All of us in our section despise Rob Ford and routinely mock him. My putting a picture of the mayor on L.’s computer was obviously a joke. It had to be.
"Oh my fucking God, what the fuck? Who put this here? How do you take this off? Shit. God, this is so fucked up." L. saw the Ford image and freaked out.
And why put Rob Ford’s face on L.’s computer in particular? True, we all hate Rob Ford, but L. really hates him. I swear, she would kill him if she ever came face-to-face with him. She’d take a ballpoint pen and gore him to death.
"Just right click," I begin, but L. has already gotten up from her desk. She doesn’t reappear for twenty minutes, and in the interim LE (his name, coincidentally, also begins with an L, so I’m using two letters) comes in and asks who put Rob Ford’s picture on L.’s computer. I admit that it had been me.
Apparently, L. felt violated, like the photo of the mayor on her desktop had defiled her entire computer, and by extension her person. I remove Mayor Ford (restoring the elegant Microsoft logo), but when L. returns, she is still out of sorts. I mumble that I am sorry.
I hadn’t expected this kind of outburst. I’d thought there would be a chuckle all around and that would be the end of it.
LE calls me in for a talk that afternoon. You wonder when LE became an automaton – he used to be a normal thinking person. First, he asks how come I have so much time on my hands that I’m messing around with a colleague’s computer. I explain that it took me, no exaggeration, thirty seconds to place a photo of Rob Ford on L.’s desktop. (This is less time than a bathroom break, and certainly far less than the hour or so LE routinely kills discussing his fantasy hockey team). But I can’t say this. Next, LE addresses the violation of L.’s work space. L. never logs out of her computer, except at the end of the day. She just gets up and leaves whatever is on the screen sitting there. I mean how concerned could she be? And we’re all pretty casual in our section about this. Nobody’s too worried about passwords or anything like that. LE starts making out like I am some kind of code busting hacker when all I did was sit in L.’s chair and save a picture of Rob Ford to the desktop. For a joke.
Finally, LE brings up the hostile workplace. It’s not like I made lewd comments, or harassed L. for a date, and there is no racial/ethnic/religious angle. So the hostile workplace is what exactly? Rob Ford? He’s the mayor of the country’s largest city. I didn’t put porn or a swastika on her desktop. What does it say that a simple picture of our mayor can constitute a hostile work environment? Doesn’t that make Toronto itself a hostile environment (actually it is, but not that you could sue anybody over it). And incidentally, I know L.; I’m sub-friends with her. We joke around (I thought, anyway). I have broken bread at the mall food court with her, S., and J. on many occasions. Regardless, these are LE’s three prongs: wasting time, tampering with/violating L.’s work space, and creating a hostile work environment. All nonsense.
Context is key here: we all hate Rob Ford. This salient fact explains everything. But I can’t get into this with LE because he digested a manual somewhere which says you can’t talk about politics, or anything of consequence, anywhere, ever, under any circumstances at all. Sports, weather, traffic, restaurants – that’s about it for GE’s conversational palette. The fucked thing is we don’t even work in the corporate world. It’s a non-profit for Christ sakes. But I must humble myself before LE. An error in judgment. Don’t know what I was thinking. Didn’t mean to upset L. Yes, yes, what I meant isn’t the issue; the result was that L was offended. Won’t happen again.
What’s doubly (or maybe triply) galling is that I get it. I don’t make sexist jokes and then say, "Oh, come on, I was joking, what’s the big deal?" I understand that not everyone finds the same things funny, and it’s not for you to judge what’s amusing – if it might offend someone, then don’t say it. What you do at home is your business, but in the workplace you have to take others into account. And so on. I don’t need a lecture or seminar on the topic. But again, we all hate Rob Ford. And from this premise, much flows.
Even outside our section, everyone hates Ford, with the exception of M. It’s funny, he’s the one you would think you’d have to worry about – he’s so outnumbered. I’ve actually thought about this when people in the office are trashing Ford (or Harper). It occurs to me that this kind of rhetoric should be toned down. Imagine if the shoe was on the other foot: everyone in the place was a Conservative and they were always mouthing off and you were the lone NDPer; you probably wouldn’t like it. That I would even think of this demonstrates how much I get it. As for M., I don’t know what he thinks about being the lone Conservative; I don’t interact with him that much. I get the feeling, however, that he is one of those guys who kind of enjoys getting all hot under the collar and feeling persecuted. He probably calls talk radio programs hosted by foaming right wing baboons and wails about how conservative white guys like him are always getting screwed, and where’s the government program for them, huh? But never mind M.
I feel soured now on L.; I can’t go back to our same level of sub-friendship, and I’m pissed off at LE for lecturing me. Plus I bet this will bite me in the ass come raise time. Which is a joke anyway: we’ve been frozen for two years, except accounting (R. and A. get increases and nobody else; how fair is that?). Still, what entertainment this must be for everyone in our section. How the workplace loves a juicy incident or bit of scandal. How it breaks-up the day. You should have seen L. lose it, she had a total fit . . . then LE comes in all concerned and T. is just like sitting there all “what?” . . . and later T. has to go talk to him in his office with the door closed.
So far I’ve avoided the subject with anyone in our section. L. and I are cordial, but it’s a bit strained. No more pranks, that's for sure. In the wake of this episode I’m down on the whole organization. I’m beginning to seriously question our mission (as if I hadn’t already). And yes, I know, ultimately it was my fault; I put the Rob Ford picture on L.’s computer, and none of this would have happened had I not. But again, we all hate Rob Ford. No one more than me.
Tim Lehnert grew up in Montreal and now lives in Cranston, Rhode Island
with his wife, two daughters, and dog, Zeus. He works mostly from home
writing petitions on behalf of “aliens of extraordinary ability” and
“outstanding researchers” for an immigration law firm. He is the author
of the book Rhode Island 101, and his short fiction has appeared in journals in the U.S. and Canada including Prairie Fire, Descant and paperplates.
At 30, 000 feet, everything is life or death. -Captain Riley
You are to take this job as seriously as you would your own life, they tell them. You may never falter. Then they proceed to demonstrate the correct procedure for tying the perfect neck handkerchief. Right over left, pull taught, and complete the loop. Do not cinch too tightly. Avoid puckering. This speech is delivered with the same gravity allotted to drills concerning emergency procedures. Of course, nobody will plummet to a windy, cheek-flapping death if John Doe gets only one olive in his martini, but that too is treated with the utmost seriousness. Your actions must be precise and efficient. It’s all part of the procedure: the drink tray rattling down the aisle, the synthetic blanket, hostile with static electricity, the definitive click as the seatbelt closes around little Claire’s small hips. She will twist her way free and peer over her seat back once her mother has nodded off. Remain pleasant, but be stern with children.
* * *
Annette pursed her lips into her compact mirror, frowning at the spidery offshoots that breached the lipstick parameter. You are a symbol of poise and elegance, she told herself, wetting a tissue to dab at the stray rouge. Maintain a polished exterior. If you appear in control, so too does the rest of the crew, and, most importantly, the plane. This is crucial. She closed her eyes, drew in a slow, steady breath, and relaxed into a smile as she exhaled. She was to meet an elderly couple at the gate in five minutes, the first special task she had been allotted since the catastrophic spill of Week Four.
“Mr. and Mrs. Hughes?”
Morrie Hughes turned towards the pert stewardess and did his best to straighten, despite his groaning back. He resented the fact that Grace had requested assistance, and was determined to show the young woman in front of him that a grave mistake had been made. Morrie, once a regal six foot two, now stooped a painful foot below, a reduction made at the expense of his protesting spine. Still, he took a deep breath, stuck out his chest, and produced an arm for the young lady to take. He would be escorting her back to her post. Not the other way around. Annette craned her neck, twisting her face away from the man’s putrid breath as she reached for his outstretched arm. What is it about old people that makes their breath smell so bad, she thought. Are they just starting to rot?
Grace Hughes saw the stewardess flinch as Morrie leaned heavily on her arm, and felt a hot splash of guilt. Her husband, fiercely proud, looked gutted at his staggering walk next to the woman in sensible heels, and yet resolutely set on impressing her with his remaining agility. Morrie had wanted to drive the distance, but for the greater good, Grace had persuaded him to fly. When the stewardess spoke, her words were breathless:
“What’s the purpose of your trip today, sir? Business or pleasure?”
“Pleasure of course,” huffed Morrie. Keeping up with the stewardess’s long strides was beginning to wind him, but he’d be damned if it showed. The result resembled a rag-tag three-legged race, both participants flailing towards the end in a simultaneous attempt to work as a team and win for himself. “My son’s just had his first child!”
“Well that’s lovely, sir. Congratulations.” In an attempt to slow Morrie’s lurching progress, she turned to Grace. “May I take your bag ma’am?” Annette hesitated before taking the handles, unsure of the correct procedures. Never touch a passenger’s personal items without consent. The woman’s cavernous bag threw Annette off of her balance as she tried to take it. This is the world’s heaviest knitting. What the hell is she making, chain mail? Annette heaved the bag over her shoulder, all the while trying to keep her smile intact and a steady hold on Morrie. He seemed to be trying to lead the way, though he was pulling her towards the flight to Turkey. Discretion is essential to your guest’s comfort. If you are flustered, it will show. Do not fuss, and do not be presumptuous.
Grace chuckled to herself, accustomed to her husband’s headstrong ways. The poor girl seemed to be struggling to balance the knitting and her husband, something Grace had spent the last forty-four years perfecting. Still, the stewardess had set her jaw and was marching dutifully alongside Morrie’s deliberate charge towards the gate. Grace trailed, quietly reminiscing about her own days as a young, working girl. Keep the men happy, she recited under her breath. And, with a smile, let them think they’re in charge.
Annette was covered in a sticky mist of sweat by the time the Hughes’ were seated. He, broad shoulders and overcoat wedged next to the window. She, neatly tucked under a lap blanket which grew as she knitted. Annette stationed herself in the aircraft’s small galley, smoothed her blouse, and prepared to greet the other passengers now boarding. She stole a quick glance back at the couple, whose heads bobbed in conversation. When they settled back against their seats, Annette let out a breath she didn’t realize she had been holding.
* * *
Little Claire bounced her feet rhythmically, intently watching her mother’s fluttering eyelashes. She was a well-behaved child, with delicate ruffles on her white socks and shiny black Sunday shoes. But she was restless. The seatbelt dug into her soft stomach, reminding her of the Animal Crackers in her mother’s handbag. Claire weighed her options: waking and angering her mother for a packet of yummy cookies, or a peek into the cockpit if she used her manners. Her mother nearly always slept after a scotch or two, leaving Claire to roam up and down the aisles and peer into the lives of the other grown-ups. Adults were always so stiff and neat, like somebody was going to take their picture. But on planes, everybody got wrinkly. The men in suits near the front with not enough leg room, the lady in the pretty red dress who had taken her shoes off, the Grandma and Grandad who smelled like the attic. She knew they would all start to stir and straighten once dinner was served, but for now, they were all spread out over the seats, arranged like Claire’s joint-less dolls.
Dinner on this particular flight came just late enough that most everyone had fallen asleep. Grace had been intently knitting and took the liberty of ordering for the still sleeping Morrie. The meal was a choice between beef stew, a watery broth that coated the mouth in an oily residue; and a vegetable stir-fry of flaccid carrots and clumped noodles. Morrie hated carrots, and besides, the stew came with a bread pudding.
“Oh! My goodness!” Annette was so intent on delivering the steaming plastic container safely to the flimsy tray in front of Grace, she didn’t notice the small child’s face that appeared next to her elbow. When she caught young Claire’s curious gaze out of the corner of her eye, she started violently, splashing the stew into Morrie’s lap. She fumbled for a napkin and pawed at the pile of stringy beef cubes for a moment before realizing that Grace was laughing heartily.
“He’s asleep dear, nothing will wake him. And besides,” she motioned to Annette’s hands, “I think he ought to buy you a proper dinner before anything of that sort goes on.”
“Oh!” Annette gasped, a crimson bloom spreading from the base of her neck. “I am so sorry ma’am, please excuse me!”
Grace chuckled to herself, “Poor girl. Not so bad for you though, eh Morrie?”
You are a picture of poise and elegance, poise and elegance, poise and elegance! Annette whispered to herself, trying to keep tears at bay as she rushed to the back of the plane. Thank God he didn’t wake up! Annette decided that the least she could do was find the poor man a blanket. Her hand had brushed his when she reached to clean up the mess, and it had shocked her with its iciness.
A short while later, Annette crept to Grace’s arm, blanket in hand and a perplexed expression on her face. Well this is going to be difficult. Morrie was still asleep, face turned towards the closed window, and his wife was now snoring gently beside him, his bread pudding settling in her stomach. Annette leaned as far forward as she could in an attempt to drape the blanket over Morrie’s broad frame. As she did so, a strand of Grace’s hair tickled her nose, triggering a violent sneeze. She leapt backwards, hand over her mouth. Grace sighed in her sleep, but still no movement from her husband. Annette frowned as an unnerving thought entered her mind. She folded the blanket over Morrie’s knees and walked slowly to the back of the plane, chewing on the inside of her cheek.
He was so cold. That can’t be normal, can it? Maybe…
Well Grandma’s heat is always cranked, and she wears sweatsuits in the summer for God’s sake. Annette fiddled with the kettle in the cramped galley. Maybe old people are always that cold. It probably has something to do with their blood slowing down. Yes, that would make sense. But he was just so cold! Maybe he’s sick or something. Or…
Annette froze, then dismissed the idea. Still, I should go check. She finished stocking her beverage cart and headed down the aisle.
* * *
“Coffee, tea, or juice?”
Grace, awake after briefly nodding off, accepted a steaming tea from the young stewardess, and placed it on Morrie’s tray for when he awoke.
“If you’re not going to eat your dinner, dear,” she chided in her husband’s direction, “at least have a sweetie from my bag. You know how you get when your blood sugar dips.”
Morrie had been asleep for the better part of the evening and Grace, having lost her own dinner, had already finished off his stew, his apple juice, and the end of a crusty roll that butter barely salvaged. “Fine, starve to death. Silly man.”
Grace turned from Morrie and stared absently at the chair in front of her. She had accepted the flimsy headphones from the passing stewardess before she knew what they were and tucked them into the pocket. Now, she fished them out and blindly stabbed at her armrest, searching for the jack to plug them into. She nearly broke Morrie’s hand when she finally succeeded. Grace startled easily, and the decibel of the in-flight audio could have raised the dead. Morrie didn’t even stir.
Annette rushed away from the elderly couple. Oh my god. He didn’t even flinch when she crushed his hand. That can’t be good! He has been asleep for way too long. I don’t even think he’s breathing! At least, it didn’t look like he was…kind of hard to tell with all those chins in the way. How do they check for breathing in the movies? Didn’t they use a mirror in front of someone’s mouth? Well that would look strange. What would I even say? A knife would probably work, but that looks even worse!
"Excuse me ma’am, mind if I hold cutlery in front of your husband’s face? Oh nothing, just checking to see if he’s dead.” God…
Annette snuck a peek at the couple again.
“Morrie dear, listen to this!” Grace jammed one of the headphones into his ear, intently focused on the plastic buttons on her armrest. “I’ve found a classical station. You should hear some of the other rubbish they’ve got on here, though. I’ll just turn it up for you.”
From her spot at the center preparation area, Annette watched Grace interact with her husband, seemingly oblivious to his lack of response. How can she not notice? Maybe he really is sleeping, and I’m just losing it. Wouldn’t that make the other girls laugh!
“There goes Annette again, getting all flustered over nothing.”
Never assume. That’s what they told us. Never panic unnecessarily, and never upset passengers. I’ve got to get another look. But how to get close again? Annette racked her brain for any excuse to approach the couple. You must do everything in your power to ensure a guest’s utmost comfort. Annette grabbed a pillow from the shelf and slowly, deliberately inched her way towards the pair.
“Hello ma’am. I couldn’t help but notice your husband enjoying his rest, so I thought he might like another pillow.”
Grace pulled the headphones from her ears as the stewardess approached. “Oh, how sweet of you! Morrie can sleep almost anywhere, but I’m sure he’d appreciate it.” She settled back into her seat, replacing the headphones.
Annette leaned awkwardly over Grace and took Morrie’s head gently in her hand. Her stomach lurched, and she resisted the urge to choke on her own bile. His head lolled to the side, leaden and unsupported by Annette’s small hand. She whipped the pillow underneath and propped him up as naturally as possible.
Shit, shit, shit, shit. Don’t panic. Don’t panic. Don’t panic! Just stay calm, remember what they said. In the event of an emergency, relate directions as simply as possible to avoid confusion.
Oxygen masks are located- oh for God’s sake that doesn’t matter! Oxygen doesn’t help you when you’re already dead! Okay, relax. Think. Just carry on normally, go back to your station and continue doing your job. Annette grabbed an unoccupied drink tray and continued marching up and down the aisles, scarcely turning her head for thirsty guests.
“Coffee, tea, or juice?” How can people think of refreshments at a time like this!?
“Coffee, tea, or juice?” You have to tell the Captain. Never disturb the Captain unless it is absolutely necessary. You have to tell him, Annette. Only enter the cockpit uninvited in the event of an emergency. I think this counts as an emergency!
“Coffee, tea, or juice?” Do not upset passengers unnecessarily. But you have to tell his wife! I think this is necessary! Okay, breathe. Put the cart away, and just go knock on that door. Don’t stop to think, just do it. Knock.
“Sir, we have a passenger who- no, that’s not right.“
“Excuse me sir, but we have a passenger with a one way ticket.”
“Captain, one of our guests has checked his last baggage.
Reached his final destination.
Stopped collecting Air Miles.
Missed his connecting flight...”
“Excuse me, Captain? I’m sorry to disturb you, but I think we have a problem.”
Ellen Brooker is a second year student at
Queen’s University, currently obtaining a BAH (Honours) with a Specialization
in Stage and Screen. She writes about the oddities of the world around her,
because most of the time, reality is stranger than anything she could possibly
The short blonde wig atop Ana’s head fluttered against the cool spring breeze. She adjusted it and her tight black and red corset top as she stopped outside the corner store that was the front for PJ’s escort business. Her heart pounded in her chest and kept rhythm to her jittery stomach. The laces of her top dug into her chest and stomach and were so tight it made her want to vomit. She wouldn’t last long in it, but it would have to do, at least for tonight. It might be her only chance to justify spending her last few dollars on it. She should have been smarter with her money. The top wouldn’t fit in a few months anyway.
She stood staring at the shop door and inwardly sighed. How had she gotten here? Joey. That’s how, she reminded herself. She loved him, but he was a useless man. Never cleaning up after himself, never holding down a job. Always spending precious money. Ana felt the anger rising. She shook her head to clear her mind, and then pushed through the door and asked for PJ at the till.
“PJ ain’t here. You Ana?” Ana nodded. “He said to see Kandi.” The girl motioned to the door marked “Employees Only.”
The back room was dank and dark and smelled of a mixture of urine and sausage. The smell alone announced what types of people used the space. Ana cringed knowing that she would now add to its disgusting dishonesty. A table sat beneath a bare light bulb and was topped by an empty sandwich bag, a mirror covered in white powder, a credit card and some cigarettes. It didn’t take a genius to recognize the powder as drugs.
Another sick feeling plagued Ana’s stomach. Drugs were something she had expected to encounter, but not so soon or so obviously. She took a deep breath to steady herself. The overwhelming smell grated against her senses and her stomach leapt. She spotted the bathroom door, heard the loud, abrasive singing came from behind it and barged in anyway. She slung her head over the toilet just as what was left of her supper left her stomach. That was the third time today since lunch. She wanted to chalk it up to nerves, but she knew better.
“Hey! A little privacy here, please. What’s the matter with you?” a young girl yelled at Ana.
Ana wiped her face and flushed the toilet, and then stood up to maneuver around the girl to the sink.
“Sorry. I’m so sorry,” Ana whispered. “I just…The smell out there is awful.”
The girl laughed out loud and turned back to the mirror. “Yeah, it’s awful alright. PJ and his sausage.”
Her normal speaking voice was just as abrasive as her singing voice. Her black hair was shiny and almost sticky as though it hadn’t been washed in a few days. She’d added red streaks to it, but they’d faded to a dull, limp pink and resembled waxy Barbie hair. Her red-rimmed eyes, raw, red nose and red lipstick accented the pitiful pink in her hair.
“So, you’re the new girl?”
Ana nodded absently, distracted by her protesting stomach. She needed out, but there wasn’t a way out. She squeezed beside the girl and turned the tap on. The single toilet and sink made space tight, but she managed to get close enough to the yellow sink to slap some water on her face.
“I’m Kandi, with a K and an I,” the girl continued. “My real name is Jonetta, but that ain’t a street name, right? PJ, he said I gotta change it right away, that nobody’s gonna love somebody named Jonetta. He said I gotta make it something happy, something that excites people, so I figure Kandi will do that, right? Like, you know, candy gets people all hyper and stuff. Get it?”
She laughed loudly, a little too loudly. Her pupils shone bright beneath the red rims and Ana wondered idly how much drugs she’d inhaled already. Ana didn’t bother answering her question. Really, she didn’t have a chance against Kandi’s motor mouth.
“So what’s your name? And your street name? I hope you picked something real good, because that says a lot about people you know. PJ, he says that people who can’t pick good names are dumb as shit.”
Ana furrowed her brow. The chatter was incessant. She took a deep breath to calm the suddenly rising irritation and focused on her image in the mirror. Thick, garish make-up surrounded her brown eyes while red lipstick covered her lips. Her blond wig was miraculously still in place after her violent up-front experience with the toilet. She felt momentarily thankful knowing that it would stay in place in the middle of…that. She shuddered at the thought. Tonight was her first night as a female sex worker and she was going to commit intimate acts with a complete stranger. She shuddered again, this time in repulsion and her gut leapt in reaction. She cried out loud, spun on her heels and dry-heaved into the toilet.
“First day jitters, eh?” Kandi said from behind her. She held back Ana’s hair and oozed sympathy. “Don’t worry, girl. You’ll be fine. All you gotta do is become someone else. This? This is Kandi and she’s the prostitute. Jonetta? She ain’t nowhere around here. She doesn’t even talk like this. That’s what you gotta do, babe. Pick a lady and be her.”
Ana wiped her mouth with toilet paper and flushed the toilet. She moved back to the sink and slapped more water on her face. Her stomach ached with the after effects of heaving and with a deep, angry fear. Was it possible to invent a new personality? Would the line blur between who she was and who she pretended to be? Or could she just be herself? She wiped her face dry and then turned around to face Kandi.
“Thanks. I’m just feeling a little nervous. I’m not used to this, you know?”
That part was true. She wasn’t used to this and she was nervous, but that wasn’t the whole reason for being sick. The worst part was that she couldn’t tell anyone the truth.
“Yeah, I know. I’ve been there, right?” Kandi nodded her head emphatically like she really knew how Ana was feeling. “Listen, we gotta bounce. PJ’s gonna be here soon and we’ll be in real shit if we don’t show him some money. You can’t be wearing what you’re wearing, by the way. This is street business. There are cops around. You can’t be looking like an actual hooker. You got a sweater or something?” Ana nodded. “Then put it on. C’mon.”
She grabbed Ana’s hand and pulled her from the bathroom through the back room and outside. Ana followed along blindly, unsure of what her next move was. She laughed to herself. She had no moves at all let alone a next one, but she’d always been good at just following along, at picking up new skills. She hoped this would be the same.
“My name is Ana, by the way,” she said as she hurried to keep up. “My street name is Rosie. I thought I might play the sweet one, you know?”
Kandi nodded. “Sure. That’s a hard role to play, though. You better be good on your feet or PJ will make you change.”
Ana nodded and kept quiet. She wasn’t sure if she could be good on her feet or sweet, even, but she was determined to try. She slipped her sweater on in an effort to show some obedience. She didn’t want to get caught on her first day or get anyone in trouble, especially with PJ. He sounded like a real jerk.
They stepped out on to the street and made their way toward the corner two blocks down. There was a liquor store there. A perfect spot to catch people driving or stopping by, Kandi said. They stood on the corner and waited. Eventually, a car slowed. Kandi moved toward it, waved her hand and called out. The car stopped and Kandi moved forward.
“Hey, honey. You’re looking fine. You wanna give me a show?” the man asked. His greedy eyes and sly smile oozed creepiness from the other side of the car. Ana shuddered and felt a strong urge to vomit again. Oh, Lord. How was she going to do this?
“Nah, Georgie, but I’ll take a little sugar from you,” Kandi said as she leaned into his car.
Georgie leaned forward and grabbed Kandi’s face. He inspected her before slamming his lips against hers.
“Baby, is that all you ever want from me?” he said when he came up for air.
His voice oozed slime and sickly sweetness and his eyes shone brightly, excitedly, as if he got off just at the thought of what he might get. He pulled her towards him again until she was hanging half in the car and half out.
“Are you willing to give me something in return?” he continued. Kandi nodded eagerly, desperately almost, her eyes wild and anxious. “Get in then. And tell your friend to get in the back seat, too.”
Ana climbed in at Kandi’s gesture. She expected the car to drive away to somewhere more private, but she became utterly still from shock as Kandi’s hand moved down Georgie’s leg. Right there on the side of the street. Ana closed her eyes and tried to block out the sounds. She sang a familiar song to herself, to the life within her to clam herself. This was it. This was her new life, and she wasn’t ready.
Suddenly, Kandi spoke and drew Ana back. The clink of a belt buckle signalled their release and she waited for the moment to open her door.
“Okay, Georgie. Where’s my sugar?” Kandi asked anxiously.
“Sorry, babe. I don’t got any on me. All out until Monday,” Georgie responded. He had a sick smile on his face.
Kandi sunk down into her seat and then suddenly bolted forward and punched him in the arm. Georgie’s arm came up just as quickly. A harsh noise filled the car as he slapped Kandi hard across the face. Soft sobs sounded from the front seat and a rough chuckle followed. Georgie lifted his hand to slap her again, but Ana jumped forward and grabbed it.
“Don’t!” she cried. “We’ll just go. Don’t hit her.”
Georgie turned to Ana. His face was contorted into an angry grimace. “What? You want some of this, too? Do you?”
He snarled like a caged wolf, loosened his seatbelt and began to move into the back seat. Ana’s heart pounded in fear as she fumbled to open the door. This was her moment to move. Finally, she was on the street. She slammed the door just as Georgie landed in the back. She quickly opened the front door, dragged Kandi out and pulled her around the corner and into a back alley.
When they stopped and were hidden from view, Ana looked at Kandi. Her cheek was swollen and an angry red where she’d been hit. Her mascara ran down her cheeks where tears had trailed before. Her lipstick was smeared where lips had slid across her face and eyes were as a glassy sheet of ice. Her hands shook at her sides and she shivered forcefully beneath her sweater.
“Are you okay?” Ana asked softly. Pain and worry filled her heart. What had she gotten herself into?
Kandi looked at Ana and then swiped her hand across her face, smearing her make-up even more. She looked like Batman’s Joker with her bad mascara and cheek-to-cheek lipstick.
“Yeah, I’m fine. We just…we just gotta find Ace. He’s the guy for you. He likes to double up, so I can help teach you. I just…I just can’t think right now. My head’s all confused and…” Her voice trailed off as she began to pace.
Ana stood and watched Kandi’s edgy back and forth movements. She was wound up tight like she might unravel at any moment. To Ana, she looked like a little child about to have a temper tantrum; a child who was trying to be grown up, but couldn’t even put make-up on properly. Something had to be done. She absently rubbed her hand across her belly. They couldn’t just stand here and pace back and forth. They were sitting ducks—perfect targets for the police. She had to find Ace.
“Kandi, where can we find Ace? I think that’s maybe where we should go,” Ana suggested.
Kandi kept her rhythm steady—back and forth, back and forth.
Ana touched her shoulder. She wanted to comfort Kandi and she wanted her to stop moving. Her frantic pacing was making Ana feel sick. Kandi whirled around at Ana’s touch and suddenly swung at her. Surprised, Ana yelped and ducked beneath her fist.
Her eyes were uninhabited, distant and glazed over with a sheen of neurosis, of desperation. Finally, Ana realized what was off about her: Kandi was coming down off a high. She kicked herself for not expecting it sooner.
Suddenly, Kandi raced down the street hollering for Ace. Ana followed her, certain she was heading to find him, but she struggled to keep up. Her feet and legs were aching from her inappropriate high heels and within minutes she could feel blisters forming. Despite her state, Kandi seemed to know exactly where she was going. Every once in a while she hollered for Ace, but nobody answered. Passersby just peered strangely at them both. It wasn’t hard to tell what was wrong with Kandi.
By the sixth block, buildings were run-down and abandoned and graffiti covered every square inch of the limp architecture. But in the middle of the trash, a decently-kept house with a trimmed yard of green grass arose like an oasis in the desert. Ana knew this was where Ace lived, but she wondered idly how he managed to make it look nice, even at such an early time of the season. The reservations she had about a man who would require services from someone like her changed into a hope for mankind, and beneath the hope was a worry that it was all false.
Kandi and Ana climbed the front steps of the house and Kandi knocked on the door. A fat, balding man with tattoos covering his arms and bare chest answered the door. A gold chain necklace of the word “dawg” hung from his neck. He leaned up against the door as if he was the sexiest man alive, but his bulging gut screamed sumo wrestler rather than George Clooney.
“Kandi, baby!” the man crowed. “Brought me another new girl, huh?”
“Yeah, Ace. I was wondering if you’d like to make a deal?” Kandi asked. She was near whispering, but her body was arranged in an attempt to be seductive. It was a strange combination with her anxious behaviour.
Ace surveyed both Kandi and Ana the way a mutt eyes up fresh meat: nearly drooling and eagerly panting. Satisfied, he waved them in. He led them through a small hallway and straight into the bedroom, which, though neat and tidy, smelled like sweaty gym boys.
“The two of you together for $50,” Ace said as he shut the door behind him.
“Fifty bucks and a hit,” Kandi countered. She wrung her hands anxiously and glanced behind her at the closed door as if a prison door had just slid shut behind her.
“Fine. But only after it’s done.”
Kandi shook her head vigorously. Her eyes were wild and she started to pace back and forth again. Ana wanted to grab Kandi’s hand to make her stop moving. The pacing was too much.
“No, man. I can’t do it without a hit. Come on, please,” Kandi pleaded. The begging was pathetic and instantly sent Ace flying at her in whirl of rage.
He grabbed Kandi’s arm and shook her hard. “Babe, get a hold of yourself. I said, not until it’s done. Now both of you, let’s go.”
A frantic cry sang from Kandi’s lips as she spun out of Ace’s control. Ace leapt forward and pulled her arm again, but she refused to let him maul her. She lashed back and hit him repeatedly while attempting to get away from him.
“No, no, no” she wailed. “I can’t. I won’t. Please, help me.”
“Shut-up!” Ace yelled. “Just shut-up and do as you’re told.”
He smacked her hard in the face and sent her head reeling back against the wall she was up against. When she wriggled out of his reach again, he pulled her hair and punched her square in the nose. Blood gushed to the floor. Then he slammed her up against the wall and pummelled his knee into her gut over and over.
Terrified, Ana began to scream. She couldn’t allow this to happen. She had to protect this, this child. She lurched forward and dropped punch after punch onto Ace’s back.
“Stop! Stop!” she cried. “Stop hitting her. I’ll do whatever you want.”
Ace dropped Kandi to the floor, turned around and reached for Ana’s arms and hair. Kandi flopped like a limp noodle. Ana desperately wanted to help Kandi, but Ace’s hands forced her to stay where she was. The fight was now in her hands—what she’d wanted, but not was she was prepared for.
“Oh, so you think you’ve got it figured out, eh new girl?” He twisted Ana’s arm behind her back and pulled her head back so that her throat was stretched up to the ceiling. He leaned in close and breathed heavily in her ear. Ana tried to hold back the tears.
“I’m going to make you pay for this mix-up. Get on the bed,” he ordered.
Determined to keep him away from Kandi, she did as she was told. She trembled as she watched this fat bald man climb over top of her. She could see Kandi laying limp on the floor across the room, knocked out, or maybe even dead. She knew what would happen to her if she didn’t cooperate.
She willed herself to focus on the task in front of her and not on the world around her. She had a job to do and she was willing to do it, if only for the child on the floor. She couldn’t stop Georgie and she couldn’t stop Ace earlier, but she could stop it now if she just stood up. She took a deep breath and then sat up boldly on the bed, forcing Ace to move backwards off the bed.
She’d dang well get some money for both her and Kandi, too.
“I want my money first. One hundred and fifty dollars.” She had no sense of how much she should charge, but he’d just beat up the only person she knew in this industry so he was going to pay for it.
Ace stood back and laughed loudly. “Aiming a little high, aren’t you? After this display, twenty-five dollars, tops.”
He scoffed. “Thirty.”
Ana paused and then moved off the bed and slid around him towards the door. “Okay, see you around then. I guess I’ll just call PJ and let him know what happened so he can come visit you.”
She sauntered away more confidently than she felt. She got out into the hall before he called after her.
“Wait! Wait! Fine. Hundred twenty-five.”
He pulled out his wallet, rifled through the cash and handed it to Ana. She tucked it into her jeans, walked into the room and pushed his chest towards the bed.
“You like it rough, don’t you? Well, you’ll get it rough, boy.”
Ana slapped him hard across the face. Just a little too hard. She leaned down and licked his cheek, struggling not to shudder in front of him. The sweaty smell of Ace and the room swung her nausea up into her throat, but she forced herself to continue in a mindless method. Focusing her mind on Kandi’s dull humour, on Joey’s crystal blue eyes, on the kicks she felt within. She let her body go numb as she thought about everything else except what she was doing. She felt the switch flip over and she smiled to herself. She had just lit the flame and nobody could stop it. Not even this bottom-feeding scumbag beneath her. Perhaps Rosie wasn’t the most suitable name for her. Perhaps they should just call her Ana.
Cheryl Whitten is a mother of three young children who is currently
studying English literature at Athabasca University. She has previously
been published on PostcardShorts.com, on PrairieJournal.org, and in The Star newspaper. She currently resides in Wainwright, Alberta. More about her can be seen at www.cherylwhitten.com.
The following is excerpted from a series of interviews conducted with B. Morales Forma in November of last year, in preparation for my forthcoming biography of Anna: Pharaoh’s Priest and Concubine: The Early Years.
On Anna, every day:
“Picture a street reflected in a mirror. Over your shoulder you see somebody wave. But when you turn around, there’s no one there. That was Anna. Every day.”
On first meeting, and loving, Anna:
"There is nowhere to begin with her: a mirror, a joke, a whisper, caress. Our first kiss:
"You know, I've waited a long time for this," I said.
"Yes," she answered, as if it were a question. As if I were a question. And her only answer was a kiss.”
On Anna’s beauty:
“It was the death of her, really. A cross. Or a crown. Both. But she couldn’t see the thorns. She felt them, though, surely, only she didn’t know where the pain was coming from. Beauty makes some of us worship, some of us suffer. I worshipped and suffered. She just suffered.”
On Anna’s face:
“My God. It was enough to make you believe. Her face was almost frightening in its fragility. Yes, fragile; only one didn’t realize it at first. But eventually, it kept me awake at night: the thought that it would end someday, this miracle, this porcelain blaze. I remember being half asleep and wanting to die before she grew old. I’m not kidding, though it sounds completely ridiculous now.”
On Anna’s work:
“She was always writing. In bed, the tub, at meals, while watching tv. And if she wasn’t physically writing, she was always thinking about it. More than once she’d leave me in bed, in the middle, you know, to write something down. I wanted to kill her. And I would’ve, had I not loved her so. And had it not been all so brilliant. All those words. And of course it was flattering, for it was all about us, me and her, in history and the future. Mythical fragments, detailing our past lives: Pharaoh's priest and concubine; Nero's rod and sword; sister-lovers in a Bavarian convent, engorging on spirit and flesh: The Word incarnate. Or prophecies of our part in humanity's destiny - the warrior and mother, the shield and sword, the fire and water. No names or places, just the blind pangs of birth and orgasm, blood and fire, spirit and history.”
On Anna’s leaving and essence:
“She’d moved in the previous summer, when her lease was up. She was broke, of course, but neither of us spoke of that, or those things. But anyway, just as she appeared, suddenly, completely filling my life, she was gone, leaving me empty. And angry. But, in retrospect, liberated too.
I knew she wouldn’t be mine forever. How could she? She belonged to the world, or was it the word? I don’t know, but either way, it wasn’t me, or her for that matter. Something far beyond and greater than two people in love.
You’ve read all the books, of course, that’s why you’re here, so you know this. Its all second-hand Anna, but for me, who perhaps knew her best during her formative years, when she was developing her ideas, style, soul and fire, if you will, there was always something missing from her writing, something she was never able to quite put into words.
Her being, essence, to me, was most fully expressed in her kiss, not her words. She was the courtesan, the Venus, the muse who drew herself, not waiting or wanting to pose for any Old Master. But there’s always a blind spot in every self-portrait, every mirror, a desire we chase, completion. And that’s what killed her in the end. But it was there in her kiss, a kiss like a street reflected in a mirror.
Imagine you’re looking in the mirror, trying to see yourself, really see yourself, for the first time maybe, when you were a child let’s say, past your eyes and face and into your soul. And the harder you look, the more it eludes you, and you’re scared, afraid there’s nothing there. But then you see something moving over your shoulder, in the street reflected in the mirror. Its somebody waving at you. A friend. You turn and look and there’s no one there. But you feel like it was a friend. And the fear is gone. You’re empty, but not afraid. That was Anna. Every time. Every day. That was Anna. A kiss.”
Frank Candeloro is a teacher in Belleville, Ontario. This is his first publication.
Oh, I so hate those mountains. To think I once thought the lions were like a woman’s breasts nurturing us all.
“Don’t wiggle Keemy, I have food for you.”
She limped round the tiered, semi-circle of wooden benches until she felt her back to the wind and rain. She sat down with a grunt. She was alone. She wore two fully buttoned, ankle-length over-coats; one for protection from the weather, the other to keep in the warmth. She always wrapped one shawl around her neck and another red, heavy wool shawl over her head. She wore the same scuffed, brown army boots she bought from the war surplus store on Main with some of the money from one of her final welfare cheques. After she gave up her last address, only the Salvation Army provided her a bed and a meal. Now she walked the streets endlessly, for days on days.
My son, my son, oh God, my son. George died. Why did he go to the war in Asia? We were never the same after that. I couldn’t go on without him. Why did he do it? Why did he leave me? We used to come here for movies, dinners, the White Lunch, cokes at Woodward’s, fish and chips at Lumberman’s Arch on Sundays. One year, we went to five symphony’s in Queen Elizabeth Theater.
“Okay Keemy. We’re here now.”
She opened a middle button of her outside over-coat and a blonde Pekinese head popped out, flat face with kind, brown eyes looking up at her, pink tongue licking, body squirming in anticipation, asking the question. Cooing to her pet, she took the small, expensive can of cat food out of her right pocket and opened the tin with the key. Slowly, painfully, the arthritis almost completely crippling her so she could only manage small movements with her fingers, she rolled back the cover.
God, I hate this rain. It never used to bother me. Now it is my enemy.
“Here, Keemy. Good girl.”
After the struggle, she took pinches of food and fed her dog. She always fed Keemy this way. She did this until the can was empty. Then Keemy would snuggle and snort and cuddle with her, happy and contented.
And Arthur, her second son, last time she talked with him, saying, “Come live in a home in West Vancouver, momma. I will pay for it. But Sharon says you can’t live with us. You argue too much. Your grand-kids would love to see you more.”
Put me in a home? Never. I make homes, I don’t live kept in one. And Arthur has so much money and she won’t let me live there. I want to see my grandchildren. But I don’t think Arthur knows where I am or he’d come and take me home.
She was gripped suddenly with the recurring stomach pain, doubling her up on the bench. In a terrible substitution, the agony replaced her anguish, holding her longer in its vice grip. Even now she was careful not to roll on Keemy. My beautiful Keemy. As the wave subsided, she was able to raise herself into a half-sitting position again. The hurting never completely left her now and the attacks came more often and were more severe.
Two men were standing in front of her. Street bullies. She could only partially make them out. Her pain blinded her with tears, it took time for it to end. She felt so vulnerable. The over-head lamppost lighting behind them obscured their faces. One had a shaved head, the other a ponytail. Both were skinny, young and smelled of alcohol. Their faces looked metallic in this light, threatening. She pushed Keemy back deeper into her coat.
“Think she’s got money?”
“Nah. This ol’ bat’s half dead anyway. Maybe she’s got smokes. Go through her pockets.”
She knew not to resist. The bald tuffy hesitated then went roughly into one of her coat pockets and brought out a blood-stained ball of toilet paper. He threw it on the ground. Both boys stepped back from the woman.
“She’s got the TB. I’m outta here. “ He turned and left.
The other tuffy kicked her in the legs with hard boots, swore at her, then walked away quickly to catch up with the other. Once she was sure they’d left, she let Keemy back out. She went to do her business and find a drink of water in a puddle. When Keemy returned she burrowed into the safe coat again, nestling, like she had done since she was a puppy. They’d found each other when she was going through cans in the alley. There was the little puppy. Scared. Lost. Confused. Also looking for food. A kindred soul. She could help and love this puppy.
So much has changed.
She struggled but couldn’t sit right up. She had to continue leaning. Her ankle hurt so much now. Something inside still hurt bad too.
She talked to Keemy. “It used to be so different. George and Arthur and him and me. We were a family. Then he left me to go with another. George died and Arthur went with him. Now I only have you Keemy. I hate the mountains.” She paused, breathing heavily, afraid. Something is wrong. “When we get up, Keemy, we have to go to the clinic. I need some medicine. Just wait a bit for me to get better. Then we’ll go.” Her breathing was labored.
There is nowhere to go now but to the Sally Ann. Everyone is angry, suspicious, so greedy.
Earlier that evening, buying Keemy some dog food with the money from collecting cans and bottles all day, the young, black-haired man watching her said, “You want to sell that dog? Buy more food. Some brown-bag wine? I’ll give you twenty bucks. I’ll find it a good home. Take care of it. Not like you.”
She paid for Keemy’s food then left the store angry, silent. There was a time when you didn’t push people around, you helped them, you held out a hand, you didn’t take the last someone had. Where is God?
Then she walked away from Gastown, to these familiar benches in the heart of the city. This used to be a courthouse. This is where my George is honored. He gave his life. His life! How did this happen to me? How can this be? The endless rush hour city traffic rolled past her, surrounding her with rows of bright white lights like pearls on an endless necklace and red Japanese lanterns stringing forever into the distant night. The blended echoes of the traffic soothed her when she was here. She sat quietly with Keemy, with the memories of her son. As always, the sounds of the city became a neutral backdrop, allowing her privacy. Sitting in the soft Vancouver rain, she felt insulated and safe again. This was a place where good triumphed over evil, where sacrifice was remembered and honored, where hard memories of death and loss were softened with pride, where the spirit of many aching hearts for many lost sons helped her to renew her memories and give rebirth to the love she had for so many years with her family.
She still could not sit up right. Tonight she would stay a little longer. With Keemy. Just a little longer.
“How’d ya wanna handle this one? Looks like she’s been gone a while.”
The cold, sterile face spoke as the blue emergency lights on the Coroner’s van cast a harsh, strobing light across the wet concrete.
“I got a technique how to handle these lice bags. Got yer rubber gloves? I don’t want no stink in the truck. Here, grab the hands over the head and cross the arms over. Careful, don’t touch the head. Lice can jump. I’ll take the feet the same, and we can roll it onto the gurney, then zip up the bag, and it’s off to the burner. ”
“Hey, what’s that? Watch out! It’s a rat.”
“Look, she had a dog in her coat.”
“What’re we gonna do with that?”
“Only one thing I know. Else it’s a lot of paperwork.”
“C’mon. Let’s just let it go.”
“Aw, I’ll take care of it. No one’s lookin’; no one cares. One quick twist and then the landfill boys ‘ll take care of it by tomorrow. Don’t tell no one.”
The hands took a strong hold. Not like the woman who cradled with softness and care. There was pain.
Staring up through the donut hole from inside the garbage can, Keemy, motionless now, breathing fast shallow breaths, alone, unable to move because her neck was broken, darkening shadows shrouding her pain. Surrendering finally, the life in her eyes fading for the last time, watching the emergency lights turning mercifully to black as they flashed, again and again, across the war memorial cenotaph in Victory Square.
Alfred Cool was born and raised in BC. He attended Simon Fraser University where he took English and Computer courses. He is a member of the Canadian Authors Association. He worked as a logger for over a decade, traveling extensively on the coast of central and northern BC. For 26 years, as an accomplished computer professional, he lived in various BC communities where he harbored the simple truth that writing would eventually take over his life
Now that persistent dream, to his great satisfaction and pleasure, has become reality. He is working on a series of five novels inspired by his travels on the coast of BC.