by Lynn Coady
Her mother would tell you
it started with the walks. Just out of the blue, not too long after she got fired from the
Busy Burger and had been kicking around the house for a few days. Out comes Murdeena with,
"I think Ill go out for a little walk." Margaret-Ann was just
finishing up the dishes and hurried to dry off her hands when she heard it, thinking
Murdeena was being sly about asking for a drive somewhere.
"Where do you want to go?" asks
"I don't know, I'm just going to walk
"Where are you going to walk around?"
"I'll just go down by the water or
"Here, I'll take you down," she says,
reaching for the keys.
"Pick me up a Scratch and Win!" Mr.
Morrisson calls from the couch, hearing them jingle.
No, no, no," goes Murdeena. "I'm just going
for a walk, to look at the water."
"I'll drive you down, we can sit in the car and
look at it," says Margaret-Ann. She doesn't know what her daughter is on about.
"I want to go for a walk," says
"Who goes for walks?" points out
Margaret-Ann. She's right, too. Nobody goes for walks. The only people who go for walks
are old women and men who have been told by their doctors that they have to get more
exercise. You can see them, taking their turns around the block every night after supper,
looking none too pleased.
"What's the matter with you?" asks
Margaret-Ann. She's thinking Murdeena is feeling bad about getting fired and wants to go
"Nothing, Mumma. It's a nice night."
"Go sit on the porch, you don't have to go
"I want to."
"Go on, I'll bring you a cup of tea."
"I don't want to drink any more tea. I want to
Thinking of the seniors, it occurs to Margaret-Ann
that walking is a healthy pastime, and maybe she should encourage it.
"You're on some kind of new health kick, now, are
"Well, if that's what you want to do," she
says, doubtful. "Are you going to be all right?"
"Yes." Meanwhile Murdeena's digging around
in the porch, trying to find something to put on her feet.
"Do you need a jacket?"
"Yeah, I'll put on my windbreaker."
"Maybe you should wear mine," says Margaret-
Ann, fidgety about the whole performance.
"No, I'll be all right."
"What do you got on your feet?"
That's a bit of a problem. Nobody walks, so nobody has
any walking shoes. Murdeena settles for a pair of cowboy boots she bought in Sydney back
when they were in style.
"You can't walk in those."
"They're made for people to walk in.
Cowboys. They walk all around the range."
''They ride around on their horses,'' protests
"Well, they'll do for now." Murdeena puts on
Then Ronald pipes up again. "She's not going out
by herself, is she?" he calls from the couch.
"Yes. She wants to go for a walk."
Where's she going to walk to?"
"Jesus Murphy, I'll bring you back a Lotto!"
Murdeena hollers before the whole rigmarole can get under way again, and she clomps out
the door in her boots. So there's Margaret-Ann left to do all the explaining.
Margaret-Ann will tell you that is where it all
started, although it didn't seem like much of anything at first. Murdeena walking. By
herself, in the evening. Perhaps it was getting fired, that's what Margaret-Ann thought.
Murdeena had never been fired before, although the Busy Burger was only her second job -
before that she was a cashier at Sobey's, for four years, right up until it closed down.
She was great at it, and everybody liked her. She liked it too because she got to visit
with everyone in town and catch up on their news. The Busy Burger wasn't so much her style
because most of the people who came in were high school kids and Carl Ferguson who ran the
place was a big fat shit. She used to get along so well with her manager at Sobey's,
because they'd gone to school together, but Carl Ferguson was just this mean old bastard
she couldn't relate to who didn't like girls and treated them all like idiots. He picked
on Murdeena especially because she couldn't count. Even with the cash register there
giving a read-out, she never gave anyone the right change. Murdeena could never do math,
none of the teachers at school could figure her out because the math teacher assumed she
was borderline retarded while the rest of them were giving her A's and B's. There must be
some kind of condition where you can't do math, just like the one where you can't spell,
and that's what Murdeena had. If you asked her anything having to do with numbers, she'd
change the subject. If you asked her how many people lived in her town, she'd say,
"Oh, quite a few;" or else, "Oh, it's about the size of Amherst, I'd guess.
Maybe more." If you'd try to pin her down on a figure, she might say something like,
"Oh ... maybe ... a ... couple of hundred." It was a good way to get her back in
high school. We'd all laugh.
But her mind just didn't work that way, some people's
minds don't. It didn't make her a moron, but Carl Ferguson treated her like one anyway.
She was always careful to check the register and count out the change meticulously, but
sometimes the bastard would stand there watching her making slow calculations as she moved
the change from the register to her palm and he'd wear this disgusted smirk and make her
all nervous. So one day, right in front of him, she handed Neil MacLean a twenty instead
of a five. Neil said he could see her hand shaking as she did it, and he tried to nod to
her or something, let her know in some way that the change was wrong. Before he could do a
blessed thing, though, Carl Ferguson tears the twenty out of her hand. "For Christ's
sake, woman," he goes. 'You trying to make me go broke?" And Murdeena cried and
Neil, probably trying to help out, told Carl he was an arsehole, but that's when Carl told
her she was fired - probably just to shut Neil up and prove that he could do or say
whatever he damn well pleased in his own establishment.
Everyone hated Carl after that because everyone liked
Murdeena. Whenever she gave people back the wrong change at Sobey's, they'd just say,
"Oops, dear, I need a bit more than that," or a bit less, or whatever, and then
they'd help her to count out the right amount, and then everyone would have a big laugh
So then she was on UI again and there was talk in town
about a big bulk-food store opening up, and Margaret-Ann kept telling her there was no
need to worry.
"I'm not worried anyways," says Murdeena.
"Then why all the walks?" This was after the
fourth walk of the week. Murdeena was going through all the shoes in the closet, trying to
find the best pair for walking. Tonight she had auditioned a pair of her brother Martin's
old basketball sneakers from eight years ago.
"I'm not walking because I'm worried about
anything!" says Murdeena, surprised. And the way she says it is so clean and
forthright that Margaret-Ann knows she's not lying. This makes Margaret-Ann more nervous
"Well for the love of God, Murdeena, what are you
doing stomping around out there all by yourself?"
"It's nice out there."
"It's nice, is it."
"Well, it seems like an awful waste of time, when
I could be driving you anywhere you wanted to go."
Murdeena has never gotten her driver's licence. This
is something else about her that's kind of peculiar. She says there isn't any point
because she never goes anywhere. Margaret-Ann and Ronald like it because it means that she
still needs them to do things for her from time to time.
"If I wanted to go for a drive," says
Murdeena, "I'd go for a drive."
"It just seems so Jesus pointless!" bursts
out Margaret-Ann, wishing Murdeena would quit fooling with her, pretending everything was
People around town were starting to make remarks.
Cullen Petrie at the post office:
"Oh, I see your girl out going for the walks
"Yes, it's her new thing, now."
"Well, good for her! I should be getting out more
"Yes, shouldn't we all," says Margaret-Ann,
officiously licking her stamps.
"Isn't she tough!"
"Yes, she is."
"Every night I see her out there," marvels
Cullen Petrie. "Every night'''
"Yes." Margaret-Ann gathers up her mail in a
pointed sort of fashion, so as to put Cullen in his place. "Yes, she's tough, all
Cullen calls after her to have Murdeena put in an
application at the post office - he'd be happy to see what he would do for her.
Margaret-Ann would like to kick him.
"You don't need a job right now, in any
event," Margaret-Ann keeps telling her over and over again. "Your UI won't run
out for a year, and you've got enough to keep you busy these days."
"That's right," agrees Murdeena, clomping
around in an old pair of work boots to see how they fit, and not really paying much
attention. "I've got lots to keep me busy."
Murdeena is always on the go, everyone says so. She
plays piano for the seniors every weekend and always helps out at the church teas and bake
sales. She'll do the readings in church sometimes, and plays on her softball team. It used
to be the Sobey's softball team before it closed down, but they all enjoyed the games so
much that the employees didn't want to disband. They ripped the cheap SOBEY'S logos off
their uniforms and kept playing the other businesses in town anyway. Nobody minded. For a
joke, they changed their name to the S.O.B.'s.
Some people are concerned that she doesn't have a
boyfriend, but Margaret-Ann and Ronald are relieved, they like her where she is. She went
out with a fellow in high school for three years, and it looked as if things were pretty
much all sewn up for after graduation, but didn't he go off to university - promising
they'd talk about the wedding when he came home for the summer. Well, you don't have to be
a psychic, now, do you?
So Murdeena hasn't been seeing anyone since then -
almost five years now. She has her own small group of friends, the same ones she had in
school, and they all go out to the tavern together, or sometimes will take a trip over to
the island or into Halifax. There are a couple of young fellows that she spends time with,
but they're all part of the group, one with a girlfriend and one married.
So no one can think of anyone Murdeena might end up
with. Murdeena knows everyone in town and everyone knows her. Everyone has their place and
plays their part. So it's hard to think of changing things around in any sort of
fundamental way. Like starting something up with someone you've known since you were two.
It doesn't feel right, somehow.
"To hell with it," she announces one evening
after supper. She's got every pair of shoes in the house lined up across the kitchen
"What is it now?" gripes
Margaret-Ann, even though Murdeena hasn't said a word up until now. Margaret-Ann always
feels a little edgy after suppertime, now, knowing Murdeena will be leaving the house to
go God knows where. "What's the matter with you?"
"None of these are any good." She kicks at
"What do you mean? Wear your nice deck
"Wear your desert boots."
"They're all worn out. I've worn them all. None
of them feel right."
"Do they hurt your feet? Maybe you need to see a
"They don't hurt, Mumma, they just don't feel right."
"Well, for Christ's sake, Murdeena, we'll go
out and get you a pair of them hundred-dollar Nike bastards, if that'll keep you
"I'm going to try something else," says
Murdeena, sitting down in one of the kitchen chairs. Thank God! thinks
Margaret-Ann. Shes going to stay in and drink her tea like a normal person.
But Murdeena doesn't reach for the teapot at all.
What she does is take off her socks. Margaret-Ann just watches her, not really registering
anything. Then Murdeena gets up and goes to the closet. She takes out her windbreaker. She
puts it on. Margaret-Ann blinks her eyes rapidly, like a switch has been thrown.
"What in the name of God are you doing now?"
"I'm going for my walk."
Margaret-Ann collapses into the same chair Murdeena
had been sitting in, one hand covering her mouth.
"You've got no shoes!" she whispers.
"I'm going to give it a try," says Murdeena,
hesitating in the doorway. "I think it'll feel better."
"For the love of Jesus, Murdeena, you can't go
walking around with no shoes!" her mother wails.
Murdeena makes her lips go thin and doesn't ask her
mother why, because she knows why just as well as Margaret-Ann does. But she's stubborn.
"It'll be all right. It's not cold."
"There's broken glass all over the street!"
"Oh, Mother, there is not."
"At least put on a pair of sandals,"
Margaret-Ann calls, hoping for a compromise. She follows Murdeena to the door, because
she's leaving, she's going out the door, she's doing it. And she's hurrying, too, because
she knows if her mother gets hold of that windbreaker, she'll yank her back inside.
"I won't be long," Murdeena calls, rushing
down the porch steps.
Margaret-Ann stands on the porch, blinking some more.
She thinks of Cullen Petrie sitting on his own front porch across the street, taking in
the evening breeze.
Murdeena Morrisson has been parading all over town with no shoes on her feet, everyone
says to everyone else. They marvel and chuckle together. They don't know what she's trying
to prove, but it's kind of cute. People will honk their horns at her as they go by and
she'll grin and wave, understanding. "You're going to catch cold!" most of them
yell, even though it's the middle of summer. The only people who are kind of snotty about
it are the teenagers, who are snotty to everyone anyway. They yell "hippie!" at
her from their bikes, because they don't know what else to yell at a person without shoes.
Sometimes they'll yell, "Didn't you forget something at home?"
Murdeena hollers back: "Nope! Thanks for your
concern!" She's awfully good-natured, so nobody makes a fuss over it, to her face
anyway. If that's what she wants to do, that's what she wants to do, they say, shaking
Margaret-Ann does her shopping with a scowl and nobody
dares mention it to her. Murdeena won't wear shoes at all any more. She'll go flopping
into the pharmacy or the seniors home or anywhere at all with her big, dirty feet. The
Ladies Auxiliary held a lobster dinner the other night, and there Murdeena was as usual,
bringing plates and cups of tea to the old ladies, and how anyone kept their appetites
Margaret-Ann could not fathom. Murdeena stumbled with a tea-cup: "Don't burn your
tootsies, now, dear!" Laughter like gulls.
"I don't want to hear another word about
it!" Margaret-Ann announces one evening at the supper table. Murdeena looks up from
her potatoes. She hasn't said a thing.
It is obviously a signal to Ronald. He puts down his
fork and sighs and dabs his lips with a paper napkin. "Well," he says searching
for the right words. "What will you do in the winter? They're'll be snow on the
Margaret-Ann nods rapidly. Good sound logic.
Murdeena, still hunched over her plate - she's been
eating like a football player these days, but not putting on weight, as she tends to -
suddenly grins at the two of them with startling love.
"I'll put on boots when it's
wintertime!" she exclaims. "I haven't gone crazy!" She goes to shovel in
some potatoes but starts to laugh suddenly and they get sprayed across the table.
"Oh, for Christ's sake, Murdeena!" complains
her mother, getting up. "You'd think you were raised by savages."
"That's politically incorrect," Ronald
articulates carefully, having done nothing but watch television since his retirement.
"My arse," Margaret-Ann articulates even
more carefully. Murdeena continues to titter over her plate. This quiet glee coming off
her lately is starting to wear on Margaret-Ann. Like she's got some big secret tucked away
that she's going to spring on them at any moment, giving them instant triple heart
attacks. "And what's so Jesus funny inside that head of yours, anyway?" she
stabs at Murdeena suddenly. "Walking around grinning like a monkey, like you're
playing some big trick on everybody, showing off those big ugly feet of yours."
Offended, Murdeena peers beneath the table at them.
"They're not ugly."
"They're ugly as sin!"
"Since you decided you wanted to start showing
them off to the world!"
"Why should anybody care about seeing my feet?"
queries Murdeena, purely bewildered.
"Exactly!" shoots back her mother. "Why
should anyone care about seeing your feet!"
It ends there for a while.
She had always been the sweetest, most uncontentious little girl. Even as a baby, she
never cried. As a child, never talked back. As a teenager, never sullen. She was their
youngest and their best. Martin had driven drunk and had to go to AA or face jail,
and Cora had gotten pregnant and then married and then divorced, and Alistair had failed
grade nine. And all of them moved far away from home. But Murdeena never gave them any
trouble at all. Agreeable was the word that best described Murdeena. She was always
the most agreeable of children. Everybody thought so.
Gradually, however, she takes to speaking to
Margaret-Ann like she believes her to be an idiot.
"Mother." she says, slow and patient,
"there's things you don't understand right now."
"Mother," she murmurs, smiling indulgently,
"all will be explained."
Margaret-Ann rams a taunt, red fist into a swollen
mound of bread dough. "Will you take your 'mothers' and stuff them up your hole,
"Ah, Mumma," Murdeena shakes her head and
wanders away smiling, her bare feet sticking to the kitchen linoleum. Margaret-Ann fires
an oven mitt at her daughter's backside, and feels around the counter for something more
solid to follow it up with. She can't stand to be condescended to by Murdeena. The world
seems on it's head. She can hear her in the living room with Ronald, solemnly advising him
to turn off the TV and listen to her tell him something, and Ronald is trying to joke with
her, and play round-and-round-the-garden-like-a-teddy-bear on her hand to make her laugh.
She won't give him her hand. Margaret-Ann can hear her daughter speaking quietly to her
husband while he laughs and sings songs. Margaret-Ann feels dread. She goes to bed without
asking Ronald what Murdeena had tried to say.
It is reported to Margaret-Ann later in the week. The
folks at the seniors home were enjoying a slow and lovely traditional reel when the
entertainer abruptly yanked her hands from the keys and slammed the piano shut. The loud
wooden thunk echoed throughout the common room and the piano wires hummed suddenly
in nervous unison. A couple of old folks yelped in surprise, and one who had been sleeping
would have lurched forward out of his wheelchair if he hadnt been strapped in.
"Murdeena, dear, are you trying to scare the poor
old souls out of their skins?" gasped Sister Tina, the events organizer, and
"Theres just so much to tell you all,"
Murdeena reportedly answered, staring down at the shut piano, which looked like a mouth
closed over its teeth. "And here I am playing reels!" She laughed to herself.
"Are you tired, dear?" Sister Tina asked in
her little-girls voice, always calculated to be soothing and inoffensive to those
around her. She moved carefully forward, using the same non-threatening gestures she
approached the seniors with.
With unnerving spontaneity, Murdeena suddenly cried,
"Theres so much news!"
"Whats wrong with her?" barked Eleanor
Sullivan, who loved a good piano tune. "Get her a drink of rum!"
"Give her some slippers, her feet are cold,
slurred Angus Chisholm, groggy from being jolted out of his snooze.
"I have some good wool socks she can put
on," Mrs.. Sullivan, the most alert and officious of the bunch of them, offered.
"Run and get them for her, Sister, dear." All of a sudden, all the seniors were
offering to give Murdeena socks. A couple of them were beckoning for Sister Tina to come
and help them off with their slippers - Murdeena obviously had more need of them than they
"I haven't been able to feel my own goddamned
feet in years," Annie Chaisson was reasoning, struggling to kick off her pom-pommed
"For the love of God, everyone keep your shoes
on," commanded Sister Tina. "You'll all get the cold and there won't 'be enough
people to look after you!"
"I don't need your footwear!" hollered
Murdeena. "I need to be heard! I need to be believed and trusted and heard!"
It was an outlandishly earnest thing to say, and the
old people looked everywhere but at the piano. Murdeena had swung around on the stool and
was beaming at them. What came next was worse.
"I take it you've heard," says Murdeena to
her mother. She'd gone for a walk after her time with the seniors and stayed out for two
and a half hours. Margaret-Ann stands in the middle of the kitchen, practically tapping
her foot like a caricature of an angry, waiting mother. You would think Murdeena was a
teenager who had been out carousing all night. Ronald is sitting at the kitchen table
looking apprehensive because Margaret-Ann told him to and because he is.
"I take it you have something you'd like to
say," Margaret-Ann shoots back. "You're father tells me you've already said it
to him. And now that you've said it to a bunch of senile incontinent old friggers, perhaps
you can say it to your own mother."
"All right," says Murdeena, taking a breath.
"Here she goes."
"Let's hear it, then," says Margaret-Ann.
"I am the Way and the Light," says Murdeena.
"What's that now?"
"I am the Way and the Light," says Murdeena.
"You are," says Margaret-Ann.
Ronald covers the lower part of his face with his
hands and looks from one woman to the other.
"Now what way and what light is that?" asks
Margaret-Ann with her hands on her hips.
"What way and what light is it we're talking
Murdeena swallows and presses her lips together in
that stubborn but uncertain way she has. "The way," she says, "to
Margaret-Ann looks to her husband, who shrugs.
"And the light," continues Murdeena,
"of - well, you know all this, Mother. I shouldn't have to explain it."
Murdeena clears her throat to till up the silence.
They are up all night arguing about it.
First of all, the arrogance. It is just plain arrogant to walk around thinking you are
"the end-all and be-all," as Margaret-Ann insisted on putting it. She would
acknowledge it in no other terms.
"What you're saying is you're better than the
rest of us," was Margaret-Ann's argument.
"You're walking around talking like you know
everything. No one's going to stand for it."
"Not everything," said Murdeena. But
she was smiling a little, you could tell she thought she was being modest.
"People aren't going to stand for it,"
Margaret- Ann repeated. "They're going to say: 'Murdeena Morrisson: who does she
think she is?"'
"Oh, for Pete's sake, Mumma!" burst Murdeena
with uncharacteristic impatience. "Don't you think back in Nazareth when Jes - I mean
me, when I was telling everyone in Nazareth ..."
Margaret-Ann covered her ears.
about how I was the Way and the Light back
then, don't you think everyone was going around saying: 'Humph.' Jesus Christ! He must
think he's some good! Walking around, preaching at people."'
"This is blasphemy," hollered Margaret-Ann
over the sound of blood pumping through her head. She was pressing against her ears too
"That's what they said back then, too."
Margaret-Ann was right and Murdeena was wrong. Nobody
wanted to hear it. Everyone liked Murdeena, but she was taking her dirty bare feet and
tromping all over their sacred ground. Word spread fast.
Pouring tea for Mrs. Foguere in the church basement, she leans over to speak.
"Once upon a time, there was a little town on the
water ...." she begins.
"Oh, please, dear, not now," Mrs. Foguere
interrupts, knowing by now what's coming and everybody looking at her with pity.
"No, it's okay," says Murdeena, "I'm
telling you a story."
"I just want to drink my tea, Murdeena,
"There was this whole town of people, you see ...
and they were all asleep! The whole town!"
"I don't believe I care for this story,
dear," says Mrs. Fouguere.
"No, no it's a parable! Just wait," Murdeena
persists. "This whole town, they were all asleep, but the thing is ... they were
sleepwalking and going about their business just as if they were awake."
"I don't care to hear it, Murdeena."
"Yes, for God's sake, dear, go and have a little
talk with the Father, if you want to talk," Mrs. MacLaughlin, seated at the next
table and known for her straightforward manner, speaks up.
"But it's a parable!" explains Murdeena.
"It doesn't sound like much of a friggin' parable
to me!" Mrs. MacLaughlin complains. The women nearby all grumble in agreement.
Murdeena straightens up and looks around at the room:
"Well, I'm only starting to get the hang of it!"
The ladies look away from her. They take comfort,
instead, in looking at each other - in their dresses and nylons and aggressive, desperate
cosmetics. Someone snickers finally that it was certainly a long way from the Sermon on
the Mount, and a demure wave of giggles ripples across the room. Murdeena puts her hands
on her hips. Several of the ladies later remark on how like Margaret-Ann she appeared at
"To hell with you, then," she declares, and
flops from the room, bare feet glaring.
Murdeena has never been known to say anything like
this to anyone before, certainly no one on the Ladies Auxiliary.
Sister Tina comes to the house for a visit.
"Seeing as I'm the Way and the Light,"
Murdeena explains, "it would be wrong for me not to talk about it as often as
"Yes, but, dear, it wasn't a very subtle story,
was it? No one likes to hear that sort of thing about themselves."
"The point isn't for them to like it,"
spits Murdeena. "They should just be quiet and listen to me."
At this, Margaret-Ann leans back in her chair and
caws. Sister Tina smiles a little, playing with the doily the teapot has been placed upon.
"They should," the girl insists.
"They don't agree with you, dear."
"Then they can go to hell, like I said."
"Wash your mouth out!" gasps her mother,
furious but still half-laughing.
Sister Tina holds up her tiny hand with all the minute
authority she possesses. "Now, that's not a very Christian sentiment, is it
"It's as Christian as you can get," Murdeena
counters. Scandalously sure of herself.
The next day, the Sister brings the Father.
"I hate the way she talks to everyone
now," Margaret-Ann confides to him in the doorway. "She's such a big
know-it-all." The Father nods knowingly and scratches his belly. The two of them, he
and Murdeena, are left alone in the dining room so they can talk freely.
Crouched outside the door, Margaret-Ann hears Murdeena
"What are dining rooms for, anyway? We never even
use this room. Everything's covered in dust."
"It's for good!" Margaret-Ann hollers
in exasperation. Her daughter has grown obtuse, along with everything else. Sister Tina
gently guides her back into the kitchen.
The Father's visit is basically useless. Afterwards he
keeps remarking on how argumentative little Murdeena has become. She would not be told. She
simply will not be told, he keeps repeating. The Father has little idea how to deal
with someone who will not be told. He makes it clear that his uselessness was therefore
Murdeena's own fault, and goes off to give Communion to the next-door neighbor, Allan
Beaton, a shut-in.
"Everyone's too old around here," Murdeena
mutters once the priest is gone. She's watching him out the window as Allan Beaton's nurse
holds the door open to let him in. The nurse is no spring chicken herself. The father is
mostly bald with sparse, cotton-ball hair and a face like a crushed paper bag.
"You're just full of complaints, these
days," her mother fumes, hauling a dust rag into the dining room.
So now Murdeena is going around thinking she can heal the sick. She figures that
will shut them up. In the parking lot at the mall, Leanne Cameron accidentally slams her
seven-year-old boy's finger in the car door and Murdeena leaps from her mother's Chevette
and comes running up, bare feet burning against the asphalt, a big expectant grin
splitting her face. This scaring the piss out of the little boy, who starts to scream at
the sight of her, twice as loud as before. Murdeena tries and tries to grab the hand, but
Leanne won't let her anywhere near him. It is a scene that is witnessed and talked about.
Margaret-Ann vows never to take Murdeena shopping with her again, or anywhere else, for
Margaret-Ann declares that she has officially
"had it." She experiments with giving Murdeena the silent treatment, but
Murdeena is too preoccupied to notice. This hurts Margaret-Ann's feelings, and so she
stops experimenting and quits talking to her daughter altogether. Her days get angrier and
quieter, as she waits for Murdeena to take notice of her mother and do the right thing.
See to her.
"See to your mother," Ronald pleads with her
at night, lowering his voice so that the television will keep it from carrying into the
kitchen. "Please go in and see to her."
Murdeena's head snaps up as if she had been asleep and
someone had clapped their hands by her ear. "Did she hurt herself? Is she
bleeding?" She wiggles her fingers eagerly, limbering up.
She starts lurking around the children's softball
games, hoping someone will get a ball in the face or sprain their wrist sliding into home.
She hovers like a ghoul and the children play extra carefully all summer long as a result.
Murdeena watches toddlers waddling away from their parents, toward broken bottles and the
like, with her fingers crossed.
By now, though, people know to keep their kids away
from Murdeena Morrisson. In the space of a couple of months it has become the community
instinct. She stalks the adult softball games too, even though she has long since stopped
playing for the S.O.B.'s.
No one can very well tell Murdeena to stop coming to play piano, since she has been
doing it since she was thirteen and on a volunteer basis -Margaret-Ann thought it would be
a good way for her to get some practice and do something nice for the senile incontinent
old friggers at the same time. So Murdeena headed over every Sunday after supper, and for
the next ten years there never arose any reason for her to stop. It was a perfectly
satisfactory relationship, if somewhat stagnant. The seniors asked for, and Murdeena
played impeccably, the same songs, Sunday night after Sunday night. "Main's
Wedding" and "Kelligrew's Soiree" and such. Some of the seniors who were
there when she first started playing had died, but most of them were still around - living
out the final years of their lives while Murdeena was experiencing practically the whole
of her own, a bland and inoffensive local girl for them to tease about clothes and
boyfriends, sucking up her youth.
But Murdeena will no longer be teased. Her friends
have abandoned her in response to the "high and mighty" tone she's adopted with
them, her mother is angry, and her father has never spoken to her much in the first place.
The seniors are the only captive audience she has. For the first little while after the
night she slammed the piano shut, she'd make a slight pretence of being there to play for
them, but the tunes would usually trickle off after a few minutes. She'd stealthily start
making inquiries about Angus Chisholm's knee, Annie Chaisson's hip, Eleanor Sullivan's
"If you'd just let me hold your hands for a
couple seconds, Mrs. Sullivan," she'd plead.
"My dear, I'd love for you to hold my hands, but
not in the spirit of blasphemy."
They listened, though. The seniors are the most
tolerant of the town, for some reason neither threatened nor scandalized by what Murdeena
has to say. They don't tease her about the way she looks either - they don't mention her
feet. Murdeena's lips are now always thin, and so is her body - she has finally lost all
her baby fat from walking the streets for hours into the night and sometimes forgetting to
eat supper. It's October, and there's no sign of shoes as yet. The seniors decide it's her
own business and they don't say a word.
And so, stymied by the town, she gradually turns all
her attention and efforts to the attentive oldies, stuck in their chairs every Sunday
night until the nurses come along to help them to bed, waiting to hear Murdeena. Sister
Tina - who writhes-jumps like she's being jabbed with hot pokers at every word out of
Murdeena's mouth - soon realizes that she needn't be worried about the girl giving them
offence. The seniors greet the blasphemy with more good humour than anyone else in town.
Born in farmhouses, raised up on hills or in remote valleys, where to come across another
human being, no matter who they were or what they had to say, was a deep and unexpected
pleasure - therefore humble, charitable, and polite - the old folks listen, lined up side
by side in front of the piano.
It's like Murdeena figures that the seniors represent
the front lines - that if she can just plough her way through them, everything else might
fall into place. The world will become reasonable again. So Sunday after Sunday, she
abandons the music in order to plead. Sunday after Sunday, now, she pleads with them until
And they're good about it. They let her talk and hold
out her hands to them. They don't complain or interrupt. They smile with their kind and
patient old faces and refuse to let themselves be touched.