The Strange Habits of Islanders I: Sheila

Sheila stands in the small entrance-way of her Esquimalt home for an inordinately long period of time this morning.  Against the wall beside the front closet leans a full length mirror.  It is the only functional looking-glass in her modest, yet cozy bungalow.  The bathroom mirror is covered with an alloy of saliva, tap water and Crest, which she brushes off her tongue vigorously three times a day (she is religious about this as her father died of mouth cancer last year).  The mirror in the bedroom cracked in the mid eighties during her brief foray into sado-masochism.  It still reflects her body but her face is distorted so she has got out of the habit of glancing at it when she walks past; it makes her look monstrous.  Sheila sucks in her stomach as she stands in front of the entrance way mirror.  Today is an important day.

The cat, Mr. Sparkles, rubs his black and white chin against Sheila’s right shin and is quickly launched into the living room, lest he leave traces of fur on Sheila’s black slacks.  Realizing her lapse into vanity, Sheila quickly moves to give the cat a consoling scratch under the chin.  He responds by biting the flesh of her palm ever so lightly.  “He’s a good little cat”, she thinks to herself, “never once has he sprayed my shoes as other toms do and he seems content to stay on the warm side of the window—sprawling out in the sun, alternately absorbing and reflecting light: black and white”.

Now back in front of her mirror, Sheila continues to preen.  She flicks a stray clump of mascara off her cheek, but it lands in the center of her pupil.  Fighting her instinct to rub the eye, she blinks rapidly—her reflection in the mirror becomes blurred and two-dimensional.  Her nose starts to run: mucous and tears mingle on her upper lip.  She moves swiftly to the washroom, almost tripping over Mr. Sparkles who, again, is lifted into the air, this time, by her left foot.  Cold water soothes her burning eye and the integrity of her makeup is fully compromised.  Tears flow from the other eye as well.

About twenty minutes pass before Sheila returns to the mirror.  The most recent application of her makeup isn’t as pleasing to her as the first.  Peacock turquoise pass over the invisible border of her eyelid and the rouge, applied in haste, is garish: “it will have to do”, she sighs.  She adjusts her scarf, which is now damp from her emergency trip to the bathroom.  Holding back more calamitous tears, she sucks in her belly and stands sideways in front of the mirror—back straight, chest out in artificial confidence: today is an important day.

Finally she opens the front door and steps out into the morning light.  A flurry of feathers and flesh scatter upward.  A bag of birdseed is torn and it contents are spread out like a yellow couscous carpet on her front step.  She doesn’t appear to notice and walks stiffly down the stairs and makes a b-line to the south west corner of her front yard.  The grass is turning green again.  Halloween is just around the corner.

Soon, Sheila’s shadow eclipses Fall’s pale sunlight on the white forehead of her eldest gnome: his name is Chomsky the Destroyer.  Now frozen, seemingly permanently, one might doubt Chomsky’s glorious history.  Before Europeans ‘discovered’ ‘Vancouver Island’, before even the Kwakwaka’wakw, Nuu-chah-nulth and Coast Salish peoples inhabited the place, Chomsky reigned supreme.  He was the catcher of many fish, the lover of many women and the father of many sons.  He didn’t age then and he certainly doesn’t age now.  Sheila considers herself to be infinitely blessed to have Chomsky’s immortal, yet inanimate body grace her garden.  She lifts him up to inspect him and kisses his delightfully round belly (for gnomes, as a rule, do not soil their rosy lips with the breath of humans) and puts him back down in the exact same place from where she took him.  She places a single cone of incense at his feet.  As she lights it, she sings a song so old it is unrecognizable as such to most ears.  The smell of the incense is pleasing to Chomsky.  Today was an important day.

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