Audrey Austin

Audrey Austin
Proud to be a small town indie author

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Featured author for January, 2016 - Luc Rivet of Elliot Lake

Starting out the new year I am delighted to introduce our featured author for January, Luc Rivet, and his new book "Heart Strings".

He shares with us one of the wonderful stories from his book, "A Blessed Christmas".

It was a crisp November morning, the kind of day where one could blow puffs of smoke simply by breathing. It was sunny, but cool and Isabelle Piper, Izzy for short, was kneeling on the chesterfield, staring outside the window out of boredom. Izzy was easily bored, especially in such a conservative town where everybody minded their p’s and q’s. She was a rebel. She craved excitement and needed a cause, but had been resigned to living monotonously since Labour Day when the workers at her father’s furnishings factory had staged a one day strike to protest the long hours. That was about to change.

A fresh blanket of snow covered Humphrey Park that Saturday Morning, and the old, frail, and dishevelled lady, gathering up snow and packing it into squares, did not escape Izzy’s attention. Piper’s Pass wasn’t very welcoming to strangers, especially to vagrants, and the old woman certainly looked like a vagrant to Izzy, whose young gut sensed that a cause was brewing. Her eyes sparkled brighter than the Hope diamond, her pulse raced and her face was beaming with excitement as she raced to the closet, putting on her coat and boots at lightning speed. She felt compelled to investigate.
The fresh light snow softened the sound of her footsteps, and the old woman fell to her knees gasping for breath when Izzy asked her what she was doing. Her face, a ghastly white, stared at the young girl for a short while before her vocal chords would relax enough for her to speak.
"Lordy child," she said in a shrill voice, picking herself off the ground. You made me old heart flicker, you did!"

"Sorry," Izzy said remorsefully. "I just wanted to know what you were doing, and if I could help." There was something vaguely familiar about the old woman but Izzy couldn’t quite put her finger on it.

"Well if it’s any of your business," she said, "I’m building me a snow hut so I can have a place to rest me old bones."

"Wouldn’t you be more comfortable at a motel or something," Izzy asked.

"Oh ain’t you a bright one, missy," the old lady retorted. "If I had me some money for a motel, I wouldn’t be needing to build me a snow hut, would I?" The old woman already liked Izzy, she reminded her so much of herself at her age, but a little sarcasm was always good to create a bond.

"Now listen here lady, ain’t no reason to get rude. I just came to see if I could help, that’s all!"

"Help me?" she said, "How do you reckon a young pup like you can help an old lady like me?"

"I could help you build a snow hut for starters I’m good at pushing and packing snow!"

The old lady smiled and said, "Sure can use some help with that, you know, my old legs ain’t what they used to be."

They shared a chuckle and got to work. Izzy pushed and packed the snow, and the old woman scraped the blocks with knitting needles to make them flat and smooth. They laboured for well over two hours before the hut was assembled and ready. They both collapsed in the snow and laid there for the better part of ten minutes, watching the puffs of smoke coming out of their mouths as they breathed.

Izzy ran home to get them some hot chocolate, and fetch some kindle to make a fire, and the old lady rubbed snow over the hut to fill in the cracks. They made a good team.
Izzy returned with a thermos filled with piping hot chocolate and a few paper cups she found in the kitchen, and they both sat facing the hut, making small talk.

"What’s your name lady?" Izzy asked. "After all it won’t be polite for me to call you old lady"

"Funny" she said, "I had a name once but nobody used it, and I forgot it, but you can just call me Nitty, everyone does." She winked.

"That’s a funny name," Izzy said. "Why would they call you that?"

"Well, all I do is sit around and knit, so that’s why they call me Nitty"

"What do you knit, Nitty?"

"Let me tell you, I knit the finest mitts you’ve ever saw. I knit them in the colours of the rainbow and knit me love right into them, I tell you!"

"I bet they’re lovely," Izzy glanced at Nitty’s cold fingers, "but why aren’t you wearing any now?"

"I wore mine down to a thread, beyond repair," she said, "and I have no yarn left to make more."
Izzy’s eyes sparkled, they always did when she had a plan, "I think it’s time for lunch, I’ll be back later," she promised.

At home, Izzy devoured her sandwich. Her mother, Lucinda, had never seen her daughter so hungry, so when Izzy asked if she could make another in case she got hungry later, her mother made her another one and stuffed it in Izzy’s bag, along with another thermos of hot chocolate. She left through the back door, to the old wood shed where she loaded some old cedar shavings and a few logs on her sled and decided to pay a visit on her way to the park.

A chill ran down her spine as she pushed the doorbell. She hoped Mrs. Cranston would be in one of her better moods today. She wasn’t.

"What do you want?" Mrs. Cranston scolded, as she opened the door.

"I was just wondering if you might still have those scraps of old yarn," Izzy said. "You know the ones you’ve been meaning to throw away but didn’t. I heard you telling Mr. Lawrence at the Post office yesterday."

"Why you nosy little brat," she scoffed, "minding my business for me I see!"

"No ma’am. I mean, you were talking loudly and I couldn’t help but hear. I could really use them, if you can spare them?"

"What’s a rich little princess like you doing wanting some yarn anyways?" she scowled.

"I want to learn to knit."

"Well you march on over to your house and ask your rich daddy to buy you some then, young lady. You sure aren’t a charity case around here."

"But it’s a surprise!" Izzy said, putting on her best sad face, and forcing a few tears from her eyes: a skill she had perfected at home against her parents. "Please!"

Mrs. Cranston’s mood changed almost instantly. "Don’t you be crying now, little miss. I wouldn’t want the neighbours to think I hit you or anything like that. Just hold on and I’ll get it.

In no time at all, Izzy Piper was on her way to the park, pulling her sled resting a large bag of yarn scraps on top of it. Nitty would be pleased, she thought, and, looking at the large pile of yarn, she would be kept busy for a while! As she got near the park she noticed that Nitty had company, and not the good kind. She abandoned the sled and ran towards the hut to be with her.

Izzy’s father, Stanley Piper, or Mayor Stan, as he liked to call himself, was there, towering over Nitty. He was red in the face and his arm gestures, rapid and exaggerated, were aimed towards Nitty, as well as his loud angry curses, although they were clearly not having the intimidating effect he wanted.

Mayor Stan, what a joke! He was never elected, he just proclaimed himself mayor and nobody dare challenge him. He could be quite aggressive, even violent at times, and seeing him there brought a painful recent memory back to Izzy of seeing her father punch her mother hard in the stomach because she had under seasoned the meatloaf. Though her father had never laid hands on her, she had witnessed his temper, and his wicked hands on several occasions.

Constable Williams of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police arrived and tried to hold him back but he cursed him out too, and shoved him out of the way. Knowing the Mayor’s aggressive demeanour too well, Stan attempted to calm the situation but the smell of whiskey on the Mayor’s breath told Stan he wouldn’t let it go easily. "This is private land Miss. You’ll have to leave," Constable Williams told her.

"And I’ll tell you the same thing I told him," Nitty piped in, shaking her fist at Dan, "show me a piece of paper that says it’s his land and I’ll leave."

"Don’t make this difficult for yourself. This is municipal land and the Mayor has a right to ask you to leave."

"Then bring me an elected Mayor, with papers to prove it, and I’ll gladly leave."

"Now listen here you old goat," Mayor Stan yelled, shocked that she would know such a thing about him. "This is my town, and my land and I decide who stays and leaves, and you, you old hag, you’re leaving. Get that in your old noggin will you!"

"I’m staying put, Mr Mayor-Make-Believe, and if you think otherwise, you’ll find you’re messing with a woman who ain’t afraid to fight."

"We’ll see about that," he said, kicking the snow around him. "You’ve got ‘til seven to tear down your igloo and leave or I’ll tear it down for you. And you, young lady," he said pointing to Izzy, "you best march on home this minute, if you know what’s good for you!"

"Don’t be waiting for me at home," Izzy said to her father. "I’m staying right here with Nitty"

"I said march on home and you best listen to me little girl," he spat, tugging at his belt!

A crowd was gathering in the park to watch the spectacle which was, as far as anyone could tell, far from over.

"You don’t scare me papa," she said, sucking in her gut and putting on a brave face, even though every part of her body was quivering. "I’m staying and that’s all there is to it." The redness in her face and the fire in her eyes, not dissimilar to that of the old lady, showed she meant it.

"Best respect your father’s wishes, young lady," Nitty advised her," He is your father after all. Go child, I’ll be fine!"

"He may be my father but he’s a bully and I hate him," Izzy blurted out, "he’s a coward and a bully, and I don’t respect him. I wish he wasn’t my father!"

She felt light on her feet now. She couldn’t believe that she had brought herself to say what had been on her mind for so long, but there was something about Nitty, a similarity so profound, that it brought her courage.

Upon hearing Izzy’s condemnation of him, instead of walking away, like a father should, Mayor Stan leapt towards his daughter. He took hold of her and shook her violently before slapping her so hard in the face that it threw her off balance and she fell to the ground. When Nitty ran toward her, he shoved the old woman hard and she fell backwards onto a packed brick of snow, knocking her breath clean out.

The crowd had gotten larger by now and what they saw left them breathless, and angry. When he grabbed his daughter and started dragging her away, using his free hand to hit her repeatedly, the crowd got wild, and a few burley men stepped up.

"Want to try that over here," a short, but stout fellow enquired angrily.

"If you don’t let her go right now," another jumped in, "I’ll drag you down the road, you child beater!"

In order to stave off an escalation of violence, Constable Williams took Stan Piper aside and cautioned him to let her go, and go home. He stubbornly let go, and as the Constable escorted him home, he turned towards Nitty and threatened,
"Seven o’clock, remember!"

Nitty ran to Izzy and held her close, like a mother would do. In a few minutes, Izzy’s own mother, Lucinda had joined her.

"I hate him mama," Izzy cried!

"Oh sweet pea, you know he’s just in one of his moods, Lucinda Piper told her daughter, and he’ll be fine by dinner," she lied.

"No mama, he won’t! He’s always like that mama, remember? He’ll be back here at seven and make my friend Nitty go. He’ll break the hut we worked so hard to make, and then he’ll chase her away."

"We’ll see, sweet pea, we’ll see."

As she walked her daughter home, the crowd started to disperse. A few were even deep in conversation, something rarely seen in Piper’s Pass. And as for Nitty? Well Nitty stayed and did what she did best, she picked up some yarn and knitted.

As they approached the house, they saw him standing in the doorway, arms crossed, thumping his foot, and waiting for them. Izzy and Lucinda ignored him and passed through the clearing, and rushed to the stairs. He huffed, and shook his head as he watched them climb the stairs.

"Stay away from the park this evening young lady," he hollered, his voice filled with anger such as they had never heard before.

Sitting erect, both hands clenching the edge of the table, he muttered under his breath as he sat alone in the dining hall, occasionally talking loud enough to be heard. "I wear the pants in this damn place," he spewed, "and it’s about time I get some respect around here."

Dinner was long and treacherous with Izzy and her mother opting to eat in the living room. He felt alone and betrayed. He could understand the townspeople turning on him, but his own daughter? That was a blow his ego could hardly handle. He barely ate any dinner, and returned to the saloon to drown his sorrows. He would set them straight when he got back.

The thought of that monster laying another hand on Izzy compounded her fears of her daughter disobeying his firm command. He had crossed a line. Hitting her was one thing, but hitting a child was another. His mother had raised him better than that, she thought, she would surely be incensed if she knew. She and Izzy prepared a dinner plate for Nitty, and Lucinda begged her to bring it to her and come straight home.

"You don’t want to be in the park tonight, sweet pea," she said. But the park was exactly where Izzy wanted to be. Where she needed to be.

Several other kids were already in the park, surrounding Nitty; she also spotted a few cameras and a few reporters in the crowd. Someone had been busy on the phone and a crowd was now assembling in the deepest corners of the park. They were looking forward to round two of Mayor Stan versus the old lady, who had shown no sign of leaving.

Constable Williams had brought reinforcements and they were stationed strategically throughout the park. Their presence was a warning that things could get ugly. The constable was stationed by the hut, and everybody patiently waited for the star attraction to appear, Mayor Stan himself.
It was well past seven when he could be seen walking towards the park, staggering. Clearly he had many sorrows to drown. He could be heard shouting,

"You better be gone you old hag!" He almost tripped himself along the way and bumped into a few vehicles, including the slow moving RCMP cruiser that was keeping the way clear.

He pushed his way through the crowd and made a bee line for the hut where Nitty was standing waiting for him. He came face to face with a camera man who had been filming his trudge and despite his insistence that he stop filming, the camera man followed him all the way. It wasn’t until he got up the small incline where the hut was, that he realized the crowd wasn’t here to support him. He came to the awareness of how ridiculous he must look in this pitiful state; at that moment his eyes met the old lady’s and a shiver ran down his spine. It couldn’t be her, could it?

The young men surrounded the hut and were prepared for battle; Constable Williams’ men moved in closer, ready for trouble; Izzy, Kenny and Nitty started moving towards him, and the crowd moaned. A reporter had made her way up the hill and was positioning her microphone ready to catch any barbs that would be thrown.

His chin hanging down to his chest, and his arms hanging to his sides, Stanley Piper walked up to the reporter, grabbed her microphone, and slurring his words, addressed the crowd.
"I.. I’d like to take this moment, to announce that I, Stanley Piper am resigning my position as the mayor of Piper’s Pass," he said rubbing his already red eyes, "And as my last act as Mayor, I’d like to take this opportunity to express my remorse and regret for all I did today, especially to my little princess." With that he walked out of the park, avoiding the reporters and dodging questions out of embarrassment. But he didn’t go home.

Nitty and her friends looked at each other with a puzzled look. Victory had come easier than they had expected, but with apprehension they accepted it with glee. Nitty could stay, for now at least.
Stan headed to the Furnishings factory and locked himself inside a storage room filled with old family treasures. He rummaged through piles of boxes until he found the old photo albums he was looking for and crumpled down in a well-lit corner. He studied old photographs of several generations of Lancaster women: his mother’s family. Convinced that it was her, although an aged version, he sat in shame, contemplating what a loser he had been.

Nobody understood why Stanley Piper stayed away from home for a few days, but when he returned, he was a changed man. He seemed humbled. His eyes were different; they were shiny as if he had uncovered some great truth, and his demeanour was that of a man brimming with gratitude.
He worked very hard at rebuilding his relationship with Izzy. He wanted so much to be a father she could be proud of, and he stumbled once or twice, but their bond became stronger and stronger. Stanley, as he now liked to be called, even went out of his way to be nice to Nitty. He even invited her to occupy the guest room, but she declined. She was well aware that he knew her secret, but her work wasn’t done yet, so she stayed in the park, knitting away until after dark.

Christmas in Piper’s Pass had always been a drab affair; people hardly decorated, nobody went carolling and nobody gathered with friends and family to share food and enjoy their company.
Though things had loosened up after the battle for Humphrey Park, the townspeople were still cautious about trusting anyone too much, and though a few had taken to congregating at the saloon, the majority still preferred to keep to themselves.

Nitty had been knitting mitts and giving them away for free to those who needed them, and the community had a new respect for her and they began to take care of her. They brought her wood, food and wool on a fixed schedule, but few would stay and visit while delivering.

It was a few days before Christmas Eve when Izzy had a great idea; she would throw a Christmas party for Nitty in the park, on Christmas Eve. Lucinda and Stanley Piper volunteered to help out and with only a few days to prepare, the three sprang into action.

You would have thought it was Stanley’s first Christmas ever; his every move was fuelled by Christmas cheer and joy. Every now and then, the girls would catch him staring blankly at the park with a few tears finding their way down his cheek. It must have been remorse for the way he had treated Nitty in the past, they thought, whatever it was, they liked this new man in their lives, very much.

Stanley was occupied with building a large ice fishing type hut to give Nitty permanence, while Lucinda strung popped corn garland from the tree and made beautiful, and tasty treats for the party. Izzy knocked on doors urging people to attend, ‘For Nitty’, she added. She put on her sad face and pleaded so much that no one dared not attend, in fear of hurting the poor girl’s feelings. Her instructions were clear: bring a dish, a decoration and a gift for Nitty; come after eight on Christmas Eve; be quiet when entering the park, and be social!

It would be necessary for Izzy to spend time in the Park with Nitty so as to not raise her suspicions, therefore Izzy’s parents volunteered to pick up the slack and work extra hard to get things done. It all came together brilliantly, and the party was planned in enough time to provide a much needed rest for the organisers beforehand.

The residents started arriving in the park shortly after 8pm; this was usually the time Nitty went to bed. All were very quiet as they brought the food to Lucinda who set it out beautifully; gifts were left in the charge of Izzy, and decorations were brought to Stanley who had assembled a team to help adorn the park.

Some of the kids decorated the giant fir tree, others made ice sculptures, and yet others were charged with putting up garlands around Nitty’s area. In turn, Stan skilfully and quietly placed a giant star that the elementary school students had made from tin foil, onto the roof of the hut. Izzy and a friend placed the presents under the fir tree. There were boots, a jacket, long johns, and the likes, all of which were sure to be enjoyed by Nitty in the depths of winter.

Once the food had all been spread out on the makeshift table, a long piece of plywood sitting atop four sawhorses, the townsfolk started socializing with each other, something totally unheard of until now. They were laughing and seemed to be enjoying each other’s company, and the sight of this made Izzy cry, but the tears felt good.

With everything ready, Izzy went around the corner to fetch Nitty, but she returned to the fir tree quite upset. Nitty and the hut were both gone. Everybody rushed to where the hut had been and found no evidence of a hut having ever been there in the first place. The snow was undisturbed, except for a small area which contained a plain box tied with a knitted ribbon on it. When the box was opened, all it contained was a handwritten letter which read, "May this party be your gift to yourselves! Love, you know who!"

It became clear to all in attendance that they had never really known Nitty. Who was she? Why had she come to Piper’s Pass? An older gentlemen remarked that she had an uncanny resemblance to Isabel Piper, except much older of course, and hinted that perhaps it was her grandmother, but she had been dead for quite some time. Could Nitty have been a ghost, and if so why were the mitts real?
While the community speculated on who Nitty had actually been, Stanley Piper remained assured that it was the spirit of his mother who showed up in Humphrey Park. A lady very similar to Izzy who had the same dream of seeing the community come together and stay together. She had, he believed, attached herself to Izzy in order to bring the dream to reality. It had worked!

The outdoor Christmas Party has become a tradition in Piper’s Park. It takes place at 8pm sharp on Christmas Eve, and the community comes together to honour and remember Nitty. The star, which had disappeared along with the hut, reappears at the tip of the giant spruce at that time each year and stays until New Year’s Day when it mysteriously melts away once more.

Audrey Austin's photo.Author - Luc Rivet

Audrey Austin's photo.Audrey Austin's photo.

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