Fugue.  noun  [from French fugue, an adaptation of the Italian fuga, literally “flight”   1. a piece of  music in which one or more short melodies or phrases are introduced by one part and developed by others from time to time with various contrapuntal devices.  2.  Psychiatry.  A flight from one’s own identity…(Oxford Dictionary)


She could still feel his lips, wet, on hers.  It had been years.  Years since that night when he had leaned over her, when his mouth had opened onto hers, and she had melted into him.

Now here she was, ten years later, to the summer, on a plane bound for his town.

The call had come two days earlier.

She’d been listening to a fugue.  Bach.  The counterpoint in them always stirred her.   A theme introduced, and then taken over, made larger, opened up, developed until it finally concluded in simplicity.

She had answered the phone with a long, drawn, inquisitive but quiet “hello”.  People never really realize how they sound on the phone, but she imagined she sounded rather reflective, rather larger than life, and, perhaps slightly distracted – no one on the phone should think you are waiting for them to call.

“Sara?”  She hadn’t recognized the voice.

“It’s John.”    John.  John.  She had thought.  John.

“From Vancouver.”

“John!”  Immediate recognition, as if ten years of life did not stand between that summer and today.  John!

“Oh my God!”  Sara held her breath.   There would be only one reason that Luc’s friend John would ever telephone her.  She was breathless.

“Sara,” John continued quietly.  “He died yesterday.”  Silence.  The painful silence of shock, followed by the even greater pain of reality.

Tears filled Sara’s being in the moment that followed the silence.  They filled her from the centre of her soul, outward.  They filled her like water fills a glass.  And in the moment, which seemed like many more, they welled over, and flowed from her eyes like silent rivers that had been running the brook bed for centuries.

She mustered a tight, drawn “oh”.

Then, “oh John.”

He was quiet a moment, and then continued, safe in an explanation of details.

“It was yesterday.  He’d said he would meet me at the course.  He still golfs, you know, Sara.  He’s real good now.”  He was quiet again.

“Anyway.”  Back to the details, perhaps realizing he’d used the present tense.

“He just didn’t come.  He never does that, you know.  You know him.  He is always where he says he’ll be.  Never stands you up.  I knew something was wrong.”

Sara listened, suddenly small and silent as she drew in the painful breaths of loss.

“At first I just thought he’d been caught on the phone or somethin’.   You know?”  A pause.  Sara said nothing. “Then I worried about an accident, you know?  I went over to his place—“

Sara’s faint breathing stopped when John’s voice stopped.

Oh my God, she thought….he found Luc.  HE found his best friend!

“Oh John,” she gasped.  And in a braver moment, “John I am so sorry.”

Luc had had a heart attack, they’d said.  It was not surprising, she’d thought. He had smoked most of his life, and hadn’t seen a doctor much.  There may have been heart problems he never knew about.

Instantly, she remembered the times he’d said that he wondered if he would die alone.  That perhaps he would be dead and no one would find him for days.  Having lived alone so much of his life, this could have been a real possibility.  He had always gone on to say that it wouldn’t have mattered to anyone anyway.  She had always corrected him.  And, uncomfortable with this, he had always made light of it.

Which had always led to a frustrated, Sara….and he would say “You just don’t get it.  That’s not what I meant.  You just don’t get it.  You are so funny about things like this.”  He’d meant that she’d always take a chance to say she cared.

And now it had happened.  And her first thought was of unbearable loss.  She had failed.  She had never been able to help him realize that he did matter.  That his life was terribly important to her.  To John.  And there were other friends too.  But that his death was the ultimate loss in her life.

She and John had made the plans.  She had said, of course she would attend the funeral.  Of course!  And John had agreed to pick her up at the airport.  She’d called a travel agent who had booked her on a flight from Toronto to Vancouver the next day.  She didn’t have much to put in place in order to get away.  Not anymore, anyway.

She remembered when she had first met Luc, how very much there had to been to put in place in order to see him.  Children to have taken care of.  Schedules to have made.  Food to have prepared for her absence.  Stories to concoct to satisfy her husband’s curiosity.  There had been so much, back then.

Now there was nothing.  She had called a friend to look after Liam, her cat.  And to pick up the mail and newspapers.  “Would you mind,” she had said.  “I need to go to the funeral of an old friend…..it’s in Vancouver.”  But that was all.  No one would miss her otherwise.  Everything else was gone.

Now here she sat, in a window seat on the plane bound for Vancouver.  It would be hours before she arrived.

She remembered her first trip there.  The hopes and dreams that had led her there.  The excitement.  The curiosity.  The sheer indulgence of it.  Of their meeting.  Of their meeting in person, after having met through letters and phone calls.   She remembered how her legs had shaken uncontrollably as she walked off the plane.  How she’d worried if she would recognize him from the pictures he had sent her.  How she’d fixed her eyes on everything but the people around her, afraid that she would recognize him before he recognized her.  She had considered herself a fool, she remembered.  In fact, her first words to him, as he had come up behind her near the baggage carousel, had been

“We are fucking stupid.  God damned stupid.  I will never do this again, as long as I live.”  And laughter.

There had always been lots of laughter.


They had spent an exhilarating week.  She was free.  Free at last from the constraints of her life.  The children whose every need she had met every moment of her life for thirteen years.  The husband whose every need she had never been able to meet.  The freedom was overwhelming to her.

And Luc had been a perfect gentleman.  They’d slept together, nestled in one another’s arms.  Together as if they had never been apart.  They’d told stories, Luc mostly.  She had listened in awe of his life, his experiences, his travels.  She felt sometimes that they had been brought together so that her eyes would be opened to the vastness of life she had never imagined.

They kissed.  They touched.  But it was all very quiet and small.  No rapture of love-making.  No frenzied meeting of their bodies.  Just a quiet love that was so small that it might have been overlooked by some.

And the kiss.  The precise moment in time when Sara’s soul had come alive. Like the first note or chord of a concerto.   He had wanted her in that moment.  She had wanted him.  And the wetness of the kiss had felt like a pool of passion that would envelop both of them.  And then it had stopped.  They had not gone further.  They had each feared the outcome.

So the one kiss.  A moment in time.  His lips on hers, wanting hers.  Her lips exploring his with passion she could only have imagined before that moment.

Oh, they had talked about it.  She had had a difficult time putting aside that memory.  They had talked about it rationally and logically.  And sometimes irrationally.  In an emotional moment, she had begged him even to recapture that moment.  Just even for the moment, if not more.  But he had refused.   He had tried to explain, but it was lost on her.  She had wanted him more than life itself.  Yet at the same time, she’d wanted his happiness even more than her own.  And so it was that they had never made love.  Never kissed that way again.

But Sara’s soul had its memory.  That moment was the peg that she strung the rest of her life upon.  Not a life lived in promise of relationship, but a life lived full and complete because of the opening that had happened in that moment. She’d known then that it was possible for her to feel emotional, physical and spiritual depth beyond her wildest dreams.  And it had changed her life.

She had gone back to Ontario, to her life.  Eventually, knowing the depths she needed to reach, she had left.  Mothered the children as best she could from a distance, and deepened her life experiences as much as she could.  She and Luc had exchanged letters now and again.  They had seen one another occasionally, but not often.  And never slept in one another’s arms again.

But in her secret dreams, she had lived with Luc, and shared his heart every day since they had met.    She had tried to redefine friendship; thought there could be a friendship that included the physical closeness she had experienced with him.   Interesting that she had chosen one person to open to, and not to open her life to everyone she knew.  Still guarded.

She had believed early on in their relationship, during their week together, that she had something that was meant for him.  She had guessed at it.  Wondered what it might be.  The obvious things like opening up his soul.  Like proving that relationships are not always hurtful.  She’d never laboured over these notes, but she’d always believed that time was what he needed.  That one day, given time, he would be full and complete.  Not perhaps with her, but perhaps because of her.  And she’d given that time willingly, from her heart, at her own cost.

And now.

And now.

Time was the one thing they no longer had.

Suddenly she was aware of the loudness of the plane.  She was angry.  “Why him?” she prayed, shaking her internal fist at her god.  “Why, damn it?  I loved him.  They way you want me to love.  I gave him my entire soul.  Every bit of me!”  She was working herself into a frenzy.

She looked out the window.  They were now above the clouds.  She remembers flying home from Vancouver the first time.  Her eyes had been drenched in tears.  She’d had a window seat then, too, and she remembered now how she’d thought she was lucky because she could turn her head from the rest of the passengers.   She turned her head now.  She remembered the clouds.  The shapes and the forms that had once seemed so meaningless.  And then how, after her week with Luc, she had been able to see that these formless shapes had paths between them, that they were like experiences that we could manoeuvre around, pause at, memories we could take away with us.

And the rainbow!  Oh yes, the rainbow!  That had come from nowhere on a clear sunny day.  The rainbow that she imagined Luc had sent to her to help guide her.  To help her find her way through the shapes.  She had told him about the rainbow.  She imagined he’d never really understood, that she knew the real reason for the rainbow, yet that the imagery was far more important to her.

Eventually she hadn’t cared.  She’d spun her own stories of hope.  They were her lifeline.

He’s gone, she remembered now.  He’s gone, and I can never talk to him again.  Even to share the weather.  She remembered how she’d revelled even in those conversations.  Silly, she’d thought, as she had often over the years.  But those conversations had always been windows through which she felt their souls connected.  Every conversation had been that.

She thought about what would happen at the funeral.  The arrangements.  She was afraid.  She could not imagine seeing him.  Not like that.  She couldn’t do it.

Oh yes, she could.  He had always said she could do ANYTHING.

Still he gave her strength.  Even in his death.

But the thought frightened her.

Where was he now, she wondered?  Did his soul open as he died?  Did he think of her?  Why would he, he would have said.

She was crying again.  Now hard. Holding her chest with her arms so it didn’t heave.

She imagined not.  She imagined so.  She was lost in her imaginings.  She had been lost there for a very long time.

She reached down into her carry-on and pulled out a little pad and a pen.  And she turned to the window and used the armrest as a table.  Hiding her musings from interested eyes.

And she wrote,

In silence you were strength.

Alone, you were passion.

In the darkness you shone brilliantly.

And your grounding you gave wings to my flight.

She stopped.  That part was easy, but it felt like there should be more.  It felt silly.  He had always been her strength, whether he accepted it or not.  He had always been her passion.  And her guiding light, despite his unwillingness to accept that too.

She kept writing.

In your death you give life.

Well there’s a line for you, she thought.  Sounds like something biblical.  It goes with the rest, but is it true?  I don’t feel life right now.   And her mind wandered to places that were painful.  Like what Luc would have thought of that line.  In your death you are life.

God’s jokes on us, she thought, without any humour.

Then she thought of the ten years since she’d met Luc.  The years she had quietly formed her hopes and dreams with no regard to reality.  There had been the odd letter.  The times he had allowed her the tiniest glimpses of his soul.  Few.  But some.

Luc had lived life on the surface.  Taken his lot, played the game, tried hard to figure out the deals as they were presented, and to make each interaction pleasant.  But not more than pleasant.  Depth to Luc was wasted.  That had been the key difference between them.

She had created her world of passion and love based on what she’d felt in her heart was there.  It was a deeper sense of being than any other she could imagine.  She knew her soul mate — she had met him.  And so there was that world….the world of fancy.  Not that she did not live in reality too.  Of course she did.  She did all the regular things that people do:  held a job  — hers was as a sports writer at the local paper.  She’d dutifully, sometimes happily, visited with her children, had been present at her grandson’s birth, and had spent quiet evenings with friends.  But she also, secretly, lived in her spun dream, her flight of fancy.

In death you give life.  No, she thought, it can’t be.  It doesn’t work.  But she was compelled to write.  She needed to write.  It was as if it was the only way she might communicate with Luc.  Now.


Now, in the moments of unfolding on the plane, she felt spent.  Like a fugue that dissolved in the middle, abandoned.  Tired.  Defeated.

But as her mind went to rest, her heart played on.  It was how she survived.  She allowed her dreams to take flight, her soul to have wings.  And in those moments she wondered silently at the whole thing.  The whole story, the beginning, its middle, and now its end.

Its meaning. Its importance.

She wondered.  Perhaps Luc had existed in her life not to share her depth, but to provoke it.  He had existed in her life to open her, to move her, to guide her.  Had she never known him, she would never have become the person she was.  The person who loved so unconditionally and immensely that even angels took note.

Luc had been there.  Been brought to her life for that.  And had been taken from her life in order for her to know completely the depth of the experience.

In your death you give life.

She thought about what she might say to his friends.  None of them she knew very well.  But she had loved them too.  In her own way.  What would she say to them now?

She kept writing.  And the story unfolded.  From the kiss.  To today.  It was a modern tragedy, some would say, she thought.  Others would be scornful of her undying love for a man who said “no”.

She read the story, tightly, through her tears, the next morning at Luc’s funeral.   Her eyes reddened and swollen.  But she read the story.  For all to hear.  For them all to know how loved Luc had been.  How alone he had never been.

“In your death you are life,” she finished slowly.  And repeated. “ In your death you are life, Luc.”  She walked over to the casket, and laid her paper on the polished wooden box.  A box, she had thought.  For the soul that was part of me.  A box.

She laid her story on the box, bent over and kissed the top, and said so quietly,

“Fly away now friend.  Fly away.  Safe journey.”

And she walked quietly back to her seat.

Later, John and Sara went to Luc’s house.  As they turned in the driveway, Sara’s heart withered.  Her breath went away again.  She tasted the coffee left on her tongue, and hated it.  It reminded her of the coffee she’d tasted with Luc ten years earlier.  The fun they’d had over coffee and a cigarette.  She closed her eyes.   The driveway to Luc’s house had been the doorway to her heaven.  And now it was hard for her to remember the moment of realization that in dying Luc had made it possible for her dream to live forever – for the entire depth of the experience to envelop her.

John unlocked the door and slowly pushed it in.  Sara could not hold back the tears now, remembering the times she had pushed in the door and wondered how high to raise her gaze to meet Luc’s.  He’d been so much taller than she was.  And the times she’d been secretly breathless when she’d seen him.  Oh to see him, Sara begged silently.  Oh to see him once last time.  Here in his house, where he loved to be.  Here in his world, that he had specially created for himself.

She shut the door carefully behind her, pushing down the thumb piece to latch it.  Careful in her movement.  Meticulous.

Could she bear this? she thought.

John was at the sliding doors, looking out over the lake.  They hadn’t spoken.

Sara walked over to the fireplace.  Cold, now.  She wanted more than anything to curl up into a ball, and let her tears overcome her.

And then she saw them.

Among the ornaments on the shelf were the crystal dolphins she had given him ten years earlier.

She remembered the moment, now.  When she had given him the gift.  A gift of her heart.  She had looked hard for that present.  Spent the last of her savings on it.  She had known she’d wanted dolphins – there was a special meaning of dolphins for him.  It had meant the world to her to find that replica of two dolphins, in crystal, with gold fins.  Mounted on a wooden base.  She remembered he had seemed touched by the gift.  Touched, but not overwhelmed.  He was never overwhelmed.  Not by her.

She looked at the dolphins now.  And then her glance took in the card.  The same card that she had given him with the gift ten years earlier.

She was crying uncontrollably now.  She had forgotten.

She reached for the card carefully lifting it over the dolphins.  She opened it, and saw her own handwriting.  Recognized it through her tears.  She wiped her eyes.  Now she could remember writing it like it had been yesterday.  She knew what it said.   I’m glad the dolphins saved you.

And she remembered how she’d cried when she gave the gift to him.  Watched him read the card.  She remembered how she’d known this was a world she was creating, a flight she was agreeing to.  How she had loved him with all her heart.

And yet how she had known even in that moment that she never would feel that love in return.  And it hadn’t mattered.  Her soul had opened.  That’s what mattered.

She gently ran her finger across the back of the large dolphin.  She wondered if he had ever done that.  Wondered if he had ever just sat and looked at the dolphins.

She knew they had meant something to him when she’d given them to him, and she knew they had meant something to him all these years.  That they had never been moved from the mantle.  He’d promised her that, and kept his promise.

She knew he must have thought of her often.  And that was all she needed now.

Her crying had stopped.  For now.  She held the dolphins to her heart and backed up toward the couch.  She lay back and rested her head.  She touched the dolphins to her heart, clutching the card between the dolphins and her hands.  She pressed them tighter to her.  She let her chest heave against them.  She let her tears flow, first silently.  Then she cried out.  Cried out loud.  Cried for the loss.  Cried for the moments they had never shared.  Cried for the dream never realized.  At that moment she wanted to throw the dolphins onto the table and watch them smash.  She stopped herself.  Afraid of her responses.

The tears did not stop.  But the anger and fear gave way.  And, after a while, her tears were off and on.  And silent.  She sat holding the dolphins to her heart.  Still.  As tight as before.  When the tears came, they fell in little streams from the corners of her eyes down her cheekbones, and onto her neck.  She cried a long time like that.  Off and on.  Realizing new things each moment.  And then it all stopped.  The tears.  The realizations.  Inside she was empty.  And if we could have seen her soul, we would have seen a carefully drawn phrase…..neatly executed curved letters.  It would have said…

I cried for you Luc, because I wanted more for you.  I cry now, because I know that in your death, you have given life – to me, to my dream, to my spun world.  To my flight through the rainbow.  And, in crying, my soul opens up, exposes its depth and breadth.  You knew the meaning of all this.  You never spoke it, or wrote it – you lived it.  Quietly.  And with every person you knew.  This was our story Luc.  You were the angel  sent to open my soul.  I don’t know how to thank you.

She didn’t know how to thank him.  In reality, she could not thank him.  Because she knew the pain.

The pain of love and loss.  Yet the choice had been hers.  She’d always known that. And she had chosen to allow her soul to open, to feel to its depth.  And for that, she could thank him.  For her spun world, for her fugue, and for the simple ending.  For the gift of her soul.

She took the dolphins and wrapped them carefully.  She took the card and placed both in an old box that was at the back door.  She went to John and asked him to drive her to the airport.

“I want to catch an earlier flight,” she said quietly. “I have all that Luc could ever give me.  I made no mistakes, she said.  But now I know something I didn’t before.   He gave me the gift of love, of my soul.  And I’ve never used it.”

John held her.  Tightly.  A measure of knowing.  Of it being ok that it had taken her this long to understand.

“He talked about the dolphins a lot, Sara,” he said.  “They meant the world to him.”

“I know,” Sara said quietly.  I know, she thought.  I made a difference.  And so did he.  And she backed away from John and smiled.


Circling Out

Originally written January 20, 2005


Mine is a story of yearning and learning, of sacrifice and settlement, of buoyancy and flight.  Mostly it’s about objectives and perspectives. Like my first story.

I wrote it when I was fifteen, about a man’s journey down a river—his challenges and oversights, but mostly his changing awareness. It’s a journey of the mind, for I had never traveled down a river, and the setting was elusive, metaphorical. I was a Thomas Hardy fan, and my story was entwined with its admittedly infant landscape. I imagine my first story showed great philosophic potential, for a fifteen-year-old girl.  But I hadn’t lived.  I couldn’t write what I knew.  Only what I imagined life to be.  And eventually, it seemed more practical to write the stories of other people.

In 1988, I received a Masters in Journalism, having learned, mainly, to write like I speak.  Words must come in forward motion, like music.  I’d also developed a curiosity about medicine and science.  Discoveries, it seems, are always modern. Practising practical career management and sound investment strategy, I used my education to work in radio and television, diligently delivering facts, and relishing opportunities to let characters tell their stories.  News journalism became a balancing act between truth and perspective. Reporting, I sense, is good practice for storytelling.

I was, however, essentially, yearning for safety, and my love affair with safety led me down a dangerous path.  I married, bore five children, and the martyrdom of motherhood gripped me.

The thing with martyrs is that usually, they are dead before they realize what they sacrificed; in my case, I was alive, thirty-eight years old, and quite aware, suddenly, that there is no safety in numbers.

During that tumultuous time, I wrote journal after journal, musing my dreams, shaping my hopes, and learning the brutal, if not physical, impact of rape. I discovered that the safest place for my hopes and dreams is in the hearts of my characters.

Suddenly, I was writing fiction—the lie that tells a truth. My characters came alive. They would tell me what they wanted to do next, or for that matter, what they didn’t want to do.  We play together, my characters and me.  We make deals, fight, discuss, argue, kiss.

I still write nonfiction.  Occasionally I sell a piece.  More often, I enjoy the process of dreaming the ideas into existence, meeting people, hearing their stories and retelling them with new purpose.

I read true crime or literary romances.  I search for the meaning of love in both.  What part of humanity allows for both love and murder?   I remember being enamored by the triumphant story of Jill Kinmount, a promising athlete who was paralyzed after a skiing accident, and who then lost her fiancé in a car crash. I am thrilled by the resilience of the human spirit and fascinated by its narcissism.  I wrote to Jill when I read her novel.  I was 12.  I told her then, I wanted to be a writer. To me, writers are courageous.

I studied the resilience of the human spirit in the stories of dozens of Canadians who were imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II. Art Kinnis was one of them.  He kept a diary every day he was incarcerated.  Not even brutal physical and emotional depravity could crush his spirit.  I spent two summers transcribing and annotating his diary.  Human beings survive.  And when I think about why, about what makes us different from other physical beings, I conclude that it is simply the spirit.  We survive because of our narcissism, our ability to dream, create, and remember.

I’m in a romantic phase.  Nicholas Sparks has my attention for his simplicity and ease.  Elisabeth Harvor has distracted me to no end recently, when the local bookstore waved her current novel under my nose, in place of one on the reading list.  Particular turns of phrase in Harvor’s novels haunt me for hours, sometimes days, for the brilliant truths they so invisibly reveal, for the apparitions that become clear and vivid before my eyes or under my fingers, or through some other sense, and I find her recent novel an addictive elixir.

I like modern novels, but then “all times have been modern”.  I like accessible, introspective characters, and brave authors.  I like dialogue that entices me to listen, so as not to miss a beat.  I hang on descriptions that breathe life into a scene to make its meaning float.  I like the thoughtful patient voice that guides with blessed assurances.  I like movement and pace and forward motion.  I find all of these in Barbara Dowdy’s recent novel, The Romantic, and in Alice Munro’s story “Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage”.

I make my living teaching and performing music.  But I live through writing.  Funny how one may look toward the stern and wonder what became of the wake, yet if you circle ‘round and out, you can find the ripples breaking blissfully at sea.