Copyright is held by the author.
SHE WAS on the GO, tablet tapping. Or trying to. That was my cue. No, it was nothing like that, even though she had it, even dishevelled looking as she was. Red-rimmed eyes, a set of bags underneath, with hair combed scruffy and her winter coat somewhat rumpled, she still held something. Not the tablet, I mean that intangible, intriguing, persona; yes and exotic in that erotic sense of the word.
I’d been getting on the GO Train at Georgetown for a well over a year and never seen her before. I would have noticed, especially on her better days, of which this was clearly not one. Would my advances be unwanted? Would it seem like I was trying to take advantage. It wasn’t the case. It was what I did. And she was still on the tablet, trying to tap out some code, something E — on what seemed to be a new fancy speed-style keyboard, not the old fashioned QWERTY style. I GO to TO to meet the meat. They are my clients, my customers. I love them. They love me. Okay they love what I do, or a little more specifically what I can do for them. I like to say it’s a “Reality Check.” I also say, “Get Real.” You might say, I, “have a way with words.” It is true, depending on your interpretation.
I stood. I moved. I sat. I said, “Do you mind?” I was already down.
“Please.” It was pleasantly snuffled forth. Her breath was minty and her perfume dainty, yet underneath both was an acrid taint of — hurt — hate — dare I say, something to do with death. No. But wild wolves picking up the underlying scent would not attack, merely skulk off. I did not. Her sad smile was cute. Had a loved one died? Maybe sick? Terminal? Hard to tell.
“I must seem a mess. Sorry.” She glanced up not wanting me to see her saggy red-shot eyes. She broke the ice. Good. We’d had enough ice jammed switches on the tracks this past winter. We didn’t need any more frozen toggles.
“Better.” She put a palm over the tablet so I couldn’t see, and then turned it off to boot, not re-boot. “Yes, it has to be better. An end has come about …”
The winter sun was starting to break on the horizon, spangled ice sprites skipped afar as she continued, “…thus a fresh and novel start.” Those were her words.
“Who I am, my name, Reed Tryst.” I could have added; aka, nee, or nom-de-plum, for it was my pen-name. I didn’t think it sounded hokey, besides where is the hoe-key on a keyboard; the one to weed out the bad words. My alias. Alias: In cyber-space no one can hear you scam. A little joke, it wasn’t a scam, at all.
“Oh, I’m Sam.” She didn’t take a hand away from the tablet to offer it, but she did nod. I wanted to query if it was short for Salmonella as she appeared ailing, but it would be in bad taste, sounding fishy.
I wondered about a dear departed loved one when she offered up, “I’m going through a break-up.” The next word was as single and hard as the ice outside, “Lout.”
I’d never had to respond to the word lout before, much less heard it aside from films.
The only thing I had was, “It might be for the best.”
“It is.” A pause with a nose blow. “I, I, I…I was going to write him something.” That soft voice deepened a few octaves and said, “Short and certain.”
I wanted to take a hand, but one clutched a tablet, the other a dank hanky. Instead I patted the arm that held the skanky-hanky.
The train slowed and we stopped at Mount Pleasant, the first GO Station in Brampton, and a new one. I gently squeezed her arm. “I might be able to help.”
She looked to me through those bloodshot pupils and said, “I don’t think…” A sniff, a sob, and a shudder, she had interrupted herself.
“It’s probably nothing like you think.” I looked into her eyes and put on my sympathetic face. Well, I actually had never looked or practiced in the mirror, but I think that was my mien. “Let me explain. I run a little business.” A tilt of my head, with pursed lips and a gentle smile, I continued. “Actually, I assumed I saw you trying to tap out an e-gram.”
“I was.” She paused. “Unsuccessfully, which is strange considering how many times I ran through it in my head.”
“That’s what I do, but with a little more realism to it. I take it out of the ephemeral electronic ether and make it solid, concrete. It is a cottage industry of sorts and I employ a widely varied number of craftsmen. I prefer the word artiste. I call it T.O.M.E. ‚ The Only Message Ever.”
“Tome? As in book? A big book?”
“We prefer to think of it as a work, a diverse work in progress, though we do have an actual tome in progress. In a world of electronic messages, e-mails, texting, sexting, and all, we decided to bring it back down to earth. Now we will accept e-mails, and e-cheques, but our end product does not go out that way. Ours is something you hold in your hand.” I wasn’t going to say we did hand jobs, though that was exactly what we did. In this day and age it had the wrong connotation.
“I’m afraid I don’t understand.” She put her tablet away and put the wet kerchief in a jacket pocket, running her hands down the outside of the pocket.
“Please bear with me a moment longer. I initially thought of it as an alternative for wedding proposals. You know those shy ones, whose words get caught in their throat. I should also add here, that no one seems to learn how to write cursive these days. I was out of a job due to downsizing and was a bit of an artist myself. I have a studio out back in the garage at my place in rural Georgetown. So I thought I could fill a niche.”
“Niche?” The train stopped in downtown Brampton for more passengers.
“Actually create one. I would write notes for people. Sounds easy eh?”
“It is in a sense. I have a natural knack for calligraphy and I started by writing out elaborate wedding proposals in fancy script on a handmade paper and envelope for the intended. He, or she, had to deliver it personally.”
“It blossomed from there. It spread like wildflower.”
“You mean wildfire … oh hang on, I get it.”
“The GTA is so multi-cultural, I have all sorts of clients and workers. I can’t do it all you know. And we hand-deliver now, from our home to yours. We will do our fancy scrawls on all sorts of media, as long as they are solid, real. We will do letters, notes, on handmade paper, vellum, carved in wood, and even on tablets, the real ones, not the E ones. We make them in clay and will even glaze and fire them in a kiln. Would you like a saying on an imitation Royal Copenhagen plate? We’ll do it.
“Yes. Just about any language, we have immigrants that still have lots of the old skills to do it. They love that their craft, once thought dead, is being used once again.” We had just pulled out of Bramalea. “We do chops and cartouche. We’ll do them on parchment, rice paper bamboo, whatever.
“Want a Mayan glyph carved on a piece of limestone. How about a Viking Runestone with your own message? Something simple on birchbark? Egyptian? Indian? Anywhere Asia? I probably have someone that can do it for you.
“We’ve done wills. We even have a cleric hand writing a Book of Kells on vellum, just like the original. Going to be expensive.
“Our motto is ‘Letter Perfect’ though we are far from perfect and will add deliberate mistakes — if required.
“As said, we will, we prefer to, hand deliver them. And no, we don’t do singing telegrams or strip-a-grams or anything like.”
I’d piqued her interest. Nothing to do with singing strippers. We chatted. We nattered. We bantered. Finally we bartered. A deal was struck. Again, as I like to claim, I had the Write Stuff.
I was happy to make her happy. I said previously that she had something, so I should admit, that I was hoping to make her even happier. Let me fess up, when I had initially lost my job, I had lost my wife, though nowadays with my success, the ex was sniffing around for more.
Here is what happened. The deal. She was going to supply me with a tablet, a stone, a small one, about 18 inches tall by 12 wide. It was to be a miniature Runestone, which by nature looked, like a headstone, or gravestone if you like. It was all appropriate. It wasn’t real rock but some fake plastic type stuff. It looked pretty good. Her appearance was better this time, I think, at least I forced myself to imagine it was, when she gave the tablet to me the next week on the GO to TO. Sam claimed she only went in once a week. Paid cash, with a comfortable tip. I wrote down what she wanted — on a paper pad with pen and paper. Why not. Yes, I wrote it down, not her.
I had to carve it on the outside with a very simple gripping-beast motif — writhing snakes biting tails. On the inside I had to carve in Runes “You Are Dead To Me.” The translation was easy — I got it on-line.
Now why was it appropriate? Here is why, her now insignificant other, was a Dane by birth, and quite the Vikingophile. If he didn’t understand the Runes, it would be easy for him to translate.
The work done, I would hand deliver it myself. He lived the rural life too, only a few kilometres from me. Okay, I wanted to see, what I hoped would be my predecessor, too. Did I have a lot of competition to stand against?
Sam hadn’t wanted to see my finished product, said she didn’t want to see it, or know. I had it wrapped in real cowhide from discards from the Rare Rawhide Hut in Alton. I found the house. Nice place, by the smell he had the fireplace going. No doorbell. A big heavy brass knocker. I liked that.
“Delivery.” I said when the non-descript fellow opened the door. I gave the hide covered Runestone to Hans Kragelund, after he identified himself.
“Oh.” He sounded mildly surprised. “Do I have to sign for anything?” There was that soft Danish accent underlying his speech.
“No.” I handed it to him.
“It’s heavy.” It wasn’t, not compared to real stone. “Thank you.”
I nodded, smiled, and left him to untie the twine around the hide. No tip. He didn’t look like great competition.
Not that it mattered. I never saw her again. Her, she, the red-eyed lady.
Funny about her name, funny peculiar that is, I never got a last name. On reflection, every time I hinted around about it, Sam cleverly evaded the subject, or would let a few tears flow on demand. Can you patent TOD Tears On Demand? There would be a good market. The it she had may have not been the it I thought. Was Sam her name, this it girl?
It gets worse.
I was reading our local rag, the Georgetown Gumbo, a week later — it doesn’t come out daily, when I read a certain Hans Kragelund had been killed in a gas explosion that had absolutely demolished his bucolic homestead. Coincidence?
I don’t know a thing, nor am I saying a thing. I’ve heard of these new peculiar plastic explosives — black market. Anything can be got on E-bay these days. I’m not saying, nor would I, did I, give any suspicions to the officials, fire, police, whatever. I wouldn’t implicate myself. That is certain.
But, do you think he read the Runic inscription and tossed it in his fireplace? Would his ex-other have known of his habits?
All I know is that I do remember a big propane tank at the side of the house. A gas leak sounds good. I choose to believe I didn’t Rune things.
Anyhow, that’s just one tale. A little dull at that. You should hear the one about the mage, or the Egyptian hieroglyph, or even the amanuensis.