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Home DUCTS.ORG Issue 12 | Winter 2003 the webzine of personal stories
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Catherine Walker-Stol

Ruth is thinking: Someday, when I am rich, I am going to ride in a hotair balloon early on a Saturday morning. The balloon will sail very low, close to giant trees, and silently float over backyards. Then, suddenly, there will be an explosive roar as the gas ignites the flame above the basket, and neighbourhood dogs will look upwards. The dogs will be startled to see something so ominous and massive sailing over their property, and they will go into a frenzy of barking and barking. Whole neighbourhoods will be awakened as dogs bark themselves hoarse. And high above the ruckus, I will sip coffee, and observe the sunrise over the city.

These are Ruth’s thoughts as she drinks coffee on her patio. She has a pile of marking to do. Grade ten English, and grade eleven History. Also, she has not heard from her son in nine days. Caleb, age nineteen, is working as a treeplanter in northern Alberta. One young man in a motley crew bent on enduring physical hardships, isolation, loneliness, monotony and breathtaking beauty. Ruth has missed his last two calls. The first time she was out for dinner with friends, and the other time swimming laps at the pool. Ruth misses Caleb desperately, and she has played his telephone messages over and over.

Caleb left for treeplanting at the end of April. Four significant things happened the week before he left. They were: Caleb received a letter from the University of Michigan stating that he had won a full four year swim scholarship to study Journalism.

Then, Caleb told Ruth that he was unsure as to whether he was going to accept the scholarship. He thought he might want to travel a bit first, or work and make some money. Ruth was speechless. She had saved for Caleb’s university education, but certainly not enough. Ruth wanted to scream ‘you’ll work or travel over my dead body!’, but she bit her tongue, and suggested they talk more about it later. Ruth put Caleb’s university letter in the top drawer of her antique desk in the front hallway, for safekeeping. That is where she put all important papers for temporary safekeeping.

Next, a large brown envelope arrived in the mail for Ruth. It was from PenWrite Press. Ruth was presently doing research for a writer who was published by PenWrite Press, and in the past, her own writing had been rejected by them. However, she did not remember sending them any writing lately. No doubt she had just forgotten. Ruth dropped the brown envelope onto the chair that sat beside her antique desk.

Also, Ruth had recently discovered she had a breast tumor.

As it turned out, there was no opportunity for Ruth and Caleb to discuss university because Caleb’s crew leader telephoned him the very next day. He needed Caleb to fly out to Edmonton as soon as possible. A warming up of the weather had made work possible within the week. Suddenly, there was a great rush to change flight dates, buy needed gear and say goodbye to friends. At the airport, just before boarding his plane, Caleb said to his mother: “I promise I will think seriously about the scholarship, Mom. I just need a bit of down time first.” Ruth hugged Caleb goodbye. She told him to be safe, and to call home whenever possible. Teary eyed, Ruth watched her son pass through security, and walk towards the boarding gate. He looked so young. His body tall, and lean, his hair blond and cut short, his outdoorsy clothes all khaki and beige coloured. She thought: he is too young to go so far away.

Ruth had to wait one week to see her general practitioner about the lump. Meanwhile, there it sat in her body, bold as brass. In her mind, Ruth started to call it a cyst, as it sounded less ominous than the words tumor, growth, or lump. A cyst was something temporary. Something that would be moving along soon. But still, the presence of the cyst preoccupied her mind, and Ruth was having trouble falling asleep at night. So, out of desperation to make herself very tired before going to bed, Ruth started going to the acquatic centre to swim lengths. The first time she went, the pool was almost empty of people. Ruth was relieved because she had not done lengths for a while. She slipped into the cool, calm water, pushed off from the side, and immediately felt comfort from the smell of chlorine and the sound of water lapping at her ears.

On her first night swimming, Ruth did twenty laps, and returned home feeling tired and limp. When she sat on the antique chair to take off her runners, the brown envelope fell onto the floor, and as she crossed one leg over the other to untie her shoes, her shoed foot left a brown footprint where her name and address were. Ruth did not notice, and went straight to bed.

That night, at about one in the morning, the phone rang shrill and sudden in Ruth’sdark bedroom. She groped for the phone. “Hello”.

“Hi Mom,” said Caleb. “Sorry to call so late, but we just got into our rooms. It’s about eleven here, and I wanted to call.”

Ruth turned on her bedside lamp. “Don’t worry about the time, dear. I’m just so glad to hear your voice. How are you?”

“Good” said Caleb enthusiastically. “Really good.”

Then Ruth said the first thing that surfaced in her groggy mind. “Caleb,” she said. “How are your socks? I’ve been worried that the socks we bought you wouldn’t be warm enough...”

“Mom. The socks are fine.”

“Are you sure? I saw some other socks after you left and I thought they looked like a much better quality...”

“Really, Mom”, said Caleb patiently. “The socks. They're fine.”

“Oh that’s good. And your sleeping bag?”

“Sleeping bag is really good too, Mom.”

Caleb continued. “And the crew I’m with is pretty good, also.”

“Oh, that’s good. How many trees can you plant a day?” She knew he was worried about this.

“Well, now I can plant 1500 trees a day. That’s pretty average. But some of the guys can plant 3000 a day so I have a way to go.”

“Geez,” said Ruth. “Planting 1500 trees in a day must be incredibly hard. So you go down on your knees 1500 times a day to dig a hole and plant a sapling?”

“No. It’s pretty simple. Throw the shovel into the ground with my right hand. Open the hole. Push handle away. The shovel breaks the soil. I bring the handle back towards me. The tree is in my left hand already. I put the plug in the hole. I can close the hole with my hand, or kick with my foot. And its done. Next tree. They don’t all live, but most do. Every so often they come and check plots and spacing and see if the trees are doing good. They spot check. That’s how you get a score.”

“That’s amazing. What else is new up there?”

“Well, we lost a guy yesterday.”

Ruth propped herself up on pillows. “What do you mean by ‘you lost him?’”

“We were eating breakfast, and a huge fly landed on his toast. And he just got up, and started walking. Walked clear out of camp, heading to the road about 20 to 25 km off.”

“And when are you expecting him to come back?”

“I don’t think ever. The other guys say this sometimes happens. Some people just can’t handle the job. I guess its because it can get pretty lonely. And wet and cold. But the worst is the monotony. The repetition. The mental strain is far worse then the physical. But he left his tent behind. Didn’t even say goodbye...”

“Oh dear. He left his tent? His shovel? Those things would be so expensive to replace.”

“Yah. He took his backpack.” Caleb stifled a laugh. “But he left his socks Mom. They were hanging on a clothesline.” Then he paused and added, “I guess he just broke...”

“Caleb. I don’t want you to push yourself that far. This job may be much more difficult than you realized. I think I probably shouldn’t have let you go...”

“Mom. I’m strong. You didn’t raise me to be a whimp, remember. Don’t worry. I know what I can handle...”

Then Ruth heard voices in the background, urging him to hurry up.

“We’re going to eat. Gotta go. I’ll call again as soon as I can.”

“I love you Caleb.”

But he was already gone.

When Caleb was five and taking swimming lessons he almost drowned. Right there in a public pool with people all around. The teacher took six students into the deep end of the pool, gave each a flutter board, and as she turned to help one student, Caleb slipped off his flutterboard and sank. The Red Cross says: “Children can drown in 12 to 20 seconds”. Caleb was going to beat the record. Ruth was standing on deck and saw Caleb go under. Instantly she screamed at the top of her lungs. “Get him” she screamed at the teacher “Get him quick!!” Her voice so strong and piercing, and it carried up to the bleacher seats, and to the rafters. The whole acquatic centre heard her. The teacher moved like lightning and in one swim stroke she was pulling Caleb back to the surface, putting Caleb in a rescue hold to make sure he had not inhaled water. When Caleb looked over at his mother, Ruth tried to put on a brave face and smile. She gave thumbs up to Caleb, and said “good boy”. “Put on a brave face” she told herself. “Look brave and don’t freak him out. Or he’ll never go into the water again.”

That night at bedtime Caleb told his mother that he was a little bit afraid when he almost drowned. Ruth admitted she had been a little bit afraid too.

“But I think I could hear you screaming, Mom. Was that you screaming?”

“Yes, that was me.”

“Actually, Mom, I think your screaming helped me a little bit.”

Being a good parent is knowing when to scream, and when to put on a brave face.
Caleb recovered and soon became a good swimmer. It was also a sport that he really excelled at, so Ruth did all she could to give him opportunities. When he was old enough she enrolled him in a swim team, and for diving lessons during the summer holidays. The swim team swam early, so Ruth and Caleb left the house each morning by six a.m. and drove to the pool. Sitting on hard bleachers, in the chorine humidity, Ruth would sip her coffee, do her school marking, her lessons plans, and then write on her laptop. Over the years, she did research for historical fiction writers, and had completed three manuscripts of her own. In Ruth’s opinion, that had been a pretty good use of her time.

Ruth had an appointment to see the surgeon three weeks after she saw her family doctor. She did her best to prepare herself for this appointment. In the morning she only drank herbal tea, and fruit juice. She ate one bran muffin, no butter. She did not read the newspaper, nor listen to the radio. She went for a five kilometer walk along the river, stopped to feed the ducks, and watched children in the playground. For lunch she ate a green salad, and a large cantaloupe. She left the house in plenty of time, taking the most leisurely route to the doctor’s office. She parked her car in the shade. The doctor’s office was on the sixth floor, and Ruth used the stairs. When she entered the doctor’s office, it seemed surprisingly quiet. The receptionist said: “You must be Ruth Sutherland.”

“Yes,” said Ruth. “I have an appointment for four o’clock. I’m a little early.”

“I’m sorry, Ms. Sutherland. We left a message on your answering machine. The doctor has come down with a sudden case of the flu, and will not be able to see you today. We will have to reschedule. We are so sorry for the inconvenience.”

“Oh,” said Ruth. She stood motionless at the receptionist’s desk. Her stomach gave a thundering growl of hunger.

The receptionist smiled patiently, and said: “Would you like to reschedule your appointment right now?”

Ruth’s next appointment was for July 21.

On the way home Ruth stopped at the neighbourhood Chinese restaurant. Caleb loved this restaurant, and Ruth longed to inhale the aroma of Caleb’s favourite foods in the house again. She ordered a large Wonton Soup and Spring Rolls, Chicken and Mushroom Chow Mien, B.B.Q. Pork Fried Rice, Honey Garlic Spareribs, Breaded Shrimp with Lemon, Pineapple Chicken Balls, Tai Dop Woey, Beef with Diced Vegetables and Jar Doo Chicken Wings. As an afterthought, she added Fresh Shrimp with Lobster sauce. She hoped desperately that the smell of these foods in the house would make it feel like Caleb was home.

The owner carefully placed the Styrofoam dishes into two large brown bags, and stapled them shut.

He smiled at Ruth. She was a regular customer, and he said: “Son home?”
“No” said Ruth. “He won’t be home for a while. He is out west planting trees. I miss him.”

He smiled, and nodded to the bags of food. “Good you have house party tonight. Then you won’t miss son so much.”

As Ruth entered the house she put the Chinese food bags down on the floor, on top of the fallen brown envelope. A small amount of Honey Garlic Sparerib sauce had seeped under one lid, through the bag, and now leaked onto the publisher’s return address. Ruth picked up the bags, and carried them into the kitchen. She was famished, and the aromas of her dinner made her both hungry and lonely. As she slowly unpacked the Styrofoam tubs she heard a robin’s early evening song outside the kitchen window. Ruth paused, and looked out at her garden. She saw Caleb’s old tire swing, hanging motionless. She saw the rose garden that attracted Caleb’s tricycle like magnets to a fridge. Beside the roses were her tomato plants, whose red fruits were once used by Caleb and his friends for baseball practice. Garden salsa made by six year olds. Ruth blinked back tears. She wondered: where have all the years gone?

Later that evening Caleb called. Ruth was watching television, nibbling on Fortune Cookies. Caleb was calling from the same motel as last time, because the treeplanters were given the same motel room each time they came into town.
“Oh that’s a good idea, dear” said Ruth. “It’s probably nice to stay in a room that is familiar to you.”

“Yah,” said Caleb. “It's OK. But they give us the same room every time because we smell the whole place up so much. They can’t rent the room to anyone else, only treeplanting crews. In the fall they repaint and pull out the carpet.”

“You boys must be extremely filthy,” said Ruth.

Caleb laughed. “Yah, Mom. You’d never let me in the house.”

“How long do you plant each day?” asked Ruth.

“It’s a long day” said Caleb. “This morning we were out on the slopes by seven and planted until six thirty in the evening. But my speed has really picked up. I can plant 2500 trees a day now. And my leg muscles have really bulked up too. You know, bend to dig, lean to plant, bend to cover the sapling roots. It’s really going to help my diving.”

He paused. “I’m going to have to go in a minute. We’re going for a bite to eat. But I need to ask a favour, Mom. I’ve deposited three cheques into my bank account. Next time you go to the bank, can you have my bank book updated for me?”

“Sure dear.”

Then Caleb asked tentatively: “Mom. You alright? You sound sort of tired.”

“Oh yes,” answered Ruth quickly. “I’m fine. I’m just trying to cut down on how much coffee I drink.”

Caleb laughed. “Wow. Glad I’m way out here when you try that.”

Ruth went to the pool to swim laps. She slipped into the cool water, and pushed from the side. Her fingertips cut through the water as she glided. She glided until she lost momentum, and then she began to swim frontcrawl. She loved the rhythm and the reaching of the frontcrawl stroke. She took a deep breath, while her left arm reached in front, held steady. Her right arm stretched alongside her body, then reached high behind her, arching forward and down. One arm in front, the other behind her. One arm above the water, the other in it. Moving rhythmically. Arm up and out of the water, the other pushing water under her body, while her feet kicked. Reach. Breath. Pull. Push. Kick. Reach.

As the water glided over her, past her, Ruth pictured Caleb tree planting. Bend. Poke soil. Reach behind for sapling. Drop sapling into hole. Pat soil down with shovel. Walk three steps. Bend. Poke soil.... One arm reaching high into the air, the other reaching down into the water. Measured. Stretching.

Bend. Poke. Reach. Drop. Pat. Walk. Bend...

Reach. Breath. Pull. Push. Kick. Reach...

Ruth’s swimming rhyme was best by the tenth lap. She did five laps of front crawl, and then changed to the breast stroke. She continued this pattern. One end of the pool to the other. Over and over. By twenty laps her mind relaxed. She had forgotten about the tumor, as though it has floated away. She wished some of the water’s comfort, its cleanliness, would reach Caleb far off in the bush. Would wash over him, refreshing and cleaning him. Ruth swam on, until finally, at seventy laps Ruth knew she could swim no longer. She was so tired that she could barely pull herself out of the pool. Feeling both lean and weak, she dressed slowly, then headed home.

The brown envelope sat on the floor with a shoe print on Ruth’s address, and Honey Garlic Sparerib sauce on the publisher’s return address. Now, when Ruth arrived home all limp and damp, she dropped her swimbag onto the brown envelope, and dampness quickly soaked into it. When Ruth picked up her swim bag for the laundry, she put the envelope back onto the chair. The ink in her name and address was thick and blurry.

When Ruth’s surgeon got the flu, his whole schedule got out of whack. His patients from his four days of sickness had to be squeezed into his already full appointment book. On the day of her second appointment Ruth ate a normal breakfast, but drank only one cup of coffee. She sent emails regarding historical research she was doing to a writing colleague. Then she went out to her garden to trim her rosebushes. From outside she heard the phone ring, and rushed into the house to answer it. She had not heard from Caleb for seven days, and hoped it is him. But it wasn’t Caleb. It was the doctor’s nurse. She was extremely apologetic but due to a pileup on the Mackenzie highway the surgeon had been called out to do emergency surgery. The nurse apologized again, but said it was unavoidable. Ruth, of course, understood. She was rebooked to see the doctor on August 15.

Ruth wrote this down in her calendar, and made herself some coffee. She measured enough coffee for six strong cups. Next, she made dinner plans with friends. And then Ruth packed her bag for swimming laps at the pool.

Caleb called at two in the morning. Ruth had only just managed to doze off because the six cups of coffee had kept her awake. But Caleb was oblivious to her grogginess. It seemed he had called for a specific reason, and he got right to the point.

“Had bit of a close call today,” he said.

“Close call meaning what?” asked Ruth. She was now fully awake, propping herself up on pillows.

The close call had been a grizzly bear and her two cubs. It was midmorning, and Caleb was planting on a south slope, in the sun. His partner about 200 yards west of him. All of a sudden his partner had called to him, telling him to look east. Caleb did, and there was a grizzly cub. So furry and round, nosing its snout in the air. Caleb looked back towards his partner, and saw a second cub to the north. But his partner was still waving frantically for him to look behind him. He did. And then he saw the mother grizzly, not 100 yards from him, with Caleb standing in between her and one cub. She was massive, motionless, with sunlight glistening on her coat. Caleb froze, as he had been instructed to do. Caleb froze and held tight to his shovel. His partner radioed for a helicopter.

That was what they are supposed to do when they saw a grizzly close. Call for help immediately, and stand still. No treeplanter was paid enough money to tousle with a grizzly, their boss had told them. Pretty soon a helicopter appeared over a ridge, and as it approached, it started blaring horns to scare away the mother. The horns bellowed, the sound bouncing off the mountains. But this mother bear didn’t scare easy as she stood still on the grassy slope, eyeing Caleb, and watching her cubs. And her cubs seemed oblivious to the racket, sniffing mountain flowers, and rolling about. The helicopter was hovering just above them when the mother grizzly started walking towards her one cub. She walked in unhurried, deliberate steps, and Caleb was in her path.

Caleb saw her in slow-motion. The helicopter dropped lower, and Caleb’s shirt flapped against his body like a flag. Caleb looked up and saw someone inside the helicopter holding a rifle, with sites set on the mother grizzly and Caleb figured she had about three strides left in her. Three strides and then they would take her out...
And then, suddenly, one cub started to run down the slope. Gone running, seeming to run after something imaginary. The cub ran away from Caleb and away from his mother and this spontaneous movement by the cub was like a gift because it caused the mother grizzly to take her eyes off Caleb, and watch her young one. And without breaking her stride, the mother turned and followed her wayward offspring. Her massive limbs rolled under her glistening fur coat, her gigantic paws flattening large clumps of grass as she ambled down the hill. She did not look back at Caleb, and her other cub followed, unbeckoned. And when the grizzly and her offspring reached the trees they disappeared into them, like raindrops falling into a pond.

Danger was gone, and the helicopter immediately rose higher and higher in the air. It quickly moved forward, making a large turn to head back to basecamp and soon it was a soundless speck in the clear blue sky. Left standing alone on the grassy slope were Caleb and his treeplanting partner, looking at each other and still holding their shovels.

“Anyhow, Mom” finished Caleb. “I just wanted to let you know that I’m OK”.
Ruth was breathless. “Thank God” she said.

They were quiet for a moment, and then Caleb continued:

“Mom, I’ve decided that I’m going to take that swimming scholarship.”

His words took a moment to sink in. Ruth was still seeing the mother grizzly staring at her son.

“Pardon, dear.” she said.

Caleb repeated his decision.

“Oh Caleb,” said Ruth. “I’m so happy. I can’t tell you how happy I am....”

And then she asked, “Caleb. When did you make this decision?”

Caleb hesitated. “When I saw the claw marks in the ground where I’d left my lunch.”

Caleb returned home from treeplanting in mid August so he would have time enough to get ready for university. Ruth almost didn’t recognize him when he walked through the arrival doors of the airport. When he had left for treeplanting his blond hair had been cut short. Now it was long, sunbleached white, and curly all over. Curls like when he was two years old. His skin was tanned bronze, and his body no longer lean, but muscular. Caleb’s outdoorsy clothes had been thrown out when he left camp, and he now wore blue jeans and a white T-shirt. He looked so different... But his voice was the same.

“Hi, Mom,” grinned Caleb, his arms outstretched. “Let this treeplanter give ya a bear hug.”

The doctor’s office was tastefully decorated in antique furniture and wildlife prints. Patients sat on wooden chairs looking at National Geographic, Country Home, or House and Garden. Ruth didn’t feel like reading. The receptionist talked quietly on the phone. Since this doctor was a general surgeon, Ruth figured not everyone had a fear of finding out they had cancer.

She was called into the examining room, and given a green robe to wear. The doctor would be with her soon. His credentials hung on the wall beside framed pictures of the human anatomy. A large metal needle sat upon a sterile white cloth. It looked like a tool for applying grout to bathroom tile.

The doctor entered, his starched white coat swishing. He smiled at her, introduced himself, and shook her hand. He wore steal rimmed glasses, a silk tie and white shirt. His pants had a pleat as sharp as a knife, his shoes were an expensive brogue.
He apologized for the missed appointments.

“No problem,” said Ruth.

First the flu, then the highway pileup. He hoped she understood that both were unavoidable.

“Of course”, replied Ruth. She knew a car wreck was much worse than what she had, but, still, it now felt as though she was headed for a wreck of her own...

“Now, I understand you have a breast tumor,” he said matter of factly.

“Yes,” said Ruth.

He nodded, and asked her to open her robe for examination. Ruth always found this part of visiting a specialists amusing. She had just met this man. Why, only yesterday he could have been behind her in the Home Hardware lineup buying a new sprinkler. But you put a doctor in a white coat and a patient with a tumor in a sterile examining room, and kabang - its “show and tell.”

His examination was thorough and quiet. His hands were smooth, fingers like those of a pianist, nails white and manicured. The hands of a surgeon. He pressed on the tumor, moved the tumor, his eyes half closed, now focusing on an invisible speck on the wall.

“Hmmm” he said.

He had her sit up and raise one arm at a time.

Again he said, “Hmmm.” Then, “I believe it is benign, but I will take a biopsy sample to be sure. If it is benign, but you still have this cyst in two months, I will want to remove it with a local anathetic. I just don’t like empty tumours sitting around a body. Just waiting for trouble to move right in, I always think.”

Ruth nodded slowly, her body relaxing.

Rubber gloves were snapped on, and he reached for the sterile tool. It was the size of a bicycle pump. He efficiently took a sample and the pain was minimal. He squeezed the retrieved liquid into a jar.

“My office will call you within a week,” he said briskly. He was sealing and labeling the jar. “You call my office in two months if this thing is still kicking around, and we will set a date for surgery.” He turned and looked at Ruth. “Do you have any questions?”

“No, I don’t”, said Ruth. “Thank you.”

He smiled, and lines crinkled around his eyes. “It was good to meet you, and we’ll be in touch.”

And then he was gone.

A pile of shoes lay inside the front door. Powdered grit was evenly spread upon her hardwood floor, and her hall runner was askew. Large moist sockprints led to the basement, and several backpacks sat under her antique desk. Ruth heard a baseball game on television in the family room. The brown envelope from PenWrite Press had again fallen off the chair and was now partially hidden under the shoes. Ruth picked it up. Ruth sighed at seeing things untidy, but she knew she would miss all the untidiness once Caleb headed off to school. Her house would be immaculate and silent, and she wondered what she would do with her time.

Ruth had bought some groceries, and she left them on the kitchen table. Still carrying the brown envelope, she went downstairs. Five young men were draped across her furniture, and their pizza cartons sat on the coffee table.

“Hi Mom”

“Hi Mrs. S”

“Hi boys. Nice to see you,” She reached for a slice.

Without taking his eyes off the TV, Caleb said “We drank all the pop, Mom.”

“No problem, I’m making coffee. Anyone like some?”

Mumbles of no thank you. The game was at an impasse.

She turned to leave, and Caleb called, “Hey Mom, I’m going camping with the guys for the weekend. Don’t worry, I’ve already cut the grass.”

“Thanks dear. Where are you going camping?” But her words were lost, amidst exclamations and frustrations at the state of the team. Ruth left, a slice of pizza and the brown envelope in her hand.

As Ruth waited for the coffee to percolate, she opened the brown envelope. It was quite thick for a rejection letter. She noticed the shoe print, the brown sauce stain, and the blurred printing. As she ripped the envelope the smell of coffee wafted to her nostrils and she inhaled deeply. Her mouth yearned for a sip of the hot, black liquid. Ruth pulled folded paper from the envelope and read the first page. It was a letter and it said:


Dear Ms. Sutherland,

As you may know, the author Trevor Jackson is not well. He has suffered a mild stroke. With the advice of his doctors, Mr. Jackson has concluded that the demands of physiotherapy and the needed rest time will make it impossible for him to write the last book in his trilogy series “Stoneposts”. This has been a very difficult decision for Mr. Jackson, and a sad one for us to receive, as his publishers. However, while ill health has prevented Mr. Jackson from writing the third book, it has not prevented him from stating who he will allow to write the last book. Mr. Jackson insists that you, Ms. Sutherland, be the writer for the third and final novel. Mr. Jackson has stated that your research for the other two books has been invaluable. He has also stated that your writing style, perseverance, and commitment to accuracy and dedication to detail make you the perfect person to write this greatly anticipated last book in the series.

Mr. Jackson wishes that the title remain “Stoneposts: Departing the Gates”, as promoted by us the publishers. However, Mr. Jackson insists that your name, and only your name, be on the cover as author. He will forward all his research notes, for you to use as you see fit. He entrusts this work to you entirely.

This will be a new role for you, as you have been a researcher for the other books. We have the utmost confidence in your abilities as a writer, and we at PenWrite Press sincerely hope you will accept this new challenge. We will look forward to hearing from you regarding your decision to accept this project.


Helen Foster, Publisher


Ruth stood motionless in her kitchen. The coffee finished perking. The young men cheered downstairs. Slowly, Ruth reread the letter. Slowly. Word by word. She could hardly believe what she was reading.

Ruth carefully folded the letter, and placed it back into the envelope. She heard her son hoot at the baseball game. Ruth pressed the tumour in her breast, and held the brown envelope close to her heart. She blinked back tears.

Shaking, Ruth poured her coffee. She slowly walked outside to the backyard where the pungent smell of freshly cut grass surrounded her. She sat in her lawn chair, near the tire swing. She put the envelope on her lap, sipped her coffee, and looked up through tree branches into the late afternoon sky. Above her a robin was singing; his song pure and clear. She thought: my son is happy. My work is respected. And Ruth felt very rich.

It is early Saturday morning. The sun is just breaking over the horizon. The pilot detaches the ropes, and the balloon lifts. It lifts with a jolt, and then floats rapidly higher and higher. Up and further up. Ruth’s heart races, and she squints her eyes at the new sun, while the wind blows her hair and makes her jacket flap. The rise of the balloon is sudden and exhilarating. With one hand she clings to the side of the basket, the other hand holding her travel coffee mug.

Their route is already charted. Over the suburbs, where trees are tall, and backyards are fenced. Over neighbourhoods that are still sleeping...

Ruth hears a dog bark, and she smiles. Only one lone dog barking, until others join the chorus. And high above the ruckus, Ruth sips her coffee, and observes the beauty of the sunrise over the city.

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