end of the line

As Maya Angelou says, the ache for home lives in all of us. Perhaps that was what was on my mind when I said I’d come home for Thanksgiving.

It was my first job and my first time away from home. I obtained a position at the University of Toronto lecturing on the 19th century novel.

I felt the need to be independent, so I leased a cramped apartment near the campus and tried to get by on a meager salary.

I denied myself the luxury of a car, figuring I could use public transit.

My parents didn’t live far—they lived in High Park—less than an hour’s subway ride away.

But I wanted to assert my adulthood—make a statement—although I was already missing my mother’s cooking and our old, familiar, creaking house.

I was looking forward to the prospect of sleeping in my old room, enjoying home-cooked meals and walking in the park.

But Friday dawned cold and wet and as the day wore on, the weather became worse

I brought an Addidas bag with me, stuffed with clothes, and a copy of Pasternak’s poems, Sister My Life.

I kept an eye on the sky, but the low, dark clouds racing overhead, told me the storm would not let up.

Common sense might dictate delaying the trip until the Saturday, but I’ve always been a sucker for rainy days and the somber moods of weather.

I decided to get out my umbrella and head to College Street—I’d take the tram for nostalgia’s sake.

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© 2015, John J Geddes. All rights reserved.

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Whenever I see Elias it rains.

The first few times we joked about it, but after a year of watery visits it’s gone beyond coincidence—but he has no explanation and neither do I so we leave it there, hanging like the Turner painting on his wall of a shipwreck in a storm.

Now, why would a psychiatrist hang a dismal picture on his wall? The Good Doctor thinks it’s serendipity and I suppose that’s as good an explanation as any—‘the previous tenant had it on his wall and who am I to disturb the universe?’ The Prufrockian and Freudian implications all lead to an overwhelming question, and, of course, we don’t ask what it is.

Obviously, I find it hard to take Elias seriously, which is a liability since he is my shrink, but we have delightful conversations and he is a good listener and besides, it’s a necessary requirement of my parole.

I was very nearly killed in an auto accident—drinking far too much and popping pills—and since that got quite out of hand, here I am.


“So where are we?” Elias asks amiably, smiling over his half-moon reading glasses. He has the dossier before him and knows exactly where we are, but likes to invite me in.

“Maya and I broke up.”

“Again?”  His eyebrows arch and fingers tap out Braille messages to the thunder gods, the overlords of our rainy season.

“We have a tempestuous relationship,” I concede.

He sighs and scribbles a quick note.

I’m back to staring at the painting. I’m the hapless seaman, Maya’s the storm and Elias is the lighthouse—of course, he’s not in the picture—he’s watching from a safe distance, on shore.

“What have you been up to this week?” he asks with a faint smile, knowing very well I’m prone to be impetuous. But then, aren’t most writers?

“I bought a house.”

“Really? That was rather sudden—how did that come about?”

“Ari, a realtor friend of mine, heard it was going to be placed on the market. It was owned by the actress, Jessica Skye.”

A look of recognition crosses his face. “Wasn’t she that Thirties actress?”

I nod.

“Surely, she didn’t just die—she’d be over a hundred by now.”

“She died in 1980, and her daughter inherited it. And she just passed away.”

He seems outwardly unmoved, but I see his eyes—he’s intrigued. “What made you want to buy it?”

“An Art Deco mansion seemingly perfectly preserved in time? Who wouldn’t be interested—and besides, it came with two keys that don’t seem to fit any lock in the house.”

“Oh well, that explains everything.”

Elias doesn’t do sarcasm well.

The conversation moves on to other topics and the matter of the house is dropped until just before the session ends.

“You know the two keys that don’t fit are you and Maya.”

He says it flatly, in a matter of fact voice, half-expecting me to object—but I don’t.

I stretch and yawn. “I hear you, Elias—I’ve been thinking that myself.”

“You need someone less tempestuous, Leon. You need some calm in your life.”

“Well, who knows what tomorrow may bring?” I say facetiously, but know he’s right. I really need to find that eye in the center of the hurricane—that still-point in my crazily spinning life.


Three weeks later I’m moved in and paying contractors to reno the basement. I leave the main floor and grounds untouched, but the dark paneled basement has to go—it depresses me to look at it.

It’s near the end of the day, and most of the panels have been removed, when Sam Eastman, the contractor, calls me aside. Alarm bells are going off in my head—this type of colloquy from laborers almost always means money.

“We found an alcove concealed behind one of the walls,” he says.

He shows me a steel door behind the studding. “It must be an unused cold cellar, but it’s gonna be a helluva job breaking it open.”

We both stare at the door—Sam’s mentally calculating how much he can charge in terms of labor—and as for me, I’m smiling cynically that my instincts about laborers are proven right once again.

“I just don’t get why someone would put in such a heavy-duty door in the first place.” He’s taken off his Yankee’s ball cap and is scratching his head in wonderment. “You don’t happen to have a key, do ya?”

Of course, he’s pretty sure I don’t, and is also probably figuring, bonus for him.

So he’s understandably disappointed when I reach into my pocket and fish out a set of keys. I try the first one and it doesn’t work, but the second is a perfect fit and the door swings open.

“Well, I’ll be damned,” he says, shining his flashlight, and peering in, “You’ve got yourself a Thirties speak-easy in there.”

He’s right—immediately before me, the walls are lined with shelves filled with liquor bottles and then, there’s a long stone-walled corridor resembling the catacombs, lined with tall, pigeon-holed wooden shelves with dark wine bottles nestled inside them.

“We should scope this out, Mr. Perkins.” Sam’s already being nosy, snooping around the liquor racks.

I suddenly feel defensive, as if my privacy’s being invaded. “No, I think that’s all for today, Sam.”

I gently usher him out. “I want to close this up and give some thought to what I’m going to do with the cellar—maybe call in an expert and get an informed opinion.”

Sam’s miffed, but complies. “You’re the boss—it’s your call.”

I shut and lock the door and wait until the crew gather up their tools and leave before turning out the light.

I sit by the fire with a glass of Shiraz and figure out a plan.

I’ll text Sam and tell him to take a few days off and then I’ll thoroughly explore the room the following day.


I start the next morning by hanging extension lights in the anteroom, and then begin cataloguing the brands of liquor and the dates.

I break for lunch and return just after one o’clock and start examining the dark corked bottles laid in the wine cellar. I have no idea about the status of the contents—I’m just intrigued by the ambience of the stonewalled cave.

As I’m examining the wine rack at the back of the cellar, I see it has hinges and can be swung out like a secret compartment. When I open it, I see another steel door, identical to the first.

I fish in my pocket for my set of keys and insert the second orphaned key into the lock and find it turns smoothly and opens the door. Mystery solved regarding the keys—now, what lies behind door number two?

I’m surprised to find a set of curving stone stairs which I climb only to encounter a third oak door, but this one is unlocked and opens into a book-lined study. The door is again cleverly disguised as a section of bookshelves.

I enter the room and see it’s a lovely den with mullioned windows, a fireplace and a huge writing desk—but can’t recall any evidence of this room from my walks around the perimeter of the house. Very strange.

At that moment, I become aware of the sounds of laughter and faint music coming from outside. I go to the window and look out. My breath stops.

A totally different world emerges before my eyes. There’s a garden party outside on the back lawn—people sipping champagne and dressed in the style of the late 1920’s or early Thirties. There are gleaming vintage cars parked in the circular driveway, and beyond, the tennis courts are in full use.

I can’t reconcile what my eyes are seeing with the world I know. I part the drapes to get a better look and as I do, a beautiful blonde woman glances up at the window and notices me.

She’s holding a champagne flute in one hand and is dressed in a sleek, pale blue gown that emphasizes her sylph-like figure. She stares intently, seeming to draw the soul right out of me.

Suddenly, the room starts spinning and I experience a strong wave of vertigo—everything about me darkens, as if a giant vortex were pulling me in. I panic, and stumble backwards toward the bookshelves.

The dizziness eases but I’m terrified and shaking. I run back through the doorway, down the stairs and out of the wine cellar. I’m so horrified, I shut and lock the door and stumble up the basement stairs to the main floor.

Once, I’m safely in my front room, my heart stops racing and my breathing slows. I’m still a bit shaky, so I pour myself a shot of scotch, knock it back and pour a second. I have no idea what just happened.

For the first few minutes I sit on my couch too dazed to think—my eyes are closed and all I can see are those huge dark eyes staring back at me. I know for certain the woman was Jessica Skye.

Elias, my shrink and sobriety coach, would be quite displeased to see me now—fingers trembling like delirium tremens, but my right hand firmly grasping a tumbler of scotch.

I must be losing my mind.

If you’ve ever doubted your perceptions, memory or ability to process simple tasks, you know the possibility one’s mind being diseased can be quite terrifying—I feel helpless, and completely out of control.

I’m losing my mind, I remind myself again, and then begin repeating the phrase as if that in itself might somehow stabilize me. Something’s telling me I’ll be all right if I can only admit that what I just experienced was crazy—impossible—unreal.

Hours pass and it’s grown dark—I’m still sitting frozen in the front room, completely unable to deal with the curve life has thrown me.

It’s my fault, I muse. I’ve lived a debauched life of disordering my senses and now have to reap what I’ve sown.

But even as I’m telling myself this, and sipping my scotch and feeling the heat of it soothing my nerves, I can still see her face, her huge dark eyes, and want to go back and be with her.

If insanity is rehearsing the same misperceptions over and over, then I’m definitely deranged.

My sane, rational brain is telling me I’m unhinged, but the other part of me, my shadow self, is obsessing about a dead woman.

And as I’m sitting here, it all seems so clear—outside, somewhere in time, there is a sunlit garden where beautiful people are whiling away a June afternoon—and inside, a crazed and obsessed man is contemplating embarking on an insane adventure losing himself down a rabbit hole of madness worse than an opioid dream.

And Elias thought Maya was the tempest in my life…

They are not long, the weeping and the laughter,
Love and desire and hate:
I think they have no portion in us after
We pass the gate.
They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream.

Ernest Dowson



© 2015, John J Geddes. All rights reserved.

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a weathered stone

An Insight into the Loneliness of Ebenezer Scrooge


Happy Birthday to me. I hoist my coffee cup and toast my cold and gray day.

The tree line behind the house is obscured and steeped in mist— a moody morning and prelude to the first winter storm.

I stand at the window watching the woods climb the hill, and then fade out of sight into the haze. I know these woods all too well—am acquainted with their dark and lonely depths. So, in my mind I follow them, and they take me as always to the escarpment.

Rattlesnake Pointjump off the edge, the voice had said.

I wanted to follow, but lacked the courage. I grabbed hold of a nearby weathered stone and held on for dear life.

I come back to the present, shake my head, and try to clear the memory. The tremors gradually subside.

One final sip of coffee, and then the long commute to a scurry that no longer means anything to me—well, less than this haunted house, my ghostly dreams, or the vaporous pursuit of wealth.

Outside, the temperature is starting to plunge—an arctic front is coming—

Downtown, in the concrete canyons, a trendy office lies waiting…

And inside, this wunderkind has now turned forty and is lonely.


Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way…Trudy is shaking the tree ornaments and smiling.

I have to smile too. “You like Christmas, don’t you?”

She looks at me with dancing eyes. “What’s not to like? On the weekend, Mike and I took Hope to buy a tree, and they had horse-drawn rides—it was magical.”

Her face is alight with all the joy of a six-year old. I envy her.

I stare morosely at the brightly lit tree in the reception area. Trudy has provisioned a sideboard with festive cookies, candies and urns of steaming coffee and hot chocolate. Everything glittering, like the snow outside, everybody apparently jolly and in the spirit of the season—but nothing working for me.

She reads my mood. “Do you want to go to Shenanigans for lunch?”

“Naw, I’ll stop by the squash club instead—but thanks for the offer.”

One thing I don’t need—a pity invite—a lunch spent staring into the windows of other people’s lives.

Where did it all go wrong?


The club is abuzz with the activity of lunchtime athletes. I sign the sheet and they put me with an attractive redhead named Cyn. Maybe it is my day after all.

“You own Wallace Marketing, don’t you?” she smiles.

“I do.”

“I walk past the bronze plaque outside your building every day,” she giggles, “ and I always picture ‘Garrett Wallace’ as a silver haired man in a dark business suit.”

“Did I burst your bubble?” I tease.

“You did,” she pouts, and then breaks into a sunny smile.

Yes, this might be my day after all.

But just as we finish the set and I’m about to ask her out, a male voice shouts out from across the gym—Hey Cyn! Get a move on! We’re all heading to Kelsey’s for a quick drink.

She smiles apologetically at me, “Oops, got to run—but thanks for the game—I’m sure I’ll be seeing you again.”

She’s off to join her co-workers and by the time I come out of the showers, the gym is dead as a mausoleum—abandoned as Scrooge’s grave, I muse.

I chuckle cynically to myself. The thing about old Ebenezer that bugs me is everyone gets it wrong—sure he was stingy, but his real problem was he was lonely—and maybe the story bugs me too, because he’s a lot like me.

Of course, old Eb ended up lying in a graveyard clinging to a weathered stone that turned out to be his grave marker—but that’s where the similarity ends, because Eb turned out all right in the end, and all it took was a change of heart.

I’m not like Eb—not really. I’ve got a good heart. I had lots of friends when I left university—but the problem is I don’t have one of them now. Where it went wrong, I haven’t a clue.

Back at the firm, everyone’s running around getting ready for tonight’s party at The Royal York downtown—yeah, another one of my perks.

I’ve tried to quash the Secret Santa gift exchange, but everyone would think me a real Scrooge if I did—but it’s embarrassing. I always get Trudy, even though it’s supposed to be random.

I know the game—everyone feels awkward around me—being boss and all—and no one except Trudy would feel comfortable exchanging a gift with me. If I carry the logic further, it’s probably the same reasoning behind never asking me out to their get-togethers or parties.

It’s lonely at the top. Dismal and lonely.

Later that night, I’m home by eleven and sit drinking my Shiraz and staring across white fields at the black woods beyond. My view reminds me of a Brueghel painting, The Hunters Return, but my day has not been filled with many happy returns.

Happy Birthday me, I remind myself one last time as I turn out the light.


The next day, I’m so despondent I don’t even go into the office. I phone Trudy and tell her to cancel my appointments.

I look on my desk calendar and realize ironically, it’s Friday the Thirteenth. I shake my head sadly. Somehow, it always feels the same for me.

I’m planning to shut down the firm next week and give everyone two weeks off to be with their families. They might as well get to enjoy their lives—I sure as hell don’t enjoy mine.

As I pass the hall mirror, I see my reflection—and the bitter countenance shocks even me.

Is this what I’ve become? What the hell has happened to me—the Me I used to know?

I’m shaken. I pour myself a double scotch, even though the clock’s just chimed nine.

This victim mentality disgusts me. There must be something I can do—some way I can escape from being me.

And then it hits me—a sudden impulsive idea that excites me. I actually smile at the thought of it, and for the first time in a long time, I feel happy.

Outside the sun is shining now, and something’s telling me this is what happiness is really all about—a sunny day and somewhere to go.

I get into the car and drive to the local Ford dealership. By the time I’m through, I’ve divested myself of my Porsche and am the proud owner of a beat-up Ford F 150 pick-up.

But this is only my first stop.

I end up at The Gap at Sherway Mall rooting though jeans.

A female sales clerk, a young twenty-something, smirks at my Harry Rosen suit. “Aren’t you in the wrong store, Mister? —You look like you’re used to high end fashion.”

I color. “Actually, I’m going on a sleigh ride, but I need something more casual.”

“You sure you don’t want Neiman Marcus, or something?”

“I’m sure.”

She fixes me up with a couple of pairs of faded jeans, fashionably torn in all the right places, a couple of sweaters, some flannel shirts and a parka.

Next, I head to the Downtown Mission and transform myself into Garrett Brooks. They tell me spies keep their first names—well, I do anyway. By lunchtime, I’m officially listed as a volunteer.

My day isn’t over yet.

I head back out to the fields around my house and drive my pickup through some muddy, slushy roads until it looks suitably grungy. All that’s missing is a Confederate flag draped in the rear window. I smile.


The next morning is Saturday and my first day on the job.

Belle Somers, the Director of Programs is training me—and she is a beautiful lady.

“Isn’t this a bit hands-on for you?” I ask her.

“Nope,” she smiles, “I’m not a pencil pusher or dot-com girl—I just like to stay involved.”

“So what’s on the agenda for today?”

She eyes my black F150 parked at the curb. “Nice pick-up—are you up to doing a Christmas tree run?”

“Sure,” I tell her, “just lead on.”

We end up driving north to a Christmas tree farm. It seems one of the sponsors donates trees every year and the Mission sells some, donates others, and a few end up decorated and lighting the huge cafeteria where meals are served.

It’s a long drive and there’s not much to do but talk. Belle tells me her life story and I make up mine. I feel guilty deceiving her, but the whole point of being here is protecting my new identity—or maybe it’s just a case of keeping a secret of my old one.

“So, there are times when you just sort of dropped out of things for a while?”

She’s being diplomatic—probably thinks I was in jail. I know my story’s full of holes big enough to drive my truck through, but what else can I do? I’ll tell her anything but the truth.

“Yeah, I know there are gaps in my history,” I say lamely.

“Well, lucky for you we don’t insist on a curriculum vitae.”

“That’s a relief,” I snort.

She’s staring straight ahead like she isn’t buying what I’m selling, and I don’t blame her. Going undercover is a lot more work than I figured it would be.

We load fifty bundled trees into the bed of my truck and tie them down. By the time we start back it’s past one and we’re both starving.

“Pull over here,” she orders, as we spot a restaurant cum service center on the highway.

The restaurant has a big picture window overlooking the route and Belle chooses a table with a view.

We order burgers, fries and shakes and once again, the small talk hovers around those missing gaps—unfortunately, not the ones in my pants—the ones in my history.

I snow her as best I can and I’m doing better than the misty rain outside.

At last, it’s time to go, I instinctively reach in my pocket to get my wallet, but Belle grabs the bill. She counts out eight quarters to leave as a tip. It’s all I can do to restrain myself.

“I keep the receipt and write it off,” she explains.


The next week, I show up every night and work from four until ten helping out in the kitchen, assisting the homeless and even doing handyman repairs.

Bert and Jake, two of the social workers invite me out to The Keg on the Friday night for drinks. Belle shows up later and I have to feign nonchalance, because my heart starts thumping the moment I see her.

I’m happy though, and everything’s coming together. Finally, I have friends, the prospect of romance and best of all, I’m doing something that really matters and makes a difference.

“Corporate sponsorships are up,” Jake yelps lifting a stein of draft beer to clink a toast.

“And don’t forget that huge donation to the building fund,” Bert adds. “Here’s to you—Mr. Anonymous, wherever you are.”

I glance over at Belle, but she doesn’t seem happy—in fact, she looks troubled. Bert and Jake don’t seem to notice though.

By midnight, they’ve left and it’s just me and Belle left to finish off the last drafts.  She still looks morose, so I try cheering her up by making lame jokes, but I’ve got this sinking feeling in my gut.

Belle leans back in the booth and stares at me. “So, who is the real Garrett Brooks?”

I dodge her arrow. “I ask myself the same question,” I smile.

“You’re very charming Mr. Brooks—or should I say, Garrett Wallace?”

Busted. Damn the Internet anyway.

“Did you really think your ruse would work? I mean, this is the 21st century and your pic came up the moment I Googled you.”

“I kinda hoped I’d be filling a non-descript job—you did say you didn’t check curricula vitae.”

It’s her turn to snort derisively, “Yes, but you didn’t realize the average person doesn’t have that Latin phrase in their vocabulary. Tut tut, Mr. Woods.”

“I guess that’s not an allusion to archeology, is it?”

“Very clever, Garrett,” her eyes flash, “like your scheme to purchase our land and demolish the Mission.”

My mouth drops open.

“Ah, you see—you’re not as smart as you think.”

“Or as devious as you paint me,” I flare. “I have no plans to expropriate your property—I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“I traced those corporate sponsorships and that anonymous donation—and they lead back to to you—that’s a very clever way to avoid our going into receivership and buy you time to take over our land.”

I’m flabbergasted. The color drains from my face. She reads me like a book and knows I’m not faking it.

“You weren’t planning to do that, were you? I…I’m so confused.”

Staring into those huge brown eyes, I feel myself melting. “I would never hurt you…I mean, hurt the Mission like that. I admire the work you’re doing. I have no idea who’s trying to buy up the land—but I promise you, I’ll find out.”

Her eyes are shining—she believes in me—like a six year old believes in Christmas. No way I’m going to destroy that faith.

Well, it turns out the squash club wanted that land, and they were pretty close to wrapping the deal up—until I stepped forward and bought it outright.

It’s crazy, but it was something I had to do. I did it for the homeless people—for my friends, Bert and Jake…and yes, I did it to preserve someone’s innocent faith in me.

I’ve decided, I like Christmas. I like giving with no strings attached.

I also like horse-drawn sleighs and drives in the country to Christmas tree farms.

And I guess I like to see the eyes of someone I love filled with the joy and magic of a six-year old.


© 2015, John J Geddes. All rights reserved.

Posted in short stories | Comments Off on a weathered stone