Last week, I was on the late train, coming home from a U of T night class. Five or six kids were lounging by the door, waiting for their stop.
“You should see the size of these zucchini, Man. They’re f—ing huge.” The speaker was somewhere between nineteen and twenty-one. He had the sway of a drunk and a way-cool fedora. “I mean, man, they’re huge.” He spread his hands about two feet. Shook his head looking at large gap between them. “Massive. You wouldn’t believe the stuff my grand-pa grows. He’s got every f—ing…” He groped for the word. “Vegetable, you could think of. Squash…uhm, beans.”
One of his friends of them was wearing a Canadian flag like a cape, which had puzzled me, until I figured out they’d been to a hockey game. He was fumbling with the knot tied at his throat. Like the guy with fedora, he looked near wasted, but he was either one toke or one drink soberer, which meant, he could roll his eyes. The conversation had moved on.
But Fedora-boy was still lost in reverie. “Peas too. Some flowers. Fruit trees. It looks like…” He stared at floor trying to find the right word. “Eden, or something, man. Like a garden. All these trees, and…”
The train slowed for my stop. I angled past the boys, and as I did, I had to squash the impulse to turn to the kid and tell him, “You know how you think of your grandfather’s garden as an Eden? And how you remember every detail of it, even when you’re so out of it, it’s six to one that you’ll get off at the wrong station? That’s going to stay with you. No matter how old you get. You’ll remember parts of it—little pieces, tiny bits—and they’ll cling. And one day, you might find yourself looking for the right lyric, or the right description in your prose, and it will leak out.”
But I didn’t say anything.
Recently, I’ve been spending a lot of time going over Hedi’s Book of Rules, or as St. Martin’s Press calls it “UNTITLED #1.” Some time has past since I’d last read my urban-fantasy manuscript. The experience was different. I was reading it, not looking for a better adjective, or checking for the missing period. And as I did, I recognized bits and pieces of my life embroidered into the narrative.
Not consciously. Quite the opposite. Things I’d seen. Places I’d been. Little flashes of this memory or that. The way the light hit my favourite tree. I’d put them in the book, not realizing that I wasn’t imagining something so much as recalling something.
For the record, I’m not Hedi. She does things I would never do. But I’ve gifted to her parts of me, as surely as if I’d stuck my hand into the box of memories and pulled out a handful of life fragments.
If I could bless the emerging writer anything, I’d bestow on him or her a good memory–like Poppa’s garden, or the smell of your mother’s neck.
Though I’ve got to wonder. Just what word will the future song-writer come up with to rhyme with zucchini? Puccini? Dry Martini?