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Category Archives: Happenings in Paradise
Except for the cat, the kitchen was empty when Norma arrived downstairs, following the whiff of coffee that drifted up to her room. It was such a luxury to have her mother do things for her, she thought, as she lifted the pot and poured herself a generous cup.
And Katya! She reached for the cat on its fridge-top perch and tugged her off, sticking her nose into her deep winter-pile coat. “Mmmm, mmm!” she was still cuddling her when her mother appeared through the mud room door, her coat undone and her boots unzipped.
Norma cautiously lifted the telephone and dialed the operator, carefully deciphering Mrs. Jason’s writing . She wasn’t used to the telephone, and was afraid she would make a mistake and waste money calling a wrong number. She asked the operator to make the call ‘person to person’, so that she wouldn’t be paying for the time she was waiting. On the few occasions when Norma made a long distance call, she tried to reach her party quickly, then have that person phone her back. No one minded this. They all knew she had very little money. And the operator always agreed to call her back once she hung up, to give her the cost of the initial call.
Norma’s elation lasted for days. Suddenly, it seemed, opportunities for reporting opened up in front her. McCaskill, her adversary, sharp tongued, flippant, never caring where his remarks landed, was now her champion and friend.
“Not bad”, he would say, scanning the new copy she had pushed across his desk, “Looks like you concentrated on the facts.”
Running his nicotine stained thumb along the left edge of the paper, and holding it up so she could trace his progress, he mumbled as he read.
Distance was measured in time in Paris. If you had to walk from your house to the post office, it was 10 minutes. If you had to walk from there to the school, it was 12 minutes. And if you had to go from the school to the tiny building that housed the Paris Bulletin, it was about 15 minutes. If you had a watch, which Norma didn’t, you could time it accurately, and never be late for anything.
Guessing the time, and ensuring she wasn’t late for her appointment with Mr. McCaskill was the easy part. The hard part was getting through the Sunday that followed his phone call, and making it through her five classes on Monday. At last she was on her way, and only a few minutes from “getting it over and done with”.
In Paris, the rest of the village was living their regular lives, waking up this Saturday morning to the sound of birds in the backyard, dogs barking at each other across the gravelled streets. The men who owned businesses would usually be the only ones moving about, some of them jumping into their cars and pickups to prepare their stores for the public, some of them, like Mr. Jason, who owned the dry goods store, would be heading off to Joe’s to meet up with the six or seven guys for an early morning coffee.
So this was what it’s like to be a reporter, Norma thought, as she sat in the middle of the Paris Theater, with her notepad on her lap, and her stack of pens beside her on her seat, ready to assess the local talent. She had arrived early, in order to get a good seat, and the room was finally filling up, so she wasn’t “sticking out like a sore thumb”, as her mother would say.
She had a big job to do tonight. Mr. McCaskill had gone to a conference in Edmonton, and it would be up to Norma to “put the paper to bed,” to take the brown envelope containing the display ads, the classifieds, and the articles to the bus, so that in the morning it would go on to Peace River to be printed. McCaskill had given her so many instructions, her head was spinning. Make sure you number the ads, he said, and check my articles for spelling. And be on time at the depot. They won’t hold the bus for you.
On Friday, Norma arrived at school late, after a frustrating morning at the Jason’s, where she stayed as a boarder, doing various chores to earn her keep. Everything seemed to go wrong. Mrs. Jason was still in bed when she woke up, and the girls were playing grown-up in the kitchen, pouring cereal into bowls and spilling milk, the baby wet and cranky in his crib. Mr. Jason had long gone. An easy-going man, he often helped Norma with the children on those mornings when his wife stayed in bed, postponing her responsibilities until the very last moment.
Rain pelted down on the people of Paris as they entered the community hall to officially name their town. Water from the spring run-off flowed in rivulets across the street, producing a mixture of gravel and gumbo that stuck to their boots, adding a layer of mud to every step. Norma grumbled as she struggled toward the yard light and into the hall. Her plastic rain cap flew off in the wind, and now her bangs were plastered to her forehead—she knew she looked a mess.
A quick glance around the hall assured her that no one that mattered was there, only a bunch of middle-aged business men and their wives. No one from school, thank God! Tonight she was just a high-school kid sitting at the back of the room, head lowered over a note-book. But by Friday! Different story. They’ll all know her, after reading the Paris Post. A ripple of excitement clamped her stomach, easing into the region of her bladder, and making her want to pee again. But no way was she going to get up and walk in front of everyone to the toilet, situated incomprehensibly behind the speaker.
Norma and Doreen moved languorously through those first days of summer. Trying to get the worst out of the way, they rushed to finish their daily chores, spurred by an urgency to spend their extra hours together. In Norma’s family, ‘helping out’ was a well established tradition: Norma and her brother James were given chores from the time they were five or six, expected to do little jobs like wiping dishes or loading the firebox without being reminded. Now that they were older, they were supposed to dedicate a few hours every day to the endless work on the farm—there was always so much to do. This summer, James worked at a neighbor’s farm in addition to his own chores, tilling fields and clearing weeds whenever they needed a hand. This was a matter of great pride to James, and a source of great irritation to Norma.
It was June, and the sun hovered on the horizon until close to midnight, rising three hours later, but it never got dark. Between sunset and sunrise, there was a smokey dusk, and if people couldn’t sleep, they lit a lamp so they could putter around or read. The constant light threw everyone out of kilter. Farmers, tired from a day of discing slept restlessly for a few hours, waking to worry about what was left undone because of the heat. Their wives struggled heavy-lidded through their day, sleep-walking through the most necessary of chores. Only small children, their energy depleted from their extended day of play, slept well.