The hot wind whistled across the open Saskatchewan plains, moaned through the barn, muttered as it passed through the creaky, freshly cleaned windows, and breathed up the old farmhouse stairs, causing the chimes just outside the bedroom window to sound, waking the robins nested there.
"Tinkle tinkle tinkle tinkle tinkle tinkle," they onomatopoeiaed.
Sheilagh looked at the blinking numbers on the clock, willed the long, overheaded night to pass. But the fiery empty Saskatchewan night willed back.
She rose lightly and wrapped on a wrap, leaving Joseph slumbering in the stuffy bed. "I'll leave Joseph slumbering," she thought.
She went down into the kitchen and flicked on the kerosene lantern. "Hot. So very hot," she thought. She took a Diet Coke from the fridge and pressed its wet coolness to her dewy bosoms.
"I wish I weren't so vulnerable and lonely," she thought incredulously. "Being a war bride in 1945 sure is difficult."
She missed England and its essential Englishness. Land of home and family. How did that old song go?
Oh! England, my Lionheart,
I'm in your garden, fading fast in your arms.
The soldiers soften, the war is over.
The air raid shelters are blooming clover.
Sheilagh was the Devonshire-bred war bride of a Canadian soldier freshly come home to Canada with her when the war ended in 1945. They had bought a broken-down old farm in Canada so he could receive the affirmation that property, position, power, and a means to sustain himself brings. Her life had been changed forever, and it occurred to her agile mind that forever was a really long time.
But had she really changed? She looked at herself in the kitchen mirror. Soft hair wrapped up in its demure nighttime bun, challenging eyes, adventurous cheekbones, her passionate young breasts, flat, firm, resourceful belly, determined buttocks, and reliable legs that had known no other man but Joseph between them. Sheilagh looked attractive when dressed in the typical fashions of the period. But Joseph. How different he was now when compared to then. She remembered them walking together, shamelessly hand-in-hand in the brightly lit Ginza district under all the lights and colorful signs that seemed to signal possibilities in their brightness. Joseph had been an Army war correspondent photographer stationed in Tokyo after D-day, and she a volunteer nurse who also taught and wrote a column for a small but well-respected magazine, though she hated war and all its grim memorabilia that gave her nightmares.
She heard the squeaky old farmhouse floorboards creek and there was Joseph, offering not intangible things, like love, understanding, reassurance and support, but sweaty, salty skin and the promise of his rampant manhood. She loved and hated that priapic pillar, that Apollonian symbol of both their wanton needs. Her eyes traveled across it, perched on its angry red tip, then ran up his lean, tight body to those dark eyes she'd first met through a camera lens.
"So hot tonight," Joseph said. "Maybe we should sleep in the living room."
But sleep was clearly not first on his mind. "Yes," she said. That was the problem. She always said "yes."
anonymous takes the helm:
Chapter Two: The Helpful Visitor
Sheilagh finished polishing the rustic kitchen floorboards after providing her husband with an appropriate breakfast of waffles, soy-based sausages, cottage cheese and cantaloupe halves. Life was tangibly difficult, as Sheilagh wished someone would invent a microwave oven.
There was a knock at the kitchen door. Sheilagh looked through the window and saw a Native man wearing the typical headband-and-eagle-feather so popular for Indians of 1945. She opened the door and welcomed the strange yet comforting visitor.
"Hello," he said, "I am the Medicine Man of the nearby Chippewa tribe. My name is Wikipedia."
"Oh, Wikipedia!" exclaimed the war bride, "It's wonderful to meet you. Our neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Yahoo, told me so much about you."
"We welcome you to our community, dear Devon-birthed Bride of the Second War. If I can be of any assistance, please let me know."
"Yes, please tell me all about this mysterious province of Saskatchewan," replied Sheilagh.
"Well," said Wikipedia, "Saskatchewan is the middle province of Canada's three prairie provinces."
"That's fascinating," said Sheilagh.
"Yes," said Wikipedia, "and it has an area of 651,900 square kilometers..."
"Why, that would be the equivalent of 251,700 square miles, wouldn't it?" asked Sheilagh.
"Indeed it would," said Wikipedia, "I would imagine that in fifty years, there will be a population of 992,995 Saskatchewanians. Most of our population lives in the southern part of the province. The largest city is Saskatoon, which, by July 1, 2005, will have a metropolitan population of 235,800. Our province's capital, Regina will mostly likely have a metro population of 199,000 in that distant future. Other major Saskatchewan cities (in order of size) include Prince Albert, Moose Jaw, Yorkton, Swift Current, and North Battleford."
"This is all wonderful information! You are truly a treasure trove of fascinating facts and useful tidbits, dear Wikipedia!" said Sheilagh, "You must come back every day and tell me pages and pages more about this new frontier land!"
Wikipedia solemnly promised he would do so, as long as the rivers ran and the information was in the public domain. Sheilagh used the last of their drip filters to make coffee for him.
Chapter 3: Internal Conflict
After Wikipedia's departure, Sheilagh stood surveying her spotless kitchen and felt a dead weight of depression come to rest between her shoulderblades. What was the point of tidying the room, after all? Her boorish husband wouldn't manage to drag himself into the house until after nine pm, and he'd be far too tired from a day of achieving power and prestige and material comforts to notice his surroundings. He'd mindlessly consume whatever delightful comestibles she would array before him, and spray crumbs and sauce onto her freshly-polished floor while blathering on about military history. Her fingers would twitch involuntarily in the direction of the sponge and dishrag each time a grain of whole-wheat couscous arced delicately onto the placemat, striking the cloth with a booming noise like the tolling of church bells to mark a funeral.
She shivered. As a war bride from Devonshire, she knew that his morbid fascination for things like troop movements and supply chains bespoke a truly cold, dead heart. It was simply immoral that a man could ponder strategy and tactics while, just that year, in 1945, women had slowly starved to death in Rotterdam and children had died of the bombing in the East End. It was no surprise that he couldn't give her the emotional support or love or sweeping passion that she needed as a young bride in 1945.
She felt haunted by the oppressive presence of the war memorambilia her husband had amassed over the years. On the bookshelf, tomes of Napoleon's march into Russia and accounts of the Great War squatted like birds of ill omen, their dark leather-tooled covers indicative of the horrors within. And sitting on his desk was a spent shell and a punctured cigarette case - the steel case had stopped the bullet that might have killed him at Normandy, and from the way he carried on about the damn thing, you'd think it was a miracle he'd survived. And for what? He lived to break her and crush her dreams, to fold the towels incorrectly, and to make her listen to pointless stories about how the unarmed and outnumbered Dutch farmers had broken the dikes to drown the oncoming French.
She looked at the clock, one of the few items she'd brought with her from Devonshire. It was broken in the long sea journey, of course, but she figured that it must be 11 in the morning. Perhaps it was time for a little drinky. After the stressful morning she'd had, she deserved it. And it was certainly late enough; only alcoholics got into the bottle before 11.
Chapter Four: A Horrifying Discovery
he late afternoon sun slanted through the venetian blinds to fall fitfully upon Sheilagh's face. She winced blearily at the brightness, pondering whether to splash her face with water or vomit. Or both. Her hangovers were getting worse these days. She blamed the isolation of the Saskatchewan countryside and the distance in Joseph's eyes.
Her stomach roiled, and Sheilagh raced to the outhouse to rid herself of four martinis and half a bottle of the sake she'd saved from their holiday in Ginza - was it really only four months before? She was wretchedly, violently sick. Kneeling in the darkness, wrapped in an almost palpable stink, with horseflies buzzing insistently about her head, she had a terrible thought.
It couldn't be.
She stumbled back into the house and scrabbled desperately at the word-a-day calendar that graced her husband's spacious desk. The top page announced that it was twenty-first of the month - but could that be right? All the long mazy afternoons had bled together for Sheilagh. She counted the days backward on her fingers. She'd gone to town for church, and then Joseph had disappeared on that "business trip" to Calgary for a week, undoubtedly to share some beers with his old army buddy, the novelist with the kind eyes and the insouciant flip of the hair and the demanding, needy wife and two squalling children who kept interposing themselves between him and his Great Canadian Novel. And then was the day that their elderly neighbour from the next homestead had appeared at the door with a housewarming gift of brandy and chicken soup. Sheilagh was momentarily distracted by the thought of the brandy - where had she stashed the bottle? And...
There was no questioning it. She was Late.
She was over two weeks Late.
Sheilagh doubled over with nausea again.