Sunday, March 24, 2013

Fiction #42

New fiction! Issue #42

Submissions now open for #43.

Special thanks to all who have been submitting. Enjoy.

Fiction #42: Al Cool

Victory Square

Oh, I so hate those mountains.  To think I once thought the lions were like a woman’s breasts nurturing us all.

“Don’t wiggle Keemy, I have food for you.”

She limped round the tiered, semi-circle of wooden benches until she felt her back to the wind and rain.  She sat down with a grunt.  She was alone.  She wore two fully buttoned, ankle-length over-coats; one for protection from the weather, the other to keep in the warmth.  She always wrapped one shawl around her neck and another red, heavy wool shawl over her head.  She wore the same scuffed, brown army boots she bought from the war surplus store on Main with some of the money from one of her final welfare cheques.  After she gave up her last address, only the Salvation Army provided her a bed and a meal.  Now she walked the streets endlessly, for days on days.

My son, my son, oh God, my son.  George died.  Why did he go to the war in Asia?  We were never the same after that.  I couldn’t go on without him.  Why did he do it?  Why did he leave me?  We used to come here for movies, dinners, the White Lunch, cokes at Woodward’s, fish and chips at Lumberman’s Arch on Sundays.  One year, we went to five symphony’s in Queen Elizabeth Theater.

“Okay Keemy.  We’re here now.”

She opened a middle button of her outside over-coat and a blonde Pekinese head popped out, flat face with kind, brown eyes looking up at her, pink tongue licking, body squirming in anticipation, asking the question.  Cooing to her pet, she took the small, expensive can of cat food out of her right pocket and opened the tin with the key.  Slowly, painfully, the arthritis almost completely crippling her so she could only manage small movements with her fingers, she rolled back the cover.

God, I hate this rain.  It never used to bother me.  Now it is my enemy.

“Here, Keemy.  Good girl.”

After the struggle, she took pinches of food and fed her dog.  She always fed Keemy this way.  She did this until the can was empty.  Then Keemy would snuggle and snort and cuddle with her, happy and contented.

And Arthur, her second son, last time she talked with him, saying, “Come live in a home in West Vancouver, momma.  I will pay for it.  But Sharon says you can’t live with us.  You argue too much.  Your grand-kids would love to see you more.”

Put me in a home?  Never.  I make homes, I don’t live kept in one.  And Arthur has so much money and she won’t let me live there.  I want to see my grandchildren.  But I don’t think Arthur knows where I am or he’d come and take me home.

She was gripped suddenly with the recurring stomach pain, doubling her up on the bench.  In a terrible substitution, the agony replaced her anguish, holding her longer in its vice grip.  Even now she was careful not to roll on Keemy.  My beautiful Keemy.  As the wave subsided, she was able to raise herself into a half-sitting position again.  The hurting never completely left her now and the attacks came more often and were more severe.

Two men were standing in front of her.  Street bullies.  She could only partially make them out.  Her pain blinded her with tears, it took time for it to end.  She felt so vulnerable.  The over-head lamppost lighting behind them obscured their faces.  One had a shaved head, the other a ponytail.  Both were skinny, young and smelled of alcohol.  Their faces looked metallic in this light, threatening.  She pushed Keemy back deeper  into her coat.

“Think she’s got money?”

“Nah.  This ol’ bat’s half dead anyway.  Maybe she’s got smokes.  Go through her pockets.”

She knew not to resist.  The bald tuffy hesitated then went roughly into one of her coat pockets and brought out a blood-stained ball of toilet paper.  He threw it on the ground.  Both boys stepped back from the woman.

“She’s got the TB.  I’m outta here. “  He turned and left.

The other tuffy kicked her in the legs with hard boots, swore at her, then walked away quickly to catch up with the other.  Once she was sure they’d left, she let Keemy back out.  She went to do her business and find a drink of water in a puddle.  When Keemy returned she burrowed into the safe coat again, nestling, like she had done since she was a puppy.  They’d found each other when she was going through cans in the alley.  There was the little puppy.  Scared.  Lost.  Confused.  Also looking for food.  A kindred soul.  She could help and love this puppy.

So much has changed.

She struggled but couldn’t sit right up.  She had to continue leaning.  Her ankle hurt so much now.  Something inside still hurt bad too.

She talked to Keemy.  “It used to be so different.  George and Arthur and him and me.  We were a family.  Then he left me to go with another.  George died and Arthur went with him.  Now I only have you Keemy.  I hate the mountains.”  She paused, breathing heavily, afraid.   Something is wrong.  “When we get up, Keemy, we have to go to the clinic.  I need some medicine.  Just wait a bit for me to get better.  Then we’ll go.”  Her breathing was labored.

There is nowhere to go now but to the Sally Ann.  Everyone is angry, suspicious, so greedy.

Earlier that evening, buying Keemy some dog food with the money from collecting cans and bottles all day, the young, black-haired man watching her said, “You want to sell that dog?  Buy more food.  Some brown-bag wine?  I’ll give you twenty bucks.  I’ll find it a good home.  Take care of it.  Not like you.”

She paid for Keemy’s food then left the store angry, silent.  There was a time when you didn’t push people around, you helped them, you held out a hand, you didn’t take the last someone had.  Where is God?

Then she walked away from Gastown, to these familiar benches in the heart of the city.  This used to be a courthouse.  This is where my George is honored.  He gave his life.  His life!  How did this happen to me?  How can this be?

The endless rush hour city traffic rolled past her, surrounding her with rows of bright white lights like pearls on an endless necklace and red Japanese lanterns stringing forever into the distant night.  The blended echoes of the traffic soothed her when she was here.  She sat quietly with Keemy, with the memories of her son.  As always, the sounds of the city became a neutral backdrop, allowing her privacy.  Sitting in the soft Vancouver rain, she felt insulated and safe again.  This was a place where good triumphed over evil, where sacrifice was remembered and honored, where hard memories of death and loss were softened with pride, where the spirit of many aching hearts for many lost sons helped her to renew her memories and  give rebirth to the love she had for so many years with her family.

She still could not sit up right.  Tonight she would stay a little longer.  With Keemy.  Just a little longer.

#

“How’d ya wanna handle this one?  Looks like she’s been gone a while.”

The cold, sterile face spoke as the blue emergency lights on the Coroner’s van cast a harsh, strobing light across the wet concrete.

“I got a technique how to handle these lice bags.  Got yer rubber gloves?  I don’t want no stink in the truck.  Here, grab the hands over the head and cross the arms over.  Careful, don’t touch the head.  Lice can jump.  I’ll take the feet the same, and we can roll it onto the gurney, then zip up the bag, and it’s off to the burner.  ”

“Hey, what’s that?  Watch out!  It’s a rat.”

“Look, she had a dog in her coat.”

“What’re we gonna do with that?”

“Only one thing I know.  Else it’s a lot of paperwork.”

“C’mon.  Let’s just let it go.”

“Aw, I’ll take care of it.  No one’s lookin’; no one cares.  One quick twist and then the landfill boys ‘ll take care of it by tomorrow.  Don’t  tell no one.”

The hands took a strong hold.  Not like the woman who cradled with softness and care.  There was pain.

Staring up through the donut hole from inside the garbage can, Keemy, motionless now, breathing fast shallow breaths, alone, unable to move because her neck was broken, darkening shadows shrouding her pain.  Surrendering finally, the life in her eyes fading for the last time, watching the emergency lights turning mercifully to black as they flashed, again and again, across the war memorial cenotaph in Victory Square.

*

Alfred Cool was born and raised in BC. He attended Simon Fraser University where he took English and Computer courses. He is a member of the Canadian Authors Association. He worked as a logger for over a decade, traveling extensively on the coast of central and northern BC. For 26 years, as an accomplished computer professional, he lived in various BC communities where he harbored the simple truth that writing would eventually take over his life

Now that persistent dream, to his great satisfaction and pleasure, has become reality. He is working on a series of five novels inspired by his travels on the coast of BC. 



Fiction #42: Jessica Van de Kemp

Blue Spruce Lane

I have a dream
To fill the golden sheath
             of a remembered day.

                                                 —Lola Ridge  

Their shutters are a dull shade of yellow. I’d said so to Barbara the first day we moved into the house across from the Rutherfords.

“Barb,” I’d said, “have you ever seen such horrid shutters?”  
“Can’t say that I have, Frank.”

We live on Blue Spruce Lane, in the less fashionable part of Thornhill; there are two apartment buildings just northeast of us - all windows, like a floor length, gilded mirror floating in the sky. Our own house has a little hedge that spans the driveway and a birch tree smack in front of the bay window - can’t see a damn thing besides the neighbour’s shutters. Old money gold.

I walk Barb across the street to have dinner with the David Rutherfords. He keeps a good car in the garage, I’ve seen it before, and somebody keeps the chrysanthemums in the front garden white and heady. I glance sidelong at Barb and see her wondering the same thing I am – Who does the gardening anyhow? Mrs. Rutherford has rheumatoid arthritis, you see - can’t hold a fork properly, let alone a watering can. Rumour has it she succumbed quite young too: twenty, maybe, fresh in love.

That was the first thing the Woodruff’s told us. “Welcome to the neighbourhood!” George had called over the fence. His wife, Doris, had waved happily in our direction before tucking a brown-haired boy into the house. That’s when the good car had slowed into the Rutherford’s driveway and George had waved at a balding David. George had had the good sense to wait for David Rutherford to roll down the garage door before he had turned very sharply to me and said,     

“When you meet Evelyn, don’t mention her hands.”

This morning Mr. Rutherford rung us up at ten o’clock and invited us to dinner.

“Get a sitter for the children,” he advised.

“What?”

“Get a sitter for the children.”

“What children?” I asked innocently.

The whole day has been sunshine and warm wind. Not a cloud in the sky until five o’clock. We’d spent half the morning opening boxes just trying to find the good shoes, the good suit, the good dress. Barb said it was a good thing she’d slept with hot rollers in her hair. 


The bouquet of daisies for the Rutherfords proves gratuitous, and at precisely five-thirty the front door opens hesitantly, and Evelyn Rutherford stands at the threshold, all dolled up in a silk dress. It is spitting rain.

“Are you alright?” she asks me at once.

“Everything’s Jake.”

“I’m thrilled you could make it,” says David, moving to stand behind his wife. He is a portly man with absolutely no hair at all on his head. “Come right in.” He bids us quickly into the foyer and nods at the daisies in Barbara’s hand. “Evey will take those from you, Mrs. Newell. Much obliged.” He takes our coats and shows us into a cozy room that smells of tobacco and spine-cracked books. “Have a cigarette, Frank.”

Mrs. Rutherford rolls in a small cart with hors d’oeuvres. Her hands are horribly slanted. I try not to stare at the wedding ring on her finger, but it seems out-of-place, like a quarter dollar painted gold. I half-expect to see the standing liberty on the top of the band. “Anything to drink – Lemonade? Whiskey and Soda?” She has an unnaturally curt voice for a woman. “Oh, soda,” Barb replies. “Just soda.” She glances politely about the room at the pale lampshades and the floral cushion covers. “Whiskey for Frank. Just a finger or two.”

There is music. It sounds like it is coming from the kitchen. Mamie Smith’s voice rings like crystal:

                    “I don't know what to do.
                    Sometimes I sit and sigh,
                    and then begin to cry,
                    'cause my best friend
                    said his last goodbye.”


Moved by some overwhelming impulse, I stand when Mrs. Rutherford returns with our drinks, and ask if I can use the bathroom. “Shouldn’t have had all that giggle water at lunch,” I say bashfully, “but Barb loves the stuff. Says it’ll make a real Canuck out of you.” Mrs. Rutherford looks over at her husband, but David is lounging on the sofa, genial in his laughter. “Through the kitchen, old boy.
Down the hallway and past the photo of the Ziegfeld Girl.”      

                    “There's a change in the ocean,
                    change in the deep blue sea.”


There is nothing overly fancy about their kitchen. There is a whicker basket in the corner, beside a dust pan, that holds a dozen or so copies of old Time magazines. Jack Dempsey’s face sits like a rutabaga at the top of the pile. 1923, and the Liberals are roaring proud with M. King leading the pack; they even say that the HOLLYWOODLAND sign is up and proper now in America. Lights up in segments. Gotta wonder how many moths go straight for the flames – how many girls get lost in the mutterings and the moonshine and the bulbs.

The smell of roast beef drippings is pungent: sage and peppercorn; homemade horseradish in a jar. Find the photo of Myrna Darby in the hallway; she looks a bit grummy, and has some kind of headdress on that looks like a great big sundial. Regular modern-day Hathor. I can hear Barb asking faintly over Mamie’s jazz if the Rutherfords entertain quite a lot.

“Those are some photos you’ve got there, Mrs. Rutherford.”

Can’t quite hear Mrs. Rutherford’s reply from inside the bathroom – something about the people in the photographs, the Brittons and the Jamisons, the Mr. John Donnelly’s, the Shafer’s from Scarborough, the Tenney’s of Etobicoke, a woman named Frances Mayfield who they call ‘Gran May’ because she’s old enough to remember a goodly number of things, including the first railway built in New Scotland.

I dry my hands on a rather ugly-looking blue hand towel. Barbara says color blindness runs in my family, so most things look an ugly blue. “Gran May says the train’s always been a lumbering hayburner of a thing.” David chuckles at precisely the moment I turn the light off in the bathroom, and I find myself standing immediately still, listening to the great bellied sound of his laughter.  

Where was the music coming from? Not the kitchen. And not the bathroom, apparently, though that would have been an odd place to keep a phonograph – beside the sink, with its extraterrestrial head facing the casement window, like a bronze little buttercup. The music is awfully muted here – all you can hear is muffled chatter and the faint ticking of a clock.

A door opens and closes somewhere in the house. For a brief moment, there is the sound of rainfall, a waft of cool air that ruffles my trousers at the knee, and the smell of earthworms. There is the sound of little feet pitter-pattering across the floor, or is that rain?, and I am met by two eyes in the darkness, or at least I think they are eyes, staring up at me kindly, curious.

“Gold,” says a child’s voice.

“What?”

An African-Canadian child, about three years old, steps into the hallway and tugs at the bit of ruffling trouser at my knee. She puts her hands flat on her cheeks and smiles with a full mouth of white teeth. “Gold, mistah,” the child says, drawing out the long vowel O. “Gooooo.”

“Wait—”

She leads me by the pant leg to the end of the hallway. There is a small mudroom to the right and a white screen door. Presumably, it’s the door that opened and closed just a minute ago, the one that set a rhythm to the night. I lose sight of the child as she runs onto the verandah. I can almost swear she’s laughing back at me as I follow her outside.

There is nothing but the rain and a sea of bright, yellow light. Yellow light floating above the earth, the entire backyard drenched in darkness, yellow rose bushes from here to the fence, soft petals kissing the child’s legs. The music is louder here. The child sinks her feet into the black mud and wiggles her toes. I know she wiggles them. I call out to her using any name that I know.

“Helen! Doris! Josephine!” 

She runs low through the bushes, baby hands clutching at the flower heads, decapitating them, like a young lark flitting from branch to branch.

“Tawny!” I cry.

Her laughter buzzes against the rain like the sound of cymbals crashing, like the thundering heart of a woman with child, or the pleasant, fizzing taste of lemonade.


What a funny little bird. “Tawny!” 

The screen door opens, closes. I can hear Barbara calling to me, but her voice sounds very far away. “Frank! Darling, you didn’t get lost [on your way to the bathroom], did you?”

David’s voice now. Unnaturally calm. “Come back inside, Frank. Evey’s made a nice roast. I’m afraid you’re right obligated to eat it, old boy.”

I find it difficult not to look at the child’s hands; the petals fall like gold coins upon the ground. She is at the fence now, sliding back a loose piece of wood. She disappears into the neighbour’s backyard, and the wood slides back with a thump, the rain finding its drum. A trail of yellow petals in the mud. That is all that remains. 

“David—” I turn to look at him. “Did you see her?” 

Barbara steps out of the mudroom, her hand touching the white screen door. I see her shiver a little as the damp air finds her bones. “What on earth are you doing, Frank? Come back inside! It looks like it’s going to rain pitchforks.”


David blinks. “I saw nothing.” He sighs heavily, and then, “It was a bush rabbit, old boy.” 

“Come inside now.” This time it is a curt tug at my sleeve, and Mrs. Rutherford is struggling to hold an umbrella upright; she manages to lead me back into the mudroom. The white screen door closes sharply. I am given warm socks and a pair of David’s shoes. I am politely led into the dining room and asked if I’d like some roast beef au Jus.

There is music still. I can hear it. A lone voice singing the blues.

*


Jessica Van de Kemp was born on Old Beltane in 1989. She is a member of the Ontario College of Teachers and is currently pursuing an MA in Rhetoric and Communication Design from the University of Waterloo. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Branch Magazine, Buttontapper Press, and Vallum.

Fiction #42: Dan Vierck

Thomas K. Wrigley Immediately Regrets Not Taking His Family to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Two sharks, sent by God to kill Thomas K. Wrigley’s family, sank from the clouds outside Grand Rapids, Michigan, and dove through the Wrigley front window when they found it. Mrs. Wrigley, their two children, and their Australian shepherd were near the front door, readying for a day at the park. Thomas was in the kitchen, and ducked behind the island when he heard the window break. The window was new, and cost almost two thousand dollars with installation. He crouched against the cake pan cabinet while his family was eaten by the sharks.

He could hear, under the screaming and wet coughing, the sharks’ teeth scrape through flesh, against bone. He could hear their jaws pop, and he could hear – or he imagined he could hear – the sharks lick their lips. When he couldn’t hear anything except the breeze and distant traffic outside, Thomas was sure his family was dead but he didn’t know if the sharks were still there, lingering. Trembling, with his eyes tightly shut and leaking tears, he startled himself to standing and placed both hands on the marble countertop, several fingers landing in drops of warm wet. When he forced himself to open his eyes, the sharks were floating toward him.

Never a conflict, never a fight to avoid in his whole life, he accepted this. He nodded unconsciously, mouth contorting to a fuller, more uninhibited sob face than he had ever known. The instant before the shark on his left would’ve bit into his shaking, planted arm, there was a blinding flash of white light and when Thomas’s eyes re-adjusted the sharks were gone. His family still lay strewn across the living room in abstract pools, lumps, and pieces. The breeze and distant traffic coming in through the broken window goaded him with cold, unimpeachable normalcy.

*

Dan Vierck is a graduate of Southwest Minnesota State University, UW Milwaukee, and Vermont College of the Fine Arts. He lives in Madison, WI, with his finance. They are expecting their first baby, a boy, in May.

Fiction #42: Cristina Frincu

Frozen Hearts

He’s going to the bathroom for the fifth time that day, according to her count. Muffled in his old Bart Simpson T-shirt and woolen coat, with fluffy socks in his feet, he’s pulling the hood over his forehead and snuffles his nose. His tripped walk doesn’t surprise her anymore, nor his syncopated breath. Everything is as it was yesterday, and the day before that, and as a matter of fact, as it has always been. She felt dizzy as she found herself talking in a loud and squeaky voice.

Do you have any idea how incredibly bored I am? What is this? This thing we’re doing? 

Pointing both her eyes at him, she announced.

I don’t want this, I can’t have it any longer. 

He leaned over the wall vaguely interested.

This is too much! I just want to linger naked in my house, I just want to be able to sleep all over my bed, not only on the left corner with the quilt over my head, I just want to enjoy an hour long bath, without you barging in to ask me what’s for dinner. I swear I can feel my soul shivering and rumpling when you open that bathroom door. What’s wrong with you, can’t you just feel this coldness? 

He blinks and vibrates almost indistinguishable.

I want things! I want to be able to relax in my couch reading a book, I want to shave my legs in the middle of my living room without having to keep my pants around my ankles in case you decide to check me up. I want to be myself! 

He’s looking at her without any sign of understanding her complaints, so she comes closer to him and yells.

Can’t you see? I can’t stand this anymore. I don’t have any strength left, can’t you see I’m dying, crumbling, hunching, I am simply contracting myself when you ask me to take my clothes off. I don’t want to be your ice queen anymore! 

Raising his eyebrows, he just turns around and says quite nonchalant,

Very well then, we’ll turn on the heat. But you’re gonna pay the bill! 

*

Cristina Frincu lives in a typical communist eight floor building in Bucharest, Romania, and when she's not trying to avoid writing, she writes about herself and a few other people. Some of her stories have been published in two Romanian literary magazines ('Echinox', 'The Short Stories Magazine') and are included in a world selected short prose anthology ('The Smartest Kid in the Bronx').