Sunday, February 15, 2009
Mary Jane Maffini - Here Be Dragons
Mary Jane Maffini is the author of the Charlotte Adams mysteries and two Canadian series, one features Ottawa-based lawyer, Camilla MacPhee; the other introduces failed romance writer and reluctant sleuth, Fiona Silk. In addition to ten books, Mary Jane has had nearly two-dozen short stories published. She is active in the mystery community and served two terms as President of Crime Writers of Canada. She lives and plots on the banks of the Rideau River in Ottawa, Ontario, supported by her long-suffering husband and two princessy
miniature dachshunds. She'll be MC at the Bloody Words conference in Ottawa this coming June and hopes you will come on up to see Canada's capital in a glorious season.
Here Be Dragons
I am so happy to be guest blogging on Meanderings and Muses. Thank you, Kaye, for the invitation to drop in.
While I'm here, I thought I'd share a little story which had a big impact on my life, luck, and perceptions of other people. For various mysterious reasons, it's been on my mind this week.
It was the dead of winter, 1986, the same year my mother passed away. My daughters and I had inherited her jewelry, some of which had been passed down from my grandmother. Every piece had more sentimental meaning than dollar value and each item reminded me of my mother, especially the dragon brooch, a gift from a special friend.
On the day I was to have the jewelry appraised for insurance, an unexpected meeting dragged through my lunch hour and threw my schedule off kilter. I couldn't make my appointment to meet the appraiser. I was leaving work that afternoon to fly out to Calgary on business and so I had to decide: Should I leave the little satin jewelry pouch in my office or my car or ship it with my suitcase or carry it with me? I opted to keep in it my purse. The trip was in March, a time when late snowstorms can surprise us. Days later, when I arrived
home on the last flight into Ottawa, my car was buried in snow and it took me quite a while to claw the white stuff of my car, all the while freezing in my stylish grey suede boots. Meanwhile, the parking lot emptied and to my
astonishment, the lights in the airport seemed to dim. When I finally got into my not-too-reliable second-hand Mustang and started it up, I started to race for home. As I reached the far end of the parking lot, the Mustang sputtered and stalled. Remember, this was 1986 and cell phones were still the stuff of science fiction. I found myself at one-thirty in the morning, with nothing in sight but the ticket kiosk, with a non-performing vehicle. After giving it my best try, I realized the battery had given up the ghost. I struggled through the snow over to the ticket kiosk. A shifty-looking young man was lurking there alone. I asked if I could use the phone and he agreed, reluctantly and let me inside. I pulled out my wallet and found my roadside assistance card and called the Canadian Automobile Association. Forty-five minutes, they said cheerfully. Plan B: I called my husband. Sure, he said, I'll come and get you, but it will be about forty-five minutes. Not feeling welcome inside the kiosk, I staggered back to the car, raised the hood, and sat sulking. I had nothing to do but stare around at my desolate venue. After a while (it felt like hours) two more young men appeared out of nowhere and joined the first one. I had no idea where they'd come from, as the airport is near nothing at all. Had they slunk out of the woods? I did ask myself what kind of person hangs around a kiosk in an empty parking lot in the middle of nowhere. My heart started to race when I noticed them pointing toward my car. An animated conversation followed among the three. I could only track the gestures, not the words.
Shortly after, one of the young men left the kiosk and headed toward my car. He had wild black curls past his shoulders and sported a black leather jacket and skinny jeans. Cowboy boots, not winter gear. He was tall and thin as a sardine. He walked slowly and tentatively toward my car. I triple-checked that the doors were locked. By my calculations, I had thirty minutes left until either the CAA truck or my sleepy husband drove into view. As he approached, I had visions of the windows being smashed by a rock or a crowbar. I could see that he was
carrying something in his hand. I made sure my little pouch of jewelry was well hidden, but I held onto the dragon brooch. If attacked, I planned to stick him full of pinholes. It was the least I could do.
Eventually he reached the car, stopped, and bent down. He rapped on the window. I stared at him. He stared back at me and gestured for me to open the window. I cranked it down about a sixteenth of an inch and said, "Yes?" as if I hadn't been gazing, horrified, at his progress all that time and in fact had just noticed him.
"Excuse me, ma'am. Did you leave this over there?"
I flicked my eyes from his face to the item in his hand: my wallet, complete with credit cards, driver's license, ID and cash.
"Thank you," I said, opening the window three inches and accepting the wallet with as much dignity as I could manage.
"Thank you very much."
I was far too stunned to offer him a few dollars in return and to tell the truth he didn't seem to expect anything.
"You're welcome," he said with a nod and melted back toward his cronies.
I have felt grateful ever since, not only because I was not murdered and was also spared the aggravation of losing my ID and having my credit cards compromised and cash stolen, but mainly because I learned a major lesson about judging people by their appearance. I also learned that sometimes we limit ourselves through fear of events that never happen. I'll never know what became of that honest young man or why he was in such a desolate spot at that time of night or even what all the gesturing was about in the kiosk, but I learned that you just can't tell judge by appearances. Instead of the ten dollars that I should have offered, I've given this young man a free ride as one of my favorite fictional characters over the years. And in retrospect, I've appreciated the memory of how I felt, physically, watching his approach. Those reactions have come in very handy in the 'darkest moments' of my books. As for the dragon brooch, it still gets an outing whenever the stakes are high. I've learned that that pays off too.
Thanks for visiting with me on Kaye's excellent site. I wore the brooch for the occasion.