Thursday, May 13, 2010


All that remains of the schoolhouse in Kiosk is a cement slab foundation. 
You can see the pattern of the floor tiles that remain.

A silver locket waited in the old man’s pocket.

“Ayuh, right here’s good,” Gordon Kilbride said, leaning forward in the back seat of the Jeep, trying to get the attention of the driver, Jason Thomas, who was listening to somebody named Peas singing something about junk in the trunk. Gordon really didn’t understand what passed for music these days. When he was this age he listened to Hank Snow and Ernest Tubb. You could understand what they were saying and their words meant something. Nothing like this.

Jason and his fishing buddy passenger kept bobbing their heads in time with the Peas, so Gordon reached his gnarled by arthritis fingers over and tapped his shoulder.

“Here’s good,” he repeated.

Jason, a good-natured, fair-eyed hair-shorn buck with muscles on his muscles, said, “Here? Are ya sure, mate? We’re not quite there yet. The park office is on up ahead a kilometer or so.”

“This is just fine,” Gordon said.

“All righty, then mate, here it is.” Jason stopped the YJ, loaded down with camping and fishing gear, in the middle of the dusty dirt road. Gordon wrestled out of the cramped back seat. He shut the door, stood out of the way and said, “thanks for the ride. It was much appreciated.”

“Later,” Jason said with a grin, gunning the engine and disappearing in a cloud of dust.

Gordon watched them go.

“Junk in the trunk,” he said. “Heh.”

He was standing at what passed for an intersection in these parts. Two dirt roads, one of them well-used, one of them barely a road at all, just two narrow ruts with weeds growing up the middle.

He chose the road less travelled and started walking up it.

He barely recognized the place.

Last time Gordon set foot on this road, it was an actual road, with a road sign and houses on either side. The Carmichaels’ white bungalow with the teal shutters and the ornate picket fence was on the left. Mrs. Carmichael always had a garden full of daffodils this time of year, and you would often see her pulling weeds and brushing blackflies out of her hair. Mr. Carmichael would most likely be in the garage, emptying the gas out of his chainsaw and putting it away after a month of getting the following winter’s wood cut and split. Either that or he would be getting his shiny almost-new roto-tiller out, ready to clear a patch for the bush beans the missus loved so.

Across the road was the Robertson’s place, brown wood frame, not as well kept as the Carmichaels’ but then again this house was a busier one, full of four growing Robertson children, two plump golden labs and a skinny yellow cat with a crooked tail. Russ Robertson was a foreman at the Kiosk planing mill, where almost 300 people had held down full time jobs. His wife, Mitzy, volunteered three days a week at the public school, a modern schoolhouse where 181 children spent long days studying phonics and arithmetic.

There was nothing left of either house. No clue that there was ever two homes at the corner.

Gordon stuck his left hand in his pants pocket and fingered the locket with its fine silver chain.

“Things sure are different, Cora,” he said, looking around.

Gordon had been born in Kiosk in 1942, just a few years after lumber baron S.J. Staniforth built a mill at the mouth of the Amable du Fond on the shore of Lake Kioshkokwi. By 1960 there were nearly 600 people living in Kiosk, with 80 homes,a school, a ball diamond, a store and a Catholic church. Gordon was working in the mill alongside his father, planning his wedding to the sweet but homely Cora Pratt, a gangly woman, all teeth and elbows and crooked smiles. He loved that Cora like the good Lord loves a sinner on Sundays, had loved her since he dunked her braids in the inkwells in grade school. Had promised to love her till the day he died.

Gordon knew how to keep a promise.

Only it wasn’t him that went and died first. It was Cora. One month short of 50 years of marriage. Three children, 13 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren later. One day she was putting up jars of chili sauce, talking about the anniversary party the kids were planning for them, yakking his ears off as usual, covered up to her bony elbows in tomatoes and vinegar. One minute she was talking while he was trying to read the paper and then she never said another goddamned thing. Well, just one thing.

He had looked up from the paper when he noticed she was quiet, and she was leaning against the kitchen counter, face as red as the gills of a pickerel, eyes scared. Gordon stood up and pushed at the chair to get it out of his way, and rushed over to Cora’s side.

She fell into his arms and he tried to get her to lay down but she snugged into his side so he held her there, held her close and whispered sweet words and smoothed her gray hair.

And she murmured, “Meet me in Kiosk,” and she died in his arms.

They had been living in an apartment in nearby North Bay when she died. They had lived and worked in Kiosk for most of their adult lives, raising their children, making lifelong friends, doing all the things people do when they love a place and make a nest there. But the good Lord and the Ontario government had other plans and in the early 1970s a grand master plan was announced for Algonquin Park, a plan that would eliminate northern communities like Kiosk, Achray and Brent.

The people of Kiosk fought to keep their homes but on Friday, July 13, 1973 the Staniforth mill burned to the ground. No amount of talk could get the mill rebuilt. People began to leave, seeking work elsewhere. Every time a house was vacated, it was bulldozed by the government. By 1996, every house was gone, every family was gone.

The park was returned to a natural state, for all people to enjoy.

But the people of Kiosk left their homes, left their friends, left their lives behind.

It was the hardest thing Gordon and Cora had ever done. They rented an apartment in “the Bay” and settled into their retirement, trying to like it, trying to feel at home. Trying not to think about Kiosk.

Funny thing, is, after Cora died, Kiosk was all Gordon could think of.

He wondered what she meant. Puzzled over it. Thought about it with increasing regularity. Until one day he decided he had to find out.

He went to his dresser drawer and pulled out the locket he had meant to give her for their 50th anniversary. There were two pictures inside. One of him, all young and scared looking, one of her, crooked smile, bright eyes and happy. Both taken on their wedding day. He had the jeweller inscribe a message on the back: My lady of the lake; my love.

Gordon put the trinket in his pants pocket and started his journey back to Kiosk. He started with a taxi, followed by a city bus, followed by some hitchhiking and finishing with that ride with the Peas boys. There wasn’t any public transportation out that far into the bush. Never was. Never would be.

Gordon clutched the locket and walked up the road to the place where his home once stood. Where Cora had a vegetable garden, where the kids played tag in the twilight, where he and his bony wife kissed in front of the lilac bush on fragrant May evenings when the air was thick and sultry and they were younger and the mosquitoes and flies didn’t bother them half as much as their unending itchy passion for each other.

The lilac bush was in bloom but it had grown out of control, higher than the house once was, wild and spindly and out of place amidst the natural north Ontario forest that was reclaiming this land.

In amidst the tall grass, the young white pines, the balsam, the poplar and the birch, in among all these wild things, were two perfect daffodils, yellow as a summer day. Bold as proverbial brass. Alive amidst the deadfall of early spring.

They swayed together, lightly touching, beautiful and perfect.

Gordon stared at them. Mesmerized.

And then he heard his name.

Cora stood amongst the lilacs, smiling her crooked smile at him, hugging herself with bony arms. She came forward, holding out those long, skinny arms, and she folded him into her embrace, and he wept, wept like a fool, like a child, like a man who has finally made it home to his wife, his love, his heart, his home.

Gordon held out the silver locket and put it around her thin, lovely neck and he gazed into her bright, homely eyes and the two of them faded from sight in a gentle swirl of silvery dust.

These two lonely daffodils still grow at the foundation of the abandoned schoolhouse in the ghost town of Kiosk. 
Dave and I visit this beautiful part of Algonquin Park at least once a year.


  1. I suppose a ghost town like that could birth a hundred stories. Beautiful.

  2. you have a casual and natural feel to your story telling that is engaging. a very well crafted write, nicely done! and not one round arse in the whole thing....

  3. What a grand love story! Love for each other, love of a place, love for life. These characters are sooo real, I don't know how you do it in such a short space. My favorite line is "they swayed together, lightly touching, beautiful and perfect." That just captures this couple so perfectly. I'm glad you gave them their happy ending. Lovely!

  4. I love your stories.... I love your stories.... I LOVE your stories. That about sums up my feelings on this story too. Tears again.

  5. A beautiful story, very reverent, very moving.

  6. The bond between the two and the town of Kiosk was so realistic and you had me with the slice-of-life. The magical realism at the end was frosting on the cake. I am impressed that you captured an older male voice so well. Great work.

  7. You are one of my favorites to read. I love, love, love your work so much. Gorgeous story dear. Brought tears to my eyes.

  8. The peas intro was priceless. You captured the male character perfectly.

    But while I was reading it, it felt more like a first chapter to a novel. You built the questions, gave the background, and I so wanted to settle into the unfolding.

    What you wrote worked too, but wow, Kiosk could be expanded with all the sub stories mentioned and use that beautiful ending. Truly, you've worked out the outline in this piece to a much bigger work.

  9. Peggy is, as usual, spot on.

    I don't care how long this was.. it wasn't long enough in my mind.

  10. This story just took me with it. I agree with Michael that your storytelling style is so natural and beguiling.

    Ending was lovely, perfect, wonderful.

  11. Who needs that damn hash tag. Dump that thing any day if you keep delivering such goods as these.

  12. I love this tale. I'm from BC and lived for a few years very far north so this idea of the disappearing communities is very real for me, and you've give it characters, ghosts, that are just as real. This is a beautiful story.

  13. You've done it again, again and again, Cathy. Your stories speak from a place of melancholy wonder with a voice so real and homespun. It's a rare talent you have - to make magic out of the mundane, to find a voice so convincing that I swear I could approach these people out on any street and give a nod of recognition.
    I admire you endlessly.

  14. Awesome piece, I certainly didn't notice it was longer than flash.

    The old fellow's character is clear as day, a wonderful job

  15. A melancholy, delightful story with a beautiful ending.

    Cathy, you love writing about small villages... places of tragedy, and you're good at it. Keep it up!

  16. Hey Cath, what a great story this is. I'm so proud of you, keep the stories coming. Mom

  17. Unfortunately I don't know what happened because I refused to read beyond 1,000 words.

  18. Oh, I'm just messin with ya.

    I loved it, so lovely and sweet. You have many moods and many tones. I admire your work so much.

    Speaking of short versus long works, I'm afraid my comment on your piece at Laurita's place didn't sound quite right. I meant to say that I could see you fleshing it out. I don't think I'm alone in saying I would read a longer piece of fiction penned by you.

  19. Very moving piece. I'm in awe of how you captured an elder's voice.

    I also agree with Bukowski that you should post anything you like. Wonderful writing! :)

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