For all the trouble Jesus went through He should at least get a jelly bean. And so begins the gospel according to Matthew Green—small town boy growing up with brains, a baseball star brother and a bi-polar mom. In another dimension, Frankie Leigh Young is tripping around the globe with a father who writes other people’s history. In Shift Happens, ten linked short stories follow their delightfully difficult journeys. As the new millennium approaches worlds collide in a novella about life amidst loss, love after loneliness and laughter in the lunacy.
My daughter kicked her therapist in the face. It’s shameful that rushing to this woman’s aid makes me so damn happy. “I’m a doctor, let me take a look.” Christ Matt, you’re an idiot. She knows you’re a doctor. What I am is—pathetic. I grasp any chance to be close, catch her quiet citrus scent, touch the silky threads of copper coiling through her auburn hair. “Can you focus?” When I examine her eye it’s as if I’m looking at planet earth from outer space. How can anyone have lashes this long?
I’m invisible. She only sees my daughter’s thick little body crouched, her almond eyes spilling enormous tears. She soothes Emma. “Sweetheart, don’t cry. Listen to the super ‘S’ sounds we made: Spinning somersaults sparked stars.”
Emma’s tongue ties when she’s upset. I apologize for her. “I’m so sorry, Frankie.”
The curve of her smile pulls like the moon. “I’m fine Matt. Today is ‘S’ day. They’re always suspenseful and surprising, eh, Emma?” Em’s flyaway hair rises with each stroke of Frankie’s hand. “Look, Emma, another ‘S’ word: static.”
I’m electrified just looking at her. “Where can I find some ice?”
“Upstairs.” It’s a noisy climb: Frankie’s dogs jingle and click as they scramble up. Emma’s corrective shoes clomp. What I hear is the soft kiss of Frankie’s bare feet on the steps. She often kicks off her shoes to play with the kids. They’re pretty feet, never polished.
Frankie’s a thirty-something flower child, living in an ancient hardware emporium. Her children’s clinic is downstairs, and upstairs is a loft as enchanting as her. It’s wide-open-free and overflowing-full in the same instant. Peculiar, eccentrically beautiful treasures that don’t belong together simply make themselves at home. Colour pulses everywhere, but in my eye it fades to a white gauzy-draped bed floating in the corner.
Emma skips through the gate of a peeling picket fence and arranges a row of ebony elephants. “Emma, don’t touch!”
“Emma knows she can touch.” Frankie pauses until I’m in her eyes. “There’s nothing here not made more beautiful by a few cracks and scratches.”
I force my thoughts from the bed to the shocks of colour on the walls. “My son would love this place.” A floor to ceiling tribal dance makes me thirsty. “Who painted this?”
“Me. Is your son an artist?”
“Second year, U of T. The poor kid still lives at home, to help out with Emma. I’m determined he’ll live on campus next year.”
“Where’s Emma’s mom?”
I trace the grain flowing through a swirl of polished wood. “Traveling—for the past six years.”
Her hand joins mine in journeying the lines. “This piece is from Africa. Probably a thousand years old.”
“Do you travel a lot, Frankie?”
“My father wrote other people’s histories which landed us in some pretty interesting places. To be honest, I’ve had my fill of it.”
I can’t sleep. Her scent is in my head. When was the last time I lay awake, naked, hand busy under loose sheets? Usually, I’m just too tired. I feel a stupid fool, almost fifty, son in university, Emma—eight, still struggling to tie her shoes, and me dreaming about having this ethereal being.
I wake ahead of the alarm. This morning I don’t run a twenty-three minute, 5K circle. I ramble through the ravine. I think about a wife, lost somewhere finding herself. What were her last words?—Life’s too short for this shit. I don’t miss her anymore. I’m not so bloody pissed either, and I’ve stopped—almost stopped, being so damn scared all the time. I do, however, miss our housekeeper, Helma. What were her last words?—I’m getting too old for this shit. I especially miss her on mornings when there’s no clean underwear. Being an oncologist puts all the shit into perspective. The question I’m most asked is: “How much time do I have?”
Today. All any of us has is today.