Water and Desire
Work In Progress
Swimming offers the cheapest and most effective relief from stress, depression and restlessness. It buoys you up with a mysterious physical buzz. Whether we like to admit it or not, our lives are dominated by a search for pleasure. Often this quest leads to water. Naked in the water, swimmers are closer than anyone to its allure and politics.
Swimming has been described as underwater flying. The key is to relax your movements, so that, like flight, it becomes an effortless poetry in motion. Surrealist painter Salvador Dali once claimed" the dream of flight is nothing but a memory of the state of weightlessness, which the unborn has undergone in utero." This might explain why open water swimmers feel the desire to return to the depths of nature's womb.
Swimmers are defiant romantics, free spirits more at home in water than on land. With my eyes at water level, I keep our friend's cottage on the far point as a beacon, and settle into a long soulful freestyle.
If one believes the speculations about man's aquatic phase of evolution, and if one reflects upon the webbings between fingers and toes, the more or less hairless, streamlined body, then swimming doesn't seem so frivolous. It's a healthy, practical mode of transportation that can also be erotic, dangerous, relaxing, philosophical, religious and obsessive.
House Inside the Waves
Domesticity, Art, and the Surfing Life
Writer, surfer, and househusband Richard Taylor is mad about beaches and islands, and was inspired by a house exchange that whisked him and his family from a freezing Ottawa winter to a year of some of the world’s best surf on the east coast of Australia. In an era of packaged paradises and cyber surfers, the forty-something writer’s first case of the mid-life blues seduced him into recapturing his youthful romance with surfing.
Eventually he found himself adrift among surfers, women, and children as he documented a Shangri-la lost dominated by a rogues’ gallery of hopeless romantics—Lord Byron, Paul Gauguin, Bruce Chatwin, Robert Louis Stevenson, Ernest Hemingway, deadbeat dad Jack Kerouac and, perhaps the planet’s first literary househusband, Henry Miller.
But watch out for the sharks! Those that see surfers as simply part of the food chain are the easy ones to spot, unlike the other, deadlier 'sharks' such as the one that took Taylor’s younger sister and her four-year-old son in a tragic house fire. Still, despite such dark moments, this unique travel memoir provides a joyous testament to the religion of a life lived in water.
"I finished House Inside the Waves late last night on the train home from New York and I think that surf was rolling through my dreams all night. So many things to say, but need to just get started with a few of them today, now. Such as the fact that your book is really an essential swimming book because it is all about immersion. Your immersion, and the reader’s too. There is an extraordinary sense of the inclusiveness of it all, your family, your daughters, your friends, your life, what you are reading, what you are cooking, the way you manage to weave in the day to dayness of it all, then swerve into the sublime so effortlessly. That is such a difficult thing to do, I have always found. But your manner of talking about for example what you are making for dinner before and after slipping into a meditation about how the sea lifts the soul; Sky’s ant in the bowl of water, the lonely man swimming; that it is all part of the same stream of experience is hard to convey with grace and eloquence, but you manage to do it time and again.
OK. Then there is the element of danger that you go back to again and again, the sharks, I really couldn’t get over the sharks. I would just be reading this, then stop to consider what you were really saying, I mean you are in that ocean with them, and you just keep going which I guess is the whole point. Maybe that’s a definition of fearlessness—an understanding and acceptance of danger in and out of the waves. This is all really a test for me. And then maybe that greatest danger of all, lapsing into that life of the dissolute romantic in the mode of all the writers, artists that you, we are all so drawn to. But what comes through so clearly without ever being stated explicitly is the innate narcissism of that route. And the fact that the one you have chosen is in fact so utterly different—full engagement with a family you adore, a community you come to adopt in a genuine way. Which is quite an amazing message As much as you try from time to time to have us see you a hedonistic indolent surfer dude, no way, there is full, passionate, and deeply smart engagement here with the natural world and the human community that occupies it, the world of ideas, the spirit world, all of it. I loved that. You talk about life with the sea at your doorstep but honestly Rick, I think the sea would be at your doorstep wherever you happen to live.
Oh and now that I come to think of it, maybe you are just gracious towards danger the way you are gracious to everything else that life seems to bring you. Maybe that’s the zen trick, not accepting the idea of danger so much as welcoming it in like a gracious host.
And then over and over you manage to articulate the familiar in a whole new way. And I loved this too: writing, like surfing, a series of linked recoveries with an unknown plan. Yes, just right. OK—these just a handful of early thoughts. More to come later. But most of all for now—Thank you really and truly."
Beach Intelligentsia - Who's Your Daddy?
"A passionate surfer, brilliant writer, and Canadian househusband savoring the energy-sapping joys of parenthood, is also a restless nomad battling deeply personal tragedies. His family gets its well deserved reprieve from the classic ruts of a lancllocked existence in wintertime Ottawa when they agree to a house exchange with a couple from Byron Bay, Australia. Taylor wastes no time getting down to business with the point-break waves of the Coral Sea and hitting the typewriter to document his rerurn to what has for years haunted his surf-less days. Taylor offers us an abundance of mental meanderings ranging from waxing on the meaning of life as a stay-at- home father, to candidly dissecting his beloved mentors in the world of travel writing and art. "Anyone who goes through life without meaningful contact with children is missing something profound," he unashamedly declares. Taylor realizes that his own misguided interactions with his father were not necessarily the one-sided affairs he previously presumed. He also takes us along for all the sacred moments among the waves, newfound surfing brotherhoods, and the themes of moving waters and raising children as salvation, while he finally lives out his dream inhabiting a house with a desk looking over the ocean. "All travelers want to get away from the routine of their lives to reinvent themselves for a time and perhaps find a little bit of paradise," and this is exactly what he did."
—Nathaniel Riverhorse Nakadate
"House Inside the Waves is a travel book about a destination rather than a journey…. This is travel writing in depth, with accessible and vivid prose."
—George Fetherling, author of Running Away to Sea: Round the World on a Tramp Freighter
"This is that rare thing, an utterly original book. The candid and introspective voice of the narrator is by turns funny and serious, poetic and prosaic, soaring with rapture one moment and mired in daily concerns or old anguish the next."
—Isabel Huggan, author of You Never Know and The Elizabeth Stories
"...Taylor provides, among other things, an entertaining and informative history of Australia, a lively gloss on the writers who have helped shape his consciousness and the rudiments of his autobiography, all of which (and more) amount to just what one assumes he intends: a portrait of the middle-aged, married, father-of-two artist taking stock of his life....Any writer who includes, in the same book, a coconut chocolate-chip cookie recipe, an appraisal of the worth of Jack London's novels and an account of the proper way to catch a wave cannot be accused of aesthetic anemia. This is no small praise in our present literary climate."
—The Toronto Star
"A beautifully woven piece of work that shares the trials and travails of parenthood, Taylor's return to surfing in the formidable yet inspiring waters of Byron Bay, and a reminder of how to love even the most minute aspects of life."
"There is a lot to be said about putting oneself "out there". Whether it be penning a tale spun from waves of tribulation or splashing a toe into the abyss of Richard Taylor's ocean of humourous, joyful memories, the eternal return of the 'good, the timeless love for the human condition, or lives between the pages of this fast-paced read."
"When I finally closed the covers of HOUSE INSIDE THE WAVES, I realized that the massive Pacific Ocean, the caterwauling winds, the hand-carved Tiki's nurtured by the waters of time, are not just distant echoes from a faraway, imagined country and people. They are real. They breathe. They are a part of me. And, inside thse waves, human and liquid, I cannot help but feel called to catch a ride on the eternal Aboriginal boomerang. Land on the 'bottom of the world,' and dip my feet into Richard Taylor's live and vibrant memory."
General advice on how to avoid shark attacks.....
.... You can't.
Even metaphorically speaking, sharks happen. No one is exempt. Sometimes it feels as if I have a whole library of stories about sharks and laundry... For example, at Stoneyhurst Manor in Byron Bay, Australia, we have no clothes dryer. Very few of our friends have dryers even with all the tropical rain, summer humidity, and winters of drizzle and fog. But there is romance in doing laundry here.
As I pull a load from the washing machine and throw it into the ancient wicker basket that could have come right out of a Pieter Brueghel painting, I can look straight over the ocean. The open-air laundry room also overlooks the swimming pool and is surrounded by flowering bougainvillea, fruit trees, frangipani, and hibiscus. I take my heavy basket of wet clothes down wide steps and around the sunlit corner to the huge drying rack attached to the side of the house. This is the same kind of tenement drying rack I fought with outside our high-rise window when we lived for a year in Hong Kong. Already most of our clothes have spots of rust from the rusty clothesline. Zippers, rivets, anything with even a hint of metal, rusts from the salt mists. As everyone knows, like sharks, rust never sleeps...
The other day I made lunch for my wife, Dale, and the kids, then refereed my girls part of the way to their bus stop. We stopped to take a photograph of the tree-arched lane at the bottom of our road, and I told my girls they should always remember this view because after today it would be gone forever. This lane reminds me of the French countryside in the Loire Valley, or magical places I've visited in the south of England.
Henderson Lane now has two signs: no through road and land sale. But it should have a third sign: paradise road. We received a letter from Hammat Contractors Ltd. in the mailbox at the top of our property where our green tree frog lives.
We wish to advise you that we will be commencing works for Lennox Meadows Estate at Henderson Lane. The expected duration of the work is approximately sixteen weeks. We regret any inconvenience this may cause.
They're going to build forty units in the valley that lies between this house and my view of Seven Mile Beach. Thankfully our property has a couple of shaggy acres of eucalyptus and two rows of mammoth pines our wily exchangees planted to protect their kingdom. Even now as a lepidopterist's dream of multicoloured butterflies flit past my view and the cicadas continue their subliminal resonance, I can hear a small army of men assembling half a mile away. They're going to cut down the remaining trees from the lane I photographed yesterday morning. Our exchangees must have known this would be a good time to leave their house to Canadian tenants.
I hear the whining blades of whipper-snippers hacking away at the ground cover. Big trees are being fed into a voracious tree-eating machine. That sleepy country lane was an enchantment to walk beneath, especially early in the morning or just before dusk. Renegade hares suddenly leaped by, snakes and lizards pulled back into the Disney gloom while kookaburras, sea eagles, and parrots swooped up into the trees whose branches formed a natural arbour below the great southern sky.
The hillside is now festooned with forty for sale signs like forty miniature drive-in movie theatre screens. The people who buy these plots of land will have no sea view and no arboured lane to drive beneath. But each new property owner will have an intimate, unencumbered view of their neighbours-a tight little suburbia in the swamp, tucked into a boggy valley with identical uniform lawns and flapping clotheslines...
Byron Bay used to be a full-on whaling town, but the industry was closed down in the early sixties. The grim abattoir had dumped animal parts into the bay and attracted sharks that even to this day are somehow blamed for the fatal attacks. Byron was a dead-end, all-but-forgotten backwater on the coastline of northern New South Wales. Then, in the late sixties, the town was discovered by hippies who came up for the Aquarius Festival and stayed to live off the land. Byron moulded itself into the mecca for alternative lifestyles, laid-back attitudes, and carefree living that now attracts New Agers, eccentrics, artists, environmentalists, writers, musicians, drifters, dreamers, tourists, gypsies, and other feral types from all over Australia and the world. It has the aura of a sixties hideout in Marrakesh, Goa, Maui, or San Francisco, circa 1968. Byron's untouched natural beauty and perfect weather-thirty degrees in the summer and twenty in the winter, with a tropical current that allows swimming in the ocean year-round-mean that too many people want to live here. But there are no jobs...
Yesterday morning I spoke with the school principal at a meeting with my daughter Quinn's teacher. The principal, Robyn, is a soft-spoken, middle-aged woman who swims with me and the other fearless, chicken-shit swimmers of the Byron Bay Stingray Ocean Swimmers. I reminded Robyn that on my very first swim with the club, Phil, one of the members, took me to the reef and sent me down to check out a two-metre shovel nose shark. Among the ruins of the old jetty and its wrecked Liberty ship the Tasmania, sunk in 1940 by a cyclone, was a school of reef sharks that he took me a little too close to. He told me the reefs were filled with sharks, dolphins, whales, sea turtles, manta rays, and thousands of glittering fish. Long ago, at the end of the jetty that belonged to the abattoir, bleeding carcasses were heaved into the bay and became a magnet for sharks along the coast. After the abattoir was closed, the sharks left, but some still have it imprinted on their collective unconscious and cruise the area hoping for a nostalgic meal or two.
I won't lie to you. Every time I surf or swim in the ocean, sharks are always on my mind. There's nothing better than being in the ocean, but there's nothing worse than the thought of getting taken by a two-thousand-pound predator with razor teeth while you're a quarter mile out on a reef. And the more you're in the water, the more likely you are to have some kind of shark encounter. However, given the choice between paddling alone to surf in the heaving Pacific and possibly meeting a shark, or taking on the phantom ennui of winter in a suburban town house, there's really no choice.
Only a few months before we arrived here, newlyweds by the name of Ford went out in a dive boat to the reef past Julian Rocks, a couple of kilometres from Byron. According to one of the swimmers in my swim club, everyone in the boat pulled on their tanks, fitted their masks and mouthpieces, and then dropped backward into the water. With great expectations they began their slow descent to the magical reef.
Unfortunately a five-metre great white made a beeline for the new bride. When the terrified groom, John Ford, swam between the woman and the huge shark, he was cut in half. The dive crew hustled the bride back to the surface, and everyone clambered aboard the boat. Of course, she was completely hysterical. A week later the husband's head was found down the coast. The shark was caught by fishermen and dragged out bleeding to sea a few kilometres until it escaped, but not before it spat out a human torso. A few days later a helicopter pilot spotted the shark drifting out to sea upside down.
Some years earlier a nineteen-year-old kid also named Ford was surfing at Tallows Beach in a place ironically named Cozy Corner, tucked beneath the headland of the Point Byron Lighthouse. A shark torpedoed up from the bottom and tried to take off his leg. Paddling for shore, the poor kid bled to death. For a while after the newlywed couple's tragedy, the cruel joke going around town went something like this:
Q: What did one shark say to the other shark?
A: Have you driven a Ford lately?
These days none of the dive-boat crews will take out divers named Ford.
On a recent Sunday morning as we walked from Main Beach toward the Pass to begin our open-water swim, Robyn confessed that she had a bit of trouble sleeping Saturday nights before our long Sunday-morning swims. Sometimes when I'm in the ocean, unless I make a conscious effort, I think a lot about sharks. Occasionally I even ruminate about sharks when I swim in the lakes and rivers back in Canada. Most people believe there's something sinister lurking in the water.
At the interview with Quinn's teacher, I noticed Robyn's neck and arms were still subtly pearled with tiny lacerations from the stingers of the school of jellyfish we swam through that Sunday. She wore them like a badge of heroism. I can still feel the tattooed swirls of my own badge of courage stretching up my inner thigh all the way to my hip and across the front of my stomach.
In private Robyn once admitted: "With fifty swimmers in the water the odds are fifty to one a shark won't take me. It's the victory of making it across and beating the odds." Then, with a conspiratorial laugh, she added, "We must be out of our minds, Rick." Not exactly reassuring. I didn't ask Robyn what scared her the most-the sharks or her teachers, students and all the scrutinizing parents. My guess is she swims open-water so she can face the other fears in her life...
At Lennox Head, paddling a quarter mile from shore and straddling my surfboard on the end of the reef above a deep sea ledge I know sharks love to patrol, I go through the usual mental gymnastics: Is it really possible sharks can detect a single drop of blood from two kilometres away? Is it true their vision is seven times that of a human being's? Or that in the tropics you're about two hundred times more likely to take your own life than be eaten by a shark? I used to think about sharks constantly. Now I simply enter the moment and remember what a gift it is to be out in the ocean. I enter a trance of such deep denial I don't even give the S word a chance to cross my mind.
Australian surfer Mark Richards, four-time world surfing champion, once said he wouldn't surf Lennox Head anymore because of all the sharks. "Hey, has anyone seen any of Mark Richards's sharks?" I often ask anyone who cares to listen when I go surfing. The obvious argument is that you stand a much better chance of getting killed, maimed, or chewed up while driving your car to go surfing, racing along on your meagre side of the symbolic white line a metre from other cars that hurtle at breakneck speed in the opposite direction. You're more likely to be struck by lightning or die with a piece of hot dog stuck in your throat, falling over dead into a pile of your own dirty laundry. It can happen to anyone, anytime, anywhere. It's your karma, man.
In my five years spent deep in the heart of suburbia I did a hell of a lot of laundry. At our town house in Ottawa's Barrhaven I used to do two big loads per day or else I'd get so far behind our life would become apocalyptic. The new, full-size washer and dryer stood side by side with a sparkling clean laundry tub. In colour-coordinated plastic baskets I carried the clothes downstairs and stuffed them into the huge washing machine, then took them out and loaded up the dryer. I'd toss in a small sheet of Bounce, set the dial for thirty minutes, and head off to write or do more housework. Just before the clothes were dry, I'd whip them out gingerly and hang them up right away to avoid ironing. They were usually a little damp, so I'd merrily drape the clothes around the house, slum-landlord style, to save drying time and a little money. This drove Dale bonkers when she'd get home from work to find our house looking like a Bedouin's tent after a massacre. But, unfortunately, because our laundry room was in the basement furnace room, there were no windows, no frozen yards to look out at, or open skies, or swimming pools, no tropical birds singing, no poignant dramas of the human condition or even sad refrains by Doris Day. And absolutely no possibility of a real shark attack.
In the movie Annie Hall, Woody Allen says that a relationship is like a shark-if it doesn't keep moving, it dies. Now, in the distance, enormous cotton clouds drift against the incoming surf. The white sail of a yacht disappears over the horizon. Casually I walk outside to check my laundry and take a reassuring whiff of the sea. I brush my hand across a few of the really wet items of clothing and pull off a few of the drier ones, draping them over the veranda railing to bake in the hot sunlight. The pool is a jewel of shimmering water.
There are days when I sit out on my surfboard and actually look into the water to see if there are sharks below. Like a fool, I search for them, half expecting one to arrive just for me. If anyone caught the vibe I was giving out, I'd have every surf break to myself. Occasionally I see a school of fish moving beneath my board, an elongating mass as far as the eye can see flashing silver in the light. A dozen dolphins cruise around, dark shadows eating their way through the fish. Of course, the biggest myth of all is that if there are dolphins around you're safe from sharks.
From a great height in the sky, kamikaze seabirds drop into the water, drilling down to catch the schooling fish. It's a veritable Roman orgy, and I'm the uninvited guest. At these times I know there must be a lot of men in grey suits grinning below, waiting for sloppy seconds and gazing up at my feet and legs hanging turtle-like from my surfboard. The food chain operates full-tilt, and I sit astride my board in the middle of it all, reciting reassuring mantras: Shark attacks are actually quite rare. My karma is fairly good. It couldn't happen to me because I'm a Canadian from the middle of the continent. Have I had a complete enough life so far that I could be eaten by a shark at this time? I'm always haunted by the bizarre memory of a funeral I attended in the late seventies for my best friend Brent's father when, for some insane reason, I announced to everyone I'd be happy to die surfing a quarter mile out on a reef.
Sitting on my board, I squeeze my toes and sense the satisfying, chiropractic toe-knuckle cracks beneath the surface of the water. My God, I think to myself, what a perfect signal for any marauding, even half-deaf shark. So, just to be on the safe side, I've asked all my Canadian and Australian friends to promise me one thing: If I ever get taken by a shark, try to keep a straight face at the funeral. And please help Dale and the girls with all the dirty laundry.
"All families begin with a woman. In my family, the women are alone. The men are forgotten because they were too weak, or they just weren't there."
In Cartoon Woods, Richard Taylor's first novel, a young girl grows up alone with her mother. She knows only that her father has killed himself, and this is not enough for her. But the more she learns about her father, the less she knows about him and the more she learns about herself.
Lonely Monologue, Globe and Mail, July 15, 1989, review by T. F. Rigelhof
The bare bones of Cartoon Woods are as deceptively lean as its athletic protagonist. While waiting for her young daughter to be collected for a summer holiday by the child's generally absent father, Cora-Ann recalls the central event of her own life: a short stay during her pregnancy in her father's rustic combination cabin, painter's studio and love shack in the Gatineaus in the days after his suicide.
Like Ernest Hemingway, John Malcolm put a shotgun barrel in his mouth and pulled the trigger with his toes. Unlike Hemingway, John Malcolm died without artistic success and without the possibility of posthumous glory or even devoted rememberance. His daughter's recollection of her stay in his cabin is hypnotic with the details of her daily life: Cora-Ann sorts through John Malcolm's personal effects, eats his home preserves, scans his collection of ancient girlie magazines, swims in the river, talks to his neighbors, plants the garden her father intended to plant, builds a scarecrow, reads the letters her father has saved from an old lover, studies his photographs and paintings of other lovers, dresses in his clothes, grieves for the man she never knew, goes a little crazy, gets infected by poison ivy, lands up in hospital as an observer to another woman's death and regains a deepened sanity.
What has really happened is that Cora-Ann realizes some significant truths about her own condition. She comes to believe "in the dark mysteries. That life can enclose you with secrets and sadness, that the past can swallow your future... I know that looking into the past can either carry you forward in time or it can slowly kill you. ... We aren't here on earth to make children or money. We are each here to discover the mystery of our own lives."
Richard Taylor is at his best in revealing the mysterious quality inherent in the everyday world in its quietest moments. He is less adept at writing more dramatically of the moments in which one is lost in love or in fear. It is a risky business these days for any male writer to attempt to portray the world through a young woman's eyes. Among other things, he risks accusations of "structural sexism" from some feminist quarters. But Richard Taylor takes that risk for an important reason: he wants to demonstrate the difficulty of thinking sanely in a world too forcibly shaped by the romantic ideals John Malcolm and so many others represent. This is serious, moral fiction.
Cartoon Woods is Taylor's first novel, and while it is too early to tell if he has the determination to create the substantial body of tightly crafted prose that will bring his greatest strengths to fruition, it is nonetheless obvious that he has already achieved clarity of vision, sureness of touch and economy of expression.
- T. F. Rigelhof is the author of The Education Of J. J. Pass.
"The book was enjoyable to read. The true facts are hard core and unbelievable however a great suspense murder mystery you didn't expect. Enjoy!"
- from Amazon Books web site
Early in the evening my father fell asleep, and then awoke in the middle of the night with cracked lips, and saliva running down his chin. An outline of the same dream repeated itself all night and then became transparent in the chilly early morning air of the cabin: driving a '46 Dodge along loose gravel, swerving like a boat, his Fedora tilted to the back of his head and cigarette smoke curling out the window. He removed the hat and ran his fingers through his thick hair and then flicked the cigarette out the window, drifting around a corner of fenceposts with mute cows standing beneath a tree; and after slowing down for a dip in the road he watched the needle climb on the straight stretch, the furious thunder of gravel and dust, until he rammed head on into the side of a freight train.
After getting up out of his bed, dressing and lighting the fire for hot water, my father sat down with the kettle and ran fingers through his thinning dirty hair, and then laid his arm along the cold table near the piles of black-and-white and colour photographs. He poured himself a hot cup of coffee, put in two spoonfuls of sugar and dribbled in the evaporated milk. The first sip was heaven. He took another long drag from his cigarette and leaned back in the chair.
When he removed the recent photograph from a small plastic folder and tilted it in the window light, the colour was so poor that the middle-aged man and woman standing in front of the ocean seemed to be in another dimension. He couldn't put it down because he was listening to her speak.
"It's so hot in this little room without an air-conditioner," she said.
He opened his eyes in the dark, and from outside the broken louvred window, all he could hear was the. ocean working against the sand.
"John," she said, reaching under the sheet with her hand.
"What time is it, Marilyn?" he asked, stretching across her sweating stomach and picking up the clock to see that it was three AM. She pulled him down on top of herself.
"Make love to me again," she whispered.
Carefully, he slipped the photograph inside its plastic folder and then set it to the back of the pile.
He shuffled through the older photographs until he found what he was looking for. The edges of the black-and-white photograph were curled so that the naked girl with the dark hair and perfect breasts lying on his couch appeared to be swimming. She had been one of the first girls who had frequented his cabin in the early fifties. He couldn't even place her name, though he remembered the odour in the morning before they got out of bed-their bodies entwined, the damp, sour sheets.
After making love she had sat up against a pillow with covers held up to her shoulders listening to the noise on the roof. "What a lovely sound their little feet make," she said, staring up at the ceiling. And he had listened himself to the pattern on the roof with his eyes closed until the squirrels tired of their early morning scamper and leapt off into the trees.
He glanced across the room at the empty couch, sagging with the years, and then he looked at the naked girl lying on the same couch in the photograph in his hand. He suddenly remembered her name was Ann, and that he had conned Ann out of her virginity by promising to marry her. For the month of July 1953 she had spent every weekend up at the cabin until the afternoon he told her that he could never get married. She crumpled to the floor and wept until they drove silently back along the gravel road to the city.
They had never really been in love, but he tried to imagine her in a house filled with children as healthy as she had been. She would have lost her plump breasts and carried the extra weight around her waist and hips. Her house would have a cluttered rec-room with a small bar with paper lanterns, and masked harlequins over the walls. She would hide coins in waxed paper between the layers of birthday cakes, and save the candles. Before going to bed she would lock the doors and turn on the outside light of her precious home. Then she would sit on the edge of the bed rubbing cold cream into her face, watching the shape of a husband who fell asleep every night too early and jerked about in his dreams.
Of course, now her children would be adults, Ann would be at least 50 herself.
He picked out an old vertical photograph of himself to put beside the wavy horizontal photograph of Ann and stared at their lost youth. Somewhere there was an empty album he had bought to fill with photographs. With both hands he swept the pictures into the drawer and jammed them back behind the box of shotgun shells. After swishing his coffee cup to get all of the sugar with the last mouthful, he washed the cup and spoon, and then put the can of milk back into the icebox.
He walked across the room and reached above the mantelpiece to remove his shotgun. With a cloth he wiped the dust and soot off the barrel. Cracked it open. He carried it broken over to the dresser, loaded the gun with two blue plastic shotgun shells and snapped it shut.
It was still quite early in the day. Outside, he could see his breath; frost sparkled in the grass. The ice on the river had disappeared only two weeks earlier. That morning, his river was flat without a sound travelling over the water.
He walked back through the cedars to the outhouse near the swamp and opened the door, pulled away fresh cobwebs and sat down over the cold hole, listening to a bee. Without thinking, he had forgotten that it was Sunday. Exhausted, he sat there with a pencil in his mouth, leaning against the back wall of the small building. The door wide open.
When he removed his boots and his socks, he noticed that the heel of one boot was almost broken. He leaned forward to put his socks inside the boots and then laid them out together on the ground in sunlight. He sat back again and closed his legs with the butt of the gun lodged in a knothole in the floor, the double barrel resting between his knees. He inserted the pencil between the trigger guard and the triggers, and gently placed the toes of each warm bare foot over the pencil.
A plump robin landed near the outhouse, its fine legs nimbly carrying it across the opening of the door. The bird stopped, seeming to wait for my father inside the building, until a terrible blast ripped out the back wall of the outhouse.
Title: Cartoon Woods
Author: Richard Taylor
Published by: Oberon Press
Date: January 1988
Cover art: Noreen Mallory
Details: Trade Paperback, 7¾" - 9¾", 111 pages
Tender Only to One
Each of these stories is like a miniture painting, full of light and colour, a moment in time rendered in lean, supple prose. Each evokes the essence of a person or place with the unexpected brilliance of a struck match in the dark. He writes about the painters Paul Gauguin, Vincent Van Gogh, Edgar Degas, Claude Monet, Pierre Bonnard, Emile Nolde and the writer Robert Louis Stevenson and other contemporary fictional characters.
This is Richard Taylor's first book.
Ottawa writer's brave failure
Tender Only To One. Ottawa writer Richard Taylor's first published collection of stories, is several worlds and levels of consciousness apart. His arproach is as audacious as it is retrospective, linking sketches 0 the imagined life of such painters as Gauguin, Van Gogh and Monet and the writer Robert Louis Stevenson with contemporary stories of isolation.
Some of the characters are preparing for the end; others are on the threshold of threatening experience. An old woman, "all soft and sagging" in a wheelchair, must come to terms with the sale of her house; another has lost her hair, "bald as a marble" under her kerchief. Van Gogh is sliding into madness, Gauguin is doomed to exile in Tahiti ("I am probably worse off alive than dead"). In the title story, a middleaged woman takes up with a young boy: "You help me get through menopause, and I'll get you through puberty."
The voices build up into a complex tableau of life's tag ends. Actually, Taylor seems to be offering the short story at the point where it merges into the prose poem. The characterization is slight but the psychological insight is sharp. Taylor has abandoned "plot" and denouement in favor of a series of broken images.
Some of the stories get to the heart of the matter as sharply as a coronary thrombosis or worse. A woman recalls her past" A pig was slaughtered, hanging split, pink, in the barn. . . Many years earlier he had taken her virginity there in the same way. In that 'hayloft someone sent an arrow into the throat of a pigeon." The cumulative effect of such images is often impressive, but the book - particularly the imposed structural link between the great artists' dwindling lives and those of his contemporary characters - adds up to a brave failure, which Taylor would probably prefer to a timid success.
- Ken Adachi, Sunday Star, March 10, 1985
In the room where he lives now, the wallpaper has vertical bars of green and blue. The rooms in his farmhouse were papered in flowers. Every Saturday for many years, winter and summer, she has see? him out on his three-mile walk from the house in the village to his old farmhouse. Often he goes down to the river. Since she had the stroke she has spent years in front of a window. She has known him for most of her life, she once loved him. But even now he would never admit to this dialogue they possess.
After his father and mother died he lived alone in that crumbling farmhouse with dead wasps in cobwebs along the window-sills and in dangling fly-catchers. There were chores at daybreak, 9ver the railway tracks , with cows and back into the barn to shovel out gutters. Now and again a pig was slaughtered, hanging split, pink, in the barn with the black cutter in the rafters. Many years earlier he had taken her virginity there in the same way. In that hayloft someone sent an arrow into the throat of a pigeon.
Enamelled dishes filled with candies beside the Lazy-Boy rocker. Shirley Temple movies on dark Sunday afternoons. Marble linoleum reflections of cats in the evening. When he approached his dog to say good-night, the dog dropped to the floor and opened her legs. Upstairs in that damp bed in the winter there were so many rattling windows, because at night the house did not belong to him.
As a hard worker and citizen of the community his reputation was untarnished. But he never overcame the shock in that barn with her. He simply pulled up his overalls and left her there, and started working. After that he never spoke to her again. Just work, work work, the church and local politics. Yes, and thank God for visiting children anxious to play farmer among the liniments and pails of milk, to find abandoned litters of kittens in the barn, and watch TV reruns of W. C. Fields and the Three Stooges.
The oiled road he walks today is lined with a broken fence his father had put in. As he looks at the posts he can see what time has done to their surface. He stands mute with self-pity, as box-car after boxcar in a long freight train hurtles by. Every night the same train approached 'his dreams, thundered through the house and finally receded.
She remembers a story about one of his dogs that had been straying away from the farm. He claimed the dog would get rabid and bite someone. They say he put a rope around her neck and tied her to a fence-post, put a bullet between her eyes, and with tears running down his face, buried the dog in the farmyard.
If she doesn't have another stroke, this winter she'll spend five weeks with a stranger in Florida. She could just as easily have gone with him. Even at their age they could begin a new life together. He knows where she lives. He has to walk by her window every Saturday and still he never looks up. She cannot imagine what it is that he fears so much that he remains hunted. One morning she will be waiting beside the road. She will put her hands on his shoulders and shake him until he speaks to her. Work work work and now he walks it off mile after mile. He left her on the seat of that black cutter in the barn; he broke into her and left her there like one of his slaughtered pigs. That she can forgive, has forgiven, but the stubborn years of silence she cannot bear.
Tentatively, she raises one hand to the paralysed side of her cheek. She is waiting behind the curtains because he is due to walk by. But she will not cry out or run outside to meet him on the road. She wonders if the same violent shudder travels through his body.
Title: Tender Only to One
Author: Richard Taylor
Published by: Oberon Press
Date: January 1984
Cover art: Andre Bieler