Saturday, January 7, 2012

Winter Carnival

It's a cold, damp January 2012 in the Ottawa Valley.   Before the Year of the Dragon pounces in, I thought you would enjoy an excerpt from January 1975, leading in to the Year of the Rabbit.  Imagine yourself in a small town on the shores of Georgian Bay. Meet a lonely yet brave 11 year-old girl - a girl on a mission. 

It was late January at the Winter Carnival celebrations at the town park that Sera approached Aunt Georgette for a couple of dollars. 

“Don’t you want to go on a sled ride, chérie?” Georgette asked, “How about some hot chocolate and pastries?” 

"I have to go... see someone," the girl responded.

"Where are you going,  Would you like company?" asked her Aunt.

“Just somewhere, Aunt Georgette. I need to go alone,” Sera replied, choking back tears.

"Okay, chérie," Georgette bent and kissed her on the forehead while handing her two dollars.  

"I'll see you back home, Aunt Georgette.  Thanks." She quickly pocketed the money and turned towards Main Street.  

The snow drifted down in a gentle, lacey curtain.  Sera adjusted her scarf and pulled the knit hat down over her ears and dark curls.  Her walk was slow yet determined with her boots making a steady ka-lump, ka-lump rhythm as she walked down the street.  

She had no desire to join in festivities in the park or at the ice-fishing derby on the Bay.  She needed to be somewhere familiar and comfortable.  

Sera headed towards the Red Hare, digging up the warm memories of the place, anticipating a hot bowl of wonton soup and sitting in her favourite spot.   I have to take things into my own hands, she thought while walking down the bustling sidewalk.  "Someone has to fix this.  I'm going to talk to Mrs. Young."

When Sera entered the restaurant, she was disappointed and angry to see Daryl MacDonald at one of the booths near the front, chatting up some of his police buddies, Constables Harrison and Brown.  

"Well, look what the cat dragged in," he feigned polite joviality, "It's the youngest of the Fletcher brood.  Where's the rest of the crew?  I haven't seen you people in here for weeks."

Sera felt a flood of fear and anger.  He likely knew damn well why they hadn't come lately.  Now he was sitting here gloating and rubbing it in.  She hated this man for what he did to her friend's mother.  She hated that they had to move away and she couldn't know where they were.  At least he didn't know where they were.  Look at him, what a big shot — just because his family owned most of the lumberyards in town.  

Don't say anything stupid.  Don't be afraid, she reminded herself.  Remember why you are here.  

"Hello, Mr. MacDonald," she responded while removing her hat and mitts, "Hello, Constables.  People have been busy, I guess."  She strained to see if her favourite booth was available.  She felt relief when she saw Jenny clearing her favourite table near the back.

The constables shifted in their seats uncomfortably. They didn’t look like they enjoyed his company.

Daryl continued, "Now, how's that Daniel doing in college?"

"Fine, thanks."

"He's a fine young lad, " Daryl continued to his companions, "He's going to make a fine officer some day."

The other men nodded in agreement and sipped their coffee.  

“Yes, siree.  And I heard he’s going to be a father too,” he gaffawed and slapped the table.

"Excuse me," Sera said curtly and headed towards the back. 

She walked at an even pace towards her booth.  Jenny was clearing away dishes from the previous customers and stopped to smile at her, "Hello, Sera. How are you, sweetie?"

"Not great, really," she responded, removing her coat, folding it and tossing it into the corner of one of the benches.  She scooped up a couple of plates and put them into the bussing bin that Jenny was holding, helping her tidy up.  

"I miss you, Sera," Jenny said, still performing her work, "I miss your whole family."   She pulled a handkerchief from her apron and blew her nose.  

"I miss you too, Mrs. Young," the girl responded, "I miss Amy and Mr. Young, I guess.  I miss this place."  Their eyes met. Sera was frowning and looked down at the table. "I miss Victoria."  She burst into silent tears, her shoulders shaking with each painful sob.  She sunk her chin into her chest and hunched her shoulders.

Jenny put her arms around Sera and held her closely.  

"I miss her so much.  I'm so lonely and I don't know .. don't know what to do."

"I know.  I understand, Sera." 

"I miss … how things used to be.  Mom is still not well enough. They say she's gone into a 'relapse'.   Aunt Georgette tries to cheer me up but I just don't feel any better.  I miss coming here, being here."

She gladly accepted the tissue Jenny offered her and blew her nose loudly.  

"Here, sit down."  Jenny slid in beside Sera on the bench with her arm around her shoulder and her head leaned in so she could speak softly.  "Things have been pretty tense around our place too.  Carl is embarrassed and angry with Amy.  That is why he had her sent away to that place in Toronto."

"I know.  I heard it from Dela and Gwen."

"It's ... very lonely around here without her too.  My own little girl," she blew her nose one more time and breathed out in relief, "Thank goodness for Gio arranging with the high school that she could finish her studies from there."  

"He's not half-bad, then," Sera commented, "How is Amy ... feeling?"

"Oh, she's a tough one but still her little princess self," she smirked, "and she tells me on the phone that she has been eating a lot. I mean A LOT!"

"Great. I wish she was here.  I wish I could see her big belly ... and feel the baby moving. "

Jenny looked down at her delicate hands and whispered, "Me too."

A small group of people entered the restaurant and seated themselves.  Jenny sighed then gave Sera a half hug and squeezed her shoulders to her chest, "I had better get back to work. Where's that Carolyn?  She's supposed to be covering the other side of the room.  Are you hungry?"

"Yes.  May I have a bowl of wonton soup?"

"Sure thing," Jenny replied as she rose to grab the bin and headed towards the kitchen. She turned and whispered, 

"It's nice to see you again, Sera."  

"Same here, Mrs. Young."

After she finished her soup and blew her nose again, Sera sat quietly and gazed at the rabbit painting above her booth.  She took in the red, gold and green designs, the curves and simple patterns.  She felt sadness.  She felt a distant joy and contentment.  She smiled.  It was her first in a long time.  I miss this, she thought.  

The kitchen door swung open slowly.  Carl Young emerged, wearing his kitchen whites, as usual and holding a towel.   He approached Sera's booth with slow, even steps, wiping his hands.  

Sera perked up nervously and smiled, "Hello, Mr. Young."

"Hello, stranger, " he responded.

"Would you like to join me?"

"Sure.  Sure." he smiled briefly and sat across from her, "I guess I could take a break."  He sighed and groaned as he sat down on the bench.  Within seconds, Jenny swiftly brought over a coffee cup and saucer, filled the cup and dropped off the cream and sugar.  Carl gave a curious look, almost surprised that his wife was so quick in serving him.  

Sera bit her lip, looking down then slowly lifted her gaze to meet his tired eyes.  He appeared old and sad.  She rarely saw him sitting still for long periods.  

"Happy New Year, Mr. Young."

"Happy New Year, Sera."

"Soon it will be the Year of the Rabbit, yes?"

"Yes, that's right," he responded, looking up at the painting. 

Sera leaned forward, "It's my favourite year, you know, since I was born in it and.. that was the year you opened the restaurant."

Carl smiled slightly and nodded.  "That's right.  I forgot."

"I was wondering if you were going to have a celebration of any sort.  You know, like an anniversary party?"

"Oh.  I hadn't thought of that.  I've been.... busy."

"You could invite a lot of people."

"Really?" he shifted in his seat.

"Sure.  I could help with the decorations. I'm sure Dela and Gwen would like to help too."

"Sounds nice," he nodded, his eyes scanning the booths and front of the restaurant then took a sip of coffee.  

"I miss Amy!" she blurted out.

Carl, closed his eyes, breathed out slowly and set down his cup.

"I miss her, Mr. Young.  So do Dela and Gwen.  So does.. Mrs. Young."


"I may just be a kid but I know she didn't do anything horrible.  She's pregnant and yes by my brother.  Stupid teenagers," she rolled her eyes, "Stupid. But.. but, it's not like she killed someone."

Carl looked at her sternly. 

"Please, Mr. Young," she pleaded with a soft whisper, stretching her hands across the table, "Let her come back home.  The place isn't the same without her.  I miss coming here with my family.  I miss that, Mr. Young.  

"Sera..." he said in a tired manner.

"Please." Her green eyes watered and bore pitifully at him.  He did not want to destroy her youthful innocence.

"Sera.  It's a matter of honour, of family pride.  She shamed the family.  I gave her the best of everything and this is what happens... If this was another place and time, a girl in her situation would be…"

"I understand, Mr. Young. Well, I don't really ... I respect your opinion."

"Thank you."

"If it's a matter of you not wanting her at home right now, can she come and stay with us? "

"Oh.. Now I see.  Did your father send you here?"

"No!  I came by myself.  They don't know that I'm here. It was very hard for me to come here by myself especially seeing ... " she scowled, "seeing HIM here." her head jerked towards the front of the room.

"I see..."

"My friend was sent away with her mom because he hit her.  I haven't seen her for months. I've only received one letter from her. I miss her. I also miss Amy. Dela and Gwen miss Amy. I miss coming here with my family. Please, please, can we just put things back the way they were?"

"I don't see how we can do that, Sera.  My heart is broken. My family is shamed."

More people entered the restaurant, stomping the snow off their boots, shaking their hats and heading to join their companions.

"I.. I…  should let you get back to work, Mr. Young." said Sera, rising, "Looks like the winter carnival has brought a lot of people out today."

"Yes, I should get back...."

Sera put Aunt Georgette's money on the table and slid it under her empty soup bowl.  She grabbed her coat and got up to put it on.

Carl sat back and stared sadly at her.

"Thank you for the soup, Mr. Young.  It was delicious and warm as usual."

"Thank you for dropping by, Sera."

"Happy New Year,"  she said as she put on her touque, turned and walked quickly towards the front door. 

- - End excerpt - - 

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