Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Fiction #78: Jill M. Talbot

The Documentary Channel

“The truth will set you free. But not until it is finished with you.”
—David Foster Wallace

Thought Crimes: The Case of the Cannibal Cop (2015)

—     How can you eat and watch that stuff on TV?
—     Why not?
—     His poor wife.
—     Spring roll?
—     No thanks.
—     They’re really good.
—     How can they film him while he’s cooking?
—     Everyone’s gotta eat.
—     Not on TV.
—     You’d rather live in a fantasy world where TV characters don’t eat?
—     You’re getting plum sauce everywhere.
—     The dog will lick it up.
—     You’re a dog.
—     Could be worse, I could be eating steak.
—     I’m going to vomit.
—     No you’re not.
—     Watch me.
—     After this show.
—     You should call your mother.

We Were Kings (1996)

Michelle was a vegetarian. The smell and texture of meat made her sick, always had. Paul therefore complied and didn’t eat meat at home either. He splurged after a fight and went to a fast food joint. You could tell how bad the fight had been by the order. When Fat Burger came to Vancouver a few blocks away, it seemed almost perfect. He started to put on weight from all of his trips there.

Food, Inc. (2008)

—     When we met we had donuts from Tim Horton’s, leftover from some event. Food brings people together.
—     I don’t think our lives would have been different if we met over cigars.
—     Oh but it would have been. Tim Horton’s is a good start. A real Canadian story.
—     I thought you were going to say Real Canadian Superstore.
—     Looks like he has a thing for real Canadian bacon.

Born Into Brothels (2004)

Paul’s parents visited once a month. Michelle’s never did, her mother was dead and her father out of the picture. Where she grew up fathers were like fairy tales and you showed off who had the best fairy tale father. Ethnic was good, mysterious, missing a part of himself. They could be fairy tale fathers because they were unknown.

—     Mine’s Spanish!
—     So what, mine’s Indian!
—     That word’s racist! You’re racist!
—     I mean from India, dumby, not Native.
—     You don’t look Indian or Native.
—     I am!

Then a new girl one-upped them all. She didn’t know who her mother was. After that they stopped comparing fairy tale stories. And here she is making casserole. Maybe she had just wanted Netflix and a cat and dog. Maybe she didn’t really like being ethnic.

She grabbed some celery from the fridge. 

Christ, I married a rabbit, Paul said, passing Michelle on his way to the bathroom.

Red Army (2015)

—     Why do the neighbors leave their laundry out there for everyone to see? I don’t want to see their underwear.
—     Better for the environment.
—     Not for my environment.
—     Why do I always end up with fascists?
—     Every woman secretly wants a fascist.
—     That’s stupid.
—     I know.

Taxi to the Dark Side (2007)

If she wanted a perfect husband, one with a spark in his eyes, white teeth, cooking gourmet tofu, she was simply out of luck. A husband who wiped up and never reminded her of where she came from. Did he like it when she cooked and kept her mouth shut? Of course he did but she knew this. He bought her a Roomba and she cried for three days. There is no telling what will do it.

He sang, if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with, to the greasy burger. He sat in his BMW in the parking lot, fat dripping down his chin, shameful as a middle-aged man getting a blowjob in a car where his wife had recently had the carpets cleaned.

Triumph of the Will (1935)

—     You didn’t eat your donut, just gave it a bite. Then when I took you to restaurants you only ordered salad.
—     Salad is good for you.
—     You were anorexic.
—     Everyone was back then.
—     I never knew if I was supposed to comment.
—     Now you have.
—     Do you think you can be a real Canadian and anorexic?
—     What the hell does that mean?
—     It just doesn’t seem very Canadian.

The Missing Picture (2014)

Michelle bought picture frames that said CAT and DOG. There was one photo of themselves where they appear to be tourists in some forest. In truth it was the park down the street. The picture of Paul’s parents was also in front of some woody area. There used to be a photo of her mother but Paul said it was creepy, her mother’s glare made him feel watched—that photo is haunted, he said. She looks like Julia Roberts after a lobotomy, he said. It’s the only photo I have, she said. Get rid of it, he said.

Hoop Dreams (1994)

—     I read that eating disorders are a side effect of high expectations. Like middle class crack. So why you?
—     By read you mean you saw a documentary.
—     Answer the question.
—     I thought I should expect as much of myself as people expected of middle class kids.
—     How did that work out?
—     I’m making casserole.
—     Maybe you’re actually bulimic.

Finders Keepers (2015)

Michelle played with keys, they sounded like a baby rattle. This was her guilty pleasure, collecting lost keys. People should really be more careful, she thought.

She looked through her collection, there were many different keychains, mostly made up of cartoon characters. One Narcotics Anonymous, some business freebies. Michelle had eighteen keys in total, at least seven that had been legitimately found. How one could find seven legitimately seemed strange, but who was she to question the workings of the universe? Those keys were usually scratched, as if someone had thrown them out a window then drove over them repeatedly.

She thought, if this were a TV show I would be a serial killer. She smiled. Her mother died before the oldest dog died. Before thirty. She was now nearly thirty and terrified of the gray hairs that keep popping up like pimples during adolescence. Maybe nothing actually changes. Is that what the dog thought the day he died—thirty years and nothing changes?

The War Tapes (2006)

—     The cat keeps bringing in half dead mice then letting them escape.
—     You’d rather he eat them?
—     Of course. Better than having mice running around half dead.
—     Get some poison.
—     It might kill the cat too.
—     See, we all have to eat.
—     I’m going to vomit.
—     He just wants attention.
—     You sound like he’s a child.
—     He sort of is.
—     The cannibal cop had a child.
—     Let’s never reproduce.
—     Were you really anorexic?
—     What do you mean, why would I make something like that up?
—     Wasn’t it just a fad?
—     I can’t talk to you like this.
—     Like not everyone who does coke is a cokehead.
—    You’ve been watching too many documentaries.

F for Fake (1973)

The dog and cat had actual names but Paul and Michelle had taken to calling them the dog and the cat, as if they were living in a dollhouse where each item was only a generalization of the world. Dog. Cat. Kitchen. TV.

She had taken a writing workshop but quit when they were asked to write about losing their virginity. Virgin. Whore. Husband. House. In-laws. Fat. Meat. Meat. Meat. Vomit.

No End in Sight (2007)

—     Crawl like you’re a dog.

The Sorrow and the Pity (1969)

She noticed a bit of fat on her stomach. It stuck out in the most bizarre shape. She poked at it like testing vegetables in a supermarket. As if some lost and found objects were stuck inside her. This should’ve please her but it didn’t, it didn’t at all. She remembered as a child when they called it baby fat, a term that made her feel like livestock. Adult fat wasn’t much better. Was she an adult? Apparently. But when, exactly, had that happened? She felt like it had all been a game. She poked her stomach with a key and eyed her thigh gap. Perhaps she had never got rid of her baby fat. The gap was more of a sliver. Boys never have baby fat, of course, because the term implied that it would go away, and little girls needed this promise. It made it cute and only momentary. And now she was making a casserole. Christ.

Life Itself (2014)

—     Do you ever feel like your life is composed mostly of talking about your life, even if it’s just in your head?
—     Not really.
—     Sometimes I want a lobotomy.
—     Sometimes I want you to have a lobotomy.
—     The neighbour thinks you’re a serial killer.
—     Good. That woman doesn’t need a lobotomy but I’d give her one.

Deliver Us from Evil (2006)

Paul didn’t know what was wrong with Michelle but knew that every suggestion that there was something wrong would end horribly. So he hoped that it would pass, would be a toothache that didn’t need a dentist but a few days without anything too hot or cold. He tried to be lukewarm but what could he do if even plum sauce sent her into rage? What could he do about any of it? He missed that young, lost, weak girl he first met, her snappiness more cute than cruel.

Control Room (2004)

—     When I was a kid I put ladybugs in jars of water.
—     That’s horrible, why are you telling me this?
—     I was just curious. I was like the cat. He doesn’t know what he’s doing. Eventually I felt guilty and stopped doing it.
—     Why ladybugs? Ladybugs are cute.
—     And that gives them some sort of a right to life?
—     Ladybugs don’t bite anyone or cause malaria or anything.
—     And they don’t pollinate the plants we need to live or kill the mosquitos either. Look, you refused to eat Tim Horton’s like a good Canadian, I put ladybugs in jars, the cat brings in half dead mice, this dude fantasizes about eating people, nobody’s perfect.
—     Sometimes I don’t know how we got here.
—     Television, probably.
—     I’m going to throw up.
—     Of course you are.
—     Your parents are visiting. I told them I’m making your favourite casserole. Maybe you should make it.
—     If you answer their questions.
—     I’m almost thirty.

The Imposter (2012)

Michelle looked up employment ads, something in hospitality, something part time. She ended up looking up Craigslist personals, just out of curiosity. People were gross and desperate. Craigslist, at least, no longer had the erotic services section. There was a time when you could sell yourself on Craigslist. One man told her that she needed more baby fat, another told her that she was too pretty to be a whore. A few of them lost their keys.

Paul had said, if anyone asks, we met at a party. Every story needs some consistency, some truth. You will say we met with donuts and you knew at first sight.

Nostalgia for the Light (2011)

—     Now eat meat. Dogs eat meat.

He stuffed food into her mouth, she couldn’t see with the blindfolds on. She was relieved to discover that it wasn’t meat but bread. She struggled to swallow it.

Stories We Tell (2013)

—     Gina? Too strange. What’s your real name?
—     Birth certificate real?
—     That’s generally what real means.
—     Michelle.
—     That’ll do.

Wordplay (2006)

Paul was disgusting, there was no way around it. He was getting chubby. He thought that love was something you buy—he got the previously loved euphemism mixed up with used. He thought girls should be like new china. He thought that if they never spoke of how they had met, it wouldn’t be true. Doesn’t every girl secretly want to be Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman? That’s what he asked. He lay on the couch mostly, every once and awhile he did some cocaine. He used to share until he discovered what a buzz kill Michelle was when she was high. She started talking about things on the list of things not to be talked about and she would panic. She was like a feral cat on cocaine. At first this gave Paul power as he tried to be the one to soothe her back, to let her rock back and forth in his arms, but fairly quickly she would turn on him. Michelle bit her fingernails as she thought of this—of the cocaine courage. Liquid courage was better. Or anorexic silence. That’s what anorexia was to her—silence. But now she has stopped caring and started snapping back at Paul. Once she had said that she preferred heroin to cocaine. When he looked shocked and disgusted she said, I’m joking, though they both knew that she wasn’t. She started to sing “Creep” by Radiohead and remembered how old she was.

Capturing the Friedmans (2003)

—     If our lives were reality television, the whole world would hate us.
—     Let them.

Waiting for “Superman” (2010)

Paul got his greasy fat burger and unwrapped it, mouth watering. It was the smell of youth, of everything forgiven, forgotten, placed in a drawer somewhere. There was something unhealthy about wanting to vomit at the smell of pure protein. His hands were so greasy as if he had been lubricated to enter a small tunnel. It filled up his belly, made him feel like Superman. Made him feel so good that he ordered another. Later Michelle would question him on his eating habits but he didn’t care. A man needed some privacy, some protein, some dignity.

For the Bible Tells Me So (2007)

—     Are you religious? You think you’re a saint? Paul the disciple? Should I be washing your feet?
—     You should be washing your mouth.
—     Oh but that’s your job.

How to Survive a Plague (2012)

Michelle went to the bathroom and puts the bath on. The bathroom felt like a sanctuary away from the world. She got out her hidden toothbrush and put on an audiobook. It wasn’t so much the story she was interested in but the soothing way of reading the actor had. It seemed that they always chose one with a generalization of the male voice rather than a real voice. She especially loved when he announced each chapter. She dealt with dinner between Chapter One and Chapter Two and then got into the bath. She turned up the generalized male voice so that she didn’t have to hear Paul’s documentaries.

Documentaries used absurdly male voices, not generalized male voices. None of them, of course, used female voices. She liked Chekov because it was a generalized voice reading generalized words, such as The Lady with the Dog. Names—real names—were problematic.
She stayed in the bath until the water was cold and her skin was wrinkled.

Inside Job (2010)

—     Can we watch something that isn’t a documentary?
—     You’d rather live in fantasy?
—     You were the one who wanted the fantasy.

Hot Girls Wanted (2015)

She remembered watching porn with a guy where the girl had a huge scar across her chest, it made her sick to watch, as if the heart of the girl had been removed and consumed. And this was what he wanted to watch? She shivered. Paul had been friendly enough. Why do you pay, she asked him. Because I can, he replied. Doesn’t it ruin it? It makes it better, or makes you mine. I’m not a lost child for you to save, she said. I know, he said. Your taste in porn suggests otherwise, she said.
She always thought he would turn on her at some point but it was more like he turned on himself. He no longer seemed interested in even owning himself.

Stop Making Sense (1984)

They told Paul’s parents that they had met at a party, they practiced their lines until it was who they were, this method-acting version of real people. The truth was more like when Sylvia Plath met Ted Hughes and bit his ear, except darker, but Paul made it seem like Romeo and Juliet.
He said that he had met Ghomeshi before but no one actually believed him. He also pointed out that Romeo and Juliet killed themselves, at least everyone from the Ghomeshi trial was still alive. For now, Michelle said.

The Invisible War (2012)

One night a drunken Paul whispered, aren’t you glad you aren’t Gina anymore? Michelle answered with silence.

An Inconvenient Truth (2006)

—     Would the TV woman have been better off if she had never found out?
—     Probably.

Undefeated (2011)
—     I’ve gone all fifties housewife and they don’t even show up.
—     They hadn’t called, there must be an accident, how can you think about casserole?
—     That’s what wives do, isn’t it, think about casserole? Why did we get a cat and dog?
—     You wanted the cat, I wanted the dog, we decided that neither of us should limit the other.
—     Have you called them?
—     About a million times.

Michelle dumps the casserole in the garbage.

—     Hey, someone might have eaten that!
—     I can’t, I can’t even look at it.

The Look of Silence (2015)

One day a woman dropped by, arriving minutes after Paul had left the garage in his car. Michelle wanted to ignore her but the woman kept on knocking. When she finally answered the woman merely handed her a brochure—WIN: Women In Need. You are better than this, the woman said. Michelle’s head made the gesture of nodding only half way. Michelle shut the door. Moments later they discovered each other peering through their respective windows.

Which is it, WIN or In Need, Michelle wondered. They should get their message straight.

This Is Not a Film (2012)

—     Mom called, dad had a stroke. Do you know where my keys are?

Blackfish (2013)

Next to the keys were three birth certificates.

*

Jill M. Talbot's writing has appeared in Geist, Rattle, Poetry Is Dead, The Puritan, Matrix, subTerrain, The Tishman Review, The Cardiff Review, PRISM, Southword, The Stinging Fly, and others. Jill won the PRISM Grouse Grind Lit Prize. She was shortlisted for the Matrix Lit POP Award for fiction and the Malahat Far Horizons Award for poetry. Jill lives on Gabriola Island, BC.

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