Why Blog A Book?
I’ve gotten this question a lot this week, and there’s no easy answer. Certainly it’s not right for everyone. But it is for me.
Serial fiction is hardly new. Charles Dickens did it and so did Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It was very popular during the Victorian Age because it was affordable and it has been around since then, in varying formats. Arguably, television shows like 24, Breaking Bad, or Game Of Thrones are modern examples of serial fiction. Now TV shows obviously aren’t the same as books, but it is the natural evolution of storytelling.
One of my fave writers, Margaret Atwood, has written one. I’m no Dickens, Doyle, or Atwood, but it seems to me that if these greats can see the benefits of the serial novel then it can’t be all bad.
There are pros and cons, and I’ve weighed them carefully. I believe having a scheduled timetable will motivate me to write and hone my skills. Practice makes perfect, and all that.
There’s also the worry that no one will buy the cow once I’ve given away the milk. And that’s probably true. It’s a good thing I’ve already decided that that doesn’t matter to me. It’s a risk, but I’m thinking building a base of readers will help boost this thing when it is released as an ebook after it is polished. Certainly there are sites I could have used that would have gotten me paid. I don’t want this to be about that.
Mostly, I think it’ll be fun. It’s fun creating these characters, bringing them to life. And it’ll be fun interacting with my readers, hearing your suggestions and critiques, and reading your comments. So far, I’m having a blast and I hope you are too.
The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen all at once.
Alex leaned against the rail of the Spirit of British Columbia, breathing in the misty, salty air as the ferry churned the waters of the Pacific Ocean. On the shore, large sentinel pines jutted from craggy rock faces, swaying gently in the wind as the boat sailed by. He could have taken a flight directly into the island airport, but he preferred the ferry. He had pleasant memories from his childhood riding the ferry. For a young boy craving adventure, the little voyage offered the imagination an infinite amount of opportunity. As an adult, a 58 year old man, it remained a pleasant experience. It was a calming journey, and frankly, he needed that time to relax, to prepare for the turbulent times that were headed his way.
His father was dying. Alex knew this day was coming. His father had been ill for quite some time, and his prognosis was never good. Stomach pains revealed a tumour, which was later determined to be pleomorphic liposarcoma, a rare and aggressive form of cancer. Brennan bore the pain well, ignoring it far longer than he should have, certainly longer than common sense dictated. The rounds of chemotherapy took its toll on the man, a senior citizen already experiencing the cruel withdrawal of strength that comes with old age. And for all the good it did. The tumour never abated, never went away. It became like a conquering army, never satisfied with the territory it occupied, always craving more, spreading so fast, so maliciously, that Brennan was now completely dependent on machines for life, and now, even that artificial life was denied him. His time was up.
Pangs of guilt ate at Alex’s stomach, like maggots devouring a corpse. He should have been there for his dad. He should have made the most of their time left. Alex visited, what was it? A month ago? Six weeks? He wasn’t sure. His dad was weak then, and surely dying, but he was also alive too. They went fishing. Brennan was too frail to go far, so they sat in his old outboard motor boat, still tethered to the dock, casting their lines into the ocean. Brennan hooked a big salmon, probably a fifty pounder, Alex surmised, but wasn’t strong enough to reel it in. Alex offered to help his dad, but Brennan said no. He cut the line and let the fish swim free. “I know what it’s like to be caught but not reeled in,” Brennan said. “To know that you’re at the end of your line, so to speak, and that whatever freedom you’ve got is an illusion because before long, the line will grow tighter and tighter, until you end up in the frying pan. At least one of us deserves a chance to get away.”
They said their goodbyes and Alex flew home. He regretted that now. He had no family there. All his family lived here. His father, his sister and her family, his son, Lorne, and even his ex-wife, Eugenie, all lived here. He left Victoria to escape Eugenie, and the humiliation, betrayal, and sorrow she brought him. They met as teens, her well-to-do family summered on the island, and they fell madly in love, with all the passion and urgency unique to teens. They each unburdened the other of the shackles of virginity, but they were careless, or carefree, and Genie became pregnant.
Her father was enraged. He was a god-fearing man, a devout catholic, and a well-heeled business man. It was not acceptable that his daughter was with child, unmarried. Even worse, Alex was from a poor family and didn’t even attend church. He’d never even been baptized! His daughter couldn’t, wouldn’t have a baby with a peasant and a heathen. That just would not do. Those weren’t his exact words, of course. That’s just how Alex remembered them, even now, years later.
Alex’s parents weren’t angry, but they were disappointed. Alex was supposed to go off to university, get a degree, get an education, and be something. His mother was more upset than his father. Somehow, Brennan took a more philosophical approach; whatever Alex’s destiny was, he would find it in his own good time. He did insist that Alex do right by this girl and the child she carried. Alex, armed with his grandmother’s ring, proposed to Eugenie. Her father flat-out rejected the entire notion.
The only time Brennan got his back up was when Genie’s father intimated that Alex wasn’t good enough for her. They were by no means poor, modest, perhaps, but not poor. Brennan worked hard to provide for his family, and they never wanted for anything. As for God, Brennan had seen enough reasons during the war to affirm his agnostic beliefs. If there was a God, Brennan reasoned that the onus was on Him to prove His existence. He wouldn’t be preached to, especially by a blue-blooded, hypocrite. As if on cue, Eugenie and her family disappeared. She sent him a postcard, apologizing for the sudden departure, and informing him that she had lost the baby. The word abortion was never used. She had simply, conveniently, lost the baby. Alex knew the truth, and it was ugly. They didn’t return until the following summer, and Genie was forbidden to see Alex. That should have been the end of it, but you never really forget your first love, not with finality.
Years later, after Alex had passed the bar exam and was articling with a small firm in Victoria, he ran into Genie at a luncheon at the Empress Hotel. She was in town as a keynote speaker discussing the modern women and her evolving role in society. Genie graduated from the University of Toronto with a degree in political science and women’s studies, and was working on a report on battered women with no safe have from which to escape. They hit it off, and after an afternoon of escalating flirtatious banter, they begged off to his apartment, and made love.
Eventually, they did marry. Her father was more accepting of him, he was a lawyer, after all, though He and Alex never saw eye to eye. They had a child, just one, after a string of miscarriages. Alex never said it aloud, but he was certain it was the universe sending them a message. They didn’t deserve to be parents. Not after what happened before. Not after Genie had…lost…their first child. But their efforts eventually paid off, and a son was born to them.
Brennan doted on Lorne. He loved that boy, and spoiled him at every opportunity. Brennan was also the first to realize that Lorne was gay, probably before Lorne even knew it. Even still, he loved his grandson, and instilled in him a sense of self-worth that he would need as he grew up. Being gay was never going to be easy, Brennan knew that. He made sure that Lorne would be strong enough to be honest with himself, to not be ashamed of himself, and to stand up for himself. He taught Lorne that being gay didn’t also mean that he couldn’t be a man.
Alex had a harder time accepting his son’s sexuality. His intolerance led to a bitter estrangement, and was a key point in the dissolution of his marriage. Alex had to take responsibility for that part of it. He was too hard on Lorne. Too unforgiving. He didn’t pretend to understand his son. In the back of his mind, it was still a choice. Lorne chose to have sex with men. It wasn’t right, it wasn’t natural. A father wants his son to carry on the family name, needs his son to fulfill his legacy. Time had also softened his stance. He loved Lorne, and missed him terribly. He was losing his father; he didn’t want to lose his son too. Alex resolved to mend things with Lorne. To make them right.
Genie had a bigger role in the divorce though, Alex thought bitterly. Her affair with the tennis coach had ensured that. He hated her for that. For turning their marriage into a mockery, worse still, a fucking cliché. The tennis pro at the country club? Really? She took everything, or rather, he let her take everything. He was so heart-broken, so humiliated, that he didn’t have any fight left in him. He took the ferry, carrying one suitcase, and left behind his career, his wife, his son, and his life.
That was five years ago. He hadn’t spoken to Genie since. He planned on never speaking to her again. His interactions with Lorne had been sparse. He sent his son a Christmas card and a birthday card every year. Lorne was a grown man now, twenty eight years old, and he was proud. The enclosed cheques were never cashed. They shared a few miserly phone calls here and there, intermittent and infrequent. When he visited his father, he always met with his son too. Usually for dinner, the awkward silences outweighing the conversational small talk. Neither man knew where to start. The pain between them was as solid and unforgiving as a brick wall.
A chorus of gleeful children broke Alex from his bitter thoughts. They were pointing into the water, and Alex followed their lead, spotting a pod of orcas playfully breaching the water and jumping into the boat’s wake. How he envied them, and their carefree lives. Briefly, he considered jumping in too, joining the whales in their foray before succumbing to the pounding ocean. It was foolish, of course. The crew would pull him from the water, rescuing him from death but condemning him to life. Alex didn’t want to die anyway. Sure the idea of escaping his life appealed to him, but he didn’t want to die. Not really. He wanted to live, but he wasn’t really doing that either.
Alex stepped off the gangplank, making his way inside the Swartz Bay terminal and waited for his luggage on the carousel. It was spring but the clear, blue sky and warm sunshine made it feel like summer, especially given the frigid winter that had only just passed. Alex learned a couple new phrases during the long winter; polar vortex and frost quakes. He hoped both would soon be erased from his vocabulary soon enough. If it wasn’t freezing then it was snowing. Alex couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen so much snow. Victoria’s mild temperatures would be enjoyed, Alex thought, a silver lining for his otherwise funereal visit. Alex’s stomach was a bundle of raw nerves. He hated goodbyes, and yet he knew that his father didn’t have much time left. How do you say goodbye to someone who is dying? Certainly Dad had a good, long life. He would be ninety in July. If he made it that long, Alex amended. Brennan was born into a humble family. His parents immigrated from England, and made their home on Vancouver Island. He’d spent the lion’s share of his life on the island, except the years when he’d served in the war.
The war. Even as a grown man, Alex knew little about his father’s service. Brennan never talked about it. Whatever he saw there, all the bloodshed and violence, left its mark on him. Today, he would be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, and treated accordingly. Back then, men were men and emotional damage wasn’t considered a big deal. Brennan was just expected to deal with it, stiff upper lip and all that. There was no doubt that the war affected him, but to what extent, no one knew. Alex suspected that’s why his parents never travelled. His mother always wanted to see Paris, but Brennan couldn’t bear the thought of stepping foot in Europe, even as a tourist. It’s hard to appreciate the beauty of the Eiffel Tower when you’ve seen it bathed in the glow of bursting bombs. Alex’s mother, Esmé, never complained. She understood that her husband was damaged goods when they met, and loved him anyway.
Brennan and Esmé met after the war, in 1955. He was thirty-one and she was five years his junior. He courted her for three months and married her three months after that. Alex was born the following year. Alex suspected it was a shotgun wedding, but it didn’t seem to affect their marriage. They loved each other until the day Esmé passed away, also from cancer. When she died, a part of Brennan died too. He became withdrawn and wore his grief like a veil, shrouding himself in his sadness. Sometimes Alex thought Brennan was glad to be dying; at least he would see his wife again.
Alex recognised his suitcase rolling along the conveyor belt. He retrieved it and rolled it out the doors, scanning for a taxi. He already made an online reservation at the Holiday Inn and planned to check in and then rent a car. The rest of the afternoon would be spent at the hospital, providing whatever comfort he could for his father. He wheeled past a well-dressed young man with unruly, dark hair, and a neatly trimmed beard. The man was talking on his cell phone while casting an eye towards the throng of people milling through the terminal. Probably looking for his girlfriend, Alex thought.
“I think I see him,” the man said, into the phone. “Brown hair, greying at the temples? Hold on. Let me see?” Alex walked towards the taxi stand. “Mr. Allenby? I’m looking for a Mr. Alexander Allenby.”
Alex turned, making eye contact with the handsome young man. “I’m Alex Allenby,” he said, a note of confusion written across his brow. “Who are you? A chauffeur?”
The man laughed, it was an easy-going, almost lyrical laugh. The sort of laugh from someone accustomed to laughing, unforced and completely natural. “No. I’m here to pick you up, but I’m not a chauffeur. My name is Jeff.” Jeff extended his hand and Alex shook it.
“How did you know I was coming?”
“Lorne sent me. He wanted to come himself, but he didn’t want to leave the hospital. I guess there’s a lot of drama going on there right now. His aunt is making things a little awkward.”
“That sounds like Emily, alright,” Alex said. “My sister isn’t happy until you’re not happy. It’s written right on her business card.”
Jeff laughed again, sounding genuinely sincere. His hazel eyes twinkled with mirth. He exuded confidence and had a charisma about him. Alex liked him and got the sense that most everybody did. “She’s not so bad,” Jeff said. He picked up the suitcase and walked into the parking lot, towards a silver BMW. Jeff pressed a button on his key fob, releasing the trunk. He placed Alex’s suitcase inside.
“How is Emily holding up?” Alex asked. All joking aside, his younger sister was a sensitive soul. Watching their father slowly, painfully waste away can’t have been easy. Alex felt guilty for letting her shoulder that burden alone. He should have been here.
“She’s as well as can be expected,” Jeff said. “I think she is afraid to let him go. She’s trying to hold onto him however she can.”
“What do you mean?”
“You’ll see it when we get to the hospital.” The two men climbed into the car, Jeff at the wheel. He started the engine up and drove off. Silence spread between the two men, growing larger as the seconds ticked by. Alex welcomed it, giving him a chance to think. After a half hour or so along the highway, Jeff turned onto a quiet residential road, pulling into the driveway of a quaint brick bungalow. “Here we are,” Jeff said, breaking the quiet.
“Where are we going? I thought I told Lorne that I was staying at the Holiday Inn?”
“Oh you did,” Jeff agreed. “I won’t hear of it though. You’re staying with us. In our spare bedroom.”
“With us? Are you and Lorne…” Alex let the sentence trail off, uncomfortable with its destination.
“Oh,” Jeff said, his cheeks reddened. “I’m so sorry. I thought you knew who I was. I thought Lorne told you about us. I’m his partner. His, uh, boyfriend.” Jeff’s face turned a few shades redder.
“Lorne has mentioned you,” Alex replied politely. “In one of our phone calls. I just didn’t connect the dots.” In all honesty, Lorne never mentioned Jeff before. One topic strictly verboten during any conversation between father and son was Lorne’s sexuality, or anything that associated to it. Alex’s stomach churned. He couldn’t stay here. Not under the same roof as Lorne and his affable, attractive lover. Not in the same house where his son shared a bed with another man. He couldn’t do it. “I appreciate the thought, Jeff, but I think it’s best if I stay at a hotel. Lorne and I, well things are complicated between us, and I don’t want to impose.”
“It’s no imposition. Besides, we love hosting guests. My parents stayed here at Christmas and there was plenty of room.”
“Just the same, I would prefer to stay at a hotel. I’m going to be coming and going at all hours.”
“Us too,” Jeff said. “Lorne barely leaves his grandfather’s side. They are very close. Lorne says that he’s been more of a father than…”
“They’ve always been thick as thieves, those two,” Alex interrupted, not wanting to hear the end of that sentence.
“I didn’t mean it like that,” Jeff said. “Look, I know that things haven’t always been easy between you two. Lorne wants to patch things up, he really does. He just doesn’t know how. This is a start. If you don’t want to stay here, I’ll understand, but I think it may break his heart.”
Alex sighed. He did want to make amends with Lorne. He resolved to give it a try. If things didn’t work out, he could always go to a hotel later. “Show me to my room, Jeff,” Alex said, forcing himself to smile.
The house was tiny, but well-maintained and clean. The guest room was small, with just enough room for a double bed and a dresser with a small flat screen television resting on top. A lamp sat on a nightstand on the side of the bed furthest from the door. It would be more than what he needed during his stay. Alex plopped his suitcase onto the bed, deciding to unpack later. Right now, he really needed to get to the hospital.
Hospitals. Is there any place on this Earth with the innate ability to promote such a profound feeling of dread within a soul? The harsh, white lights reflected brilliantly in the waxy sheen of the polished floor tiles, their corona inviting the next reflection, onwards to seeming eternity. The walls, painted the epitome of the mundane ordinary that could only be imagined by a practiced pragmatist, an expert utilitarian. Doctors walked the hallways like gods, aware of the implications of every little decision. They were aware that they stood like sentries guarding the passageway between life and death. Nurses flitted around like bumble bees, their every movement purposeful. The cacophony of noise flooded the halls and washed over everything, drowning the hospital in harried bits of fragmented conversations. The building had a particular, peculiar odour that had an immediate Pavlovian effect on Alex, triggering a nervous anxiety.
Jeff led Alex to Brennan’s room. It was obvious that he had been here before, probably many times. Alex felt guilty, again, for not being there when his father needed him. For letting his own problems get the better of him, for running from those problems. For running away. He was here now, though, and that was going to have to be enough. He didn’t have the time for self-recrimination now. Surely he could hate himself later.
Inside, the room was divided into 3 separate areas by heavy, drab green curtains. They did little to maintain privacy, save to perpetrate the illusion of it. That thought reminded him of The Wizard of Oz, and the great wizard’s revelation as nothing more than a fraud, once the curtains were thrown open. If only these curtains could be opened similarly, Alex thought. Expose all this as a lie.
“Alex. You finally made it,” Emily said. She got up from her seat and embraced him. Alex noted the way she said the word finally, peppering it with accusation and blame. He knew what she was really saying and couldn’t blame her. They were the same thoughts that haunted him. She was younger than he but the years had been unkind and betrayed her. She lost her figure during her first pregnancy and never got it back. Gravity tugged at her in all the wrong places and the crow’s feet and wrinkles that once subtly lined her face had become deeper, more pronounced. Her hair, a matronly patchwork of grays, was cut into a neat little bob that only served to accentuate the plumpness of her face. Her cheeks had rivers of mascara dried upon them that served as a reminder of her sorrow. “We’re so glad that you’re here. Dad’s been asking for you. He wants to talk to you.”
“I want to talk to him too,” Alex said. “To say goodbye.” Emily cried, as though the thought of saying goodbye hadn’t yet occurred to her. Or perhaps saying it out loud cemented the merely hypothetical into the inevitable. He comforted her for a moment before she fell into her husband, Clive’s arms. Clive was a hard man, and he and Alex never saw eye to eye, but there seemed to be a moment of peace between them. They exchanged no words but merely nodded their heads in a nearly imperceptible greeting. Emily’s children hugged Alex now, Dolores and Jake. They weren’t twins but they bore a resemblance and shared a closeness that was almost inappropriate, not in an overtly sexual manner, but with a familiarity not commonly found in opposite sex siblings. Alex found it creepy.
“Uncle Alex,” Dolores said. “We’ve all missed you.”
“I was just saying so the other day,” added Jake. “I said it’s almost a reunion, all we need is Uncle Alex.”
“I’m here now so I guess it’s a party then, is it?” The kids laughed in unison. Lorne approached his father and awkwardly extended his hand in greeting before changing his mind and embracing Alex in a tight hug. Alex returned the gesture and swore he heard Lorne let out a soft sob.
“It’s okay, son,” he said. “Everything will be okay.”
“I know Dad. I’m just glad you’re here. I could really use the reinforcements,” he whispered into his father’s ear. It’s been…difficult.” Alex nodded his head. Jeff had said something to that affect earlier and Alex knew how trying his sister could be. She took it upon herself to be Mother Hen, but all her clucking about generally served to make things more complicated. Couple that with her stubborn refusal to back down and her mostly well-intentioned acts became like the decrees of a tyrant. It was just generally easier to accede to her demands, but damn it if she didn’t always get her way. Alex resolved to not give in to her this time. Their father was dying. He wouldn’t add the stress of trying to keep Emily happy to his worries as well.
Everyone parted, allowing Alex to see his father. He took a seat beside the bed and took his dad’s limp hand into his own. It was now the hand of a stranger. His memories all involved the strength found in these old hands. How they once held and comforted Alex when he needed the protection that a father gives to his children. Now the tables had turned, and Alex was the strong one. He rubbed his father’s hand, tracing the wrinkles and blemishes wrought with age, and paused when he reached the stump where his pinky once was. He never did get a straight answer about how he had lost it. Brennan was a teller of tall tales, and Alex remembered the mischievous glint that twinkled in his father’s eyes when he would tell how he lost his finger to an ogre, or a pig bit it off, or a gypsy stole it, or he lost it in a bet, or a Nazi cut it off, or any of the dozens of other stories he’s heard. Whatever the truth was, it was probably more mundane than the stories and Alex had grown to love the stories. He didn’t want to know the truth. Not anymore because it would mean losing the stories.
There were all manner of tubes and wires connected to Brennan, keeping his heart pumping, monitoring him, feeding him, and medicating him. Despite himself, Alex felt teary. It hurt to see his dad like this, not only mortal, but dying. It was the way of things, he knew but it still hurt.
“Dad? It’s me, Alex.” Brennan lay on his thin bed, eyes closed and mouth agog as the machines whirred quietly around him. His breathing was heavy and loud. “I’m here now,” he said. Alex was content letting his father rest while holding his hand. Even though he didn’t have much time left, Alex didn’t want to rouse him. They’d surely have time to talk soon enough. Alex had no plans to leave his bedside.
“He’s always asleep,” Emily said. “You have to yell just so he can hear you. His hearing hasn’t been the same and they’ve taken his aids out. Dad! Dad, wake up!”
“I want his hearing aids when he’s gone,” said Jake. “I swear my hearing is going too. Must be genetic. I can’t afford to buy my own.”
“There’s no sense waiting,” Dolores said. “He can’t use them now. You should just go ahead and take them. Someone may as well use them.”
“I don’t think you can just wear someone else’s hearing aids, can you Jeff?” Lorne asked.
Jeff shrugged. “Sometimes yes, sometimes no. You will have some fees though, for evaluations and the like.”
“At least I can save a few bucks,” Jake responded.
“It’s fine by me,” Dolores said. “I just want his car.” The car in question was a two year old Chevrolet that probably had less than a thousand kilometres on it. It was practically brand new. Brennan only drove it to the grocery store and to doctor’s appointments.
“That’s part of his estate,” Lorne interjected. “You can’t just have it.”
“Yes she can,” Emily said. “She needs it for school. Besides, it’s under my name so it’s not a part of his estate. Alex remembered when the car was bought. Brennan paid for it but Emily bought it using her husband’s employee discount at the dealership he was a salesman at. That she had ownership was a technicality borne of convenience. It would have to remain a part of the estate in the interest of fairness. That would be a battle he would have with her later. They would not argue about his father’s possessions while he lay dying, circling about like a wake of vultures plucking meat from a carcass.
Brennan’s eyes fluttered open. “Alex,” he spoke hoarsely. “It’s good to see you.”
“You too, Dad.”
“Can you give us some privacy?” Brennan asked the other members of the family. “I need to speak with Alex.”
“We’re all here to see you, Dad,” Emily said defiantly.
“And you’ll get to see me. I’m not dead yet,” he snapped. “Let me speak to Alex.”
Emily crossed her arms, preparing to dig her heels in but Clive took her shoulder and forcibly led her away. “Why don’t we get some coffee,” he suggested. “Maybe sit down and relax for a bit.”
“Fine,” she said, resigned to defeat. The others shuffled after them. Lorne turned and paused at the door, hand in hand with Jeff. “We’re taking you out for lunch today Dad,” he said. Alex nodded his head in agreement and they left the room too.
“God damn it,” Brennan swore. “I never thought they’d leave. Sometimes I pretend to be tired just so they leave me alone.”
“You heard what they said?” Alex asked, embarrassed.
“Every word,” Brennan said. His voice was weak but it was obvious that he still had his wits and wit about him. “I’m just glad that they don’t want my teeth. I’m not done with them yet,” he said.