slow down. start at the beginning mother would say when i’d rush in to tell her about cassie’s current adventure. cass had a pitchfork stuck in her leg, a wire in her eye, she’d been cornered by the bull in the pasture we weren’t supposed to enter, wedged under a giant easel she’d built, where could i start? there was no beginning with cass, just her usual ending: that was a good one, eh?
later, in school, teachers imposed a fictional order on facts: start at the beginning they’d say, your readers should know right away where you are, who you are, who’s with you.
where are you right now? cassie used to ask when she phoned, wanting every detail. i was on the farm north of toronto, i was in my city apartment, a maiden trapped in a towering cliché. i was teaching in everdale school, i knew my coordinates, i didn’t know where i was, where cassie was, what story she was creating, what version of herself. was she with or against me?
everything is in flux. the chair, the desk—atoms colliding with time and space in a way i don’t understand. these papers i sort through are poems by someone with my name. a girl who no longer exists smiles in fading photos i’m ready to toss.
i study myself: an old woman sits on a carpet once valued for its vibrant colours and fluid design. a stain in the pattern becomes a butterfly perched on a milkweed, swaying, or pinned to a card for a science fair project. where is that butterfly now? the old woman asks. was i there when they pinned her down? did i do the pinning?
she remembers a frozen pond and a lie told in childhood. the lie may have ruined her twin sister’s life.
a streak of sunlight crosses the carpet, slices through shadow, splitting it open. the split reveals nothing.
your readers must understand what’s going on, the instructor said.
why? the old woman asks. it’s an imitation of life: a pile of unsorted laundry and lint, stained underwear, one missing sock. fuzzify your expectations.
a voice calls, deirdre!
it’s her husband, erik.
but she can’t stop sorting. frantic, relentless, a game show contestant trying to beat the clock. a movie heroine struggling to defuse the bomb as the seconds flash by in red. she’s alice’s white rabbit.
her twin sister cassie is already dead when the story begins. it starts at the end. the stage is set.