Tag Archives: fiction

Understanding Cows

Understanding Cows

C.S. Lemprière

It was the end of October, hunting season. Grampa told everybody he was going up to the cabin with Uncle John to do some deer hunting. Nothing unusual about that because they did that every year. But then Uncle John phoned wanting to talk to Grampa and Dad said, “I thought he was up at the cabin with you?” Dad and my uncles went looking for Grampa and found him dead up at the cabin. Turns out Grampa had gone up to the cabin a week early. By himself.

The doctor was sure Grampa died of organ failure. He hadn’t taken any food or water up to the cabin, or lit a fire to keep himself warm. My Aunt Jess got suspicious and looked at the pill bottles on his bedside table ‒ turns out he had way more than he was supposed to because he wasn’t taking them.

I was so sad I couldn’t get out of bed for a week. At his funeral, my little niece Joy kept staring at Grampa’s hands like they were suddenly going to shoot up and go for her nose, like when he played that oops, I got your nose game with her. Then she wanted to climb up into the coffin beside him and would have if my sister Angela hadn’t dragged her away. That’s exactly what I felt like doing.

My mom and all my aunts blamed themselves: We should have got somebody in to look after him, we shouldn’t have left him alone in his house like that, not with his mind going, we should’ve paid more attention, made sure he was taking his pills properly…

But what could we have done, short of locking him up in his own house? Standing guard to make sure he ate his vegetables and took his pills? He didn’t want to come and live with any of us. He always said he was perfectly capable of looking after himself. And he was, basically. It’s true that his mind was playing tricks on him. I remember once when he was making Kraft dinner for us and couldn’t find the strainer for the macaroni. When he went to ask me, he forgot the word “strainer”. “You know what I mean, Rose, goddamn it! That thing like a net but made of metal, you know, for pasta!” I laughed thinking about a strainer being called a net, but Grampa didn’t think it was so funny. Now, thinking about it, I can see why. Imagine opening your mouth and the word not coming out. And sometimes he’d get mixed up too. He’d forget how to get a DVD to play, or how to set the washing machine, or where he put his slippers. We’d be having Sunday dinner and Aunt Lizzie would ask him to pass the potatoes. Grampa would turn and look at her, puzzled like. You could tell he was coming back from far away.

We all noticed that Grampa was getting quieter too. Grampa was someone who always had something to say about everything, sometimes too much, said my Granma when she was alive. Or as my Aunt Jess put it, Grampa could talk the ear off a pig. I remember going with Grampa to see Uncle Larry’s grave in the cemetery up the road. Larry was Grampa’s oldest boy but he died in a motorcycle accident when he was seventeen. I knew that Grampa was trying to illustrate what would happen to me if I got the motorcycle I wanted when I turned sixteen. When we walked along between the rows of graves, Grampa stopped to tell me the life story of every single person buried there. “Look, there’s old Mr. Maclean, he married Sally Fisher from over on the 4th. They had six kids, the oldest was Johnnie, he bought the turkey farm up the 5th. The next, now that would’ve been Eric, never seen such a good-for-nothing! Couldn’t find his way out of a paper bag. God knows what he’s doing now, probably not much. Then there was Sally, I went to school with Sally, she was a tough one, played baseball with the boys, the only girl that ever got the strap, too bad she ended marrying that Arnold, a guy more crooked than a dog’s hind leg. Then there was Jill….”

Then last Easter Grampa tripped going up the cellar stairs. He went to the hospital for X-rays, and they said his hip was all smashed and needed surgery to fix it. But when they did all the tests to see if hip surgery was even possible, they discovered he had a bad heart. So he ended up having two surgeries, the first to clear the arteries in his heart with little balloons, and the second to put a new metal joint in his hip.

Then, just when they were about to let him come home, he got a bad infection that gave him the runs. He had to wear a diaper because he couldn’t get to the bathroom on time. He kept trying to make it so he wouldn’t have to call the nurse. The doctors got worried that he was going to fall again and so they sent a social worker round to talk to him, to try and persuade him to be more reasonable. “Cooperative” was the word they used. Don’t think it worked.

So in the end Grampa was in the hospital for over a month. I went on weekends with Mom to visit but I never knew what to say. He looked so tiny lying there in the white sheets, the bright light from the window shining down on his fluffy white hair. The yellow walls, the antiseptic smell, the blinking machines, the cheerful nurses coming in and out all the time ‒ it all sucked the words right out of my mouth. So I just sat on the bed and held his hand.

One time I bought him a bouquet of flowers that I had picked in our garden. It seemed like a good idea because I saw lots of flowers on bedside tables in the other rooms. But then I regretted it because Grampa sniffed them and said how beautiful they were about fifty times. Which showed he was just trying to be nice and didn’t know what else to say. Now I know what I should have brought him: a bag of jujubes, his favourite candy. Or Smarties, his second favourite.

When Grampa came home he was so skinny it looked like a breeze would blow him over and he had to take a dozen pills. He was tired a lot of the time too. But he was so happy! He said he would never, ever go back to the hospital, not in a million years.

Every day after school I went along the road to his house. I made us each a cup of coffee and two pieces of raisin toast. Then we watched TV together until suppertime. Sometimes I’d skip supper at home and make us Kraft dinner. We watched a lot of Seinfeld reruns. He loved the one when George goes out to save a whale that got its breathing hole blocked by Kramer’s golf ball. George tells his friends the story in a big dramatic way: The sea was angry that day, my friends,like an old man trying to send back soup in a deli. Grampa loved that line. He kept saying things like, The cat was angry that day (when one of the barn cats scratched my littlest niece), or The washing machine was angry that day (when one of his socks disappeared).

Then my Dad got Grampa cable so he’d have something to do now that he couldn’t help out around the farm. So we started watching movies together. He hadn’t watched a lot of movies because he’d been so busy on the farm his whole life. We watched super long ones like Gone with the Wind and Titanic. And funny ones like Men in Black. Now I remember that he really liked one called The Woman Who Thinks Like a Cow. It was a documentary about an autistic woman named Temple Grandin. I remember thinking: of course a dairy farmer would like this!

“Wasn’t that something how she got down on the ground to see the world like cows do?” said Grampa.

“Dunno. Seems pretty obvious to me.” I said.

“How? How is that obvious, smarty pants?”

“I dunno. Like that cows don’t want to go in a dark barn. Nobody likes going in a dark barn.”

“Well, if it’s so obvious why didn’t those experts figure it out? Before they hired Temple, they were ready to tear down that barn and build a new one. Would have cost them a fortune.”

“I guess.”

“See how she figured out that the main emotion of cows is fear, just like humans? That they were panicking out of fear?”

“I guess.”

“Just like that cow that got out of the barn last summer. She was scared like that. She wasn’t crazy, just scared.”

“I guess.”

“You know I’m right, said Grampa, sighing.

I just didn’t want to talk about that cow. But now I do.

I remember that it was August and that it felt like the hottest day of the summer. The cicadas were buzzing like wood saws and the dogs were panting so hard they couldn’t sleep, even in the shade of the giant maple trees beside our house. It was so hot that my brothers Tyler and Travis had been sent home by the landscaping company at noon. I was thinking of calling my best friend Lily and seeing if she wanted to go to the air-conditioned mall.

I was in the kitchen making Dad and me a sandwich when the telephone rang. It was Uncle Dave, who was up at the barn helping Uncle Ronnie move some heifers into pens. From the sounds of it, something bad had happened to Uncle Ronnie.

When we got to the barn, Uncle Ronnie was curled up on the floor, moaning and clutching his side.

“What the hell happened here?” said Dad.

But Uncle Dave hadn’t seen what happened and Uncle Ronnie could barely talk. He whispered what sounded like “cow…hit…me”, which I thought was funny but impossible, because how could a cow hit a man?

“What cow?” said Dad.

Uncle Ronnie couldn’t elaborate because he was turning grey like he was going to pass out. We looked around and Uncle Dave saw that a cow was missing, then that the back door of the barn was wide open.

“Jesus, one of the cows must’ve charged him and taken off,” said Dad.

Dad tried to help Uncle Ronnie up but he screamed in pain and his eyes started rolling back into his head.

“Go call the ambulance, Rose.” said Dad.

So I went off to the farmhouse to phone. Grampa was sitting watching the news and heard my conversation with the 911 guy. When the two of us got to the barn, we headed out into the field with Dad to find the runaway cow.

The cow was standing in the ditch that runs across the field. We could see the top part of her above the tall phragmites growing in the ditch. It wasn’t very deep, only about five feet. When she saw us coming, she started snorting and waving her head. She tried to get up the bank but kept slipping. She was panicking so much her eyes were big like saucers. Finally, she got so tired she flopped down on her knees and stopped trying.

“What are we going to do?” I asked.

“I dunno know.” said Dad, “Maybe we’ll have to get more people, get some rope and try to pull her out.”

“I could go get Mom or Tyler, they’re home.”

“No,” said Grampa. “She doesn’t need more people around. Best to leave her alone so she can calm down. Then she’ll get herself out.”

“We don’t have all day,” said Dad. “We’ve got to get her back in the barn. I have to start milking in a few hours.”

“Just leave her with me. I can get her back in. Rose can help me.” said Grampa.

“No, you’ll never get her back in, not when she’s like this.”

“I will, she’ll calm down.”

“Not so sure about that. Rose, you stay here with your Grampa while I go and check on Ronnie.”

So Grampa and I sat down on the edge of the ditch. The angelica was blooming up and down the sides of the ditch, the bees were buzzing all over them, and the sky was a huge blue dome over our heads. We watched a shiny silver airplane crawl across the sky like a tiny bug, leaving a long white line in the blueness. I felt little like that bug, except down here on earth. At first we talked but then the sun made us sleepy and we just sat there and watched the cow and the bees and the sky. It felt like we had all the time in the world. Even the poor cow closed her eyes for a nap.

We heard the ambulance come screaming down our road. It pulled into the barnyard and two paramedics jumped out and rushed into the barn with Dad. A few minutes later they came back out, pushed the stretcher with Uncle Ronnie into the back of the ambulance and sped off.

Then Dad came back out with Uncle Dave. Dad and then Uncle Dave got down in the ditch and pushed on the cow’s hind end. We tried nice words, we tried shouting, we tried pulling on a rope tied around her neck. We tried everything. But the cow kept falling all over the place, snorting and mooing like we were trying to kill her. She looked confused, scared and exhausted.

“We’re going have to shoot the thing, can’t see any other way,” Dad said.

“Let’s leave her for a bit, let her calm down and get her energy back,” said Grampa.

“No, it’s never going to work.”

“Sure it is. Let’s just leave her for a bit.”

“And then what? Say we do leave her for a couple of hours, even all night, a week? And then say by some miracle we do manage to get her out and back in the barn. Then what? This cow’s been nothing but trouble since the day we got her. Always been unpredictable, a bit crazy. Look what she did to Ronnie ‒ gave him a concussion and probably a few broken ribs too. Could have killed him!

“And how do you know that? Nobody knows that.” said Grampa. “Let’s wait a bit. I can stay out here ‘til she calms down. I got nothing better to do. You go on back in and do the milking.”

“I can stay with Grampa,” I said.

“No, I want it settled now,” said Dad.

“What’s the hurry?” said Grampa.

Dad could see that Grampa was really wanting to save that cow. He turned to Grampa and said, kind of sad like: “There’s no hurry. It’s just something that’s got to be done. You know that, Dad. You know we can’t have a cow like that around.”

Grampa didn’t say anything. He just looked down at his feet and then out into the big blue sky.

Dad told me and Grampa to go back to the farmhouse, that he would take care of it. Grampa took my hand as we walked back to his house. In my head, I could see my Dad getting the shotgun out of the closet.

I was in Grampa’s kitchen, making us a cup of coffee, when the gun went off. I starting crying and Grampa put his arms around me.

Today was Embarrassing Enough

Today was Embarrassing Enough
Lori Ann Bloomfield

Rachel sat on the red sofa and considered the blue sofa. Then she moved to the blue sofa and considered the red sofa. She tried, but failed, to imagine either of them in her living room, in the empty space where, until two weeks ago, the white sofa had been. Andy had taken the white sofa with him when he’d moved out. This hadn’t bothered Rachel as much as it should have. She’d worried so much about keeping it clean she had never been able to relax on it. She wanted a sofa she could sink in to. One she could drink tea on, or red wine, if she became the sort of person who drank red wine.

It was Saturday afternoon and Rachel was alone at Ikea. When she and Andy had first moved in together they had come to Ikea almost every weekend. Andy had jokingly described Rachel’s decorating style as, “Zen, except without the calm or the style.”

It was true that Rachel’s apartment had been pretty empty when Andy moved in. She could never decide what to buy. One thing that had impressed her about Andy was how he could gaze out over a showroom filled with fifty armchairs, his blue eyes narrowed like a gunslinger’s, and know instantly which would look best in the corner beside the window.

Frustrated and filled with indecision, Rachel stood up and limped away. The heel of her right foot felt hot and sore. It was these new black leather boots she’d let Angela talk her into buying when they went therapy shopping after Andy left.

The usual crowd of Saturday shoppers was at Ikea: the young couples, the frazzled mothers, the reluctant men allowing themselves to be dragged along in order to keep the peace. And Andy.

Rachel spotted him as he was staring intently at a throw cushion on a black leather sofa. He had a look on his face Rachel recognized. It meant that Andy almost, but not quite, liked the object he was crushing with his gaze. This particular cushion had a fault. It would be perfect to Andy if only it were a different colour, or material, or plumpness. As Rachel watched, Andy dismissed the cushion and turned to a slim blonde man in an expensive overcoat. The look Andy gave him was as warm and gooey as a caramel left in the summer sun. Rachel did not recognize this look.

Rachel ducked down and sat on the nearest sofa. How could she have not known Andy was gay? They had lived together for almost three years. All she could think about was how many pastel-coloured shirts he owned. She’d even bought him a few.

Rachel scrunched down even further. She wanted to call Angela but was afraid Andy would hear her voice. She had to get out of here before he saw her. She’d wait for him to thread his way through the living room department then when he was safely in the kitchen section she’d backtrack and make a dash for the parking lot.

“Look at that print! It looks like something Elton John would vomit,” she heard Andy say.

Rachel wanted to close her eyes the way she’d done when she was a child playing hide and seek, but they were still open when Andy and his boyfriend came around the edge of the sofa she was sitting on and stood with their backs to her. They were laughing at a sofa with a neon pink flower print. It reminded Rachel of a pair of rubber boots she’d had as a child. She’d loved those boots.

Just as she was about to sneak away, Andy turned.

“Rachel!” His voice went high with surprise.

“Hi, Andy.” She tried to sound casual as if it were the most natural thing in the world to meet your ex-boyfriend at Ikea with his new boyfriend.

“You’re not thinking of buying that sofa, are you? It would look hideous in the apartment,” Andy said.

Rachel looked down. She was not even aware of what the sofa she was sitting on looked like. It was burgundy leather.

“No. Definitely not.” Rachel sprang to her feet. “I’m thinking of going vegan.”

She had no idea where that idea had come from. But if Andy could go gay, she could go vegan, she figured.

The man with Andy said, “Don’t tell her what she can and can’t buy. It’s her apartment. She can get whatever sofa she wants. She could even buy that one.” He turned to point at the Elton John vomit over his shoulder. “Though I wouldn’t advise it. I’m Sully, by the way,” he said, extending his hand.

Andy squirmed as they shook hands. Sully, however, seemed to be enjoying himself.

“We were just on our way to the cafeteria for a coffee. Care to join us?” Sully said.

Andy looked so aghast that Rachel said yes.

Sully positioned Rachel in the middle and together the three of them walked to the cafeteria. Rachel and Andy had never gone to the cafeteria when they were together. Andy had always made fun of the cheap breakfasts and meatball specials. They’d sounded good to Rachel, but she’d never admitted that.

But here he was, dutifully following her and Sully through the cafeteria line-up. She glanced back, wondering if he wore the same look as the men who were trailing along behind their wives. Andy met her gaze with a look somewhere between fury and fear. It reminded her of the time she’d gotten up during the night to pee and had surprised him masturbating in the bathroom.

Sully filled a paper cup with coffee and added a splash of milk. His hand wavered over the sugar then fell back to his side. “I prefer honey,” she said to Rachel.

At the cash registrar they each paid for their own coffee. Rachel wondered how gay men decided who paid. Maybe they always just paid for their own. Then she wondered why she was thinking about such stupid stuff.

They sat at a table beside the window. Sully and Andy on one side, Rachel on the other, across from Sully. There was an awkward silence after the scraping of chairs and the settling down into their seats. Rachel had a history of saying embarrassing things to fill silences like this one so she forced herself to stare quietly out the window at the parking lot below. Today was embarrassing enough without adding words to it.

The sky was grey overcast, the cars mostly black or white. But inside, Ikea was a riot of colour. Rachel knew that whatever most people bought here today they would take home and squash the vibrancy out of it. Rachel knew she did it too, but didn’t want to. She wanted to learn the trick of keeping the vibrancy in things.

“Andy told me you work in advertising,” Sully was the first to break the silence, unsurprisingly.

“Insurance, actually,” Rachel said.

Sully nodded, already bored. He was probably regretting inviting her to coffee. If this was going to be fun he was going to have to work harder than he’d anticipated. “I’m a massage therapist,” he volunteered. “I rent a small room in a yoga studio downtown. If you ever need a massage…” He smiled brightly at Rachel.

Andy shot Sully a look which made Sully laugh. He tilted his head way back so that Rachel could see the edge of his straight white teeth and the pink at the back of his throat. To appease Andy he slipped a hand under the table. The two men’s eyes met and they exchanged a secret smile.

Rachel looked at the tabletop. She knew she shouldn’t be here, but she didn’t know where she should be.

A stout woman with tight grey curls stopped at their table. She wore a sweatshirt with a kitten on the front. Her glasses hung on a necklace made of pink plastic beads that bounced softly against her considerable bustline.

“You’re twins, right?” She wagged a finger between Sully and Rachel. “My brother, Gus and I were fraternal twins. He died just last year. I miss him more than my husband. It’s funny, when you start looking for twins you see them everywhere.”

Sully tilted his head and considered Rachel. Then he turned to the woman and smiled brightly. “I think I would miss my sister more than my husband, too.”

A look of confusion clouded the woman’s face then cleared. It was like watching a gust of wind blow across a pond on an otherwise still day.

“You’re both gorgeous. Enjoy your day,” she said before tottering off.

“Thanks for stopping by,” Sully called after her.

Andy stared down stonily at his fingernails.

Sully ran a hand expertly down his back and said, “You should loosen up. Relax or else you’re going to give yourself one of your headaches and then you won’t be any fun.”

“I already have one.”

Mostly from habit, though from a bit of sympathy too, Rachel opened her purse and found some aspirin. She handed the small bottle across the table. Wordlessly Andy shook two, then three, pills into his palm. He washed them down with a gulp of coffee. “Thanks,” he said, handing the now empty bottle back. He didn’t meet Rachel’s eye.

“If we are going to be mistaken for brother and sister I think you should get a better haircut,” Sully said to Rachel.

“You don’t look alike,” Andy hissed.

Sully winked at Rachel as though they really did have a familial bond, as if they did share a secret language.

Rachel could see that she and Sully were both slightly built. They shared long, willowy limbs and fine features. They were both fair-haired and blue-eyed, though Sully’s eyes were brighter. They each had small ears that sat tight to their heads and Rachel imagined that inside his shoes Sully had long, thin white feet like her own. She did not let her imagination go any further. They looked alike, though the idea of twins was pushing it.

“How come you guys are at Ikea?” Rachel asked. She wished she hadn’t said guys. It sounded weird.

The two men exchanged a wary look.

“Because he doesn’t like my place and wants to change it,” Sully said.

“That’s not true,” Andy burst out. “It’s need cohesion, that’s all.” He turned to Rachel. “It’s hodge podge, but all it needs is the right few pieces to pull it together.”

Rachel looked at Sully. “He did the same thing when he moved into my place. Changed everything to suit him.”

“Maybe he should get his own place,” Sully said. Then he tried to soften it with a smile.

“Maybe he should be an interior decorator instead of a financial advisor, then he could do this all day long and get paid for it,” Rachel said.

“That’s too gay for Andy. Isn’t it Andy?” said Sully.

“If I wanted to be an interior decorator, I’d be one. I only like designing my own space. I don’t care about anyone else’s,” Andy said. Rachel could tell he was straining to keep his voice calm.

“We were arguing about this over by the sofas,” Sully said.

“We weren’t arguing,” Andy insisted.

“I think Andy is ashamed to be gay,” Sully said.

Andy massaged his left temple and stared down at his coffee. Rachel could tell the aspirins had been wasted on him. She should have kept them.

“Andy didn’t say he was leaving you for a man, did he?” Sully demanded. Rachel suspected that Sully was not as angry as he sounded. He just liked to fight.

“What Andy and I talk about is between Andy and me,” Rachel said.

Sully looked surprised, like a spoiled child that was finally reprimanded.

“Then I’ll leave you two alone to chat.” Sully stood up like he were on a stage, not in the Ikea cafeteria. He stormed off, his coat swaying dramatically behind him. Rachel had the feeling that was why he had bought it.

Andy watched Sully leave then took a sip of coffee.

“You’d better go after him,” Rachel said. She was surprised how calm her voice sounded. She was even more surprised by how calm she felt.

For the first time that day Andy smiled at Rachel. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his keys. Holding them up like they were a prize he said, “Sully has forgotten that I drove.”

They laughed but not from happiness or even malice. It was simply a release of tension. Then it was over and the awkwardness snuck back in. Rachel drained her coffee cup and stood up. “Still, you should go after him. Make sure he’s alright.”

“What are you going to do?” Andy asked.

“I’m going to buy a sofa. But don’t even ask which one because I’m not telling you. I’m buying the one I want and I refuse to be talked out of it.”

Andy raised one eyebrow and smiled wryly. Then he gave a small shrug and held up both hands.

Rachel waved good-bye. A lump was forming in her throat and she didn’t trust her voice. She could feel Andy watching her as she left the cafeteria but didn’t know what he was thinking. Probably she never had.

As she threaded her way through the Saturday shoppers she thought again of those long forgotten rubber boots from childhood. She remembered twirling in them on the sidewalk in front of her house and feeling pretty. She had not worried then how she looked, or whether anyone was watching, or what they were thinking if they were.

Charity Case

Charity Case

Howie Good

1

Swallowing a handful of pills solves every problem, although I didn’t necessarily want it that way. Nearby is another me that I can’t see but that sees me. It’s impossible when looking around not to imagine some prior tragedy, all the deserted cities the jungle overgrew. Whatever happened to the right to be lazy? I try to tell myself that if less is more, then nothing must be even more. A woman outside the Stop & Shop is collecting money in a can, her eyes like rusted bullet holes.

2

You look up from what you’re doing, interrupted by a chain of thunderstorms moving through the region, something that might mean something, broken people and animals, and the way they stand, and the trouble they get in. The wallpaper pattern repeats the image of a body hanging from a lamp post. It sounds horrifying, but that’s the idea. You and everyone else have begun to suffer the effects. Often eyes become red. So I press my eyes shut. This is wrong, I say and keep saying until my voice gives out.

3

A farmer and his wife, after their horse dies, want to carry machine guns so they can intimidate passing motorists. They go immediately to a lawyer. No skin off my ass. In the United States we have a curious relationship to death – a very crazy old man, unanchored by horizons, riding on a cloud beyond the beyond, where simple words look like galaxies.

4

Some years are bright and funky – and even reportedly saved a man’s life once. But she had a sad little funeral. It was rainy. It was all wrong. And I was thinking, God, she loved life so much, everything in the world, including the air. Like the Sufis say, “Life is a dream, and death is waking up.” Not that anyone will.

Source for #4: Allison Meier, “The Funeral of Artists” at <http://hyperallergic.com/179082/the-funerals-of-artists&gt;

A Day in Three Parts

A Day in Three Parts

Jill Talbot

A Night in the McDonald’sIMG_0238

Half expecting to be kicked out, I wrote this out expecting to be drained, forgiven, but all that came was more of the same, until I’m sorry for being sorry and have forgotten why. For whatever I did, I apologize, profusely, out of the flesh of seedy bars. I have become one of those people who talks to themselves in McDonald’s and goes to church in the bathroom. The taste of regret, smell of fat and Barbie Girl playing, that hugely sexist pop song of the nineties we all hated to love and loved to hate, like McDonald’s at midnight.

Sort of like being in a fishbowl—the decorations—obviously for the people looking in and not its inhabitants and incredibly unnatural; so unnatural one does not know any longer how to behave. I could try suing McDonald’s for coffee that is too hot as that woman did down south. Sue the mechanic, the zoo, sue BC ferries. Find the missing parts in McDonald’s parking lots. Except the coffee isn’t hot at all—it tastes like charcoal and lukewarm soup. Everything is greasy in the ghetto.

The McDonald’s has been closed for an hour, if I leave I won’t be able to return. For the third time my life was saved by the cost of missed ferries and cell phone chargers. I’m going back to the mechanic.

images-2

A Day at Horseshoe Bay

What do you get if you write, “I’m sorry” a million times over? Would it mean more had you written it once? Does it make a difference if it’s hand-written, typed individually or copy pasted? Am I sorry the way Bill Clinton was or am I sorry the way his Hillary was? Am I sorry the way the caught robber was or the way the maker of the Titanic was? Stuck in a long lineup the damn truck held us all back.

A man once jumped off a Horseshoe Bay bound ferry, said that he wanted to get to a basketball game on time, they kept him in the psych ward only overnight. Sometimes I am surprised this doesn’t happen more often. Might call it a death drive but—perhaps—he just wanted to swim. Perhaps he time travelled and thought he was on the Titanic. Perhaps he was a physicist who could prove it’s possible to be in two places at once.

Maybe he was tired of BC ferries announcements or the smell of White Spot. Maybe he was a polar bear in disguise. Maybe he needed an alibi. Maybe he wanted to be written about by people like me who have nothing to do but wonder why people don’t jump and why they do. Maybe he wanted to visit a psych ward. Which are, by the way, overrated. I jumped once, too.

A Morning with the Mechanic

Snooze. “The fucking fuck is fucking fucked.” I’ve heard two people quote a mechanic that way. One was a famous poet, the other, something less noble, which is really more noble, don’t you think? Both were from saw mills where being fucking fucked was a daily occurrence. I wonder if it was the same mechanic or if this is just a new language.

This is the language I use for my alarm clock—amongst other things, such as Canada Post and feral turkeys. The clock replies with something similar so we both begin our day in such a way. No wonder the truck is fucking fucked. Karma’s a bitch.

A Good Day for Nudnik Fish

A Good Day for Nudnik Fish

Larry Lefkowitz

coelacanth-blue-990x366

I prefer my Tel Aviv from the vintage days – before the upper crust skyscrapers disturbed the eyes and the hype the ears, and most of all, before the arrival of the glitzy marina. I berth my skiff wherever I find a bit of sand on the shore that hasn’t yet been taken for private development. Nobody disturbs the boat — it’s been around so long they know it’s mine — vintage, like me. I make it a point to fish with my back to the skyscrapers, facing the horizon.

Usually it takes me a while to catch the first fish. But that day as I sat in the skiff on the sea, they simply weren’t biting. Changing bait, changing fishing spots – gornisht. “Can you pull in the leviathan with a fishhook?” asks Job. I would settle for a fish far smaller than leviathan, I mused — and then the fish jumped into the boat. I pounced on him before he could jump out of the boat. “Wait long enough and they come to you,” I shouted triumphantly the old fisherman’s wisdom.

He turned out to be a disappointingly small fish, though a pretty one – a type I had never seen before — with gold scales that put those of your aquarium goldfish in the shade. I picked him up to toss him back. He was too small for frying.

“Don’t do that,” the fish pleaded. “Not before using your three wishes.”

A talking fish. Trouble. If you tell people a talking fish jumped into your boat, even bait-sellers will give you the fish eye.

Continue reading A Good Day for Nudnik Fish

ONE WAY WEST

FullSizeRender-11

 

Excerpt from the novel Un passage vers l’Occident, by Didier Leclair, translated by Elaine Kennedy with Sheryl Curtis

The small fishing boat taking Africans to the coast of Spain was heaving in high waves. Each time the hull pounded the water, the passengers cried out in panic. None of them was used to being on a boat. For some, it was their first time out on the open water and they vowed it would be their last. Drenched with spray, they clung to their seats and the side of the boat, determined to set foot on Spanish soil. All seven were desperate to reach Europe and escape the poverty and fratricidal wars in their homelands. Some intended to stay in Spain; others hoped to go on to Italy, Germany, France or Belgium. Their final destinations varied, but their goal was the same—to flee to a rich country. Each of them had an infallible plan for disappearing into the night when they arrived. They would join an uncle or a brother who had already settled in the West. They knew the names of cities and streets, along with a few words in several European languages to help them find their way. The bolder ones even imagined meeting another African who would provide information, assistance or shelter. Yet all these schemes were no more than dreams until they managed to cross the Strait of Gibraltar. Their new life could not begin until they had completed this first leg of the journey across fifteen kilometres of water up to three hundred and fifty metres deep. Across a treacherous arm of the sea that can be smooth when it’s supposed to be rough and that can slam the cliffs when it seems to be calm. But then, this gateway to the Mediterranean separates Africa from Europe. A natural divide filled with age-old waters, it marks the boundary between two worlds of growing disparity: Western Europe, capable of providing for its citizens, and Africa, unable to meet the basic needs of the majority. This contrast, spawning envy and hatred, is mirrored in the rough and unpredictable waters of the strait. Continue reading ONE WAY WEST

Sedalia, Missouri

Sedalia, Missouri

by
Jacob Potashnik

Winter, 1990. The walk from the hovercraft to the train station was short but left me wet and thoroughly chilled to the bone. The weather, a mix of wind and pelting rain and snow was an affront. On the quay for the train from Boulogne to Paris, Mr. Six/Four bent low and easily hoisted a limp sack of a young man out of a wheel chair and into his huge arms. A porter folded the chair and lead the way. A woman, grey-haired frail, thin, at least sixty-five, follows.

My seat was across the aisle from theirs and they were quick to smile and nod to me as they settled in. He who I had taken for a young man, was not a young man and his story was very clear. Forty, remarkably thick dark hair falling like a wave over his forehead, thin, gray, gleaming skin, Kaposi’s sarcoma, full blown AIDS.

At the first pass of the car snack service Six/Four ordered coffee.

“Teddy,” the woman stage whispered, “Will you look at that?”

It was the standard French train café filtre, a two stage plastic unit, hot water goes in the top, filtered coffee drains into the bottom. Six/Four was so pleased he was beaming but Teddy has seen it all before.

“Wait till you taste it,” he muttered, smiling gamely.

“Well, I never,” said the woman in admiration. “They make such a fuss.”

“Smells heavenly,” Six/Four agreed. “After the English stuff.”

Continue reading Sedalia, Missouri

Nothing Will Suffice

Nothing Will Suffice

by Andre Narbonne

The Facebook notice follows the funeral in short order. Joan has just lost her husband, Bryce, and now the children she grew up with in a Northern Ontario mining town in the days before computers are back and posting pictures.

Is this my Joannie Crebb? My name is Marie Benoit. If you’re the right Joannie you’ll remember me as Marie Boutin. I’ve married into a new B. LOL. The kids from Balmerville have formed a group and we’d like you to join – if this is the right Joannie. Can you be the first hit on Google? We’re all so hard to find except Geoffrey. LOL. Always in jail.

She accepts the invitation: clicks “Join Group” and scrolls through their lives.

The pictures are curiously similar. The girls she ran with the last time she ran for the sheer pleasure of it have grown into chubbier versions of themselves. In the seventies they came across as daring but the daring didn’t take. They housewife – or trailer-wife, depending on the northerness of the mining town into which they’ve gravitated. They proud parent twenty-year-old children or they adoringly grandparent toddlers. Their Facebook walls are the record of a generation enamoured of fantasy to the point of being prosaic. They have little interest in current events but post daily on the afterlife. Aphorisms substitute for self-evaluation, conspiracies for politics.

Continue reading Nothing Will Suffice

Right of Way

Right of Way

by Kate Sheckler

Two wrongs don’t make a right. Words her mother repeated so often that Holly cannot think of them without hearing her mother’s tone, the inflection of superior wisdom shaping each rounded vowel and clipping the T at the end with decision and a sure knowledge of the meaning of those two words – wrong/right. For Holly, it’s a distinction that is never obvious, one that hides behind details each of which changes the picture suggesting options and alternative views, details that remind Holly of all the reasons things have turned out the way they have – so it is with indecision that she stands at this counter covered with melamine, cool, chipped, and engrained with grime. She considers the embedded pattern of grunge as if it holds an encoded message, some decisive statement that offers an opinion on this thing she is about to do. But the grub gray lines, set permanently in the textured surface, offer nothing, and she turns her attention to the papers waiting for a signature. Her signature. Holly Baxter nee Holly Meredith. The forms sit, flat and unobtrusive, yet still Holly can feel their pressure and bites her lip, wincing as the cut opens again with an additional tearing of the delicate skin. The salt metallic of blood on the tip of her tongue, she considers the papers once more. Black and white, they offer no middle ground.

Continue reading Right of Way

LISTENING TO THE DIVINE SHOUT BEFORE DRIVING AROUND THE FROGS THAT LEAVE THE LOAM

LISTENING TO THE DIVINE SHOUT BEFORE DRIVING AROUND THE FROGS THAT LEAVE THE LOAM

by Brian Michael Barbeito

 

I went to the place where the urban meets the rural and walked down sandy pathways to see ponds. The dusk was going to announce itself there. I had been trying to escape the day because the day had been a lurid artifact- too bright, too angled, and in point of fact, too new. I just needed to see the tree lines where the difficult storms had grown vexatious taken the leaves and branches ragged across tornado –like skies fluttering like a bat can seem to flutter. At the bottom of summits I watched the rocks grand and small. There was a great stillness, a preternatural quietude and so I, in turn, to honor such a natural silence, remained quiet. It wasn’t difficult as I was alone. I had the queer idea that some metaphysical presence might make itself known. Not a deva or sprite, no, nothing like that. And not a guardian angel or whispered message from the large Bur Oaks, Pines, or feral shrubs. Then what? To tell the truth, I did not and do not know. I just thought something might happen there. It did and it did not. I didn’t hear or see anything, and cannot tell a lie. But there was something in the silence. Maybe it is something they speak about in the perennial philosophy, if the perennial philosophy speaks anywhere of a silence that seems to shout the divine. It was. It was. It was. It was a grace that rang out from the quiet dusk pond by the crescive and verdant meandering path walls, from the thunder miles and miles away that did lightly erupt into the air across pregnant and warning cumulus, and from the dense thicket making a perimeter around the outside of the back of the water that sat still and stoically as a rooftop for the water spiders. I was grateful. I had not seen God A Person or a burning bush, but I had received through the agency of nature some calmness. That is how I felt after hearing the sum of the sound of the forest and water. Afterwards, it started to rain. I had to use my high beams or ‘Brights’ as some people used to call them. I noticed that the rain disturbs the frogs and they begin to come out to the roads, the one-lane highways I had to traverse. I tried to maneuver around them so as not to hurt even one. Difficult. I managed well enough. I was glad, even a bit heart-swept to arrive home.

 A Death at the Hands of

 A Death at the Hands of

by Meghan Rose Allen

“I don’t deserve this,” she might have said. “Do I?”

***

    They shot her in the head and buried her on the beach where the dunes meet the sand. Wrapped and weighted. I wasn’t there when they dug her up. Someone must have been. Someone must have found her. The Garda in Ireland or the army or a man walking a dog, a big dog as hairy as a Shetland pony, digging in the brown sand until it found something. A piece of plastic. A hand. I don’t know. I wasn’t there.

***

    Mary goes on the news.

“I don’t care,” she tells the newscaster, her accent muddled about from all those years in London and then Sydney and then Montreal. “They can retaliate all they want to. I saw who came to the door that night. Three of them had masks, but two didn’t. I saw and so did half the people on the estate. No one’s been willing to speak up for forty years. Fine then. I will. I’m only back here for one more week. Let them try.”

Mary says she will talk to the police, if they ask.

“No one in power wants to rehash all that, especially for some poor washerwoman from West Belfast,” Mary says. “Derailing all the good work that’s been done since then. I do understand. But in another way, they killed my mother. Why shouldn’t someone answer to that?”

***

    Mary calls my mobile from the cab driving her back from the studio.

“They’re going to shoot you too,” I say. “You know that.”

“It’s all a bluff,” Mary says. My phone crackles and I lose the connection. I never remember to the plug the damn thing in. I only have one because Mary insists. For emergencies.

    ***

Continue reading  A Death at the Hands of

A Series of Disjointed Images by Roxy Hearn

A Series of Disjointed Images

Roxy Hearn

 

I’m not sure how to say this.

I

My life consisted of a little green bundle

Of memories all rolled up into

One nicely packed joint.

And then I smoked it.

Through the dull haze I

Remember that it happened in chunks.

The time I lived in Nova Scotia, dancing

The lead in The Nutcracker and thinking

That it couldn’t get any better than this.

Realizing shortly after that perhaps I was right.

The time I lived in Toronto, knowing

What I wanted to do but not how

To do it. I trudged forward through the slush

Being heaped onto me

Accepting the wet socks for what they were.

Wet socks.

When I feel control slipping

Away I crawl into bed, sheets

Pulled up over my face. As

I lie there I look at my life backwards,

Examining every moment that led to

Each moment. What I did and

What I could have done.

But when I can no longer feel the words fall into order,

I rely on images that can barely express what

I am trying to say.

II

The cards can be stacked in

All the right places, and the

Unforeseen wind can still

Knock them over.

Through this muddled mess of

Cards I rebuild myself time and time

Again. Each time being careful to close

The window. To shut out the obtrusive breeze

That no number of bolts can hold

And will always find its way back in.

I search for the light though,

In hope that one day I will

Get it right. I know I

Have all the cards, even

Counted all fifty two, making sure.

The problem is in finding

That precarious balance

That I need. I crave.

When the frustration becomes too

Great, and at the end of the day

I am still left with a pile of

Mixed up numbers and faces

At my feet, I look for other

Ways to relieve the pressure.

A place where It’s okay to

Feel out of control.

Where I can allow myself to coast to the top,

And in that moment of suspension

Accept the fate that I caused,

Then fall.

Sometimes arms raised in elation.

Sometimes gripping the bar

White knuckled with fear.

Like that time I just said yes,

Rather than sitting there debating.

Instead, I packed my bags and was

On a plane the next morning,

Off to the island destination of

Rotan, Honduras, where I spent

A week with my feet in the sand.

But I digress.

While on these rides I can’t

Always control who is

Going to assume the seat

Next to me. These chance

Encounterings have the power to

Inflict change, start a watershed to

Whisk me into the next scene of my play.

It has been my experience

That these actors, without permission,

Simply write themselves in. Sometimes

(Rather always) they lack the Same sense

Of poetics that I myself prefer to

Weave, yet it provides a nice break

For the audience, just as the play

Starts to drag on.

And just when I think I’ve adjusted

To this change, and my writing has adapted

To their offbeat syntax, they quit.

Not even giving the customary

Two weeks notice.

III

And yet they were still there

No matter how brief.

So in my program

These extras take their

Credit:

The childhood sweetheart I’ll never see again.

The pot head I never could change.

The bad boy I never wanted to change.

The music man on top of that mountain.

The European who literally found me when I was lost.

The German whom I was forced to regret.

The jock I hate to love.

The Cabana boy under the stars.

The American boy under those same stars.

The friend who was there for it all.

They are only a small part of the

Stanza that make up my pieces.

Ink is expensive, after all.

And even when the theatre empties

The ballet continues.

For example:

I met a man last week

A faceless smudge from

Across the bar somehow

Standing out from the rest.

It starts with a point

That I’ve always needed to prove.

The competition I compete in

Alone.

So, High on the liquid cocaines

Pulsating steadily through me, I

Perform my well-oiled routine:

Starts with the eyes peeking out

From under long lashes.

Knees accidentally brush,

Lingering for the perfect

Amount of too long.

Head remains cocked

Quizzically, feigning Interest.

One suggestive bite

Of the lip later and

They are ready for

The grand finale.

But this time it didn’t work

The way it usually does.

This time it wasn’t feigned interest.

He had something to say.

Now I’m the one stuck.

He won. I lost.

Then one day he will be gone

Just like the rest of them.

And at that time

I’ll take a single moment

Erasing him from

My pages even though the grain

Of wood has already left

It’s print but I will continue

To scrub until the lead is

Only a phantom trace

And easy to ignore.

And then move on.

It’s usually for the best anyways,

I enjoy it while it lasts.

Besides, there is always another one

More than willing to take his place.

IV

I say this not to brag,

But to set in ink the girl

That I am today

Or yesterday

Because I do not know

Where she is going to be

In a year, or if I’ll miss her

When she’s gone.

V

For now, I suppose, I will continue

On my way,

Noting that the faster I walk

The more important the

Thing I have to do becomes.

That’s what it’s all about

I think

Seeing how much stuff

I can get done

In this short amount

Of time that doesn’t

Feel all that short.

So until that time I will fill my

Rhyme with senseless boys and

Useless toys.

I’ll float from job

To job, traverse the

Waters, allow myself

To be seized by the

Passionate throws

Of opportunity.

Maybe start a family simply

Out of unadulterated boredom.

Worse comes to worse,

Maybe I did miscount

And will be

Forced to improvise.

Forced to handcraft

New cards just so I can finish

My masterpiece,

Move into my castle, and then

Promptly move away.

I’m pretty handy like

That anyways.

But back to the socks:

Socks which are wet defeat the purpose

Of wearing socks in the first place. Yet

At least they have a set purpose,

A predetermined point.

I never liked socks much anyways.

 

Photo by Harry Rajchgot, Museum of Modern Art, NYC, 2005