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Tell Me A Story

So, my new community hasn't had any posts yet, but someone's got to be the first. So I shall kick things off with the story I wrote when creating my character, last spring. I know, I already posted it in my own journal back then, but it seemed appropriate to have it here too.


Dreams Underfoot

Gwen looked around at the jumble of boxes and furniture and sighed. Well, at least it was all here now, so she wouldn't be sleeping on a cheap foam pad on the floor any more. And for once she'd done a fairly decent job of labelling the boxes before the move, so unpacking shouldn't be too bad. And she'd tried to get rid of as much stuff as possible before having it shipped over. But there was still a lot of work ahead of her, and she was already tired from the effort she'd put into fixing up the place before her things arrived.

The basement had never been intended as a living space; more of a storage space for the various businesses that had moved in and out of the storefront above. Even with the full-spectrum lights she'd put in and the new paint job, where she'd tried to disguise the cinder-block walls with a soft rag-rolled texture, and painted the concrete floor in an effort to make it look more or less like wood (after clearing up the mold problem -- there had even been mushrooms growing in one dark corner), it was going to take some getting used to, though hopefully once the contractors showed up to do the one bit of renovation she really hadn't felt up to tackling herself, it might be a bit better.

Well, who knows when that would be? Might as well get busy. She'd made the choice to try and economize by living down here, so that the buyout package she'd gotten from the company would last longer -- long enough for the bookstore-cafe upstairs to actually start turning a profit, she hoped. Of course, there was no way of knowing...

I must have been crazy, she thought, as she began to slide the boxes around and manouevre various pieces of furniture into place. I'd finally settled down, like everyone always told me I should. I had a Real Job, with a real income. No more of this struggling artist/writer/musician/whatever I was aspiring to that week. So the company was heading into financial trouble -- everyone knew it. I should have stuck it out, updated my resume, just in case, and waited to see if the rumoured downsizing really happened, not grabbed the first available buyout and then moved halfway across the country, to a city I haven't even visited in years, and sunk it all into starting a dubious business that'll probably flop inside of three months, leaving me penniless. If I had to take the buyout, I should have at least invested it, or put a down payment on a condo, or something, while looking for another nice, stable, corporate job. But no, I had to scrap every bit of progress I'd made and go right back to being the flighty, flaky, new-creative-idea-every-week ditz that everyone thought I was before I took that job.

It wasn't like she'd actually been much good at any of the intellectual or creative pursuits she'd tried. Oh, sure, she'd sung and played keyboards in a few bands, had a few stories published, a few art pieces in group shows here and there... But never been good enough, or stuck with any of them long enough, to get any real recognition. Just like she'd spent some time in grad school out on the east coast, but never finished her folklore degree -- her unfinished thesis on fairy lore in the Canadian Maritimes was packed in one of these boxes somewhere. And she'd studied various spiritual paths, but never reached the higher levels of initiation. Her problem had always been that she was interested in, and at least moderately good at, a lot of different things, but never good enough at any one of them. She was a failed artist, failed writer, failed musician, failed academic...

A loud crunch distracted her from her thoughts. "Kitsu! Put that down!" She ran over to the small foxlike dog who had just discovered the remains of the take-out curried chicken she'd had for lunch, and tried to pull the chicken bone out of the dog's mouth. Add "failed vegetarian" to the list, she thought. Kitsu growled like the demon-dog her previous owners had described her as -- so few people could handle the feistiness of a shiba inu. But Cu Sith, her venerable black Newfoundland mix, let out a deep woof that would have rattled the windows had there been any down here, and startled Kitsu enough that she dropped the bone, which Gwen quickly snatched away, mentally giving thanks that the older dog seemed to feel compelled to police the younger one's behaviour.

She turned back to hanging up some of the decorations she'd just unpacked. Getting screws into those walls certainly was a headache, but at least she'd gotten a concrete bit for her power drill, so it was possible. She looked at herself as she hung up a mirror, set in a hand-painted Latin American frame decorated with suns and moons. She still wasn't quite used to seeing her hair back to the deep henna-red she used to dye it before she went corporate. Even pulled back in a pony tail now to keep it out of her face while she unpacked, it was a change from the greying light brown hair she'd had become accustomed to. And her ears still looked a little swollen from wrestling earrings back into all the piercings she'd left unoccupied for so long, but presumably they'd heal sooner or later.

But none of that was what troubled her most in her reflection -- it was seeing the face of a 42-year-old woman who still didn't know what she wanted to be when she grew up. She'd always felt like she was meant to do something, to accomplish something significant with her life, but what? That had never been clear. Even when she'd taken the position she'd now left, it hadn't been because she was sure it was what she wanted, more just that she was sick off drifting aimlessly from one thing to another. The security had been appealling -- until the company presented the buyout offer, and before she even knew what had possessed her, she'd found herself volunteering... Must have been a moment of temporary insanity. And now here she was, rootless and adrift once more.

Well, all right, not exactly. She'd tried to do all the right things -- drawn up a business plan, done her market research, calculated exactly what she could afford to spend on setting up shop while still keeping enough of a cushion that she could live frugally for a few months if it took that long for the business to start making money.

Vancouver was a little too economically depressed, so she'd thought she might have a better chance of making it fly back here in Toronto, the city she'd once called home but left behind over 15 years ago. She'd read that the St. Clair West area was starting to become a haven for students, artists and other countercultural types who could no longer afford the high rents in the Annex and Queen West areas, but still didn't have a single decent coffee shop with any atmosphere, or a second-hand bookstore, or a music store other than a couple of small ones that specialized specifically in Latin or Caribbean music.

So why not turn her little-bit-of-everything background into an advantage and start a business that would fill all three of those niches? Part cafe, part bookstore, and with a small CD section, all three catering towards the alternative crowd that were starting to filter into the area. She'd even managed to fit in a small stage area in the cafe and spring for a minimal sound system -- not enough for full-fledged rock bands, necessarily, but it should work for poetry readings, open mike nights, singer-songwriters, that sort of thing.

Still... the lack of a steady paycheque, or any guarantee the place would actually succeed, filled her with anxiety. It seemed like she'd barely gotten used to having a reliable source of income, and now it was gone. Even though it had been - what, seven years? - at that job, she'd still been in the "Wow! I actually have disposable income!" phase up until two years ago when she'd finally curbed her spending and started a savings account. Well, so much for that.

I could have had stability, she thought, as she draped a Celtic knotwork wall hanging above her futon bed. I could have had some assurance that I wouldn't be eating cat food once I retire... dog food, she corrected herself. It was still hard to believe that Thomasina, the old grey cat she'd had for most of her adult life, was gone, even though it had been six months since she'd succumbed to chronic kidney failure. In her mind, she was still a cat owner, even though she now only had the dogs. Discovering your pets' mortality could be an uncomfortable reminder of your own, and of aging... If the cat you remember so well adopting as a kitten dies of old age, the feline equivalent of an ancient hag, how old are you?

But despite her misgivings, Gwen knew why she'd done it. She may have had stability, respect, a steady income, and a clearly laid out future, but what she didn't have was freedom. Or, perhaps even more importantly, any sense that the work she was doing actually meant anything. This, she thought -- she hoped -- would be different. This would be a place that could become a resource, a meeting place, a focus for creativity and community...

"Gwen!" She looked up as she heard Saskia's call from upstairs. "There are people here to see you!" She'd hired the young artist to help decorate the shop upstairs, painting murals on the floor, since the walls would hopefully play host to an ever-changing collection of works by local artists, and an elaborate sign on the front window. Might as well see how her work was coming, as well as finding out who was there... She trudged up the stairs, stiff and achey from the work of unpacking and organizing. A place where people will come together, meet kindred spirits, be exposed to new ideas...

Yes! The contractors were there at last. "OK, ma'am, so you want the metal doors in the loading bay at the back of the basement replaced with these, right?" The burly man standing just outside the front door -- Saskia hadn't let him come in, since the floor in front of the door was still wet - motioned toward two glass-paned French doors in the back of his truck, an expression of slight consternation on his face, as though this were one of the more bizarre work orders he'd had in some time and he wanted to be sure he really had gotten it down correctly.

"Yes, that's right," she replied, brushing a stray lock of hair out of her face and trying to resist the urge to look away from him to Saskia's painting. There was a concrete driveway in the back, sloping down to a set of rusted metal doors at the back of the basement she'd claimed as her home. With these, it would actually get a bit of light, and with some work, the driveway might even be able to be transformed into a terraced garden...

"You planning to rent the downstairs out as an apartment, or what?"

"Not renting it -- living there."

"Oh." He shrugged, again with that humouring-the-crazy-woman look.

"And you'll want to watch out for the dogs - the little one, mainly. The huge one's really quite harmless. Now, let me go unlock the back doors for you."

Before heading back downstairs to do that, she took a moment to look over the artist's work, and smiled. The front window and the floor were a riot of colour, illuminated in the warm late afternoon sun. The bright, flowing hand-lettering on the glass read -- in reverse when viewed from inside -- Dreams Underfoot -- the title of a Charles DeLint book that Gwen liked, and also a reference to one of her favourite Yeats poems, a longer extract from which now ornamented the floor directly in front of the door:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams
I have spread my dreams under your feet
Tread softly, because you tread on my dreams
"Do you like it?" Saskia asked, somewhat anxiously.

"It's perfect," Gwen replied, gazing at the swirls of colour, the fragments of poetry, the shafts of tinted light streaming through the painted glass. "Exactly what I wanted."

Exactly what I wanted. Somehow, right at that moment, all her earlier anxieties seemed unimportant. Fuck security, she thought. Right here, right now, is where I'm meant to be.

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Dreams Underfoot

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