Twelve she is, and headlong into life. Hi, Dad, hi, she says at five on Friday. He says, Shush, he’s kinda had it, he’s been ten hours at the office and you wouldn’t believe the monsters. Falls on his bed with a book so she can’t see his face behind it. At seven-thirty she comes, side-wise, to his door. What? he says. What is it? Can it wait? So she sees there must be something to it, this trick of reading as a way of being somewhere else, not here.
Supper first though: on the kitchen counter she finds the wooden stick from yesterday’s popsicle. She dips it into the big red can of Squirrel peanut butter, and now into the corn syrup, now into her mouth and licks it, yum. Again she slides the stick into the peanut butter, now the sugar bowl, now her mouth. Has there ever been a better way to eat? Over and over, eight courses, each a variation using any or all of margarine, peanut butter, syrup, brown sugar, white. Afterward, she keeps the stick in her mouth for the taste of the wood.
Her own bed’s a top bunk. She can kneel on her mattress and touch the solid ceiling whenever she needs to. Up the two-rung ladder she carries every volume of L.M. Montgomery she can find on her older sister’s shelf. For days and days she chews on the popsicle stick and reads. Leans out and drops each book onto a sliding stack on the dresser as she finishes. Sleeps at night surrounded by the ones she hasn’t got to.
First it’s feisty Anne, going on for volumes. Then tragic Rilla of Ingleside and the beautiful man who will never come home from the Great War. She cries and cries, our ripening girl of twelve, over Rilla’s lost love and over all the shivering sadnesses a twelve-year-old harbours though she doesn’t yet know their names. Then The Story Girl, where the kids eat pickles and milk before bed in hopes the drama of their dreams will spike. Then, from where it’s wedged between the mattress and the wall, The Golden Road. Finally the Emily books, like landing on a pair of pillows. The trick Emily has of righting the world by writing the world. Writing herself out, she calls it, and years later our girl will wonder if that was what Montgomery was doing all along. And she’ll wonder why, when Lucy Maud and Emily slipped that notion to her all those years ago, she didn’t sit down and write her own self out—the joy of a meal on a popsicle stick, the melancholy dad who disappeared for most of 1969 inside a tower of books, the monsters she imagined in the office where he worked—three-eyed, five-limbed, misfit creatures, God bless them all. And even now she does things every day that, were she brave enough, she’d put out there in writing. For instance, yesterday, when that man ….
Leona Theis writes novels, stories, and personal essays. She lives in Saskatoon, where she continues to revise her next two novels and is completing a volume of memoirs. She’s learning how to use a stand-up paddle board, and finds that this is good training for writing: if it’s too easy, you aren’t taking enough chances. Recently she won the Prairie Fire nonfiction prize for her short memoir “Six Ways She Might Have Died before She Reached Nineteen.” In the past, Leona has volunteered with both Frontier College and Read Saskatoon.
You can find her at www.leonatheis.com
“A girl she was (not a god)
known for guiding the horses