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 PRISM international
Fall 2005
44:1
Contemporary Writing from Canada and Around the World  PRISM international
2005 Earle Birney Prize for Poetry
$500 was awarded to
warren heiti
for his poem
"agriope to persephone"
which appeared in PRISM 43:3  PRISM international
Fiction Editor
Benjamin Wood
Poetry Editor
Amber Dawn
Executive Editors
Zoya Harris
Robert Weston
Advisory Editor
Andreas Schroeder
Production Manager
Jennifer Herbison
Editorial Board
Tbny Liman
Joelle Renstrom
Susan Olding
Carla Elm Clement
Catharine Chen
Amanda Lamarche
Readers
Ann Chandler
Wasela Hiyate 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: Cowboy, by Sander Sarioglu.
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Submission Guidelines: PRISM international purchases First North American Serial Rights for $40.00 per page for poetry and $20.00 per page for other
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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 be 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
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For details on how to place an advertisement in PRISM international, please
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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, the British Columbia Arts Council, and the Government of Canada, through the Publications Assistance
Program (PAP), toward our mailing costs.
PAP Registration No. 8867. September 2005. ISSN 0032.8790
A
,-.„., „,  ,..., i Canada Council     Conseil des Arts
BRITISH COLUMBIA    ^P^   for the Arts du Canada
ARTS COUNCIL
Canada Contents
Volume 44, Number 1
Fall 2005
Poetry
Jason Guriel
Autumn at the End of The Third Man / 24
Cleaning Kill in the Kitchen at Midnight,
Father Made a Good Point / 25
Rosebud / 26
Tammy Armstrong
Portuguese Cove, Nova Scotia / 27
Sam's Hardware / 28
David Zieroth
First Thought / 39
Had I Stayed on the Farm / 40
Tom Wayman
Inguinal / 42
Take My Word For / 43
K.V. Skene
Nothing Arrives But Weather / 44
Elana Wolff
Potentilla / 45
Silhouettes / 46
Terrance Cox
Heck of a Parade / 51
Daniel Scott Tysdal
Zombies: A Catalogue of Their Return / 66
Dave Hickey
Amusement Park Dragons / 68
Airways / 70 Fiction
Martin West
Cretacea / 7
Halina Duraj
Witness / 29
Dariush Alavi
The Edge of Happiness / 47
Jay Dolmage
Hey! Funtown / 53
Franklin Fisher
The Painter / 71
Contributors /74 Martin West
Cretacea
A White Tail deer went down over a wire fence and lay sprawled in
the middle of the road right on the centre line. The animal contorted on the pavement with a broken leg in the shadow of the old
red wheat king and so I put a single 303 round through its head. Part of the
skull blew off into the ditch and one of its antlers spun across the pavement to the shoulder. It was the only humane thing to do. Problem was, I
wasn't finished shooting stuff then. I lined up a couple of abandoned televisions that a pawnshop had dumped down by the petrified oyster bed
and blew the screens out. The screens imploded with a sucking sound and
one of the 1950's style knobs shot into the sky like fireworks. After that, I
walked down the street and shot out a few lamp standards and three car
windows. A Dodge, a Ford, and a Toyota 4x4,1 tliink. On the edge of town,
I perched myself on a big drumlin so I could get a good view of Main
Street. Everything was mine for the taking. I took out a store window with
a garden gnome on display and a fourteen foot plastic Triceratops that
floated above one of the department stores. The beast was filled with helium and attached by a long string to a fire hydrant; its green florescent
body bobbed slowly in the evening breeze, so basically it was an easy
target. Next, I blew apart the golden symbol of a clown that was embossed
on a mock chapel of a hamburger restaurant and put a round into the gut
of a dead cat that had been lying on the corner of Main and Second Avenue for three days. Nobody had bothered to pick it up. As for the ecumenical brass clown, that thing had always bothered me a lot, and I felt
much better after filling his orange hair with lead. In a few minutes, the
sound of police cars and fire engines filled the streets of our little prairie
town so I figured it was probably time to start the long walk back to home.
Besides that, I was almost out of ammunition.
Half an hour later, when I arrived back at my bungalow in the middle
of a sage field at the bottom of the Red Deer Valley, not much had changed.
My satellite dish in the cottonwoods had still not been hooked up, a stack
of magazines and books still lay unsorted on the balcony, and on the other
side of the field, in the grey layers of ancient sediment, a thousand prehistoric beasts still slept silent with their secrets.
I went out into the field and put my rifle in a metal tube, dug a small
trench at least two feet deep, and buried the weapon as per the instruction in Soldier of Fortune magazine. Then I used a rake and piled some rabbit
grass over the hole to make sure everything looked natural. Off in the
distance, the red and blue blinking lights of emergency vehicles still flashed
away in the night like there was a wedding or Christmas celebration going
on, but after an hour or so, the lights grew distant and then disappeared
altogether. I guess the authorities must have caught someone who they
believed was the right person or else just given up.
There was a documentary on Channel 273 that looked interesting called
"Last Dreams of the Dinosaurs" but as the dish was still not connected,
there was no point in even turning the TV on. Instead, I sat on the back
porch with a glass of Canadian Club and read some poetry by Butler and
Yeats. (From time to time, I wished I had someone there to read it with
me.) I watched the dead sage roll across the road and dozed off.
Every action has a reaction, and the smart ones have none, so sure as
shoot first thing the next morning a police cruiser came rolling up my
driveway. There's a plastic dog that sits at the foot of the driveway with a
solar panel on his head and a motion detector embedded in his nose, so
every time something passes by, the dog barks and his eyes light up bright
red like he's possessed, but of course, this didn't scare the police away. I
was actually out back washing my hands off with vinegar and baking soda,
because this dissolves the cordite on palms in case one is subject to scientific tests. I put all of my things down and went inside to put tea or coffee
on as this usually makes the police want to stay and chat for a while and
many times they have interesting stories to tell, A few years ago, an elderly Corporal named Macnee came investigating some catde thefts—actual cattle rustling—and stayed for over an hour. Macnee wasn't much into
poetry, but he became obsessed with my fossil collection and we spent
many weekends scouring the Badlands and drinking Black Label beer looking for some kind of "missing link." Black Label was his favourite. He
didn't drink anything but Black Label. Sometimes fifteen or sixteen in a
row. We never found the "missing link" or any fossils of much significance, but we had a good time drinking on my front porch and Macnee
suggested I get a dog to keep me company. Sadly, he got transferred to
Nova Scotia because he had embarrassed himself during a drunken rage at
the Bronto Beer Inn, and I never saw him again.
The police car stopped outside. I dried my hands and opened the screen
door and wasn't really prepared for what stood in front of me. An Amazon
blonde female Constable with wisps of yellow hair falling over her forehead and a few dozen freckles spattered over her cheeks leaned against my
doorframe and chewed on her pencil eraser. She was about five nine and
obviously spent most of her time finding just the right perfume when she
wasn't working out in the gym. Her eyes were the same colour as the prairie sky. She looked me over once and the right-hand corner of her
mouth curled up just a little. "Hello," she said.
"Hello," I said back.
"Want to know why I'm here?"
"Sure," I said. Any reason would be good enough.
"I'm conducting some neighbourhood inquiries about the shooting last
night," she said and pulled out her notebook. She tried to find an address
by the door, but of course there wasn't one.
"Shooting?" I said. "What happened?"
She shrugged and pushed a wad of chewing gum between her front
teeth. "Someone went crazy with a gun and shot the town up. Probably
drunk or totally right wing. Did you see anything?"
I put one hand on the doorframe and leaned forward into the crux of
my elbow ostensibly to show some sign of remorse or stupidity, but in
effect to get a closer whiff of her perfume. What is that stuff that smells
like dust? Patchouli? Petunia? Permian Extinction? "Shoot," I said, and
read off her name tag. "Constable Holocene, you know I feel like a total
idiot now. I did hear something last night that sounded like shots. I knew
I should have called you guys."
"Really. About what time?"
"About seven."
"Seven? Are you sure it was that early?"
"Well, I thought so. Wasn't paying that much attention, really. Sometimes the ranchers shoot at cattle pretty close to here, or anything else that
moves."
"Yeah," she cut in. "And they're not supposed to inside city limits.
Anyway, how many shots did you hear?"
"Only two or three," I shrugged.
"That's it? Two or three?"
"Was there more?"
"Ah, maybe." She hesitated. "What direction did they come from?"
"From somewhere down the Dinosaur Trail," I said and pointed way to
the west of where the White Tail had met its merciful demise. "And then
they just got fainter towards town."
"Yep," she said, and scribbled a few lines in her notebook. "That'd be it."
"I feel really bad about not reporting last night," I said. "It just didn't
seem like anything out of the ordinary."
"Oh, this time it was. For this part of the world, anyway." Then she
looked at me with those blue summer eyes and said, "Do you keep any
firearms in the house?"
"No. Not even a BB gun."
"Mind if I have a look?"
"No, of course not, please come in," I said, because it was a perfunctory question and I am an expert at spotting those. I ask them so often.
I stepped back and begged her inside. The good Constable came in and
made quick reconnoiter of my cluttered living room. She seemed more
interested in the stacks of books and catalogued fossils lying around the
floor than any location that might conceal a weapon. "You're into fossils?"
"I'm especially interested in the Juliana deposits," I said.
"And..." She picked up a book off a waist-high stack. "Poetry."
"I do reviews. For a living. Sort of."
"Ah, really?" she said. "For a magazine?"
"Yes. For a national magazine."
"For that slightly right-of-centre national magazine or that slightly... "
"Yes, that one."
"Good on you," she said.
"Would you like to have a cup of coffee or tea?" I asked. "I actually
have both just about on the brew set to go."
She looked me over again, put the book down and smiled. "I'd really
love to," she said. "But we have to have a meeting with Staff Sergeant at
nine about the 'incident.'" She raised her finger in the air to quote the
word.
"Though the leaves are many, the root is one," I said.
"I swayed my leaves and flowers in the sun," she quoted back.
That was really all it took.
If you believe in God, you will do the following things: 1) Attend all
public meetings in the local town hall about shootings or acts of national
subversion that have occurred recendy in your area; 2) Accept the fact that
everyone in your home town either has a gun or wants a gun or wishes
they wanted a gun or wants to do something important with a gun, but if
you actually do something with a gun, then this is blasphemous; 3) Try not
to throw up when everyone at the meeting is really upset about something
that has happened and assumes that their elected leaders are doing nothing
because they elected them.
I pass on all three. One far right-wing group who named themselves the
"White Cattieman's Petroleum Revenge League" had threatened to ask
American President George Bush to send in the US Marine Corps if local
officials weren't going to act quickly. There was no mention of the White
Tail deer that had died so pathetically tripping over a barbed cow fence. I
figured it might be fun to watch (the meeting, not the invasion), and besides, somewhere in the middle of the night it had occurred to me that the
first round to be dispatched lay somewhere embedded in a Cervidae carcass not too far from my own home and that had to be retrieved. Evidence
is evidence, as they say, and this had to be dealt with.
I walked down the Badlands road with the smell of sage and the sound
10 of cicadas heavy in the air. The height of summer shimmered wet off the
hot concrete and I knew this was the only place in the world to be. When
I got to the spot where the deer had died, there was not a hide in sight. No
bones. No hooves, no tail. This was the right place all right—centre of the
road right, third fence post from the creek, directly under the red wheat
king that school kids had painted a giant yin and yang sign on. If one
looked harder at the cracked wood, one would find even older graffiti that
dated back to the fifties and even one curious faded scrawling that read,
"D-Day Is Ours." But no deer in sight. For a moment it seemed possible
that the police had impounded the entire animal for analysis, for lead
content, or maybe they would conduct a polygraph, but a closer inspection
revealed the obvious truth. In the right hand lane, a thin stain of red blood
spread out funnel-like westwards on the road. Bits of squished deer fur had
been ground into pavement and the piece of antler that had scutded away
from the impact scene lay in the ditch. This being a well-used road, the
poor White Tail had been run over dozens, maybe hundreds, of times in
the course of the night; the dead furry pancake had been reduced into a red
smear towards the western horizon. In a day or two, there would be not a
trace left. The chunk of lead would be an indistinguishable metallic shape
and the cartridge just another shiny object sinking into the Cretaceous
dust of the Badlands.
With some sense of relief, I ventured into the Maple Leaf Grocery Store
to buy a strip beef jerky and a copy of Prehistoric History Today before the
meeting. The tales of shooting were on everyone's lips and everybody had
a theory. Over nine hundred rounds had been discharged. One round penetrated a sensitive geoseismic centre and the oil industry in Alberta would
surely be ruined for it. Another round was specifically sent through the
theological centre of town in order to demoralize the city's righteous population. The actions were terrorist related, but not politically motivated,
and attributable to some non-sectarian cult group. When I was paying for
the beef jerky, curiosity got the better of me and I had to ask, "So what
happened, anyway?"
"You haven't heard?" the clerk said. "Someone shot up the entire town
last night."
"The whole town?"
"All of it. There's a lot of bullets laying in bad places."
"Is there a good place for a bullet to be?"
"Not where these ones are. The whole thing is very weird," she said, and
nodded. "What's in that magazine, anyway?"
"You've never read it?"
"No, but we sell a lot of copies. I don't get it."
"There's a lot of pictures. Photos. Of stuff that's relevant."
"That's too weird. I don't know why they put it right up front at the
11 check stand, it doesn't belong there."
I stuck a wad of jerky in my mouth and walked to Main Street. I really
shouldn't eat this stuff. It pulls out my filling and gets stuck between my
teeth and then I'm in a bad mood until I can get a toothpick or floss it out.
Usually I carry emergency floss with me, but the Cherry-Mint flavour that
I buy at Loo's Import Market that comes only from Beijing had not yet
arrived that week, so when I went around the corner onto the scene, I was
feeling very vulnerable and agitated. The place was still a carnage. Not
one piece of damage had been picked up. Instead, every site, hole and
perturbation had been cordoned off with yards of yellow police tape and
men in suits were doing triangulation with laser theodolites. A few Constables leaned against lampposts making sure no one crossed the line. The
saddest sight of all was the poor green plastic Triceratops that lay deflated
in the middle of the sidewalk with the collar and string still tied around his
flat neck. The bullet had pierced his heart and had carried on in an unknown direction.
The meeting was housed in the elementary school gymnasium with red
and blue lines painted on the floor and the place was packed. They had set
out over a hundred metal folding chairs and they were all full, so the next
hundred people stood against the walls. A few of them were drinking beer,
but no one paid too much attention to that. Lined up against the far wall
stood six overweight men in black jeans and black T-shirts. The shirts all
had a giant red C printed on the chest with a white skull and crossbones in
the center. They looked very stern and threatening except for their stomachs that folded in two or three rolls over their belts. They were holding
hoods, scrunching them angrily between their fists, which I presume was
because the police told them they couldn't wear hoods during public meetings.
Mary Holocene was on duty again and leaned against the back wall
under the basketball hoop wall with an elderly Sergeant who looked rather
nervous, like maybe he had to give an explanation about all of this. A wisp
of hair fell over her forehead; she seemed pained to be there, too. Every
time one of the Cattlemen tried to slide a hood over his head, or even got
it above crotch level, she raised one finger and shook it until he retreated.
Some things reveal themselves quickly about people who you find attractive or interesting and already I had deduced many things about Mary
Holocene. She was a non-career officer by choice and no doubt came to
the Force through some biographical accident. By looking at her, I could
also tell she probably had some dark or at least embarrassing secret in her
past that she wanted to forget or bury so deep that not even the earth
would know. The best thing about revealing truths about people who you
are attracted to or interested in is deducing what their deep and dark
secrets are and where they lay. Burying the secrets deeply would be an
12 essential component for Mary to leave her past behind and embark on a
life change in a paramilitary organization. She would have to convince the
polygraph examiner that either the perturbations didn't exist or else that
there was really nothing wrong with them. But what could those acts be?
This was the stuff that novels are made of. No doubt Mary as a small girl
stole pears, hot-knifed hash oil, and attended "Love-Ins" at Stanley Park
(she was brought up on the West Coast), or doused her Barbie with kerosene and lit it afire until it spread to the curtains or carport or perhaps a
slumbering cat. But then, every Canadian child does these kinds of things
and this is nothing to be ashamed of. No, I could sense Mary's perversions
ran deeper that this. No doubt they were formulated during her adolescent
or pubic years. Perhaps they involved strange interactions with older gentleman or retired school marms. Candle wax or Catholic school clothing
may have been utilized. But even this was not the Elixir. The event would
come years later. Some archeological ego-versus-id metaphor that her partner could not understand. Frustrated, she left the relationship and then left
town, trying to leave the remnants behind in the gathering dust. But this is
not an easy thing to do. Mary soon found that she was only attracted to
others with a perverse mindset such as her own and constantly had to be
leaving affairs and leaving towns for lack of satisfaction and growing security concerns. Then one day in desperation, when towns had run out, she
visited a recruiting office and a few weeks later found herself at the training depot in Regina. These things happen.
The inside of the gymnasium was getting very hot and droplets of clear
sweat had spattered on the shiny floor. I wandered down the hall to a pop
machine and dropped a Loonie in the slot. The coin rattled into the guts of
the machine, but nothing came out, so I dropped another inside and the
same thing happened. I had a pocketful of change, so I went over to the
next machine and tried a third time. Three bucks gone now, never to be
returned. There's no point in shaking or kicking these machines so I moved
down to the fourth dispenser in the line and gave it one last shot. This time
a soda rolled out at the bottom and then two more followed it. I had an
idea.
With three tins in hand, I walked back to the gymnasium. Under the
basketball hoops, still leaning against the wall, were Mary and her Sergeant. I offered them both unopened tins.
"Thanks," the Sergeant said immediately. "I've got to get up in front of
these morons in a minute and tell them everything that I don't know. My
throat is bone dry." He took the tin and swallowed half of it in one gulp.
"You look like you were having problems with the machines there,"
Mary said and took the second tin from my hand.
"Yeah, you have more patience than I do," the Sergeant added. "I would
have shot the damn thing."
13 The three of us grunted a laugh, but not too loud, because shooting
wasn't that funny a topic on this occasion.
Mary told the Sergeant that I did fiction reviews for national magazines.
"Really?" the Sergeant said. He was thinking about his upcoming speech
and had the jitters. He played with his tie clip. "Which ones?"
I ambled off a rather long and detailed list.
"Good for you," he said. "I like books. Especially books about fishing."
Mary nodded approvingly and understood the names didn't mean much
to the Sergeant. What I said was actually true. I have published reviews in
such magazines, but I wasn't going to volunteer the information that my
last three publications had been in Screw Magazine, Hustler and The Northern Beaver.
The meeting got going. I spent most of my time sneaking peaks at
Mary's vest-covered breasts and trying to smell her cologne.
The investigators of the incident had determined a number of facts.
First, that all of the targets were hit at long range. Second, that the weapon
used was probably a 303 with very old ammunition. Perhaps even war
ammunition that had been stored well in a cold dry place. Third, every
target had only one bullet in it and no "stray" shots had been found,
meaning that either the shooter was an expert marksman or had a scope
with remarkable precision. Fourth, that the targets all seemed to be of a
"symbolic" nature and the Sergeant appeared pleased with the use of this
word, like he had just picked it up in something other than a police manual.
Last, that sadly as of yet there were no suspects; although some interesting
leads had been uncovered, there was simply nowhere to go. This bought
an angry cry from the black-shirted Cattleman's Revenge League who
hooted and hollered that the police were in cahoots with Eastern Liberals
and that if everyone could carry a gun around with them then the shootist
would have been shot dead before he did any more property damage and
land-owning people should be entitled to shoot things out as they so wished.
Generally, the crowd didn't side with the Cattlemen, and the Sergeant, no
green horn at dealing with angry people, concluded by adding that this
incident couldhave been the work of extremists, which shut the Cattlemen
up right quick and made at least half the crowd cast disapproving glances
back at the four fat men who now looked rather silly holding black hoods
somewhere around crotch level.
Even a small town has its dark side when it comes to humour and our
little town is no exception. The community cable channel has a weekly
comedy spot that is actually filmed in the storefront window of a woman's
dress shop just off Main Street. People stop and watch it being filmed with
14 bundles of hockey sticks or tubs of antifreeze under their arms, not because they think the show is wise or funny, but mostly because they want
to catch a glimpse of themselves on television the following Wednesday
when the show is aired in case the camera did a live pan of the audience.
This week they had three contestants who insisted that they were the
"shootist" and were trying to prove it to the host by answering tricky
historical questions. The contestants were Karl Marx, Indera Gandhi, and
Ivan the Terrible. Jesus Christ had been pulled at the last minute and so
one chair was vacant. One of the producers shook his head as he muttered
to his director that this was still a Christian town and Jesus Christ had
better not show up on the set if they wanted any funding next year. As I sat
inside the store watching the show, it occurred to me that all of these
people wanted to be the shootist. The Cattlemen's Petroleum Revenge
League wanted to be the shootist. The grocery store clerk wanted to be the
shootist. When Ivan the Terrible was asked at the end why he thought the
audience should vote for him as the shootist, he replied, "Because then at
last everybody would know who I am."
Outside the mall-cum-TV studio, I asked a construction worker, a gas
station attendant, a bus driver, and a very modern nun who wore a blue
suit with a red tie who they thought Ivan the Terrible was and none of them
knew.
On my way home, I walked by the Animal Shelter and thought I'd
better ask one more person to make the study scientific. Inside, a pimply
high school student leaned over an aluminum counter reading a superhero
comic book. There was a bucket filled with disinfectant and a mop behind
him, but he didn't appear too interested in scrubbing the floor. When I
asked him who Ivan the Terrible was he said, "Didn't he have something to
do with the shooting?"
"Shooting?"
"Yeah, shooting. Don't you know? Do you want a dog?" he asked.
"Not really, why?"
"Because this is the pound."
"No thanks," I said.
"Then why did you come in here? Don't you have ajob?"
"Yes, I have ajob," I said. "I work at home. In the publishing industry,
actually. Aren't you going to clean that floor?"
He looked down at the bucket and then back at me. "No. Take a dog,
would you, Mister."
"Don't want one."
"Then we have some old dogs that won't live very long. You'd only
have to put up with it for a litde while before it died so it wouldn't be
much of an investment."
"I'm not sure if that's a good deal or not. What would I do with a dog
15 anyway?"
"It'd keep you company when you're lonely," he said.
I thought about it for a moment. "What kinds of dogs do you have?"
"All kinds. Big ones. Black ones. Small ones."
"What would you recommend?"
"Well, personally I'd take one that's been here the longest so it doesn't
get put down. That's sometimes very traumatic for them."
"Okay, show me."
The young boy put a tick in the right-hand column of the white folder
he had on the counter and took me to the back of the pound that smelled
like dog fur and disinfectant. In the last cage, an ugly black dog cowered
in the rear of the run. Long whiskers stuck out of his snout and white froth
bubbled around his mouth. He looked like some combination of Heeler
and Lab. "I'll throw in a leash for free if you take him," the boy said.
"Free leash?"
"No charge. And a collar, too."
"All right," I said.
The boy did the paperwork then got the black dog from the cage and
found a leash and collar. The dog sat there patiently in the front office
wondering what kind of unhappiness he'd got himself into this time, but
figuring it was better than whatever awaited him in the cage. I clicked the
leash onto his collar and we walked out the front door together. For the
first few blocks, the dog was enthusiastic to be outside. He looked from
side to side and sniffed at a bunch of rabbit grass and growled at a mailbox
like he was looking after me, but after a while he slowed to a geriatric
crawl and finally by the bridge that crossed the Red Deer River under the
giant green Tyrannosaurus, the dog sat down on the hot sidewalk and
would go no further. I picked the animal up, but he was too heavy to carry
more than a few steps, and outside the Dixie Queen with yellow Durham
husks in the air, we stood with no resolution.
A police car stopped at the corner and Mary rolled down her electric
window. "New dog?" she said.
"Well, he's new to me. I just got him and he's too old to make the trip
home. I should have brought the car."
Mary bit her lip, adjusted her rearview mirror then popped the electric
lock on the passenger side. "Get in," she said.
I sat in the front seat with the dog on my lap. The inside of the car
smelled like Iso Gel. Mary started down the country road. She talked as
she drove and steered the car with one hand. We bounced over a set of
railway ties at a hundred and five kilometers an hour. "Isn't this against
policy or something?" I asked.
"Probably," she said, and drove on with her right hand on the emergency brake. "What made you decide to get a dog, anyway?"
16 "I'm not sure. He was in the cage by himself and looked lonely. Besides,
the guy in the pound assured me that he was a good copy editor."
"Hah," she laughed and was going to say something but the dispatcher
on the radio called her in a scratchy voice that only police can understand.
Apparently, a tractor had overturned on the highway and some pigs were
pinned under the rear wheels. "Oh ferfucksakes," Mary muttered and pushed
the car up to a hundred and thirty. She slid sideways in a cloud of dust near
my driveway and popped up the door locks. "Sorry, got to run," she said.
"Okay." I got out and walked the dog back to the house.
I found a big wicker basket that had been used to store magazine reviews, tossed the paper out and put some blankets inside. The dog curled
up and went to sleep. Later that evening, I made hamburgers and the dog
ate a whole paddy and we sat out on the porch drinking rye, watching the
summer sun turn red into twilight.
The top half of the ridge caught fire the next afternoon while the dog
and I were down on the back porch dozing. The dog was in his basket
curled up like a doughnut and only shifted from side to side as the first
particles of soot settled on the unpainted cedar strips around him. One
moment the edge of the coulee was brown and still, the next minute it was
jumping with bright yellow flames. Thousands of sparks flew into the air
as the rabbit grass ignited and then the sky filled with sweet grey smoke as
the sage began to burn. It was all very exciting. Reams of smoke rolled
down the coulee like waves breaking on a beach and the smell of summer
filled the valley bottom. Cacti make these strange popping noises when
they burn under very high temperatures and all of the eastern slopes were
now bursting like tiny landmines. To add to the excitement, I lit up a
Camel cigarette that a friend of a friend had assured me was in the backpack
of an actual GI at Que Son during the Vietnam War. The dog rolled over
and chewed on a biscuit that had been baked in the oven under very high
temperatures and I decided since it was after four o'clock (one minute
after, actually), having the first rye of the day would be okay. I have rye
with all kinds of things: with ginger ale and rootbeer, with tomato juice
and lemon water. Sometimes, I have rye with ice or other sentimental
objects melting in the bottom of the glass. A spike taken from the Canadian Pacific Railway. A piece of chopstick from Mrs. Chung's Chinese
Restaurant on Fourth Avenue which serves amazing almond chicken. A
shred of the original Canadian Constitution Act that was torn from the
Senate Chambers when Pierre Elliott Trudeau signed it in 1980, or so my
source tells me. About the only thing I can't drink rye with is milk, and
that's probably got something more to do with the aesthetics of the milk
curdling like the satellite photo of the moon than with the actual taste.
Today I had it straight though, no mixing necessary, because it's always
17 better to have your alcohol straight when something exciting is happening
right on your back door.
Just to keep things safe, I went down into the basement and got a hundred feet of irrigation tubing that the previous owner had left behind when
he'd sold the house. I hooked the hose to faucet under the bathroom window. The faucet was huge and probably used for farm purposes because a
lot of pressure came out the end. I drenched the roof and walls of the house
and then dragged the hose as far out back as it would go. The hose and me
ended up by a windmill with a rooster on top right near a creek that ran
through the back of my property. When I opened the spigot, the water
squirted another hundred feet towards the coulee. I watered down the single cottonwood in the backfield and then sprayed the grass that looked sad
and droopy in the August sun. It's pretty hard to tell where my property
ends and the grazing lands begin. I have ten acres altogether and the cattle
fence that was once at the back of the property has long since fallen down.
The ranchers never bothered to put it back up again. I'm not sure if that's
because the land down here is no good for cattle or whether the ranchers
couldn't care less if the cows wandered onto my property. Anyway, it's all
flat down here for a thousand feet until the edge of the Badlands rise up
steeply towards the prairie. When the sage on the flats started to burn, the
smell was bitter like myrrh. The bitterness made me think I was in a tomb,
and of course, for many ancient animals it was. I started to think about the
seasons changing and layers of time being exposed and yielding up the
dead and the next thing you know there's half a dozen fire trucks ambling
towards me over the grass with their red and green lights spinning away.
I'm not sure how they got so close without me noticing, but the firemen
in their heavy burlap coveralls were very excited and shouted instructions
at me as if in semaphore. In a way, I was sorry that they showed up. The
burning sage was a perfume—pears and birds with pink feathers and Mary
enticing me, grain by grain, to think of the passing of ages. Then, the grass
flames were like fireworks, only better, because they raced round in circles
and leaped from bush to bush, which is something fireworks can't do.
The fire trucks came to a stop where the playa met the steep cliffs of the
Badlands and sprayed everything in sight. They used three hoses held by
nine men and they sprayed a dozen bushes at a time with water and white
bubbly foam. The foam quickly degraded into a grey sludge that was
going to leave a horrible mess all over the bunch grass. One of the firemen
even uncoiled a long hose with a filter on the end and ran down to the
creek to suck some extra water out. I thought this was uncalled for, because it wasn't really a big fire and I probably could have handled it all
myself if the thing hadn't burnt out on its own accord first.
Then the police showed up. Mary and the Sergeant drove right up to
my back door and Mary jumped out shouting. I waved to her, but she
18 didn't as much wave back as she motioned frantically for me to come over.
At that precise moment, a curl of dried grass caught fire just to the east of
the cottonwood tree and two rabbits squirmed between the two fingers of
flames. They ran around and around in circles not going anywhere, so I
shut the hose off and walked out through the smoke. The ground must
have been hot because even with my rubber boots on the heat came through
to my feet and the stench of burnt rubber made me choke. The rabbits
were either paralyzed with fear or stunned by the smoke. They just cowered there motionless and I yarded them both up by the scruff of the neck
and carried them back to the house. I knew the dog wouldn't chase them
because he was still eating biscuits, so I put the rabbits into his basket and
covered them up with a red terry cloth.
The fire trucks had driven all over my backfield and drenched everything that moved. They squirted the "Hot Spots" a second time after one
of the firemen inspected the ground with infra-red glasses and then the
"Big Tank" truck drove right up to my house and gave it a precautionary
dousing. Problem was, the hose was so strong that it ripped off a dozen
shingles and shattered my bathroom window. After they figured they had
done enough damage, they gave me a friendly wave and turned the hoses
off. The show was over. The fire was out. That's the thing with grass fires.
They come and go in an instant and they look worse than they really are.
Mary and the Sergeant stood on my back porch. The Sergeant had
picked up one of the rabbits and held it in his arms. Mary was scratching
its neck. "Do you mind if I keep them?" the Sergeant asked.
"Sure," I said. I had no idea if he wanted them for his kids or if he was
going to cook them up in a stew. They weren't really mine to give away.
"Thanks," he said. He picked the second one up and coddled them like
he had a newborn set of twins. The four red eyes of the rabbits disappeared
into the chest of his khaki uniform. "Well, I'm out of here, Mary. If you
want to take care of the report, fantastic. No Further Action, I think. Glad
your house didn't burn down, Mister."
"Me too," I said.
The Sergeant left with the rabbits. Mary and I stood on the porch looking over the flat valley bottom. The flat earth had a dusting of black soot.
A stench of burned bush moved in from the south. On the western horizon, a grey thunderhead rose tens of thousands of feet into the sky.
"Good work with the rabbits," Mary said. "The Sergeant loves rabbits."
"I wish they hadn't put all that foam on the ground," I said. "It's going
to stink. It looks really ugly and it's going to irritate my asthma."
"Better than a burned down house," she said.
"Maybe, but it's mostly rock out there. It probably wouldn't have come
this far. Besides, grass fires, flash in the pan, so to speak."
"Still, it's a good thing you called."
19 "Called? I didn't call."
"You didn't?"
"No."
"Why not?"
"I don't have a phone. There's no phone line in here. The phone company wanted a thousand dollars to hook it up. Got something to do with
my distance from the road."
"Don't you have a cell phone?"
"Why?"
"So people can get in touch with you. Like, say for example, they want
to meet with you sometime in their busy schedule, but can't do it because
you're not near a landline, they can get you on your cell phone."
Landline? Cell phone? Did I? Yes I did. The producer of a pornographic film company had once given me a "Cell Phone Package Certificate" while drunk one night in a bar after I had written a favourable review
of one of his pieces. He must have been desperate. "The battery is dead,"
I said. Like I would know. I have never received a call on the phone, never
received any billing for it, and have never phoned out.
The dog ambled out into the backfield. He was angular as he walked,
like maybe his arthritis was giving him problems.
"Let's see it," Mary said.
The cell phone was under a pile of papers beside my desk, which sat by
the west-facing picture window in the living room. Who puts a desk in
their living room?
"This is ancient," she said and rolled the bulbous chrome body over her
palm.
"I'm not one for modern technology."
"How about the modern novel?" Mary pried out the spine of the cell
phone and then sniffed the guts. "Yep, this is dead and buried. But I think
I may have one that will fit it."
We walked out the back door and around to her squad car. Out to the
east, the dog was digging away at a section of land that the firemen had
excavated with their hoses.
"What is your dog doing?" she asked.
"He's digging at something."
"Yes, that's apparent. At what?"
"Who knows. Dogs do that kind of thing."
And then, only twenty feet away from us, the dog wrenched out a black
tube from the ground and all of the air gushed out of my lungs.
"Is that a hose?" Mary asked.
"No, I don't think so."
"We should check."
"Actually, it just a piece of tubing. There were farmers here before me."
20 "Well you don't want him eating that do you?"
Mary took a step across the driveway. We were close enough so the glue
sealing the end of the tube shut could be seen. Apparently, the wrong kind
of glue had been used because it was already starting to peel off the tube.
"Actually he does it all the time. It's that non-toxic kind of agricultural
tubing that was popular during the sixties. Besides, I just try and let dogs
do their dog things, I mean, who are we to intervene?"
"Okay," she said and shrugged.
We went out to her car and in the passenger seat Mary had a big black
bag. She had a small plastic case with a dozen batteries in it.
"What do you use all those batteries for?" I asked.
"Hah," she said, selected one and fit it into the back of my cell phone.
The digits lit up on the front panel. Mary handed me back the phone and
as she did her fingers slipped over my palm. "Here's your phone," she
said. "Does it have a number?"
"Yeah. I think I etched in on the back."
"Well, what is it?"
I turned the phone over.
"I'll call you on it," she said.
"Sure."
"Have you got any books you could recommend?" she asked with one
hand on the cruiser door. "I guess what I'm asking is could I read one of
your reviews?"
"All right," I said. I went back inside the house and scanned the jungle
of paper. I selected one from a slightly left-of-centre magazine that had no
pornographic reviews that month and took it out to Mary. She held out her
hand and accepted the rolled up paper. "Bon appetit," I said.
"Good work on the rabbits," she said and smiled, and then she kissed
the end of the newspaper and reached out and rapped me on the back of
the head with it. "I'll call you."
The smell of burned sage folded over the road as Mary's blonde head
turned and ducked into the squad car and all of the yellow flowers of the
bitter bush and pink prairie cactus opened to the sun even as the dog dug
out the last of the tubing and tried to drag it back to the house.
It was true. I had been in love many times but had never been loved back.
And so after emptying my pockets in front of those who did not know me,
I realized there was nothing left to give. I did what anyone in this small
town would do in such an event: I went to the Royal Tyrrell Museum of
Paleontological History.
Churches and museums and monuments like Stonehenge and perhaps
even pornographic theatres are built for certain reasons and that is because
people believe. And here, people really believe. They come loaded down
21 with rosaries, notebooks, diaries, wineries, backpacks, furlongs, condoms,
and guidebooks of famous fossils. They mutter on joy and ecstasy and the
rustling of golden curtains of wheat that leave their traces by their door.
Sometimes, they just try to forget what ails them.
They keep their heads raised, as if to the heavens, admiring varnished
skulls and polished vertebrea. They awe over stuffed flora and petrified
fauna. To be certain, there are those who came here by accident or because
a tour brochure had said to do so when the golf courses were closed, but
they are invisible and pass like ghosts through the tiled walls and well-
preserved ancestors.
In the Geological Science Centre that is situated directiy before the
first huge dinosaur skeleton, I played with the sedimentary marble game
where you churn a bunch of balls around up and watch them settle according to their colour, so you can see how the past covers things up in a very
precise kind of order. Then I learned the difference in leverage between a
beak and a jaw by manipulating a set of chrome calipers, and came to
understand why some animals once thrived while others perished. But of
course this was all foreplay, because the moment I walked around the next
corner into a dark amphitheatre, a huge petrified skull gazed down upon
me from the top of a twenty-foot frame. The Albertosaurus stretched out
his tiny hands and his hollow eye sockets were filled with hunger. And
although the beast is long dead, it could still snatch up a victim at any
second. At that moment, a young boy of ten or so ran around the corner
and shouted aloud, "There HE is. There he is!" like this was the one and
only Albertosaurus in the world.
The young boy stood by in wonder with his arms raised in supplication
and, right then, something rumbled in my pocket. At first, I though I had
backed into a museum display that was shorting out, but nothing was near
me. The object vibrated again and I couldn't remember sticking any battery operated sex toys in my clothes. I suppose it was possible a bee could
have come in through the double glass doors and gone down my shirt. The
blooming sage out front attracts them by the thousands. Maybe even a
giant insect had been resurrected from the Badlands' past through some
misdeed of cloning and had found its way into my pocket. I fumbled
through my clothes and pulled out the cell phone. It played a litde tune
and a light went on and the whole body convulsed as if it were having
some kind of seizure.
"Aren't you going to answer that?" a woman beside me asked.
I punched a number of buttons on the front and a variety of tones and
squeaks came from the machine. Finally it stopped, although I had no idea
why, or really what had made it erupt in the first place. No sooner had I
put the phone back in my pocket when it started to ring again. A line of
sweat broke out across my forehead and then above me, the giant
22 Albertosaurus moved his stone head over, as if he was gazing down in pity
on this lost soul, and let his petrified mouth creep up just an inch in irony.
I started for the door. I pressed a combination of number signs and red
squares on the phone that said, "Omit," "Save," "Return," and just as I got
free of the museum, the phone sputtered out and shut up again.
The cacti in the Badlands bit through my shoes and the walls of the
coulees grew steep and narrow until the museum vanished into the background. In a while, I was down a small creek bed with only a tiny wedge of
flat mud in the bottom. Mosquitoes and blackflies rose from the slough in
funnels that looked like tiny tornadoes and soon even the sounds from the
highway were gone. Some creosote from an old fence post brushed off my
leg and a chunk of petrified wood rolled down the layered walls of the
Badlands. My throat became very sore, as if maybe a terrible flu was on the
way or someone had strangled me with leather belt.
Rummaging down there in the Badlands, I found many remnants of the
past: a roll of duct tape, mosquito repellant, high school yearbooks, a tube
of lip gloss without a cap, a leather satchel with a soiled magazine inside,
a safety pin, and a black wristwatch with one strap missing. Not that it's a
junkyard, but rather a cemetery. There was a green datebook and a tie clip,
the tip of a fishing rod and a bookmark sticking out of the mud, and an old
dog collar, too. Under a chunk of fossilized oyster I found a rusted shell
cartridge, probably an old military issue and, at that moment, the phone
started going off again.
A rusted spade with a box handle was resting against an abandoned roll
of cattle wire beside me. In a moment, the spade was in my hand and I
opened a great trench in the soft mud of the August creek. I dropped the
ringing phone into the hole and covered the hole up with dirt and
cottonwood twigs and sage and grey rocks so the secrets of the Cretacea
would stay down in the earth with the ancient beasts who knew them best.
23 Jason Guriel
Autumn at the End of
The Third Man
What could Joseph possibly have said to Alida
if she'd paused to consider him
on her long way down the cemetery road?
Leaves left their trees and turned,
slow as Ferris wheels
against an Austrian sky, and though
Joseph was within seconds of his last
lonely cigarette, there were still (it seemed)
a thousand chances for Alida to pause,
for two near-lovers to gaze across
a grand moment at each other, Anton Karas'
zither score inoculating the season.
24 Cleaning Kill in the Kitchen
at Midnight, Father Made a
Good Point
He noticed me on my way to bed,
holding his violin by the neck
as if it was fresh game, and said,
"She always leaves you in autumn,"
while outside, through the window
through which Bach (cooked by bow)
would later waft, night seasoned its sky
with eighth notes in negative.
25 Rosebud
A dying man is apt
to be ambiguous,
to recall an odd, unsatisfying
detail that he may then
utter mysteriously
as prelude, a trailer
for the soul.
He shatters a snow-
globe because he can—
the dying are entitied,
after all, to release
little blizzards from their
swirling sentence—
and he expects
the afterlife to privilege
that clean tint of white
particular to his
industrious nurse's
simple smock.
26 Tammy Armstrong
Portuguese Cove, Nova Scotia
Where the Japanese trawler shored
not seaboard after all but outcropped
massed foreheads furrowing the hull
locals crept down to the barrens
to meet novice tellurians—
a syllabic fandango
chipping the grotto's walls
the pools where basking sharks
prowl after dead-end typhoons.
Elongated shadows suspended
in sound footing, intuition
to contact lovers sleeping near Shikoku
far from the video cameras, media falconry.
Land of the dead, displaced regattas
they will tell grandchildren the Atlantic holds
apathy toward night travellers—
a tremolo rosined with expectations
its promises to leave no scars.
27 Sam's Hardware
Your hand missing all but two fingers
crowed boxes of roofing nails
rope and thumb screws.
Garters of shoptalk never took note
of the minutiae you filled your pockets with.
At the door
summer knocked itself senseless
through thick blankets
of hydraulic monotony
small town euphemism.
But for me at five there was only
the New Brunswick flag slapping outside
the paint mixer's conniption in the corner
your pockets filled with more
than loose change, beer tabs.
Magpie father
careful when you paid
for a measuring tape.
What's the damage, Sam?
Pockets filled with silver and brass
a theft too inadequate to build anything.
28 Halina Duraj
Witness
I look around the dining room: Dad, Mr. Williams, the bird lady, and a
litde old man I've never seen before. Roberta, one of the nurses' aides,
sweeps plastic trays off the tables, dumps the little plastic dishes and
wrappers into a big, blue garbage can in the centre of the room. Sometimes she clears the patients' trays before they're done eating. I try to smile
at her when she leans over me to take Dad's tray. I wouldn't want to work
here either.
Dad was sleeping in his chair, clutching a food-encrusted plastic fork
and spoon when I walked in, but I woke him up. I want him to know I
came. He gives me the tiniest, fleeting smile. Each day when I arrive, he
looks at me hopefully, expectantly, as if today's the day I'm telling him it's
time to go home. But when all I say is, "I like that shirt they put on you
today. That's a pretty plaid," he looks away, stares at the beige-flecked
wallpaper. And then he closes up, his mind locked away in a vault and I
don't know the combination.
When he first came here, a couple of months ago, I tried to lighten his
long hours of boredom by reading to him. For the past few years he had
been nagging me to read more Polish, so I brought Pan Tadeusz. But when
I read the first paragraph, his eyes teared up, and he twisted his lips and
tapped his index finger to his temple, the way he used to do to Mom when
he was convinced she'd thrown a bill out with the trash. I looked from the
Polish text to the English translation on the left side. My country, thou art
like good health. I never knew till now, how precious till I lost thee.
Now I come earlier, around dinner, so at least I can comment on the
food. "Those peaches look good, don't they? You always liked canned
peaches." And I can make sure Roberta doesn't take his tray before he's
done.
Cars pass on University Avenue below. I touch the flowers in a tiny
white ceramic vase on the table. Small orange and pink-tinged stargazers,
purplish carnations. Mr. Williams is parked by the window, punching his
arms straight up into the air over his head and then punching straight out
in front of him, like a boxer warming up in the corner of the ring. He is
wearing the same grey sweatpants and sweatshirt I see him in every day.
He mutters to himself or maybe to me. Last week, he tried to grab my ass
by the elevator.
29 After Roberta takes the tray, I say a little to Dad in Polish. "How are
you feeling? You look good. Nice haircut." My brother cuts Dad's hair
now, brings a special electric haircutting razor to the nursing home once a
month. When we were kids, Dad used to cut our hair in the kitchen on
Friday nights. He'd gone to barber school when he first came to America—
something to fall back on if he couldn't find a machinist's job. He told us
the whole story each time, joking, jovial, as we dragged the special swivel
chair from the basement. But if something had put Dad in a bad mood that
day—the deaf German he worked with at the machine shop, or Mom's
slightly pigeon-toed walk across the kitchen floor—then we clenched the
sides of the chair, our backs rigid, as Dad laid the cold metal shears flat
against our necks, our foreheads, snip-snipped our wet hair into identical
bowl cuts.
I bring Dad a little paper cup of orange juice from the nurse's cart and
place it in his hand. He looks at it, sets it away from him, returns his gaze
to the wallpaper. Then at the next table, a voice—"Miss!" I turn around.
"Yes?"
I stand up, go closer to the little man I've never seen before.
"Sit down." He has an accent and I can't tell from where. I laugh, the
way I do to fill in awkward silences when I don't know what to say. Usually, it's the Alzheimer's people who call me over to ask questions. Barbara
asks me every time I step out of the elevator if I've got fifty cents for the
bus—"When is the bus coming? I've got the get to the bus, got to get out
of here." Then she screams, "Aaaa-dam, Aaaa-dam, come get me. I don't
wanna die."
This man has clear plastic tubes stretching from a metal tank by his
chair up to his nose. On the outside of the tank is a plastic pouch full of
liquid. I can't tell what it is. He leans across the table towards me, says,
"This is your grandfather?"
"No, my father."
"Where is he from?"
"Poland."
I glance at Dad—his head has turned from the wall. He watches us now.
The old man nods his head. He has blue-silver eyes, round and pale and
watery. His skin is soft and pink, deeply wrinkled. A smooth, pink bald
head ringed in white fuzz. A red and white striped shirt and maroon bathrobe. A tiny, skinny wisp of a man. Brown leather slippers, bare ankles.
His eyelashes white and a curved, soft beak of a nose.
"Where are you from?" I ask, although I already know.
"Poland," he says.
"What's your name?"
'Jack Silverstein." He looks me straight in the eye. "I was in Auschwitz."
He holds up his arm and pulls up the jacket sleeve. His number is a litde
30 blurry around the edges, but still dark as night. "They killed my
parents... everyone."
I glance at Dad. He heard. He has paused his inching struggle to come
over. Then he resumes, more jerkily, more intently. I stand up and pull the
brake levers on his chair. He hasn't learned how to propel himself properly, as if he thinks that if he learns how to use the chair, he won't also
learn to walk again.
I sit down again beside Jack Silverstein and say, quiedy, "My dad was
in Auschwitz, too."
"He was? Does he have number?" His eyes are questioning, his face
scrunched and intent.
"No," I say. "No, he was in the labour camp. He isn't Jewish."
He leans back, nodding, weighing this information, looking at Dad as if
appraising him. Dad is now halfway over to us. I get up and wheel him
over. The nurses say to let him try to do things on his own, but sometimes
I can't watch that painfully slow shuffle, pulling himself forward just by
inching his feet along, the chair dragging beneath him. Dad has never met
another camp survivor in America—I think there are only two left that he
remembers from his barracks—they are old and live in Warsaw. They
wrote letters until Dad's stroke, and Mac has written to them now, letting
them know that Dad can't read or write, or speak.
Jack Silverstein holds out his hand to shake, and Dad grips it so tightly
that I see Jack wince. His knuckles turn white.
And then my father starts to cry. Like a little boy. His face all balled up
and tears pouring out, his lips curled up high over his gold incisor. My
heart pounds. I look around for the nurses' aides. I don't want them to
think that I've made him cry.
When I was in the fifth grade, one of our assignments was to write a
story. Mine was about a family of pumpkins living in a patch. On Halloween, one of the baby pumpkins is torn away, carved, sent to pumpkin
heaven, gets reincarnated as pie. I got an E—excellent. I showed it to Dad.
He laughed, shook his head, said, "If you want to write stories, write my
story."
"Don't cry, don't cry," Jack Silverstein says, prying his hand out of
Dad's grip. He rubs Dad's arm. The spot, I notice, where if Dad had had a
number, it would have been tattooed. "It is over now. You survived,"Jack
says. Still Dad cries. "It does no good to cry. There is always hope." Still,
Dad cries.
Finally, Jack leans back in his chair, points with one hand to the number
on his arm and says to my father, "I had it worse than you."
The sobbing relents a little. I look down at the floor and smile. That's
31 what Dad used to say to us. And everyone else, for that matter. Within ten
minutes of meeting anyone—a stranger at the magazine stand or a parent
at one of our soccer games—Dad started to tell his Auschwitz story. How
the SS men yanked him out of bed at three a.m. Only him, one out of six
brothers and one sister, his twin. He the youngest, sixteen. His father long
since dead, his mother's only money from the cows whose milk she sold in
town. Carried it in metal cans hoisted over her back. After the seventh
grade, his mother needed him on the farm. He did not finish school. He
had no occupation. He was a loiterer, a threat, a useless member of society.
Hitler came in the middle of the night and took him away. That's how
he told it to us. For a long time, I was confused. Hitler? Himself? How
could Hitler round up everyone single-handedly? But then one day, I
understood. Hitler, Hider's men. The same.
Dad always demonstrated exactly how the SS men had stomped their
boots, lifted their knees high. Spit flew as he talked and marched.
The stranger would shoot a glance at my mother or me. I'd stand behind Dad so that he couldn't see me roll my eyes.
uJa, ja," Dad would say. And he'd look confused for a moment, lost in
his own story. He would run his hand through his dark hair. Even the night
before his stroke—by the back door, on my way out of the house after I'd
picked up my laundry—my mother's bribe—Dad told me, retold me, the
story of his dog, the one they shot in the barnyard. Told it to me even as I
backed away from him. His eyebrows were pulled together, his forehead
furrowed, trying to figure out why he had to keep taking litde steps. Wondering why he found himself in the driveway all of a sudden, next to my
car.
Dad wheels right up close to Jack, who fiddles with his hearing aid.
While he talks, he taps on it intermittentiy, tugs on the wire that snakes
down to the little box in his robe pocket. Their knees are practically touching. It is as if Dad can't get close enough to him. Dad once told me that
when he was a boy, there weren't enough beds in his house. He slept in the
same bed as his older brother Tomek, their feet touching for warmth.
Jack says he's been here for three days. Only yesterday did he feel
strong enough to leave his room. He talks to me, but occasionally looks
over at Dad. Smiles a little. It's hard for him too, knowing how to talk to
someone who can't talk back.
Dad looks at me intentiy while Jack and I talk. I avoid his eyes, and
look at Jack instead.
Jack says his wife has Alzheimer's. "Is she here at the nursing home?" I
ask. No, she is at a different home. They didn't have room for her here.
Charlotte. She wanted to be a doctor, but then there was the war. A son,
Marvin, a lawyer in Palo Alto. A daughter, Ella, a kindergarten teacher in
32 Queens.
Jack says he has no appetite. "My wife. I miss her."
Mom has been telling me about the little Russian man on this floor,
Misha—the one who wouldn't eat, the one who's wife came every day at
lunch, crying, pleading with him, bringing him special dishes she'd cooked
that morning. He died last week.
I telljack about the biotech company I work for, the catalogue entries
I write in my cubicle all day. I tell him about my brother Mac, my sisters,
Mirka and Jadzia. "Mirka is the one with the children," I say. "You might
have seen them running around here."
Dad looks from me to Jack, and back to me. He presses his lips together, frowns. He tugs at his lap belt as if he wants to try and stand up. He
can't stand up without me. I ignore him.
Roberta comes to wheel away the bird lady, curled up in fetal position
in her chair-bed, her bony knees and shins poking out from under the
white sheets. Her small head lolls to the side, she can't keep it up straight.
Her eyes are almost always closed, even when her daughter comes to feed
her—small spoonfuls of pudding, applesauce, mashed strawberries.
Jack breaks off his sentence to me and barks "Miss!" at Roberta. I look
over. Jack says nothing, but I see that he is looking at the litde brown
fuzzy booty crumpled on the boards of the dining room floor where the
bird lady's chair-bed has been parked. One of her gnarled, white feet pokes
out from beneath the sheet. Roberta pauses, gives him a sullen, tight-
lipped look, then stoops to pick it up.
That's when Dad starts whacking me with his good arm. Rapid, solid
clap-claps against the right side of my body, closest to him. My upper arm,
my forearm, my chest. I scoot my chair back, out of reach, as the speech
therapist does when Dad starts hitting her.
"What's wrong,"Jack asks me. "What does he want?"
"I don't know," I say. "Sometimes he just gets in these moods."
I arrive at the home later than usual the next night. I've been behind on
the catalogue deadline and I had to catch up on all the cloning kit entries.
I wonder if Dad got enough to eat. I buy a 7-UP—his favourite—at the
vending machine in the downstairs lobby and then I take the elevator to
the second floor. I find him in the TV room already, parked perpendicular
to the TV. I flip the brake levers on the wheels and swivel him around so
that he can actually see the screen. Hollywood Squares is on and no one else
is in here.
Dad stares at the upper left corner of the wall, where the spider plant
hangs from a hook. I see a thread hanging from one of the leaves. I say,
"Hi, Dad, how are you feeling today?" and he does not turn his head. Just
stares at the wall, stone-faced.
33 I put the cold can in his good hand. I get a plastic cup from the nurses'
cart. When I return, he is rolling the can over and over in his hand. "That's
great exercise for you," I say. I pull one of the vinyl-covered chairs up so
I am sitting next to him in front of the TV. If he could use his hands like he
used to, he could open the tab himself. I ask him if he wants me to pour the
7-UP out for him, and he uncurls his palm. The can thumps the blue-grey
carpeting, rolls forward, and bumps the lower edge of the wooden TV
console.
I flip through the channels, looking for a nature or history program. He
always called sitcoms "trash." He told us to turn them off, disgusted. Told
us to go read Polish. We were forgetting our Polish.
On Sundays, he made me read ten pages oiPolska Historja aloud to him.
He interrupted when I mispronounced a word. "Do you know what that
means?" he'd ask. I wouldn't meet his eyes. "Yes," I'd lie. Every time he
started to explain what something meant it invariably led to a story, a
story I'd already heard.
"Someday you'll thank me for what you're learning," he said. "A language is a gift you have all your life."
Now he wants what I won't give him. I look out the window, at the cars
passing in the street below. Some of the cars' headlights blink on as they
approach the building. It is that time of day—when you must decide if it's
gotten dark enough to turn your headlights on.
Jack Silverstein shuffles past the TV room, pulling his green metal tank
behind him on a little dolly. Dad jerks and inches toward the door. I wish
I'd remembered to put the brakes on. I follow him.
At the doorway, he looks down the hall at Jack's back, at the long
maroon bathrobe.
"Grrrgghrrrr. Grggggrrrr."
I put my hand on Dad's shoulder. "Dad," I say. "Mr. Silverstein can't
hear very well. He won't hear you."
Dad jerks from beneath my hand and continues inching up the hall. The
garbled, throaty noises continue.
Jack has stopped, leaned down to adjust one of the dials on his tank, and
now Dad inches faster and faster, his whole torso leaning into the momentum of it. I should push him, I should get him there faster. I should call out
to Mr. Silverstein.
But it is Mr. Silverstein who calls out to Dad. "Eh," he says. "You move
very fast." He straightens from turning the dial, presses one hand to his
back, holds his other hand out to Dad. Dad takes it and won't let go.
I am hoping that Dad will be content with just holding his hand and
staring—he's already begun to cry. But no. He tries to speak. Shakes his
head. Starts again. I wonder if it sounds the same to him as it does to us. Or
if he sees his meaning in his head but doesn't hear the sound.
34 I scrunch my eyes shut, wrap my arms around my chest. But Jack is
asking me something. "What is he saying? What does he want?"
"Dad," I say. "Let Mr. Silverstein go to his room. Maybe he's tired." I
lean over Dad's chair and bend down to look him in the eye. He bats at me
with his free hand. It is the weaker one though, and only brushes my chin.
I back up anyway.
"What? What is it?" Jack asks.
I want to run up the hall, get in the elevator, get in my car, turn the
music up loud, sing along. Everyone should be able to say what they need
to say. A drink of water, please. Leave my tray. Listen to my story.
"Dad wants me to tell you his story, Mr. Silverstein. How he ended up
in Auschwitz, how he survived. He thinks you'll understand."
Jack shakes his head, pats Dad's hand with his own wrinkly one. "Come
into my room."
Jack sits on the edge of his bed, the plastic side-bars lowered. I push
Dad up so that he sits facingjack, and I drag a chair up beside him. Silvery
Get Well balloons bump the ceiling tiles. A bouquet of daisies stands on
the night table. Another bouquet—pink carnations and baby's breath—
stands on top of the TV.
Jack takes Dad's hand in both of his. "So you want me to know your
story. I know without you telling me. It is a story of pain, like mine. It is
enough to have lived it once. I do not like to talk about the past too much,
to hear about it too much. Especially our past. Better to forget. Try to
forget." He pushes up his sleeve, holds his arm out. "I can't forget, but you
can. Time does everything. Be patient." He pats Dad's hand again, and
now Dad just stares at him. "When I remember, I can't sleep," Jack says. "I
have nightmares. Maybe you tell me someday. But not tonight."
I expect Dad to try again, that gurgling, those words like vague dark
shapes in the night. You can almost see them, can almost make them out,
but not quite.
Dad stares. He doesn't even cry.
I pull his chair out of the room. He drags his feet.
"Sorry to have bothered you, Mr. Silverstein," I call as we back through
the doorway. "I hope you sleep well. Goodnight."
When I was in the eighth grade, a Polish physics professor stayed at our
house for a week. He was from thejagiellonian University in Krakow, and
he was attending a conference on superconductors at Stanford. He was a
friend of some uncle in Poland. On his first night at our house, Dad told
him the story, everything, acted it all out in the middle of the kitchen. The
yanking from the bed, the marching, the beatings, the escape. The long
night in the forest, under the boughs of the fir tree, the long walk back to
his mother's farm. Dad kept the professor up past midnight. The professor
35 yawned, stretched, said what a long day he'd had, but Dad kept going. This
story and then this one and the next one.
At the breakfast table, after Dad had already left for work, the physics
professor looked into his coffee cup and then at my mother. "My wife's
father was in Auschwitz, too, until the liberation. But he's never mentioned
it once. Not to anyone. He came back and never said a word. He won't tell
you if you ask."
"Everyone is different," Mom said.
"Yes," the physics professor agreed. "Some people give you their burden to carry for them, and some people ask to carry yours."
The next day, when I arrive at the home after work, the elevator is
broken and I have to take the stairs. They are at the side of the building,
and when I get up to the second floor, I must pass Jack's room to reach the
TV room and the dining room. Jack's name is no longer in the little plastic
pouch on the door, and I stop. I knock. No answer. I push open the door.
The bed has been stripped. The flowers and balloons are gone. I walk to
the nurses' station.
"Carla, what room did Mr. Silverstein move to?"
"He's gone," she says. Gone can mean a lot of things in this place. Mr.
Carver, in the room next door to Dad's, died last week. Mom, who sits
with Dad until dinner time, said she heard Mr. Carver coughing for a half
hour, calling, "Carla, Carla." Finally, Mom went to look for her, and then
brought her back. But the coughing had stopped.
"Gone where?" I ask.
"I don't know," she says. "I came on at noon and his room was already
empty." I could ask her to check the books, but I don't. Maybe his wife's
place found a room for him.
Dad's in the TV room again.
"Let's see what's going on in the world today, Dad." I turn on CNN. He
used to watch the news and read the paper every night at home.
But he won't look at the TV screen. He looks at the wall. Only his face
isn't stony today, and when I take his hand, he holds it tightiy. I close my
eyes.
Then I smell something.
"Dad, I'm going to get Roberta." He doesn't want to let go of my hand
but I pry it out anyway. That's something else I can't bear—Dad soaked in
his own urine.
They'd been digging ditches somewhere, and on the long march back
to the barracks, they walked two-by-two. They hadn't eaten in days, most
of them were barefoot. It was November. One of the men saw a dry stump
of a cabbage, probably frozen through, in the stubble of a field they passed.
36 He dove for it, was gunned down before his hands even touched it. His
body crumpled, a heap of filthy, striped fabric. The SS men stopped the
march. Lined the twenty-some men up in two rows, the tall ones behind,
the shorter ones in front, as if arranging them for a photograph.
Who else wants to die today?
Nobody spoke. My father, sixteen, tried to sniff back the mucus running
from his nose.
The SS man heard him. You? You? He pointed the gun in his face,
inches away from my father's nose.
My father shook his head. His life depended on not making a sound, on
not crying. There was an unmistakable odour, a wet stain spreading down
the front of his pants. Dark on the black and white stripes.
Roberta wheels Dad to his room to change the diaper, and then wheels
him back. I watch CNN until he reappears in the doorway. "Thanks,
Roberta." She nods, and I pull his chair the rest of the way into the room.
"Dad," I say, "Do you want me to ask Mr. Silverstein if maybe he'd like
to listen today? He was tired yesterday. We could ask him again."
Dad nods.
"You wait here. I'll go ask."
I walk up the hall and into Mr. Silverstein's room. I sit on the stripped
bed. Count the second hand on my watch. Sixty ticks. I walk back out,
down the hall, past the cheap, plastic-framed prints of beach scenes—sunsets or sunrises, up to you.
"Dad, I think Mr. Silverstein was transferred to his wife's nursing home
today. Carla said it happened so fast, he didn't have time to say goodbye to
you, but he told her to tell you he'd like to hear the story some day. He was
sorry yesterday was a bad night for him."
Now he cries, the way he did that first time he saw Mr. Silverstein in the
dining room two nights ago. I rub his hand. I rub his shoulders. I bring
him a cup of orange juice. I bring him a cup of water. I flip the channels of
the TV until I find a documentary about Jacques Cousteau, something
about the mysteries of the deep.
Mr. Williams rolls by in the lobby, peers in through the window. Backs
up and pokes his head in. "He okay?"
"Yes, he will be."
I hear Barbara cry out in the hallway. "Aaaaadam. Aaaadam. When are
you coming for me?"
I shut the door that separates the TV room from the rest of the floor.
Roberta passes the windows, pushing the laundry bin. She looks in. I smile.
I look out the window on the other side. It is already dark, and all the
cars have their headlights on. When the light turns green at the intersection, the cars flow past. I turn off the TV.
37 I reach into my purse, pull out Pan Tadeusz. I turn to page two, move my
finger down the page, past how precious till I lost thee. I let the tip of my
finger rest beneath the next sentence. I look up.
This isn't what he wants to hear. But I must say something. I can't just
watch this old man stare out the darkened window of a nursing home—a
window that no longer shows the world he can't go out into, but only his
own body in the wheelchair, his own silent face, his close-cropped hair.
Finally, I fold the corner of the page and reach over to run my fingertips through his hair. He always liked me to do that for him in the evenings. He'd call me over after dinner. He'd tell me how in barber school he
learned how to shave a man, give a head massage, dip combs and shears in
jars of antiseptic.
I tell him that—what I remember of his barber school stories.
There is the tiniest twist to his mouth. I can't tell if it's a smile.
Then I remember sitting in the pink and orange-flowered swivel chair,
in the middle of the kitchen, wearing the pinstripe barber's smock, toilet
paper wound tight around my throat so the clippings won't slip down my
shirt. Squinting, clenching the arms of the chair, holding my breath as Dad
snips my bangs and tells my mother to walk like a normal person, feet
straight, not like some cripple from the countryside, even though he knew
that's all she was anyway.
I want to say: I can't tell your story, Dad. I can only tell mine, and you
may not like it. But your story is a part of my story and maybe I can't tell
Mr. Silverstein—I'm sorry, I'm sorry—but I will tell the people it really
matters to tell. I will tell my children and their children and I will tell you.
But I can't say this. We don't talk like this, my father and I. We never
have, and we're not going to start now.
I tuck Pan Tadeuszback in the purse at my feet. "Dad," I say, straightening up in my chair. "Dad, I remember those haircuts. I remember everything."
38 David Zieroth
First Thought
Of all my thoughts, one thought
is the first—it came to me
when I was a child and lives in me still
But which thought, and how
to find again one tiny stick
amid the many limbs of the forest
verdant and grey, dry and budding
boughs that make a Y
for the nest of the secretive jay
who later flies out to scream
Pick through the twiggy composition
under the eggs, those warm globes
the future breaks free from at last
to pinpoint the original stalk
upon which all others balance
cunningly intertwined, stuck and
holding against night and wind and
violent squabbling in the air
Each day the thoughts erect a wall
and tell me not to look
back into the tangled garden
where someone like me
once lived, it was me, yes, me
though I would have placed the chairs
differently, not so near the pond
and so many cups of suddenly spilled tea
can only mean the guests have gone
39 Had I Stayed on the Farm
for Leona Gom
I married the skinny girl
and our kids ran free as chickens
one of them, the second boy
moving along the ditches for days
trapping muskrat and living on
chokecherries and bulrushes
sleeping by a little fire of sticks
wrapped in his jacket, and we hardly noticed
he was gone until he returned
as someone else, burnt and smoky
his sisters silenced by the strides he took
to reach the pump, the way he drank
from the barn well, his hands
a mesh of little nicks and cuts
where the cries of the animals
had entered him
I planted, and prayed
for the market to hold, and when
it failed I stopped praying
and never began again
found a fount of colourful
language when the truck broke
at harvest—and when the green straw plugged
the combine, I was the fool
who crawled in, it was my mackinaw
the fly wheel caught and drove hard
into the iron guts of the machine
it was the mangled me my son
found, his mother he ran to
but even before he reached her
with the news she ever after
kept hearing, kept hearing
40 all the black suits of my neighbours
began twitching on their hangers
at the backs of the closets
thirsting for sun and wind
I knew little of books
nothing of rhyme
though the rhythm
of spring, summer, fall
I replayed in winter
every day a time
for breaking down and
making each moment all
I needed, the snow filling up
space I might have stuffed otherwise
with words or lies or worse
falling until all was smooth
and white, virgin
cold
beauty I eventually forgot
to see, seeing instead
lives I might have lived
had I left, had I taken the train
not taken, riding with those
who later returned with ironic gleams
to look at me in wonder, the one
who stayed, as if only one were needed
to rate themselves against
measuring me as their fathers measured
fields of chaff and shrivelled grain
41 Tom Wayman
Inguinal
Three men held me and cut me.
Their little knife was a silver fish
so sharp it sliced open the edges
of a paper I signed.
May snow
knocked at the door.
When they were done
agonized colours
spread across my waist where they cut me
and lower, down the tops of my legs:
feverish yellows
and ominous blues, bleak tints
of the skies of Hell.
Snow
was bandaging the day. The blood here
was mine and not mine: fish blood, dark blood, bat blood
seeping, ay!, where they cut me.
At night
every abandoned pain returned:
behind my ribs at the spine, buried in one shoulder.
My throat issued motded flames, black smoke.
For the first time, in a dream I was bored:
waiting for a figure to
cease speaking, for someone to exert himself.
The men who cut me
dreamed of new golf shoes whose cleats
penetrated human skin.
My skin,
in May, in the silver snow.
42 Take My Word For
A change
A spin
An alternate route to where you're going
A friend you haven't seen in years
What it's worth
Better or for worse
All you can
Fast relief of symptoms
Twenty-four-hour protection
A security deposit
Peace of mind
Authorized use only
Gospel
A sign
43 K. V. Skene
Nothing Arrives But Weather
And we listen to winter and learn the winter sky long before its cold
rain surfs our dead-serious streets, softens their suburban edge and
smothers every windowpane with a fine needle spray that falls and
falls (this wettest of all rains) from all directions. It rains inside our
clothes. It rains under our skin. It rains up and out of stairwells and
gutters. Once there was an alfresco table for two with an awning to
laugh off the sun and a solicitous sparrow to pick over each dry
conversational crumb—all gone. All gone to glory-holes to outrage
the rain (this coldest of all rains) that floods the stones, the bones of
the city and kisses us softly. Softly and suddenly and snug under its
heavyweight overcoat, a somnolent sun burns through the louring sky
like a careless cigarette, pearls the overlooked rigging wiring us
together, bejewels our double-glazed boxes and an urban rainbow
arcs up, over, into our eyes and you see me across the rain. Even
November can be beautiful if you need it to be.
44 Elana Wolff
Potentilla
For the n'h time this month I walk you
through the garden
by the berms:
This is the euonymus I moved from the back of the house;
this the spiraea, this—weigela.
Periwinkle is vinca.
Here it's not a stretch to lavish love:
Look at Cupid's darts, the bleeding hearts.
You gave me what you needed: hearth and earth.
No wonder now I want to show you growth;
naming is part of the proof.
That is why I'm troubled not to know what the bush
by the thuja is; why I smile to hear you call the potentilla
shrubby cinquefoil.
45 Silhouettes
The voice of geese, elastic twang, at night on Oakbank Pond
where trees turn into topiary
foliage on the water:
rippled moonlit silhouettes of dog, and pig, and hippo.
You handed me your knifing hand; I handed you
my writer.
We might have wanted to be lovers,
but we were husband and wife.
We stood in the willow shadows
side by side defining shapes—careful to concur,
mindful not to make the same mistakes.
46 Dariush Alavi
The Edge of Happiness
When he arrived at the mountain cottage, he sighed and realized
he was just a few footsteps away from yet more happiness.
Happiness had been with him in the driver's seat of his car,
during the two hour drive from the city, and in the moment when his wife
had reached over and run her hand across his thigh. Happiness had also
been with him when he and his wife were packing a small suitcase each
and he'd decided to make her laugh by prancing around their house in his
boxer shorts doing an impression of their next door neighbour. That was
the problem.
He glanced in the direction of the sun plunging below the line created
by the pines. Lit from behind, the trees looked like a fence of sharp mountains lining the car's path to the cottage. He remembered the scene beyond
the trees: a stretch of grass leading to the edge of the sheer drop, the
bottom of which he had dreamed about since he was five years old.
He eased the car to a halt on its patch before the front door. For a
moment, he had a vision of himself speeding up along the path, hitting the
brakes at the last minute and screeching the car to a standstill, leaving a
deep tire trail behind him. He remembered a time when he had made just
such an entrance and had caused a picnic hamper to topple and throw its
sticky contents all over the back seat.
He looked across at his wife sitting on his left. He leaned over and
kissed her on her cheek. He suddenly wanted to take his mouth lower, to
kiss her neck, undo the first few buttons of her blouse and run his tongue
across the space between her breasts. She smiled at him. He pulled his
body back and wondered what her face would look like tomorrow, if she
had to face up to the fact that they would never again go to the cottage
together.
He took a deep breath, opened the car door, and set foot on the grass
that covered the ground around the cottage. He opened the passenger door
behind him, pulled out a brown suitcase, and started walking towards the
front door. He knew that by the time he reached the entrance, she would be
looking in an easterly direction, trying to catch a glimpse of a weeping
willow that towered up for two or three storeys and then bent its branches
almost all the way down to the ground. Sure enough, when he looked at
her, she was doing exactly that.
47 She saw him watching her and smiled.
"Still there?" he asked.
She waited until she was sure she could see the tree before nodding.
He chuckled, picked up her bag, and walked towards the front door. He
looked up for a moment and saw the one white roof tile amongst the red.
When he was ten, he had jumped from the white tile onto a trampoline,
bounced off, landed a few feet away from the trampoline, grazed half a leg,
and stood up with a grinning face.
Suddenly he remembered the cliff edge again, the way the rocks became larger and darker the closer they got to the ground, until all that
could be seen was a single hard surface. He remembered the piercing scent
of the air as it rushed into his nose when he had jumped off the roof.
His wife found some keys in her handbag, unlocked the latch, and they
walked inside together. He saw her step from one room to the next, turning on lights and heaters, checking for towels in the bathroom. They hadn't
been there for almost four months, but the people paid to maintain the
cottage hadn't neglected their duties. He was almost convinced he could
smell a cup of coffee waiting for them.
"I'll just phone the boys," his wife said and walked past him into the
kitchen.
He thought of his sons—the younger halfway through university, the
older two years into ajob that took him around Europe—and wondered
how a parent would go about saying goodbye to their children—a final
Goodbye—if they were aware that the time had come to do so.
He stepped into the kitchen, where his younger son's voice was already
coming through the speakerphone. "Am I there yet?" the voice asked.
His wife laughed quietiy. "Hang on." She reached inside her bag and
pulled out two fridge magnets and two photographs, each one of a smiling
young man talking into a telephone. Moments later, the pictures were
stuck on the doors of the fridge. "Okay, you're here now."
Laughter crackled into the room. "Cool, cool," the voice said.
A short while later, when the only sound in the kitchen came from the
water boiling in the kettie, he walked up behind his wife and placed his
hands on her shoulders. In silence, they looked at the photographs of their
sons. He knew she would be thinking about how many different pictures
they'd brought here over the years. The faces in the photos were always
recognizable, but lately the look of neediness in their eyes had almost
vanished.
He kissed the top of his wife's head and massaged her shoulders. She
placed her right hand on his and ran her fingers across his knuckles. "Tea?"
she said.
"Hmm."
A few hours later, he was lying on the settee and she was nesded on top
48 of him, his arms free to roam around her body. His mouth was still full of
the lingering taste of bread and olive oil and coffee. He ran his hands up
from her legs to her breasts and then down again.
"Ready for bed, I think," she whispered. He didn't need to open his eyes
to see the smile on her face. He hummed in agreement. His hands moved
up towards her temples and rubbed her head in small circles. Her voice
was less audible than her sigh. "That's nice," she said and snuggled deeper
into him, but when he felt her shoulder blades rub against his chest, he
remembered the cliff edge again.
When they made love later that night, the only sounds came at the end.
She clutched his head between her legs and turned his name into a gasp.
When she licked his ear and squeezed his flesh, he couldn't delay the
moment any longer and pumped moans out of his lungs. "Lie on top of
me," came out of her in one hot breath and his body fell onto hers. When
their hearts recovered, they lay side by side and she wrapped her left leg
around him. She kissed him and whispered, "Goodnight." But although he
was sleepy too, he wanted to lift her out of the bed, walk her across to the
open window, face the moonlight tumbling through the parted curtains,
and then feel her take him inside her mouth and hear himself yell out a
noise that would echo through the pines, to the cliff edge and all the way to
the bottom of the drop. But he knew she was tired and he was tired too, so
he kissed her forehead, ran his hand along her back down to her buttocks,
and fell asleep.
As always, he woke up before her, when the sun was still a glow on the
horizon. Without disturbing her, he got out of bed and put on some clothes.
Before leaving the cottage, he walked past the wicker display cabinet and
looked at the photos inside. Then he took a deep breath and marched
straight out. His twig-crunching steps caused the birds to fall silent. He
pushed his way through the pines and, within about ten minutes, reached
the edge of the cliff.
Slowing his footsteps down, he walked towards the end and lowered his
head so he could see the drop below him. The bottom was still in darkness,
the sun not being high enough to push aside the shadow. He thought he
could hear the sound of a wind leaping in the depths.
And then he did what he had done since he was a child. He started
looking around behind him for a suitable object. Within a few moments,
he found one: a dirty glass bottie lying on the turf. He picked it up and
brushed as much dirt off it as he could. He then walked back to the edge,
remembering the many objects he had found over the years: a steering
wheel, several spoons, a deflated football. He held the bottle by the neck
over the drop for a few seconds, took a deep breath, and then let go.
The distance to the ground below was so great that the bottle looked as
49 though it was hanging on an invisible string for several moments. It fell
without spinning or turning. He stared at it and smiled. It was easy to
pretend the bottle wasn't falling forward. He told himself it was glued to
the air, hanging. For a split second, the bottle caught some stray beam
from the sun and came to life in a searing flash, like a tiny bolt of lightning. He closed his eyes.
After several moments, he thought he heard the sound of breaking, but
he wasn't sure. He squeezed his eyes tighter and tried to keep in his mind
for a few more seconds the image of the botde: still, suspended, full of the
sun's fire. But then he opened his eyes and realised that somewhere in the
depths below him was a scattering of broken glass. Was there any chance
at all, he wondered, that the bottle was still intact?
He looked up. The sun was becoming more visible. He turned around
and started heading back towards the cottage. Before too long, he was back
inside the bedroom.
His wife was still asleep, the thin blanket covering her legs and waist.
Her breathing caused her body to rise and fall. He walked towards the bed
until he was close enough to bend over and kiss her cheeks. He touched
her skin with his lips and warmth eased into him. She didn't stir. He looked
at her for two, maybe three seconds, then walked out of the cottage again.
She would be asleep for at least another half hour. He still had some time.
When he reached the edge again, the lower rim of the sun's disc was
several inches off the horizon. The shadow at the bottom of the drop was
lifting and he thought he could just about see the dazzle of a thin stream of
water.
He stepped closer towards the edge. He shut his eyes and thought of his
wife. He heard the way she had called out his name during the night. He
felt the tremor that passed from her body to his when she asked him to
carry on massaging her head.
Another tiny step forward. He took a deep breath to help him keep his
eyes shut. He remembered his boys and their voices on the telephone last
night, the "Love you" at the end.
He took one more fraction of a step forward, just enough to feel the lack
of ground beneath his toes. He raised his arms out by his sides. Even as he
stood there, and the sun inflamed his forehead and his cheeks, his mind
was filled with an image of an event he knew would take place in just a few
minutes: him and his wife having breakfast. But alongside this vision, he
tried to imagine his body lying at the bottom of the drop, surrounded by
the mountains, just on the verge of being illuminated.
50 Terrance Cox
Heck of a Parade
"Grape & Wine," our fall
festival lets us fest,
go Dionysiac
by timid plastic glassfuls:
ten days frenzy under
license & rental tents
in Montebello Park, frantic
to Walter Ostanek's polka
Second Saturday happens
famous heck of a parade:
bands of regimental brass
kilts & pipes & motorbike
cops in helmets of gold
barrels & vine arbour
floats on flat-bed trucks,
sash-&-gown decked beauties
up on green shag, waving
every fat girl, baton-
twirler from Akron
& always, second last, some
minor or has-been
celebrity figure,
posing as Grand Marshall
for instance: Commander Tom
of Channel 7, Buffalo,
a kid-show space cadet—
51 once from Houston, an
Apollo astronaut, a
moonwalker who met Christ
in lunar gravity
Capt James T. Kirk
beamed down for our
bacchanal, one year
to baldly go
backseat of Cadillac convertible-
latest in long line of pale
substitutes for wine-god,
simulacrum foisted on us
Modest ecstacy there is,
dwindle of Septembers'
festive hereabouts,
when stand-ins for absent
god passes by & after
saunter down Ontario, around
corner up St Paul, along
come harmless drunks
children & childlike who throng,
antic cavort to a muse:
At pageant's close,
in majesty wheels by
steam-age Calliope,
her horses & her
pipe-whisded song
52 Jay Dolmage
Hey! Funtown
There's this person I know namedjudy. And let's say she is actually
a pretty interesting person besides the fact that she is a top-notch
friend of mine and we are tight. And let's also say while we're at it
that she has more than average intelligence and good looks even if she's
not freaking twenty anymore. You may have seen her out where she works
at Hey! Funtown. Or you might see her driving a Humvee. And if you see
her doing that, don't just assume she's a widow because she isn't. She never
had a husband that died over there, or even a husband that died over here,
or even a husband. Not that she couldn't have.
The Humvee was her mom's that she got as compensation for Judy's
dad who did die over there. And Judy's mom won't drive it because she's
been broken by him dying. But Judy isn't broken by him dying, she wasn't
a big fan of him. She figured he actually always wanted to die over there.
Because of that, now all four of her brothers want to die over there too.
One of them even recruits teenagers from the malls to come die with him.
Judy is just happy to drive the Humvee, because it would have been hard
to buy a car if it hadn't been free. She likes it, even though other people
say all the widow Humvees are defective and they have the same defects as
the Abrams, and that they'll break down on you just as easy on the interstate as over in the desert.
Judy tells me she likes working at Hey! Funtown, which is owned by
Lance Wilkerson. She says the way to explain Lance Wilkerson would be
to say he's a Positive Dreamer. Which is rare for people who've been over
there four times, starting way back in Desert Storm. Sometimes, those
wars seem to hang on Lance like a bad poncho. Except, you know what?
Judy thinks Lance will be okay in the end. Because instead of thinking how
screwed he is in terms of all his memories being ones of wars, and how he's
probably headed over there again, she tries to remember special moments
she had with Lance. For example, there was this special moment:
Lance was out back with her because they were burning a pile of garbage. He looked at her but not in like a romantic way. Not that it couldn't
have been necessarily romantic. Because she is a fine looking woman!
Anyways, he looked at her in this way and he said how glad he was that she
works for him at Hey! Funtown. And he said how she is his friend, too.
53 And he said how friends stick together. Which was something he learned
from Marines. Except most of those buddies are dead. Or they're over
there. Or now that they're back here he doesn't like them anymore. So that
makes new friends, like Judy, even more important. And Judy nodded and
knew in her head this Lance was her kind of people—a Positive Dreamer—
and the kind of friend you really want to stick together with.
As far as describing Hey! Funtown, where Judy works, you can probably guess it's an Amusement Park. Which means it gets the subsidy from
the Greater American government for re-tasking copters and Humvees
and tanks and jets. But Hey! Funtown is better than most of those other
scrapyards with firing ranges out off the interstate. Funtown also has PuttPutt,
a batting cage, and kids' birthday celebrations, nearly two a week. These
celebrations are based on Funtown's star, Big Bill. He's a machine that
actually works. He's a giant duck. Who's based on a cartoon that used to
be in a movie. For birthday parties, they act like Big Bill's the leader of a
band of gnomes, which are set up around him with litde guitars and synthesizers made of plywood. The kids listen to the band and they get worked
up and sometimes even stop smashing other kids for half a second and
dance or sing along to Hits of the Eighties. Big Bill plugs in. He has a
guitar and his duck mouth flaps. As if he's the singer. Certain Veterans
have said Big Bill looks ridiculous. They come to Funtown to use the
batting cages and buy beers and then come and wreck a whole birthday by
not keeping a trap clapped when they're sitting at the bar. But guess what?
The kids have been known to dig Bill. And who's concerned with the
negative comments of someone who has nothing better than to throw stones?
And is actually not realizing how much glass their home is made of? Not
that my house isn't. Just saying.
Lance bought Big Bill from a water park in Orlando. When he went
down there to visit his aunt. And came back with a duck in his truck and a
whole bunch of ideas for how Hey! Funtown could be improved. Even to
this day he still has a bad case of Orlando. Like pinkeye, except it's Orlando
in his eye, making it all red and goopy. Judy tells me she figures Orlando
is in his head as the opposite of Iraq, like set in there over the top of Iraq
as a Positive Dream.
The gnomes don't have official names like Big Bill but Judy has names
for them—Chuck, Alouicious, and Monty. She told me that she named
them that because that's what she'd name her kids if they were boys. Not
like she has any kids or is planning to. Just that those are good names. The
idea of them being a band works when you put them all close enough
together and don't have the lights so close to the stage and turn the boombox
behind them up to eight or nine so that the kids get rowdy enough. The
54 moms like that it's Hits of the Eighties on the boombox, because that's
when they were born.
Judy says sometimes the kids will be completely wrecking the whole
Party Zone. And you'll think: Goddamn why are you doing that? You'll
have a hard time not yelling at the moms. But then you'll realize supervision is a foreigner to some parents. So you'll need to be on top of it. You'll
also want to stay on top of making sure the gnomes are all standing up
straight. And haven't fallen over and chipped. And that the kids aren't
throwing Nuggets at Big Bill. And that they've got pop coming.
So she'll be on top of that. That'll be Judy on top of all that and on top
of generally being responsible. Not that Lance isn't. Just that there are days
when you're not sure where he is, and other days when he's abiding multiple alcoholic beverages. In the big picture, it's all up to Judy. And most of
the time, she can handle it.
Of course Lance is the boss. Don't get our friend Judy wrong. It's his
money and know-how and vision. And for Judy it's just her being the one
who does the books and cleaning and cooking and organizing and answering the phone. And taking kids out to tour the Amusements and sit in
cockpits and say stuff about "Towelheads" they learned from their dads.
Judy is glad to take on extra responsibility. Because, let's be honest, she's
solid as a rock in those categories and would never let Lance down. She
wouldn't let him down because mainly she sees a done-wrong quality in
Lance that makes her care. And that's combined with her respect for bosses.
Him being the one she's had since let's not even bother going back so far
in history. She's not some spring chicken admittedly. But still she's in for
the long haul at Hey! Funtown. Which, let's face it, doesn't have to not be
a fun haul.
The point is, I want you to know about Judy. So that I can tell the story
of how the other day, as Judy was leaving work at about ten to midnight
after cleaning up from some kids who thought it was hilarious to stomp a
million ketchup packets to make them squirt all over, Lance was sitting in
a fighter jet there just smack in the middle of the parking lot, taking over
nearly the whole parking lot, which was where the big flatbed had dumped
it off after Lance bought it off another Amusement Park two towns over.
And Lance goes: It's a Navy F/A 18.
Andjudy goes: Yeah.
And seeing Lance in another jet never fails to make Judy hyperventilate.
Jets are big-ass. It was all leaning over so that it was tilted in the sky, so
that Lance looked like he'd take off back there. And he said: Yeah, she's a
beauty, isn't she?
Andjudy didn't say: No, she's not a beauty. She's just taking up the
whole parking lot, and what the hell are you going to do with another one
55 of these? You already have one sitting out back rusting. The kids can't sit
in it because you couldn't promise me it wouldn't eject one of them, which
would not be funny by the way.
And she didn't say that it was not funny to see him in ajet, because it's
not funny to pretend about war. She didn't ask about why all these boys are
pretending about a war that's bound to jam its foot in their own personal
ass soon enough.
She didn't say any of that because Lance is the boss and he has a vision.
Plus he has some business know-how and a little pension and a boatload of
bad memories (and, again, he's the boss) which are all good reasons why
Judy didn't mention what Judy was really thinking. She just looked at him
in that jet. And for a second she thought of herself going over. She thought
of them finally sending her the letter. She stared at Lance and he stared
back and she made herself smile.
And then she pointed out how she couldn't get her Humvee out of its
spot on account of it being blocked right in by the jet. So Lance offered to
give her a ride home in the Hey! Funtown van.
On the ride home, he talked the whole way, saying how he was going to
put the two F/As together so they could start a kind of Jet Carousel. And
how he would put them up on truck wheels and run them around in a
circle, powered off field generators. Judy just listened. And Lance sounded
kind of nervous, which is how he gets sometimes, she's noticed. She did a
little bit of nodding but wouldn't say she thought it was a good idea because—hey guess what?—it was a stupid idea! But Lance isn't stupid. And
she can't blame him for a little Positive Dreaming even when it turns into
a lot, or all dreaming and not much waking-up-and-drinking-the-coffee of
some real responsibilities around Hey! Funtown. Eventually, he let her off
at her building andjudy said: Take care of yourself, Lance.
Because she really meant it. She says it every time she says goodbye to
him because he needs to actually do that—to take care of himself. Or start
looking for someone who's gonna be able to do it for him. Because the
clock's ticking and the next thing you know, you're old and alone. Judy
knows that okay? Judy knows about clocks ticking.
As she was opening the door to her apartmentjudy realized how Lance
had smelt. He smelt like—guess what?—a lot of booze.
He forgot to pick her up the next morning, so Judy took the city bus
out and then hooked a ride all the way into Hey! Funtown with Rita Schell,
who was on her way back from dropping the kids off at Elementary in the
school bus. It was a quiet ride andjudy just looked out the window at all
the trees that had lost their leaves already, even though fall was a long way
off. She thought to herself how sad that was, and how the leaves had real
ambition, or how they were sick with a mysterious disease. And that some-
56 times it was the same thing—ambition and disease. Like Lance and the
Orlando in his eye, the Orlando folded over Iraq. I know she thought that
because she told me. Because we're good friends.
When Judy walked into the Hey! Funtown parking lot, Lance was asleep
right there on top of her Humvee. So Judy tried not to wake him up and
she walked the long way around the big-ass jet and made her way inside
the Main Chalet and just started getting ready by washing the golf balls
from the PuttPutt course.
The kids who come for Birthday Bashes in the Party Zone get to hit
balls in the batting cages and play PuttPutt too. When they're doing the
Amusements, the moms usually smoke or read a sort of novel or have a
couple drinks from the bar. The bar is Judy's least favourite idea in the
whole place and has been a money sinkhole. She should know—she does
the books. The only people who actually pay for drinks are the Veterans
who come hit balls in the batting cages. And they never have a nice thing
to say, and she imagines they always move on to strip clubs to spend their
serious booze money. But about the worst thing that Judy hates about this
job is when Lance comes into the bar on birthday party nights and begins
joking around and chatting up the moms, because then you know the
money sinkhole is being dredged out by the free drinks he's giving them.
It's not that Judy herself is jealous of the fact that Lance is giving attention
to these women and generally neglecting his responsibilities around
Funtown. No, because there's nothing new there, andjudy knows that a
good way to make a fool of yourself is to put your feelings in the wrong
compartment of the two personal and professional compartments. Judy
just thinks about the carousel idea and the four busted Abrams full of
bullet holes and the entire stack of truck tires and the mechanical bull and
the Velcro wall and the thing you hit with a big mallet and the paddleboats
and the hueys and so on. All that they've got out back? Or in the other lot?
Probably the biggest collection of second-hand crap from Iraq and Orlando
that doesn't work in the whole world. And she sure hopes Lance doesn't
get it into his head to try acquiring a woman and her several children and
then leaving them in a place like that lot, or out back, so to speak. Which
you can't do with a real responsibility like a family! She thinks about
telling him this sometimes, but doesn't. His business is his business. Her
business is keeping Funtown fun.
She's thought about quitting her job and learning computers at colleges. Because she's smart with them, right? But she could never really do
that. For starters, they'd draft her then for sure. Not that they won't anyways,
what with her not having any kids, and not having a husband. Just that
they draft community college kids first. And if you know computers, you
57 can bomb things. In a perfect world, she'd teach kids computers at Funtown
all day and then she'd never have to abandon Lance. And maybe some of
those kids would get smart enough to go to universities and make enough
money to never have to go over there.
And, truth is, Judy loves Hey! Funtown. She tries to work for the Positive Dreams of Lance, the dream of an Orlando right here. And also she
works for the moments when a kid isn't swearing and it's his or her birthday and he or she is really actually getting down with Big Bill and The
Birthday Band and there's a look on his or her face that says: I'm digging
this.
And that's a moment that makes a lot of things (even though maybe not
all of them all of the time) actually worth it. Computers don't make those
moments, hearts do.
Just so you don't think Judy is some kind of protective pit bull dog, you
should know that Judy isn't Lance's keeper. She knows that Lance deserves
the flaming spark in his existence of a romantic life. We all do. Deserve
that. Andjudy would date more, for sure, if she wasn't so busy. But you
shouldn't think Judy is obsessed with Lance either, like some crazy lady.
Of course, she would admit that if she were dating someone, Lance wouldn't
be a horrible choice. Lance is her kind of people. Except for always making crummy decisions to buy jets. And of course all the booze Lance
drinks isn't what her kind of people do either. Neither is Lance hitting so
many balls in the batting cage, like eighteen buckets of them when he's
mad at something, most of the time himself, and most of the balls he
doesn't even swing at, he just stands there looking off into some netherworld
far beyond the horizon while the balls crash into the fence and crash into
the fence one after the other. Most of that time he could have been doing a
litde cleaning up around Hey! Funtown to make things just a litde bit
easier on his employee. Right?
Judy's kind of people, I should say, are like Lance a lot of times, because they are the kind of people who will go and sit with a kid in the male
restroom when he's puking because he took a dare of eating too many
onion rings. And Lance has been there, and even wiped that kid's face off
on his shirt. Judy's kind of people is also showing a kid how to hold a
putter or a bat when he's getting a razz from other kids for holding it like
a loser. And also her kind of people know how to shut up that kid giving a
razz. And shut him up good. Her kind of people has been known to take
Judy to a bar for her birthday and not have a single drink that night but
instead sing karaoke. Her kind of people would be known to have sung an
Aretha Franklin song. And a Tom Jones one. And that night, later on, her
kind of people would tell Judy how much they are appreciated, and touch
58 her on the arm. Her kind of people is the kind of people that Lance kind of
is most of the time and especially is some of the time.
Her kind of people also get ajob done. Which Lance does do sometimes and quite well. That day when he got his hungover butt up and out
of the Humvee, he did start painting the jet there in the lot, with a huge
Greater American flag. Painting jets is something he knows how to do, and
do well with spray cans and duct tape. Lance spent the whole early afternoon out there painting, just working away like a goddamn maniac on it,
andjudy was getting things in order in the Party Zone. There was a party
coming up the next day, a Wednesday. Weekday parties are usually the
best parties because kids come from school remembering some of the
strict rules they had all day. As opposed to on the weekends when they're
coming from home, where they were hitting other kids or lighting firecrackers all day. And when Lance came in from painting, Judy could tell
he was pretty impressed with how shiny Big Bill was and all, and he asked
Judy: How is Big Bill running?
And she said: Spic and span.
Which was true because it takes more than a few kids jamming him up
and hanging off him and hitting him with chairs for him to malfunction.
And this makesjudy respect him as a good constructed machine. That was
one of Lance's best investments, which provides steady flows of kids coming in and their parents paying up to fifty bucks for a party. And Big Bill
is sure the engineer of the small money train that might visit this place
once or twice a week!
There was a general good mood going around then. Judy was thinking
about all the possible customers and having a sort of Positive Dream. She
was imagining like:
So, you're coming to Hey! Funtown because you saw the billboard off
the highway and you see that there is a shiningjet Carousel well-painted
and in the right colours of actual jets in the parking lot even if it doesn't
work and I think you are impressed? And just wait until you start in on
PuttPutt and hitting dingers in the cages. And then it's Party time.
Andjudy was feeling pretty proud of that, and she told Lance that, and
he said he'd drink to that, which is not what Judy wanted him to say.
But it didn't turn out half as bad as usual, which is usually one beer
turns into two turns into making a big drink from a bunch of bottles in a
pint glass. Where he's going around and it seems like there's a litde bit
from every bottie in there and the colour of the thing is what you might
call gruesome and he makes a name up for it like President Terminator.
And comes around and says you should have a swig of the Terminator.
Andjudy says no, even when Lance keeps bothering her. But that day
59 Lance actually only has one beer, not a Terminator, and then goes back out
to the parking lot and in some kind of holy miracle he paints that jet and
then finally finishes painting the big Hey! Funtown sign he's been talking
about and in another holy miracle nails it onto the roof of the Chalet. He
calls Judy out there to see it and admittedly it is something special, which
you can see clear from a hundred feet. And that gets Lance into the mood
for doing even more work so, in what has to be the most productive day in
the history of Hey! Funtown, he takes the Hey! Funtown van and drives
out to the highway and gives the highway billboard a fresh new paintjob
and then comes back and even does another big sign on the back of an old
door which he bolts to the top of the batting cages. And this is the best sign
of all of them because he broke a mirror up to make the Hey! in Hey!
Funtown. This one you can see clear from two hundred feet. It sparkles
like the middle of the ocean. By the end of the day, when Lance does make
something alcoholic again (which he calls The Eye of the Hawk) and
walks around drinking it and turns the boombox on and turns Big Bill on
even though there's no birthday and he keeps saying how it's a fine piece
of machinery, Judy herself feels like this time he deserves to be enjoying
himself. Even in ways that are damaging to the body and mind, which is
different than how she feels usually. Because it's not just the booze, it's the
booze plus the pills he has to take for Syndrome. Not that she grudges him
letting loose. And doing how he damn well pleases around a place that he
owns. Don't get her wrong. She's just concerned. But you'd even feel like
laughing way later on when Lance pretends he's being hit with a shot or
even a Best Shot, singing along to the song "Hit Me With Your Best Shot"
from the Eighties tape. And he keeps doing that and standing on one of the
tables and yelling: Hey, Judy!
And he's pretending he wants Judy to come dance with him even if
Judy's wondering when it will be time to go home. And if there's any way
she's going to be able to drive because the Humvee is still as jammed in
and stuck behind the jet and not going nowhere as it was yesterday. And as
far as getting a lift with the boss over there, there's no way Lance is getting
behind the wheel of even the Air Force videogame. So for now, if you're
Judy, you just heat up some Nuggets and take them over to Lance where
he's lying on the table and you make sure he eats something because
sometimes he skips it.
So you might have guessed already but might as well know for sure:
Judy ended up walking home. Which is a long way but not so horribly
long a way. And in the morning she hooked on the school bus with Rita
again. She thought of how Rita had to deal with kids in this bus all morning, the same kids who came into Funtown and tried to rip soap dispensers
off the wall and use them as squirt guns yelling, MK-19! MK-19! That
60 made Judy sad for Rita. But then she realized Rita seemed happy enough,
and she realized that it wasn't her job to feel sorry for Rita, to feel sorry for
other people all the time. She borrowed a pen and paper from Rita and
wrote that down, to remind herself. But then later she lost the paper somewhere, or left it on the bus, and she hasn't seen it since then. But still she
remembered the lesson. She noticed again how all of the leaves were off
the trees along the road and the trees all looked like worms that couldn't
get back to their holes when the sun came out. All stiff and skinny. When
they arrived at Hey! Funtown, Rita saw Lance's work and said: Whoa, nice
signs.
Andjudy said: Yeah, I know.
When she gets inside the Chalet, Lance is just right exactly where Judy
left him asleep on a table. When Lance wakes up he tries to tell Judy this:
Today is a holiday.
She says: No it's not.
He says: It's a mandatory day off.
This is nothing he hasn't tried saying before and she just ignores him
because Judy knows tonight's a birthday night and she just walks away. She
gets right to oiling Bill when she realizes Bill is plugged in. And on. But
not exactly at all moving. And that Bill has probably been on all night.
And this is a very bad thing that she has to check and double-check up to
eight whole times. She feels it is unbelievable as anything. Like waking up
with your asshole in the wrong place. Except more like waking up with a
broken duck, the very same duck that was the only thing that ever seemed
to actually work. She can't bring herself to come around to telling Lance
for an hour or so. When she does tell him, he stares up at the ceiling and
his eyes get watery and he breathes out and she can smell the dark parts of
his guts. Then he finally gets up off the table and—big surprise—he goes
and hits maybe eighty thousand buckets of balls and doesn't come back in
until he's very very sweaty and still wearing the jeans that have paint all
over them from yesterday and now also have a stripe of sweat down the
butt and, come to think of it, how familiar are these clothes here, Lance?
Pretty familiar. Pretty familiar from you wearing them every day, Lance.
As you might guess, Judy is pretty frustrated about the death of Big
Bill. And it is hard to look at Lance who is walking around like a sweaty
zombie, a sweaty zombie ogre that might either cry or pass out. So Judy
goes into the old walk-in fridge to blow off some steam and takes a soft-
serve ice cream with her. Of course she knows this is one of her bad habits
of eating when she's worried but who wants to hear it? As she's sitting
there, she hears her clock ticking. It isn't just the sound of the fridge. She
gets a panic. One that reminds her that if she doesn't get married soon or
have a kid she'll get drafted. She finishes her soft-serve and thinks about
61 her brothers and her dad and her broken mom. And she imagines a Chuck
and an Alouicious and a Monty. And then she imagines a Lance. And
some more Lance.
Surprise. Judy comes out a half hour later and Lance is passed out on
the table again snoring. And tonight's a birthday night!
Judy gets him the hell up and moving around. He has a huge sleep in
his eye that looks like a glazed doughnut hole. He goes out to sit in the
gravel for a bit, underneath his jet. Judy is wanting to punch someone's
head. Which she can admit is a bad thing to want to do.
But then, in some sort of a miracle, Lance gets cracking to doing more
stuff, just like yesterday, including attaching seven strings of Christmas
lights together, or maybe ten or twenty strings along the roof of the Chalet, and stapling them in with the staple gun. All Judy hears is staples
being shot into the ceiling all through the middle of the day. Which puts
Judy in a good mood. The kind of good mood which hardly even let her
think of how much it was going to cost for electricity to actually light up
all the Christmas lights when Lance was done with them, or to worry
overly about the birthday party in countdown two hours and the Big Bill
that was way malfunctioning to the point of being dead. But Lance seemed
to have a solution for it all by wavingjudy off and smiling in a solid-as-a-
rock way every time he started to take a small break in the late afternoon,
coming down from the roof and attaching a bunch of extension cords and
wires and also pounding a beer.
Judy had a short me-time in the fridge again, this time with a Coke
instead of a soft-serve. She did the dream where she and Lance were driving down to Orlando. Florida looked exactly like the license plates, all
orange and green. They drove right into Orlando, the capital of all of
Greater America. They got out of the car and walked down some beach.
Judy and Lance were holding hands.
Not that you would want to understand that Judy wasn't real scared
about the birthday party not going off. But just that she had a feeling that
Lance was going to come through on this one this time. And she is a
Positive Dreamer, too, just like Lance. So when she was done in the fridge,
she waited for Lance to come up with something. And waited. As she was
stuffing Party Surprise Bags full of every candy they had left, she kept
looking at the dead Big Bill and then her watch and worrying a bit, then
more. She even went and got a phone book to call a clown. None of them
were home. And then she wondered about what those guys and ladies did
when they weren't dressed up and making jokes. They probably had serious jobs the rest of the time. With suits. The kinds of jobs that mean you
don't have to go over there. And mean you can joke about stuff in your
free time. Probably they do banking. And that made her think of her bank
62 and her debts. Which made her worry. And she thought of what would
happen if the birthday parties stopped—Funtown would end. She'd be out
of ajob. That made her almost panic, because she knew what that meant in
terms of Welcome to the Country of Jordan and whatnot. So she tried to
think of how to run a party without a Birthday Band. She tried to remember all the songs she knew when she was a kid, in case she had to do a sing-
along. There was one about a rabbit and field mice. She wondered if she
should take the van and go and buy a skipping rope or something. But she
also kept looking over at the door and expecting the kids, but also expecting Lance was going to not forget about what had happened and remember
about what was going to happen. Thinking Lance would come through
that door and have a plan.
Which he did! By coming in with countdown five minutes to go and
pulling on one of the Hey! Funtown T-shirts over his own sweaty one and
yelling: It's time to rock!
And pushing over Big Bill, which cracked the floorboard and chipped
him badly, and then rolling Big Bill behind the stage and taking Big Bill's
place and doing a dance move. And Lance kept yelling: It's time to rock!
Right up until the kids came in, when he began to rock in a real way. It
was a Positive Dream turned real.
Well Judy tells me it was actually the best birthday party yet. And
because the lead singer Big Bill was actually Lance, he could keep kids off
the stage with his feet. The kids were also majorly digging him. He gave
them all low-fives and they tried to dance like him. Like he was a rock star,
except one they could touch and throw things at. The kids still wrestled on
other small kids but not with punching. The Party Surprise Bags were a hit
and the mothers even got into it because, let's admit it, despite the ten or
fifteen years booze puts on your face, Lance is a quite handsome man.
Maybe even Dad material. Plus there was the food Judy made, like the
onion rings and the Nuggets. Plus Judy's skills of keeping pitchers of pop
coming, which starts out revving kids through the roof but by the end is
knocking them out and giving a wide range of stomach aches that does the
trick of sending them packing. When the light was right, it looked like the
gnomes were smiling—Chuck, Alouicious, and Monty—and Pat Benatar
even sounded good because she was coming out of Lance. It was the Best
Shot ever, the very Best Shot of all time to be Hit With as far as Judy's
concerned.
That night after the party and after everyone left, Lance did have many
drinks and did keep the music playing and tried to stay in character as Big
Bill, which was funny. And Lance did try to getjudy to dance with him on
the table and did try and get her to have swigs of things and did sit down
63 later on and tell a story about Falluja that wasn't supposed to be funny and
did get up for a final round of dancing on the table. And Lance did pass
out again on that table that hadn't been wiped yet. Right there in barbecue
sauce. But it didn't make anything bad or change how good the day and
night had been.
Judy tells me she knew she had to walk home andjudy had the feeling
that she would have liked to have stayed with Lance and got him glasses of
water and rubbed his head and whatever but instead she made sure everything was turned off inside Hey! Funtown before she left. And she made
sure Lance had a jacket over him and his Eye of the Hawk was poured out
and that he was snoring not choking. And she looked at him asleep there.
She hoped to herself that he didn't have Syndrome dreams too much
anymore. And she tells me she also thought he was the most messed up
hero she ever knew, which made her want to cry. Which she did, but only
later.
Before she left, she went over and sat in the Humvee for just a minute
with the keys in the ignition. And she imagined she was driving it down
the highway, not at night with all the other widows out there drifting from
one side of the town to the other with their possum eyes, but during the
middle of the day. She turned on the radio to hear the stereo, all four
speakers, and she leaned back and closed her eyes. The wind was tossing
her hair and she was shifting into fifth and pounding the pedal. Someone
was giving her a checkered flag. She was passing cars with other drivers in
them so fast that they all choked on an exhaust cloud and looked very sad.
Because they were slower, not because they were broken. But still, there
was something wrong. There was no one in the passenger seat. She looked
behind her and in her imagination there were three baby seats in the back,
like one each for Chuck, Alouicious, and Monty. But they were actually
empty. And then, the seats were actually not there at all. That made for a
shitty dream, so she stopped imagining. And she wanted to be happy,
because tonight had really been a happy night. So she made herself remember Lance, dancing. That made her laugh out loud. She wiped the
dust off the dash with her sleeve and took the keys out and locked the
doors. And she walked home and didn't even notice that what was lighting
up the night when she walked away was the Christmas lights on the roof of
the Main Chalet and not all the Positive Dreaming from that place.
When she got back in the morning, the Humvee was there in the parking lot. And now with Lance on top of it. He'd moved out there in the
night. And had somehow lost two shirts. He was asleep and not noticing
freaking at all what had happened. And the painted jet was there in the lot.
And the mirrors on the new Hey! Funtown sign on the cages were glim-
64 mering. And the cages themselves were fine. But there was no Chalet.
Nothing. It was burnt right down to the ground. No Party Zone. No Big
Bill. No soft-serve, no PuttPutt, no walk-in fridge, no bar, no video games,
no concession stand, no deep fryers, no nothing. Judy says to say it was a
weird thing to see. Because it was this dead thing. This hole that made a
bigger hole, in the way she might have told me she saw her life that
moment. And behind it, all you could see was all the broken Amusements
out back and the skinny trees. I'm just guessing that Judy tried closing one
eye, then the other. She maybe tried turning her back to it and then turning
around again to see if the Chalet was still not there. And she had to maybe
sit down there in the parking lot by the Humvee and under the jet that was
tilted way up in the air. Andjudy told me secredy that she has never felt
ever as strange. All her thoughts were sad but huge as anything, so they
made her throat hurt. She knew when Lance woke up it would bea holiday
and a mandatory day off. For good. And his hangover would be big-ass
and dark as his Syndrome dreams.
After a bit, Judy began picking up stones and throwing them at the
Humvee. They were pieces of gravel from the lot as big and hard as old
Nuggets. They landed on the Humvee and bounced off the crap armour.
Or they thunked off of Lance's head and didn't even wake him up. Off the
Humvee. Off the head. The Humvee, the head. Andjudy says she wondered: Are these the sounds a rock hitting what I love? Not that she knew
what that would sound like. And not like she didn't.
A while later—it could have been a minute or an hour—she walked
over to the Humvee and got on top with Lance.
This next part should be a secret the size of all Greater America. You
can't tell anyone about it, because Judy trusted me with it, and in the end
it was the best thing for everyone. It's important, especially, that no one
tells Lance. Judy told me he'll never remember.
Judy sat up on top of Lance, sort of, and he was almost ready for what
she needed, even though he was asleep. And then he was ready. She tried to
hardly move on him at all. Even though she wanted to fix his hair, she
didn't reach out and part it. When it was over, he had a peaceful look in his
eye, snoring a bit. She lay there nearly touching Lance and felt how warm
his arm was just up beside her arm.
65 Daniel Scott Tysdal
Zombies: A Catalogue of
Their Return
for vance comeau
AThe zombies arrive neither to represent the flow of capital nor to join
cyborgs and man-eating sharks on the postage stamps recently released
to commemorate only the bearable terrors projected across the last one
hundred years.
BThe zombies return. Rising up, experts suspect, against moribund
comparisons to minds stalled blandly before electronics and flickering
screens (with looks that barely aspire to the condition of the living
dead). Local shop owners anticipate the promotion of a new clothing
line. Senior citizens are thankful for a respite, however pungent, from
game shows and Reality TV.
c After recess, school children are given special assignments and
eventually join everyone from army man "A" to zealot "Z" on the now
darkening sidewalk with makeshift flags and kazoos through which to
breathe an anthem.
D Managing to navigate a world of only distances—no dawn, really, no
day or night—the zombies make their first appearance at the base of the
street. A pastor swears that the mouth of hell is overflowing while other
rumours ripple from face to face. "Nancy told me some foreigners put a
hex on us." "Don't spread lies, Sweetie." "Sorry." "They're only hungry."
E A theatre owner lights his marquee with a famous zombie aphorism,
"The web will fail before the spider," while an ol' zombie slogan
advances unevenly through the crowd: "We are the opposable thumb on
the hand of the world thrown from being into the backseat with been!"
66 F And so the zombies dance—leaving everything else to offer up music.
Their fissured gaits, the marvellous and decrepit rhythms breaking out
around their jawlines, are hooks upon which a voice is perfectly
mangled.
G Even those who showed up just to watch without pitchforks or torches,
even those not dispersed strategically with rifles and well-oiled artillery,
realize soon enough that what they have been circled by is their own
limit and so circle themselves. The festivities end with a feast.
H Rumours once abounded in select archeological societies about the
accidental destruction of a set of zombie bones. Discovered in the Arctic
around nineteen-eighty, they predated all originary inhalations. When
the ice in which they were preserved thawed, the bones dissolved in a
flourish of laughter and moths. Only the dyspepsia of a collapsed star
was believed to have been as frail.
67 Dave Hickey
Amusement Park Dragons
Pulled off the tracks,
two rows of amusement
park dragons rest
in the October grass.
For months they carried
the ohhs & ahhs
of children, the metal
bar on their backs
a prehistoric wing
holding passengers safe
in the sky: each glide
a metamorphosis of mining
carts, a precipitation
of pennies, of nickels and
dimes. A mechanic
polishes a season's worth
of sweaty prints,
each smudge of warm
evening air giving
up its leathery
grip as the moon
punches its own pass
through the dusk,
riding high above a circus
68 of lights. Before
he locks up, the mechanic
will tug them towards
a plywood cave,
and the dragons,
wheels sparking along
the pavement, will
huff out the last bit of summer
before settling
their wings to rust.
69 Airways
Which might explain why
we perched there, shirts off
in summer, looking
out at the miles-away river,
the hay loft doors swung
wide to nowhere but
down. Why we felt the need to
leap from such heights,
casting ourselves to poorly
stacked bails spread
in the yard below. Why
it was a brief flight, a denial
of parachutes, a c'mon
to the crows. Why
the fall sometimes knocked
the wind out of you,
woke some small bird
perched between your ribs,
swallowing and
coughing up stone.
70
Boys have bird-souls.
—Don McKay Franklin Fisher
The Painter
That night, he acknowledged he had been hasty and set up his easel
again under the bonneted bulb that hung from the ceiling. He looked
through the rolls of used canvases he had stripped from their stretchers until he found the one of the girl playing the guitar at one end of a blue
couch. He unrolled it on the floor and placed books at its four corners to
keep it from curling back up while he sorted through his bundles of stretchers and found four that would do. He fitted their grooves together, shimmed
them with a few wedges that had survived all the moving and dismanding,
and proceeded to restretch the canvas over its new rectangle. He stood on
the bed to do this so that the impact of his staple gun would not reverberate through the floor and cause the tenants downstairs to pound on their
ceiling with a broom handle. The canvas had a satisfying springy tautness
under his thumb when he had finished, so he stepped down and set it on his
easel and opened his paint case. He had not slept last night, and today he
had gone around bumping into things at the office, so he would paint only
for a litde while. His vision was too grainy to be reliable and he had a
thumping headache over his right eye, but he would stop soon. Many of
his tubes had hardened, he discovered, and were unsqueezable, but he
found a handful that still felt plump. The viridian emeraud was still good,
so he squeezed a goodly portion of that onto his hospital tray. The cerulean
was in excellent shape, and so was the burnt umber, though there wasn't
much of that left. He left a half-ring of dollops of different sizes along
three edges of his tray, poured turpentine into his tuna can, found a brush
that he liked among the dozen whose hairs were still pliant, and planted a
daub of pale orange in the upper left quadrant of the canvas, direcdy on
top of the haze that had been the fireplace, and only then noticed that he
had put the canvas on the easel upside down.
An hour later, there were no traces of her and he stood blinking at a
very odd thing. He had begun daubing with no clear idea to what end; he
had merely wanted to see paint moving under his hand again, a harmless
itch. He was curious and old habits died hard. Where the old surface had
been dark, he had spread light; where it had shaded into lighter hues with
high saturations, he had socked in earth colours and deep blues. On a
whim, he had taken contours as he found them and painted their opposites:
a sharp edge where he had found a furry one, a swoop where there had
71 been an angle, a solid where an absence had gaped. He had idly supposed
he was daubing out an antithesis of the painting he had rejected, but no.
What rested in front of him on his spindly easel had no visible reference to
the thing it covered.
It was a large room and vague shapes were frozen in motion at several
points in it—along the floor, which seemed to exist on two different levels,
on the walls, inches below the ceiling—and splotches of brightly-coloured
lights from no visible source floated between and among them, and occasionally caught one of the figures in broad illumination, revealing a head,
say, as two fingers, and a knuckle of a third belonging to the upside-down
guitar player he had failed to cover completely. Highlights left over from
an imperfect closure of the overcoating he had just finished seemed to
bounce off a cluster of brass instruments at the point of a dark focal node
on the upper right-hand side of the canvas, around which the spots of
lights seemed to hover in greater profusion.
It was murky and crude, but he had to admit, stepping back and squinting at it, that it had a whimsical charm to it. He would not like it in the
morning. He knew as well as anyone that a single two hundred watt bulb
with a blue shade was not an honest source of light to see by or paint by
and that his grainy eyes could be cooperative in discovering nuances that
were not there, and that his sense of sheer abandonment was at least in part
a ruse to trick himself into doing something brilliant precisely because he
did not expect to. Still, allowing for all that, he did not half mind the
outcome of his daubing. He glanced at the dark window at his back and
imagined a knot of people gathered on the street looking up at his lighted
window and seeing him at work and supposing he knew what he was doing. He had long ago gotten used to the idea that the young couple in the
apartment across the way sat on their balcony in the dark to watch what he
did. He turned the easel to face their direction while he cleaned out his
brushes and prepared for bed, and imagined their disappointment when
his window suddenly went dark before they had satisfied themselves with
the picture they were looking at.
He did not like it as well in the morning, but he had expected that. It
seemed blotchy and synthetic in the cold wash of daylight, more like an
anxiety to cover what was already there than to evolve a composition on
its own terms. The patches of swimming lights, he now saw, were wild
flailings of a man with a loaded brush in his hand and no place to put it.
The murky figures dancing in the nearly black air more clearly disclosed
themselves as hit-and-miss leftovers from the underpainting. Still, there
was a flick of yellow coming off the bell of the trombone that he rather
admired. He could remember the tactile sensation of putting it there and
feeling the crust of the underpaint feeding up the length of his hand and
wrist and forearm. And a flat green that glowed from one of the floors
72 appealed to him as well. It seemed to bind together surfaces that otherwise
were spectral and, in doing so, embodied a spatial contradiction that he
liked.
He left for the office intending not to think about it during the day, and
for the most part succeeded, but at lunch he acknowledged he had been
deceiving himself; the picture on his easel, once he'd filtered out the prankish
glitters, was of a dark leather couch with a long attenuated nude painted on
it, her torso creased where it left the back and continued across the cushions, her legs creased where they dropped to the ruffle. He went home
without saying goodnight to anyone, feeling pushy as he left the freeway
exchange, and found his own dim street. As soon as he walked in the door,
he turned his painting to the wall without looking at it. He sat and sulked
most of the evening, not much caring whether the couple next door watched
him or not, and after he went to bed he conjured a fantasy of the woman in
the next cubicle at work coming into his cubicle and curling around his
body.
A few days later, he turned the canvas on its side and brushed a heavy
blanket of grey over everything he didn't like, and found he also didn't
like the tall angular creature he had defined within the glittering debris he
had left exposed. It resembled ajerusalem cricket in cloak and mask, an
insect he had always found repellant ever since he had encountered one
sprawled on its back in his backyard as a child, waving its fleshy legs. He
scraped away some of the grey while it was still wet and, a day or two later,
saw that he had created a gaping mouth filled with bright flitting insects
and a uvula hanging deep in the background about to drop like a ripe
peach. He took the canvas back off its stretcher, rolled it up, and tied the
clothesline rope around his paint case again and stashed everything back
under his table, pleased that he had learned wisdom at last.
In the morning, he acknowledged he had been hasty.
73 Contributors
Dariush Alavi was born in England to a Polish mother and an Iranian
father. He was raised in his parents' countries as well as in Dubai. His short
story, "A Gesture of Support, "was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in 2003. He
is currently living in England where he works as a teacher. For further
information visit www.dariushalavi.com.
Tammy Armstrong is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared
in journals in Canada, the US, the UK and Europe. She currently lives in
Fredericton where she is completing a new poetry collection and a novel.
Terrance Cox is a writer of poems and nonfiction and a "general practitioner" in the Humanities at Brock University, St Catharines, Ontario. His
published collections include a "spoken word with music" CD, Local Scores
(2000); the prize-winning book, Radio & Other Miracles (2001); and a second CD, Simultaneous Translation (2005).
Jay Dolmage is currentiy a PhD student in English and Disability Studies, and he's nearly finished his dissertation. His fiction has previously
appeared in PRISM 41:2 and other places. Thanks and admiration to Jim
Dolmage, Mike Dunwoody, and Heather Stuart. He'd love to receive email:
jaydolmage@aol.com.
Halina Duraj received an MA in Creative Writing from the University of
California, Davis, and is currentiy working on a PhD in fiction at the
University of Utah.
Franklin Fisher is a musician and writer in Salt Lake City and a professor
emeritus of English at the University of Utah. He has published fiction in
a number of literary magazines including: Event, New Letters, Missouri Review, Iowa Review, Gettysburg Review, Confrontation and Alaska Quarterly Review. A story published in the Missouri Review won the William Peden
Prize. He has published one novel, BONES, and has recently completed
another. He also plays classical and jazz guitar and is the instrumental half
of a musical duo called The Cat and the Canary.
Jason Guriel's poetry has appeared in Exile, The Dalhousie Review and
Taddle Creek More poems are forthcoming in Descant, The Fiddlehead, Arc,
and The Antigonish Review. He lives in Toronto.
74 David Hickey, originally from Mermaid, PEI, now lives in Fredericton
where he keeps himself busy painting houses and building telescopes.
Sander Sarioglu is a graduate of the Alberta College of Art and Design's
Visual Communications program. Her passions include film, music, painting, painting, and more painting. She can be found at www.sanderprime.com.
K.V. Skene has appeared in numerous international publications. Only a
Dragon (2002) and A Calendar of Rain (2004) won the Shaunt Basmajian
Chapbook Award. Edith (a sequence of poems on Nurse Edith Cavell) was
recentiy published by Flarestack Publishing (UK). A long-term expat Canadian, K.V. Skene lives in Oxford, England. She has appeared in PRISM
32:2 and 34:4.
Daniel Scott Tysdal's poetry has appeared in a number of Canadian literary journals. He received honourable mention in the poetry category at
the 2003 National Magazine Awards and was a national finalist in the
CBC's 2005 NPFO. His first collection of poetry, winner of the John V
Hicks Award, is forthcoming from Coteau Books.
Tom Wayman's most recent collection is My Father's Cup (Harbour, 2002).
Other poems of his are forthcoming in Ontario Review, Event, Grain, and
The Malahat Review; a short story is also forthcoming in Grain. He has
taught widely in both alternative and mainstream post-secondary writing
programs throughout his career. Currentiy, he teaches at the University of
Calgary. Wayman's home base remains "Appledore," his estate in the southern Selkirk Mountains near Nelson, BC.
Martin West spends his spare time wandering the Alberta Badlands. He
has previously published in Grain and Filling Station and is currently finishing a novel.
Elana Wolffs poems have appeared in Event, Canadian Literature, Grain,
The New Quarterly, The Antigonish Review, and The Fiddlehead. She has published two collections of poetry with Guernica; a third, You Speak to Me in
Trees, is forthcoming.
David Zieroth's sixth book of poems is Crows Do Not Have Retirement
(Harbour, 2001). Recent poems have appeared in The Fiddlehead, The
Antigonish Review and Grain, and online in Facets and Nthposition. Harbour
will publish The Village of Sliding Timem 2006. He last appeared in PRISM
22:1.
75 Laisha Rosnau: Writer
Thesis: TheSudden Weight of snow, a novel, published by McClelland & Stewart in 2002.
A book of poetry, Notes on Leaving, was recently published by Nightwood Editions.
What's Next: a second novel set in the Yukon is in progress.
UBC's Optional-Residency MFA
Where do you want to go as a writer?
With a part-time option and a short annual residency,
students living anywhere in the world can now study with
one of North America's most respected writing programs.
• Online Studio Program
• Workshop and Mentorship Study
• Multiple Genres
• Book-Length Thesis
UBC
THE UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA  |   VANCOUVER, CANADA
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2L^#sS
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Jfe ^
The University of British Columbia offers
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B44:l
She even went and got a phone book to call a clown. None
of them were home. And then she wondered about what
those guys and ladies did when they weren't dressed up
and making jokes. They probably had serious jobs the rest
of the time. With suits. The kinds of jobs that mean you
don't have to go over there. And mean you can joke about
stuff in your free time. Probably they do banking.
"Hey! Funtown" by Jay Dolmage, Page 62
Dariush Alavi
Tammy Armstrong
Terrance Cox
Jay Dolmage
Halina Duraj
Franklin Fisher
Jason Guriel
David Hickey
K.V. Skene
Daniel Scott Tysdal
Tom Wayman
Martin West
Elana Wolff
David Zieroth
Cover Art:
Cowboy
by Sander Sarioglu
"7200b "Ab3tl

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