This book was written between the period of November 1988 - April 7, 1990.
What is important to know is that this was written while living in the Toronto area, months after moving from Ottawa. For those who aren't Canadian, these two cities are located in Ontario, Canada.
I was newly married but didn't have children yet. I was 26 when I started writing it. This book was based on a dream I had.
Beyond that, I didn't write an acknowledgement, and had I done so many of those people I can think I'd name are dead now. It's been that long. A lifetime ago really. I will thank Eric Davies for being my editor at the time.
Since this was written in 1988 I guess that the following people would have been thanked at that time: my mother, my father, Eric Davies, in memory of Russell Irvine, and our two wonderful cats we had then.
“What this place needs is a woman’s touch.” Timothy Weston said to his friend.
He laughed. “What do you know? Mind you, there’s plenty out there. Why don’t you just pick one?”
“I’ve seen them. What I need is something better, someone like a Queen. I’ve been thinking of Cassandra.”
“Now Tim, if that’s what you’re thinking, forget it. Either you bring her to me, or don’t bring her at all. She doesn’t know anything about this, and she doesn’t know you. Why not someone from one of your classes?”
“No. I think it’ll be your friend. She sounds just like the woman I need. Where is she?”
“I’m not telling you anything. I’ll bring her here myself, when you’ve found your bloody Queen. You’ve been getting a bit pretentious lately, haven’t you?”
“You’ll tell me now or I’ll force you. Believe me, you’ll be sorry.”
“Give it a rest.”
“You’ll change your mind, I promise you that.”
“That’s it!” He pulled a globe from his pocket, bristling with electric current; cupped it in his hands. “This is your last chance.”
“Fuck you.” He started towards the door.
“Mark my words, you’ll regret this!” Suddenly the air flared blue and red; the man was enveloped in flame. The essence crackled, sputtered and died.
The form that lay slumped on the floor no longer resembled a man. It was blue, with long gnarled hands and feet; it struggled to stand.
“So. My dear friend. Tell me where she is.”
At the sound of his voice, the creature glared at him and hissed. “Father?””
The creature stared blankly at him.
“Alright, you’re confused. Tell me your name.”
“Jesus. Okay. Tell me anything at all.”
The creature snarled at him, shrunk back against the wall.
“Can you tell me who I am?”
The creature still stared. It dawned on Timothy then that perhaps he’d made a terrible mistake. It only fueled his anger more. “Oh, get out of my sight!” He screamed at it, kicking it out the door.
He turned to the window where outside it was raining.
But the dreams their children dreamed
Fleeting, unsubstantial, vain,
Shadowy as the shadows seemed
Airy nothing, as they deemed
Running, running heart pounding, the stranger chased her on; heels clacking on rain slick pavement, she stumbled. A cold, fierce hand clasped over her mouth stifling her screams in muffled horror, a glinting blade of sharpened steel and then – searing heat bore into her chest. She crumpled to the ground, the sound hideous laughter the last she heard.
When she hit the ground, twelve year old Cassandra woke with a start. Sweating, shaking, she cowered under the covers until the daybreak stole away the darkness from her room. She realized with certainty what the dream meant. At the age of twenty-five, Cassandra would die at the hand of an assassin.
Cassandra was a practical girl, shy and unassuming. Her parents somewhat rigidly were raising her as properly as only they could do; she would marry well after university, and have children, a credit to her family, a fine example of Torontonian womanhood.
That is, until she had a dream. Her life had been the usual one, of pretty dresses and dolls, sleep-overs at friends’ houses, and much as all twelve year old girls do, endless discussions on boys and sex. This fascination with her body now took a morbid turn.
She always knew she would eventually die, yet the how of it had never bothered her before. But knowing she would only live to 25 and would die a gruesome death drove her to contemplate this fully. Her life would never be the same again.
She made a list of things to do. She would learn to play the flute, paint a painting, publish a poem, lose her virginity, get married, go to university, knit a sweater. Later she added books to read, horseback riding, skiing, flying a glider plane. By the time she was eighteen, all these things she had accomplished except for the getting married and going to university.
Alexander – her first love – was a dark haired, philosophical boy with a bent for science fiction and classical guitar. They sang together, solved the world’s problems with the idealism only the very young profess, told their darkest secrets and dreamed their wildest dreams together. He fit into her plans nicely.
After one year of begging, at seventeen Cassandra gave him what he wanted and crossed another item off her list: he was now her lover. Deeply in love and anxious to please, at first she didn’t notice the subtle change that came over him. He became demanding, selfish, and finally, cruel. Her suffocating love for him notwithstanding, he soon had other girlfriends; sadly, and not without some bitterness, Cassandra left him at eighteen.
Up until that time, the years passed slowly by; twenty-five seemed like a lifetime away. Still, the stranger haunted her dreams, sometimes as an evil creature, sometimes as a man, and when she moved into her own apartment, they became ever more frightening.
One night she dreamed of a man who came to her, chose her for a date amid the derision of a roomful of beautiful women; Cassandra cried when he asked her to come with him, not knowing why he would. She asked him, “Why do you want me when all these others are dying to have you?”
He took her in his arms and said, “Why do ask such a thing? You are beautiful, talented, intelligent; why would I not want you?”
When she awoke, her pillow soaked with tears, she realized then how alone she was. At twenty-four she wouldn’t have time to find a man to marry. Perhaps she’d never fall in love again.
She thought about Alexander then, about the time not very long ago when he showed up at her door, flowers in hand, begging her to take him back. She thought about the time of friend of hers phoned and thinking they had broken up, asked her to please tell her she could stop him from chasing after her. She wished desperately there were a way she could go back in time, erase all that he had done to her, make it be the way it should have been. She’d had no one since except for one brief fling and here it was, her last year of life; she’d die alone, Alexander her only taste of love.
She prayed to God that night, hoping just once he would listen. “Lord, my soul is bleeding, my time is nearly done. I was a soul lives many lives, each fulfilling one small step in the journey to perfection. Each life builds up the last until you have atoned for the sin of your first life. In my dreams you told me I would die by another’s hand and I have really tried to be the best I can be. Am I to die, alone and miserable, my sin only that I loved one man too much? If my crime, Lord, was that I once was cruel, dammit! I’ve paid! Give me sign, send me someone, tell me that if I should die tomorrow, my life won’t be for nothing. Please!” But the silence in her room gave her no answers that evening; she lay awake until dawn.
The next day at work she plodded through her duties, longing to go home and rest. When she opened the door to her apartment, she saw her furniture strewn about the room, torn pages from books scattered on the floor. Her television and stereo gone. In the kitchen food had been thrown from the fridge and cupboards, meat pooling in blood; in her bedroom her pillows were slashed and the final insult: the thief had defecated on the bed.
Horrified she went to her parents’ house, the next day packing up her belongings, storing them in the basement. Deeply depressed she decided what she needed most was to get away from everything; against her mother’s protestations, she borrowed the old car and some money, quit her job and drove north for a few weeks of soul-searching. She promised to phone and be careful.
It was late October and she took her time driving through Northern Ontario, drinking in the brilliant colours of the leaves, smelling the clean crisp mid-fall air. Cassandra always it loved it here, with long spans of forest, stands of birch and pine, the rugged cliffs of the Canadian Shield. The cool blue waters of the myriad lakes she passed and the blazing sunsets in this quiet place were her succor, she knew.
She chose an Inn overlooking Lake Superior, just outside the town of Birch. Each room had a fireplace and wooden beams in the ceiling. For the first time in months, she felt truly safe and comfortable. Her sleep was deep and dreamless.
In the days he walked by the lake; often she would bring her flute and fill the air with the haunting strains of the music she wrote. To her the flute and the rocky shoreline were a marriage made in heaven. If this could be my life, to play music by the shore, blue sky above me, I’ll never shed another tear, she said to God one night.
One day in early November, she sat on a rock by the water’s edge playing her flute, dark thunderclouds rolling overhead. The wind carried the music down the shore, mingling with the sound of the waves crashing. A man stood behind her unbeknownst to her, watching her. Neither felt the cold for they were immersed in the song of the flute.
Cassandra’s long black hair blew in the breeze and Jason drank in the scene with a painter’s eye. Quietly he went to her, sat on the ground by her feet. Cassandra, lost in thought, didn’t notice him until she opened her eyes as she bent to put her flute away.
She jumped. “I’m sorry,” he said, “I didn’t mean to startle you, Cassandra.”
“Jason? My God, what are you doing here?”
“I live here now. I’m an artist. You still living in Toronto?”
“Yes. Christ, I haven’t seen you since high school. Strange running into you here, isn’t it?”
“Yup.” He looked at his watch. “Listen, I’ve got to go now, but would you and your husband like to go to dinner tonight? There’s a good restaurant down the road a ways. Are you staying at the Inn?”
“Yes I am, but I’m here by myself. I’d love to join you for dinner.” She replied.
Back in her room she thought about Jason. Now, he was someone she’d always thought of as one of the mystery men – someone who fascinated her, but she had never gotten close to. At the time she was wildly in love with Alexander and everyone knew it. They were “the couple” and even after a bitter fight and she’d decided to break up with him, she never had the chance to know Jason because her friends made sure she didn’t get too close to anyone else. They’d lived their wishes vicariously through Cassandra and Alexander. She felt now that these friends had robbed her of the carefree adolescent dating she should have had.
As she dressed she understood she knew virtually nothing about men; she only knew Alexander, fine example that he was; how could she profess to comprehend the dance that is a relationship when she had only learned certain steps?
With visions of Jason being alternatively repulsed and bored silly playing in her mind, she went to the lobby to meet him. As she waited and wondered, perhaps he’d change his mind and not show up? Maybe he was married with children – she’d forgotten to ask him – or even gay? What if he were some psychopathic woman killer who stalked his victims, lured them with food and kindness, then viciously raped and disemboweled them leaving only their heads for trophies on his mantle? What if she were crazy?
Fortunately Jason showed up at 7:30 on the dot, alone, and with a flicker of hope ignited, she got into the car.
The air was cold and crisp that evening; already the frost was building on the grass. With a twinge of sadness, it occurred to her that soon her days by the shore would be over; she’d have to go back to Toronto. She gazed at the stars that were flecks of shining ice in this black November sky and thoughts turned to wonder as she looked into the sky.
“It’s a beautiful night, isn’t it Cassandra?” Jason said to her.
“It’s lovely. Look at the stars! I didn’t realize there were so many. In Toronto you’re lucky if you can see the Northern Star. But here! Look at them all!”
“I know what you mean. When I first moved here, I’d lie in the grass with my binoculars for hours. I’ve got a telescope now. Perhaps you’d like to see it?”
“That would be great, if it’s not too much trouble. I don’t to get up in the morning for work like you do though. Of course I could always come on the weekend so you can stay up late. This is, if you’re not busy…”
“We could go after dinner if you like. I don’t have a full-time job. I paint when I want to, work at odd jobs when I need to. It’s a good life here.”
“Sounds it. Isn’t it expensive living like that though? I mean, food costs a lot and heating, and you’ve got to drive everywhere.”
“Yes, in that way it’s more expensive than Toronto, but you get by on less. You don’t need a television if you’ve got books, and there’s not much bar hopping going on.”
“I see what you mean. Rent’d be a bit cheaper here too, wouldn’t it?”
“Oh yes, but I own my house. It was my father’s hunting lodge originally, but I fixed it up and I live in it year round.”
The restaurant looked like an old log cabin from the exterior; inside it was small and cosy with candles on pine wood tables. Its simplicity made it a comfortable place; the menu featured everything from venison to hamburgers.
Throughout most of the meal they chatted about everyday things, his painting, her night school courses. As the sipped an brandy and coffee, fireplace crackling, the small talk ran out and they found themselves opening, speaking intimately.
“When my father died,” Jason told her, “everything just came down on me at once. I hated university, hated my friends for being so superficial, hated my mother for needing me so much. My brothers were off on their own; they didn’t have time for her. But I couldn’t get a job and leave ‘cause I was there; I saw him die. I had to tell my mother. I mean, it’s not easy telling the woman who’s been married to this man for thirty years and borne his children that he’s dead. I wanted my older brothers to tell her, but they just broke down. So I had to do everything: the funeral, the will, all of it. I didn’t have time to cry. My dad, he left it all to my mom. A year after he died, I’d dropped out of school, stopped being with my friends and just spent my days in the attic painting pictures full of anger. My mom, she asked me what I needed most so I told her I needed to the cabin for a while, get my head straight. So she gave it to me along with a bit of the insurance money and my dad’s Jeep. I came up here and the rest is history.”
Cassandra swirled the brandy around her glass, the candle light turning it a crystal gold. “How I envy you, Jason. Right now there’s nothing more I’d love than to have a cabin in the woods where I can play my flute and write, maybe get published. But I’m here on borrowed money, winter’s coming and my parents aren’t going to go along with this much longer. They’re talking about getting me into U of T full time this January. But I’m not ready for that yet. I’m not ready for Toronto again either. I’ll be turning 25 in June. I just want to spend the rest of my time here where it’s quiet and clean and free. But I’ve been here three weeks and the longer I stay, the more I want to and the less likely I’m going to be allowed to.”
“So who says you have to leave? Your parents don’t own you. Stay if you want. The winter’s great. You can go cross country skiing, snowshoeing, go for sleigh rides. You’d love it.”
“My parents do own me. It’s their money I’m using. I can’t support myself here. I’ve got no job, my furniture’s in their basement and I couldn’t afford to stay at the Inn even if I did have a job.”
“So be a writer, go play your flute at some bars around here, rent a winterized cabin. There’s lots of empty places up here in the winter. Hell, there’s people that just break in and live in them for the winter and the owners never know. Not that I’m suggesting you do that.”
“All those things take time until you get paid, if you can sell them at all. Meanwhile, I’ve got to eat. And I’m not breaking into anything, let alone somebody’s cabin. No, I’ll have to go back.”
“How much longer will you be staying?”
“Probably three or four weeks. Come Christmas I’ll have to go back.”
“Well then, in the meantime, I’ll show you what we’ve got to make you change your mind. Let’s get the bill and we’ll see some stars.”
His cabin was on a dirt road, 500 meters from the roadway. The air was so dark it seemed tangible; branches slapped against the car as it went by. For a few moments she felt almost frightened, until Jason started cracking jokes about evil aliens and man-eating squirrels which had her laughing so hard she was crying.
The cabin spoke warmly of Jason’s personality. His paintings lined the walls, there were landscapes and fantasy, each windows to Jason’s mind. A stone fireplace jutted out from the far wall. Wood beams crossed the ceiling, pine wood furniture built by Jason completed this rustic scene. Cassandra loved the smell of the smoke, wood and greenery that filled the air.
Jason lit the fireplace, handed her a glass of brandy and joined her on the sofa.
“Jason, I can’t believe what you’ve done here!” She crowed. “This is what a home should be, not all glass and chrome. I can see why you don’t want to leave.”
“It’s a bit drafty in the winters though. I’ve a wood stove in the kitchen – the heat it gives off’s enough to bake a small moose, but the bedroom’s freezing. My dad built the cabin himself, I just added to it.”
“This is lovely Jason, but if we don’t see those stars soon we’ll be sticks of ice out there.”
“Can’t have that. Right this way, lovely lady.”
Frost crackled on the grass underfoot, the wood around his cabin were still and darkly silent. The birches were ghostly soldiers, their spears pointing to the sky. The air, cool velvet on their skin, the world seemed in a solemn hush.
“Winter’s coming fast, isn’t it?” She whispered.
“That it is. There’s no need to speak quietly, Cassie, there’s no one but the trees and us. Now we can check out the telescope right away or we can look at the binoculars first to familiarize you with the sky. When you switch to a telescope afterwards it’s amazing. What do you think?”
“Since you’re the expert here, I’ll go for the binoculars. Anything special I should look for?”
“Whatever grabs your fancy. You might try the Northern Star or any of the brighter ones. I’m afraid I don’t know their names off by heart. I haven’t gotten around to buying a book yet. Still, since neither of us intends to become an astronomer I don’t think it really matters.”
“This is true.”
“I’ll get a blanket so we can lie down. It’s easier on the arms. A thermos of coffee is a pretty useful thing too. Would you like to come back me or are you fine out here?”
“You go ahead, I’ll be okay.”
“You sure? It gets pretty spooky out here sometimes. If you need anything, come on back.”
Cassandra laughed. “Me and the ghost’ll be fine. I’ll scream it I get attacked by a woman-eating pine tree. How about that?”
“Sounds good to me. Back in a minute.”
She welcomed this chance to alone for a few minutes where the cold kept her mind clear and intact. She didn’t know what to make of Jason; that she was attracted to him she had no doubt. And she if maybe their meeting was fated. But if that were so, then her dreams would also be real, wouldn’t they? She’d spent the last few weeks hoping they were merely the products of an overheated imagination. Even if they were real, then maybe she could have a year or two with him. But to do such a thing wouldn’t be fair to him, and there was no way her parents would go along with it Besides, she was taking friendliness way out of proportion; after all, hadn’t she blown her one chance with Alexander? No, Jason was just being nice. And for that she was grateful.
Minutes seem like an eternity when you’re out in the dark all alone, and Cassandra started to shiver. In the distance a dog howled, a mournful sound that carried through the crystal air. “Jason, where are you?” She muttered under her breath. A twig snapped and she panicked. “Jason!”
A hand touched her shoulder. She cried out, whirled around, and Jason burst out laughing. “What did I tell you?” We in the twilight zone or what?”
“My God, you scared me. Christ! Don’t sneak up on me like that!”
“Hey relax. Here,” he said, handing her a blanket, “you’re starting to shake. Are you alright?”
“Sorry, I’ve been a little jumpy since my apartment was broken into. I could use some of that coffee, and if you don’t mind, I’m going to have a cigarette.”
“Nasty habit that, eh? Well, I might as well join you.”
“You smoke? I thought with dinner and everything, well, you should have said something.”
“What about you? I didn’t see you smoking at the shore.”
“I’m going to smoke and play the flute at the same time? Come on.”
“Well, this is true. I guess it’s safe to say neither of us have the weak bladders we seemed to, right?”
“Thank God for that!” Cassandra giggled.
“I’m afraid we’re not going to get too much astronomy in tonight – I hadn’t realized how cold it is.”
Coffee drunk, Cassandra lay on her back, binoculars pointed at the Big Dipper. They lay side by side, Cassandra absorbed in the sky, Jason in his thoughts.
So many suns, how many worlds? Every one millions of light years away. When these light rays began we were nothing but primordial soup. If I were a speck riding one of those rays, Cassandra thought, what would I have seen in all this time? Somewhere out there there’s someone else, on a little planet, looking at our sun and thinking, is there anyone out there? Perhaps you can hear me, she spoke in her mind, and if you can will you show me a sign?”
Jason coughed, breaking her reverie. She became painfully aware of the proximity of his body, the heat he radiated. She could feel his breathing, smell his cologne. The depth of her desire frightened her. She rolled over, handed him the binoculars. Here, your turn. No UFOs tonight.” She said.
“Nope. Too damned cold for that. Cigarette?” Drawing in the smoke, he stared at the burning end, blew two smoke rings, then said, “Was it as good for you as it was for me?”
“Much better for me, but that’s the way it should be.” Cassandra giggled, “Thanks for this Jason. You can really get lost in the stars, can’t you? It makes me feel small but it reaffirms my feeling that there’s more out there than we can imagine. You know I could almost see someone else on some planet trillions of miles away looking a our sun and thinking the same thing.”
“I think that I’ve met that same someone. As far as I’m concerned, I think it’s pretty pompous to say there isn’t anyone else out there. After all, who says we have exclusive rights to the universe? Well, my hands are getting numb here. Let’s go inside.”
The fire threw shadows that danced on the walls, rich warmth clothed the living room. Jason was in the kitchen making hot cocoa. A sleepy-eyed cat sauntered down from the bedroom, stretched luxuriously, fixed a glowing eye on Cassandra then curled up by the hearth.
Jason handed her a steaming mug, sat beside her on the couch. “I see you’ve had the pleasure of meeting the real owner of this establishment. Mademoiselle Cassandra, I have the joy of presenting to you my esteemed colleague and partner in crime, Mr. Bojangles.”
“What a great name for a cat. How long have you had him?”
“Four years. He’s my buddy. Helps me paint, takes up three quarters of the bed and even goes fishing.”
“Who could ask for more? I’ve wanted a cat ever since I moved out on my own, but I could never find an apartment that’ll let you keep one.”
“Shouldn’t let that stop you. Every apartment building has pets in it. You just don’t let them catch you is all.”
“There’s not a chance of that if I’m back at my parents’ place though; my mother’s terrified of cats.”
“So don’t stay there. What’s so bad about living on your own? Cass, I don’t mean to pry, but it seems to me you don’t want to have anything to do with staying at your parents’, yet you refuse to live on your own again. You said you’ve been broken into. Okay, I can relate to that. We had our home broken into when I was fourteen. It’s frightening, but there’s no reason to let it stop you living. You shouldn’t let it do that to you. You can live your life in a closet and you’ll be safe, sure, but you’re just not going to waste away. You’ve got too much going for you to lock yourself away.”
“I wish it were that simple. I don’t want to live in a closet, as you say, but there’s more to it than that. I’m not safe anywhere. In that sense then, you’re still right because there’s not a damned thing I can do about it. I might as well go on with my life. It’s just that I’m not happy about my life right now and the break-in only magnified it. There’s so much I want to do and there isn’t enough time to do it.”
“There’s never enough time for everything you want to do. You’ve got to pick and choose is all. You always have time though, to be happy. You should never lose that. It’s too important.”
“Are you happy?”
“In a way, yes. I might not be married and there’s no one around here that I’m falling over backwards to go out with. But I have my cabin, I have my paintings, I’ve got books to read and a cat to hug if I need it. It’s a little lonely I admit, so then I throw myself into my work. You should understand that.”
“I do. In fact, that’s partly why I’m here. Living in the city, in a concrete highrise with babies crying and stereos blasting around me, it got to me. I’d spend whole weekends doing nothing but writing poetry or music. And then, when the muse was spent I’d lie in bed and hear voices murmur behind the wall. After the joy of my work, I’d feel sad to just put my work away, and crawl into bed. It’s like when I created something I felt was truly wonderful, I’d be so high I’d want to run out and grab someone and say, ‘Look what I’ve done!’ I’d want to see the expression of their faces as they read my work, would they cry or smile or just feel good for a moment? Yet these people whose intonations I’d come to recognize over time might well have lived on the moon for I was just a faceless stranger to them, as they were to me. It made me feel so empty. I’d go to work, spend eight hours a day with people who were no more than a name; I’d go to classes where forty strangers would experience something together for half a year and never know them. Then there were the anonymous souls I’d be crammed up against on the subway day after day…After the break-in I was terrified. When the police left every breeze that rattled the window was a man with a knife and it occurred to me that those people just across the hall were actually hundreds of miles away. I had to go where I meant something to someone. I have a high price to pay for that though; I don’t want to lose my independence, but if I don’t, I lose my identity.”
“And you don’t think there are nights that I wouldn’t do anything to hear another human voice? Some nights it’s so quiet, you can hear your heart beat if you hold your breath. We all have a price to pay for what we want. You and I, we’re introspective people and that doesn’t make for a very active social life. We reach out to others through our work. Without that introvert streak, we wouldn’t have our talents. The trick is to reach out to someone who is just like you. They’re not easy to find, but they are there.”
“So where are your soul mates?”
“I have one right here.” Jason put his arm around her shoulders, kissed her gently on the temple. “There’s nothing wrong with you, Cassandra, you’re just being who you are. It’s difficult being someone special when you’re lumped in with millions of other people, every one of them like you, trying to keep a roof over his head. Maybe you need to be where who you are is more important than how much you have in the bank.”
“Someplace like this you mean?”
“Yes, someplace like this.”
Cassandra leaned back on his arm. The cat still slept beside the fire. They had no need for words just then; perhaps, Cassandra thought, they had said too much. For this moment, warmth from the fire and from Jason, she felt that she could stay forever in this little room.
1 Mary Coleridge (‘Egypt’s Might is Tumbled Down’, Poems, 1908)