for anyone who has the focus, determination and inspiration to actually finish a novel. I have been a competitive racing sailor for many years and one evening after a race, my crew of lively women – don’t ask me how that happened, I have no idea – suggested I ought to write a novel using all their anecdotes about life and sailing. From that sprang my first novel Windward Legs, a sometimes racy story about a woman who sails and is trying to put her life back together after a bad breakup. Well, to my surprise I got it finished and they really liked it!

I did not set out to write a YA novel. I simply wanted to write about this kid in a small town getting into scrapes with his buddy and then having to deal with bad stuff. So I guess it’s YA but a lot of adults really like it too!

KP.  Is there a favourite among all the chapters in ATTITUDE? Why is that?

A. That’s another hard one! I guess Chapter 1 because, written initially as a short story, it grabbed be and pulled me forward into the novel. I’m also quite proud of the chapter where Lyle has to risk death in a freezing tunnel to save his buddies.

KP.  What was the hardest chapter to write in ATTITUDE? Why was that?

A. Nothing stands out. I pretty quickly came to really know my characters and they just pulled me along.

KP. Has your pursuit of Philosophy and training in electronic engineering helped your writing? If so, how?

A. Disciplined thinking, I guess, and clearly expressed thought without ambiguity or waffling.

KP. It’s seems as if you’re a big believer in one of Elmore Leonard’s Ten Rules for WritersIf it sounds like Writing, rewrite it. Are there other rules of his that you follow?

A. ”Try to leave out the parts readers tend to skip”. “Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.” “Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said” . . . he admonished gravely.” They’re all good rules but these are the ones I always try to follow.

KP. ATTITUDE is set in the small town of Southmead, Huron Country. Can you tell us how you settled on this particular location for your book and its relationship to a real town that you might have based it on?

A. I have vacationed in Huron County a number of times and the small towns there have a certain feel of isolation I believed I could reproduce in my story.

KP. What kind of research did you do for ATTITUDE and how much time did it take? What were your sources?

A. Oddly enough, the only bit of research I recall was to check on the size and structure of a small-town police force in rural Ontario. Like most writers I suppose, I do research for authenticity, not inspiration.

KP. How did you arrive at the names for your characters in the book? Is there a science behind this or are names chosen randomly? Is there a connection between names and characters?

A. Lyle and Garth are the first names of country singers. I thought they might work in this setting. They seem to. I try to pick names that don’t sound alike, so as not to confuse readers. Marigold and Laura, for example. And for the bad guys, Billy, Mitch and Brad, I picked names that seemed to work for small-town lowlifes. I didn’t think Theodore or Augustine would work, though I suppose they might have. 

KP. We all need heroes. Tell us about some of the protagonists in your books. Is there real-life inspiration behind them?

A. Honestly, no. They’re all mine.

KP. What was the most difficult part of YOUR artistic process in completing the cycle for ATTITUDE and other books?

A. I’m not a fast writer. I like to go over what I wrote the day before and clean it up, find inconsistencies and so forth. But once I can see a clear path to a conclusion I like, I get motivated to push on and get it done to see if it will be as great as I picture it.

KP. Is your approach to writing one that encompasses a formula that might meet your reader’s expectation, or do you write what you know is the correct way?

A. Attitude loosely follows a well-known template called “the Hero’s Journey.” In twelve stages it suggests a pattern to follow to structure a compelling story. Many Iconic heroes follow it: Luke Skywalker, Harry Potter, Frodo. It seems to have worked this time for Lyle!

KP. Do you ever consider writing ATTITUDE under a pseudonym? If so, why? If not, why not?

A. No way. I’m proud of the story and want my name on it.

KP. Did you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people would know of?

A. Not in Attitude. In Windward Legs there’s quite a bit of sailing knowhow.

KP. What do you think are the most important magazines/journals for aspiring writers to subscribe to?

A. I don’t read any.

KP.  Have you been on any literary pilgrimages? If so, which and what did you gain from that pilgrimage and would you recommend pilgrimages to other authors?

A. Nope. Never been.

KP.  Can you think of any, what you might consider a favourite under-appreciated book? If so, what is it and why do you think it’s under-appreciated?

A. Aha, another hard one. Back to Martin Cruz Smith. His Novel Rose, set in the English coal mining town of Wigan in the nineteenth century, is not universally liked by some reviewers who nitpick at detail and miss the brilliance of the writing and the cleverness of the story. For me it’s a top-ten read.

KP. What do you consider the mark of success for a writer? How does s/he know s/he’s been successful?

A. Getting published in the first place. Most don’t.

KP. You’ve a number of strong female characters in ATTITUDE. What was the most difficult stumbling block for you in writing those characters of the opposite sex and how did you overcome them?

A. For whatever reason, I don’t find it hard to write women. My female beta-readers say I do it well and help me out if I stumble. Hence Alice in Windward Legs and Sparkles in my work-in-progress Sparkles and Karim.

KP.  What do you think are the most common traps that upcoming writers encounter, and how could/should they overcome them?

A. Not giving yourself permission to write a crappy first draft. Trying to put a message across instead of writing a good yarn. Not liking/trusting your characters to take the story forward in unexpected ways.

The best way, in my experience, to overcome these mistakes is to read a lot and join a writing class/group to get feedback from other aspiring writers.

KP.  Do you think someone could be a writer if they can’t feel the emotions of their characters? Why?

A. No. Because if you don’t feel their emotions how do you expect your reader to?

KP.  Assuming you always think there’s room for improvement, what’s your approach to becoming a better writer?

A. Keep writing and keep getting feedback.

KP. If it’s not giving away any trade secrets, what’s your next project / What are you working on now?

A. A novel set in Iraq in 2014 at the height of the ISIS incursions.

Sparkles, a fighter pilot, and Karim, an agent planted inside ISIS by the CIA, break away from their assigned roles. To atone for their insubordination they find themselves forced to team up on a risky mission, posing as an ISIS couple. Disliking each other initially, they face betrayal and the horrors of jihad, only to discover that they have more in common than they first believed.

KP. If you were to pass on one particular piece of advice to an upcoming writer, what would it be?

A. Don’t over-think. Press on with your story. Get that crappy first draft done! That in itself is a huge confidence-booster.

KP. If you had to do it all over again, would you change the plot and outline of ATTITUDE? If so, why or why not?

A. No, I would not change it. I made plenty of changes along the way but I’m very happy with the final result and the reviews I’m getting.

KP. What is your preferred method to have readers get in touch with or follow you (i.e., website, personal blog, Facebook page, Goodreads, etc.) and link(s)?

EMAIL: dmoores@cogeco.ca

David Moore’s latest book is obtainable from Amazon with this link:

UNFATHOMABLE AND OTHER POEMS

UNFATHOMABLE, My first collection of poems, follows three prior works: Racing With The RainJunta and Down Independence Boulevard And Other Stories

Poems by Ken Puddicombe

Available on Amazon

These poems cover a variety of themes, all connected to a childhood growing up in British Guiana, the rise of nationalism and the pre and post independence eras.

Nostalgia and yearning for a time long gone and never returning, are explored in poems like Going Back,  Middle RoadCountry Life, and Echoes In My Mind, in which the author evokes memories of the suburb of La Penitence.

The rise of nationalism, the period of disturbances in the 60’s and resulting dislocation are reflected in poems like The RefugeeThe Ants Nest and Colonial Mentality.

Heritage: I Am What I AmThe IndenturedMatavThe Crosby PaperSomaria and Train Mie all delve into the complications and implications of a mixed heritage from which one can never escape and which define many of us. 

Return to Little England by Enrico Downer

Return Little England 20190808_101450

BOOK REVIEW

Return to Little England

A Love Story…and more

Copyright 2019 By Enrico Downer 262 pgs

Published by KDP Independent Publishing

Review by Ken Puddicombe

Author of Racing With The Rain, Junta, and Down Independence Boulevard And Other Stories

In Return to Little England, Enrico Downer’s fourth book, Victor West returns to Barbados on a quest to take his mother’s ashes for burial in her native soil, in keeping with her wishes and, “he feels compelled to spend the rest of his days in the same chattel house close to his mother’s ashes.” In life, Wilhomena West clearly had an overwhelming impact on her son and in death she continues to chart a path for him to follow: “…some inexplicable magnetism seemed to be pulling him back to the spot where he had enshrined his mother’s ashes.” Will Victor also eventually end up with the woman she had earmarked for him?

Resentment thrives in the book, from all sides. In a farewell thrown by his company, an African-American tells him: “I never did like West Indian people…you people come here to my country and…you wanna take over…” Victor faces this dislike because he’s come to America and succeeded. But when he returns to Barbados the young immigration officer chides Barbadians for leaving in the first place: “Maybe they shoulda stayed home an’ put their shoulders to the wheel like the rest of us.” Success, it seems, breeds resentment, even in your homeland.

Victor stops in the Bojangles Bar prior to his return to Barbados. It is where he and Mickey “…anointed the floor with a few drops of Mount Gay (rum) Eclipse.” This seems to be a prevalent practice in the British Caribbean. On the same page, Mickey: “Man I been t’inkin’ o’ goin’ backhome f’r de last twenty-five yeas o’ my life an’ look I still here” is the cry of many of the Caribbean diaspora who long for the warmth and comfort of the land of their birth but continue to brave the cold climate of North America with all its related drawbacks, in order to attain the wealth unobtainable in their native land. For many, tied to their new country, returning home permanently is a dream they gave up a long time ago.

Victor is unapologetic for the four loves he will experience in the book. His mother, Wilhomena, who had a profound influence on his plans, his career and his integration into American society at a time when “race was raising its ugly head.” Valerie, his first love who gave herself freely to him. Zelda, who performed above and beyond the call of her nursing duties. And Barbados, unable to get out it of his blood stream, creating a longing that causes him to hear his mother’s voice “whispering over and over that it was time to go home…time to return to their little island in the sun, the island she called her Little England.”

Our hero thinks of himself as being like “Odysseus coming home after decades of battling the rigours and frictions…” At the time that he left, “Barbados was not free of this rigour and friction…caused more by a class structure and divide between dark and fair…” While abroad, “he longed for his home-grown fare of sweet potatoes…” with a nostalgia that opened up an unquenchable thirst for such fare. Victor is typical of many native sons who are blind to their country’s many appealing features, only to yearn for them when abroad and eventually re-discover them on return.

Barbados gained independence in November 1966 when British colonies around the world were negotiating theirs. Victor finds when he returns four decades later that the situation has not changed much. Valerie tells him: “We Bajans still have our hang-ups. Sometimes I am a white woman and sometimes I’m black and sometimes I’m neither.” The colour gap is alive and well in Barbados. This divide and overt bias also seems to be consistent among many Caribbean societies, at home and abroad. Colorism, described by Alice Walker in her book In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens: Womanist Proseis “Prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone, typically among people of the same ethnic or racial group. [my italics].” Valerie was “welcomed…in the banking industry in Bridgetown (the Capital) where white was almost as stellar a qualification as any other.” Caribbean and Guyanese societies, it seems, are still fascinated with and ruled by the old dominant colonial era policy of colour and creed, similar to the Divide and Rule doctrine.

Victor comes from a long line of strong, proud and independent women. His maternal grandmother traced her treeall the way back to (sugar) plantation workers and “she kept a bamboo-framed copy of the Emancipation Proclamation hanging above her bed…” His mother Wilhomena, an enterprising woman, leaves for America when she is in her 40’s, a bold and courageous step by any measure. And Victor, himself, at the age of 13 goes to America and is in his 50’s when he decides to leave all he’s worked for in the land of milk and honey and head back to a country with which he’s not kept in touch, and an environment with which he is no longer familiar. The entire West family, it seems, an enterprising lot, are not afraid to explore new horizons.

But Victor finds what he sees on the island doesn’t fit with his memories—“the roads had shrunken, and distances seemed half of what they used to be. People…standing still…this air of lassitude as if the island had been taking a break…” The risk every re-migrant faces—the drastic change in pace and the difficulty in adapting. “He was still possessed with that intractable sense of urgency…the frenetic rush of big city life was still in his blood.” Can he adapt? Only time will tell. He will also find that the village of Seclusion is not the same, the older folks he knew (the cobbler, the tailor, the carpenter) have all passed on and have been replaced with two new generations in the four decades since he left. There is also a hint that the changes in the society have not all been for the good since “Windows and doors were reinforced with decorative steel bars…not how he remembered them as a boy.” Victor has to face the challenge of coping with local jealousy over the perceived new-found wealth being brought back with him; add the bitterness of a local population faced with the vicissitudes of a post-independent uncertain economy and political structure. And “they told him the streets at night were riddled with crime and fights between the young broke out with frightening regularity.” In this, Victor’s challenge is no different from any re-migrant in every Caribbean island, and Guyana. Has he replaced the hectic pace with insecurity? Is there really security if he has to keep looking over his shoulder in his environment?

Author Downer paints a picture of a rural Barbados—like so many other societies— controlled by superstition and living with customs and mores that rarely change in time. “A black sheet had been placed across the mirror of her (his mother’s) bureau to frustrate the evil spirits that visited Bajan houses at night…” In a scene later in the book, “It suddenly dawned upon him (Victor) that the woman was not real flesh and blood, that she was an evil spirt.” Even after his four decades abroad, Victor is enthralled by the spirts that haunt his old country. Will he ever overcome this propensity to believe in the occult?

Downer’s picture of rural Barbados also includes no indoor plumbing and “Every morning…his (Victor’s) first chore was to grab two galvanized buckets and head off to the standpipe three blocks down…” Even on his return he finds the same conditions, heading to the same standpipe, relieving himself in the “doorless outhouse.” It’s a brave soul who would desert the comfort of his amenities in America to return to this!

Victor soon explores his native land and finds “rolling hills of green and quilted fields in the valley that reminded the English of England.” Indeed, with over a million visitors to the island every year, half of those come from the mother country. “His homeland had awoken from her spell, but his people had not yet thrown off the cloak of Britishness they had worn from birth…One-armed Horatio Nelson was still standing on his pedestal…(in) the Square of Heroes (which) was once Trafalgar Square.” But Victor also recognizes that “the crush of visitors” have driven the “400 thousand-year-old coral floor…sea anemones…on the way to extinction.” Will this move away from industry and agriculture and growing dependence on tourism, like so many Caribbean nations, result in an eventual Paradise Lost?

Panama is a recurring theme in the story. Close to 20,000 Barbadians (10% of the population and about 40% of adult men at that time) worked on the Panama Canal in its heyday. The effect on the economy of Barbados in the 1904-14 period of canal building cannot be overstated, nor can the impact of father-less households when Bajan men didn’t make it back to the island. Fifty-six hundred workers died on the project, about 4,700 of them West Indians and Bajans must have figured prominently in that death toll—the reason Victor’s father never made it back to his homeland. In Barbados, it was the mother who had to set the tone of discipline and run the household. The bartender in the local rum shop tells Victor: “They was strict, worse than de father, if de chile had a father. Dese mothers use-ed to rule de house like a general. They never spare de rod.” Such a woman must have been Wilhomena West.

In the days following his return to his native land, Victor will find, like so many re-migrants who’ve spent a life time abroad and are like salmon fighting an upstream battle to return to their spawning grounds—that only the bravest and most resilient will make it. While he lost a mother he gained a wife; lost a lover and gained a son…left the rat race behind and settled for the peace and calm of an island he couldn’t get out of his blood. Will this lead to true happiness? The reader will discover.

AMAZON LINK FOR Return to Little England

https://www.amazon.com/Return-Little-England-Love-Story-ebook/dp/B07QHJGJG6/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=return+to+little+england&qid=1564245944&s=gateway&sr=8-1

SPECIAL PROMOTION ON MY BOOKS

 

 

 

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Raymond Holmes: Writing

Ray Holmes

Raymond Holmes in Brampton, Ontario.  He writes plays, novellas and short stories. His stories have been published in Unleashed Ink, an anthology created by the Barrie Writers Club, The Northern Appeal, a Simcoe County literary magazine and Commuterlit, a Toronto based ezine. His plays Boris and Hermanand The Lonely Vigil Of Emily Baxterhave been performed at the South Simcoe Theatre in Cookstown, Ontario. The latter play was awarded third prize in the 2014 Ottawa Little Theatre Playwriting Contest. His play The Pooman, will be read at the South Simcoe Theatre in June, 2018. Raymond also enjoys making furniture and playing the violin, although he admits to performing the latter activity rather poorly.

 

GOING HOME

What I am about to tell you is true. I swear it.

At first, I thought it was a dream during a period of restless sleep later that night, or the product of an imagination distorted by the exhausting double shift, but now I’m convinced it really happened.

It occurred on September 28, 2017, a rainy night. I’ve been a cab driver for twenty-five years. I like my job, but it’s tough slogging: long hours, all kinds of weather, traffic jams, cooped up in what seems, at times, like a mobile sardine can. On the plus side, meeting people is the best part of the job. It helps if you like your fellow human beings.

Most fares are decent souls, but there’s the odd drunk or disgruntled individual to deal with. Early on, a cabby learns to accept people for who they are. Encounters are brief and annoyances, for the most part, are dust to be brushed away and forgotten.

Out-of-the-ordinary events do occur, but nothing like what happened on that wet, cold evening last fall…

white sedan during nighttime

Photo by Aleksandar Pasaric on Pexels.com

It rained all day and into the evening. The axiom More rain equals more fares and more money wasn’t in effect that night.

Cab drivers always pray for rain. No one likes to get wet and if you don’t have your own vehicle the only options are to use an umbrella or take a cab. People don’t seem to like umbrellas.

The downpour fell across the black top like a drifting curtain, dancing whichever way the wind urged it. Islands of golden light shimmered on the surface, breaking into pieces then re-connecting again as the wind moved tree branches back and forth across the yellow gleam of the street lamps. The tires of the cab emitted a coarse whisper over the deserted, wet road. Brilliant flashes of lightning hung in the sky like twisted knives, followed by drumbeats of thunder.

The radio was silent, punctuated by intermittent static.

“Need a car for area four,” the dispatcher said.

Couldn’t take the fare. I was in area six.

No street pickups and no radio calls. Enough driving for one evening, I decided.

On the way home, I noticed a short, solitary figure standing at the corner of Belmont Street and Middle Road under a tent of light cast by the street lamp. I stopped the car and watched. The person wore a long-sleeved hoodie and track pants, arms clasped against the chest. I could see the sheen of water-saturated clothing and rain dripping from the elbows. Who would stand outside in this deluge? The sight sent shivers up and down my cramped back muscles.

The bus in this area ran on the hour and it was ten past—a long wait for the next one. Could it be a fare? Even people who rarely used cabs often got tired of waiting in inclement conditions. I held back. Mike in car number 457 was robbed a month ago by someone with a similar description. Maybe this person’s a druggie. Perhaps I should keep going. The figure had a slight build. A youth, perhaps? It was a terrible night; unfit for man or beast. I’d be grateful if someone stopped to pick up my child in this kind of weather. It wouldn’t be right to just drive away.

 I stopped and lowered the glass on the front passenger power window. I kept the doors locked until I could see the face. You can tell a lot by how they look. Addicts have a wild, desperate appearance. Crooks and thugs look mean and threatening.

The person was motionless, head bowed. The face wasn’t visible through the gap bordered by the folds of the hood.

 “Lousy night. Need a cab?” I said.

As the head lifted, the dripping edges of the hood parted to reveal the pale, round face of a young woman. The tension in my hands relaxed. She bent down to look in at me but didn’t reply.

“Hate to see you standing out here alone, soaking wet.”

She stared for a few moments. I expected her to decline, but she said, “Yes, I would like a ride.”

The voice was soft and even. Her teeth should have been chattering from the soggy chill, but in spite of being drenched by cold water, she didn’t appear to be uncomfortable.

I unlocked the doors and waited, but she made no move to enter the car.

“Sorry. Forgot my manners for a moment,” I said, before jumping out and opening the rear door. Doing that for customers was a long-lost courtesy in the taxi business.

She slid into the back seat. Good thing it was vinyl covered. Wet cloth seats are a bitch to dry out this time of year. I got back in and took a tissue to my rain-spotted glasses.

“Where can I take you?”

“I want to go home,” she said, in a plaintive tone that reminded me of a tired child about to burst into tears.

“Where’s that?”

She hesitated, as if unsure. “It’s Twenty-three Stone Gate Circle—in Bennington.”

Hadn’t been to that address before. After turning on the meter and tapping the address into the GPS, I pulled away. “Okay. That neighbourhood’s not far from here,” I said, noting the time and distance displayed.

Our eyes met in the rear-view mirror. The hood dropped to her shoulders, revealing strands of long, straight blond hair streaked darker with wetness. As she leaned back, the soaked fabric hugged the curves of her upper body.

Her face appeared devoid of makeup, including the bow lips, and the most remarkable thing about it was the skin—whiter and clearer than any I’ve seen—the pallor relieved only by bright, round, green eyes fixed on mine. With a hand the colour of a white cloud she brushed stringy tresses from her cheeks and wiped her forehead. How old was this attractive young woman? Sixteen, seventeen, perhaps?

She looked around the inside of the car, as if riding in a vehicle was a novelty. I’d had all sorts of women passengers: prim professionals dressed in neat suits, young, provocatively dressed flirty ones, faded middle-aged housewives, gabby washed-out old women and everything in between, but nothing like her—a captivating, mysterious presence.

Many of my fellow drivers didn’t talk to customers except to ask where they were going and announce the fare at the end of the run, but I always tried to connect. People liked to talk about themselves, and some were interesting. This young woman had vulnerability written all over her. Despite my initial misgivings, I was glad I stopped.

“What’s your name young lady?” I said.

She continued to stare at me. I shouldn’t have started by asking a personal question. You had to be careful what you said to women. “Forgive me, Miss, I—”

“That’s all right. My name’s Cece.”

“Is that short for something?”

“Cecelia.”

“That’s a nice name.”

“I don’t like it, and prefer just Cece.”

“Is it all right if I play the radio at low volume, Cece?”

“I don’t mind.”

“You like music?”

“Yes. I know Elvis Presley.”

“You like Presley? Great singer, but he died in 1977. I figured you’d like more recent stuff by U2, Ed Sheeran or maybe some of the indie groups.”

“I know George Michael, David Bowie and Prince, too.”

“Yeah, they’re more contemporary. Too bad they’re all dead now. It’s tragic how talented lives can end like that.”

 “It’s sad for any life to end; saddest for those left behind,” she said in a flat tone. Her previously sallow face glowed, now that she was sheltered from the damp, cold night.

“What grade are you in?”

“I was in grade ten.”

Was? She’d dropped out of school. Her whole life ahead and no education? Well, not any business of mine to give her the Stay in school spiel. I’m sure her parents did.

The rain, which had eased, now intensified. I adjusted the defroster and switched the wipers on high. Fog settled on the road ahead like a grey blanket, the headlights of oncoming cars piercing the hazy wetness.

She wasn’t much of a talker. A stale smell of wet clothing and hair drifted forward. The rancid odour reminded me of a wet dog, only not as strong or objectionable.

At a stop light two blocks away from our destination Cece was no longer visible in the rear-view mirror. Did she lie down? Was she ill?

I pulled over and turned to look.

There was no one there.

How could she have left without me knowing? Passengers rarely jumped out to evade paying the fare, but when they did it was impossible for the driver not to realize. I chased one asshole a year ago—he bolted to avoid paying a four-buck fare, but he turned on me with a knife. Now I don’t bother going after them. Could be worse—someone who pukes all over the car. Big bucks to clean that mess up and a chunk of lost time.

Was I micro-sleeping: having temporary episodes of sleep so brief that I felt continuously awake, but in fact had lost consciousness and failed to respond to sensory inputs? That must be it. That’s when she left.

I reached over and placed my palm on the seat. It was dry.

My thoughts tumbled and collided. Nothing made sense.

The meter over the dash continued to click. The digits displayed $6.20 then flipped to $6.30. I turned it off.

The location marker on the GPS blinked—the destination address displayed at the top of the screen. Black letters on a white band read 23 Stone Gate Circle—the address she gave me. It was only two blocks away. Why would I have imagined an address I had never heard of, nor been to?

I had to go there.

“You have arrived at your destination,” said the synthetic, feminine voice of the GPS a few minutes later.

The neighbourhood was upscale—wide roads bordered by large, mature maple trees and populated by an enclave of ivy-covered older brick and stone Georgian-style homes. I turned into number twenty-three’s wide, circular cobble-stone driveway flanked by flickering gas-fired coach lamps. A plaque on one stone column read Hanson.

The lawn and gardens were expansive and meticulously kept; the perfume of wet grass and cedar trees, strong. I imagined a blazing fireplace inside the home, an elegant decor and luxurious furnishings. The owners must be well-to-do.

The rain stopped. I stood at the end of the flagstone walkway for a few minutes inhaling the fresh, clean air and staring at the house. Wind rustled leaves on the trees like whispering voices. The face of the moon glimmered through a clearing sky.

Why was I here? What would I say to the occupants? They’d think I was a fool. I could almost hear their derisive laughter. You should go away now, I thought, but the urge to know was overpowering and pulled me up to the polished, heavy oak front door. I noted the brass intercom box to one side of it and the security camera mounted above.

My right hand trembled as my finger hovered over the ornate doorbell button. I drew in several deep breaths, straightened my jacket and smoothed my hair. I pressed the button, heard the resonant notes of the chimes inside, and waited.

 “Who is it?” a female voice said through the intercom.

I looked up at the camera so my face was clearly visible. “I’m Paul Wilkins—a cab driver.”

“What do you want?”

“I’d like to talk to you, if I may. It might be important.”

After a pause, the voice said, “Are you alone?”

“Yes,” I replied. Couldn’t she see that from the camera?

After a few moments I heard a deadbolt retract. The door opened a little way and a woman’s head appeared.

“Yes? May I help you?” she said, a thin, inquisitive smile on her face.

I cleared my throat. “May I ask if a young woman named Cecilia lives here?”

The door swung open and the warm air of the dwelling’s bright interior caressed my face, making me blink. The person standing in the doorway was an old lady, wearing a dove-grey dress, with neatly coiffed hair, a patrician appearance and a round, wrinkled face with clear skin and bright green eyes. Tasteful and expensive jewellery glittered from her neck, hands and wrist. I glimpsed a framed photo on a side table just inside the door; a familiar-looking young face with fair skin and long, blond hair. My mouth was dry. It was difficult to swallow.

The woman’s weak, questioning smile collapsed.

 “Why are you asking about her?” she said.

“She was a passenger coming to this address but left the car just before we would arrive. Since its dark and the weather’s so terrible, I was concerned that she got home okay.”

The woman’s eyes flared with anger and she jabbed her finger at my face.

“If this is your idea of a joke sir, I don’t appreciate it. You’ve got some nerve coming to our home at this hour.”

“I’m sorry, I—”

“Don’t you think we’ve been through enough pain all these years without people like you adding to it? Is planning sick pranks like this your idea of fun?”

“I don’t understand. What are you talking about?”

Her voice cracked. “You know darn well what I mean. Did someone put you up to this?”

“To what?”

“Making a joke out of our daughter’s death.”

The last two words struck me like stones. It felt like my heart stopped. Coldness crept up into my torso like a sponge soaking up ice water.

“Death? But I just—”

“You’re insinuating that you didn’t know that our sixteen-year-old daughter Cecelia was killed on this day thirty years ago?” she said.

The shock must have taken my mind elsewhere for a few moments. The next thing I recalled was observing the woman’s lips moving, then hearing her insistent, irate voice rising in volume.

 “Answer me, Paul, the cab driver. Are you pleased with what you’ve done? Now you can laugh about it with your friends. They’re likely as depraved as you are.”

“No… You don’t understand, I—”

“I understand you and your kind well enough.” Hate boiled in her eyes.

“Where did this happen to your daughter?” I said.

Her hands curled into white knuckled fists. Her eyes shone with moisture and the veins in her neck reached out. “Near the intersection of Belmont Street and Middle Road, as you well know. She was struck by a hit and run driver on a rainy night like this and died broken and alone in the gutter.”

Her words flew into the air, circled like birds, then settled into my consciousness.

“But that’s where—”

“People like you are evil.” Her words came out like hot nails.

“I’m so—”

“Spare me your fake sympathy,” she said, in a mocking tone.

“But I—”

“Do you know what it’s like to bury your only child? They never found the driver. It’s hard enough for us to get through this day without you coming here and doing this. Have you no humanity or feelings?” She sniffled and tears made tracks in her mascara. “Even decades of passing time can’t erase our heartache and loss.”

Each word was like a lump of white-hot coal. I tried to explain what happened. “Please let me—”

“Leave our premises now before I call the police,” she screamed and then slammed the door.

I sat in the car a long time before driving home. After tossing and turning I drifted off to sleep. The noise of a dripping tap woke me up at 3:00 a.m. It had never interrupted my sleep before. Did I dream of an encounter with a dead girl whose life was absorbed by a city street corner like a sponge and re-animated decades later? Her name and address floated among the jumbled images in my mind. I thought of the hurt on the mother’s face. It was all so real. I went down to the cab, turned on the GPS and touched Destinations on the menu. The last address was 23 Stone Gate Circle. Things didn’t make sense. Perhaps I was going mad.

*

The next day I travelled downtown to the library to access archived microfiche copies of the city newspapers. There it was on the front page of the September 29, 1987 morning edition of the City Examiner:

YOUNG WOMAN KILLED BY HIT AND RUN DRIVER

Cecilia Hanson, sixteen, of 23 Stone Gate Circle in Bennington was struck and killed at the intersection of Belmont Street and Middle Road last evening. There were no witnesses, but police are…

Cece, I think of you often. I could have reached back and touched you that evening—known if you were tangible or phantom. Would your milk-white hand have felt warm and alive in mine, or merely air slipping through my fingers?

I’m sorry you couldn’t go home. Wherever you are, I hope you can find peace.

END

THIS AND OTHER ENTERTAINING AND IMAGINATIVE STORIES CAN BE READ IN RAY HOLMES COLLECTION AVAILABLE FROM AMAZON

 

 

Portals To The World

Doors come in all shapes, sizes, colours, construction and styles. They can be single or double doors; French or Dutch doors; louvered or flush doors. There are barn doors and saloon doors; wicker doors and sliding doors; hinged doors and swing doors. There are even False doors that lead nowhere and don’t even open!

But the one aspect that they all have in common: they are meant to keep something or someone in or out.

The earliest known records of doors are those represented in the paintings of the Egyptian tombs and they were either single or double doors, each constructed with a single piece of wood. Over the centuries, apart from the security needs, the door has been recognized as the first aspect of your building that a visitor will encounter and it will thereby contribute to that vital first impression. They are essentially Portals to the occupant’s life and lifestyle.

These are some of the world’s doors that I’ve passed through…

 

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Siem Reap. Cambodia. An open door policy.

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Siem Reap. Cambodia. So many doors that lead to nowhere.

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Hue. Viet Nam. More than just a portal. It’s an artist’s canvas.

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Tunis. Tunisia. When one door is closed, another opens.

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Mumbai. India. The gateway the British Raj passed through.

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St. Thomas. USVirgin Islands. People from all over the world pass through.

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Dominican Republic. The way to the Lord.

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Cop Denmark
Tivoli Gardens. A busy thoroughfare

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Delhi. India. Who knows what lurks behind a closed door?

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Rostock Germany
People with glass doors shouldn’t throw bricks

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Estonia. A door within a portal going who knows where?

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St. Petersberg. Russia. It only takes a small key to open a big door?

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Stockholm Sweden
Carve its name with pride

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Varanasi India
The gateway to the holy city should look good.

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Bangkok. Thailand. Heed the writing on the door?

The Hustlers

According to the International Labour Organization, in 2009 there were some 1.53 billion people in vulnerable employment either working for themselves or in badly paid family jobs. This represents about half the global workforce. This figure is expected to be significantly higher for 2011 and later years.

These are the people who struggle on the edge of survival and carry on regardless…

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Udaipur. India. Back breaking work.

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Mumbai. India. Dhobi Ghats. Not too much starch on the collar, please!

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Buenos Aires. Argentina. Where’s there smoke, there’s fire.

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Nassau. Bahamas. Someday I’ll be a tourist, too.

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Nassau. Bahamas. Counting the day’s take.

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Delhi. India. You have to put your back into it.

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Tallin. Estonia. A woman who finds pleasure in her work.

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Katmandu. Nepal. One man’s burden

WELLNESS

The current life expectancy [in Canada] is 82.2 years. By 2030 it’s estimated to rise another four years to 86.2. A recent news item suggested that future generations, with new medical technology and drugs combined, including lifestyle changes, would avoid a lot of the chronic conditions that currently carry us off, raising their life expectancy to 150!

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From my observations at the Wellness Centre, Millenials, are trying their best to extend their own life span. Most of us are retirees trying to push ourselves beyond our limitations. The approach of the average member: It’s never too late.

There are always new faces in the membership, people coming on board to join the multitude already working out. Then, there are the regulars, people who are dedicated and consistent. You can tell who they are. They’re always on schedule regardless of inclement weather, rain or sleet or a snow storm.

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