PRISM international

Prism international Prism international Jan 31, 2005

Item Metadata

Download

Media
prism-1.0135256.pdf
Metadata
JSON: prism-1.0135256.json
JSON-LD: prism-1.0135256-ld.json
RDF/XML (Pretty): prism-1.0135256-rdf.xml
RDF/JSON: prism-1.0135256-rdf.json
Turtle: prism-1.0135256-turtle.txt
N-Triples: prism-1.0135256-rdf-ntriples.txt
Original Record: prism-1.0135256-source.json
Full Text
prism-1.0135256-fulltext.txt
Citation
prism-1.0135256.ris

Full Text

 PRISM international
Winter 2005
43:2
EEEU
Contemporary Writing from Canada and around the World
. .■ . ■ -: "■■'.■ ■■  PRISM international
2004 Rogers Communication
Literary Nonfiction Contest
Grand Prize - $500
Russell Wangersky
"Ways of Seeing"
Runners-up
Joelene Heathcote
"Postmen Don't Have Guns"
Mark Jarman
"Kingdoms and Knowledge"
Judges
Lynne Bowen
Andreas Schroeder
Contest Manager
Clea Young
Readers
Christine Carriere
Amy Dennis
Terry Dove
Sandra Fillipelli
Barry Grenon
Zoya Harris
Harmony Ho
Arlene Kroeker
Jane Kuizings
Sarah Leavitt
Judy McFarlane
Susan Olding
Joelle Renstrom
Kara Sievewright
Kirsten Solli-Nowlan
Robert Weston
Joe Wiebe
Zinta Williams
Benjamin Wood  PRISM international
Fiction Editor
Catharine Chen
Poetry Editor
Amanda Lamarche
Executive Editor
Brenda Leifso
Associate Editors
Amber Dawn
Benjamin Wood
Business Managers
Zoya Harris
Robert Weston
Advisory Editors
George McWhirter
Andreas Schroeder
Production Manager
Jennifer Herbison
Editorial Board
Amy Dennis
Cameron Gilley
Barry Grenon
Janey Lew
Nancy Mauro
Clea Young
Readers
Brad Duncan    Kimberly Mancini
Kathryn Hepburn     Erin McShane
Harmony Ho    Annie Murray PRISM international, a magazine of contemporary writing, is published
four times a year by the Creative Writing Program at the University of
British Columbia, Buchanan E-462, 1866 Main Mall, Vancouver, BC, V6T
IZl. Microfilm editions are available from University Microfilms Inc., Ann
Arbor, MI, and reprints from the Kraus Reprint Corporation, New York, NY.
The magazine is listed by the Canadian Literary Periodicals Index.
E-mail: prism@interchange.ubc.ca
Website: prism.arts.ubc.ca
Contents Copyright ® 2005 PRISM international for the authors.
Cover illustration: Meat Magi, by Mark Ryden.
Canadian Subscription Rates (please include 7% G.S.T.): one-year individual $22.00; two-year individual $35.00; library and institution one-year
$32.00; two-year $45.00. International Subscription Rates (please pay in
US dollars): One-year individual $18.00; two-year individual $27.00; library
and institution one-year $27.00; two-year $40.00. Sample copy: CDN$9.95.
Please note that all money orders must be in Canadian Funds Only.
Submission Guidelines: PRISM internationaipurchases First North American Serial Rights for $40.00 per page for poetry and $20.00 per page for other
genres. Contributors receive a one-year subscription. PRISM also purchases
limited digital rights for selected work, for which it pays an additional $10.00
per page. All manuscripts should be sent to the editors at the above address.
Manuscripts should be accompanied by a self-addressed envelope with Canadian stamps or International Reply Coupons. Manuscripts with insufficient return postage will be held for six months and then discarded. Translations should he accompanied by a copy of the work(s) in the original
language. The advisory editors are not responsible for individual selections,
but for the magazine's overall mandate including continuity, quality, and
budgetary obligations.
For details on how to place an advertisement in PRISM international, please
contact our executive editor. PRISM occasionally exchanges subscriber lists
with other literary magazines. Please contact us if you wish to be excluded
from such exchanges.
Our gratitude to Dean Nancy Gallini and the Dean of Arts Office at the
University of British Columbia.
We gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the Canada Council
for the Arts and the British Columbia Arts Council.
Publications Mail Registration No. 08867. January 2005. ISSN 0032.8790
A
Conseil des Arts     Canada Council mJt^\       BRITISH
du Canada for the Arts MLjSL   COLUMBIA
ARTS COUNCIL
Supported by [he Province of British Columbia Contents
Volume 43, Number 2
Winter 2005
2004 Rogers Communication
Literary Nonfiction Contest
Judge's Essay
Lynne Bowen
Going Beyond What is Safe / 7
Winning Entry
Russell Wangersky
Ways of Seeing / 9
Fiction
Lily Mabura
Up on the Hill / 19
Allison Hack
Balance / 36
Zoe Frechette
The Anticipation of Wind / 45
SA Afolabi
In the Garden / 57
Carrie Mac
Real Life Slow Motion Show / 68 Poetry
George Elliott Clarke
Pierre Elliott Trudeau /16
Train Conversation / 17
Progressive Descent / 18
Lee A. Tnnouchi
Choosing One Cat / 30
Shannon Bramer
Snakes and Bees / 32
13 Ways of Looking at Jason Brown / 33
John Wall Barger
Hatchway / 43
Masarah Van Eyck
The Wasp Returns in the Form of a Farmhand / 44
Georges Godeau
A Light / 55
The Difference / 56
translated from the French by Kathleen McGookey
Russell Thornton
Temple of Play/ 66
Barry Dempster
Bad Habits/ 75
Contributors /79 Lynne Bowen
Going Beyond What is Safe
It was an American writer, Annie Dillard, who said it best. In her essay
"To Fashion a Text" she explained her transition from writing poetry
to writing nonfiction. "[N]onfiction prose..., like poetry, can tolerate
all sorts of figurative language... [but] the range of rhythms in prose is
larger and grander than it is in poetry, and it can handle discursive ideas
and plain information as well as character and story"
Dillard's juxtaposition of poetry with nonfiction is intriguing in itself.
Not only is she acknowledging the poetry in nonfiction prose, she also
seems to be saying that the comparison between the two genres is plausible because there is an element of nonfiction in poetry.
As a teacher of creative nonfiction writing in a Canadian university, I
make no apologies for quoting Dillard. In the most recent flowering of
literary nonfiction that occurred in the last thirty years of the twentieth
century, American writers have led the way just as the French did in the
sixteenth century and the English in the eighteenth.
But we Canadians are breathing down the necks of our American cousins. Entries have come to the Rogers Communications Literary Nonfiction
Contest from both countries in each of the six years since the contest's
inception in 1999, but this year the winner and the two runners-up are all
from Canada.
The winning essay, Russell Wangersky's "Ways of Seeing," illustrates
Dillard's beliefs about nonfiction prose well. Wangersky uses poetic language and metaphor as he plays with the concept of memory and the
simple things that trigger it. In prose that is rhythmic and spare, he casts
doubt on the veracity of memory. Not only does he question its accuracy,
but whether the things he remembers even happened. By the end of the
piece, Wangersky has us thinking about the events in life that run parallel
to each other and how the predictable almost never happens in nonfiction.
My fellow judge, Andreas Schroeder, and I are of one mind in our
appreciation of Wangersky's style and, most importantly, his eagerness to
experiment with structure.
The same can be said of runners-up Mark Jarman ("Kingdoms and
Knowledge") andjoelene Heathcote ("Postmen Don't Have Guns"). Several other entries demonstrate excellent style and craft, but only Wangersky,
Jarman, and Heathcote go beyond what is safe to what is new and dangerous. That is what Annie Dillard did in the 1970s when she wrote Pilgrim at
Tinker Creek—the book that won her the Pulitzer Prize at the age of thirty.
And that is what the nonfiction writers do who are advancing the art form
today Literary nonfiction is poetic, metaphoric, rhythmic and amenable
to experimentation—the perfect medium for literary expression in the
unpredictable twenty-first century. Russell Wangersky
Ways of Seeing
Sometimes, I remember it as if it were a dream, in that fragile,
unfocused way where the edges lose their definition. And maybe
there are parts of it that were. I remember my father on the stairs,
holding my brother in his arms, but I don't remember where it fits. Whether
it all happened the way I think it did, or whether it's just scattered memories that I gathered in, sticking them all together in ways that suited me.
It happens sometimes, and you don't like to admit it: you stick something in the wrong place, use it as justification for scars and recriminations
when really it comes from another day, another week, another month. You
don't mean to, it just happens. The only reality you have is your own, so
you come to count on it.
I remember a summer cottage we once had in Owl's Head, Nova Scotia.
I remember a neighbour named Gallant, Vin Gallant, who always smiled
and who always smoked Player's Light. I remember the bearded sturdy
sailor inside the life ring on the front of the package. I remember the way
Gallant would twist the silver foil from the packet into a tight ball and
then flick it at you from the hollow of the palm of his hand.
"Gotcha," he would say, the same way he would say it when he did that
trick with the strike-anywhere matches, flicking them so they tumbled
towards you, end over end, one end flared and suddenly burning.
My parents remember locking the door, and expecting to come back
the following week to find the whole place had been burned to the ground,
for no other reason than the simple logic that's sometimes found at the
bottom of a case of Oland's Ex. They imagined a jut-jawed man from
small-town Nova Scotia with a lit Player's Light between his first and
second knuckle, smiling while leaning towards you like he meant to punch
you in the mouth, then climbing into his car and fishtailing away down the
gravel road. Dust in a rooster tail behind, climbing into the air.
I remember the sun shining down there hard and bright day after day,
remember collecting mussels off the rocks in the cold Atlantic, reaching
down into the water as far as we could, reach and for as long as we could
stand the chill, the small boat rolling in the swells, the water so frigid that
it made the bones in your arms ache. My mother remembers a dead mouse,
always, in the kitchen sink near the drain, where it had fallen in and had
found itself unable to escape the vertical stainless steel sides, until we came back to find its furred and forlorn carcass nose-down.
I remember a lot of things, and I'm sometimes unable to sort out the
difference between what is true, and what is just my impression. The way
you might remember an incredible drift of laden raspberry bushes—just
the raspberry bushes and the sweet, rich tang of their juice—without ever
remembering that they sprouted up among a pasture of wrecked and abandoned cars, and that you picked the berries by jumping from one car roof
to another, feeling the thin steel cave and dent beneath your weight, hearing the rusted metal kink.
I think I remember the tack, my brother in my father's arms, and the
way it all happened: one brassy bright thumbtack that I remember leaving, point-upwards, at the very top of the basement stairs.
I remember putting it there, and planning that my brother would sleepwalk to the top of the stairs and step exactly there, that the tack would sink
into the ball of his foot, and he would awaken suddenly, the way sleepwalkers are never supposed to wake. And it would be perfect, the perfect
revenge for whatever latest sibling slight I might have suffered. That's
how I remember planning it. And that's the way I remember it happening.
The cool, smooth feeling of cotton sheets, white and cold against summer skin. That first shock of cold that gives way so quickly to body heat,
the stiff surface of the fabric. Sinking against the deep give of feathers
inside. Waiting for sleep, surrounded by the scent of sheets fresh off the
clothesline—the smell of sun and salt and juniper—burrowed in, while all
the sounds topple over themselves; the familiar thump and bang of the
house being readied for night. A cupboard door in the kitchen, water
running in the tub, the bleating distant single note of an outdoor car horn.
The tick of cooling roof beams and boards. Mother's muffled chuckle
from their room. Until eventually there is only the even breathing of
sleepers.
I remember the night with the tack as one of those nights, a summer
night, although I have no idea whether that was the case. It could just as
easily have been winter, it could have been any season, and even more
unsettling, it may never have happened at all. But I wanted it to happen,
wanted it to happen with every scrap of my nine-year-old being, and I see
it as clearly as I can see anything in memory: that tobacco-tasting first
kiss—completely offhand for her, completely riveting for me—or the slippery-cold eager first touch of the strange fingers of a new love.
But just because you remember it, that doesn't always mean it's true.
Like the way I remember my mother jumping out of a closet in my
room, growling like a bear, as I came in from the bathroom. I was ten,
wrapped in a towel, fresh from the bath, thinking already about pyjamas
and bed. I remember that she was smiling that wide, eager smile she has,
the smile that's supposed to pull you in. She swears it didn't happen, that
10 she would not have done anything like that. That she would obviously
remember it clearly if she had.
Yet I remember it just the same, surrounded in a flare of yellow-white
light, as if the entire room had burst bright with shock. I can even hear the
sharp high shriek of my own voice, hear it filling the room, hear it rattling
around, jagged.
And I can convince myself logically, rationally, that she's right, that it
didn't happen, yet I will never, ever find a way to forgive her for doing it.
My neighbour drives too fast. He drives too fast for a residential street,
too fast for a street where kids play ball hockey during the day. He drives
without turning his head, a permanent profile rushing by me like a head
on a postage stamp. When he gets to his driveway, he cuts the wheels
sharply and goes in really fast. Some day on thin slick driveway ice, maybe
that sudden jamming-on of the brakes won't be enough, and he'U pile into
that steel front door, the brass number 61 falling off the doorframe and
ringing on the ground.
He reminds me of Vin Gallant, my neighbour Verd does, something
about his jaw and the way he knows there's no need to ever look around.
It's like he can control everything he sees, as if he can dictate shape and
speed and colour by what he chooses to focus on.
It's a kind of unshakeable confidence, as if he's able to simply impose
his will on the world.
At night in the summer, I can hear them through my open bathroom
window: Verd and the woman he lives with, coughing and yelling and
fighting, the dogs exploding into paroxysms of manic furious barking
whenever they think they hear footsteps on the gravel driveway between
our houses. I imagine the small, brightly lit kitchen they sit in—I can only
see one corner of their kitchen table from my bathroom, along with the
big fan they've got fixed in the window, huffing air inside. She coughs and
coughs, desperate wet gasping coughs, the kind that make you feel like
you should be doubled over as well. And sometimes you wonder if she's
ever going to come up for air—she never speaks when she's outside, and
she looks away from your eyes if you try to talk to her. And Verd—
slender, small, angry Verd—walks the dogs, three big frightening dogs, his
control over them absolute. King, the smallest, is a mixed-breed, brown
and black and white with short hair, whippet-thin. King can turn on a cat
and Verd can call him off in mid-charge with one sharp word.
You can't help but have the feeling it might work the other way, too,
that Verd could just as simply tell King to come at you and he would. Just
the way he'd break away from attacking a cat, he'd be on you, too afraid of
Verd to stop for anything.
Verd didn't speak to me for the first two months I lived here, up on the
second floor of an old St. John's house that had been turned into two
11 apartments. I live in what had been the upstairs bedrooms when the house
was all in one piece. Old windows, hard to open in the heat, some painted
completely shut. Up there, I look out over the neighbourhood on every
side except the front, higher up than all my neighbours. In the back of the
house is a tight shelter of the tops of maple trees, and in the summer wind,
the leaves swish together, a slithery slick whisper that is as familiar as the
smell of smoke.
And who am I?Just a sometimes too-intense forty-two-year-old, caught
in the hard, bright amber of a divorce in progress, trying hard to define
just what place I inhabit.
I'm still rocked by dreams, still shaken by the repeated stabs of that
sharp little knife of regret, a knife you hardly feel going in, but feel really
well when it twists between your ribs. I can still feel the telephone bite my
neck like a poisonous snake, and I can feel the world getting away from
me, twisting away out of my hands and speeding up with a dangerous,
unsettling wobble.
But I'm either getting ahead of myself here, or running away with myself entirely. Because I was trying to explain about Verd—and, I suppose,
about me.
I'd say hello, and Verd would walk by without turning, holding me
arm's-length and out of existence every time. He could do that. Hold me
out of existence by simply refusing to acknowledge that I was even there.
I've been there six months now, and I can hardly go into my boys'
room when they aren't with me, when they're with their mother. Can't go
in the room without bunching their rumpled sheets against my face, trying
to catch some hint of them, the lead-pencil scruffy smell of their necks. I
leave things where they lie, the blankets bunched, their pyjamas half-inside-out and stuffed under their pillows. They have big pine bunkbeds, and
they hardly ever sleep the whole night on their own, one or the other of
them stumbling into my room in the middle of the night, his pyjama legs
jammed up around his knees from thrashing around when he sleeps.
You can feel danger sometimes, feel it as thick and heavy around you as
summer humidity. So that you wade through it when you walk, push against
it with every step, feel the weight of it when you swing your arms. Oh, and
I didn't mention this: Verd feels like danger.
Danger is never far away when you have children. When they are really
small and completely perfect, just babies, dread diseases seem to swirl
around them like gnats. Every cold, every flu seems to have its own mysterious high fevers. When they sag boneless and unmoving in your arms,
flattened by their own temperatures, it's hard not to believe the worst
every moment. And when it does happen—to other children—you have a
strange and unacceptable feeling of relief, as if statistically there are a
certain number of children who will somehow be permanently stricken,
12 and every other child who slips under makes it somehow less likely that
your own will.
And that's just part of it. Then there is the talking to yourself—if you
have children, you know you do it, too. Making bargains—you do it as if
something out there, God or whatever you like, is some kind of bookie,
someone you can stack the odds with, if you only could take enough time
to get to know them really well. Just do this for me, you ask the shadows.
Just save me from this, and I will believe.
I will believe, I will behave, I will be beholden.
What are my children like? Like little boys. Just like little boys, because that's exactly what they are. One brown in summer, the other one
pale; one is ten years old, the other seven. The seven-year-old, spinning
quickly down the sidewalk on his impossibly small bicycle, his brown
head huge and bulky in the helmet, getting precisely to the driveway
before locking up the brakes and leaving a precocious and thin rubber
strip of a skid behind him on the pavement. My heart stops every time,
watching the back wheel start to slide as the bike pulls to one side, and I
can feel my own body reacting instinctively, my muscles trying to ease off
on the brakes before the bike crashes. And he does it himself, just in time,
that small, perfect effort, and I feel myself melt right through fear to love.
They stay with me most weekends, and the first weekend in July is
when the heat really weighs down. Making dinner, cutting up the broccoli,
starting to cook the meat, and I'm all by myself. That's one thing you miss,
the casual ability of two parents to tag-team, the ability for one person to
be busy while the other keeps half an eye out the window, keeping a
careful ear on the tone of the noise outside.
You tell yourself, when you're alone, that it will be all right if you can
just hear them laughing through the open summer window. The way you
look at lottery tickets—imagining that you will necessarily win if the digits of your birthday magically appear. Hanging your hat on imperfect
signs, like counting crows—"one for sorrow, two for joy." Creating your
own omens, your own small guarantees. That if you hear the screen door
slam, they will have to be safe. That they will just have to be safe.
And then, magically, they are. This time.
And you know you have committed yourself to a deal that you cannot
ever keep—a deal you cannot possibly even begin to keep. That you have
made promises that you are already breaking—that you will never fall
victim to lust, that you will be fair and honest with everyone else, that you
won't get unreasonably angry when the now-safe boys leave their room in
a mess or spill milk from the cereal down into the cracks in the floor. That
you won't lose your temper or make selfish choices.
And there's that emptying feeling of relief, that drain-pulled, emptying
feeling when they are both back inside. That no one's hurt, that you haven't
13 left them alone for too long, for that fateful moment that you always read
about in newspapers—But I only left them for a moment—while the police
are stopping cars or fire department divers are searching the river that
runs, ungated, fast and silty under the parking lot. But anyone who has
children spends some time imagining the worst—looking into that dark
little room, and then slamming the door shut as quickly as possible.
My parents were right, you know. In the end, they knew Vin Gallant
better than I did. They knew eventually he would get exactly what he
wanted—they could read the possibilities behind those steady, cold, light-
blue eyes. Eventually, they sold the cottage at a loss, sold it to Vin because
he wanted it.
My mother said that when she got there Vin was sitting on his front
steps, looking up the low hill across the narrow dip between his place and
ours, that dip I remember as being filled with a wide swale of raspberry
canes. She saw Vin's face was completely expressionless.
When my parents went to get the boat out of the shed, my mother said
Vin was taking an old foundation down with a sledgehammer, his shirt off,
and he didn't stop once the whole time they were there. And she told me
later they drove away and talked about how they both felt that they were
lucky, that they had escaped something far worse.
The sound: the sharp shrieking chuck of the tires skipping on the pavement, the crump of the car hitting something. That's all it took; I didn't
need to go outside, didn't need to see the bicycle that his big brother had
ridden safely for so long, wrapped around the front of that red car.
I can see it in my mind, the parabola of Verd's red car roaring in across
the sidewalk, his head square to the front and unwavering. The inevitability of its intersection with the too-small, speeding bike, a bike with its little
pilot concentrating on one last long tire-rubber skid before dinner, before
sliced strawberries for dessert.
You're supposed to rush outside, and I almost did. I halfway did. But I
went back up the stairs with my hands over my face.
I didn't have to see. I knew my deal was suddenly null and void, and
that was no surprise whatsoever.
I'd spent months in my head, planning for exactly that: sometimes for
Verd, sometimes for a careless pickup truck shrugging through a street
hockey game, sometimes for the results of a child's too-singular power of
concentration focused on a vagrant ball.
I knew it already, had seen it a hundred times in that raw spot of imagination: the white of ribs sticking out through his shirt, the small, frothy
bubbles. That keening shriek that fills the air around you. Someone screaming, you think detachedly Someone screaming. And even the person screaming doesn't know who it is.
So I went back up the stairs and I stayed there.
14 Because if I stayed there, a shivering, shaking crying ball leaning against
the refrigerator, it could still be my imagination. Because the sirens might
mean something else. Can't they please mean something else?
Please. Just one more screen door slam. Just one.
I'll make any promise you want. I'll do anything.
Never look, I tell myself. Never ever look, so you don't ever have to
see. So it all has that strange and airy soft-edged, impossible feel.
Oh, please.
Let it be a dream.
Then the screen door slamming, and two sets of feet coming up, coming up fast, boys excited, boys with news to share. Shaking with relief, I am
unable to speak, unable to even make a noise. Listening to them chatter
excitedly, the way their words build higher, the crescendo of what they
have both seen.
And then I wonder: what deal have I made? And who have I made it
with?
Sometimes, I remember it all.
15 George Elliott Clarke
Pierre Elliott Trudeau
1: His Love Song
"I am lonesome for my father.
But, in his absence,
The Eighteenth Century will do."
2: Elegy (1918-2000)
Brooding in his Gothic tower of words,
He is Yeatsian, a chiselled chimera.
Or he's proud, savage Plato in a canoe,
Cast off in a wilderness of cameras.
As black and white as antique film
Or gunpowder, this grainy phantom
Is only mirage and images now—
As dead and immortal as Latin.
No rubes craved to be like him, carved
Out of photo-ops and alabaster,
Cranky, dismissive of alibis,
And as cunning as a pastor.
Lofty, above provincials, he danced,
Never wincing, though we brandished
Knives, scheming to play Brutus
To his Caesar. He pirouetted, dandy.
16 Train Conversation
Beauty. ..is the sole business of poetry.
^Jeffers
There were two people in that room,
Three people hurting guitar.
A sip of vodka, a little rum, some beer,
And it's "Blah! Blah! Blah!" and shit all over.
I was getting pissed, but there's no ex-boyfriend fund.
Dance with him once and you love him forever.
We watched wrestling and tried the moves on each other.
I'm talking women's rights!
The most popular pretty girl of the Miramichi
Hated every exam. She was, like, there.
I understand why she's a bitch now:
She didn't molest him when she could.
(Girls like that, they get laid and say,
"I hate you. You's ugly")
But who says you have to wake up to "Red, Red Wine"
Every morning? Snow infiltrating windows.
Yikes! That sucks!
But why must she carry her guitar everywhere?
I'm really very interestingly broke.
But I've got dark, blondish-brown hair.
(The Holy Family was clearly from Palestine-Israel.
They had dark skin, black hair, and brown eyes.)
I'll go out drinking tonight too. Who knows?
"Out of all this beauty something must come."
17 Progressive Descent
for Lorena Gale
1
Eat with the gusto of maggots eating flesh!
It takes dirt to get dirt.
A corpse a day
Keeps the press corps at bay.
Millions die—
And so do millionaires.
(But, first, millions die
Supporting millionaires.)
Banks don't have your interest at heart.
The charge for flesh is flesh.
3: Copulation
Some nine-tenths of humanity—
Even holy men and virgins—
Think it is the right thing to do,
Generation after fucking generation.
18 Lily Mabura
Up on the Hill
Irwin Labo had lost a lot of blood in the car crash and was in constant
pain that was barely relieved by the drugs he took. He had been lying
on the narrow, steel hospital bed for two weeks now, and when he
turned his bandaged head, he could see sick men lying on similar beds on
either side of the concrete aisle, some in twos for lack of space.
He had lost track of time but for day and night and the set regiment
hours for drugs and injections when the nurses came shovelling the men
about, even those like Irwin who dropped an anchor and reckoned themselves unmovable for the additional pain of a hypodermic. It was day now;
he could see that through the empty window opposite him on which there
was nothing but thin gauze to keep the mosquitoes out. It was hot. He
could hear the corrugated iron sheet roof crackling in the equatorial sun.
Irwin spent most of his time staring at the underside of the iron sheets,
tracing with his swollen eyes the brown rust spots that a ceiling might
have hidden from view. All around him sick men lay on worn linen, sweating. Irwin began to wish for night when the stone ward would cool and the
men could pull the linen and their threadbare blankets back onto themselves and sleep, drowsy from the dissipating heat, illness and medication.
An old man on the other side of the aisle stirred and rose from his bed
with creaking noises. Irwin did not know what ailed him, but something
must have, because he was here, you see. The old man wore a worn blue-
and-red checked shirt and nothing else. His black buttocks hung flat and
wrinkled from behind, and his penis and testicles hung black and wrinkled
from the front. Irwin watched the old man walk past his bed in slow, shaky
steps and followed him with his eyes all the way down to the end of the
long hospital ward where the toilets were located. He listened to the old
man urinate long and hard into the urea-stained bowl. He emerged from
the toilet without flushing, all genitalia, weak knees and a mob of uncombed white hair on his head. He looked like a bird in really bad shape.
The nurses had been in their litde, white, cardboard tearoom adjacent
to the ward entrance when the old man made his journey to the toilets.
They had been talking and laughing and drinking tea with the doctor who
had just finished his round. Now they were standing in the aisle looking at
him as he returned.
"That old man hasn't got any manners at all," Irwin heard the young
19 nurse say to the old nurse.
"I'll remind his wife to bring him underwear," the old nurse said and
she wrote it down in the huge, square-ruled notebook she always carried
under her armpit. Irwin did not think that the old man had anything in his
possession that could remotely be said to be underwear and might have
voiced his opinion if his mouth was not so sealed with pain and sickness.
Thus, he could only content himself with watching the two nurses. The old
nurse was short and stocky. She might have once been slender and shapely,
like the young nurse, but now she was stocky and very serious. She was
holding a new IV cord on her free arm and when the old man passed them,
she hit him with it across his shoulders as if she were a matron in an all-
boys school.
The old man got into his bed as if nothing had happened. Perhaps he
was in too much pain to feel the bite of the IV cord. If Irwin had been
feeling better, he would have told the nurses to shove it because there was
nothing a man could attain to get ahead in life here, manners least of all.
After all, here he was, all manners and several law degrees and in no way
better off than the other sick men in the ward at this particular moment in
time.
Irwin had earned his first law degree from the University of Nairobi.
Then he had studied international law and human rights at a university in
South Carolina, followed by an LLM in criminal law from the University
of Teramo in Rome. He had done all this with the aid of fellowships. While
in Rome, he had been offered a job in New York and another in The
Hague, but he had declined them because he wanted to come back home
for reasons he now deemed incongruous, even foolishly nostalgic. He had
met some Kenyans in Rome who had told him that he was mad to want to
go back. Everything was going down the drain, they told him, including
the coffee industry. Coffee plantations in many areas had been abandoned,
they said, as yellow as dandelions in their state of neglect. The women and
young boys who had once picked their ripe berries with laughter would
now beat you up if you talked about coffee.
As Irwin lay in bed, he supposed that he had come back because he had
not entirely lost all hope. He had been looking for ajob for the past year
before the car crash that landed him in this hospital. But now that he was in
this pain-ridden trap, and with no more savings in his bank, he recognized
that he had been mad, indeed, to come back. It was for this realization that
he needed medication, and not so much for his accident wounds, he knew.
He was thinking about this and considering the possibility of crying
like some of the other men in the ward did every once in a while, when his
sister, Rima, arrived. He watched her as she hesitated, hit by the smell of
sick men and hospital disinfectant, at the entrance, where the green ward
doors were flung open. After so many years of being out under the sun on
20 the sandy floor of the Turkwell Gorge, he knew the smells of the hospital
must have been particularly offensive to her. She walked down the aisle
without looking at the sick men on either side or at the mustard-coloured
walls, whose paint was peeling off in tiny flakes.
"I brought you some chicken broth and fruit salad," she said when she
reached his bed.
"I only asked for kale, Rima," Irwin said, pulling himself up despite the
fact that it hurt.
Rima was an archeologist in Turkwell Gorge, a largely desert ravine
crawling up the furthest northern border of the country, where she lived in
a tent and dug up fossils for the National Museums. They did not pay her
much for what she did. He knew that she had taken out an advance to
come see him at this hospital in their hometown. Every time he looked
into her face, she seemed to have more fine lines descending from the
corners of her eyes. At thirty-two, she was two years younger than him, but
it seemed to Irwin that she had outgrown him. He used to tell himself it
was the sun in Turkwell Gorge, but the more he watched her, the more he
was sure that it was because she no longer saw what was on the earth, but
what was inside. It was crazy to think as he did, but there were times he felt
that she was as old as the very earth she dug.
She placed the plastic dishes on the bedside stand next to the hospital
porridge, which had set into a cold, white mass in its bowl. "I brought kale,
too," she said and opened the dish.
"I can feed myself," he said, when she proffered a spoonful. He tried to
do so, but his hand trembled from weakness and banged against the dish as
it came down from his mouth. The spoon fell on the bed sheet gathered at
his waist and for a moment he wished the old nurse had not detached him
from the IV cord from which he had drawn his sustenance without being
humiliated like this. He did not reproach Rima when she picked up the
spoon a second time and resumed feeding him. He swallowed carefully,
the food hurting his throat all the way down, and let the men watch him
like he had watched them being fed by their women: kind mothers, wives,
girlfriends, daughters and sisters. The young nurse sometimes fed the sick
boy in the bed opposite his, across the aisle. He would lie there with his
mouth open and swallow as fast as she shoved and hold his puke until she
was well done and gone for fear she would not bother to come by ever again.
The doctor emerged from the tearoom. He was about to leave the ward
when he turned and saw Rima. Irwin watched him as he stalled, said something to the old nurse who was seated behind the nurse station and then
looked at the charts of the two men with malaria who were sharing a bed.
One of the men had cerebral malaria and sometimes screamed in the
middle of the night. The doctor jammed his hands into his stark, white
coat and proceeded down the aisle. The white coat made him seem more
21 dark-skinned than he actually was. The features on his face were strongly
chiselled and regal.
"Rima?" he said. "Rima Labo?"
Rima looked up, startled. Irwin watched her stare at the doctor for a
while, trying to remember where she might have met him.
The doctor smiled and said, "It's me. Horace. Horace Moset. We went
to mission school together. Same class."
"Oh.. .yes. Horace," Rima said, smoothing her khaki pants as she stood
and proffered a hand. "Pardon me. You've changed so. This is my brother,
Irwin."
Irwin looked away, but could feel Horace's eyes on him. Irwin had long
recognized the doctor—he had been one class ahead of them in the Catholic mission school they had all attended in their childhood years—but he
had not bothered to introduce himself because it angered him that the
doctor and the nurses could bring the little white tearoom down with
laughter in the midst of all this sickness.
"You've hardly changed yourself, Rima," Horace said, a smile in his
voice.
Irwin supposed that was true, if Horace was assessing her physique.
When they were in mission school, she had had a very straight figure, so
that she looked like a walking ruler in that blue mission girl's uniform.
Her figure had hardly filled out, even now, as she stood there in khaki and
a white shirt rolled at the sleeves. She hardly wore anything but khakis
since she had started working up north.
"Horace Moset..." Rima said. "I never fancied you a doctor."
"I went to medical school in Gujarat," he said.
Irwin scowled. Listening to them talk drove him round the bend. Medical school in Gujarat, he mused. India was as good a place to attend medical school as any, of course, but most of the students who went there were
the ones who had been denied access into the public medical school in
Nairobi. From what Irwin could remember of young Horace in mission
school, it seemed he had been denied access to pretty much everything,
including any academic club of significance. And now here he was, feeling
swanky and muttering sweet nothings to nurses so that they laughed like
crass women in the marketplace. Irwin reckoned his slow recovery could
well be attributed to malpractice and general incompetence, not to mention absolutely bad brains. Rima obviously thought very differently of this
simpleton. She was the kind to say that it was the heart and not the mind
that made a good doctor, much as Irwin would beg to differ.
"Well," Irwin heard Horace say to Rima, at last, "I'd better be getting
along and let you get on with your lunch thing. Irwin is getting better. I
could get him a wheelchair, if you like. That way you can take him for a
stroll next time."
22 Next time Horace chose to chat up Rima, Irwin swore to himself, he would
smear the man's face with verbal ordure. But it was three days before Rima
showed up at the hospital again and Horace never came any closer than
reading the chart at the end of his bed and.asking a few innocuous questions to which Irwin grunted incomprehensible answers. An orderly brought
a wheelchair around the afternoon Rima arrived. She had been typing up a
report for the National Museums from her journals, she told him, as if to
explain her absence. Irwin thought she had been merely angry at him for
his obvious scowling at Horace, but did not want to counter her claim in
the ward before all the sick men.
The old nurse and the young nurse put him in the wheelchair and told
her that she could wheel him about the hospital grounds for a short while.
There was a small green at the end of the shaded corridor which joined one
ward to the next, and that is where they went. A stunted form of grass grew
on it and craggy bougainvillea stems crawled up the chain link fence.
There was a gaping hole in the fence and they saw a woman pushing her
way in. Lots of people coming to visit their sick did that, Irwin guessed,
watching the woman disentangle the ends of her large dress from ends of
broken wire. The hospital had very strict visiting hours, which were few
and far between and only allowed visitors at specific times. It seemed to
Irwin that Rima visited at whatever hour she fancied, like now for instance, but he did not have the heart to ask if she came through the same
hole or past the guard at the gate who had to be bribed to permit passage
when it was not visiting hours. It was then that Irwin decided he was going
to wheel over that guard's feet and crush his toes into smithereens if he
ever got the chance.
To distract himself from thinking about the guard, he stared at the view
the green presented. They were up on the hill, and the rest of the town
spread out beneath them in dusty rooftops and a shimmering of mirages.
There were some good and expensive clinics down there, run by wealthy
doctors who no longer worked up here on the hill.
As Irwin looked down the hill and then about himself, he realized that
he had never really taken in this hill before, even though he had been born
and raised in this town. Most of the people he had known in the town
below never seemed to have much business up here. A prison stood across
the dusty road opposite the hospital. Sewage ponds glittered between the
long untended grass, green from the algae blooming within them. Verdant
patches of cabbage and kale prospered beside the sewage ponds. There was
a lot of kale in the prison compound and Irwin wondered how many prisoners it held within its fence. Kale and sima, a kind of maize flour cake,
were staple foods in all public institutions like the prison and the hospital.
Irwin had eaten a lot of kale in the public high school and the public
23 college he had attended in Nairobi, away from his hometown. There were
many things he did not like about those places, but he had liked the kale
and still did.
"I suppose you know that you are quite rude for a helpless patient,
Irwin," Rima said. She had sat down on the grass beside the wheelchair
with her legs pulled up.
"I hate pretentious doctors, you know that. I had a medic for a roommate in Nairobi, remember?" Irwin was scowling and it made his head
ache. "They are all howlers in medical school. I bet Horace used to howl
all the way from Gujarat to New Delhi. In college all the medical students
would go drinking after their exams and come howling their way into the
dorms at night like werewolves. He was a howler, I tell you. I wonder what
the Hindi word for howler is."
Rima cast her eyes on the dusty rooftops of the town below and said
nothing.
Irwin could not begin to understand why she was standing up for Horace
like this; she was acting like he was a mutual friend they had sold down the
river and he hated that. The sun made his eyes water so that he had to
squint to properly see the prisoners tending the vegetable patches. They
were in dirty white shirts and shorts. The ones with the cleaner uniforms
were barefoot while the ones with older, dirtier uniforms wore sandals like
an emblem of their higher status. The sandals, kalas as they were known,
were made from weathered tire treads. Kalas were hard on one's feet, but
they were cheap and lasted for a long time. Irwin knew this because every
boy around here, social status notwithstanding, wore kalas. The kala-dad
prisoners worked the vegetable patches with sharp, metal pangas, while
their barefoot compatriots had to pull out the weeds with their hands. A
prison warden in green military fatigues watched over them, a bulky rifle
slung over one shoulder. The prison chain link fence, like the hospital's,
had big holes in it, and it occurred to Irwin that the prisoners could easily
overpower that one guard, whose rifle looked like it had to be reloaded
after every shot like a goddamned musket.
"The thing with medics," Irwin said slowly, "is that they think they
study the hardest thing in the world. Engineering students study the hardest. Or architects. You remember architecture students in college, don't
you, Rima? They sleep in the studio...they live in the studio. Or take
those guys doing nuclear science and double maths. Now those are the real
brain crackers, not medics. Medics are just howlers."
His anger made his eyes water some more, so that when he finally
looked up the hill, he saw the cathedral through bleary eyes. The cathedral
was built of quarried yellow stone and it raised a belled spire high up into
the clear blue sky. Irwin stared at the cathedral until his tears receded. It
was then it hit him that there was a prison, a hospital and a cathedral up on
24 the hill, in that order, all three of them raised high up here like Moses'
bronze snake. This had never dawned on him before, and he wondered if
Rima had noticed it as well.
For a while Irwin had thought he was through with blood transfusions, but
Horace had given him another and now his body was very cold even
though it was midday and hot inside the ward. Irwin thought he might be
coming down with a fever and he tried to fight it off with his mind, but he
couldn't concentrate his entire will against it because he was pondering on
the idea of a prison, a hospital and a cathedral being up here on the hill.
Sometimes, grappling with of this deep chill from within, he thought the
hospital was purgatory, the prison hell and the cathedral heaven. He must
have already been thinking and dreaming these very same thoughts the
evening before, because he had awoken to find the old nurse and the young
nurse on either side of his bed, and all the sick men in the ward seated
upright, staring at him. He knew he must have been screaming like the
man with cerebral malaria. He had been unable to go back to sleep until
he saw the first beams of sunlight breaking through the gauzed windows.
As he pulled the linen closer about himself, he noticed there was a
priest in the ward. Irwin had seen him many times; he was always anointing the sick men or offering them the Eucharist. Whenever Irwin saw him
headed his way, he would close his eyes and pretend to be asleep. The
priest was now holding the hand of the man who had AIDS. The man was
very thin and had hollow, sunken eyes. Most of his hair had dropped off
and the little that remained on his head had turned silky, like that of a
newborn's. The man was crying like a widow and all the sick men in the
ward could hear him.
The young nurse was reading Harper's Bazaar. She was holding it very
high to her eyes and Irwin could see the glossy cover from where he lay.
The old nurse was knitting. When the sick man stopped crying, he told the
priest that he had slept with a lot of women in the shanty bars in town.
Then he said that he had sold the family farm and squandered the money
on himself and these other women and his wife knew nothing of the matter.
He also slept with his wife during the period he had slept with the other
women and he was afraid that he had passed on the disease to her. His
voice was full of snot when he told the priest this. Irwin had seen the man's
wife. She was almost as thin as he was and when she came into the ward to
feed him, all the sick men in the ward watched her. Soon, the man started
crying again. The priest sat on his bed and let him cry on his shoulder.
When he was finally done crying, the priest suggested that he say the act of
contrition and talk to his wife about the matter.
As the priest rose from the man's bed, he turned and caught Irwin's
gaze. Irwin would have closed his eyes if it had not been too late. He hated
25 the priest for making grown men cry. In particular, he hated him for that
white collar, which loosened established guilt within the men like expectorant loosened phlegm from the innermost recesses of one's lungs. Something happened to these men's eyes whenever the priest entered the ward:
Son of David, they seemed to be begging, have mercy on us!
Now, as the priest walked over in his faded grey slacks and yellow shirt
wet on the shoulder, Irwin considered how he might altogether avoid talking to him. He hoped the priest would look at the information recorded on
his chart at the end of the bed and leave him alone. At the bottom of each
chart there was a slot marked religion under which were a series of denominations and corresponding empty boxes to tick according to the religion of the patient: Catholic, Protestant, Muslim and Other, they read. It
was important to know the religion of each patient, the old nurse had
informed Irwin. The Muslims, she explained, had to be buried the very
day they died. Irwin had told the old nurse that that was the most logical
thing he had heard in a long time and that if he should die, he would like
to be buried immediately. The old nurse had put a mark beside "Other."
"Would you like me to hear your confession?" the priest asked Irwin,
staring at his chart.
"I have nothing to confess," Irwin replied, wondering whether the priest
could not read a word as simple as "Other." If there was one thing Irwin
did not want, it was to cry. He simply would not.
"Is there anything else I can do for you then—anything at all?" The
priest looked at the wheelchair, which was folded up against the wall and
back at Irwin.
Irwin was sore from having to lie down for so long. A change of position and a little direct sunshine, he thought, would make him feel better.
"I would be delighted," Irwin told the priest, "if you could wheel me out
for a few minutes."
The priest opened up the wheelchair. Then he half bent over Irwin,
offering him the breadth of his shoulders to hold onto as his arms slipped
under, lifting him off the bed and onto the chair. The priest's arms felt very
strong and Irwin's lips trembled, because he realized he had lost a lot of
weight. He did not feel this bad when that old matriarch of a nurse lifted
him or turned him on the bed because he liked to think she had the strength
of a bull and could just as easily have lifted a house.
"Where would you like to go?" the priest asked.
"Anywhere," Irwin replied.
They ended up in the green where he always went with Rima. The
priest sat beside the wheelchair, pulled up his legs like Rima did, and
looped his long arms over his bent knees. "Do you work?" he asked.
"Nobody will hire me, here," Irwin said. He lifted his face to the sun
and closed his eyes as the warmth slowly spread through him. "I've sent
26 out more applications than I care to remember, but all I get are rejections.
They say I'm overqualified, or else they just need a simple lawyer.. .some
licensed idiot, not me."
The priest chuckled. "A lawyer...." he mused.
"This country has gone to the dogs," Irwin said.
"When you're up on this hill," the priest said, "you should think of the
most beautiful place you've been. What's the most beautiful place you've
been to?"
Irwin leaned further back into his wheelchair. "Rome," he murmured.
"You've been to Rome?" the priest asked, his voice intense with curiosity.
"Yes. I studied in Rome."
"Tell me that the Vatican City is as beautiful as I have heard it is."
"I never went to Vatican City," Irwin said.
"You've been to Rome and never went to the Vatican?" the priest asked
very slowly.
"Yes, that's right."
"Not even once—to pray?"
"No."
The priest was quiet for a long time. "You don't believe in prayer, do
you?"
Irwin sat up straight and opened his eyes. "No."
Across in the prison, Irwin noticed a man in a white coat emerge from
one of the baked mud buildings holding a small bundle in his arms. Then,
a guard with a rifle slung over one shoulder emerged from the same building and after him the figure of a woman in a pinkish gown. The woman
stumbled about and clung to the man with the white coat. The guard
seized her by the arm and dragged her away. After a while he gave up on
dragging her and lifted her into his arms and they both disappeared into
that warren of prison buildings.
The man in the white coat walked through the vegetable patches, circled the sewers to where there was a hole in the fence and squeezed through
carefully, protecting the bundle in his arms under the curve of his chest.
As the man walked closer, Irwin saw that it was Horace.
"What is he carrying?" Irwin asked the priest.
"A baby," the priest replied. "He's a good man, the doctor. He does
things he doesn't have to."
"Where is he going to take it?" Irwin asked, still puzzled, even though
it occurred to him that a prison was not the best of places for a newborn.
"To the children's ward for a couple of weeks. If the woman's relatives
don't come for it then, the nurses will turn the baby over to me and I will
turn it over to the mission orphanage."
Irwin stared at the road that led up to the cathedral. Horace was a good
man, the priest had said, a good man doing things he did not have to be
27 doing, and Irwin knew he could not counter that up here on the hill any
longer after what he had witnessed. So he studied the road and its yellow
dust, and the abundance of broken rock strewn on its uneven shoulders. In
Rome, Irwin had seen an old painting of the Via Dolorosa, the road that
Jesus had taken on his way to Golgotha. The road to the cathedral looked
very much like the old Via Dolorosa even though he had traversed the
modern Via Dolorosa itself in Rome and drank mocha coffee in one of its
sidewalk cafes.
"If I prayed and you got a job, would you believe in the power of
prayer?" the priest asked.
"I will not get ajob. Not here," Irwin said.
"What if I pray and you get one?" the priest insisted.
Irwin was looking at the road. It was very hot and those stones looked
very sharp. "If you pray and I get ajob," Irwin said, "I will walk up the hill
to your great cathedral with only my shirt on. No shoes, no pants, no
nothing. Just my shirt. How about that?"
When the priest heard this, he reeled on the grass and laughed very
hard. Irwin looked at him as he laughed. He laughed so hard that Irwin, in
the end, laughed too. This priest was very handsome. He was very tall and
very lean and very brown and when he laughed, his smile was very deep.
He had nice hands with long fingers. His fingernails were clean and clipped.
His hairline was receding and he was clean-shaven, but he was very handsome nonetheless. And true to God, out there on the green that afternoon,
Irwin thought that he looked like an angel.
It was Rima who brought him the letters three weeks afterwards. By then,
Irwin had forgotten how hard he had laughed with the priest that afternoon
because things seemed to have gone from bad to worse in the ward. The
old man who looked like a bird no longer made his daily pilgrimage to the
toilets. It happened that one time he had gone down the ward to relieve
himself, but nobody heard anything come out. The old nurse and the
young nurse had fitted him with a catheter and that was that.
The man with cerebral malaria had screamed so violently one night
that the nurses had taken him into the ICU. He had not returned since and
nobody had inquired after him because he could not possibly be in the
ICU anymore. The man with AIDS had simply gone to sleep one night
and failed to wake up the following morning. Only the boy who puked
seemed to have made any real progress. He could eat his meals on his own
now and had gained some weight. However, he could not leave the ward
because his bills were not yet paid. Thus he whiled the day away looking
out of the window. Irwin had decided he would leave with the boy himself.
So it was after Rima had left the dread of the ward and Irwin had read
the letters that he remembered how hard he and the priest had laughed and
28 what each had staked. There were two job acceptance letters. One offered
him a position at the prestigious law firm, Scot & Morrison, in Nairobi.
Scot & Morrison was one of the first firms he had applied to for ajob; they
had clients like Citibank-Nairobi and litigated some of the most prominent cases in the country. The other was from the International Criminal
Tribunal for Rwanda in Arusha. The international court was offering him
a position as defense counsel for Rwandan genocide suspects who could
not afford a lawyer of their own. This great court lying under the shadow
of Mt. Kilimanjaro wanted him, Irwin Labo, to defend a group of desperados, men who lay rotting in the UN jails of Arusha like the sick men in
this ward.
He folded the letters carefully and returned them to their envelopes
before leaning against the steel bar at the head of the bed. Horace walked
into the ward to do his rounds. Irwin watched him as he came down the
aisle slowly, reading footboard charts and asking the usual questions.
"I never, in my wildest dreams, imagined Rima an archaeologist," he
said, when he reached Irwin's bed.
"It suits her," Irwin said with a shrug. It was the first time he had
acknowledged so himself. Rima Labo could not be anything but an archaeologist digging the earth. "She likes looking for early man."
"Early man, well, I'll be damned," Horace said, shaking his head with a
smile. "Early man was—"
"Early man was a nutcracker.. .a Zinjathropus," Irwin said. "He was simple and there was nothing on his hills but trees."
Horace laughed. It occurred to Irwin that Horace had a laugh somewhat similar to the priest's. That priest could laugh the dead awake. He
reminded Irwin of how he and Rima once used to laugh over nothing. As
Irwin watched Horace, he found that he could not recall exactly when or
where the laughter had faded within him.
"What are you going to do when you leave this place?" Horace asked.
"I don't know," Irwin said. "Look for another rat hole?"
"You're not going bonkers, are you?" Horace asked.
Irwin laughed at the question. He liked laughing like this, he realized,
among the desperados. It felt like he was definitely headed for another rat
hole. "Not quite," he replied. "If you'll excuse me now, I'd like to take a
walk."
Under the sheets, as Irwin Labo wriggled out of his pyjama bottoms, he
saw himself up on the hill collapsing from the effort and pain of it all, and
the throttle of suppressed laughter. He and the priest would laugh, he
knew, as they had on the green.
29 Lee A. Tonouchi
Choosing One Cat
Wen Neko Chan died
my Dad took me
Humane Society
but I nevah like get
one noddah cat.
He sed sometimes cats
get rein-carnationed
and dey come back
in diff'rent bodies
but dat nevah make me
feel bettah
cuz looking at all da cats
had too many—
all of 'em
could've been her.
So I wen ax him, oh
how I 'post to
recognize?
She used to be
da black and white
sumotori cat
but now
looking at all
da little ones
run around
wot if
she wuz in one diff'rent
body?
All kalakoa she could be,
wotchoo call 'em?
Da kine calico cat
or maybe she wuz one
orange Haole cat now.
30 And wot if she wuzn't even
one cat
or one dog
or anyting dey had
at da Humane Society?
Wot if she wuz
one FLOWER
or someting?
I figgah ass why
dey call 'em
rein-CARNATION, no?
So how I going know?
Flowers not fluffy.
Flowers no make purr purr.
And flowers no can meow.
I had so much questions,
so he wen jus change
his mind
about rein-carnation.
"No mo' such ting," he sed.
"Once you gone,
you gone.
Pau.
Das it.
End of story."
31 Shannon Bramer
Snakes and Bees
1. memo
Attention snakes and bees: the trapeze artist has retired. Please note
that all of the parrot's fine plumage has been donated to the octopus.
Somewhere bread is burning, you are humming, the edges of lost letters
are turning yellow.
2. poem
My telephone is trying
to swallow itself again, rotating around its tired axis, clicking.
A washed bone, she's become the last of you, your left leg.
Look at the way I still cradle it.
32 13 Ways of Looking at Jason
Brown
i.
Here is Jungle Jason
asleep in the acajou tree,
his fingernails dirty
from digging.
2.
The two green eyes of the dump cat
belong to Jason Brown.
3.
I see Jason
the pomegranate
on Thursday.
I see Jason
the artichoke
on Sunday.
4.
At the diggity-dog party
they saidjason Brown
tastes like tamarind
and no one
disagreed.
5.
Jason still thinks about Medea
in her purple dress.
33 6.
Where is Jason's wheelbarrow?
Where is his boat?
7.
Borges and the Red Monster. Trains.
White Narcissus, Pad Thai, Newsprint.
This is all we know about Jason Brown.
8.
lower-casejay
lives on the rim
of kate's teacup
where her mouth
moves
every morning.
9.
JASON BROWN GIVES GREEN SWEATER AWAY.
10.
Dearjason:
I dreamed you grew a long beard; I dreamed
you were poisoned by green grapes. I hope
you are good and safe.
34 11.
It's Jason waiting outside
the Grace Church, but no
top-hat? No bow-tie?
12.
Jason is asleep beside her awake on the airplane over the ocean.
13.
Jason let me see you smile
on the footbridge.
35 Allison Hack
Balance
'rl P^o win a lady's heart, you've got to think big," says Larry. He leans
back in his lawn chair and cracks another beer.
-1- June smiles at Rick and Alva, the new neighbours from across the
street. It was Larry's idea to invite them. "Everyone deserves a Pepper
welcome," he said last week. Now they are here on the patio, late afternoon
sun hot as barbeque coals.
"Hold on, Larry," says June. "Does this happy couple look like they
need love advice?" June sometimes teases him that he should give up
taxidermy to become an advice columnist. "Might as well get paid for
your pointers," she chides him. In truth, the couple doesn't look happy.
Alva's chair cuts a sharp angle away from Rick. When June asked how the
pair met, Rick and Alva just looked at each other. Finally, Alva answered.
"Not much of a story there," she said. That's when Larry piped up.
"Now flowers won't get a lady's attention," Larry continues. "They're
oversold. And let's face it, they wilt in a few days and all the poor gal can
think is flaccid dick." He rubs June's lower back. Her sweat-drenched
halter top presses cold against her skin; her spine tightens against the
shiver.
On the other side of the table, Alva crosses her legs. The light cotton of
her summer dress drapes tiny flowers diagonally over her thighs. She
smoothes the fabric to her knees and flicks her pretty black hair behind
her shoulder. "A guy sent me a screwdriver once. With a note, 'let's screw.'
Can you believe that?" She sips her vodka cooler, slow.
Rick scowls.
Larry winks at Alva. The wink seems more friendly than flirtatious, the
kind he might use playing peek-a-boo with a toddler in line at the grocery
store. He carries on with the story. "Think big, I told myself. You seejune
didn't know me from any other guy who pushed through her checkout
line."
"Now that's not true," interrupts June. "How could anyone forget that
red hair? Colourful as a candy wrapper."
"She has you on that one," says Rick. He holds up his can and takes a
gulp of warm beer. He's been nursing the same drink for an hour.
Everything about him reads dry: chapped lips, frizz of blonde hair,
raspy voice, even the wheat colour of his shirt. Dry. This is June's game—
36 to reduce a man to a single word. It started at work as a way to pass time,
turn customer flirtations into entertainment. It helps her forget her sore
feet. She chooses words based on clothing, appearance, attitude and purchases. A fresh shave at four p.m. combined with a stained shirt, soft voice
and all canned goods earns the word lonely. It took two words to pin Larry
and that was why she married him.
The first time she noticed him, he arranged his groceries on the conveyer belt by colour and told her he was an artist. He tugged on his fair
beard (he had a beard back then) and flashed a crooked smile. Crap artist,
she thought. But a surge of heat to her earlobes quickly replaced that
notion with the words beautiful liar.
Larry strokes his head where his hairline recedes further every year.
"So that's my dilemma. How to get the attention of the sexy brunette at till
number two."
June feels her face redden beneath the pink alcohol flush. She wraps
both arms tight across her stomach.
"Did he take you sailing?" asks Alva. Her eyes brighten and she leans
forward. "I've always wanted to go sailing."
"It did involve driftwood," says Larry.
In their five years together, June has come to understand that Larry
doesn't exactly lie. He just leads people away from the truth to make the
facts surprising.
Rick slurps the last of his beer and clinks the can on the table. "What
was it then?"
"Hold on." Larry digs in the cooler and passes Rick another Coors.
"You need to hear the story right. There's no one in town that doesn't know
how me and June hooked up. Eh, sweet goose?"
June nods. She's participated in the story umpteen times. But the nickname—that's new. As far as she can tell, there's nothing goosey about her.
"To catch the attention of a checkout girl, you need the zing of a talk
show host and the stability of a dedicated labour man. You need to find a
way to stand out; she rings through a hundred guys a day, easy. I'm in my
shop putting the final touches on a semi-sneak deer head, when it hits me."
Larry chugs the rest of his beer and wipes his mouth with the back of his
freckled hand. "I give her something unique. Something only I can give."
"No, no, no. I can see where this is going and I just don't believe it,"
says Rick, his bland complexion reddening.
"Believe it," says June. "I come home from a nine-hour shift, feet aching like a lumberjack's back, and find a crate square in front of my doorway. If it weren't for the pink ribbon stuck on top I would've called the
RCMP. It looked like a prank. I swear."
"Wait. Wait," says Larry. "It turned out—call it fate or whatever—a
fellow named Jim Steele had passed through town and left me with ajob he
37 never picked up. Of course, I didn't mention that at the time."
"Larry failed to mention Jim Steele until he showed up on our doorstep," says June. A few months have passed since she last thought of Jim
Steele.
"No. Tell them the part about the note."
"Tucked under the pink ribbon there's a note. Pink's my favourite colour so it didn't strike me as too typical. Larry told me if he did it over, he'd
use green or purple, but I thought pink was nice. Like carnations or
bubblegum. Real sweet." Alva nods in agreement. "Before I even unlock
my door, I rip open the envelope. The card says, 'Who who? Love your
secret admirer.' "
"The note was a clue," adds Larry.
"How can you be anonymous and make an impression at the same
time?" asks Rick.
"That's the thing. You perk her interest. Make her wonder."
"Don't you risk disappointment when she finds out who it's from? She
could dream Harrison Ford or Mel Gibson for Christ's sake." Rick gestures for another beer.
Larry appears unfazed by Rick's insult. "That's where the gift comes in.
Tell them, June."
"I drag the crate into the front hallway of my duplex. The crate must
have weighed fifty pounds by itself. I go to open it and find he nailed the
lid shut."
Alva sighs. She winds the pale blue strap of her dress around her finger,
teasing the fabric away from her breasts.
"The closest thing I own to a crowbar is a dinner knife,"June continues.
"Determined, I knock next door atjack Monte's. He's shirtless and I hear
a woman giggling in the background. No matter. I tell him I need a crowbar and he tells me Larry Pepper came by earlier and dropped off a box."
"I didn't count on Jack ratting me out."
"Back in my front hall, I pry into the crate."
"What was inside?" A hint of impatience in Rick's voice.
"An owl," says June, matter-of-fact.
"A snowy owl perched on lacquered driftwood. A nice piece. So lifelike
it shocks you to see it," says Larry.
Out on the patio, edged by a modest flowerbed and surrounded by
freshly mowed grass, they have talked away most of the daylight. The sun
hangs low, a ribbon of orange along the horizon.
"Can I see the owl?" asks Alva.
June's heart jerks like a stalled conveyor belt. Other women guests have
asked to see the owl. June suspects that one or two of them experienced a
good deal of Larry's taxidermic skill. He must have worked their skin
over their bones, searched out their most intimate scars and mock-stitched
38 the white lines. She imagines every seduction mirrors her own and teeters
between her need to know and not know.
"Always proud to show off my work," says Larry. He heaves himself
from the mesh lawn chair.
June clenches her fists and toes to extract the panic from her limbs.
Their first night together, Larry moved slow across June's body. The scar
on her abdomen enthralled and outraged him. "Those doctors didn't use
enough care," he told her. He fingered the mark of the incision as if he
could make it disappear. "Like a swashbuckling Houdini," she told her
friend Beth.
Alva stands and brushes the skirt of her dress loose from the back of her
thighs. "I thought June could show me."
June glances up at Larry. "We'll fix some more snacks while we're inside," she offers.
June flicks on the bedroom light and points to the owl mounted on the
wall beside the window. The glass eyes stare across the bed at the mirror
above the dresser.
Alva brushes past June. "It's as if it just stopped by. As if it could fly off
any second," she says. She walks toward it and inches her thin nose close
to the talons clenched around the driftwood branch. With her forefinger
she reaches up to touch the rigid wings. "What did you think when you
opened the box?" she asks.
"It got my attention. Larry's right about that."
The night the bird arrived, June wondered if she could ever look into
Larry Pepper's green eyes again. That night she shut the owl in her front
hall closet. She lay in bed, ears braced for the sudden sound of wings
flapping against the wool and nylon and leather of her coats.
"I don't think I could date any man that sent me a dead critter," Alva
comments.
June pulls a cardigan from the closet and drapes it around her bare
shoulders. "I'm with him despite the owl, not because of it," she says. She
leans against the bed facing the bird. "It seemed like a bad omen. Of
course, Larry's days are full of dead animals. In away, it's his job to bring
them back to life."
"It would give me nightmares. A white body hanging near the window
like that."
"I've learned to think of it as a 3-D still-life."
Alva rests beside June against the edge of the bed, eyes fixed on the
owl. "Will it wear out?"
"No. Not for a long time."
The two women watch the bird and say nothing for a moment.
"You should keep an eye on your husband," says Alva, her voice a
forced exhalation.
39 June turns to look at her neighbour. She should scream her out of the
bedroom, the nerve, the gall. Instead, she asks, "Have you ever been the
other woman?"
"I had an affair once," says Alva. "With Rick. I cheated on my ex-
husband and Rick cheated on his ex-wife. Now we can't trust each other."
In profile, Alva's thin nose turns up at the end. Her chin, quivering
slightly, is a small cliff that juts out above the eerily long slope of her
neck.
"Larry means well," says June.
Alva turns and meets June's eyes. "And that's enough."
June cannot tell if this is a statement or a question. "I wanted to sleep
with Jim Steele, the man who shot the owl. I didn't. But I wanted to."
June knew nothing of Jim Steele until he pounded on their door two
and a half years after Larry had left the owl on her porch. The knock came
at bedtime, sheets barely pulled to their necks. At first they ignored it, but
the pounding continued so hard it shook the doorframe.
When Larry answered the door, an unfamiliar voice drew June out of
the bedroom. She slipped on her housecoat, tiptoed along the corridor and
peered around the corner to the front entrance. Jim Steele stood so tall his
dark hair brushed the ceiling light. The phrase beyond words occurred to
her. She felt the sway of longing. Broad lips—pinker than June's negligee—smiled through his wiry beard. "I'd like to see what you did to my
lady," he said, his voice thick as corn syrup. June pulled her robe tighter
around her body. It was natural, wasn't it, that she thought Jim Steele had
come for her? The temptation barely offset by Larry's low chatter.
"What was it about this Jim Steele?" asks Alva. She lies back on the
mattress, legs dangling off the side of the bed.
"Maybe the way he appeared and disappeared so fast."
"He didn't want to take the owl?"
"No. Larry told him the story of us. Jim Steele took a picture of me with
the owl. Like this." June rises and stands against the wall, her head tilted
toward the bird. "Then he left." She pivots on her heel and peeks through
the slats of the Venetian blinds. The porch light shines into the empty front
yard. "The men must be wondering," she says.
"Let them wonder."
"Sure. Let them wonder."
June hops on the bed beside Alva and stretches her arms out over her
head. June has put plenty of time into wondering. She has sat on the patio
with other women's husbands. Talked weather and local economy in nit-
grit detail. One evening, Jeff MacLeod placed his hand on June's thigh.
She let him leave it there, hot and damp through her rayon skirt, while she
sipped the last of her daiquiri. Marianne MacLeod and Larry had stepped
inside. June let Jeff's hand rest, then she shoved it from her lap, stood and
40 walked right out of the yard. Jeff Macleod required one word:
Alva shimmies further onto the mattress and rolls onto her side. She
tugs at June's curls splayed on the bedspread. "Braid my hair?" she asks.
June has never been hit on by a woman, but she imagines it would be
like this, under the pretense of schoolgirl games. She cringes at the thought
of Larry hunched over, calloused hands tangled in Marianne MacLeod's
blonde locks. Of course, it wouldn't have happened that way.
The women sit cross-legged. Alva's dress rides up around her hips. She
makes no move to pull the fabric to a more modest height. "Regular braid
or French braid?" asks June, as she starts to comb her fingers through
Alva's dark hair.
"What you like," says Alva.
June scrapes her fingernail across Alva's scalp to section hair for a
French braid. Alva shivers and goosebumps break out on her arms. June
pulls the pieces of hair taut and weaves them over and under. The warmth
and movement of her hands stir the perfumed scent of Alva's shampoo.
The smell of another woman. "How did you and Rick get caught?" asks
June.
Alva turns her head and June slackens her grip on the unfinished plait.
"We weren't careful. Strange as it sounds, we both wanted to be caught.
Rick never said so, but I knew he was thinking it. We were cramped in the
same small boat."
June releases the fist of Alva's hair. The strands loosen around her face,
softening the severe angles of her cheekbones. With both hands, June traces
the contours of her own face, which is plenty round. "Your face has the
radiance and allure of a full moon," Larry once told her. In those terms,
Alva is a crescent moon—sleek, wanting.
"It turns out Rick and me were happier when we were a secret," Alva
continues. "Marriage is overrated."
"Maybe for some,"June reasons.
On slow days at work June flips through the magazines at her till. She
checks her horoscope and reads Larry's too. Astrologically their lives rarely
line up. She runs through surveys with tempting titles like, "Is Your Love
Forever?" She scored an eight on that love test, which put her and Larry's
relationship in the "likely to last" category. A good sign, though they
didn't make "perfect match." She tore the sheet out, penned in her answers
and tucked the glossy page in the side pocket of her handbag for good
luck.
"I don't mean to be a drag," says Alva. She touches June's forearm.
"You're nice company."
"Larry's more the entertainer in our household," says June.
"You shouldn't stress. Let me give you a shoulder rub. To thank you for
your kindness." Alva leans forward.
41 "No. Thank you," says June. "I hardly did a thing and the men must
really be wondering by now."
"Just a few minutes. Trust me, I was a masseuse in a past life."
June shifts around, her back to Alva. "A minute is all I need then." It
must be like this for Larry and the other women. Sudden small favours.
A shudder jolts down June's spine as Alva whisks the hair off the back
of her neck and clenches her shoulders. The touch breaks a holding of
tension, and pain spreads to the surface of her skin. June inhales and exhales as hands travel down her back to the nook under her shoulder blades.
Alva's hands press hard. June braces herself, resisting the heave of Alva's
bodyweight. Her fingertips stroke June's torso, edging a little past the side
seam of her halter-top. Then like any man would, Alva slips her hands
forward and palms June's breasts. She squeezes gendy like someone testing the ripeness of an avocado.
June draws away, glimpsing her reflection in the mirror. Behind her
kneels Alva's thin figure and reflected above them is the yellow owl-stare.
June shuts her eyes. The mattress sinks to her left as Alva shuffles around
her side. A shadow passes across her loosely closed eyelids and Alva's
breath feels close, like a moth wing fluttering in the humid night air. Her
own breath wavers. The short inhalations barely reach her lungs and the
throb of her heart fans through her chest. June gasps and pulls back.
They are watching one another—Alva still on her knees and June's
arms hugged to her chest—when Larry and Rick appear in the doorway.
Rick speaks. "So, it's done," he says in the tone of voice you use when
someone chronically ill finally dies.
Alva looks toward the window.
Larry sways his leg like a pendulum, scuffing his foot against the carpet
on the upswing.
June slides from the bed and crouches to gather her cardigan from the
floor. She stands, both feet planted.
Now, just one word hangs between them. Balance.
42 John Wall Barger
Hatchway
I lived in a Chinatown dive with a stained glass door Daniel
lived across a barbed wire courtyard where I watched a pigeon
choke and die I had no curtains so when I got home Daniel
hollered hanging from the window of his decrepit mother
Lennon was his favorite Beatle he knew the words to the Wreck
of the Edmund Fitzgerald Johnny he stammered pissing this
thing on my cock is growin' he limped grinning zipping his fly
when suppertime came the old cook came on deck there was
his shadow on the stained glass door sayin fellas it's too rough
to feed ya tilting with a 24 of pilsner so I let him in I didn't
like him he had open wounds and couldn't eat at seven pm
a main hatchway caved in he said fellas it's been good t'know ya
43 Masarah VanEyck
The Wasp Returns in the
Form of a Farmhand
Now when I kill them, I feel
some small remorse. See the grace
of its body: mechanical, organic.
The wasp is all the colours
of my living room and still
I am preparing to kill it.
Aiming, I think of men
on country roads or harvesting
fields who are struck and found
face down in the ground or crushed
against a pole. The great magazine in the sky,
I think, unrolling and turning my back.
Some large hand, larger than the earth's curve
even, spans this window, this windshield, this surface
I see through. Now I see it.
There is no other side.
44 Zoe Frechette
The Anticipation of Wind
When she comes home from work,Joe tells her that he found Mr.
John in their backyard with a chainsaw, chopping down some
of the dead trees in the back corner. Joe tells her that Mr. John
said, "Go find your own project!" and so Joe let him be.
"I don't think that was the greatest idea," Holly says with a disapproving look. "Mr. John needs a strong hand sometimes." Mr. John is their
neighbour and landlord. He's sixty-five, but looks older, and carries an
oxygen tank everywhere he goes. Holly very quickly developed an intense attachment to him that she doesn't understand since they hardly
know each other, and since Mr. John, like any normal person, doesn't
reciprocate. Joe says that she loves Mr. John more than him.
He smiles. "A strong hand? That's a funny way to say it."
"How would you say it?" she asks, poking him. They are on the couch
becausejoe is icing his knee. He rides his bike everywhere, and looks like
a bike riding sort of guy—wiry, with cropped blonde hair and a relaxed
and weathered face that makes him look older than thirty. Holly lies on
top of him, resting her head on his shoulder.
"I would say," Joe says, "that my knee kills. And we're out of ice."
She walks to the gas station for a bag of the stuff, and thinks that she
still doesn't like their new, dusty mountain town, where their house sits at
an altitude of over eight thousand feet, and where the air, Holly read, is as
dry as the Sahara. The first week they moved in, they bought cheap little
humidifiers for every room.
"It's so dry," said Joe, "that my skin is going to fall off."
"It is so freaking dry," she told him, "that I have lost all moisture in my
mucous membranes." She joked, but secretly worried a little: that she
would go blind one night—that her eyes would dry out and that she'd
wake up to darkness. But they're a world away from Boston, the city that
she loves, which means it's a world away from Jamal, the little boy she
thinks about all the time. When he brought up the idea of moving, Joe told
her that it was sunny more than three hundred days a year in Colorado.
She liked that idea at the time, but it's turned against them. It'sjune now,
and the fires have started in earnest. They wake every morning to the
smell of smoke from fires so far away that they'll never even see them.
45 Mr. John pulls into his driveway as she walks home with the ice. He has
been shopping, she sees, and she trots over to help him carry in the groceries. He doesn't object.
Inside, Holly puts the ice in the freezer, and Mr. John asks her if she can
start putting things away while he catches his breath.
"Are you okay?" she asks.
He nods without speaking, and holds up his hand.
She starts taking things out of the bags, and for the most part they are
the usual items, but occasionally she comes across something unexpected—
People magazine, or diet Mountain Dew, or a large tub of body lotion. Mr.
John gets up.
"I've got it from here," he says. He stands next to her and starts emptying another bag. Holly sees a few fine veins running along his temples,
and says, "I can do it."
"You don't know where anything goes," he says, taking a bottle of ketchup
out of her hand. He puts it in an overhead cabinet, and she catches a
glimpse of three other bottles of ketchup, so she decides she won't push it.
"Ooof," he says, taking more things out of the bags. "What a long day."
She sits on a stool and watches him. "What did you do?"
"What didn't I do," he says, and she nods.
"Joe told me that you were chopping down trees earlier?" she asks,
trying not to sound accusatory.
He keeps putting things in cabinets, sometimes taking out other things
and reorganizing the whole setup. "Ips beetles," he says, glowering. "If
you don't get the infected trees right away they'll just keep jumping till
they've infected every tree in the goddamn yard." He slams the cabinet
door shut and turns to her, and asks, "Do you know what they are?" Holly
shakes her head.
"They are goddamn opportunists," he says, angrily.
Joe will love this one. Outside, the breeze is growing stronger. Holly
sees a piece of newspaper fly across Mr. John's yard. At first the windy
nights were an occasional thing, a surprise. She woke to the sound of the
doors around the house banging about, got out of bed and looked out the
window at all those Lodgepole pines swaying like reeds and it was exciting. But now the wind blows fiercer each time it comes. Recently, the
anticipation of the wind wakes her just as often as the storms themselves.
She asks Mr. John about it, but his mood has darkened and he shrugs, and
says, "Sometimes it just gets windy."
Before bed, Holly decides to look at the sick tree Mr. John said he would
deal with the next day. When they moved into the house, they walked
around the yard andjoe said, "We live in the woods!" It wasn't the woods,
exactly, but the pines were dense and sometimes elk wandered into the
46 yard. They said that they would have coffee out here every morning, and
dinners when it was warm, and imagined spending a lot of time enjoying
it. But they keep forgetting, so walking around with the flashlight, Holly
feels good, like she's doing that nice thing they hoped they'd do. She
shines the light on the tree Mr. John told her about, one that stands much
taller than the others and looks normal except for the top, which has rusted
away into a withered, auburn beacon. Mr. John called the tree a time bomb.
She moves the beam to the bark by her face and sees tiny holes where the
beetles have burrowed in.
Or out, she thinks, and is gripped with panic. The other trees in the yard
look normal enough to her, but that means nothing. Whilejamal was in a
coma, Holly spent a lot of time trying to figure out if the hundreds of
balloons she remembered had really been there. There were so many pictures of the accident in the paper—the reporters loved the horrible juxtaposition of a tragedy at the city's most genuinely joyful event of the year—
and Holly looked closely at them, past the picture of her car and the police
cars and orange cones to the fuzzy people on the sidewalk, trying to see if
there were any balloons. She could never see a single one.
When they go to bed that night, Holly tells Joe about Mr. John and the
ketchup, and he thinks its funny, and kisses her, and his skin is hot. "Let
me see you," he says.
She sits up and he reaches over and unhooks her bra. She feels embarrassed, just sitting there like that, but she doesn't cover up. She looks at
him, bravely. She thought he would leave her after the accident, but he
only shook his head when she asked him if he would.
"I just need to know if you're going to," she had said.
"That's crazy talk," Joe had said.
He didn't say much during that time, just held her as much as she'd let
him, and his silence was a kind of respect for her sadness, for the sadness of
it all. She realized later that it was the nicest thing anyone had ever done
for her. Recently, though, he seems to be running out of something. Not
patience, exactly, or sympathy. But something. The other day he said,
"You've got to figure this thing out, Holl." She knows what he meant: that
at some point guilt can go on for too long without changing in some
way—and that it can become something else, a poisonous, self-indulgent
thing, a thing he doesn't want for her.
Now Joe strokes some of her light brown hair out of her face, then pulls
her back down. After a while, they fall.asleep, but she wakes a few hours
later with a start, to nothing, and she gets up.
The kitchen light makes a sparking pop when she flicks the switch, the
bulb burnt. She sits at the kitchen table, anyway, the barren moonlight like
a deluge, and tries to compose a letter to Jamal. Before they moved she
47 wrote him long letters that she never sent. Now she starts letters that she
doesn't finish. Since the move, she hasn't even gotten past the first line.
Dearjamal,
I have thought about writing to you for a long time, but I didn't know
if you would want to hear from me after what happened.
Dearjamal,
I am the person responsible for your injury, but I would like to write
to you from time to time if that's okay.
Dearjamal,
I am the lady who hit you with her car. I live in Colorado now, and
would like to tell you a little bit about this place.
The thing that everyone, even the police, told her, was that Jamal, who
had been playing with his cousins, jumped right in front of her car, and
that no one could have seen it coming. The people who witnessed the
accident signed strongly worded and sometimes moving statements affirming this fact. Her friends reminded her that Jamal was alive. Her father, a doctor, told her thatjamal's injury was the kind that got better. "All
the way better?" she had asked, and he had said "Maybe." But Holly can't
get over it, or past it, even if she can get through a day, and this is why
they moved to Colorado three months ago. She got ajob at a non-profit
that gives emergency money to people who have lost their jobs, and Joe's
brother gave him a job at his real estate company. Joe told Holly that
Kittridge was really a very beautiful place, a place she would like. He told
her about Mount Evans, and how at the top the altitude was fourteen thousand, two hundred and sixty feet. Joe describes things very well, much
better than she, and so Holly developed a mental picture of the view she
thinks about from time to time. "A change," Joe told her. "A break from
the city."
Dearjamal, she writes now, Sometimes in Colorado, the wind at night blows
so hard that you think nothing will be left in the morning. She can't think of
what else to say, so she reads and watches TV for a while and finally falls
asleep but wakes as soon as Joe comes into the living room at six. He is
wearing his biking clothes and says, "Couldn't sleep?"
"Things better quiet down," she says, forgetting it hasn't been noisy,
and he says, "Or what?"
"Or I'm going to freak out."
"You're already freaked out," he says, tying his orange biking shoes.
She shakes her head. "I can't believe you never wake up," she says,
frustrated. "It makes me want to scream sometimes."
48 "Please don't," he says, and kisses her head. Holly watches him ride out
of the driveway, the soft morning light reflecting off his helmet and bouncing
up at her. It's Sunday, and he has to show a house, but he'll ride for an hour
first, up and down hiking trails and then onto the road, eventually skidding to a stop in front of his brother's real estate office, where he'll splash
water on his face in the bathroom and change into the clothes he keeps
there. Holly told him that she'd feel grimy all day, but Joe said that he
hated to say it, but she sweats more than he does.
She acted offended. "It's funny!" he pleaded, and she knew it was, so she
relented.
Holly drives into town to return a heap of late books to the library. She
winds along Route 73, passing the buffalo ranch on her left. The massive
woolly things sleep close to the road, under the pines. Their babies are
small and blond but buffalos just the same, with the same mountainous
humps and skinny legs. Sometimes when she drives down this road Holly
gets out of her car and watches them move around the field in their aimless way. After the accident, Holly wasn't afraid to drive, the way everyone
assumed she would be. Sometimes as she comes around a corner, or takes
a sharp turn, she sees Jamal standing a little distance down the road, still,
as though waiting for her, and she feels the brake pedal beneath her foot,
and knows she could stop in time. The first time she was back in a car, Joe
drove, and without feeling the brake beneath her foot she couldn't stop
thinking of herself and Jamal floating in the air, facing each other from a
distance. Of Jamal lying on the road on his back, arms and legs outstretched, like a crooked snow angel. Ofjamal's aunt on the ground next
to him, holding his face in her hands. They had to pull over, and Holly
threw up a little, then insisted on driving the rest of the way.
Back home, Holly cleans the kitchen and folds some laundry, and curls up
on the couch to read one of the library books she picked out. She can't
concentrate, and takes the book out to the front porch and reads out there
for a while. A few pages in she realizes that she shouldn't have gotten it at
all—she always wished she was interested in astrology, but she just isn't.
Mr. John calls out to her from his porch.
"What are you reading?" he says, and she holds up the book, and says,
"Astrology."
"Hm," he says, then sits down in a chair on his porch and opens up a
book of his own. Holly walks over into his yard and sees that the cover of
his book is a photograph of a magnified beetle, a black, shiny thing with
three legs on each side of its segmented abdomen. Long antennae poke out
from its head, pointing straight ahead.
"American Beetles, Volume I," Mr. John says. "Archostemata, Myxophaga,
49 Adephaga, Polyphaga: Staphyliniformia."
"Yikes," she says. He looks pleased.
"I'm something of an amateur coleopterist," he says. "That means 'student of the beetle.'"
She laughs, and says, "Really." Mr.John had been ajunior high school
Social Studies teacher for most of his career before being promoted to
assistant principal two years before retirement. She is often startled by his
vocabulary.
"That's what it means," Mr. John says, sniffing a little. A few seconds
later he says, without looking up, "Where's Joe?"
"He had to show a house," she says, and sits in the other chair.
They sit for a while. Mr. John reads, and Holly pushes at her cuticles.
Holly looks up and says, "I thought you hated beetles."
"It's more complex than that," says Mr. John, still looking intently at
the page. Holly smiles to herself. She wonders what he would think about
Jamal, or what he would possibly say—if he would say wise, old man
things that could absolve her. But the way she thinks of Jamal is too dis-
j ointed and weird: she doesn't think she could say what happened in a way
someone would understand.
She's been preoccupied with thoughts aboutjamal's aunt, for example,
who is nineteen and very poor, and one of the things that made Holly feel
the worst was thatjamal's young and poor aunt was just trying to take her
kids someplace beautiful. Holly had been thinking of the witness statements that blamed Jamal's aunt for not paying better attention, the words
that only made Holly feel more desperate. Maybe she wasn't paying attention, Holly thought. But who can do that all of the time? Maybe Jamal's
aunt was enjoying the breeze on her face for one single moment, Holly
thought.
Lilac Sunday is a day in May, in Boston—a holiday, of sorts, an annual
walk through a large arboretum with a stocked pond at its center, a place
where you can see city people sitting on muddy banks, looking hopeful.
Holly walked through the sprawling park only once on Lilac Sunday, but
it was a day that always made her happy—a reminder of just how many
people there were who, given an excuse, would spend the afternoon smelling flowers. A day when the paths through the park were crowded with
people in high spirits who chatted with strangers, people with good intentions who followed the swans around the pond with breadcrumbs, making
the creatures feel overwhelmed and territorial.
It could happen, sometimes, that one minute things were one way, and
the next they were the opposite. One minute the jar might be on the counter, the next on the floor, shattered, and you couldn't figure out how it got
that way. One minute there was only road in front of her, and the next
there was a boy in a yellow shirt, turning around toward her car, confused.
50 Jamal, who was small for his age—Jamal, who had dark, shining skin and,
she would see in the newspaper, deep dimples when he smiled—had been
walking with his aunt and cousins and goofing, his aunt said later, trying
to avoid getting pinched in a painful version of Not-It. The other cars
swerved and skidded to stops, and a few were rear-ended. Holly stepped
out onto the road, moving through air that felt like thick, liquid plastic,
and saw a skinny woman on her knees next to the boy, screaming for help.
Two small children stood on the sidewalk nearby—the youngest clutching
a leakingjuice-box, wailing, the other looking solemn. Car doors slammed
shut, and Holly could hear the distant honks of swans on the water, keeping the wanderers at bay.
Jamal suffered a head injury in the accident, and when he woke up he
was missing four side teeth and the ability to consistently recognize objects. Sometimes he could. Just not always. Holly was never allowed to see
Jamal, but she learned things. Jamal knew a spoon was something you ate
with, for example, but he wouldn't know its name. And she learned that he
might forget its name shortly after being reminded. She often wondered
how much better he was than he had been the day before.
Holly had expected, despite dismissive reassurances to the contrary, to
go to prison, and when she only had to pay a small, token fine, she became
lost. Sleep grew strange—she would lie awake for hours, then dream relentless, wicked dreams just before dawn. Or calm, horrible ones: like
being on death row, praying for clemency at the feet of a mantis, the kind
she and her brothers used to catch in jars in the fields near their house.
Now she asks Mr. John, "Have you ever been in a car accident?"
"Once," he says, looking up. "Hit a deer, then went off the road into a
ditch." Holly nods, and thinks this is a good way to say it.
Because of the knee, Joe doesn't ride that night. They open a couple of
beers, then Joe sees Mr. John walking into their back yard with a chainsaw.
He is wearing goggles and a pair of fluffy earmuffs instead of the industrial soundproofing kind Holly imagines he should be wearing. He is
wearing pressed chinos and sneakers and a fleece jacket, and looks like a
neat little bug. They meet him at the tree.
"What?" he asks.
Holly andjoe and Mr. John debate the issue for some time. "Enough is
enough," Joe tells him. Mr. John is angry with them, but relents, saying
that he's sick of arguing about it. "Fine," he says, and gives Joe the goggles
and earmuffs andjoe doesn't look at Holly and puts them right on. Mr.
John sits down on a large rock outcropping and slips the oxygen tubes
back into his nose. Holly stands near Joe, wanting to help, but mainly
getting in the way. She remembers the time her father poisoned their neighbours' tree while the neighbours were on vacation. The tree hung into
51 their yard, and the people next door never picked the apples, but let them
rot on the tree and then drop into Holly's yard. Her father told the neighbours that the smell of their rotting apples made him sick, but for years the
people wouldn't do anything about it. Holly could tell that the neighbours
knew what happened, because they stopped waving when they passed her
and her brothers playing on the front lawn. Mr. John tells Joe to make a
notch on the trunk around six inches above the ground.
"The tree's going to fall toward the notch," he calls, "so make sure you
put it in the right spot. Holly," he snaps, "get out of the way." She sits
down next to Mr. John, who continues with the instructions, and watches
Joe make the notch one third of the diameter and one third of the width of
the tree. He starts cutting on the side opposite the notch.
"Easy," Mr. John calls, and stands up, then shouts, "Timber!"
They all watch as the tree tips over and then hangs, suspended, for a
tiny moment before dropping gracefully onto the needle-covered ground.
A few branches break off, and Mr. John scrambles around, picking them
up and putting them into a black garbage bag. "Look at the stump," he
says. It is streaked with greenish-black lines.
"That's how you know it's infected," he tells them.
Later, after dinner, Holly feels bad for not inviting Mr. John to join
them. He left to clean his chainsaw before she had a chance. While Joe
plans his route for the next day, Holly wraps up what's left of the pea
quiche.
She rings the bell and waits for a while on the porch. It's dark. A light
shines from inside, and Mr. John's car is in the driveway, so she rings
again. Holly thinks she hears Mr. John calling for her to come in, so she
does. She sees him on the floor of his living room. He is lying on his side,
and his eyes are closed, one of his arms stretched out, reaching for something. Holly's hand rushes to her chest, and she lopes toward the phone,
dimly aware that she must look like an actor in a bad movie. The phone is
the rotary kind; she fumbles.
"Does he have a pulse?" the voice on the phone asks, quickly.
Holly drops the phone and holds two fingers against Mr. John's wrist,
then his neck, then picks up the phone and says, "I don't know." She is
crying now.
The voice tells her that the situation is grave, and Holly will remember
that word later. She asks Holly if she knows CPR, and Holly does. "He
may have gone into cardiac arrest," the person says. "Keep breathing until
the ambulance gets there."
Holly tips Mr. John's head back and holds his nose and takes a deep
breath and breathes it out into his mouth, trying to make it the deepest
breath Mr. John ever took. She wonders if he heard the doorbell, and stood
52 up to answer, but then felt a pain in his chest and stopped, surprised, to
catch his breath. Holly sees that Mr. John's lashes are very long, and that is
when she starts to feel so very afraid—until now it was all too fast, and
blurry, but now things are clear. She wishes that Joe would hurry up, then
she remembers that he has no idea what's happening. She breathes in for
five seconds, and then breathes out into Mr. John. There is only her own
gasping breath, and she inhales again.
Then the ambulance is there and two big men and a woman walk in
purposefully and kneel down next to her where she is in the middle of an
exhale. She steps away and they take out a defibrillator and oxygen. This
makes her angry for some reason, and she shouts, "He has his own oxy-
gen!"
The EMTs ignore her, working fast, and one holds up paddles in both
hands. Two firemen are there suddenly, and they take her out of the room.
Holly is agitated, speaking too fast, she can tell—they can hardly understand, and they glance at each other. She tells them that Mr. John has a
sister who lives on the other side of town. "But for the life of me," Holly
cries, smacking the counter with her palm, "I don't remember her name."
Joe bursts into the room, shirtless.
"The ambulance," he says loudly. She is crying again and she says, "Mr.
John."
The firemen carry Mr. John out of the house on a stretcher, and an
EMT runs alongside the stretcher holding an IV bag. A blanket is wrapped
tightly around Mr. John.
"He had a heart attack," the EMT tells them. "A pretty big one."
Joe asks a few questions. Holly realizes that she's shaking.
Dearjamal, she thinks, Sometimes I wish I could tell you some things.
A week later, Holly wakes early and packs sandwiches into a backpack,
makes coffee, and waits for Joe. When he pads downstairs, she says, "I
thought we could go for a drive."
"Where?"
"Somewhere you'll like."
"I'm intrigued," he says, and goes to change.
Holly drives down 1-70, gets off onto route 103 and follows the signs
toward Mount Evans, where a sign at the entrance says: "Mount Evans—
The highest paved road in the country. 14,260 feet at summit."
"Nice," says Joe, rolling down his window.
Holly doesn't think of herself as being afraid of heights, but wishes that
she knew it would be like this—the hairpin turns, or the lack of guardrails,
for example. Joe, she thinks, minimized this part in his description. She
worries about the ride down—they're low on gas, and the brakes aren't in
great shape. But the higher they get, the more there is to see, and Holly
53 forgets about the car. There are goats, and a beaver-looking thing the
brochure calls a Marmot. They pass small gnarled trees—Brisdecone Pines—
that have molded themselves to the wind, stunted things that seem to be
permanently blowing away.
"Bristlecone Pines are the oldest living thing on this earth," Joe reads.
"The Pines on Mount Evans are approximately seventeen hundred years
old." He peers at her over the brochure. "I guess I shouldn't chop them
down, then."
"You didn't bring your earmuffs, anyhow," she says, and feels happy.
54 Georges Godeau
translated from the French by Kathleen McGookey
A Light
My little table, my little chair, my drawer to the left, a brand new
pencil, some paper and a will-o'-the-wisp in my head. I lie in wait for it and
wring its neck, just in time to make a fire from it. But the biggest one dies.
The black and cold night stretches itself out. At my little table, I wait for
a fire that dances.
Du Feu
Ma petite table, ma petite chaise, mon tiroir a gauche, un crayon tout neuft du
papier et un feu follet dans la tete.Je le guette et lui serre le cou, le temps d'en
faire un incendie. Mais les plus grands meurent. La nuit noire etfroide s'etend.
A ma petite table, j'attends unfeu qui danse.
55 The Difference
You need a reason, a woman, a crowd, to jump in the airplane and charge
purposefully towards the sky,
without which the machine can falter and burst into flames.
Then come the firefighters, the paramedics, the journalists, the curious.
In poetry, there is no one to gather you up.
La Difference
II faut une raison, une femme, une foule, pour sauter dans I'avion et foncer
gagnant vers le del,
faute de quoi I'appareilpeut lacher et s'ecraser enflammes.
Restent les pompiers, les secours, la presse, les curieux.
En poesie, personnne pour vous ramasser.
56 SA Afolabi
In the Garden
He sits on a plastic chair by the sliding doors, gazing out at the
people in the garden. He spots you, then quickly looks away,
pretends not to notice your arrival.
You place a hand on his shoulder and he says, "Oh!" He's surprised.
You reach down to brush his forehead and he looks out at the garden again.
He does not want you to think he has been waiting.
"Look!" He points. "Mrs. Emmerson."
You follow the wavering line of his index finger. Mrs. Emmerson is
being guided by a nurse's aid with tiny twists for hair, and a heavy jawline.
She steers the old woman with an iron grip. You think, she'll do. I wonder
what she would be like? As firm as she is being with Mrs. Emmerson?
"She's looking good today, Mrs. Emmerson," you say to your father.
"We haven't seen her up and about for a while."
Your father nods, pleased you have noticed this, noticed something he
has pointed out. You drag another chair and sit beside him, watching the
two women's slow progress beyond the patio. There are other people too:
Mr. Garcia, Sheila Wickham, Grumpy Les. You do not know all their names.
A flotilla of clouds passes, cooling the air. It disappears and the warmth
returns. You wish he would say more, your father, that he could say more,
but it is an effort for him.
"Look!" he says, and you look again, but only for an instant. You smile
at him and he smiles for you. This is when your patience is tested. You are
ready to leave after less than ten minutes, but you do not want to see his
face collapse. You do not want to be responsible for that again. You think
of words you can say. Sentences. The child who fell into the Thames, who
could not swim. By the time you arrived he was nearly dead, but he came
back. "I rescued him," you could say. Or, "Sometimes we speak on the
phone, but she's more and more distant. I don't think she'll ever come
back." You could mention the roses at the edge of your garden. Your
Ferdinand Pichards. How their bloom surprises you constantly. How the
view from the kitchen window is changing. Like television, you want to
say, only slower, without actors.
Mrs. Emmerson and the nurse's aid have moved beyond the ash tree.
You cannot see their faces now, only their shapes and the brilliant white of
Mrs. Emmerson's housedress, the azure blue of the aid's uniform.
57 "What are you thinking, Papa?" you ask. He only wants to stare through
the glass and smile. "There is someone at work," you say. "Edna—she's
always asking after you. Maybe I can bring her sometime? If we're in the
area? She's nice; you'd like her. I can tell. She's a nice person."
Your father nods and smiles and repeats "nice," but you do not know
what he feels. Sometimes you talk and you wonder if he really knows you,
understands the words you say.
"She had a ring through her nose when she first started, but they asked
her to remove it. 'Potentially dangerous,' they said. She made a big stink,
but she looks much better without it."
You smile at the memory and your father laughs along with you. It is
time, you think. You reach across to him. There is a visible recoil, a look
in his eyes. Fear. You hold him, but there is no response. He is so thin
against you, a person wasting away. You leave him there in the plastic
chair by the patio. He looks at you, at the floor, back to you again. He
does not want you to go, but you cannot stay. He watches you limp out of
the room—he must know who you are now, one leg longer than the other.
His crippled son. He will never forget that.
Edna says, "What are they looking at? Really, just what are they looking
at?"
You shrug as Victor parks the ambulance. They make the shape of a fan,
a butterfly; the men up front, the women, the children in between, as they
tiptoe over the shoulders of those ahead. Two or three dirty-faced children
squeeze to the front, but they do not know what to focus on, not really. You
move as swiftly as you can, holding the blanket like a matador's cape; stiff
clover uniform, the muted clip of your shoes against the road. Your head is
bleating already in the afternoon sun when you see her pinned against the
fence.
"Jesus!" Victor says under his breath, and he tries to disperse the crowd.
There are two thin lines of raspberry lipstick sealed against her face.
But the people do not witness this; her face is turned away from them.
They do not see how beautiful she is, only the twisted ribbon of her body,
the thin arms wrapped around the pylon, the summer dress, the newly
waved hair, the stocking still clinging to the leg, the separated knee. She
looks alive, but on the other hand she is as far from life as it is possible to
be. Perhaps it is because she is beautiful. Was beautiful. You wonder-
where is her life now, her soul, her essence? She looks up, resigned. Not
startled or angry or even afraid. Her eyes barely register surprise.
A battered Datsun sits several metres away, the dent of her body in its
side, the blush of her existence sprayed onto its white surface. The driver
sits sideways, feet on the tarmac. His mouth is moving, but the words do
not arrive. You look at Victor, nod towards the driver, and keep walking,
58 holding the blanket. You cover the woman so the people can no longer see.
Why do they always congregate; open mouths, curious, nervous eyes? A
woman in a lemon cardigan drops to her knees, crosses herself and begins
to mutter.
"There's nothing to see," Edna calls. "Stand back."
"Time to move on," a policeman shouts. He uses his hands to push
them away.
They pick up their bags, their laundry, hitch their belts, shuffle back,
but no one is willing to leave. The woman in the cardigan is praying
openly now in the clear space vacated by the others. After a moment, the
crowd surges forward again near to where she kneels. A child stands staring at her, the praying woman, as if she is the spectacle.
You and Victor release the woman from her grip on the fence. You do
your checks, but they are superfluous now. Edna and another paramedic
bring the stretcher, and the people part so you can carry the body away.
You watch them in the wing mirror as the vehicle departs. They stand
there, waiting. You notice the woman praying still, facing the now vacant
fence. Perhaps she is still there for them, the woman in the back of your
ambulance. Her soul. Something.
"I'm starving. Anyone for food?" Victor asks.
"I've just eaten, thanks." Edna.
"Sunday?"
"I'm fine. Not hungry. Later maybe." But you will not eat.
You drive and you wonder what your father is doing. You do not think
about the woman in the back, her face a porcelain doll's, the body ruined
beyond repair. Is he sitting by the sliding doors, is he occupied with someone else, has he eaten? Is he alone? The thoughts swim in your head. You
must stop thinking, worrying. You like the work you do. It takes you
away—the drama, the variety, the times you are useful. Sometimes you are
shocked by what you see, but you have ajob to do and you do not think;
you are only working, working, working.
Edna asks, "How is your father these days?"
You are rolling cigarettes on the hospital balcony. A warm wind lifts
her raven hair away from her face. For a moment she looks younger,
fresher. Less like Edna.
"Still the same," you say. What can you say? "He's smiling, noticing
things. Don't think he recognizes me, though." You huddle away from the
breeze to strike a match while Edna waits for you. You suck in the nicotine
and let it linger and exhale and it feels good. You light her cigarette with
your own. You say, "All medicine involves critical thinking and problem
solving, right? A problem is presented to us. We take what we know about
the human body and use that knowledge—with equipment and medication—to create a positive outcome.... There's no positive outcome with
59 him."
You are both quiet for a minute with your cigarettes. Edna peers over
the railing at the parking lot, at the path leading from the station to the
hospital, the procession of patients and staff.
"You should visit more often," she says. "That might help. It might
trigger something. Do you take photographs?"
"Take photographs?"
"Of when you were younger. Of the family. It could help trigger his
memory. Help him to remember."
"Sometimes I do," you lie. You do not want the conversation to continue. To satisfy her you say, "Perhaps you're right; I should go more
often. I don't know why I didn't think of that. "But you know you will not
increase your visits. Everything will remain as before.
Edna reaches out, touches your arm, returns to the staff lounge.
It would be nice, you and Edna, you think sometimes. She does not
overtax you. She is not unattractive. She knows what to say, what to do in
situations other people would balk at: when there is a loss, a calamity,
people needing to be spoken to honestly, soothed. She would be a good
mother. Sometimes you notice when she is with you, she talks too much.
Fidgets. You know there is an interest there. But you do not want that
"lovey-doveyness," that connection, that tenderness.
Creme brulee. You work backwards in your mind. What should precede
the dessert—veal, chicken? Even those are too heavy, too bloating for
tonight. Fish would be perfect, but you would like something new, something you have never tasted before. You ask for red snapper at the counter,
and hurry to fruit and vegetables, and make your selection. You do not like
to linger under the cold fluorescent light. Other people's idiotic stumbling
irritates you. By the time you arrive in your kitchen, everything is planned,
even the timing.
You fry the sauce—okra and red-green tomatoes—and cover the red
snapper with it. You dip the cauliflower florets in batter and fry until
slightly browned. In the minutes when there is nothing to do, you dash to
the dining room and arrange things: the candles, the three place mats, the
spray of white lilies in the centre of the table.
While you are eating the cauliflower, savouring the zest of lemon in
tahini sauce, the alarm sounds—the fish is ready. This is inconvenient. Do
you allow it to bake for another five minutes, or do you interrupt your
starter to turn off the oven and lower the snapper? Decisions. You gather
the two untouched dishes and empty the florets into the bin. This is a
shame, but there is a schedule to adhere to. The fish is tender and steaming, not a minute overcooked. The eyes have shrunk, the tip of the tail is
only slightly curled. The white wine is cool and fruity—a hint of melon—
60 a perfect compliment. You raise your glass to the two other chairs: at the
head of the table and opposite you. You do not sit at the head since this is
not your place. According to the clock you are eight minutes late. No time
for pause between dishes now.
You hobble back to the kitchen. The blowtorch is nowhere to be found.
Eleven minutes behind schedule. Will you be late, are you already late, are
you trying to be late? You could forgo the dessert and be on your way, but
that is not what you choose to do. Instead, you descend to the cellar and
scour your work things. Nothing is out of place. Each drawer needs only a
cursory glance and you can move on and there it is. Middle drawer, between tape measure and spirit level. You bound upstairs and crisp the
creme brulee with the flame. When it is perfect—not too caramelized—
you sit to eat. You savour the crunch of the skating-rink surface against the
soft underbelly. You do not look at the wall clock again until the ramekin
is empty. You glance at the two ramekins beside and ahead of you, the
nervous energy of the candles, the soft fading light of the summer evening
beyond the window. You sigh. Your mother loved this dessert.
There is a diversion that takes you out of your way. The traffic is worse
than expected. By the time you park outside the house there is no longer
any point in worrying. You ring the bell to number fifty-four and there is
such a long silence you think no one is in. Several children are playing
hopscotch on the pavement—three girls and a boy with Down's syndrome.
The boy jumps in when it isn't his turn, tries to imitate the girls' moves.
But he is hopeless. The girls allow this, though. They seem patient and
kind. A middle-aged man walks a terrier towards the park at the end of the
road.
"You're late," she says. She stands in the doorway in her work clothes—
the pinstripe skirt and jacket—as if she is not going to let you in. Then she
moves to one side and jerks her head. "Get in there, you."
"I'm sorry," you say. "I lost track of time. There was a diversion."
"I'll give you sorry," she says. "Like I care. I don't know what I'm
going to do with you."
She leads you to the utility room at the back of the house. There is an
assortment of clothes and contraptions heaped in a basket. She tells you
what to wear and you do not question her. She watches you undress, watches
as you put on the clothes she has selected.
"These are too tight," you say, pointing to the thigh-high boots.
She looks at you and then looks away. "Come with me." She leads you
to the room downstairs. You know where everything is, what everything
does. But you do not know what she has planned tonight. You wonder
when she will get changed.
She leaves you there with your head under the guillotine, your ankles,
your wrists tied together, your neck squeezed in the lunette, facing the
61 floor. You hear her movements on the stairs, in the rooms above. You
wonder what she has chosen to wear tonight. You liked the rubber body
suit she wore last time, but she does not wear the same outfit consecutively. Will she use the paddle, the leather bullwhip, the hose pipe, a switch
from the garden? Your mind is full of the possibilities and it excites and
frightens you both.
Her footsteps clunk on the stairs—the slow, sideways descent of stilettos. She is wearing a raincoat. You wonder what it conceals.
"I'm going to the pictures," she says. "You won't go anywhere, will you
now?" She lets out a brittle laugh.
"When will you be back?" you ask. You are bewildered. You are careful
not to show impertinence.
"I don't know. I might stop off for something to eat. Be a good boy now,
and we'll see."
When the front door slams, you swear never to return to this place, but
at the back of your mind you know you will. The days will drag, the weeks
may turn into months, but you will run back here, pleading for your correction.
You rest your neck against the lunette, but it hurts. Already your knees
are beginning to ache. You would like to scratch your face, blow your
runny nose. You wish she had not tied your hands together. You think of all
the things you could be doing: visiting your father, watching television,
sleeping with Edna, sleeping. But really, nothing compares.
You remember when you were eight. Parents' night. Your mother was
discussing your work with one of the teachers. Your father was staring
straight ahead; there was a boy—you cannot remember his name now—
but he was walking, limping, mimicking you. Finding it amusing in front
of his friends. Your father watched him for a moment and then strode
across the room and walloped him, hard. He walked back and sat down
again, the other boy wailing now, his parents outraged. You felt glee and
pride and fear all at once. Now your father hardly recognizes you and it
makes you wonder—what happened to all his memories?
What would he think of you kneeling here in the rubber underwear, the
black boots, the guillotine? Would he know who you are anyway? Would
he think anything of it? You pull up your knees into a squatting position
and this takes some of the pressure off your thighs, your lower back. Perhaps she will not return until morning. You push the thought out of your
mind and think of all the things you could prepare with... mangetout. There's
soup—you've never thought of that before—and omelette, and juice, and
mangetout cake. These are all possibilities. You could eat it with anything
as an accompaniment. You are not sure how to incorporate it, but it would
make an interesting ice cream.
You hear the front door slam and the click of heels across the hall and
62 you know you could not have continued for much longer. Your legs are
shaking and your back howls. If your neck is marked or bleeding you do
not feel it. You are beyond pain now and only willpower can keep you
from breaking, from shouting out for help.
"Oh, look," she says. "You haveheen good. I was sure you were going to
be naughty, but there's no mess even." She unties you, raises the lunette
from your neck. "Lousy picture; we treated ourselves afterwards. Dinner,
drinks. You would have liked it. You should have come."
You can smell the alcohol.
When she unlocks the manacle, you can only fall to the floor. The
release from your limbs, your back, is indescribable. She reaches down
and touches your face, a small tenderness. "What do you say now?" she
whispers.
"Thankyou."
Edna says, "Mangetout? I'm not so sure about this." She takes a drag on
her cigarette.
"Go ahead," you say. 'Just one bite. Look at Victor."
And there is Victor who will eat anything, his mouth full, crumbs on his
goatee, reaching for more.
She prods the cake, sniffs it, nibbles. "That's nice," she says. "You can't
taste the vegetable." She smiles. The smoke undulates between the two of
you.
"What's that on your neck?" Victor asks.
"Oh that." You touch your neck self-consciously. "Bought a new shirt
the other day. An allergic reaction, I guess."
He is sitting in the same position in an easy chair with faux-leather covering. He looks alone and sad and crumpled there gazing out through the
doors, not seeing anything.
"I brought you something, Papa."
He looks up—apprehensive, smiling, apprehensive again. Does he know
who you are?
You fetch another chair, making sure he can see your limp. Surely he
must have some idea?
It is so warm the glass doors have been rolled back. Your father sits in
his shirtsleeves, the top button undone. He is freshly shaved, wearing the
pink poplin shirt you bought him for his birthday two years ago. It makes
him seem younger now, more alert, more able to think.
Grumpy Les is in the garden, arm in arm with the woman with twists in
her hair. Two short steps, then a rest before he begins again. She turns to
you and your father and waves, and moves off after a pause. The ash tree
soughs, leaves shiver, then lean one way, but gently, as if caught in a
63 baby's breath.
"Everything's so fast," you say to your father. "And in here it's all so
slow. The people, the cars, the lives everyone leads. It's no surprise there
are so many accidents. I'll never be short of work. Here, this is for you,
Papa." You hand him a plastic tub containing the rest of the cake. "I'll go
and make the tea, okay?"
When you return with the plates and the cups of tea, you notice he has
not opened the container. You set down the plates on the table and cut the
cake, place a fork near your father, and begin to talk. It makes you feel like
a mother, like you are your mother. You speak the nonsense words all the
while. You do not like to pause between the sentences, but you have little
to say in a one-way conversation.
"She was maybe mid-forties, early fifties, but she looked good, considering." Considering what? That she was smashed up against the fence, that
she was dead, that she had lost half a leg? You do not want to talk about it,
but there is nothing else to say. "Victor says it's like a freak show when
they come to watch. Voyeurs, he calls them. But I don't think so. I've been
thinking—it's perfecdy understandable. A person is alive and minutes later
they're not. People want to see, to understand what it's like, what happens
in that time. Where the person goes. They're afraid, I think, or anxious or
curious. But not indifferent. Indifference wouldhe freakish."
Your father chews slowly and glances at you, your hands. Mostly he
regards Grumpy Les in the garden.
"Remember this?" You take out the photograph of the time you went to
the beach when you were four or five: you, your mother, your father. In
the background is the Bight of Benin.
He peers at the image. The chewing slows. He looks at you uncertainly,
then returns his gaze to the garden where nothing has changed. Why do
you bother to come here? Why did you even listen to Edna? You could
return to the house of correction tonight. There may not be an opening,
but it is something to consider, to anticipate. Perhaps tomorrow. You were
not prepared for the guillotine, but then, it is not for you to decide.
Your father starts to talk, but he is speaking in the other language, the
language you do not understand. He says her name, once, in among all the
words, the only word that makes sense to you—Aina. And then he goes on
in the other language, but it no longer matters to you. He has spoken your
mother's name. He is remembering something. You sit there, the two of
you, looking out at Grumpy Les. You do not understand him, your father,
and he does not know who you are. Sometimes you wonder where he has
gone, his essence, when everything else is declining, but still functioning.
He is leaving you and there is nothing for it.
He finishes the cake—all of it, though he is not a good eater. He says,
"Every day the sun shines, there—in the garden." He points as if you
64 might not know where he means, then reaches out and touches your neck
very lightly, for a moment.
65 Russell Thornton
Temple of Play
A small hairless dog
with upreared orange tufts of forehead hair. Breed whose origin is lost.
Whole head a visor, haggard
human-seeming eyes, tongue
hanging out the side of its mouth. It is also a tiny deer.
And a corner of shadow
in the cornerless glare.
*
They worshipped death.
Their descendants, severe-faced, when they laugh, laugh smoothly
and hear the dry barking
out of Jesus' wounds. The clattering note
on the holy mother's lips.
They walk in single file to the priest,
and they are offered dust.
*
The dog solitary—
the light-gaited wanderer of the site's grey earth. I see it everywhere
off to the side of the kohl
outlining the eyes of the woman leading me. While death
shines in the woman's slender calves. While death
sits layered and angled
within the piled mud bricks of the altar.
Here they swung a barrier open
for a living person only once. The close sun touching completely
the breasts of one obedient and astonished,
breasts tipped in death.
The elaborate intent in what they did—
she knows little of it. And yet
her own walking by is a knife.
66 The dog squats near me,
sallow-haunched, still,
excrement falling out of its anus. It looks at nothing but the sun.
Its eyes are the vast
transparent eye of the dust. That same
eye hides within my skeleton. It looks out
at itself in whichever direction I go.
*
Here they prepared food, they ate,
then broke, scattered, and buried
underfoot all the bowls and plates. Now one of them turns to me,
black-edged, exquisite in the expanse of light—
though it is she who brought me to this place
and who kneels in front of a cross.
What can my bones do but lie in dust.
*
Her glance, her smile,
make death happy. And death lets the dog's eye display its jewel.
And allows my eyes to leave me. And I find us, myself and her.
In the dust that makes and makes God
I find us. As if from there,
that distance away, where my bones grow bright,
I glimpse myself dancing.
Huaca Pucllana ("sacred place of playing"),
Lima
67 Carrie Mac
Real Life Slow Motion Show
On his way back from fishing—he didn't catch any fish—my father shoots a deer, but it's off-season, so the only people he can
brag at are us.
"Right out the window, Junie!" He's come home to get us so we can
help him lift it into the truck. "I'm driving along and there she is and
there's nobody around for miles and my gun was just waiting and pow!
Got her on the first shot. A beauty. A real beauty."
My brother Tyler stares at the gun on the seat.
"Change your shirt, Tyler." My mother steers him back inside. "Find
something you won't mind getting mucky."
Tyler does not want to go. Dad says he won't be any help; he's so
scrawny and weepy.
"But he's coming anyway," Dad says when Mom suggests leaving him
behind. "Do him good to see some real life."
Tyler's eyes brim with tears. He comes back in his WresdeMania shirt
with the scary-looking guy scowling on it. He hates that shirt and would've
thrown it out except Dad's favourite brother brought it all the way from
Las Vegas. Dad's so excited about the deer that he takes no notice of
Tyler's choice of shirt.
"That's right," Dad says. "Cry all you want, life and death's all over the
place and you got to get used to it."
The deer is up a logging road in the middle of a clear-cut. We can't
drive the truck right to her, so me and Dad and Mom roll her onto a tarp
and drag the tarp over the brush to the truck.
"Her eyes are open," Tyler says. He throws up again.
"That's right, you look her in the eye. That's death right there for you,"
Dad says. "Some kids never see death, and that just isn't right. Now, son,
what you can do is lift her head while your mother and Bea and I get the
legs."
Mom wipes Tyler's mouth with a handkerchief. "Maybe he shouldn't,
Ken."
"This one here's going to grow into a man. Now, what kind of man do
you want to be, Tyler?"
Tyler squats. He lifts the deer's head into his lap.
"There's the man." Dad grabs hold of the deer's back legs. "Just caught
68 a glimpse, there. Tyler, the man."
Dad backs the truck into the smaller garage behind the gas pumps and
hangs the deer in there so no one can see it. He skins her and cuts her up
and Mom wraps the meat and I pack it in the freezer. Dad makes Tyler sit
on the workbench and watch. As I hose down the floor, Tyler falls asleep,
his head on an emptyjerry can. Mom carries him inside and puts him to
bed. There's not a spot of blood on his shirt.
A couple days later, Mrs. Anderson pulls her car into the gas station. Her
baby is asleep on the back seat, just a little baby in a diaper. I get my dad
and go back to the paper. The obituaries are my favourite. I like trying to
guess how they died by the charities listed at the end or by their age or if
there's words like taken from us suddenly, or after a long battle with, that sort
of thing. If Mrs. Anderson's baby died, sailed clear through the windshield
for example, what would the obituary say? When her husband died in the
spring it said loving father and devoted husband. He was forty-eight. I guessed
heart attack. I was right.
"Mr. Lancaster," she says when Dad starts the pump. "I got a few words
for you."
Dad watches the numbers on the pump. Mrs. Anderson leans out the
window.
"There are bastard pups from your effen dog all over this town," she
says. "Everyone knows it's your dog. The least you can do is get him
fixed."
"Twelve dollars even." Dad peers into the car. "You should have that
kid in some kind of seat."
"Well, you got words for me and I got words for you then." Mrs. Anderson
gives Dad the money. "If you don't deal with your dog, Horst will, and
he's known for taking them up the mountain and shooting them in the
head rather than have the town pay to keep them in the pound." Mrs.
Anderson stuffs her wallet into her purse. "In this case, I'm not sure I
disagree with him taking things into his own hands."
"Is that right?"
"Yes sir, that's right. My Maggie found four of them pups drowned in
the pond by the dump. She's having nightmares. She's only ten. "
"And did you have a car seat for her? The one that made it to ten?"
"I can honestly tell you that I do not like your attitude Mr. Lancaster,
and as someone so new to town, you might give that a good, hard think."
"I appreciate your concern, Mrs. Anderson. I do." Dad puts his fingers
to his cap. "And of course, my apologies to your Maggie."
"Well." She starts the car. "You just see you do something about it, Mr.
Lancaster."
"Will do. Bye now," Dad says as she drives off. He rips the paper out of
69 my hands and smacks my head with it. "You hear that, Miss oh please,
please, please can I have a dog?"
"Yes sir."
At dinner, Dad stares under his glasses at Tyler and me.
"If I recall correctly, I did not want anything to do with this dog," he
says. "I said, the hell with it, what do I care? Get the damn dog, but keep
it outta my way. I said no funny business, didn't I?"
"Yes sir." I rest my feet on Duke lying under my chair. I wiggle my toes
and Duke wags his tail, thumping it against the linoleum. Dad scrapes his
chair back, grips the table and peers under.
"Out!"
Duke sits up, half asleep.
"Go lie down where I can't see you, you damned dog."
My mother's hand hovers above the plate stacked with bread.
"Well? I don't need this damn dog making me any enemies in this town,
do I?"
"No, Ken, you don't."
"I didn't think so."
"It's just that he doesn't know any better, Ken." Mom deals us each a
slice of bread and then offers one to Duke. "Now, go to your bed."
Duke pads over to his blanket in the corner by the fridge, circles twice
and settles down. "There's a good dog," she says.
As Tyler and I clear the table, Mom says, "There's money by the back
door for you two to go swimming. Your towels are in the dryer."
Tyler and I walk barefoot down Sequoia to the public pool. The sidewalk
is still warm from the sun minding it all day. Our towels are knotted under
our chins like superhero capes. We stop when we hear the voices and
splashing from the pool. Tyler and I slow way down for the last block. We
call this the Real Life Slow Motion Show.
"How slow can you go?" I dig my chin into my neck to make my voice
low.
"Slow, slow, slow." Tyler takes giant steps, hands out like a zombie.
Tyler can't swim. Mom signed him up for lessons but he's too scared. He
hides in the change room every Tuesday afternoon. No one knows except
me. Tonight he sits at the edge, kicking his feet in the water while I swim
around the pool, pretending not to care that no one notices my perfect
stroke, the way my fingers curve together like mermaid fins, the way I
barely have to lift my head above water to breathe. I dive under and do
three somersaults without coming up for air, see if they can ignore that.
When I break the surface, Curtis is waiting for me.
"Hi Bea." He tugs at his shorts. He's wearing a bathing cap with orange
spots on it. No one else in the entire pool is wearing a bathing cap. "You're
70 real good."
"Thanks Curtis." Maggie Anderson and her frilly friends are watching
now, sure. Of course, now.
"You want to play marbles sometime? Or hockey cards?" He wipes his
nose with the back of his hand. "I got great cards."
"Don't talk to me, Curtis." I pull myself out of the pool.
"Why not, Bea?"
'Just don't, okay?" We've been living in this town for ten months and
Curtis, town retard creep, is the only one who talks to me. I tell myself I
can do better. I tell myself it takes time. I tell myself Maggie Anderson is
a bitch and who wants her for a friend anyway, and besides, she ratted on
my dog.
Curtis just stands there, shivering and staring as I walk over to Tyler.
He's sitting on the furthest deck chair reading a woman's magazine someone left behind.
"Let's go, Ty." I wrap my towel around my waist.
"I should go under the shower," Tyler says.
"You don't have to. Your hair would be dry by the time we got home
anyway. Mom will never know."
"She can tell." Tyler stands under the outside shower for a minute,
coming back covered with goose pimples. Neither of us brought anything
dry to change into, so we run the four blocks home, our superhero capes
limp.
There's Mom sitting on the stoop, the cherry of her cigarette glowing in
the dusk shadows.
"Don't come home yet," she calls to us when we reach the gate.
"How come?" I ask. "What's going on?"
"Did you have a good swim?" She hands me a five-dollar bill. "Why
don't you two go get something at the Tasty Freeze?" She winks at Tyler.
"How about that, Superman?" Tyler chews on a corner of his towel and
steps closer to me. Mom looks at me. "Please, Honey Bea?"
There is no room for saying "no." It's not just the pause, but the words,
too.
"We can see if Charlotte's working," I say to Tyler. She baby-sits us
sometimes.
"Okay," Tyler mumbles. "I guess." He takes the five dollars from me
and puts it in the zip-up pocket of his swim trunks.
At the Tasty Freeze the teenagers park their cars side by side so tight that
they have to climb through their windows to get in and out. They sit on
the bumpers smoking hand-rolleds and drinking Coke mixed with booze
in Tasty Freeze cups. The boys wear rocker shirts with the sleeves ripped
off and the girls hang off them in striped tube tops and stretchy jeans. I
71 hold Tyler's hand as we cut through.
"Hey, look." A boy on the hood of a Camaro blows a smoke ring at us.
"Little kiddies in bathing suits."
"Out after dark, beware of the big bad boner!" A fat guy grabs his
crotch and howls like a coyote.
"Go on, Dwayne, you like 'em young!" Another boy makes Ozzy
Osbourne eyes and pounds his fist on the car. They all start drumming
their cars. I stick my chin up a bit more. The word, I believe, is impervious.
I-m-p-e-r-v-i-o-u-s. Spelling Bea won the spelling bee with that one; Maggie
Anderson left out the "u." Tyler stretches his arm over his head, covering
both ears.
Charlotte gives us hot chocolate for free and a cup of extra whipped
cream each. We sit in the staff booth with our knees under us, eating the
whipped cream with our fingers.
A family sits across from us. The father is tracing a route on a road map
with a yellow marker. The mother reads the funnies on the Tasty Freeze
placemat to the little girl. The boy stares out the window at the teenagers
and notices me looking at him in the reflection. He turns and stares back,
picking up his Rubix cube and adjusting the squares.
I don't look away. I want to tell him I can solve any Rubix cube in less
than seven minutes, that I got a fifty-dollar cash prize for doing that and
roller-skating at the same time. That was in the last town we lived in. He
looks away first.
I stare enviously at the boy's sweatshirt. The air conditioning is on. The
muscles in my arms and legs tighten against the chill.
"I'm cold too," says Tyler. From where I sit I can't see his swim trunks.
He looks naked.
Charlotte lets us out through the kitchen so we don't have to go through
the parking lot again. We wander home the long way, across the highway
overpass. At the middle, we climb up the railing and spit at the cars,
pulling our fists for the truckers to honk. The rest of the way we play the
Real Life Slow Motion Show, walking on all the lawns, our feet sore from
so much barefooting on cement.
"What happened?" Tyler asks when we get to our gate. "How come we
had to take so long?"
"Do I look psychic to you?"
The house is dark in front. I can see into the backyard where the kitchen
light spreads onto the overgrown lawn.
"What's psychic?" Tyler takes my hand and pulls it to his cheek.
"When you know things before you're supposed to," I say.
Dad is at the table reading the newspaper. There's blood on his Lancaster
Family Reunion shirt. My skin feels suddenly hot. Tyler and I stand in the
72 doorway. Tyler rubs his cheek against my hand.
"You're back." Dad keeps his eyes on the paper. We nod.
"Put these on. You're both blue." Mom hands us the snowflake sweaters
Auntie Pat sent us at Christmas. I slip Tyler's over his head and pull his
arms through. I'm too hot to put anything on. Tyler sets his cheek against
my hand and rubs. He closes his eyes.
"Who wants to be first?" Dad nods at the basement door. It's shut,
which is unusual.
"What for?" I steer Tyler into a chair, his eyes still squeezed shut.
"I tried to take care of the dog problem, but it kind of backfired. I don't
think Duke is going to make it." Dad pulls his glasses off and pinches the
skin between his eyes. "I'd say he's on his last legs right about now. I will
say, and then I won't say it again, I am sorry, I am. I made a botch job of
it and I'm sorry."
Tyler starts to cry silently, his thin body shaking and heaving. Mom
puts a hand on his shoulder, but he shrugs it off, reaching for my other
hand and pulling it to his other cheek.
"Big sister first, then." Dad folds the paper. He opens the basement door
and ushers me ahead. "After all, the dog was your idea."
Duke is on the floor at the foot of the stairs. He's covered in blood, as is
the towel he's laying on, an empty whiskey bottle, and the cement for
about two feet around. I kneel beside him and stare at his bloody belly.
Duke's testicles sit in a tin pie plate beside the dryer. They look like a dead
rodent. Dad lights a cigarette behind me on the stairs.
"I am sorry, Beatrice. I gave him the whiskey and then figured he was
as good as out and cut them off, but he's not doing so hot now. He just
wouldn't stop bleeding."
I stroke Duke's silky black ears. His eyes are closed. I put my hand
over his heart. The beats are slow and long in between. The blood is sticky
and cold.
"I said I'm sorry. I didn't think it'd be this bad, really."
"Go away."
"Now, Bea, I only meant to fix him like they do at the vet."
"Go away." I lean in to kiss Duke's dry black nose.
"Be reasonable, Honey Bea."
"Go away!"
He backs up the stairs. When he opens the door Tyler bolts down and
freezes when he sees Duke. He sits behind me and chews on a corner of his
towel still pinned under his chin.
"Oh no, Bea." He rests his cheek on my bare back. "Did you psychic
this?"
I want the heartbeats to stop. They get slower and slower, but do not
stop. I think about breaking his neck, or smothering him with a towel, and
73 decide I can't do either.
Mom comes down, steps over all of us and moves the laundry from the
dryer to the basket. With a slippered foot she slides the bloody pie plate
closer to the floor drain. It scrapes against the rough cement. Above, Dad
walks from the kitchen to the family room, the floorboards creaking. I
hear the television click on, then the squeak of his chair reclining.
"Oh, poor old Duke." Mom dumps a pile of bloody towels into the
washing machine and then leans down to stroke his head. I'm just about to
remind her that Duke is only two years old, but she cuts me off. "I'm so
sorry, Bea. You know he was trying to fix things. Try to understand." She
picks up the basket of clean clothes, steps over us and heads upstairs.
Duke breathes slow all night. Tyler and I stay with him, using the clean
towels from the dryer to keep him warm. In the morning we lug him up
the stairs and out the back while our parents are still sleeping. We lay him
in the wagon with two good quilts under him and one on top. We take him
to Horst's place and he calls the vet. That afternoon Horst writes Dad a
ticket. There's a fine too. Dad makes us pay him back for it, so we spend
the fall pushing an old baby carriage up and down the roads, collecting
bottles from the ditches.
Mrs. Anderson pays the vet bill, so she takes Duke home when he's all
fixed up. I wait for Maggie Anderson to pull out all the stops. I wait for the
rumours to zing back to me and pierce my skin. They never do. She tells
Curtis, though, and Curtis makes me kiss him twice, everyday, with tongue,
or he'll tell everyone what my Dad did. Maggie watches us sneak behind
the utility shed every day at recess. Curtis tastes like rot and gets a boner
every time.
"That's a hundred kisses," Maggie tells Curtis one day. "Now you leave
her alone." She takes my hand and walks me to the cool side of the playground, where her frilly friends are waiting on the monkey bars.
74 Barry Dempster
Bad Habits
(after "Top Eleven Bad Habits of Shooters," www.bullseyepistol.com)
Aiming at happiness destroys it.
—Kant
i. Not Looking at the Sights
This quite frequently is listed as "looking at the target. "A shooter may be
focusing his eye on neither the sights nor the target, but since he does not see
the target in clear focus he assumes he is looking at the sights.
First frost, heart as dopey as the spiders
outside his window, oozing rather than spinning,
an indulgence of legs just squatting there,
overcome with both real and imagined cold.
He has fate right there in his sights: yellow-
grey skies like blonde hair on its way to white,
trees that couldn't look deader if they up and died,
and those spiders, husks really, hunched in what
used to be called a breeze but is now a wind.
"Remember," he says to me, "when you wrote
November is the beginning of the end?"
Only bastards put misery in italics.
Surely there's something good to focus on,
I almost say, all the coldness getting
to me, stunning me stupid.   What about
that Yellow Brick Road of leaves on the lawn?
What about squirrels with Dizzy Gillespie cheeks?
And what about herself, the one who might invent
a miracle and rescue the both of us, the one whose
heart is as playful and resilient as a polar bear?
75 He takes another drag on his wrinkled cigarette
and aims a finger at his head.   "In your dreams,"
meaning me, not him, crazy, not dead.
If only I could fall asleep in a field of licorice
and let the snow just sugar me.
If only I could borrow a set of spider legs
and dash in every direction at once.
I'm trying to look at the bright side,
but all I see is smoke, feel the slap of
unhappiness as it tears itself from his icy chest.
How quickly I'm reduced to magic,
sawing God into halves of halves.
Be happy, you Capricorn, you Catholic,
you Inner Child.   I want to snatch his cigarette
and burn a ruby on his wrist, spread his lips
into the dawning realization of a smile.
I want to show him where a secret window might be,
glass so clean it tastes of glaciers,
with busy silver spiders adding shimmer
like sparkles on Shania's gown.
I want him to surrender, like sex,
to the vision of it all, heart swelling,
target coming closer and closer.
Smoke hangs mid-air, a spiderweb.
Look, right there, one flimsy strand,
a man's hopes and dreams, a dare.
Anything less than this is subsistence:
November nosing grit across the frozen ground,
yellow leaves like wings the frost has shot down.
76 ii. Holding Too Long
Any adverse conditions that interrupt a shooter's ability to "hold" will cause
him to delay his squeeze, waiting for conditions to better. The disturbing
factor about this is that you will do it unconsciously; therefore, you must
continuously ask yourself, am I being too particular?
Demerara sugar in his tea, a crate of Clementines
on the kitchen table, radio dialled only to CBC.
Good taste, good health, misery deserves the best.
"He emitted a sound like laughter," but it was never
the kind of laughter that bubbled from a pink spot
at the back of his throat and tickled on its way up his tongue.
It was bitter, esophageal, as if happiness
was choking on a meal of chicken bones.
Aiming for paradise, hitting Pretoria, his lot in life.
He showers, he dreams, he dresses, he
hesitates, happiness always a verb or two out of reach.
The tinkle of spoon in tea is almost art, the room
otherwise hushed, a spray of orange peels
in the shape of Italy.   A gorgeous gloom.
How he longs for a simpler language, where every
vowel aches with regret.  "I" in particular,
the blue pang of a held back breath.
77 xi. Match Pressure
If there are 200 competitors in a match, rest assured that there are 200 shooters
suffering from match pressure. So what makes you think you are so different?
There are at least 200 graves surrounding his grave,
lots of holy lettering: Gone
But Not Forgotten and In The Arms
Of God.   That and grass, a minimalist's dream.
Tears have drained from my face, lips bit all the way
to blood.   Where are the 200 other mourners
like myself, chewing on their leavings of rage?
Together, we could rip wreaths
apart, lop the heads off angels.
Crows splitting their wings in fury, spiders
shredding their immoderate legs, bitter
secretions soaking into the hard green earth.
Hoping for a plastic thrill, I fill my brain with thoughts
of afterlife, a 12-foot Jesus, a soft sad cloud,
a celestial shooting match, something to support
the weight of all this absence.
Who knew nothingness was such a team effort:
200 ghosts with blood dripping from their invisible arms
as they aim my heart back between my ribs.
He's somewhere in the fray, I'm sure, complaining
of sore spirits, wishing he could be the one to get inside my chest.
This is the last of us, the city limits.   It's you, or you,
or you, from here on in.   Hanging with your family,
hitting the same high notes as the crowd, helping
a stranger cross a street, hoping to be happy
in the process.   All through November...
What makes you think you are so alone?
78 Contributors
SA Afolabi was born in Nigeria and grew up in various countries, including Canada (Ottawa),Japan, and Indonesia. SA's stories have appeared in
The Malahat Review, The Kenyon Review, and Tampa Review. In the UK they
have appeared in London Magazine, Edinburgh Review, and Wasafiri, among
others. A collection of short stories will be published byjonathan Cape in
spring 2006, followed by a novel in spring 2007.
John Wall Barger's work will appear this spring in the anthology To Find
Us: Words and Images of Halifax, and Slipstream. Currentiy, John teaches at
Saint Mary's University. He is well known for calling dibs on just about
anything.
Lynne Bowen is the author of five books: Boss Whistle, The Coal Miners of
Vancouver Island Remember; Three Dollar Dreams; Muddling Through, The Remarkable Story of the Ban Colonists; Those Lake People, Stories of Cowichan
Lake;and Robert Dunsmuir, Laird of the Mines. She is the Rogers Communications Co-Chair of Creative Nonfiction Writing at the University of BC,
and writes a monthly column for the Times-Colonistnewspaper. She is currently writing Italian Connections, a book about Italian immigration to BC.
Shannon Bramer was born in Hamilton. She is the author of two books:
scarf and suitcases and other poems, winner of the Hamilton and Region Arts
Council Book Award. Her third collection, The Refrigerator Memory, will be
published by Coach House Books in May 2005. She teaches contemporary poetry to intermediate students and is currently developing a program for special needs and ESL students of all ages. Currently she lives in
Toronto with her husband and new baby girl.
George Elliott Clarke is a prized poet out of Africadia. His latest works
are Quibecite (2003), a dramatic poem, and George &Rue (2005), a novel.
Barry Dempster's poems in this issue are from his forthcoming collection, The Burning Alphabet, which will be published by Brick Books in June
2005. Starting this coming February and running for four months, Barry
will be writer-in-residence at the Richmond Hill Public Library, just north
of Toronto.
79 Zoe Frechette lives in Colorado with her husband, Ethan, and has an
MFA from Emerson College. Her nonfiction has appeared in Story Quarterly
and other magazines. "The Anticipation of Wind" is dedicated to her father, Andrew Hollywood: teacher, playwright, lover of life.
Georges Godeau was born in 1921 in Villiers-en-Plaine, France, worked
as an engineer, and published sixteen books before his death in 1999. His
work won the Prix du Livre in Poitou-Charentes. Widely translated into
Russian and Japanese, next to none of his work has appeared in English.
Allison Hack writes fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction. She splits her
time between Victoria and Winlaw, BC.
Lily Mabura is a Kenyan student at the University of Idaho, working on
an MFA in creative writing. She is the author of the novel The Pretoria
Conspiracy (Focus Publications, Nairobi, 2000) and two children's books:
Ali the Little Sultan (Focus Publications, Nairobi, 1999), and Seth the Silly
Gorilla (Phoenix Publishers, Nairobi, 2002).
Carrie Mac lives on the Sunshine Coast, BC. She is the author of two
published novels, The Beckoners and Charmed. She has recentiy completed
her third novel and is working on a collection of stories. She wholeheartedly credits the Canada Council for the Arts for keeping a roof over her
head.
Kathleen McGookey's first book of poems, Whatever Shines, is available
from White Pine Press. More of her translations of Godeau's work appear
in Chase Park, Connecticut Review, Denver Quarterly, The Interlochen Review,
Mid-American Review, Natural Bridge, Rhino, Salt Hill, and Stand. Her website
is kathleenmcgookey.com.
Mark Ryden was born onjanuary 20, 1963 in Medford, Oregon, but grew
up in Southern California. He received a BFA in 1987 from Art Center
College of Design in Pasadena, California. Ryden's paintings instantly
trigger a warped deja vu, recalling a parallel universe of 1950s Golden
Books and the whimsy of Lewis Carroll. Ryden's work has been exhibited
in museums and galleries from Italy to Australia to Japan and the US and
is sought after by a wide range of collectors. Currently, Mark lives and
works in Los Angeles, California. You can find him late at night in his
studio among his collections of trinkets, statues, skeletons, saints, and old
toys that he collects for inspiration. His painting, "Balloon Boy," was on
the cover of PRISM 40:3.
80 Russell Thornton's recent books are The Fifth Window (Thistledown, 2000),
A Tunisian Notebook (Seraphim, 2002), and House Built of Rain (Harbour,
2003), which was shortlisted for the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize at the
BC Book Prizes, 2004, and for a national ReLit Award, 2004. He lives in
North Vancouver, BC.
Lee A. Tonouchi, "Da Pidgin Guerrilla," is one of da co-editors of Hybolics
magazine. He get one award-winning collection of Pidgin short stories
called Da Word from Bamboo Ridge Press. He also get one book of Pidgin
essays called Living Pidgin: Contemplations on Pidgin Culture from Tinfish
Press. In 2004, Kumu Kahua Theatre staged his play Gone Feeshing, and
his short story "7 Deadly Local Sins" won da Grand Prize in da 2004
HONOLULUMagazine Fiction Contest.
Masarah Van Eyck lived in Montreal for seven years where she earned a
doctorate in French history from McGill University. There, she spent a
good many hours sitting on the floor next to the library stacks AP5 P67
reading old PRISM international)ouxna\s. She now writes poetry and non-
fiction in Madison, Wisconsin.
Russell Wangersky is a short story writer, newspaper columnist, and editor in St. John's, Newfoundland. His fiction and non-fiction have appeared
most recently in Grain and Prairie Fire. His creative nonfiction piece "Mechanics of Injury" won the 2003 Maclean Hunter Endowment Award for
Literary Nonfiction, and was published in PRISM 42:2.
81 iiPM
Creative Writing M.P.A. at U.B.C.
The University of British Columbia offers
a Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative
Writing. Students choose three genres to work
in from a wide range of courses, including:
Poetry, Novel/Novella, Short Fiction, Song
Lyrics & Libretto, Stage Play Screen & TV Play,
Radio Play Writing for Children, Non-fiction,
and Translation. New: now offering Canada'8
first low-residency MFA program (see
website for details)
Lynne Bowen
Meryn Cadell
Keith Maillard
Maureen Medved
Andreas Schroeder
Linda Svendsen
Peggy Thompson
Rhea Tregebov
Bryan Wade
For more information, please write:
Creative Writing Program
University of British Columbia
Buchanan E463 - 1866 Main Mall
Vancouver, BC, Canada V6T IZl
Or check out our website:
www.creativewriting.ubc.ca
Faculty Creative
Non-Fiction
Contest
#18
EVENT
new ty established writers
$1,500
Three winners will each receive $500 plus payment for publication in Event 34/3.
Other manuscripts may be published.
Final Judge: M.A.C. Farrant is the award-winning author of seven collections of satirical and humorous short fiction, most recently Darwin Alone in
the Universe. A novel-length memoir, My Turquoise Years, was published in
2004 to critical acclaim.
Writers are invited to submit manuscripts exploring the creative non-fiction
form. Check your library for back issues of Event with previous winning
entries and judges' comments. Contest back issues are available from Event
for $5.35 (includes GST and postage; US$5 for American residents; C$9 for
overseas residents).
Note: Previously published material, or material accepted elsewhere for
publication, cannot be considered. Maximum entry length is 5000 words,
typed, double-spaced. The writer should not be identified on the entry.
Include a separate cover sheet with the writer's name, address, phone
number / email, and the title(s) of the story (stories) enclosed. Include a
SASE (Canadian postage / IRCs /US$1). Douglas College employees are
not eligible to enter.
Entry fee: Multiple entries are allowed, however, each entry must be accompanied by a $25 entry fee (includes GST and a one-year subscription;
make cheque or international money order payable to Event). Those already
subscribing will receive a one-year extension. American and overseas entrants
please pay in US dollars.
Deadline for entries: Postmarked April 15, 2005.
EVENT
The Douglas College Review
P.O. Box 2503, New Westminster, BC
Canada V3L 5B2
Phone: (604) 527-5293    Fax: (604) 527-5095
e-mail: event@douglas.bc.ca
Visit our website at http://event.douglas.bc.ca
Douglas
College qwerty
proudly  announces:
The Eric Hill Award
of Poetic Excellence
$200 First Prize
$100 Second Prize    $50 Third Prize
Contest Judge: Erin Moure
Submission Guidelines:
• Entry fee of $18 includes a 1 year subscription to Qwerty.
• Submit up to 5 original unpublished poems.
• Do not identify yourself on your entry. Enclose a separate
cover sheet with your name, address, email, & poem titles.
• No simultaneous submissions, please.
• Incude SASE for notification of contest winners.
• Deadline for all entries is March 1st, 2005.
Send your entries and inquiries to:
Qwerty c/o UNB English Department
PO Box 4400
Fredericton, NB E3B 5A3
Email us at: qwerty@unb.ca poete/ - poet  poeta - poet
poet    noer
poet-vate      poet = houit^^
In Translation
The 30th Anniversary issue of
contemporary Werse 2
Fall 2005: "InTranslation" This issue has been scheduled to celebrate
CV2s thirtieth anniversary. Yes, in Fall 2005 CV2 will be 30 years old
and what better way to celebrate three decade of publishing than to
showcase the amazing diverse cultural influences that make Canada's
writers so unique.
CV2 is accepting submissions of poetry in translation or about the experience of
writing from other cultural/language perspectives and critical writing including
interviews, essays articles and book reviews related to issues of translation in
Canadian poetry until May 30, 2005.
Visit www.contemporaryverse2.ca for submission guidelines and everything
you need to know about CV2. Or drop us a line by email: cv2@mb.sympatico.ca or
by phone: (204) 949-1365
illfiSflliC ■nDOfit T^1, ^* ^ m~P°^
- sh ren poet CllCntCr " pOCI Atwood
Coupland
Davies. Heti.
Ondaatje.
Quarrington.
We have our own library.
We have our own magazines.
Look for this icon at newsstands or    Canadian
subscribe online to hundreds of magazines
on every conceivable topic.
genuinecanadianmagazines.ca   PRISM international
Creative Writing Program, UBC
Buch. E462 -1866 Main Mall
Vancouver, BC,V6T1Z1
Canada
PRISM international
Creative Writing Program, UBC
Buch. E462-1866 Main Mall
Vancouver, BC,V6T1Z1
Canada Subscribe to PRISM international and save!
□ Two-year subscription (8 issues): $37.45 (GST included).
□ One-year subscription (4 issues): $23.54 (GST included).
Residents outside Canada please pay in U.S. funds: $27 for 2 years and $18 for 1 year. Make
cheque/money order payable to: Prism international. U.S. money orders are no longer accepted.
Name:	
Address:
City:	
Province/State:  Postal/Zip Code:
Email:	
□ Payment enclosed □ Bill me later
VISA/MC:    Exp. Date:
Signature:	
Subscribe to PRISM international and save!
□ Two-year subscription (8 issues): $37.45 (GST included).
□ One-year subscription (4 issues): $23.54 (GST included).
Residents outside Canada please pay in US funds: $27 for 2 years and $18 for 1 year. Make
cheque/money order payable to: Prism international. U.S. money orders are no longer accepted.
Name:	
Address:
City:	
Province/State:  Postal/Zip Code:
Email:	
□ Payment enclosed □ Bill me later
VISA/MC:    Exp. Date:
Signature:	  Fiction/Poetry/Drama/Translation/Creative Nonfiction
43:2
The wasp is all the colours
of my living room and still
I am preparing to kill it.
Masarah Van Eyck, Page 44
SAAfolabi
John Wall Barger
Shannon Bramer
George Elliott Clarke
Barry Dempster
Zoe Frechette
Georges Godeau
Allison Hack
Lily Mabura
Carrie Mac
Kathleen McGookey
Russell Thornton
Lee A.Tonouchi
Masarah Van Eyck
Russell Wangersky
2004 Rogers Communication
Award for Literary Nonfiction
Judge's Essay:
Lynne Bowen
GENUINE
CANADIAN
J*L
Cover Art:
Meat Magi
by Mark Ryden
'72D0b"flb3bl'

Cite

Citation Scheme:

        

Citations by CSL (citeproc-js)

Usage Statistics

Share

Embed

Customize your widget with the following options, then copy and paste the code below into the HTML of your page to embed this item in your website.
                        
                            <div id="ubcOpenCollectionsWidgetDisplay">
                            <script id="ubcOpenCollectionsWidget"
                            src="{[{embed.src}]}"
                            data-item="{[{embed.item}]}"
                            data-collection="{[{embed.collection}]}"
                            data-metadata="{[{embed.showMetadata}]}"
                            data-width="{[{embed.width}]}"
                            async >
                            </script>
                            </div>
                        
                    
IIIF logo Our image viewer uses the IIIF 2.0 standard. To load this item in other compatible viewers, use this url:
http://iiif.library.ubc.ca/presentation/cdm.prism.1-0135256/manifest

Comment

Related Items