I AM NOT EQUIPPED to fully understand the why of it, but I do have an active mind – for good or bad – and I know that I can personally attest to it.
It, is, in this case, the power of certain childhood memories. I hear a meadowlark and I am instantly transported to the roof of the plywood fort I built in my backyard in Steinbach, Manitoba. It was surely MY backyard, not my parents’, by the way. Somehow, a meadowlark’s syncopated song is permanently bonded to a memory of a particular summer morning. I can always smell the leftover red house paint I used.
Likewise, when I smell a leather baseball or hockey glove, I am suddenly on Creek Road, where I am walking home from hockey and it is a million below zero, and Orion is out and I forgot my toque in the dressing room and my ears are freezing. Literally freezing – turning hard, people.
An ear woody.
If someone starts talking about Sunday School, it won’t be long before I take a look at my arm. I’ll explain that one. I remember going to Sunday School to please my grandma. It was important to her and we agreed, aided by some fast Grandma-speak and abetted by fresh biscuits and jelly, that it was important to me too. I look at my arm because of what happened on one particular summer Sunday, when I had other places to be, like my fort, but I had gone to Sunday School to please Grandma.
In our Sunday School class that day, my Aunt – who also went to that church – had dropped me off with a new teacher. He was a butcher in real life and somewhere along the line, I supposed, he had not paid attention and his pinky finger had gone onto the pile of cold cuts. I can’t recall whether he actually was the victim of an overactive rotary slicer or my over-achieving imagination. He was missing his little finger and he worked in a grocery store; those are the incontrovertible facts and there had to be some reason why that pinky was not with him.
At some point that day – I was about nine – I misbehaved. Another incontrovertible fact. The teacher, let’s call him Pinky, to protect the innocent, was annoyed and escorted me roughly out into the hallway. God’s hallway. But Pinky was a little over exuberant in his accompaniment of me to the hall and he had a pretty good grab on my skinny arm, bare as it was in my Sunday short-sleeved summer shirt. So…when I looked down at my arm where he had grabbed me, I saw the imprints of his grasp — just like one of those CSI programs on TV now, except I was not a cadaver. The imprint on my arm showed three fingers and a thumb. No pinky.
I looked at the unusual evidence on my arm and I did the inevitable – I snickered. He stood stooped over me, giving me some kind of lecture and when I laughed, looking at the weird, three-fingered tattoo that was now slowly fading from my bicep, he too laughed. Just a bit.
Now, the short story writer in me – back then I was more of a comic book reader than a writer (one may have begat the other, come to think of it) – would probably have prefered him to have back-handed me, or to have carried some dark grudge that resurfaced later in life. Something portentous and profound. But nope. He just giggled. I laughed some more, he wagged his finger (one of the attached ones) and we went back into the Sunday School classroom to learn. We could have learned about saw safety. We could have learned to see the humour in things. But I think we chose instead to learn about how God drowned (almost) the entire human race or some other inspiring bible story about hungry whales or bearded, bathrobe-clad, unemployed dudes padding around the desert in sandals eating desert fish and drinking desert wine.
P.S. – Please be on the lookout for my story, “Heavy Artillery” which will be published @ FICTION ON THE WEB tomorrow, October 30, 2016. No digits were lopped off in the making of this story.
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Copyright Mitchell Toews ©2016