We began meeting at the abandoned cinema off state route 9. Our group lead, Adrian Kleist, had a neighbor friend responsible for the slow decay of property who drew up a waiver spanning everything from alien viruses acquired in the bowels of the vacant men’s room, to hyper-extensions suffered within the folding seats of the viewing gallery. We remained undeterred and signed in flamboyant and swooping cursive. Our group known for its abnormal though symbiotic approach.
We were actively dying. Rapidly subjected human failure.
At our initial meeting, in the basement of Mercy Hospital Springfield, Adrian began group by stating, “Most of you will not outlive Jenna Elfman’s career.” We understood all too well the severity of such a statement. A good portion of the people got up and walked out. Adrian sat in a folding chair, hunched forward, elbows on his knees, a lanky man with the severity of a general’s brow. He had a way of wearing clothes that seemed European, scarves doubled at the throat, button downs without collars. “Anyone else?” he asked. “Now you don’t have to like what you hear, nobody’s saying that, but there’s no help on the way.” Ashley Snell was a mere two months from the dirt at the time, arms dangled loose as the ball and string of a Chinese hand drum. She nearly lost all ability to swallow. Relied on her teenage daughter to thicken liquids and feed them to her like oatmeal.
Movie posters collapsed and rolled into themselves. An empty popcorn bucket hovered over a desolate aluminum valley. Projectors hung head in projection booths, an unsure populous of once luminous machines. Meredith Trammel raised a spool of film, “Prime example of a sequel that should have never been made.”
“There’s a whole market for that stuff now days,” offered Dave Rami.
“Less talking,” Adrian advised. “I want these images to come upon you and pass, as though you were falling right through them.”
Upon initial diagnosis I began hibernating within the well-worn walls of hooded sweatshirts. Spent all my time watching PBS, Nat Geo and Discovery. Natural disasters programs mainly, with an every now and again emphasis on theological hopelessness. I wished tectonic plates to buoy forth, inciting such cataclysmic fuck storms that every city, civilian and cell be swallowed up by the savage waters of the world. I wrote a blog encouraging Presidents, Prime Ministers and Dictators to rouse a few nuclear fist fights and then awaited missile defiance in thy neighbor’s air space. I even admit to an attempt to bring down my mother’s curio cabinet, kick out a leg and watch it topple like a wounded elephant, sending generations of fine china out across the linoleum. The latter of these abolitions resulting in the loss of the big toe nail on my left foot.
None of us wanted to die.
Don Feedback caught up with me on the stage of Cinema 3. “Babinski,” he said. No one called me by my first name. Nobody cared too much for Don. He was our newest member and my elder by about fifteen years and the type to pin you down in conversation that seemed to circumvent into other conversation and never reach a climax. His famous line was, “To make a short story long,” which he would follow up with jocular laughter that enunciated the oceanic rolls of his flabby belly. The planks in the hardwood opted to pry loose at random times and there was that far off chance one would seesaw up and break his jaw.
“We’re not really supposed to be talking Don,” I said. “Adrian wants us to take in the scene.”
“We’ve been here what? Eight fuckin’ times? Not really much more to soak up.”
“Twelve,” I corrected him. “You just joined the group six months ago.”
“My point is, smart ass, I don’t really get what he’s going for here. All of us hold up in this dilapidated old movie theatre.”
“Even still,” I added.
My speech had become somewhat slurred of late, nasal, and I didn’t much like talking. Deke Howell and his brother Grant punched through the emergency doors alongside the building. Deke played middle linebacker for Ryle when I was just a boy. Type a guy who hit people and left them for dead. Had thighs like gasoline mounts on a motorcycle. Now his bro carried him like a ventriloquist might carry a dummy. Muscle atrophy for the books. Nick Laird and Angie Bodkin fumbled at each other’s waistbands in the back of the theatre, all too aware that this ability would one day leave them. Through a generous hole in the roof an early October snow began to fall.
In Cincinnati the minor seasons are allusive and often skirted all together.
Loud throttles came from the tiny window of the projection booth, until a motor finally began to hum. Blue light kicked on momentarily, the motor stalled and the theatre became mostly dark again. Moments later that same throttle and that motor was up and running, spiritual pipeline of light out the tiny window.
“Damned right!!” Adrian yelled.
The screen began to fade out on that lanky bitch holding her torch. Above her it read in big block letters, COLUMBIA. Meredith Trammel walked in and mouthed, “What’s going on?” And Dave Rami poked his head out the tiny window just to let everybody know he was up there with Adrian, as though a cool kid had invited him to a party.
“Damn right,” Adrian bellowed again over the roar of the motor.
And then, I wasn’t up there, but Dave Rami swears he said it, “You can’t kill the Cinema.” Likely as we took to our seats, eyes wide with grandeur, eternal pictures upon the screen.
Lancaster Cooney lives in Northern Kentucky with his wife, two daughters and sweet little pup. His work has appeared at Everyday Genius, Matchbook Lit Mag, Blackheart Magazine and The Molotov Cocktail. He received an editor's nomination for storysouth's 2012 Million Writers Award.
Eric needed a new pair of shoes. He had been a government courier for years and now, obviously, his shoes were done for. Both soles were cracked and the cold slush of an early November snow seeped through piercing his feet with cold. Sometimes bare patches on the sidewalks spared his feet, but when he stepped from the sidewalk into the gutter, the ice water that collected there, in addition to seeping through his soles, would wash over the tops of his shoes and seep through places where the storm welts failed, and fill his shoes with water.
However, he liked these shoes; he was a courier and they had given him good service. He had paid more for them than he had intended, but the soles, a rubber-like compound, had proved better on ice than most. Moreover, the shoes had stood the gaff for nearly three years.
He had bought them at a place called Tigress on a seedy part of Yonge Street. The owner, was a man of medium height, mid thirties, ruddy complexion, and jet black hair, in other words he looked like a real lady-killer. But he knew his business.
Eric had seen a pair of shoes in the window of Tigress had entered the store and was examining the soles of a similar pair in the store when the owner appeared. “I know exactly what you want; a pair of shoes that are good on ice and that you can wear inside. What size do you take?” Eric told him but the man brought a half size larger. “Wear them for a couple of days and they’ll take the shape of your foot. I know what I’m talking about. This is my career.” He did know. The shoes were comfortable; they were good on ice, and they were still presentable.
Now, three years later, Eric was going to Tigress again to get another pair. The owner was on him soon as he entered. Eric asked for the same shoe, but the owner told him the manufacturer had discontinued the line and replaced it with another. “It’s heavier and tougher. It’s good on ice. It doesn’t look bad. It’s more expensive, but I’ll sell it to you for the same price.”
Eric tried them on. They felt loose on his feet. He walked up and down the store with them. The soles had thick treads on them. The shoes felt heavy. Instead of a glossy finish, the uppers were oily.
“What do I put on these for waterproofing?”
“Mink oil,” said the owner. “It’s available at any shoe repair shop.”
Eric was unsure of them. He took them home in a box, put them on and walked up and down his bare-floored apartment. It was the weekend; Eric stayed inside and continued breaking in his shoes. By Sunday they had taken the shape of his feet and he felt at home in them. Monday morning a storm was raging. Huge wet flakes of snow fell and turned to slush. Slush was everywhere. In this weather, his old shoes were impossible, so Eric ventured out with his new ones. They proved to be excellent. He had treated the oily uppers with Mink Oil and the slop couldn’t penetrate them. When the temperature dropped and the slush turned to ice, the heavy treads were as good as he could hope for. And the heaviness of the shoes had an added benefit: when faced with sudden gusts of wind, he was steadier; he had no need to fear that his feet would be whipped out from under him.
Indoors, the shoes were almost as successful. He thought the shoes looked clunky, like boots, but Maysie, a clerk in his office, complimented him on their practicality. “I felt so sorry for you in your other shoes. When it rained you looked so uncomfortable. I could see you were limping and they were coming apart. I don’t see how you could wear shoes like that and then go out in the snow. In the summer, maybe, ok. But in winter with the snow and the ice; uh-uh.”
“I liked them,” Eric answered. “They were comfortable most of the time. I hate to give up on comfortable shoes.”
“Me too! I hate to throw them out. Are these ones comfortable?”
He smiled. “They’re pretty good.”
But comfortable as his shoes were, there were problems. For one thing, the right shoe rode up high on his ankle and chafed against his Achilles tendon. He put a band-aid on his ankle and worked the back of the shoe with his thumbs in hopes of loosening it. After a few days, the back did loosen; the shoe became comfortable again, and his raw flesh healed.
But another problem was more serious. His new soles caught on the carpets. He noticed this problem the first week in his home office. He was carrying some letters from the manager’s office to the director’s and his sole caught. Instinctively he reached out and grabbed the side of a file cabinet and managed to stay on his feet. Nevertheless, Maysie had seen him.
“Are you alright?” she asked.
“New shoes,” he said irritably. “It takes a few days for the soles to lose their edge.”
But it happened again a few days later. One of his managers asked him to take some papers to Mr. Krindishin in the minister’s office a few buildings away. Eric frequently made deliveries there and when he entered the minister’s waiting room, the receptionist pressed a button to admit him to the suite of offices used by the minister and his staff. The common area was large, well-carpeted, with a slightly uneven floor. As Eric made for Mr. Krindishin’s office, the tread on one of his shoes caught and he was suddenly on his knees, as if in prayer. He was up in an instant. He glanced around quickly, hoping no one had seen him fall. But one of the secretaries, Celsa from the Philippines, had and came over.
“Are you alright?” She asked.
He blushed red. “I’m fine,” he said. “New shoes. Uneven carpet.”
While finishing his delivery, he was careful to lift his feet.
In the middle of January, the minister’s office moved to a different building. In the new building, the minister’s suite took up an entire floor. The minister’s personal office was larger; the offices for his staff were smaller and opened into thin, ill-lit corridors. The minister chose a new sumptuous carpet to cover the entire floor. One afternoon one of the managers in Eric’s home office told him that the following day he would be asked to deliver a file to Mr. Krindishin in the minister’s office and some letters to Alice Green, one of the minister’s assistants. When Eric went home that night he knew the following day was going to be busy.
The following morning when he was leaving for work, a five- year old boy from down the hall ran into the apartment lobby. The mother, a tall humourless lady who lived upstairs came bustling into the lobby after him. “Wait! Watch where you’re going!” she called after the child. She gave Eric a stone-faced nod, caught the little boy by the hand and hurried off to the bus stop. When he reached work he was still wondering about the woman living on her own with the naughty little boy. Where’s the father? Did he run off? Is he dead?
Eric had several deliveries to make that day. Rushing from place to place, he soon forgot about her. Late in the afternoon he arrived at the minister’s office to deliver the material for his staff and material for him. He had one more delivery make afterward.
On the instructions of the receptionist he found Mr. Krindishin’s office in the north east corner of the floor. He knew he was late. After leaving the file he rushed down the thin corridor toward Alice Green’s office near the south west corner. As he rushed, the sole of one of his shoes, (he never knew which one), caught on the new carpet and he fell. It seemed to him he fell slowly, but with documents in his hands he was unable to protect himself. He saw the floor coming up towards him. He hit his face hard.
The frames of his glasses broke; he was hurt and badly shaken. A young man from one of the offices rushed out and helped him up. Celsa came over and picked up his documents. Eric stood trembling with his glasses in his hand.
“You’re bleeding,” she said.
Eric felt the blood running down his face and saw the scarlet drops falling on his jacket. “Where’s the washroom?” he asked.
“Just a minute.” She fetched a band-aid from her desk and then answered his question.
When he was in the washroom he looked at himself in the mirror. His eye was alright. The blood was coming from a cut at the end of his eyebrow near the temple. The plastic rim of his glasses had snapped and part of the plastic had cut into his skin. He soaked some paper towels in cold water and pressed them to the cut. In a few minutes the bleeding stopped. He cleaned himself up and put Celsa’s band-aid on the cut. The rim of his glasses had only broken in one place; but the frame kept its shape. He put the lens back in and put the glasses on. The lens was loose, but the glasses were wearable.
When he left the building he realized he was too shaky to make any more deliveries that day so he headed back to his office where he applied cello-tape to his frames to hold the lens in. He was still shaky. He rested a while before leaving for home.
When he entered the lobby of his apartment building that night, he met the tall woman with her naughty young son.
“Good evening,” Eric said
The woman looked at him and asked what had happened.
The woman stooped down to her little boy and said, “You see what happens when you don’t pay attention to what you’re doing.” She caught his arm and the pair vanished into the elevator. Eric went into his apartment and closed the door.
At dawn his eyes were sore and the lids swollen but he kept them shut tight as if someone were trying to pry them open. He could see the sun come over the horizon as a pink glow through his closed lids. He couldn’t tell if this new colour came from the translucence of his closed eyes or from the blood he knew must cover his face. He couldn’t tell, in fact, how much his eyes had been mutilated from the acts of the night before in which three men had held him down while another stitched his eyelids shut.
Shut up, just shut up, was all they had said in whispered tones, laboured from the effort of restraining him. They had meant to make him suffer before he died, his knee-caps shot out from under him as a parting gesture that shocked him at the first shot but made perfect sense by the second. It had become plain to him soon that this scene was being constructed with a cinematic eye, the details meant to be seen and later spoken of in story-telling fashion sparing no dramatic flair in the name of efficiency. So by the time of the second shot he had choked back his cries and almost expected what came next with a composure that must have been unnerving to the other men.
There’s an odd distance one is able to place between oneself and the worst parts of pain, when each different thought and feeling, each sensation of sweetness, sourness, joy, mirth, fear, and yes, pain too, is the last ambassador of its kind upon an ailing frame. There, in the new moon black before dawn, eyes sewn shut, he felt time measured in the throbbing pulse of blood in his ears. He couldn’t help but count the beats as one does when humming a tune. And even during the scuffles and gunshots and then while he heard the tinkling sounds of men pissing on his legs’ open wounds and in his mouth, he separated each act as if by chapters, punctuated by the metronome beat of the blood still in his veins.
Now in the horizontal light of morning, his eyes, too, throbbed, feeling too big by half for their sockets as if the diaphanous skin of his lids was all that held them in his head. Then a voice. A moan he knew was Jorge, whose being alive jolted him as when one is shaken to find someone else close by while sitting in a darkened room. There had been four shots the night before. The first two took his knees. Before that and before they had blinded him, they had used a knife, too big for a mouth, to cut out Jorge's tongue. They had struggled with the logistics of it before the smaller one holding the knife used his free arm to hold Jorge’s head stable while he turned the sharp edge of the blade around and in two clean cuts opened up the left then right corners of his mouth. Snapping Jorge’s jaw was next and only then did the blade go in unimpeded and the bloody flesh come out, lain askew, discarded on the bright red ground in a scene familiar to several of the men, who in the honest parts of their lives performed similar motions a thousand times a day in the abattoirs north of the border: rendering body parts, catching the lard and the tallow, and at the end of each day, themselves being transported back across the noisy border in trucks not unlike the ones used to carry the raw materials of their labours.
He whispered to him but there was no further sound. All told he considered himself to have suffered the least of it. If Jorge wasn’t dead he would soon be and if not he would wish to be. If by some miracle Jorge lived he would never speak again. They had cut out the tongue of the writer and blinded the photographer. The rest of the matter was gratuitous, meant to terrify those who found them and then those who would hear about it, fear and paralysis multiplying like a virus. It seemed that as communicators even their murders would serve a purpose, their lives and deaths all in the service of bringing forth a message albeit a hijacked one. As far as obituaries go, the bookend to his life, strangely, would complement what he felt to be the meat of it.
Another moan and the sound of Jorge dragging his shot-up legs across the ground.
Look at the sun, Jorge. You can’t imagine how I envy you. You get to see the sun one last time. Look at it and tell me what you see. Are there clouds?
His left eye felt hot, the needle having pierced the eyeball several times as this was the first eye to be blinded and the beginning of his captor’s learning curve. Even if he lived there would be no saving it and likely it would have to be gouged out for infection. The dragging sound continued and was now somewhere left of his head.
We did ok. It’ll be alright. If we live through this. Imagine. Imagine the story. The chicas.
He chuckled a little though it sounded more like a child’s cry, and the dragging sound stopped and Jorge moaned softly again, this time something closer to a gurgling sound.
If they don’t come back we’ll be ok.
The dragging began anew and then stopped when it seemed to be coming from directly in front of his mangled, unfeeling legs. He could hear each laboured breath from Jorge now as he rested from his effort. Jorge’s hand found his and turned it over so the palm faced up. Jorge squeezed the other’s hand gently, then placed it on the open cavity of his own abdomen.
Oh. Oh, I see.
He could feel Jorge’s intestines hanging out of his body, a deep depression where they once had been. In the rational, abstracted part of his brain, it occurred to him that the viscera were almost optional, the real human starting and ending with something quite a bit less than the forms that walk and talk in the world around us. Jorge could move, think, feel, and but for his tongue would be able to speak. It all seemed hopeful this way until his hand moved further in and felt the pooling blood. And then he smelled the shit that had inevitably come from a nicked or severed intestine.
It’s ok, he said. We did ok.
He withdrew his hand from Jorge’s flesh and turned to where the light seemed brightest, toward the first parts of dawn. The sun shone pink behind his eyelids but milky as through cataracts. He touched his eyes and wondered if the chicas would prefer him to Jorge, then he thought about his work and what it meant in the end. After a while, he tried to see the details of the sun through closed lids, hovering somewhere on the horizon, pink and piercing the black of night. He wondered if there were any clouds.
Chris Chew: I am a Montreal-based technical writer who writes fiction on his phone on the bus and metro while commuting - unless there are dodgy characters about in which case I stow the phone. I live with my wife, two children, and up until recently a border collie who all are smarter than me and see me more as a cautionary tale than an inspiration. I only recently started submitting my work to journals on the suggestion of my mentor at the QWF. My wife knows me well enough to know each success only feeds my already well-developed ego but she is supportive nonetheless.
Please tell us about your interest in the short story by
(a) telling us a bit about your recent collection (e.g., how did it come about? does it have a recurring theme? do you have a particular story or passage that's a favorite?)
I'm going to have a hard time answering this one. The fact is, I don't like talking about my work, because I feel like I've said it all in the work itself -- and said it as well as I'll ever be able to say it. If I had my way, the book would probably come out without even any description or blurbs on the dust jacket.
Nevertheless, here is a description of the book that I found floating around on my computer, and which is not wholly inaccurate, I think:
Psychology and Other Stories is a novel in six parts, or a thematically linked collection of six long stories, about mental illness, mental health, and the people who try to tell the two apart.
Part I, “Reaction-Formation,” is about a boy at boarding school and his psychoanalyst, who tells him he is gay. “The Inner Life” is about an ex-lawyer who is compulsively researching Freud’s use of cocaine. In “Eat the Rich and Shit the Poor,” two runaway girls hitchhiking are picked up by a flamboyant psychopath. “Paddling an Iceberg” is the story of a self-help guru, the story of one of his pupils, a dissection of self-help literature, and an example of it. “Signal to Noise” is about a business magnate whose family conspires to have him committed to a mental hospital when he begins to grow senile. The final part, “The Blood–Brain Barrier,” is a prose screenplay about a murderer in Los Angeles and the forensic psychiatrist paid to pronounce upon his sanity in court.
(b) recommending a short story or collection by someone else that you admire (and why?)
This one is much more fun. Limiting myself to one author, I have recently discovered Marcel Aymé, whose stories have been translated into English in two collections, The Proverb and Across Paris. His stories are funny, clearly written, and use omniscience to help us see characters in all their flaws, but without looking down on them. He also wrote novels.
(c) reflecting on the 21st century and the short story: Are they a good match (and why)?
This one is a stumper. Centuries are large and heterogeneous things. It would also be hard, beyond the one built-in adjective, to make generalizations about short stories.
As long ago as 1891 John Davidson said "an author might as well offer a horse unbuttered stones as a publisher a volume of short stories." I don't think it's quite that bad, but there's no question that most
publishers prefer to put their money on novels -- readers too.
However, I recently sat on the Governor General's award jury, and of 240 books I received, at least as many of them were short story collections as mystery novels. This may have been an unrepresentative
sample, but it made me think that the short story's not quite dead -- not at the moment, not in this country.
The form that I grieve for is the novella. It's obviously silly and arbitrary to categorize stories by length (though it has the advantage of being quantifiable); nevertheless, if we agree to call any piece of fiction more than 5,000 and less than 40,000 words a novella, I can't help but wonder why more novellas aren't being written (or, possibly, published)? It's hard to believe that fictions (which comprise the universe, and all of human experience) just naturally average either twenty or 300 pages, but nothing in between. There must be some nefarious explanation. Whatever it is, it would help explain why I find most novels too long and many short stories too short: writers are writing to length.
Lily was woken at 7 am on a Saturday morning by the high-pitched squeal of metal grinding on metal. It was coming from the backyard next door and it was her next door neighbour, Ted disturbing her sleep once again. He was sharpening his garden tools. She recognized the sound which rang out through the neighbourhood every spring and every fall. This time she jumped out of bed, threw on her old blue dressing gown, ran out the back door and around the side of the house to where she could see Ted’s broad back working at one of his machines.
“What the fuck do you think you’re doing early on Saturday morning, making all that noise. You stupid asshole.”
But he didn’t hear.
She moved closer and when there was a lull in the grinding sound repeated. “What the fuck are you doing?”
He turned and looked innocently at her. She was furious. Ted, who loved ogling pretty neighbourhood women, including her daughter, sunbathing in their yards, seemed startled by her dishevelled appearance. She continued shouting.
“It’s Saturday morning you asshole. What the fuck are you doing waking everyone up. I have company too. You’ve woken everyone up. Why don’t you make all your fucking noise somewhere else and at a decent time?”
He muttered something she couldn’t quite hear but did stop the dreadful noise by shutting off his machine. Sure, she had won but what? What kind of disturbance would he make next week or the one after that?
Well she was awake and had to put up with a sleep-deprived day ahead of her. If she was lucky she might have a nap.
She had to be vigilant with Ted. Only swearing and shouting would make him stop. It was the way he lived his life with his wife, Ann who also shouted and swore, although, bless her, she never used machinery. When they weren’t fuming Lily and Bob would be amused at the exchanges they heard from next door. “Why did you put that there?” was the wife’s loud response to a shrub Ted had just planted.
“Why don’t you go fuck yourself.” Was Ted’s reply to his wife.
To her husband Ann replied, “Go fuck YOURself.”
Lily became accustomed to Teds ape-like form shuffling along the sidewalk on the other side of the hedge that separated their properties. From her kitchen window she could see him lunging past, his shirtless belly hanging down below his waist. He never wore shorts, thank God. Back and forth he went, carrying tools, plants, whatever objects Ted needed for all his hobbies. When passing by his open garage Lily saw it was piled high with work benches, drawers filled with expensive-looking wrenches and gadgets, bulky metal shapes and furniture he was working on. No expense was spared, although he boasted that a lot of stuff he was working on had been retrieved from neighbourhood trash left out for pickup.
While Ted was reasonably wary of Lily’s outbursts and would stop working, although never apologizing, Matt and his daughter Noreen, who lived on the other side of Ted’s house got a different sort of treatment. To their complaints Ted would ask them also to go fuck themselves. Noreen said once that, at times, Ted had made her father’s life a living hell. Matt was frail and sickly. Perhaps Ted saw him as easy prey, a victim. Why Lily was able to exert some authority, at least to make him stop whatever noise he was making, she did not know. Ted treated Matt and Noreen in an appalling and contemptuous manner. In the space between their houses, behind the garage, Ted had set up a workshop in which he drilled, and sanded and sharpened all manner of automobile parts, tools and furniture disturbing them from early morning to evening. No one in the neighbourhood liked him. He was not likeable. Noreen was fond of calling him a medieval peasant.
He was stupid, ignorant, racist and homophobic, once stopping Lily as she walked by to tell her he didn’t think it was right for a black man to go out with her daughter. When challenged in that instance, Ted admitted sheepishly that she might be right. To a neighbour around the corner, he referred to her son as a Nancy boy because he liked to wear a suit and tie. Once when Lily was walking over to the local school to vote she stopped to remind Ted and Ann what day it was. He said they never voted.
But perhaps the worst thing he ever uttered to Lily was when he wondered aloud why his married son wasn’t having children. “I think he’s on the wrong side when they do it or maybe they’re standing up” he said with a drunken gleam in his eye. This of his own son, his only child.
He could tell you the asking price of every for sale property in the neighbourhood, although Lily was not sure this was a redeeming quality. Neither was a bird house filled with seeds in winter that he built and set up in his backyard. This nod to nature was offset by Ted’s cat who had a favourite place to hide, close to the birdhouse where he could pounce and eat with ease.
Ted was a heavy smoker, who had diabetes and high blood pressure and never exercised. He was also a binge drinker. She had seen him on all fours on the pavement in front of his beloved garage, puking. Other times she had seen him staggering around the backyard, stepping on flowers and sideswiping bushes. When he had finished a cigarette he would flip it on the property of whichever side of the house he was on. Lily would gather them up and throw them back over on his property. He knew the neighbours as he had lived on the street for many years and when he went out for a stroll, people would exchange greetings and discuss the price of houses. Amazingly, she once saw him walking in High Park. Perhaps the doctor ordered these walks. Possibly Ted had some inkling of his own mortality.
Of course he died. He had a massive heart attack when he was 55. His wife who seemed to hate him as much as he seemed to hate her was surprisingly heart-broken. When Lily offered her condolences Ann said she wanted to join her husband in heaven because she missed him so much.
Noreen was overjoyed at the news of Ted’s death when Lily dropped by to tell her. She and her old father practically danced a jig, right there in their living room. Lily and Bob even visited the funeral home. There Ted lay, all spiffed and stiff in his coffin, looking better than he ever had on this earth, his monstrous stomach miraculously flattened. Ted had an old mother and brothers and sisters who appeared to be genuinely grieving, standing nearby.
Lily went up close to the coffin and looked carefully at his made up face. She had numerous thoughts about Ted, and tried to be positive, as befitting a dead person, but could not. Most of her images of him were bad. She thought of his beautiful garden, but reminded herself that its beauty was only achieved by loud noises and shouting matches. Still, she stopped herself before declaring him a force for evil. As she stared at his waxen visage she was startled as his right eye, the one closest to her, fluttered and popped open. The eyeball rolled around to look straight at her, the eyelid winked quickly once and then closed, returning to the face of the dead man. Did she imagine this? It happened so quickly.
Ted died in early May and all through that summer and the following spring the neighbours on both sides of Ted’s house lived in peace. There was no noise, only the sounds of rustling leaves, birdsong and cicadas in summer. They were in the city where renovations do go on and they knew to expect some disturbances in fine weather, but there were none that year. Lily, Bob, Noreen and Matt reclined in lawn chairs that summer, relaxing with books, newspapers and cooling drinks.
But one year to the day of Ted’s death the neighbourhood erupted in noise and commotion many times worse that what Ted was able to produce in his home workshops. In February Ted’s house had been sold by his grieving widow who found she couldn’t go on living surrounded by painful memories of her late husband. Because it was a bungalow and in an up and coming neighbourhood, the new owners, developers who hoped to make money, decided to add a second storey. The house directly behind Lily’s had also been sold; now the new owners were armed with all the city permits needed for a swimming pool. Across from Lily a very small house had been sold and demolished and, after going through a series of hearings at the local committee of adjustments, an architect had begun construction on his grand vision. On the other side of Lily’s a run-down garage was being replaced and two doors down a wide lot had been subdivided and two new houses were being built.
It wasn’t even safe to go up to Bloor Street as the city had decided this was the year to rebuild that section of the main street.
Lily could not go out to rant and swear at all these people. She would never be heard in the din. She remembered that fateful wink. Ted was getting his revenge.
Lynda Curnoe enjoys writing short stories. She is also a poet.
This mad fucker rolled by him real fast, which was stupid, because he
was carrying an ice cream cone and he almost dropped it. His mother
would have been pissed. He would have dropped it right on his shirt. Why
would that be his fault anyways?
Stupid. But he licked the purple ice cream quickly, in case there
were other skateboarders on the way. In fact, never mind. He sat down on
the curb to eat it. Who cares?
His father was walking up the street. Oh no. He was late. Wait, his
father would be by him soon. What kind of place is this where a man
wears a dark suit like that here in the suburbs on a sunny day.
Question? No. A statement. But you don’t need a black suit, that’s for
sure. An ice cream cone is what you need. Purple. That big book his dad
reads while he chuckles madly to himself. Never mind. Get ready.
Who is that coming out of the door? Oh Christ, it’s that dumb old
lady from church. His dad would stand and talk to her, though Ronny
heard every Sunday evening that she was a hypocrite. He heard it through
the walls, along with stuff like take that hat off. It’s inappropriate.
And so on. Why? Not in this setting.
There was a lot he wanted explained.
"Hello Mr. Wilson," the old hypocrite said. Ronny licked the ice cream and watched his dad’s moustache.
"Good afternoon, Minnie," his father said. "I am just walking home
by my son on the sidewalk. He’s enjoying this purple cone while sitting
on the curb."
"Of course," she said. "Now listen. We have to get a few things straight here."
"Absolutely, straight is the best way, I am sure," he said. He
needed moustache wax or something. Ronny saw old guys in cartoons with
sharp-ended moustaches big as some kind of wild animal’s horns. Instead,
his dad wore a new-fashioned moustache that was shaped like a broom.
Sometimes when he laughed it looked like his teeth hung directly from
the moustache. Now that is cartoony in a bad way.
It appears he has no lips at all. Ronny shook his head sadly and
imprinted his own cold lips on the purple cone. Who invented purple?
Some people would call it pink but he knows it’s purple. Some people
His dad was going on and on. They would both be late. But at least
on the car ride over, his father would tell stories about the sorry old
bitch he was jabbering to now.
"Listen, Ronny. Do you hear what Ms. Smith is saying?"
The old woman shaking her head, tsking, tsking.
"It’s not really the sort of thing you tell a boy, Mr. Wilson."
The big toothy smile opened up under the moustache and his dad said
"Oh, that’s my mistake then. He’s right here after all, a part of this
very environment. If I were to describe him I would say he fits in quite
nicely. A boy with an ice cream cone sitting on the curb while his
elegantly dressed father speaks to one of the elderly ladies from
The old lady with her old dress and her big dumb nose just stared at his father. Ha.
"Yes. I suppose you’re right. An intervention is not best subject for a boy. Drugs, right?"
"Booze," she said.
There is a lot of stuff that is bad but booze is the worst.
Sometimes the kids that make him smoke are drunk. Sometimes they must
be. You see it on TV. Sometimes he hears about the booze through walls.
Wait a minute.
He stood up off the curb and stepped close to his father. With his
coneless hand he reached for his father’s free hand. Wait a minute. A
quick lick of the ice cream before his father leaned down. If he did. He
He leans down to kiss him on the top of the head when he’s been
drinking. That’s the booze alright. He can smell it. Step a little
closer you old hag. Why can’t a man enjoy a drink with his friends, and
so on. The bottle, his old aunt called it. But she lived in a different
province or state. Here they call it booze.
He kept missing pieces of the conversation. But this is good ice
cream. Glad to get the waffle cone too. Old cones are stupid; they only
get their flavor from the ice cream. This is from the cone itself.
Waffle. Not really waffle but still. Waffle.
"Hey buddy, this nice church lady is coming over to our house tonight."
"What?" said the boy.
"Mizz Smith," his dad said. "Mizz Smith is coming to our house."
Both those characters stared at each other not saying anything. Can
the booze just hit a man like that all of a sudden? The old woman wasn’t
wearing anything on her feet. That’s odd. But, odder still is the look
on her face. That’s right. He had two more bites left on his cone.
That’s right, my dad is on the booze. He’s tied one on after work, I
guess. Now mom will have to drive—
"Aren’t we going out to the Mediterranean Inn tonight?"
"Oh no," his father said, rubbing the top of the boy’s head. "Oh no.
Your mother has invited this fine woman over for the evening. We musn’t
be going to that local pizza place tonight after all."
The teeth under the moustache get bigger and bigger. But that’s
right, Mizz something—Smith—you keep screwing your mouth up like that.
No lips on her, either, just a colorless hole like the one under the
The cat at her feet. Get the cat back in the house Mizz.
She didn’t notice anything. She leaned ahead and hissed in his father’s ear.
"Oh fuck. Just for your years of service then, sure," he said and
hugged her in his arms. The purple cone was all gone as the old lady’s
face went blank and white.
Oh Jesus, the booze. It was alright. It’s the booze never mind. No problem.
"I am so tired," his father said, and took his jacket off. "It’s the sun."
Well, it is inappropriate to wear all that black in the sun. It’s
not right. Not walking home like that. Where’s the car? How could they
go to the pizza place anyway? Where’s the car?
That mad fucker made him sit down on the curb with his ice cream
because you don’t want that purple on your shirt when you’re going out
to dinner. Your mother might not be as nice as your dad.
"Let’s have the intervention right here," his dad said.
Not here. Where is here? Only two blocks from their house. Let’s go home.
"Yup. That’s a great idea," his father said. He kicked his shoes off
and stepped onto the lawn in his socks.
Then he sat down and took his
socks off. He didn’t want to get back up. Ronny sat beside him and the
nosey old bitch’s cat came to lick his fingers.
"I don’t want to stand up," his father said. Leaning back to stretch
fully out. He stared at the sky. Ronny did too, but the old woman was
on the phone. Soon his dad was snoring and Ronny was lying on the ground
looking up at the clouds. There were only two and you can’t say they
were any shape at all. One of them wanted to be a square and one of them
wanted to be a circle; neither of them wanted to be a duck or a horse.
Mizz whatever, did she? She must have thought his eyes were closed.
She must have thought she was wearing something under her skirt, who
knows? The older boys who make Ronny smoke talk about things but this
can’t be the thing they talk about. Why did she have to walk over him.
Never mind. She was in her house.
This nervous guy who plays with his watch at the back of the church
drove up in a wine-colored Lincoln. He honked the horn and his sleeping
father woke up. When he saw the car he smiled and had a burst of energy.
"You want to sit in the front, Ronny?"
Not really no he didn’t. It’s hot and the seats are always heated.
Why can’t you turn the seats off? Why can’t you turn the heat off? His
father started snoring in the back seat.
"Let’s go get some pizza you mad fucker!" Ronny yelled. "Let’s get my mom."
The man said don’t say fucker and also Ronny’s mom didn’t want
pizza. But we’re all going to get some coffee and some pizza, sure. Why
Was it the last straw? Ronny asked the man. Was his sorry ass out of here? Was it high time he stopped fucking up?
The man stared straight ahead and handed Ronny a piece of gum. It
was mint. Who wants minty gum? Grown ups like old-fashioned flavors, not
stuff that makes your tongue purple.
But doesn’t he love her? Isn’t it going to get better? Ronny wanted
to ask. What about the things he can’t hear? What about the way they
come out in the morning with red eyes and embarrassed smiles, making
pancakes for him even though he already had toast? What about the
cartoons he watches while they smile for some reason across him?
His father and mother always agree those hypocrites don’t know a
thing about love. What about all the windows being open and the air
being fresh as hell while his father stands bare-chested in the kitchen,
smiling in the morning?
Sean Johnston 's latest book is The Ditch Was Lit Like This (Thistledown 2011). "How Blue" was longlisted in last year's CBC Literary Awards and he won a ReLit Award in 2003 for A Day Does Not Go By (Nightwood 2002). Gaspereau Press will publish his western novel, Listen All You Bullets, next year. He teaches at Okanagan College in Kelowna, but is currently on leave to work on a new novel. You can find him at www.seanjohnston.ca.
It was late Sunday afternoon, and the yard sale had been going on for
two consecutive weekends. A man in salmon-colored shorts with pleats
and cuffs said, "Is this all that’s left? It looks like nothing but
A woman sitting on a plastic stool said, "There’s that," pointing to
some kind of exercise machine that consisted of a seat, handlebars,
pedals, and a giant front wheel. It had a sign on it that said $20. "And
there’s a table back there, and all the books that are on it," she
The man went to have a look at the table and the books. In the grass
next to the table he saw a black rectangular case with two silver clasps
and a handle. It looks like a trumpet case he thought to himself. He
picked up the case, laid it on the table and opened the lid. Very likely
it held a trumpet at one time, but the inserts had been ripped out, and
inside the case now was a large pink rubber dildo. He stared at the
dildo briefly. It was not wrapped in packaging of any sort, but it
looked brand new. He glanced over his shoulder at the woman sitting on
the plastic stool. She was not paying attention to him. He closed the
lid, fastened the snaps, and carried the case over to where the woman
was sitting. "I found this old trumpet," he said, "but there’s no price
on it. How much?"
"I don’t know anything about that," she said. "People just drop
things off here all day long. How about, I don’t know, five dollars?"
"Sounds fair to me," he said.
The man lived in a quiet neighborhood in a small town. By 10pm the
streets around him were usually deserted. Carrying the trumpet case, he
left his house by the back door, walked out his driveway in the dark,
and turned onto the street. A few houses up and on the other side lived
the mayor of the town. In front of the mayor’s house was a statue of St.
Francis with his arms extended in front of him, palms upward. The
shallow recesses of the palms were probably meant to hold bird seed or a
small amount of water, so that it would appear that the birds were
seeking care and nourishment from the hands of the saint. The small
upturned palms were dry and empty. The man placed the pink dildo across
St. Francis’s palms. The dildo was large and drooped down a bit at both
The man returned home and listened to music until he fell asleep.
What he listened to was a CD of short pieces by the English composer
Henry Purcell. He listened to O Solitude over and over, for all he
really wanted was to be left alone and not bothered by other people.
Bill Dunlap paints mostly, but also writes occasionally. You can see more here: www.billdunlap.com
Lucky’s girlfriend left him this morning with a broken heart and a hair straightener. I light a pan flute of cigarettes as I roll into his driveway. Lucky’s an Irish artist studying history at McGill. Infertile Chinese surgeons adopted him from Ireland and their other adopted kids started calling him “Lucky” after the cereal instead of his real first name, Kelly. Lucky doesn’t care, because he says Kelly’s a chicks name and Lucky is a great pickup line. “Girls are always after me lucky charms,” he says. “They can’t wait to get lucky, if you know what I’m saying.”
This was before Karen, the now ex love-of-his-life. Karen’s a real natural disaster. Karen, the hot mess express. Heroin Karoin. How-ya-faren-Karen. Karen ballerina-pointe toed the line between junkie and glamour. She had scar where Marilyn Munro’s birthmark would be from when she burnt herself with a cigarette. She had to get a nose job from doing too much coke. She was vain to the point where it was almost a physical handicap. She would spend hours straightening her hair so long and golden it looked as if it was spun by Rumpletsiltskein himself, and then she’d go make soup and forget she left the stove on. She was almost always dying. Lucky and I would find her in the bath after doing angel dust, looking like a mermaid in polluted waters. She’d get stoned and watch movies; trying to hold her breath the whole time characters were underwater. She almost suffocated during Finding Nemo.
Lucky and Léo are in the kitchen. Léo’s the kind of guy to call in situations like this. He was named after the guy who wrote War & Peace, so he knows his shit. Léo’s a certified drug lord with connections to the Montréal mafia, using his drug lordship to finance law school. He’s a human vending machine for recreational narcotics and what Michael Jackson would describe as a smooth criminal. He’s using the hair straightener Karen left behind to make bacon.
“Karen ran off with some med school wanker,” Lucky says, burning his cigarette right into the table.
“Fuck no,” I mumble. I realize I’m still wearing my t-shirt from the night before, a present from Karen that reads It’s my Duty to Please that Booty. Léo shakes his head, peeling the bacon off the grill. I sit down at the table beside him.
Lucky puts his head in his hands. “All the signs were right there and I just ignored them. I kept making excuses for her, you know?” I nod even though I can’t see him and I don’t know. “She did a ‘juice cleanse’. And then she kept buying shit from Ikea. Like, flowerpots and bathmats and shit. Like, married people shit. She started taking up yoga.”
“Isn’t yoga a character from Star Wars?” I ask.
“That’s Yoda,” says Léo. “Lucky, you couldn’t have seen this coming. Some people just throw their lives away. You two had a really good thing going.” Lucky pours himself a glass of whiskey and he pours me one too. All Lucky’s glasses have been stolen from bars. Léo drinks red wine because he’s a man of class.
“I’m sure it’s just a phase,” I say. “Everyone goes through that rebellious shit, right?”
“What am I going to do without her?” Lucky moans. “I’ve got her name tattooed on my arse, bro. I can’t believe she’d just leave me like this. What we had was so real.” Lucky finishes his whiskey and pours himself another glass.
Karen’s dad is a tattoo artist with rumoured Hells Angels connections. He walked in on Lucky and Karen fucking once. He famously said, ‘You like my daughter enough to fuck her? Do you like her enough to get her name tattooed on your ass?’ Normal guy would’ve backed off but Lucky was batshit crazy for Karen. ‘I’m gonna ask him to let me marry her one day,’ he said. ‘How can he turn down the guy who’s got her name tattooed on his ass?’
“Now she’s dating some guy who plays golf and is a med intern at a children’s hospital. She’s moving to Ottawa. Karen! In Ottawa! Can you imagine?” Léo and I shake our heads. “She’s not even using anymore. She started taking vitamin supplements and stopped taking prescription pills. And those are good for you!” During exams you could always find Karen chewing Ritalin like gum. She would be doing lines of Adderall off her laptop in the library. She would put her notes in a crack pipe and smoke them. She would be hooked up to an IV drip of coffee, redbull and vodka.
Karen wanted to be a musician, but she was in English. I wanted to be a writer, but I was in physics. I haven’t enjoyed writing for school since I got in trouble for writing a book report on Steven King’s Pet Cemetery in the fifth grade. Karen and I would sit on my teeny tiny balcony and call out walks of shame with a megaphone until Lucky would come in and scream at us to shut the hell up, we were making a racket. I can’t believe Karen would just pack up and leave.
“What’s her dad going to say?” I can picture Becky, Karen’s mom, purring with happiness. She’s a business exec who always has traces of purple lipstick on her teeth. Karen’s dad is in jail, but I can picture him discussing the scandal with his drug dealer and everyone assuring him it’s “just a phase.”
“She called her dad, apparently,” Lucky says. “She left me a note. Two years together and all I get is a fucking note.”
“This festering isn’t healthy,” Léo says. Léo is the kind of guy who can say words like “festering” outside of essays without getting shot.
“Do you want to go to the strip club?” I ask. “I think Kimono’s working tonight.” Strippers belong in medical journals as a cure for broken hearted depression.
“It’s Wednesday, so it’s Mercedes,” says Lucky. “Remember that time Karen and Mercedes made out? I don’t. Got a picture of it tough. It was the background on my computer for awhile.”
Karen and I had sex once. It was after Lucky and her finished their final exam. Lucky drank too much and passed out before we even left for the bar, so Karen and I stayed out all night blowing our trust funds on champagne and doing coke in adjacent stalls in the women’s washroom. I ate a tube of her lipstick before I drunk drove us home. That isn’t a trick, or anything. It was just the kind of logic we had: if the cops pulled us over the breathalyser would just pick up lipstick. Then we were still too psyched up to go to bed so we danced around my apartment drinking rosé before we had sex. She was mad at me the next day for eating a thirty-dollar lipstick. Who pays thirty dollars for a fancy crayon for your face? I completely forgot about my calculus exam that morning so I slept through it. But I emailed my professor and told him I mixed up the dates so he let me write it on Monday instead. I was too hopped up on meth amphetamines to really care.
Lucky wipes his face with the back of his hand. “Fuck it. Let’s go. I think Steve and Tyler want to go out tonight anyway. Or whatever.”
I stand up. “Bathroom break, bro.” I don’t really have go to the bathroom. But I do have a couple pills to take that I don’t want to share and maybe try to grab a pair of Karen’s panties. I go to the bathroom and take my pills before I see a piece of paper with water splatter patterns on it. Like a crime scene where Karen metaphorically slashed Lucky’s heart open and you can see where all the metaphorical blood landed, but it’s tears. Wow, you’re high as fick. I say. You’re talking to yourself again, I add in a chiding voice.
I glance at Karen’s note. A lot of stuff about how its “what she wants” and how its “best they don’t talk.” This is the kind of bullshit Lucky should roll up and smoke. I can’t believe Karen doesn’t want this life. This is the good life. We study and plagiarize essays during the day and imbibe narcotics at night to obliterate the damning shame of our overwhelming guilt, waking up too hung over to care. We have fun. We are the result of the nuclear family exploding. We are the result of those who struck gold. We are the future.
Hailey Wendling is a writer, rock star and scholar living hard in downtown Montreal, where she studies English Literature and performs stand up comedy.
Maybe you should be taking me to the vet too Ralph had joke that morning while trying to swallow the quarter-sized pills. One shot and it’d all be over.
She told him to keep his voice down that their son Joseph might hear.
Growth and decay. Only 14 in dog years but their golden retriever Alice Munroe had turned into a centenarian with her inability to stand up and even walk a few steps.
Now Ralph’s been dead for more than a year. She tries not to picture what he’d look like. Too much darkness, too much moisture. For her son Joseph, just the opposite, too much sun, too much dangerous light, his pale complexion soaking up the cancerous UV rays. She wouldn’t allow him to go anywhere without a hat and layers of sun screen.
The seasons were mixed up too with temperatures fluctuating wildly; spring-like days in the middle of winter, below freezing temperatures in late summer. Her calendar seemed off so she tried the Farmers’ Almanac, other indicators. Nothing quite predicted the rapid changes. And always the sun, no matter how cold, and her son, no matter how tired she felt.
One night she dreamt that Ralph chewed on one of Alice Munroe’s legs to feed his stomach cancer while the dog licked his face, blood everywhere. When she woke up she had twisted the blankets around so it felt like she’d been engulfed in a body, a twisted, maimed body.
Her psychiatrist told her to write down her dreams. So she did and would dutifully bring in the small notebook once a week and they’d talk about them. He didn’t comment on the dreams about Ralph. Instead, he paid the most attention to when she’d dream about buying new lingerie or a red party dress or having her hair done as a blonde.
So it didn’t really surprise her when he stopped setting up appointments with her and instead asked her out. He didn’t drive so she’d drive them to restaurants and movies and back to her place where he’d stay the night and sometimes the entire weekend.
It felt strange to have him sit beside her in the car because when Ralph was alive he did all the driving and when it was just her and Joseph, he liked to sit in the back and play his Nintendo games. Only Alice Munroe had sat there in the front with her when she drove and so he seemed like a dog next to her in his brown walking shorts, his small hairy legs trembling like Alice Munroe’s had in her final years and his hand sometimes aggressively in between her legs, feeling the smoothness of the silk stockings he insisted she buy.
Soon after she began dating the psychiatrist, Joseph began to have nightmares and wet his bed. The entire house seemed to smell of urine as if he was marking his territory. She tried everything to get rid of the odour, bleaching the floors, burning incense and even in the middle of winter, leaving the windows open.
She remembered how once in late October there’d been a snow storm and she looked out the kitchen window and her son and her husband had built a small wet snowman meant to look like her, a big empty hole in its side where its wooden heart had fallen out.
There were two shifts at the clinic, a day shift and a night shift.
On the day shift were Grace and Reggie and Olympia. Grace had worked there the longest but never made mention of the fact; she was known for never having a hard word for anybody. She was always asking after the patients’ families, always remembered the name of every child and grandchild, and Reggie often joked about her perfect memory in that way of his. Olympia was the quietest of the three but she had the most energy, had to be told when to take a break.
On the night shift was an amorphous, gelatinous-looking blob that could raise itself to the ceiling or slink through the lowest crevice. It did not have a name.
Word came down, not altogether directly, from the City Health Office: in recognizing the surplus of clinics within the municipality, and in the interests of tightening the fiscal belts (just like everybody else had to), the clinic would be closing in three months. “I’ve been coming here for my pills for twenty-six, no, twenty-seven years,” said Mrs. Underwood in a voice neither exactly angry nor exactly sad, and had a quiet but fatal coronary right in front of a horrified Reggie, who had to be sent home for a few days.
I was the only one who consoled the blob, if consolation it may be called. Some years ago (though not nearly as long as Mrs. Underwood had been coming for her pills), it had enslaved my mind and I was utterly at its bidding on any night it chose. The phone would ring, I would answer, there would be no one on the other line, and I would know.
With two months to go before the closure, Olympia had a breakdown. At first she fell into an even deeper silence than usual, to the point that even recalcitrant folks tried cajoling her, but ultimately she exploded with a low howling. For over an hour she sat shaking in a chair dragged into the broom closet for the purpose, and the sound of her shook everyone. “Poor girl, this job may be all she has,” said Grace.
The doors to the Director’s house were locked but the windows weren’t. It is hard to say which one of us found the other first. “Are you sure that’s a real gun?” he asked. “There’s a sure way to make sure,” I answered, precisely as the nocturnal blob had instructed.
After the news broke the next day, it was all Reggie could talk about. He tried to insinuate that Grace was probably the kidnapper: it was obvious that she was a criminal mastermind, nobody ought to cross her, only the first step in a scheme. The investigating officers both told him not to make light of the matter.
The motel room in which the trussed Director of the City Health Office spent the next six days and nights was dingy enough to set a definite mood. I only left him to get food or, a couple of times, to meet up with the blob at the clinic. I noticed the usually translucent pink surface of my mind’s master was clouding, greying, perhaps the result of stress. The Director declined to negotiate. “Just say you’ve reconsidered the distribution of health services, or recalculated the budget,” I soothingly suggested. “Never,” he answered.
There was less than a week left before the clinic’s last day. Olympia emitted sudden but short howls from time to time and avoided extended discussions of any kind. When Grace inquired how Olympia’s mother was doing, shrieking laughter came as the reply. “There’s nothing funny about your mother,” Reggie remarked, and altogether accidentally admitted that he had been having a semi-torrid affair with Olympia’s mother for nearly a year. Grace slapped him, aiming for the face but hitting his left ear with her wedding ring, drawing blood.
The Director said he was getting tired of fast food. “I have a delicately poised digestive system,” he said. “Everybody says so.” Because I had no holidays owed me, I figured by now my job at the air control tower was probably gone. There was this game we used to play with newbies: we’d all talk about this plane that wasn’t there, we’d have worked out its ID and flight plan beforehand and of course totally freak out the newbie. “But one time,” I told the Director, “there was this new guy in the tower named Zachary, and when we pulled this one on Zachary, he didn’t freak out at all but instead called out that he had it, meaning he had it on his system and was going to guide this nonexistent plane from Bolivia or Madagascar or somewhere. Zachary was certainly one of the strangest guys I’ve ever met.” After a few bites of hours-old burrito, the Director asked me what happened. I didn’t understand. “What happened to Zachary?” the Director wanted to know.
Grace did not return to the clinic. She and her husband put up their house for sale the day before the clinic was to close, the same day that Reggie told Olympia that he had broken off with her mother and sincerely hoped that they might remain friends. A man dressed in pyjamas and a raincoat spoiled the moment by trying to shoplift thirty bottles of cough syrup.
The blob summoned me just before midnight. It was grey and mottled, stiffer in its movements. I began to cry, perhaps fearful of freedom, but was rebuffed: I was to build an exact replica of the clinic, as quickly as possible but without skimping a jot on accuracy, on the far outskirts of the city, behind the dump. The fruitlessness of the endeavour obvious to me, I agreed, and I think I would have agreed even if I could have resisted.
Tim Conley’s short fiction, poetry, essays, reviews, and translations have appeared in journals in eight countries. His most recent books are the poetry collection One False Move (Quattro Books, 2012) and the anthology Burning City: Poems of Metropolitan Modernity (co-edited with Jed Rasula; Action Books, 2012). He teaches English and Comparative Literature at Brock University.
When I got the news my Grandpa Hank died, I was pissing on a pregnancy stick.
It was my fifth test in the past six months; Emry was a good fuck but he never knew when to pull out. The morning-after pill had been my saving grace, but this time I wasn’t so sure. I’d spent the past week in my apartment by the Byward Market puking cheerios and calling in sick at work; an outsider in my own body. Emry thought I was just sick from stress, mentioned that he thought my “family issues” were making me a wreck. I hated that degree of honesty.
We started fucking in grade twelve after being partnered for a chem project. (I fell in love with him around two years later, but I’ve never told him that.) He was a hard worker – lived up on the Native Reserve by Pembroke; came to see me on weekends after my shifts clearing tables at Carmello’s, the ritzy Italian bistro on Sparks Street. He was tanned and sexy and quiet and all he wanted was my body and the free wine and eggplant parm I brought home with me. We were comfortable. Mornings after, sometimes we’d sit up in bed and have coffee before he left. “Nonnie,” he’d say staring back at me in my bed through the dresser mirror. “Have a good day Kid.” Maybe it was weird he stilled called me Kid; he started that because I was only five-foot one in high school. But the way he said my name, “Nonnie,” was an ‘I love you’ in itself in my ears. And I knew more about him than anyone. He had a birthmark under his left ass cheek, he took his coffee black and he had a scar under his left eye from a bar brawl last year. I knew he didn’t keep in touch with anyone from high school except me, and we were old friends having sex– that’s all. I knew I didn’t want to have his baby but still, the idea of a little boy or girl with his almond eyes and raspy voice, asking me questions like mommy where does snow come from? Or why is the sky blue? didn’t seem so awful.
It’s what family’s do; shrink and grow.
My Grandpa Hank was eighty-nine, in his last stage of chemo, smoked for over half his life. Mom was living at his bedside at Queensway hospital. We all knew this was the end. My Grandma Moses was already dead before Maude and I were born and Mom was an only child, so it was my duty to drive Princess, my beat up 2003 Grand Caravan, to pick up my sister, Maude, and go to Grandpa Hank’s lake house outside Killarney to bring back what my mom vaguely referred to as “the box” as carefully instructed in Grandpa Hank’s will. My Grandpa Hank had been living in a full care retirement home in Ottawa since they put in his pacemaker, hooked him up to an oxygen tank. It had been years since he’d truly been home. Mom didn’t want us around to him all withered and sick and dying. I never visited much. I’d wait outside the door for my mom to come out weepy and sick, her toned yoga body sallow. I had always greeted her with lemon tea and the most pathetic smile was all I could muster up. I hadn’t said bye to her before I left – I had been too pissed, too scared. I hadn’t showered; I just locked up my place and drove along the ice-trimmed freeway wishing Emry had called me back.
The lake house was a 4-hour drive from St Angela’s Prep in North Bay, Maude’s snotty-ass all-girls boarding school. It had taken me 68 litres of gas, 4 litres of Schweppes ginger-ale and 4 flip-over’s of my Fleetwood Mac tape to get there. It would be the most time Maude and I had spent together since she came home last Christmas. When I pulled into St. Angela’s roundabout driveway, dozens of angst-ridden gangly teenage girls in uniforms looked me up and down, mostly fixated on the pile of blonde dreadlocks on top of my head, tied up by a bandana that said “muck fundays” between the folds. Eyes darted when they were in gaze of my eyes, which where buried by dark circles. I was so fucking tired. I got out and greeted my little sister. Maude was a clone of the rest of her friends – knee-high stockings, plaid skirt with the hem up as high as possible, heavy eye make-up. She’d dyed her blonde hair auburn, which seemed to make her hazel eyes louder somehow and her freckles darker. No small talk, just awkward close-mouthed smiles and a leaning one-armed hug. It took eight trips to get out of her dorm, including lugging the personalized logo luggage (MA – Maude Andrews) on the handles. Her dorm-mother, a fat woman with whiskers, waited at the bottom of the spiralled fire-escape stairs while her friends all stood outside in an army of plaid; kissing her goodbye, saying sorry about your grandpa and love you Maudey-bear and text me sweetie.
My sister was skeletal in appearance, a half-ass recovery from an eating disorder last summer. But she had fluctuated weight ever since we were little and our parents split up. Her anxious months left her a dead autumn tree, wilted naked and ready to cave in on itself. Her good months she would pay more attention, eat her meals, get outside for fresh air – a Maude in full bloom. I liked comparing Maude to a tree because no matter how many changes a tree underwent on the outside, its insides were still full of sweetness. There was always life inside. Well that’s the Maude I remember, before we both grew up.
Maude got in the van and sat in the back with all her suitcases, lying sideways, headphones on, eyes closed. Hours passed in silence. She was either in shock we were together, or she was sleeping - maybe she even died back there and I was staring at her skinny corpse. The leaves were all tinted silver by the sun and they were bright; leaves red as blood. It felt morbid while we drove, beautiful but so stale. Every so often I glanced down at my big-ass Nokia phone, which was wedged between my thighs so I could keep both hands on the wheel.
Grandpa Hank was dying. It was Wednesday November 14th and I was 9 days late.
I called Emry. No answer.
We drove west for two hours before I pulled over at a Chilli’s bar and grill outside Lake Nippissing and lied to Maude that I was starving. She woke up confused for a moment, a look of indifference plastered on her face. “That’s fine, I really have to pee.” She ran into the restaurant.
Those were the first words she’d spoken to me all afternoon. I rifled through my shit in the trunk until I found that stupid pregnancy test. Better late than never, and I shoved it in my bag. Chilli’s was a classy place, it had elevator jazz playing, “first date platters” on the menu and obnoxiously dim lighting because that was scientifically proven to make you hungrier. Test that theory on Maude motherfuckers. There were tons of obese mothers feeding their obese children, plates and plates of golden brown, oily food. There were 14-year-old waitresses, braces glinting in the cheap fluorescents tripping over each other in the narrow hallways. We got a booth, ordered, went to the bathroom.
Maude tightened her neck muscles and veins popped out of her like skinny snakes in some kind of sick migration. She fiddled with the straps on her Levi overalls that she had changed into sometime in between naps. She wore them tucked into high lace-trim socks and a high-neckline blouse underneath. That girl was way before her time. She had her oversized Hugo Boss glasses resting on her forehead even though they were prescription and helped her read.
My phone vibrated.
“God, why is my Mom calling me right now?” I said dropping my Nokia with disgust, sliding it under the bathroom stall.
Stone-face Maude was shaking in her boots on the other side of the stall securing the door for me. (What kind of people spent time busting off the locks of public washrooms?) I pulled my sweatpants down, fruit of the loom underwear inside them. Through the crack of the stall, I could see Maude press her tiny figure against it, I looked down and I saw her ankles and then one hand scoop up my neon orange Nokia. Reliable shit, those brick phones.
Maude told mom we’re both fine, grabbing lunch.
More like, I was grabbing lunch. Picking apart the carrots in a salad that had the least amount of dressing on them and three refills of diet coke was not a meal. My sister was a crumbivore and she nibbled her food like it was poison. Maude made a few “mmhm” murmurs and I could see her shifting the weight of her feet in her brown uggs under the door.
Something about having Evelyn Andrews, my ex-pageant queen mother, the delicate little mouse she was, on the other line was so, so, so sick as I tore open the First Response box. Nonnie, this is the place you’ll find out if you’re a mom. This is what you’ll remember. And your mom is at her sick dad’s bedside on the other line. Yeah, Nonnie, go fuck yourself.
Then I heard Maude crying.
I waited, said nothing.
She cried harder.
Still, I waited, shook out the stick.
“Nonnie,” Maude said, “Mom says Grandpa’s gone.”
We didn’t finish our food, paid, drove. I glued my eyes to the yellow lines of pavement ahead and tried not to think of Grandpa Hank exhaling for the last time, monitor resounding into a sharp harmonic frenzy. I needed air. We got out somewhere outside Killarney Lake and the leaves were so tinted by fall air; we could have been in candy land. It wasn’t the usual yellow, orange, and red, there were pinks and violets and mahoganies. The sky cast my skin grey, matching Maude, through the car windows with pools of light bringing out flecks of freckles on our skin. The water was mirror-glass, still and perfect. We took turns monitoring for hikers or wild animals, pulling down our pants behind a thick-trunk maple with golden leaves. We were like dogs marking our territory. More like lone wolves. The final stretch was a series of winding roads, gravel. Even Princess stalled over the hills with bad nerves. Maude sat in the front this time and gnawed at her nails; playing “Bleeding Love” on repeat the whole way there. Her grieving process needed work.
The lake house was different than I remembered it. I knew it was partially because the entire drive had been spent in silence and I had been trying too hard to picture every inch of the property the exact way we had left it. Last time Maude and I went up here to visit Grandpa Hank was when I was thirteen. When we rolled up to the green picket fence that I always remembered being blue, I learned the difference six years could make. The house itself sat crooked, the entire patchwork roof slanting to the right. Like how a sunflower bends to the sun, it bowed toward the water. The grey paint was greyer somehow and the porch was all buried in leaves, no wood in sight. Branches flooded the lawn. There must have been a storm not too long ago.
“Where’s the bird-feeder?” Maude’s voice cracked as she searched the perimeter of rosemary bushes lining the property.
We lived here an entire summer with Grandpa Hank when my dad left my mom and all she could do was slave away in her real estate office during the day and drink chardonnay in bed at night. We’d built Grandpa a feeder for hummingbirds because when he told us their wings flapped 90 times a second we hadn’t believed him.
“It’s long gone Maude.”
But I could still see Grandpa Hank slamming the porch door and walking down to us girls, in our one piece bathing suits and denim shorts giggling as the tiny birds buzzed like bugs and circled around the wad of honey on the round red disk we hung off of Maude’s skipping rope. He said I told you so. I remember how tall and wise he looked in his overalls and white beard and circular clip-on sunglasses. But I started missing my Grandpa a long time ago. He’d been senile, shrivelled and deaf since he moved to Ottawa, and I made a pact to myself to preserve his memory as he was; a man who read Hemingway for fun and smoked a pack of camels a day and even let me have a puff of one when I was seven and curious. I choked and dove into the lake and gratefully swallowed the freshwater. Turn me off of tobacco for life. Emry smoked. But sometimes I liked how his mouth tasted ashy, kind of like bark and salt.
I tried him on his cell. No answer. My stomach suddenly flipped. I ran to the edge of the dock and vomited french fries into the water, watching the starchy clumps disappear in the black water. I felt Maude’s eyes on me as my stomach tightened and wretched and gurgled.
“Nonnie,” her voice wavered and I figured it wasn’t from the minus-five weather. “I’m going to get us some rakes from the shed.”
I didn’t look up to see if she ran off but I heard the sound of leaves crunch.
We raked Grandpa Hank’s property, the whole half-acre. My fingers turned white it was so cold and I felt like such a dumbass for not bringing any mitts. My denim jacket wasn’t cutting it either and it was five years old and from the Gap so it wasn’t like I could use the “sacrifice fashion for comfort” excuse. Maude raked with a vengeance for those leaves in tiny angry strokes that left treads in the fresh mud. When both our cheeks were nearly purple, and every leaf was stowed away in the forest perimeter, I convinced Maude to come inside and make tea with me. We kept our duffel bags inside Princess; neither of us felt at home without Grandpa Hank’s Santa Clause chuckle and even the smell of peppermint aftershave no longer wafted through the house. Mom had been up just after Thanksgiving to turn off the water for the wintertime, so we had to use water bottles from the car to fill the stovetop kettle. There was still the same stock of Tazo Awake tea Grandpa had gotten as a gift from Mom and he’d laughed and called it “trendy.” Maude’s hands were twitching with cold and her lips were blue. She sipped her clear tea.
“So did you get the box yet?” she said her eyes wondering upwards to the open loft framed by wooden railings. It was a one bedroom. The box had to be up there.
“No, I'll go take a look.” I didn’t realize the stairs were warning me with their shrill creaks. Most of Grandpa’s stuff - his clothes and bedding and picture frames and retro car figurines were moved to the care-home with him. Only one cardboard box remained by the windowsill. This must be it. Inside saw a jar the shade of old pennies, bay leaves engraved up and down the sides. I yelled fuck at the top of my lungs. It was an urn.
“Nonnie?” Maude ran upstairs, and I jumped when I felt her icy hand on my shoulder.
The urn had Elizabeth Moses engraved around the rim of the copper lid.
I called my mom, barely waiting for her to pick up.
“She was here this whole time??” I was screaming.
Grandpa Hank’s funeral was on Friday and mom sounded like she hadn’t slept at all.
“I’m sorry; I should’ve told you girls. I just thought, maybe you wouldn’t go if you knew about Grandma being there, and it’s what he wanted. He wanted them to be celebrated together. I had no idea he’d had her there with him until a couple of weeks ago. He said he’d scattered her in the lake years ago. Guess he never could part with her.”
“Over a decade after? That’s the most –“
“-Nonnie, it’s what they both wanted. My parents loved each other more than –“
I hung up. Maude had the urn at the kitchen table in her lap. Her nostalgia sickened me a little. We hadn’t even known her. It was a false nostalgia; a lament for the stories about her that other people, especially Grandpa Hank, had told us.
“Can we at least put Grandma back in the box Maude, please?”
Maude had been crying; her make-up smudged all down her chin.
“She’s been here this whole time. This is like The Notebook or something.” She petted the urn as if it were a housecat. I couldn’t help but laugh a little at her, this hormonal schoolgirl.
“Are you pmsing? How is this anything like that?”
“Remember all the pictures he used to show us of her? The one where her and Grandpa are shovelling the foundation of their first house? They looked so happy. Or the ones of her in the 50s in the hula contest on their honeymoon, in the grass skirt and she has her hair pinned up?”
I did remember.
Maude bit her lip. “Good genes.”
I smiled. Maude never joked.
We sat in the wicker chairs on the porch in silence and watched as Orion’s belt sparkled and echoed itself along the clear glass of the lake.
I walked down to the shore. Maude followed me with Grandma still in her arms, a wool blanket that was a map of the USA draped around her shoulders. We sat down on the sand by the fire pit that already had kindling left in it. I lit a match from the book in my pocket. We tossed the elephant issue and the Bermuda Triangle issue of my Grandpa’s many National Geographic’s on the flames, watched the shiny pages blacken and fold in on themselves. It was freezing but we let the smoke and flames soak into our pores; numb us out. The breeze made little waves of water lap up toward our feet. Maude placed the urn in the sand, cocooned herself in the blanket until LA folded over Miami.
I pulled my phone out of my pocket. No service down here. I hope Emry didn’t have another girl in his bed tonight.
“Hey Nonnie?” Maude’s voiced cracked, barely audible over the rustling leaves. “I saw you put - never mind.” I turned my gaze from the stars to Maude’s wide, deer-in-the-headlight eyes.
“In your bag…at Chilli’s, before mom called. Were you? Are you?”
I felt my face redden. “No, no I'm not.”
“Are you still sleeping with…sorry I forgot his name…Emmitt?”
“Emry. Sometimes. Why?”
“I don’t know.” She reached for the urn and placed in between her knobbly knees.
“You love him?” she asked. She looked like a grown girl back to infancy. I’ve never seen her try so hard before.
“I didn’t want to be –“I stared at my stomach, “If that’s what you’re asking.”
The wind’s whistle grew louder and I re-tied my hair because the loose locks started swinging around like wind-chimes framing my face. We both turned away from the water; staring back at the lake house and all the leaves that began to swirl themselves from the forest back to the yard. We waited til the wind died; and I stoked the fire with a long walking stick.
“No I know. Why would you want a kid? You’re nineteen.” Maude seemed embarrassed for asking and I felt guilty she did. She was my sister; she was allowed to ask these things.
I sucked in icy air that was slightly mixed with the fire’s heat.
“Maude, are you a virgin?”
She traced over Grandma’s name with her thumb. “I did it with Tommy Fullerton, Regina’s cousin, at her house Thanksgiving weekend. In a cot in her basement.”
“And so you love Tommy Fullerton?” I wished my tone had come across a little less devil’s advocate.
“No.” She finally looked back up at me, smirked with her eyes creased up like half-moons. “He’s from Cornwall and records jingles for TV ads. Flaming red hair, and flaming red-“ Maude blushed, then her face hardened. “But for five minutes there, I think I did love him.”
“I miss coming here,” I said. She reached out her hand, laced it with mine. It felt weird at first, and then it felt right.
I stared out across the lake toward the opposite shore that Grandpa Hank used to take us to in the paddleboat. The valleys over there seemed so far away; the farmland, grass and trees sewed up into a patchwork quilt pattern.
Maude pursed her lips. She didn’t want to talk about Grandpa.
I stoked the fire, yawned.
“Nonnie I would've come home, you know, if you really were –“
I felt a lump form in my throat, let a couple tears brew and pour down my face. The fire crackled sparks on my runners. I watched them turn vibrant orange to a cool coal black. I placed my hand over Grandma Moses’ urn, felt the cool metal distil my hand. I was in the company of strangers, but I never felt more at home.
Mallory Tater is a third-year writing student at the University of Victoria. She has works published in Bywords journal and Ascent Aspirations. She writes both poetry and short fiction.
Looking down at the blood-smeared counter; I was repelled by what dripped from Skinigin’s tobacco-stained fingers. Was this really necessary? The old fisherman was too drunk to roll his mangled “makins” so I handed him a tailor-made and ushered him to the nearby bench. Thankfully, the tire bell’s call drew me out to the gas pumps where another intoxicated smoker was attempting to shorten his life by reaching for the self-serve nozzle with a lit smoke dangling from his lips. “No, no Malky; please don’t do that. Just go over and sit down-I’ll get it. How much do you need?”
This scripted formality was one of our little rituals because every three days; he obsessively purchased ten dollars worth of regular gas for his battered pickup. The last time this happened, he tripped over the hose and sent gas spraying into his car and all over his girlfriend and himself. I have no idea how the deadly fluid missed his lit cigarette.
As I stood pumping fuel into the dry tank of his vehicle, I suddenly remembered that today was a provincial election day. This work day would be a freak show but I secretly relished the lunacy because my job at Cyril’s Garage was the envy of my teen-aged peers. I think I owed my position more to religion than mechanical talent since Cyril and I were members of St. Belial’s Parish. I guess he figured a pure Catholic boy could be trusted but the situation later reminded me of the Biblical tale of the foolish man who hired a stranger passing by. While I was more interested in guitars than cars; I did appreciate the social utility of the automobile and acquired a driver’s license at the earliest opportunity. On the bumpy road to that accomplishment; I aged my Uncle Alec at least 10 years.
I finished pumping Malky’s gas and re-entered the station to ring up his purchase on the primitive cash register. I then turned my attention to Jerry Weeden’s muddy truck. My co-worker John McNeil and I had recently faced a major shit-storm for forgetting to wash another muddy truck so I was determined to avoid a repeat. Besides that, Jerry was a little crazy and while generally genial; was also capricious. I turned on the hose and directed the warm jets over the crusted length of the truck prior to soaping and scrubbing the filthy thing. “At the car wash, yeah-you can pay the fool!” That stupid song entered my head as I applied the soapy sponge to the entire surface of the vehicle. At least Jerry didn’t smoke. The local native Chief, Donald H. Goo-goo; smoked so much in his big Dodge that we had to use a whole can of Windex on the interior windows; caked as they were with a thick layer of tobacco tar. Donald was a good guy, though; and not a bad goalie. Finally I was done, and without interruptions. I was known to turn the hose on kids who overstayed their welcome in the grimy old edifice. Not very nice; I know, but I had suffered the same fate.
Now to move the clean rig outside to the parking area. Climbing into the cab; I gunned the engine and waited for John to raise the rolling door. He had just arrived for the second shift and I anticipated an evening of merriment in his company. Unfortunately, John directed a jet of hose water at my closed window just as I was passing through the door. Distracted, I winced at the sickening sound of the oversized rearview mirror ripping out of its door moorings with a metallic shriek. “Oh man, he’ll kill us! I hope he’s drunk today.” John was doubled over in laughter, obviously ferociously stoned on the killer weed we found under the seat of the freshly-washed RCMP cruiser drying in the parking lot. RCMP “carwash salvage” was one of the secret fringe benefits of working at Cyril’s. Frightened arrestees were forever shoving their dope under the rear seats of the police cars. I had performed this subtle maneuver at least once and always wondered why the cops never searched their own cars. We regularly harvested high quality weed and hash but said nothing lest the original owners attempt repossession of their abandoned stashes. We were always bemused when a gracious Mountie offered us a modest tip for our services. We felt like that guy in the country song who had his marijuana fields burned by the police. He sang, “But I didn’t mind and waved goodbye; sitting on my sack of seeds.”
John and I loved election days since; as Cyril’s pump jockeys, we enjoyed front row seats for the day’s inevitable shenanigans. The event was really just a huge drunk fest, since the incumbent Tory Sangster Swann was almost guaranteed re-election for all the wrong reasons. He more or less owned the riding and was a consummate master of palm-greasing and glad-handing. Swann had once attempted to help one of his friends cheat my uncle Felix in a land deal. That little episode destroyed my youthful faith in politicians and inspired my habitual cynicism.
Sangster’s flunky, Danny MacPhee; was kept busy all day distributing quarts and pints of liquid persuasion from the trunk of his car. If the Liquor Store manager was aware of this ugliness; he said nothing as he was in no position to protest. He, like most provincial employees; owed his job security to the whims of the province’s ruling party. These people and their minions were known to execute blatant acts of retaliation against the disobedient.
As an illustration of the Maritime patronage game; I offer this anecdote for the reader’s amusement. Upon turning 19, I approached Buddy Bartlett; the local Liquor Store manager to request a job application for part-time work. I had ambitions of securing employment at the county’s most profitable retail establishment but realpolitik intervened when Buddy said, “Happy birthday, Joel. You can’t have the application until I know you have the job. You’ll have to go see Danny.” Being naïve I initially protested but then the situation became clear. Sangster Swann was the real manager of the Liquor Store. Buddy just counted the bottles. Since my parents were on the wrong side of politics; knew I was sunk so I bought a symbolic pint of rum and exited the store to drown my sorrows. It was OK though; I would work at the garage until next July and then take a summer job as a lifeguard at the beach down the coast. Now there were some real socializing possibilities.
As mentioned before, I think Cyril l had hired me mainly for my trusty Catholicism and the supposed moral uprightness of our shared faith. Already a seasoned traveler on debauchery road; at Cyril’s I embraced a higher level of personal corruption and dissolution. We were permitted to drink and read Penthouse at work although Cyril didn’t approve of marijuana. As well, the premises were open for late night socializing
and certain initiation rituals. Surrounded by older men of the world; John and I served our bad boy apprenticeships with gleeful enthusiasm. Beyond the fun, we actually did our jobs fairly well and enjoyed interacting with the public.
John and I dreaded the return of Jerry Weeden; he of the squeaky clean but mangled rearview mirror. However, Jerry; an old friend of my father, arrived drunk on Tory rum and casually excused my crime with a boozy laugh and a wave of his huge lumberjack paw. I later worked for this man and was constantly amazed that any human being could consume as much rum as he did without rapidly losing all control of their personal affairs. His crew of Black Pointers and imported Newfie woodsman were kept in line by Jerry’s trollish girlfriend and her frying pan.
Upon Jerry’s departure we returned to our duties. Just then, the Madman entered the reception area wearing the huge black sunglasses that hid the massive shiner he had recently received from our avuncular but very tough mechanic Bryce Mackenzie.
When the Madman approached and asked us for a drink; we told him to vote Tory. The ill-tempered tool mumbled an epithet and shuffled back to his work in the mechanic’s pit.
Davis Acker had earned the Madman sobriquet after being arrested for wildly circumnavigating the RCMP detachment in his hotrod. Two days ago; Acker had made the drunken mistake of leaving his car on the hoist after he passed out. When Bryce tried to remove it for his work, Acker swung wildly at him and received a richly-deserved shot in the head.
“I have an idea, John. Let’s steal the rum from Danny’s car and spike the bottles with laxative. That’ll get them stinking as well as stinking drunk! What do you think?”
MacNeil was always game for mischief and readily agreed to the scheme. “Yeah, Sangster will blame the sabotage on the other candidates. I just saw Danny go by so we’ll have to wait until he goes to the Liquor Store for another supply, I’ll call Ray. He lives up there and I’ll have him watch for Danny’s car and call us here when he sees it. Ray is good. He’ll want to know but that’s OK. I’d love to put the gears to Sangster and I’m not the only one. God knows what he’s secretly done over the years. I bet we’ll get away with this.”
Since Cyril’s closed at five that day; we stood a good chance of catching the bagman with a trunk full of hooch. It being three o’clock; we still had two hours to plan our little scheme. The tire bell rang to interrupt us and an old truck pulled up to the bay doors beeping its tired horn. Two ragged “back to the landers” emerged and the older one said, “Hey man, can I borrow a blow torch? My gas cap is rusted in place.” Controlling our mirth, we told the stoner we would lend him the torch if he parked his truck out at the end of the government wharf before he lit the propane. Sudden realization dawned on his vacant features and the fellow declared, “Oh, right man. Ha Ha. I guess I’m pretty messed up to think that.” We fixed the problem with Liquid Wrench and sent “Cheech and Chong” on their way.
“Let’s call Danny with a request that he visit to some Tory-heavy location and we’ll do our thing while he’s inside. One of the many skills we had developed at Cyril’s was a method of opening locked vehicles with a set of smooth hacksaw blades much like those employed by car thieves. This technique had saved us much embarrassment since we suffered from the distracted habit of locking customer’s key’s inside their cars. “We will steal the rum and replace it with our special blend. The only complication will be knowing how many bottles he has and whether they’re pints or quarts. That’s where Ray will come in. He’ll scoot over to the Liquor Store and spy out Danny’s purchases. Then he’ll call us here. We’ll have to buy a case of quarts and a case of pints immediately and that means you going to East Sydley. If you leave now in that guy’s Porsche you can be back in 90 minutes. He’s won’t be back for a week and I’ll cover for you here. I’ll say you had to take the Porsche for a test drive before we give it back. Cyril will be drinking today and the story just might work. Anyway, we have little choice. You go now.”
John gleefully jumped in the sleek sports car as I opened the big sliding door and he proceeded to the highway by the back streets of Giscook wearing a ball cap and oversize sunglasses. The game was afoot and we could temporarily stash the booze in one of the myriad hidey holes that often contained a variety of contraband.
We chose a perfect hiding place for the rum in one of the coffins upstairs. Our body man; Sonny Ross used the shop to repaired used coffins for his father’s funeral home. I was always disturbed by the concept of used coffins especially when I remember the time Cyril tried to have me induce his funeral-phobic sister to pass through the darkened, coffin-filled body shop on her way to the garage office. The idea was that I turn on the lights and give her a scare. I couldn’t be a party to this macabre Halloween prank and excused myself. It was bad enough that she had caught us watching porno on an old 8 mm screen the month before. My luck had already been pushed to the breaking point.
Next, I put in a call to the local drug store and asked for Waldo Christmas. Waldo was our school mate and a real character. His worked in his brother’s drug store and would likely give me what I needed to complete the scheme. Waldo was no fan of politicos and was an ardent devotee of juvenile mischief. Thankfully, the man himself answered, sparing me the bother of subterfuge and I said, “Waldo, bring me a bottle of hospital-grade laxative and a package of hypodermic needles. Exlax won’t suffice.” Over-riding his sputtering questions, I continued. “No, don’t ask. You’ll have to steal them. Yes, steal them and bring them to Cyril’s as soon as you can. I’ll explain later and I’ll make it worth your while. I’m sure you understand.”
Fifteen minutes later Waldo entered the garage and handed me a brown paper bag. While shaking his hand I slipped him a foil packet containing a certain leafy substance and I told him he would have to wait for answers and that future events might negate the necessity of questions. “Don’t worry, Waldo, you’re doing a good thing,” I assured him as our co-conspirator exited the garage and meandered up the street to the drug store. Waldo was a past master of the five finger discount; owing little allegiance to the unpleasantness that was his older brother Jimmy.
We decided that voice disguise was required for the success of our venture and I began practicing my Charlie MacGoogal accent. I was certain I could lure Danny to the old apartment building above the Co-op store where many “Rum Tories”, Charlie MacGoogal chief among them; would eagerly trade their votes for free liquor.
The hallways and staircases of this rambling old structure would detain Danny long enough for us to open his trunk and do the switch. Since the polls would close soon after Ray called us; we hoped that Danny’s final liquor run would include plenty of extra bottles for the inevitable victory party. Thankfully, the old blowhard was one of the few locals to have a car phone and we knew the number; having washed recently washed his vehicle.
I picked up the jangling garage phone rang and found Ray on the other end with news that Danny had just pulled into the liquor store. It was now or never. “Stay on the line, Ray and listen to this,” I said. Picking up the other phone, I dialed Danny’s car phone and shouted into the receiver like the deaf old man I was imitating. “Danny boy, is dat you? Bring some over to the apartment, quick. We did right. OK, boy. We’ll wait; you’ll have to go to all the doors on the first floor, two on the second and tree at the top. You know who, right? Dat’s great, boy. See you soon. Oh, yeah. Bring some pop,” I said as MacGoogal. “Pretty good, aye, Ray? Thanks, man!” I said before putting down the second telephone. Just then, John pulled into the station and jumped out of the Porsche with a grin. ”I got it all; are we in business?” He asked breathlessly. “My conspiratorial look told all and we quickly took the cases to the back of the garage where I injected each bottle with a good dose of the clear, tasteless laxative and gave them all a good shake. After secretly loading our truck inside the bay doors; we locked the garage and roared off to the assignation.
After a brief drive we spotted Danny’s Ford parked behind the old apartments in the sheltered spot we had hoped for. Pulling in behind him; we checked the upper story windows for watchers and proceed to jimmy open the trunk of his big car. A few tense moment’s work rewarded our efforts and we quickly effected the switch; actually adding 10 extra pints to the collection. Danny, half-drunk himself by now; would never know the difference. With the trunk quietly closed; we hopped back in our truck with Danny’s clean rum in the box.
“The polls close soon and then its party time for the local Tories. Well, party time for everyone, really. Us too, but not until we see the fruits of our labor.” I said to John.
“I think that stuff takes about an hour to work and I put a triple dose in each bottle. I hope no one gets hurt.” MacNeil said, “Don’t worry about that.” I said.” Most of these people have been constipated for most of their lives anyway. We’re doing them a big favor.”
Another hour found us on the roof of the local fire hall; passing a joint back and forth and cooling our throats with shots of straight rum as we peered through the dirty window and waited for the festivities to begin. John suppressed a giggle as he looked over at me and his look said everything. We were about to score a major coup against the pompous bozos who had been treating the county as their private fiefdom for as long as we could remember. While tonight’s doings wouldn’t change that; what passed for Tory dignity was about to take a pasting. Putting cardboard sheeting on the gravel surface under the windows; we knelt close for a better view and suddenly noticed the shiny red faces of the celebrants begin to exhibit signs of ill-ease which were soon replaced by panic and the comedic gyrations of people badly in need of “the facilities.”
John clicked on the camcorder and we were in business. Unfortunately for the celebrants; there were only two bathrooms in the place and we had barred all the doors from the outside. By the time they were forced open all would be over.
John opened the titling window for sound effects and we actually heard a loud intestinal gurgle from twenty feet below as defeated candidate Duane Holly emitted an agonized moan and ran for the men’s room; shoving drunk Tories aside in his mad rush to avoid embarrassment. He never made it and a huge, stinking mess poured out of his pant leg and coated the floor with putrid filth. Mortified, but too drunk to be coordinated; he lurched for the exit but tripped and rolled in his own foulness.
At this point; the great man himself, Sangster Swann, mounted the stage in a vain attempt to restore order; instead simultaneously puked and shit his pants. Pandemonium erupted; with some men and women darting for the overloaded bathrooms while others pounded and pulled at the locked doors. Others were tearing at the small windows and attempting to shove their bulk through the openings. One fat lady in particular remained stuck in the window as a liquid mess soaked the back of her white dress while her friend pulled on her feet to free her.
Other celebrants were squatting in corners and under tables in a scatological bacchanal of repulsive proportions. Danny MacPhee himself suffered a severe loss of personal dignity while engaging in a heroic attempt to tear open the back door. Instead, a hot jet of filth erupted from his nether regions, soaking his trousers and shoes as he stood helplessly cursing his unknown tormentors, “Those fucking Socialists did this or the God Damn Communists. This is war. I’ll kill every one of those bastards!!”
It sickens me to continue so I’ll leave the rest of the sordid details to the reader’s imagination. We were never caught and we subsequently sold the footage to a number of interested parties. Of course, the legend of that night’s event continues to evolve; as legends do. I know it’s been said before; but, isn’t politics a shitty business?
Morgan Duchesney is an Ottawa writer and martial arts instructor. His work on politics, war and martial arts has appeared in Humanist Perspectives, the Peace and Environment News, Budo Journal, Tone, Adbusters, Canadian Charger and the Ottawa Citizen. This is his first work of fiction. www.honeybadgerpress.ca