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  Ellen Davignon: Lives of Quiet Desperation

Nice & Nasty

January 15, 1993

Hmmm.  And hmmmm.  It's my "column day" and I've come up empty.  

It's this flu, don't you know, sapping my strength and replacing it with pain.  Grim death looks out of my eyes and dissolving newsprint fills my head with disintegrating words and random, unrelated phrases. For a brief moment I thought I had glimpsed a lead - "Yukon writer found in alley.." - but then, through the fog, I came to realize it was just the dying echo of Phil's gloomy pronouncement about divine retribution for last week's departure from my normal sweetness and light.

Sweetness and light.  That's how Father Coonen from Faro described my column to my friend, Jane Gaffin, as we stood gossiping in the Mall shortly after the New Year.  I remarked that I hoped something I had written would be accepted in the spirit in which it had been intended. Jane had laughed cruelly and implied that I was incapable of writing nasty and that was when Father Tim suggested that I was just a tad too sunshiny.  I believe his exact words were, "Your trouble, Ellen, is that you suffer from terminal niceness." 

Shaken to the core, I stared at him.  "Niceness?  Me?"  I rounded on Jane, who couldn't meet my eyes. "It's true," she mumbled.

"But what about my sarcasm?  My little twists of irony?  My  corruscating, rapier-like wit?"  She shook her head sadly.  "Mere window dressing, Ellen, for your everlasting good nature.  Tim's right.  Too agreeable, by half!"

Troubled, I made my way home, their words beating in my brain.  Were they right?  Was I too...nice?  There is not much room in this hard world for chubby little softies, said Robert Service in his Law of the Yukon. You had to be lean and mean to survive.  Alright, I thought to myself.  Al-RIGHT.  You want lean and mean, I'll give you lean and mean!  Throwing back my head, I loosed, into the night, a peal of maniacal laughter that raised the hackles of every coyote within lurking distance and caused grown men to feel faint. HA-HA-HA!

Trembling and pale-faced, Phil met me at the door.  "Did you hear that sound?  Devil's laughter, it were."  He peered past me into the dark. "Nothing's followed you home, then?"

I swept past him, dropping my coat on the floor.  "No, nothing," I snarled.  "Leave me now, I have work to do." 

And entering my lair, as I had begun to think of the bedroom I'd converted into a pleasant little den, I locked the door, booted up the computer and began, without hesitation, to write last week's column.

I think I have a temperature.

As I leaned back in my chair to read the foregoing, Charlie-cat took my posture for an invitation to a close encounter.  Leaping onto my lap, she made heavy weather crossing the ample terrain from knee to shoulder, her feet sinking in right up to the ankle.  Don't you hate it when that happens?  I've simply got to get into the diet mode soon. Having the flu for a week would leave most people pale, gaunt, and interesting.  Having the flu for a week has left me rosy (I think it's the fever), and hearty (from all the sugar and alcohol in the patent medicines I've been chug-a-lugging), absorbed with the half-world in which I presently live. And definitely not in the mood for self- denial.

Sure wish I was thin, like my sister.  I've told you about her before. Jo Brown?  About as big around as a minute.  You'd never guess we were sisters unless you'd known us when we were kids.  She was only two years younger but I treated her like she was one of my dolls, always under my arm.  She remembers it more like being in a half-nelson and  she says it with a smile but tends now to jut those sharp-boned elbows at me whenever I try to impose my will in a too-vigorous fashion. 

Jo's coming up to visit tonight, bringing chicken soup, sympathy and a progress report on the open-house tea we're co-hosting at Hellaby Hall this Sunday afternoon.  January 25th is Ma's 90th birthday, you see, and we're holding it one day early.


Can you imagine what it would be like to be ninety?   Not much different than being 55 with the flu, I think.  Actually, Ma sort of ticks along like a fine old watch: a little faded and worn on the outside but sharp and well-tuned within, nothing muzzy-headed about her and I'll bet she had strong words to say when she heard that I made that comparison.  She does get irritated with me from time to time; unlike Jane and Father Tim, she doesn't think I'm always that nice.  And she tells me so, in no uncertain terms.

A great old gal, our Elly Porsild.  We're gonna have this little party for her, a drop-in thing in the afternoon between 2 and 5, give or take, with punch and sandwiches and kobassa and cheese and stuff.  If you've nothing else on the go, or even if you have, why don't you take an hour or so and stop by for a piece of cake and a bit of chit-chat.  Ma'd be tickled.

I think I need an aspirin.

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