“Ophelia?” Harvey Couvon stood at the end of his cashiers’ till with an expectant glare, his fat fingers firmly grabbing onto the edge of the plywood register. “Yes Mr. Couvon?” Ophelia turns to him, but lets her hands still reach at grocery items slowly reeling towards her. Each one she drags through her scanner lets out a shrill ‘beep!’ of approval.
“Turn off your till light and come see me in my office.”
“Yes sir,” she says, mechanically turns off her till light, and places a closed sign at her till. She helps her last customers before she put up the sign, a big smile plastered on her face to cover the mark of dread in her eyes. ‘Beep! Beep! Beep!’ Each item seems to take a lifetime to pull through her register. Each receipt seems to inch through her printer. She urges her feet towards Harvey's office, a tiny room with a minute window to look down upon his empire of packaged food and produce. Her breath is shallow and quick. She searches desperately through her memory for a moment where she had been insubordinate. Maybe a moment that she had angered a customer? She couldn’t think of one. Every moment of every day she strived not to upset the balance of things; to be cheerful, sunny even. She worked tirelessly to be the most efficient, to prove that she was an asset to the ‘team’, despite her unavoidable flaw.
She wraps her fingers around the door knob and slowly pulls it open. Harvey is sitting at his desk, leafing through a magazine about sailing- a well known passion of his- despite never having actually sailed a boat before. He looks up and motions for her to sit down. She lowers herself into the chair, and places her hands in her lap. Her long white hair drapes down over hunched shoulders, she waits.
“Ophelia,” Harvey begins. Goddamn it, she can already hear it coming in the tone of his voice. “You have been a wonderful addition to our team in the past few months. Your charm and smile puts every customer in a trance. The line up at your cash register always seems to be longer, people enjoy what you bring to our store,” Harvey pauses, and leans back in his chair. “But the complaints, no. No not complaints. The concerns Ophelia!” Harvey was not a heavyset man, but his arms and hands were massive, that of a man who went to the gym often. He entwines his paw-like hands together, and places them on the desk. “Just yesterday a woman approached me and accused me of working my employees too hard. She said, ‘that poor girl looked so tired, just how often do you let her take her breaks?’ Of course you get your legally required lunch and coffee breaks, I run a tight ship here!” Harvey sighed. “And then last week, a different woman approached me with concern for your health. ‘She just stood there, her eyes unfocused, maybe she’s sick?’” Harvey mimicked the voice with a shrillness. “Ophelia, your hard working, but I don’t know what to do when you just zone out like that. You don’t have any medications or doctor's’ notes. And the fainting spells! Most people who do that have a reason to it, narcolepsy,” he said, sounding out the word ‘narcolepsy’ slowly to make sure he said it right, “seizures, low blood sugar levels. But with you there is no rhyme or reason to it! Sometimes all you have to do is take a look at a person and you're out cold!”
“I can explain-”
“You have explained, many times. I’m afraid I just can’t continue to employ someone with as unpredictable a health condition as yours. I’m very sorry Ophelia,” he says, leaning back once again.
“Listen,” Ophelia says, pausing for a moment to recall the last time she had experienced an episode. Last week when she had gone into a trance, it was because she had heard a voice across the store. Someone was talking about a page-to-screen movie that was due out in theaters in the new year, the strangers had exchanged rumours of the actor named to play the part of the infamous Frodo Baggins would be. That was all it had taken to set Ophelia’s mind to a blank slate. It only took a few moments to come out of, but in that time she was a stone statue, unable to control her movement. “It’s getting better,” Ophelia reasons. “Just last week I made an appointment with a specialist from Switzerland who is in the city next month.” A lie, how on earth could she afford whatever a specialist charged to poke and prod at her for a few hours? “I need this job to pay for my rent, for my daughters food and clothing.”
“Lily is an angel, her presence warms people even more than yours’ does, but my hands are tied. You are a liability! What if you fainted again during a shift and hit your head against something hard and break something important?”
“Give me one more chance H- Mr. Couvon. Please. You can put me on stock duty if you must, I don’t care. Put me anywhere, just don’t fire me. Please.” Harvey pushes his swivelling chair back and forth, rubbing his sausage fingers together in thought.
“Alright, one more chance it is. I won’t put you on stock duty either. People like you, you can stay on the till. But-” Harvey pauses, considering something. “But I’m doing you a grand favour here, Ophelia. I’m putting my neck out for you, I hope you realize that.” Ophelia stops herself from shrugging herself further into her chair. Ophelia knew what was coming next, often men in minescule power positions (such as the manager of a grocery store) took delight in lewd engagements. Especially the kind that put frail looking women in subservient positions. She has always managed to avoid this kind of proposition before, but to hear them out was always sickening. “I’m a man of- need. I need intimacy, and with Stacy out of the picture…” he drifts off. Ophelia nods her head, it was easy to agree now; and make womanly excuses later. Pms, pregnancy, herpes; these were perfect deterrents for perverted pigs like Harvey Couvon. “Maybe this coming Friday?” he voice was much smaller than it had been before, softer, beckoning. Ophelia rose out her seat,
“We’ll see,” she says, and with that, excuses herself from the office. Her mind becomes busy as she walks away, calculating a viable excuse that would equate to no sex, and not upsetting her filthy boss. She notes that she should discuss the matter with Lydia. She always had a diabolical deterrent to offer. Ophelia returns to her till, and flicks on the light to indicate customers can line up. She reaches out to pick up the closed sign, and her blue eyes flash momentarily towards the clock. Only an hour left in the day. She regains her sunny composure and happily escorts customers through their purchases. ‘Beep! Beep! Beep!’
A few customers pass through, until two teenage girls start to load up the conveyer belt with chips, energy drinks and huge bags of bulk candy. One of the girls is holding up a tattered copy of a Shakespeare script, and is peering at it with her nose wrinkled.
“Pretty sure this is thee most boring assignment Mrs. Langer has given us yet. Your so lucky you took on the Gravedigger lines, you have like, ten lines. Why’d I have to pick Ophelia?” The two teenage girls are not quite so far away that Ophelia can tune out what they are saying. She takes a deep breath, and prays they stop talking about their homework.
“Yah, we’re gonna be up all night trying to figure this shit out,” the other girl says, and snatches the book from her friend. “Like, listen to this line you have,” the girl clears her throat, and then continues in as pompous an accent she can manage; “‘O, woe is me/To have seen what I have seen, see what I see!’ Like, what is she even talking about?”
Ophelia hears only the first two words before she feels light headed. Her heart flutters, and within herself Ophelia can feel a great weight of sadness pressing deep into her soul. It consumes her so wholly that the weight of her sorrow tears at her conscious mind, and renders her senseless. Her body falls to the ground as the girls titter on, not noticing that their cashier is no longer there.
Ophelia wakes up in the back of an ambulance, the doors open, an oxygen mask tethered to her face. She sits up and looks around. A few people who had been near her when she fainted were standing close by, anxiously waiting to see if she was ok. The paramedic helps remove the oxygen mask, and Ophelia quickly begins to remedy the situation.
“Oh goodness, silly me. This is what happens when I only bring a salad for lunch!” She rubs her stomach exaggeratedly, and smiles.
“Does this happen often?” the paramedic asks, and places a stethoscope to Ophelia’s chest.
“Oh this new diet I’m on is just killer, I think I need to get off it,” she says feigning a chatty demeanor.
“You don’t look like you need to watch what you eat. Maybe you could use a little more food in your diet.”
“I think you're right!” Ophelia exclaims. “Second time this has happened since I started. You really don’t need to take me in to the hospital. All I need is a big piece of meat! Maybe a ham sandwich, yeah. Thank you everyone for your concern. I’m fine, really! Just fine.” The paramedic scrutinizes her, but she appears perfectly alert, and decides to let her go on her way. The customers of the store disperse, glad to hear that she’s alright. She steps down off of the ambulance, and takes a few steps towards the grocery store. “Don’t worry, I work at a grocery store, plenty to eat there!” She says, and waves. She turns around, allowing the smile to peel off her face, and be replaced by the anxious expression she feels. The store around her had returned to normal, the cashiers all avoiding eye contact. It was hard to make friends in such a short period of time, especially when you caused so much commotion so often. She walks quickly into the empty staffroom and removes her purse and jacket from her locker. Harvey steps into the room, and she sidesteps around him, he begins to say “After what ju-” but Ophelia interrupts with;
“I’m sorry,” and walks out the door past him. She continues to go quickly, feeling the tears well up in her eyes, making her sight hazy. She steps outside and the ambulance is gone. She marches away from the store, fishing through her purse for her mp3 player. She turns it on and places the earbuds in her ears. A calming melody plays out, and her feet lead her mindlessly to the water taxi (a small passenger ferry that carries people from the downtown part of Vancouver to North Vancouver). She finds a seat near a window, and nestles into it, focusing her mind on the music, and little else. The ferry propels away from the dock. Ophelia looks out onto the calm blue ocean, and after a few minutes, she finds a still place for her mind.
She curses under her breath. Were the episodes getting worse? Or did each new job feel shorter and shorter? There would be no shame in telling Lydia that she had let another mindless job slip through her fingertips, she had Lydia’s support in any decision she set forth on. Lydia did not worry her at all. Teagan might question her, reason with the problem, she always did. But reasoning with the lunacy was something Ophelia had given up on long ago. There was no medical, tangible reason to the fainting spells. Ophelia knew very well what caused them. She took a deep breath and set her mind on other things. She watched the water wobble and melt into itself over and over. She had been grateful for the commute at her now former job on Robson street, there was something about looking out onto the water that mellowed her thoughts, turning them from a swarm of bees in her mind into a few lazy air balloons.
After walking off of the water taxi and lengthy walk, Ophelia arrives at her daughters’ daycare. It being near the end of the day anyways, all of the children are outside swinging from the playground, ready to be collected. Ophelia doesn’t need to spot her daughter, once one of the children see her, they all shout to Lily, “Lily your mom is here!”
By others, Ophelia is often referred to as ‘effervescent’ or ‘ethereal’. Some people go as far to describe her as angelic. This was something Ophelia was unable to see within herself, but just glancing at her daughter made it feel like she may have arrived in heaven. Ophelia still tries to sneak up on her daughter, crouching low, trying to catch her unawares in the sandbox. Lily turns her head just before Ophelia is on her, her wavy hair dancing, her smile full and beaming. She reaches out, pulling her mother into her arms, nestling her face into Ophelia’s neck. Ophelia pulls her up and out of the sandbox, and Lily wraps her legs around her, clinging like a monkey.
A few moments pass and then Lily is wiggling to get out of her mother's embrace. Ophelia lets her go, and she reaches out to another child with a shovel. An animated conversation continues where it had been cut off, and Ophelia wanders away. Ophelia says over her shoulder,
“Five more minutes Lily,” and Lily shouts back to her,
Ophelia approaches the nearest childcare worker, and says hello. The woman describes Lily’s day to Ophelia, without trauma, without tamtrum. Ophelia smiles, and thanks her. She walks into the building to collect her daughter's belongings. A different woman walks up to Ophelia with blonde hair, and a kind smile, and hands her a rather large stack of artwork, all signed with the same large lopsided ‘L’ followed by a tiny procession of ‘ily’.
“She’s such an artist,” the teacher says to Ophelia. Each and every one of the teachers adored Lily. Not only was she well mannered and kind, but she instigated kindness in her classmates, breaking up disagreements and encouraging sharing as often as she could. Ophelia looks at the top piece of art with a large rainbow painted across it. Ophelia took a moment to wonder, where did Lily get her artisticness from? It certainly wasn’t from herself, or Lily’s father...
The world breaks up around Ophelia and her vision goes black for a moment. She stumbles to her knees, just barely catching herself before sprawling out onto the floor. The blonde teacher returns to her side,
“Are you ok?” she asks, collecting the art that had suddenly spread out all around Ophelia.
“I’m fine, just fine,” Ophelia says quickly, grateful that none of the children saw.
“I don’t mean to pry, but-” the blonde teacher begins to ask, but Ophelia cuts her short.
“Angela it’s fine. I’m going to a specialist next week!” Ophelia tries to answer as quickly as possible. It had been 5 years of constant question-answering for Ophelia on most days she went out of the house. She had grown so tired of the constant onslaught that she felt beset, despite most people's genuine interest in her well being. Angela nods her head, and then puts her hand on Ophelia’s arm.
“We worry about you, you know. So does your daughter.” Ophelia nods, and thanks Angela for her time. She walks back outside, and finds her daughter on the swing set.
“Lily! Time to go!” Lily leaps out of her swing seat, and runs towards her mother. “Will you put on your backpack please?” Lily pulls on her minescule backpack, and grabs onto her mothers’ hand. She beams up at her mother, the sunlight creating a halo of gold around her face, melting away any stress Ophelia had felt earlier. The sunlight on her own body felt warmer, the trees around her appeared greener. It was an incredible thing, Ophelia thought to herself. No matter how stirred up her silting memories had become before, in the presence of her daughter, Ophelia was free to think her own thoughts, and relive each harrowing memory if fate reminded her of it. Each juncture in the past had lead Ophelia to Lily on this day, walking together hand in hand. And it was in these precious times that Ophelia refused to give up any split second of a moment that had lead her to her daughter, not for all the peace it would bring her soul.
Ophelia never had to fear that she might collapse in the presence of her daughter, not even when she was pregnant. When Lily was around, Ophelia was healed.
“Mommy did you see my rainbow?” Lily asks Ophelia, pointing at the piece of paper in her mothers’ arms.
“It is a wonder rainbow Lily. Is it for anybody?”
“It’s for Teagan,” Lily says. “Because of the rainbow with the sun and a dolphin picture and I want to give her my rainbow!” Teagan was quite the artist, and Ophelia had watched Teagan create the beautiful painting to give to Lily. It was hung up in her bedroom and it was the last thing Lily looked at each night before bed, the scene illuminated by her nightlight.
“Teagan will love it,” Ophelia says to Lily. The walk hand in hand through the forested park by the daycare, until they reach a set of lights that they have to cross. Lily stretches at Ophelia’s arm so she can reach the button. She sings with the mechanical bird as they cross the street.
A few blocks later they are home. The lawn has gone brown in the early summer heat, except for a large emerald circle in the middle where a water sprinkler had been set up to play with on the hotter days. Ophelia and Lydia had lived together since a very young age, having grown up together. This home was Lily’s first home, and Teagan called it home when she chose to be there. It was a duplex among ample others in a low income housing district, with a curt backyard, and a trim little front. The paint was peeling, but the building was solid.
Lily lets go of her mothers’ hand and runs across the yard, her white strappy sandals flapping as she goes. She reaches up to the door knob, turns it with both hands, and waddles inside.