Date(s) - 25/11/2022 - 10/12/2022
All Day / Toute la journée
BRUSHES WITH SNOW
By K. Lorraine Kiidumae
I set down my fork on the TV tray and lifted my head from the leftover stuffed salmon I was eating when the CBC news coverage of his arrest appeared on the television screen. I recognized him instantly.
For weeks afterwards, I poured through the daily papers and the North Shore News to track the unfolding story. Then, in a black scrapbook I purchased specifically for that purpose, I catalogued the news clippings in date order and, on the front cover, embossed two feathers into the shape of a cross. This act seemed to come from within; I was trying to ward off his evil spirit. At the beginning of the scrapbook, on the first page, I pasted an excerpt from the court hearing I had cut from the newspaper:
A North Vancouver woman says she has waged ‘World War III’ against accused double-killer Dayton Anthony Snow after he robbed, stripped, and choked her unconscious. Snow, 43, an Oshawa auto parts dealer, has pleaded not guilty.
“PIPPA!!!!!! Get the hell down here! I thought you said this was taupe? Looks like bloody pink to me.” I cringed at the sound of Cameron’s voice, yelling up the stairs. I put down my toothbrush. Spit. He hadn’t even had time to remove the lid from the paint can yet, and already it was my fault.
I rushed down to the kitchen, pulled the sample card from the top drawer in the desk, and held it out to him. “Look, it says right here. Taupe. Vintage Taupe.”
“Well, it looks pink to me. How many times do I need to tell you? I hate pink. No Goddamned pink.”
“You were right there with me when I picked it out at Benjamin Moore.” I was close to tears. “Paint colours always look different in the can. It’s always lighter. You can’t tell what it looks like until after it dries.”
Cameron grabbed the can by the handle in a flash, and I thought he would throw the whole thing onto the wall in the hallway. But instead, he dipped the brush into the paint and slapped it back and forth on the wall, splashing ceremonious gobs randomly here and there.
“Well, let’s just see.” He stepped closer to me and glared down. “Let’s just see how this looks when it dries.
When I’d woken up that morning and looked out the window, a light layer of fresh snow was sprinkled over the backyard, covering the spring leaves with a crisp, shimmery blanket of soft tremulous light. We had planned to paint over all of the antique white walls that day, and the sunlight streaming down and gleaming against the bright mounds in the backyard filled me with excited anticipation. But now, I felt my mood dissipate into a sudden wave of grey nausea.
It wasn’t exactly that I was afraid of Cameron, although he did like to yell and criticize, as if nothing I could ever do was right. But he had never actually done anything, and pushing back at him seemed out of the question. I wasn’t a fighter. But that morning, as Cameron ranted about the pink paint, I was so livid, I tried to muster enough courage to storm out in a show anger.
He was out in the tool shed at the back of the house waiting for the dreaded splash of pink taupe to dry, fixing the pendulum clock he’d accidentally knocked over in the middle of the night. I’d awoken to the rattling sound of one of the stiff drawers in the antique dresser. Cameron was groping through my underwear drawer, and I watched in the moonlight as he felt around until he found what he was after. He must have seen me hide it there. My diary. My diary he must not have previously known existed, with an oriental pale peach woven fabric cover. He tried to open it, but a small brass lock held it shut. He felt around the bottom of the drawer for a key, but none was there. Finally, jamming his thumbs under the case, he snapped it open. In his haste, he slammed the drawer quickly shut as he headed for the bathroom with my diary, and the clock smashed onto the hardwood floor, shattering shards of broken glass everywhere.
I stood at the door and watched as Cameron took the clock apart. Again, I tried to muster the courage to stomp out in anger. But he wouldn’t look at me. Instead, he sulked and remained stone silent, refusing to speak. Finally, with eyes cast down, I mumbled, “I’m taking the dog for a walk.”
Engrossed in balancing the pendulum, Cameron grunted and glanced up at me with a cocky expression—as though he only half-believed I would actually go. Yet, beneath his arrogance was a stern look of love and a trace of fear in his dark-brown eyes. I had never walked out on him, not even once, in almost twenty years of marriage. It was then that I felt it for the first time—a glimmering of intense dislike. I scowled and glared at the back of his head on my way out the door.
I slipped on my purple Gortex ski suit and a pair of hiking boots and put Patches, my twelve-year-old Lhasa Apso, in the front seat of my red Mazda RX7. With brown splotches dotting her otherwise long white hair, she was a small dog and surprisingly hearty at trekking through the snow.
I drove to the top of the hill in Lynn Headwaters Park, where Cameron and I often hiked. It was always packed with people on the weekend, so I was surprised to see only two cars in the parking lot. No visible footsteps lead into the park. It was utterly desolate. It was Saturday morning, I reasoned, and still quite early. We usually hiked on Sunday afternoons. Maybe the snow had kept everyone away?
I hesitated for a few moments when I got out of the car and could almost hear the silence. The snow acted as a muffler, and there wasn’t anyone in sight. I told myself I shouldn’t be nervous, that it would be peaceful to walk in the quiet of the woods. And there was always Patches there to protect me. For her size, she had a ferocious bark. She tugged on her leash, anxious to get going. I remembered my defiance with Cameron and, bolstered by the clear sky and sun streaming down, hiked to the start of one of the trails.
Breathing deeply, I summoned my courage and led off into the woods. As I stepped into the forest, the tranquillity was a measure to the beat of the breathlessness I felt, the fear that palpitated in my heart, a fear of what I knew not, a fear that compelled me to step forward, regardless of my fate.
It was breathtaking, walking along the edge of the river, watching its icy water churn over the stones. Light gleamed between the cedar trees, and a fine dusting of snow on the tips of the branches was beginning to melt. The clear, fresh air buoyed me with the confidence you only get from nature. Patches bobbed along perkily beside me, mystified by the stickiness of the snow under her paws, sniffing at the snow holes under the soft pads of her feet.
We walked further into the woods. I inhaled the stillness around me, relieved to be away from Cameron. The sun streamed down, covering my body in a layer of warmth. The further I trekked, marking a new path as we went, the more I felt like an adventurer discovering undeveloped countryside—new land! Patches’ paw prints, and my footprints left behind in the fresh snow were the only signs of life, except for the blue jays flapping through the sky, fluttering in the branches overhead.
I opened my arms out wide towards the sky. I wondered how I could feel so independent out here, alone in the woods, yet appear unable to stand up to Cameron. Out here, I could breathe, yet there was less and less room for me at home. Cameron loudly occupied all the space. Our relationship seemed like a stone cast over time, unable to be cracked or broken. I no longer knew how much of my DNA was embedded into that stone—what part was me, what part was Cameron, what part was us both. When I thought of my life, it was impossible to envision breaking it apart. But when I looked ahead thirty, forty—or even fifty—years, at the emptiness I already felt, it struck me as impossible to stay, impossible to lie in wait for the moss of time to smother over that stone until it was no longer visible.
I tried to think of where it had gone wrong, where things started to change with Cameron. But truthfully, I knew that I felt something was missing even as I lay on my cot in the family camper on the Cabot Trail the summer after Cameron and I met. Something wasn’t right. Thoughts of him didn’t keep me awake at night. I didn’t miss him.
Patches and I hadn’t passed a single soul on our journey so far, so I was startled when I suddenly saw someone ahead, ambling towards me through the deepening snow. I gripped the leash a little tighter, pulling Patches closer so the stranger could pass. I felt my stomach tighten.
People walk this path all the time, I told myself. But at that moment, I wanted to turn and go back. I felt too conspicuous, too foolish. No! I would march towards him, look him in the eye, smile, and say good morning, just as I always did when Cameron and I met someone (a fellow hiker, a comrade, a kindred lover of nature) on our hikes.
As he drew closer, I got a better look at him and my veneer of bravery dissipated. I felt shaky, and my instinct was to flee, but the idea struck me as fraught with danger in case he came after me, so I stopped for a moment, looked at Patches, and then started walking toward him again. I thought he looked like someone who had just escaped from prison. Most people I met hiking in Lynn Headwaters Park looked the part—designer boots, Gortex jackets, jogging suits, turtlenecks. They were friendly and acknowledged passers-by. The man I saw walking towards me could not be placed in any of the categories of hikers I had previously encountered. He looked like a convict dressed as an old farmer misplaced from his fields.
He was medium height and slender and wore blue jeans and large, floppy rubber boots. He sported a red plaid wool jacket and a brownish winter hat lined with white fur that came down over his ears. He looked scruffy and unshaven. As he came closer, I noticed he was carrying ropes over his right shoulder and had a greenish pouch like a workman’s tool bag strapped to his waist. I tried to look nonchalant but changed my mind about saying “good morning.” As we passed, I wanted to look him in the eye, to let him know I wasn’t afraid, to try and appear like a woman who was used to walking alone through the woods. But when he glanced in my direction with a flash—a glint of cold light in his eyes—he averted my gaze, then kept his eyes cast off to the side.
I breathed out with relief when he was fifteen or twenty steps behind me. Then I became aware that no one else was out there as I walked further and further into the woods. Was he following me? I bent and petted Patches, looking up the path in the same motion. I felt a tingling of shock and dread, and blood ran from my face. The man in the woods had stopped, turned, and was standing still, watching me.
I was trapped; if he started following me, I could only go further into the woods, away from civilization, with no sign of another human being in sight.
Patches tugged on her leash, sniffing at something on the ground, then rolling on it. Whatever it was, it was dead. Everything else in the bush around us was still. I yanked her off in annoyance and saw a Stellar’s Jay lying deflated on its side, with its eyes eaten out. An eerie feeling seeped into me.
My relationship with Cameron had started when we found a dead bird on the sidewalk. We were on a scavenger hunt with our Theatre Arts class, looking for items that depicted the neighbourhood. That should have been a warning sign—an omen—like the superstition that finding a dead bird at your door is a sign of death.
Everyone else on the scavenger hunt had wanted to throw it away, but Cameron and I were enthralled and saw eye to eye about the dead bird. We gently wrapped it in the grey cashmere scarf Cameron was wearing, for it had been a fall day and a little cool, an Indian summer sort of day in late September. As we kneeled to scoop the bird into the scarf, our shoulders brushed together, and there was something about the warmth of his long navy wool coat touching mine that made me glow.
Now, I leaned down and picked up two blue feathers lying beside the Steller’s Jay’s body, partially covered in snow. I put them in my pocket—a talisman, one for me, and one for Patches—to ward off evil. Then I whistled and called Patches name, feigning casualness, tugged her leash, and started walking again. After a few moments, I looked behind. To my relief, I saw the woodsman turn at a bend and then move out of sight.
Everything was calm again, although the quiet in the air no longer seemed comforting. My heart stopped throbbing, and the ringing in my ears disappeared. But I could no longer summon the courage to enjoy my walk. So, I decided to return the way I had come, towards the parking lot, and follow the man in the woods out. That way, I could be sure he wasn’t following me.
With my heart pounding, I turned and started to amble through the soggy snow until I caught up to him, keeping pace, keeping him in my sight by just a glimpse, not close enough for him to see or hear me but close enough for me to see him. I finally calmed down so I could breathe again. The man didn’t look back. I wondered what he was thinking, whether he was conscious of me being there. I was trembling, but, for the moment, I felt in control, and fortunately, for once, Patches cooperated by staying next to me without stopping to sniff every few feet. She seemed jittery, as if she, too, could sense it—a whiff of danger. We continued walking at a fast clip for some time, not looking around or stopping, even for a moment.
I wished Cameron was there to protect me, and a wash of grief overcame me. Something about this bright day, this encounter, brought home the realization that Cameron and I had begun to veer down a slippery slope of darkness from which there was no way out.
One night, more than a year ago, our downward spiral began—the night Cameron came home from work with an article he’d clipped from the Vancouver Sun and slapped down on the kitchen counter. He thumped his finger up and down on a sentence he’d highlighted:
‘The majority of couples who completed the survey reported having sex an average of three times per week.’
Then Cameron took out a calendar he’d bought on clearance at London Drugs, with a picture of a different Star Trek character each month. He nailed it on the wall in the walk-in closet between our bedroom and bathroom. After that, he began tracking with checkmarks, making little notes for himself that I could never bring myself to read. It was amusing, in a way, this other side of Cameron, but it left me with a sense of shame, too, as if I was doing something wrong.
Patches and I were more than halfway back now, and although I hadn’t seen another soul, just knowing I was getting closer to the parking lot calmed me. I’d always prided myself on my intuitive sense of people, and something about the convict cum farmer did not feel right. I was calculating how much distance was left and wondering whether there would be any other cars in the parking lot when, once again, my blood ran cold. The woodsman had disappeared from my sight.
Picking up my pace, I tried to get closer and catch a glimpse of him. But the path had started to wind and turn, making it difficult to see. Everything seemed quieter than before. Now, I was walking in the shadow of the trees, and it was darker without the sun. A hush stilled the icy air. I felt totally alone. I was lightheaded with fear as my mind flashed through the possibilities. I was breathing quickly.
I considered walking off the path, down the other side of the slope, along the water’s edge, but the grade was getting steeper, and I didn’t want to risk going down and not being able to get back up again. So, I walked on, panic-stricken, unsure of whether I was frightened by my own imagination or whether there was any real danger. I was almost back; maybe another five minutes to go.
Then, all at once, I heard sounds coming from the woods behind me—crashing, thrashing, branches cracking, footsteps coming closer and closer towards me. I pushed on, afraid to look, and screamed as I heard someone land behind me. Another wave of dizziness and fear rose up. Turning slowly, still scared to see what it was, for a moment, I saw only a blur in front of me. Then, when I could focus, to my amazement, I could see that it was an old man, in his seventies at least, wearing a green and white jogging suit, walking out of the woods at a fast clip. He smiled jauntily and said hello, out of breath, steam from the heat of his breathing settling into the cold air. I was so happy and relieved I almost kissed him, but I just returned his “hello,” let him get ahead of me and began to follow him back to the parking lot.
As quickly as he disappeared, the man in the plaid jacket reappeared, seemingly out of nowhere. He was just in front of me, coming out of the woods where he had been walking alongside me. But I wasn’t as afraid anymore; I felt safer with the old man still ahead. The man in the plaid jacket cast a cold sideways glance at me and sauntered back into the woods.
When I reached the parking lot, it was almost full of cars, and several hikers were making their way toward the trail in their customary regalia. The snow was half-melting, and the sun felt warmer. My back was drenched in perspiration. I removed my jacket and got into the car. The aftermath of tension numbed my limbs, and I wanted a bowl of hot chicken noodle soup stuffed with saltine crackers. Cameron would be having a beer by now as he cheered on Hulk Hogan in the Saturday afternoon “WWF” wrestling match. I prayed he would be distracted and lose interest in the paint colour.
For several months I didn’t think much about the man in the plaid jacket again. Then, in late July, on that tepid summer evening, as I was eating my leftover stuffed salmon and watching the news, a close-up shot of Dayton Anthony Snow flashed up on the TV screen as CBC broadcast the story of his capture.
“Snow was put under arrest at the scene of the attack.”
I recognized him instantly. It was the man I had seen in the woods.
I grabbed the North Shore News from the coffee table, and he was on the front page of the newspaper too. I went pale. It was definitely him.
“Cameron!” I called out. He didn’t answer. He was in the kitchen, rustling through a drawer, rattling the cutlery loudly, trying to find the ice cream scoop. I rushed into the kitchen, still in disbelief, holding the newspaper. Cameron was dishing out a bowl of Rocky Road. I pointed to the picture and article on the front page.
“Madeline Babineaux, 56, yesterday testified that a gun-toting Snow forced her to the ground behind the restaurant where she worked as she closed up about 1:50 a.m.
“The attack occurred less than twenty-four hours after Snow fled from Lynn Headwaters Park, where the police freed two women held hostage by Snow, the court was told.
“There’s nothing I have—I’m a grandmother,” a teary-eyed Babineaux recalled pleading with Snow.
“I’m going to fuck you to death,” she quoted Snow as having said as he stomped on her stomach while she lay on the ground.
“Like hell you are,” she growled back at him. Snow ripped off her clothing to bind her wrists behind her back and legs, then rammed her slip down her throat, gagged her mouth, and covered her head with a bag.
“I was barely able to breathe, and then I felt something extremely sharp cutting into my neck,” Babineaux told the court.
“Yeah? So?” Cameron said when I held the newspaper up in front of him. “What are you trying to tell me?”
As I recounted my encounter in the woods to Cameron, I felt frightened and vulnerable in an odd sort of way, with the penetrating reality of my own near-miss.
“Ugh, come on,” Cameron said. “I’m sure it’s all just in your imagination. How could you possibly remember what somebody looked like from that long ago? How many people think they can point out somebody in a line-up after a crime? And what are the odds of actually identifying them?”
But I knew it was the man I had seen in the woods.
For weeks afterwards, I poured through all the daily papers and the North Shore News, cataloguing the news clippings in date order in my black scrapbook. From that moment on and for long afterwards, Madeline Babineaux’s words seemed to speak to me. When I awoke from a bad dream or sat with my feet curled up in a chair to read, or when I walked through the lagoons on my way to work, Madeline was there. From someplace, her courage to “wage World War III” on a convicted killer, a murderer and a rapist whispered away at me.
Madeline Babineaux’s plight seemed to illuminate my own issues with Cameron; being humiliated by the one that I loved suddenly seemed to be the greatest violation of all.
Whenever Cameron yelled, I could feel a thaw and heard Madeline’s words, and I would rise up, no longer sure of whether it was really me underneath, seething. One day, when Cameron jumped me from behind and grabbed me in the kitchen to scare me, then laughed, saying Snow was coming to get me, I raged inside.
A few days later, on Hallowe’en morning, I woke to the low sun of autumn shining through our bedroom window. My head throbbed, and my eyes were heavy after a teary night.
The night before, we’d been invited to a party at the neighbours. After a row about having to dress up, Cameron had agreed to go. The evening started out fine. Cameron was in a good mood and seemed to be enjoying himself. Dressed up in one of Cameron’s father’s old black suits, I went as Charlie Chaplin and won a prize—a ceramic pumpkin candle holder—for best costume. When we got home, I fell into bed in an alcoholic haze from too much wine, still dressed in my black suit and moustache. The room started to go in circles.
Cameron had dressed as Elvis Costello, in a houndstooth suit, thin black tie, and thick dark-framed eyeglasses, his hair slicked back with Brylcreem. I watched as he stood in front of the calendar in the closet, pointing, going over our same old argument. “As usual, you drank too much,” he said. “And now, I suppose you’re going to pass out?”
The October picture was of Spock from the Star Trek episode “Amok Time.” Cameron’s glasses slid down and perched on the end of his nose as his words continued to spew forth. His head had somehow aligned with Spock’s protruding ears on the calendar, and I suppressed myself from bursting into giddy laughter, which surely would have thrown Cameron into a rage.
I still wasn’t afraid of Cameron, although he had started throwing things and liked to flutter stuff through the air in my direction—the TV Guide, for instance—or flick me with one of his shirts while I was ironing. And he liked to taunt, to whip his belt through the air while I was lying in bed at night, and he was taking off his pants. But he still had never actually done anything, and somehow, pushing back at Cameron when he got into one of those moods seemed out of the question.
“Well then,” Madeleine Babineaux whispered softly in my head as I passed out into oblivion, “he’s got you.”
When I awoke the following day to that low autumn sun shining through our bedroom window, my stomach churned, and I stumbled out of bed and headed for the toilet. Still wearing my white shirt with the black bow tie and the black Charlie Chaplin suit, I noticed the belt was missing, and when I stood up, my pants fell to my ankles. I felt a familiar stickiness between my legs.
My mind reeled as I registered what had happened. I tried to recall the details of last night, but I couldn’t.
My heartbeat quickened, and I bit my lip to stop the hot tears stinging my eyes. Shock and disbelief registered, and I stared at the back of Cameron’s head as he lay, still sleeping, on the bed. I studied his face, serene and expressionless, for once. He looked like a person I no longer knew. Something inside me switched into a rage, and I began to see things from a different angle and could not seem to turn it back.
I pulled my white shirt closed with my fists and held my arms across my breasts. An old song came suddenly back to me then—the line “a bird with feathers of blue is waiting for you” from that “Back in Your Own Back Yard” tune Al Jolson made famous. Something about leaving your happiness behind is all I can remember now.
I looked out the window at a heap of decaying leaves on top of a pile of patio stones loosened from the snow. A blackened leaf, caught in the breeze and illuminated by the sun, floated to the ground slowly and gracefully, landing gently, like a feather, onto the patio stones below. As I thought back over the disturbed years, everything now seemed to fall into place, like those loose stones in the garden waiting to be set where they belonged. I started to cry. I looked back around to see where that blackened autumn leaf was coming from, and I felt the urge to go.
I’d often imagined what leaving might look like, but I’d never imagined this; sitting at a desk in my room at the Sylvia Hotel, looking out at the fireworks on Halloween night. The small kitchenette with old wood paint-chipped cupboards that at once felt both homey and dingy at the same time. The rush of joy at being alone with those tea cups, in bed with a book. So alone.
Earlier in the evening, I passed along the water’s edge below the humid trees. It smelled like Vancouver outside. I stood, one with the incoming tide, sinking evermore, and I thought of him—Cameron—I’d left him standing, looking sad, on the trail at Lynn Headwaters Park. The air was cool, leaves had fallen on the ground, and I wore my coat. I looked up at him, hands in my pockets, as he stood there next to the water rushing over the stones. He held out his hand to me. I stepped towards him and looked at the low sun of autumn shining down on his eyes. Plunged. Murmuring. Ivory evening light. Sighs; so sad and soft and gentle. Alone, at peace with myself.