This is the Palinode, who, being my partner of more than 11 years, is decidedly not strange. At least, he's not a stranger.
"Radiators?" I asked when I opened the door to the workmen I was waiting for.
"No, ma'am. We're plumbers."
"Good. I was hoping you were funny," I said.
"You're our favourite owner," he replied.
I smiled. I didn't care if he meant it.
They levelled our radiators, which, thankfully, no longer run buckets of water every day, and the cats tried to follow them out the door when they left. It only occurs to me now how strange it is that I let them into the apartment, because I don't know what company they work for or what their names are.
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"Are you from Winnipeg?" my seatmate on the plane asked.
"No, I was just there for a conference," I said. I was there to speak about blog photography the day before, and I was happy to be heading home to the Palinode and our cats.
"What do you do?" he asked.
"I try to help people tell their stories," I said, using the easiest explanation I've come up with so far. "And you?"
"I work in health and safety."
We chatted for a while about places we had lived, good food, and our experiences with both domestic and wild animals. He was a naturalist, as well, and I've had my share of run-ins, so we traded secrets about the surprisingly emotional lives of birds and how to scare off bears. Then he turned to me, holding his breath a bit in hesitation.
"Can I tell you something?" he asked.
"Shoot," I said.
"You're a compassionate person."
"You have compassion coming off you in waves. Animals can sense this, and people can feel it, too. Sometimes they try to use it against you as a weakness."
"They used to," I said. "I'm learning the finer points of self-preservation."
He smiled. "I'm Randy, by the way."
"Hi. I'm Elan," I said, and we shook hands.
At the end of the trip, he wrote his number on an airline napkin, which I folded up and put in my pocket. The napkin disappeared when I unpacked, and, while I can still see his all-caps handwriting in my head, I can't make out the letters.
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"You must be a businesslady," a man next to me said, and it made me snap my head up.
I was waiting in line to get on the bus to travel to speak at a conference in another city about keeping your humanity in social media, and I had been lost inside my head ticking off imaginary lists.
"Businesslady? Huh. I suppose," I said. I had never once in my entire life thought I would be cast in with The Suits, but I looked down at myself, and, sure enough, I was wearing shiny shoes and a fitted coat.
"You're carrying a lot of weight, and not just that computer bag there. You're very serious. You worry a lot."
"That's probably because I'm on my way to speak in public, and I'm anxious about it. Can I ask what you do?" I asked.
"I help people overcome their fear and anxiety with my horses. People stay with me and spend time with the animals. You could use a horse, I think."
"I don't like horses," I said. "They have people teeth."
"You just see yourself in them," he said and laughed.
"Do you have a card?"
"We'll see each other again if we are supposed to connect," he said. "The world takes care of things like that."
I tried to memorize the logo embroidered on his coat so I could look him up later, but all I remember now is that the logo was red on black and his face was broad and brown and kind.