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 PRISM international
Spring 2002
40:3
$7.00
Contemporary Writing from Canada and around the World  PRISM international  PRISM international
Editor
Abigail Kinch
Executive Editor
Michael Kissinger
Advisory Editors
George McWhirter
Bryan Wade
Associate Editors
Shannon Cowan
Billeh Nickerson
Business Manager
Mark Mallet
Editorial Intern
Danielle Couture
Editorial Assistants
Catharine Chen
Karin Gray
Bobbi MacDonald
Erin MacDonald
Loretta Seto
Regina Yung
Production Manager
Jennifer Herbison
Editorial Board
Marita Dachsel
Joelene Heathcote
Lee Henderson
Colin Whyte PRISM international, a magazine of contemporary writing, is published
four times per 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 ©2002 PRISM international for the authors.
Cover illustration: Balloon Boy, by Mark Ryden.
One-year individual subscriptions $18.00; two-year subscriptions $27.00;
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sample copy $7.00. Canadians add 7% G.S.T.
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. Trans-
lations 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 budgetary obligations.
PRISM international purchases First North American Serial Rights for
$40.00 per page for poetry and $20.00 per page for other genres. Contributors receive a one-year subscription. PRISM international also purchases
limited digital rights for selected work, for which it pays an additional
$10.00 per page.
Our gratitude to Dean Anne Martin-Matthews and the Dean of Arts Office at
the University of British Columbia.
We gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the Canada Council
($16,500) and the Government of British Columbia through the Ministry
of Small Business, Tourism and Culture.
Publications Mail Registration No. 08867. May 2002. ISSN 0032.8790
&
BRITISH
COLUMBIA
The Canada Council I U Conscil du Aits W^^tWT    ARTS COUNCIL
for the Am   |  du Canada Supported by the Province of Britiiih Columbia Contents
Volume 40, Number 3
Spring 2002
Drama
Kevin Kerr
from Unity (1918) / 44
Fiction
Matthew Vollmer
The Last Blog / 7
Amanda Ngozi Adichie
The American Embassy / 22
David Galef
The Perfect Couple / 30
Poetry
Nancy Mattson
Girl Baby / 17
Virgil Suarez
Gestures My Parents' Friends Made Famous After the Revolution / 18
Don Malo Catches a Red-Throated Sparrow / 20
Tim Lander
How They Made a Man of Me / 39
Contributors /ee want to squish his cheeks-knew it especiaUy the tall gaunt one with the
noodley hair, soul patch, and Dead Kennedys T-shirt who, somehow, woke
up in my bed this morning. Of course, this wasn't the first time Lydia
Laverne Mason had gotten wasted and woken up with a boy in her bed-
and though I write as if I didn't know how it happened, I know exactly how
it happened: I asked DJ FUck, age 21 and a half, to come home with me. So
I wake up this morning, nuzzle cute-boy-in-my-bed (yay!) for a few minutes, slip out of bed, and make coffee-using the scrumptious beans Mom
sent from her trip to Costa Rica with Beth from her Yoga class (go Mom!),
and which I save for the days when I wake up with a boy in my bed. I grab
a mix tape ("all Latin, aU the time" is scrawled on the sleeve, and the tape
cover displays the decomposing magnificence of some anonymous Cuban
cathedral), a homemade gift from my friend Sam down at the Fireside
Bowl. I shove tape into stereo, crank volume to nine. I do this so Sleeping
Boy wiU wake up and wonder where the heU he is and stumble into the
bathroom where I'm curling my hair in the one black Victoria's Secret bra
I own and my new black J. Crew boot cut cords (which I would later
discard for current skirt). Even though we don't know each other yet, DJ
Flick will puU down his Fruit of the Loom briefs—which I respect because
it totally balls in this day and age of boxer briefs to even attempt a tight-ey
whitey renaissance—raise the seat on my toilet arid pee, which, as always,
wiU make me giggle. He'U pretend he doesn't know why I'm giggling, as,
unseen by him, a few stray drops splatter the seat. "Wipe up!" I'U command, laughing, and he wiU, pseudo-subserviently. He'U hug me from
behind, which I love, and we'U enjoy a quick romp on the sink. Afterwards, I'U whip up an omelet and after scarfing it he'U depart, leaving
something behind, like a hat, or a guitar pick, or a ticket stub on which
he'd scribbled a phone number, and I'll place it in the box where I keep
Things That Have Been Left Behind, thinking someday I'm going to do
something with aU this stuff, but whatever I do wfll have to be ultra-
fucking-cool, so it may be a while, or maybe never—maybe I'll end up old
and stinky with a box of junk left by half-strangers in my apartment on my
lap, muttering to myself: I could have done something with my life.
Sounds like a plan. However, Sleeping Boy does not wake up. Sleeping
boy drools on Lydia's pfllow as Lydia's kitties purr against him, curling up
in the crooks of his body, tails swishing happfly. Sleeping Boy—and kit-
ties-apparently need rest so I snap a photograph (the kitties are so sweet!),
eat a low-fat blueberry muffin at the kitchen counter, down coffee, pop an
emergency Darvocet (another gift from my dear Mother, who, as a generous physician, knows I sometimes have hangovers, and that hangovers, for
a working girl, must be quickly obUterated).
On my way out, I scribble a note: "Cereal above fridge. Lock up please!
XOXO."
8 The Encounter
So Fm at the California stop on the EL minding my own business, watching the bright cold world slip by through fingerprinted glass, and this
gorgeous man comes aboard, the kind you see a thousand times a year,
with his silver coffee thermos, black messenger bag and tubed newspaper,
the kind of gorgeous man you immediately forget because even though
he's strikingly beautiful and fastidiously groomed, with hair oil and aftershave and freshly pressed clothes and trimmed fingernails, he's impossible
to distinguish from the other fastidiously groomed gorgeous men who
never look at anything besides newspapers or watches, which makes you
think that their world—swarming with deadlines and quotas and secretaries—is somehow impenetrable, unless, of course, you are uber-sexy-cool or
can divulge information that will help them meet said deadline or quota.
Tm. not afraid to say that I fell into the previous category-=-though, as most
readers are aware, I do not always believe I belong in this category, since
I'm usually pressed for time, or don't care, and end up exiting my apartment ruffled and/or smeared and/or sleep-swollen, I-had-too-much-to-drink-
last-night eye-bags. On the train, I usually read my New Yorker, scrolled
into a tube, as my hair tumbles down around, thus concealing my face, to
which I will not apply makeup until I reach die ladies' room at Ovum.
But today, thank Goddess, because I have pre-groomed, I catch Suit
Guy glancing. And, dammit it feels good. It feels probably better than it
usually would, partly because last night I got laid, and partly because I
then woke up and successfully made myself look prettier-than-usual, and
now I have just had my coffee and a Darvocet and my head is tingling.
Even so, Fm a Uttle concerned about what to do with Suit Guy, who is now
smiling at me, so I pull out my cell, dial a number, and begin a conversation: with myself. Is he still looking at me? Yes. What should I do? You
should make him want you. How do I do that? Ignore him. Clicking the cell
closed, I check my watch—only to notice that it's not there.
Ten minutes later—or something like that—Ms. Lydia disembarks at
Michigan Ave., and tries not to look back to see if Suit Guy is following,
but she can't help it she takes a peek, only to discover that lo and behold,
suit guy also rises, runs a hand through his hair, and follows. Aww yeah,
Lydia thinks, but—playing hard to get now-pretends she doesn't notice, that
she could really give a shit about Suit Guy, that this kind of thing happens
every day, and not only could she not be more used to it but it's becoming
a Utile annoying. Of course, this kind of thing does not happen everyday,
and Lydia, revelling in the attention, gets an idea. If he's foUowing her-
and she has no concrete evidence that he is, not yet—how far would he go?
She smiles, and when she passes her building-the ugly one not the one
with the fabulous clock and spirals to the left or the Frank Lloyd Wright
one on the right—she keeps on movin'. Reminiscence
Okay, flashback time: those of you who've been reading this blog for the
past year and a half can skip onto the next paragraph-but ya'll new people,
step thisaway for sum background info, most of which concerns one Thorsten
Jennings Paulsen, another tall, gaunt blonde-haired boy who was, at one
time-or so I supposed-*A« one. We met on a return flight from one of the
Ovum Winter Retreats in Aspen, where (and I have to say this) I actually
bought Susan Sontag a drink—a voda tonic with lemon-and we discussed
(seriously!) the fine pleasures of downhill skiing. I was feeling good on the
plane that day, too, thanks to the two Southern Comfort and Cokes I'd
downed before liftoff. Damned if Mr. Paulsen (as I now refer to him) wasn't
jaw-dropping fine, and damned if we hadn't gone to high school in the
same town, roller skated at the same rink, even bought Pixie Stix at the
same shitty mini-mart After another drink (Mr. Paulsen was having scotch,
neat— cool), Mr. Paulsen and I were practically snuggling. Two nights later,
he was in my bed. After a month, we were already strategizing: we could
be that very hip, very young, famous couple at your local liberal arts
university: writing novels, teaching workshops, shaking up the fuddy-duddy
Lit geezers by granting dramatic readings of Hunter S. Thompson and
Anai's Nin in the undergrad lounge, throwing mini-raves in our backyard,
showing up to class a Uttle drunk or stoned, flirting with our students but
no matter what—staying true to one another. However, just six months ago,
Mr. Paulsen telephoned to say he needed time to himself, time alone to
think and write, because if he didn't his work would perish. I was, and
probably still am—in the centre of what counts as me—completely devastated. I'd promised to love him forever, and now, even though I wanted to
hate him, I couldn't. After all, Mr. Paulsen's the reason I have my kitties
(he rescued them from behind a Laundromat), the reason that I love East-
em European folk music, and, perhaps most importantly, the reason I
didn't abandon "Anti-Belle," my memoir about growing up wealthy and
Southern, two parts Baptist and one part pagan, with two ex-hippie physician parents who, in their spare time, garden and drive Miatas, and whose
clean, mannered, logical, and gourmet sensibilities drove me to drugs, sex,
and rock 'n' roll. Mr. Paulsen and I promised we'd always be friends, and
on a couple of occasions discussed working things out—after we'd got trashed
and accidentally slept together. But that was before his novel, "How the
Living Die" was accepted by AutoHorse Press. (Auto-Horse! Even now I
seethe.) In an instant, he was a small time Lit-celebrity, with eveiything I'd
ever dreamed about having: the swanky cocktail parties, the book tour,
and, most importandy, the hardback with raised print and a collage of old-
school tombstones. I tell people it's not all bad: I make an appearance in
the novel-disguised as a self-indulgent indie-rock queen, I'm the bitch
who breaks his heart. A few weeks after the book release, I saw him at
10 Gino's, feeding artichoke pizza to his agent/fuck-toy Samantha Richards, a
girl with whom I'd attended the Art Institute. I exited stage left ran home,
cried through two boxes of Puffs Plus, and ripped up and crushed an
armload of photos into a maroon Saucony shoebox, which, someday I wiU
Ught aflame and set sail on Lake Michigan, saluting the homemade sloop
as it sinks.
Continuation
Okay, that way-too-long-digression-meant-to-contextuaUze-the-significance-
of-the-present is now over, so flash forward Back to the Suit Guy, still
foUowing me, 15 paces behind.
I walk quickly, more gracefuUy than I know how, and realize my newfound confidence must have something to do with the boy from last night—
yeah, girl, you still got the goods, stop yo whinin'! My blood's pumpin'. I'm
Ughtheaded. I'm walking the street like a runway. I'm tempted by the
thought of an OJ and an egg sammy at Au Bon Pain but then I think, no,
what I need right now is a drink, and I want Suit Guy to join me. I keep on
walking. You would think a Regular Suit Guy Who's Used to Getting What
He Wants would've yeUed something by now, or have sped it up a Uttle,
but no, this guy's taking it slow. Maybe he's followed women before. Maybe
he has his own time-tested methods. Maybe he's not reaUy a man in a suit
going to work but a man in a suit going to work on his next victim. Okay, so
that gives me a chill, but then I think, this is broad dayUght in downtown
Chi-town, my town, and if that's his plan, I'U give him a goddam run for
his money.
Allure
At Mortimer's Saloon, I order a screwdriver. Suit Guy enters, sits down
beside me on a duct-taped barstool. "You're quite a walker," he says. His
voice is deep and a Uttle worn, and I love it already.
"Excuse me?"
"I mean I was watching you walk and you do it reaUy weU."
"I practice a lot," I say, doodling with my finger on the condensation of
my glass.
"Do I know you?"
I tilt my head. "Come on now, you can do better than that."
"Sorry. I really thought you looked familiar."
"Lydia? Lydia Mason?"
Suit Guy frowns, then shrugs. He can't come up with anything. "I'm
Dave," he says. Dave. Of course Suit Guy's named Dave.
I bet you're thinking, great Dave's pretty, but he's aU about some mutual funds and third quarter earnings. He owns an apartment with high
ceilings and wood floors and a view of the city, but it's totaUy sterile:
11 sUppery leather recliners and slim televisions, and rocks out to Hootie,
Puff Daddy or, when he's feeling romantic, CeUne.
ThankfuUy, this is not your average Dave. He's-I kid you not-Dave
Wenigv/ho, as many of you know, plays bass in The Slaves-the exact same
Dave Wenig who I'd interviewed for Smack magazine two years ago. I
totaUy did not recognize him.
"I cut my haii," he says. "And I might've had a goatee before."
"What are you doing in that suit?" I ask, fingering the lapel.
"Temping," he says.
"Holy shit."
"Yeah," he says. "It sucks."
"You clean up nice," I say. Get this: he blushes. I want to tousle his hair
but he's obviously spent some time arranging it—making it look very styled
from far away and a tad messy from close up. I'U have to save tousling for
later. You can't do eveiything on a first date.
Vocation
On the way back to work, three annoying things happen: a piece of trash—
a cheeseburger wrapper—blows into my face, a fat guy with socks on his
hands jogs past me and farts, and a woman in ajeep Cherokee flips me off
when, because I have the right of way, I try to cross Michigan Avenue. But I
don't care. I'm buzzed from the screwdriver and Dave and I have a date for
vaniUa cokes and garden burgers tonight at Ray's Diner, a perfect spot
since he—like me—Uves not so far from Wicker Park.
When I come to my building, The Torso on a Skateboard Guy, sporting
his parka like a failed flotation device, is out front and for once I don't
resent the sight of his grimy teeth-I smile back at him. Sometimes I flip
him a quarter or two, but today I reach into my jacket pocket and toss him
everything—ticket stubs, coins, a few crinkled up bucks, half-crushed Altoids,
and a free coupon for a Mocha Shake at Rachel's Non-Dairy Cafe, which is
a stupid thing to give away because those shakes fucking rock and the
Torso on a Skateboard Guy is most likely not going to scoot all the way
into Wicker Park to slurp down a non-dairy low fat mocha shake. But it
doesn't matter. I'm feeling generous, and because generosity is not often
my forte, it needs exploiting.
In the Ovum offices, I get wo work done. There's not much to do except
piddle with a new draft of my interview with Sadie Jones, who, during our
interview, wore crimson lipstick and a black dress like a sUp and who, I
swear to God, in between questions, was hitting on me: asking to look at
my rings, stroking my hand with her thumb, and smeUing my hair (she
loves Aveda conditioner). Sadie Jones (for those of you not in the know),
just pubUshed what's sure to be the Book of the Year for About a MilUon
People-a book for which I wrote descriptions you'U read in magazine
12 advertisements across Our Fair Land. Our New Yorker dA (Fve been published there!) reads, "In My Father the Devil Ms. Jones recounts, with pinpoint accuracy, the sensual and devastating details of life with an alcoholic
father. A sexually ambiguous romp through South Texas slums, pools,
bars, and hotel rooms, this story will reach through your life-sludge and
squeeze your heart till it bleeds." Not my best—but it works.
By the time I make my daily list (pick up a Tribune and Spirits, clean up
after DJ boy-vtho you know did not clean up his breakfast bowls before he
fled—shower, shave legs), and after I cut and paste some text in the Jones
interview, fiddle with the font (I setde on Helvetica), and check Hotmail,
it's lunchtime. Although I should go down to the Atrium to snag one of
those fly Thai salads that Richie Valens (dude has the LaBamba look down
to a T) fits so beautifully into a transparent plastic cube (aesthetically
pleasing AND mobile), I don't Instead, I crush up and snort three Ritalin
(sorry, Mom, if you're reading this, I know you're against me snorting my
p harms), which, of course, has me jonesing for a smoke—American Spirits,
yellow soft pack—when Shiela, my boss yells, "Lydia come quick!"
"Where are you?" I ask, peeking over my cube.
"The breakroom!"
Breakroom Horror
In the breakroom, on the little Magnavox from 1987,1 immediately recognize the scene: it's a building from my neighbourhood—in flames.
Terror strikes again, though it's not terror in the biggest city in the
world, nor is it terror from the Middle East—the kind of premeditated
terror that originates from a serene (and flat-out handsome) turbaned man
with a long beard. It's accidental and random terror—an Act of God in my
own fucking neighbourhood. It's terror right across the street Apparendy,
the news lady says, a furnace exploded. Miraculously, no one was killed,
though a few sustained minor injury. There's footage of a Hispanic lady—
who I recognize—with a towel around her head, and axe-wielding firefighters trudging through knee-high black ash. Glass shimmers like chunks of
broken crystal on the street I wonder if other buildings were damaged and
I pray—yes, I actually whisper something that resembles a prayer—that Sleeping DJ Boy escaped without harm. As I stare at the screen, into the soggy,
charred orifice into which firemen shoot streams of bright white water, I
remember the events of9/!1, and I imagine what would happen if something
terrible—something unspeakable—happened to me. I imagine the furnace in
my building—the very tiling designed to keep us warm and cozy and protected—exploding. I imagine flames licking away my treasures: my record
collection (Lou Reed! Ray Davies! Ryan Adams! Emmylou Harris! Astrud
Gilberto! RUN! Save yourselves!), my books (with significant marginalia,
of White Noise, High Fidelity, and The Liar's Club), the photographs of the
13 Lone Star Rodeo in Cody, Wyoming and the Andrews, NC Little Miss
Beautiful beauty contest, both of which I have been meaning to submit to
about five documentary contests. I remember the portraits of aU my friends
I've done over the years-Leo, the dishwasher from the Anteater, in his van
with SaUy, his boa, curled around his neck; the time-elapsed photo of
Stuart, wet hair dangling in his face, painting orange swirls with a cigarette; the scrapbook I fashioned of a trip to Quebec with Ethan. I imagine
the aforementioned flames scorching my kitties. What Uttle of breakfast I
ate is planning a comeback.
Reflection
I've done absolutely nothing, I realize, to safeguard my life. Meanwhile,
the chaos keeps creeping closer. The gende finger of chaos has touched
down more than once in my general vicinity. There was that accident—
from which I was about three inches away-with the Mexican family's
Odyssey crumpling into the Econoline, a bald (and very lucky) chubster
unconscious and bleeding upon his deployed airbag; then, a coupla days
later, the homeless man who threw himself in front of the El, upon which
I was riding (I distinctly remember feeling something—a Uttle jolt—and
wondered what the hell was that?); and, finally, the crack lady with the knife
who threatened, from the other side of the parking lot of Supermercado, to
cut me up if I didn't relinquish the gloves on my hands, which she claimed
were hers.
Sheila places a hand on my shoulder. "Lydia, if you need to take die rest
of the afternoon off..."
"That's okay," I say, returning to my cube. But then, as I rip off hangnails with my teeth, I decide I can't work, and sUp away.
Redemption/Accident
When I get back to my neighbourhood, there're stiU police cars and fire
trucks aplenty (plus a WXYZ News Van), yeUow CAUTION tape like a
fluttering party ribbon, and lumpy officers shouting directives, whispering
surreptitiously into walkie-talkies. Tendrils of black smoke escape the windows of the building, and the wind has trash to lift up to the trees. I slosh
through ankle-deep puddles of refuse and water (I'm glad for my boots),
towards the shore of my building. The whole way there, I'm thinking photo
op. I could shoot up at least 16 roUs of film right now, I think, and turn to
run up the stairs. But then, on the third step, I find something that melts
my heart: a baby shoe. A tiny teeny little baby shoe: white Adidas, with
only a few scuffs. Where, I wonder, did it come from? PropeUed by the
explosion, did it fly across the street and land here, like a puzzling gift for
someone (like me) to discover? Did it faU from the sky? Did someone
drop it? Or had it been discarded by the fussy baby her/his-self? I imagine
14 a baby somewhere in the world with only one shoe, then I imagine all the
babies in the world with no shoes. My nose starts running. I pick up the
shoe. So Ught. So tiny. I was once that tiny, I think. The firemen, the lumpy
poUcemen, ripe as sausages, the skinny black dude with the backwards
Cubs cap: they all used to be this tiny. I realize I have been blessed with
something profound—a rarity, as you all know: in the face of destruction,
of our eventual demise and annihilation, are we not ALL tiny? Yes. We are.
For a second, I want a tiny thing of my own to hold and protect and buy
tiny shoes for. For a moment I realize that there is a chance, a very tiny
chance, that I might have something, right now, inside me, and that maybe
I should save the shoe—so I sUp it into my coat pocket
Reverie
Inside, the Sleeping Boy is still sleeping. I can't beUeve it. There is no
breakfast mess, no evidence that he's even gotten out of bed—the bedroom's aU tomb dark and stale air—and I shiver and think: maybe something
inside him has gone wrong. Something silent and simple has happened, and
he'll never wake again. But then I touch his arm, and he flinches, and he
looks so cute there with all his bedhair and his scruffiness and the pillow-
marks on his cheek, and because I can't resist I join him. Lying there, my
body shudders gratefuUy. I cradle the baby shoe against me. I put my nose
in the tiny hole. The smeU—a trace of baby feet—makes me want to dash to
my computer and fill screen upon screen with words. I make a decision:
not only will I document every moment of this day, afterwards, if successful, I'll retire from Blog Kingdom. I need to move on. I need to finish
"Anti-BeUe". I need to get my shit together, and though it's been fun, you
can't exacdy blog your way to the top. I scoot closer to the Sleeping Boy,
because I know that in a few minutes he'll probably wake up and say
something like shit, what time is it? I can't believe I slept all day, I had tiu
weirdest dreams, and I gotta bolt. I won't try to stop him, either. I'U watch
him put on his clothes, and bid him fareweU.
But now, I press my nose against a slightly sweaty, Sleeping-Boy-neck,
and wonder, as I inhale, what he'U leave behind, though I reaUy don't care,
because in a Uttle while, I'U be sipping a vanilla coke and staring into the
green eyes of one of the The Slaves, and we'U eat our garden burgers with
feta and sun-dried tomato spread on a whole wheat bun, talking, in between bites, about the weather, movies and music, then the furnace, the
fire, and the closeness of today's devastation. As we talk, it'll seem like, at
least for a moment everything will be okay. But you guys know me. Just
when I think everything is fine, something happens, and I'm drowning in
the sludge of aU the bad decisions I've ever made. Even sludge has its
merits, though-hey, if it's material, it's material-and if I can keep resurfacing, just enough to breathe, I expect to survive.
15 In fact let me leave you with a directive. In a few months, or a year (if
you haven't forgotten me by then), do a search for my name on the Internet
Search Engine of Your Choice (I'd Google myself). If you get a slew of hits
with my name, please foUow the links: surely one wiU lead to a hardback
of "Anti-BeUe," with the option of adding it to your shopping cart. If aU
that you get when you enter my name is this archived blog, write me an
email. Say something like: "Dear Lydia, what the heU are you waiting for?
Get going, girl! There are people—fans even!—who are hungry for good
words. You know that you got what it takes. You know you do. So get the
lead out keep it real, and write, dammit."
Rock on, aU ye that are hungry. Rock on.
16 Nancy Mattson
Girl Baby
Babies should not be born in corridors,
but a teenage girl in labour can endure,
in 1964, whatever uniforms dictate:
a different set of rubber fingers
up her public rectum every quarter-hour,
measuring dilation. Numbers announced
in loud centimetres to every passer-by.
Let the patient hide behind eyelids.
When she reaches eight she gets a labour room.
Awkward as a calf, a student nurse
sUps in—they were schoolchums once,
but in this place no one teUs you how.
The girl asks the girl to hold her hand.
Contraction is one word they know,
when a strong one comes they forget
to breathe, aU they can do is grip.
Wheel her into deUvery, it's time:
lights, action, doctor, stirrups, noise.
Pain, colours, something something pain
something music, yes, and someone prayed—
Ught was voice was God was saying
let them both survive. A girl baby,
aU dark hair, settled on my chest.
For seven days a further blur of fevers,
fluids, stoppages, indignities;
one nurse had a beak and claws.
But the doctor was attentive,
the Grey Nuns gende and French.
Hail Mary, full of grace, bonjour.
17 Virgil Sudrez
Gestures My Parents5 Friends
Made Famous After the
Revolution
Walking into the room, half asleep, where my parents
received late night visitors, and seeing the men smile
as though a spotlight had been aimed into their eyes.
Or some women passed a finger over their painted lips,
in zipper fashion, to signal an appropriate pause
to the conversation. For a child this all seemed weird,
out of order, as if each of these adults had learned mime,
each becoming almost as gifted as Marcel Marceau,
the famous French mime fallen silent and still forever.
The flutter of hands in animated conversation spoke soft,
hushed as if the secret police were about to storm the room
at any second. Fve always been attracted to silence myself,
how the body finds form in non-speech, moving limbs
slowly, maybe a nervous tic or two. My father, expert,
at eye language, always let my mother know his moods
18 with a mere glance, a black rusty nail driven through old
wood, splintering on its way. This, I reaUzed years later,
is the language of paranoids, of men and women dragged
from their beds in the middle of the night by forces greater
than their plotting. To say: "you have the wrong person,"
makes no difference. To say: "lam innocent." Helps little.
We gathered in candle-Ut rooms in Havana blackouts to plot
our escape, one hand crossing the map of our exiting, another
touching the soft back of a woman's hand, warm, as still
as a frightened hurt squirrel about to get run over by a car.
One body moving toward another in the dark. I learned
to approach all my lovers this way, with a Bengal tiger's stealth.
Walking into a dark room, a man, a woman, a language
of the lost about to be spoken by their bodies. Touching
as they go, seeing with our fingertips, the way the dying must.
19 Don Malo Catches a Red
Throated Sparrow
After the revolution he stopped saying the word "rojo."
Red, and the idea of such a luscious colour returned
every night like a silken sheet and covered his face, body,
this crimson tide that made his breath hot Some nights
when he couldn't sleep, he lay awake and stared out
his room window at the moon. He remembered how
his mother told him he'd been born under a shadow
of red moon. That he'd always have an affliction
to this colour, and now, in his ripe old age, he weeps
when he thinks of the colour when he cuts himself slicing
yucca to deep fry big chunks of.it for lunch. These days
a red-throated sparrow has been visiting him in the patio,
mi mensajero del amor, as he calls the bird. What brings
you to me?He thinks. From the first day he spotted
the bird he's been thinking of catching him and caging
him in the bamboo cage where he'd once kept a tomeguin.
Keep it caged and maybe it'd sing when the moon turned
red, or perhaps it'd bring him back the memories of loves
20 he shared with a couple of women years ago, then faded.
But the bird refuses to be caught or fooled by ground
corn bits on the floor under the cardboard box propped
up with a twig and string he could pull when the bird
hopped underneath it. But the hours go, and he likes it
like this, the way a man wiU sit and wait for love to return.
No more chasing red dreams, he wonders. No mas amores,
saying aqui, aqui, aqui. He placed milk-sopped bread
in the cage, and the bird found a way in, but when he'd
come close, the bird would fly out cut across the expanse
of yard like a drop of blood and perch on the clothesline.
A breeze ruffled its feathers. Mr. Malo's heart raced there
too. The only way to possess such a creature was to shoot
it and hold it in his hands, but he didn't want to do it like
this. Besides, this much he knew: he was an old man,
and love might never come back, and this was fine with him.
At night he'd dream of a red sea in which aU things drowned.
The red-throated sparrow sang to him to plunge in after it.
21 Amanda NgoziAdichie
The American Embassy
She stood in Une outside the American embassy in Lagos, staring
straight ahead, unfolding her arms only to wipe an occasional tear
before it crawled down her cheek. She was the 48th person in the
line of about 200 that traded from the closed gates of the American embassy aU the way past the smaller vine-encrusted gates of the Czech embassy. She did not notice the newspaper vendors who blew whistles in her
ear and pushed The Guardian, The New Nigeria, and The Vanguard in her
face at the same time. Or the beggars that held out enamel plates, or the
ice cream bicycles that honked. When the man standing behind her tapped
her on the back and asked, "Do you have change, abeg, two tens for twenty
naira?" she started. She stared at him for a while, to focus, to remember
where she was, before she shook her head and said, "No."
The air around her hung heavy with moist heat and buzzing flies and
anxiety. It weighed on her head, made it difficult to keep her mind blank.
To keep her mind as blank as possible was the only way to keep her sanity,
Doctor Balogun had said yesterday. He had refused to give her any more
tranquilizers because she needed to be alert for the visa interview. To keep
her mind blank was easy enough to say, as though it were in her power, as
though she invited those images of Nnamdi's plump body crumpling before her, the splash on his chest so red she wanted to laugh and tell him not
to play with the palm ofl in the kitchen. Not that he could even reach up to
the shelf where she kept oils and spices, not that he could unscrew the cap
on the plastic bottle of palm oil. He was only three years old.
The man behind her tapped her again. She jerked around and nearly
screamed from the sharp pain that ran down her back. Twisted muscle,
Doctor Balogun had said, his face awed that she had sustained nothing
serious after jumping down from the balcony.
"See what that yeye soldier is doing there," the man behind her said,
pointing.
She turned to look across the street moving her neck slowly. A soldier
was flogging a bespectacled man with a long whip that curled in the air
before it landed on the man's body. A smaU crowd had gathered. The whip
landed on the man's face, or his neck-she wasn't sure because the man was
raising his hands as if to ward off the whip. She saw his glasses sUp off and
faU. She saw the angry heel of the soldier's boot squash the plastic frames,
22 the tinted lenses.
"These soldiers think they are Fulani nomads and people here are their
muturu cattle," the man behind her said.
He was wondering what was wrong with her, she knew, why she did not
talk to anybody in Une, why she let the flies perch on her hair without
swiping at them, why her arms were so resolutely folded. Everybody in the
visa Une had become familiar from sharing the same unpleasant experience. They had aU woken up close to midnight—for those who had slept at
aU—to get to the American embassy early enough to join the struggle to
get in the visa Une. They had all dodged the soldiers' swinging whips as
they were herded back and forth like wayward cattle before the Une was
finally formed. They were all afraid that the American embassy might
decide not to open its gates today, and they would have to do it aU over
again the day after tomorrow, because the embassy did not open on Wednesdays.
"Look at his face sef the whip cut his face," the man behind her said.
She did not look because she knew the blood would be bright red, like
fresh palm ofl. Instead she looked up Eleke Crescent—a winding street
much like other streets in the posh Victoria Island section of Lagos, lined
by embassies with lush lawns-at the crowds of people. A breathing sidewalk.
A market reaUy, that sprung up during embassy hours and disappeared
when the embassy closed.
There was the chair rental outfit where the stacks of white plastic chairs—
100 naira for an hour—decreased fast There were the wooden boards propped
on cement blocks, colourfuUy displaying sweets and mangoes and oranges.
There were the young people who cushioned cigarette-fiUed trays on their
heads with roUs of cloth. There were the blind beggars and their chUdren,
alternating praise chants in EngUsh, Yoruba, Arabic, Igbo, Hausa, when
somebody put money in their plates.
And there was, of course, the makeshift photo studio. A taU man standing beside a tripod, holding up a chalk-written sign that read Excellent One
Hour Photos, Correct American Visa Specifications. She'd had her passport photo
taken there, sitting on a rickety stool, and she hadn't been surprised that it
came out grainy, with her face much Ughter-skinned. But then, she'd had
no choice, she couldn't have taken the photo earUer.
Yesterday, she buried her chUd in Bcoyi cemetery and spent the day
surrounded by friends she did not remember now. The day before, she
drove her husband in the boot of their Peugeot 504 station wagon to the
home of his friend who smuggled him out of the country. And the day
before that she didn't need to take a passport photo. Her life was normal,
and she drove back from her elementary school teacher job singing along
with Majek Fashek on the radio. If one of those fortune teUers who tapped
on car windows in Lagos traffic to hawk a future-teUing for 10 naira told
23 her she would have to run away to America in two days, she would have
laughed. Perhaps even paid the fortune teUer 10 naira extra for a wild
imagination.
"See how the people are pleading with the soldier," the man behind her
said. "Our people have become too used to pleading with soldiers."
She wished he would shut up. It was his talking that made it even harder
to keep her mind blank, free of Nnamdi. She looked across the street
again: the soldier was walking away now, and even from this distance she
could see the superior glower on his face. The glower of a grown man who
could flog another grown man if he wanted to. Was she imagining it or was
it the same glower one of the men had had two nights ago when they'd
broken the back door open and barged in?
Where is your husband? Where is he? They tore open the wardrobes in the
two rooms, even the drawers—she wished she had told them that her husband was over six feet taU, that he could not possibly hide in a drawer.
Three men in black trousers. They smeUed of alcohol and pepper soup,
and much later, as she held Nnamdi's still body, she knew that she would
never eat pepper soup again.
Where has your husband gone? Where?They pressed the gun to her head,
and she said, "I don't know, he just left yesterday," standing stiU even
though the warm urine trickled down her legs.
One of them, the one with the green beret who smeUed the most like
alcohol, had eyes that blazed red. He shouted the most kicked at the TV
set shred some papers on the table—tests she had been correcting. You know
about the story your husband wrote? You know he is a liar? You know people like
him should be in jail because they cause trouble, because they don't want Nigeria
to move forward?
He sat down on the sofa, where her husband sat to watch the night news,
and pulled her atop him, grabbed her left breast. Fine Woman, why you
marry a trouble maker?She felt his sickening hardness, smelt the fermentation on his breath and held her breath to keep the vomit back.
Leave her alone, the other one said. The one with the white mole on his
chin Uke a fruit seed. Let's go.
She got up from the sofa and the man in the green beret, stiU seated,
slapped her buttocks. Nnamdi started to cry, to run to her. The man was
laughing, saying how soft her breast was, waving his gun. Nnamdi was
screaming now, he never screamed when he cried, he was not that kind of
chUd. Then the gun went off and the palm ofl splash appeared on Nnamdi's
chest.
"See oranges here," the man in line behind her said, offering her a plastic
bag of six peeled oranges. She had not noticed him buy them.
24 She shook her head. "Thank you."
"Take one. I noticed that you have not eaten anything since morning."
She looked at his face then, for the first time. A complexion the colour
of roasted groundnuts, too smooth for a man. He sounded educated, even
though he laced his speech with Pidgin EngUsh. PoUte of him, because
Pidgin EngUsh was the leveler-it was what both people who had not gone
to school and people who were scholars could understand.
"No, thank you," she said. She shook her head again. The pain was stiU
there, somewhere between her eyes. It was as if jumping from the balcony
had dislodged something inside her head so that it now rattled painfuUy.
Jumping had not been her only choice, she knew, she could have climbed
onto the mango tree whose branch reached across the balcony, she could
have dashed down the stairs.
The men had been arguing so loudly that they blocked out reaUty, and
she'd beUeved for a moment that maybe the popping sound had not been
the man's gun, maybe it had been the kind of sneaky thunder that came at
die beginning of Harmattan, maybe the red splash reaUy was palm oil, and
Nnamdi had gotten in to it somehow.
Then their words pulled her back, as she stood, frozen. It was an accident
What do you mean ? You think she will tell people it was an accident ? Is this what
Oga asked us to do? A small child! We will have to take out the mother. No. Yes.
She will tell all but if we take her, nobody to teU. No. Yes.
She dashed towards the balcony then, tore through the mosquito netting and was out the door she had left open because of the steamy evening
air. Later, after she heard the roar of the Jeep driving away, she went
upstairs smelling of the rotten plantains in the dustbin where she had
crawled in. She held Nnamdi's body, placed her cheek to his quiet chest.
And realized that she had never felt so ashamed. She had faded him.
"You are anxious about the visa interview, abi?"the man behind her asked.
She shrugged, gentiy, so as not to hurt her shoulders, and forced a
vacant smile.
"I am anxious too, but just make sure to look the interviewer in the eye
as you answer the questions. Even if you make a mistake, don't correct
yourself, they wiU assume you are lying, sho. I have many friends they
have refused, for small-smaU reason."
She looked away from the man, from his earnest eyes, from his words-
which were intended to be helpful, but which consumed her with a fierce
anger. He sounded like the voices that had been around her: people who
had helped with Nnamdi's funeral, who had brought her to the embassy,
who had helped with her husband's escape. The famiUar voices of people
she could no longer remember.
Look the visa person in the eye, the voices had said. Don't falter, tell
25 diem all about Nnamdi, what he was like, but don't overdo it because
everyday people Ue to them to get asylum visas, about dead relatives that
were never even born. Make Nnamdi real. Cry. It was as though they were
teUing her the rules for talking to God.
"They don't give our people immigrant visas any more, unless the
person is rich by American standards. But I hear people from European
countries have no problems getting visas. Are you applying for an immigrant visa or a visitors?" the man asked.
"Asylum." She did not look at his face. Rather, she felt his surprise.
"Asylum? That will be hard to prove."
She wondered if he read The New Nigeria, if he knew about her husband.
Everyone supportive of the pro-democracy press knew about her husband,
knew hbw daring he was, how he had written that story almost four years
ago about the people who pushed cocaine for the Head of State. Soldiers
had carted away the entire print run of that edition in a black truck. But
still photocopies got out somehow and circulated throughout Lagos, ended
up pasted on the walls of bridges next to posters announcing church crusades and just-released movies.
The soldiers had detained her husband for a week, had broken the skin
on his forehead with the end of a gun and even now he had the scar, the
shape of an L. She had been pregnant then, and he was so scared she would
lose the baby from worry that he stopped writing for the paper and accepted a temporary lecturer position at the University of Lagos until Nnamdi
was born. She didn't worry too much during that period though, even
when the Democratic CoaUtion secretary—an acquaintance of her husband's—
was shot dead in his car. There was something invincible about her husband, about his square shoulders and cynical eyes and laughing mouth.
And even with this last story, that listed 45 names of people lulled on
the orders of the Head of State, she had not worried that much either.
Maybe they would close the paper down. Maybe they would lock him up
for a few days. But it would aU blow over. It was not as though Nigerians
did not know about disappearances, about people thrown in the Adantic,
about hasty graves spread with lye so the bodies would decompose fast.
But only a day after the paper came out BBC Africa carried the story on
the news, and interviewed an exfled Nigerian professor of politics who
said her husband deserved a Human Rights award. He fights repression with
the pen, he gives a voice to the voiceless, he makes the world know. Those words
angered her now, filled her with an emotion so fierce it was numbing.Just
like the advice for talking to God at the American embassy angered her.
Her husband had tried to hide his nervousness from her, that the story
had become so big. But that evening, after someone called him anonymously, he no longer hid his fear, he let her see his shaking hands. He got
anonymous caUs aU the time-he was that kind of journalist, the kind that
26 cultivated friendships along the way. The Head of State was personaUy
furious, the caUer told him. Soldiers were on their way to arrest him. The
word was it would be the last arrest he would never come back.
Her husband climbed into the boot of the car minutes after the caU, so
that if the soldiers asked, the gatemen could honesdy say they did not
know when her husband had left She quickly sprinkled water in the boot
even though he told her to hurry, because she felt somehow that a wet boot
would be cooler, that he would breathe better. She drove him to his co-
editor's house. The next day, he caUed her from Togo; the co-editor had
contacts who had sneaked him over the border. He had a valid visa to
America; America was the best bet for now, until things blew over. She
told him not to worry, she and Nnamdi would be fine, she would apply for
a visa at the end of the school term, in three weeks, and they would join
him in America.
That night Nnamdi was resdess and she let him stay up and play with
his toy car while she corrected papers at the (Uning table. When the three
men burst in through the kitchen door, she wished she had insisted that
Nnamdi go to bed. If only.
"Many people apply for asylum visa and don't get it" the man behind her
was saying. Loudly. Perhaps he had been talking all the whfle.
"Do you read The New Nigeria?" she asked suddenly. She did not turn to
face the man, instead she watched the couple in front of her buy mangoes
that drew flies and packets of biscuits that crackled as they opened them.
"Yes. Why? Do you want to buy it? The vendors may stiU have some
copies."
"No. I was just asking."
"It's a reaUy good paper. Those two editors, they are the kind of people
Nigeria needs. They risk their lives every week to teU us the truth. Brave
men."
"Is that what bravery is?" She turned to face him, to look into his eyes.
"Yes, of course. Not aU of us can do it" He gave her a long look,
righteous and suspicious, as though he was wondering if maybe she was a
government apologist one of those people who criticized the pro-democracy movement who maintained that only a miUtary government would
work in Nigeria.
She turned away from him. Her back was throbbing now and puddles of
sweat had settled wetiy under her breasts. He didn't know that she was not
an apologist or a democracy activist. He didn't know that she was nothing.
She had not always been nothing, though. She had once been a woman
who yearned for a child, who saw a string of fertility specialists, who was
grateful to hear she could have one. One chance. One child.
She watched the beggars make their rounds of the visa Une and the
27 crowd on the street over and over. Rangy men in grimy long tunics who
fingered prayer beads and quoted the Koran; women with jaundiced eyes
who had sickly babies tied to their backs with threadbare cloth; a blind
couple led by their daughter, blue medals of the Blessed Virgin Mary
hanging around their tattered collars.
She motioned to the blind couple and fumbled in her bag for a 20 naira
note. When she put it in the bowl, they chanted, "God bless you, you wiU
have money, you wiU have good husband, you wiU have good job," in
Pidgin EngUsh and then in Igbo and Yoruba
She watched them walk away and unfolded her arms to wipe away a
tear. They had not told her, "You wiU have many strong chUdren." She had
heard them tell that to the woman in front of the Une.
The embassy gates swung open and a man in a brown uniform shouted,
"First fifty on the line, come in and fill the forms. AU the rest, come back
another day. The embassy can attend to only fifty today."
"We are lucky, obi, "the man behind her said.
She watched the visa interviewer behind the cold glass screen, the way
limp blonde hair grazed the folded neck, the way green eyes peered at her
papers above sUver frames as though the glasses were unnecessary.
"Can you go through your story again, Ma'am? You haven't given me
any detaUs," the visa interviewer said with an encouraging smue.
She looked away for a moment sideways at a woman in a bright blue
abada wrapper who leaned close to the glass screen, reverendy, as though
praying to the visa interviewer behind. She would die gladly at the hands
of the man with the mole, or the one with the beret, or the other nondescript one before she said a word about Nnamdi to her interviewer, or to
anybody at the American embassy. Before she hawked Nnamdi for a visa
to safety.
Her son had been killed, that was all she would say. Killed. Nothing
about how his laughter started somehow above his head, bubbly and frothy.
How he called sweets and biscuits "breadie-breadie." How he grasped her
neck tight when she held him. How her husband said that he would be an
artist because he didn't try to build with his Lego blocks, he arranged
them, side by side, alternating colours. They did not deserve to know.
"Ma'am? You say it was the government?" the visa interviewer asked.
It was not the government. Government was such a big label, it was
freeing, it gave people room to maneuver and excuse and re-blame. It was
three men. Three men like her husband or her brother, or the man who
taught the class next to hers, or the man behind her in the visa line. Three men.
"Yes. They were government agents," she said.
"Can you prove it? Do you have any evidence to show that?"
"Yes. But I buried it yesterday. My son's body."
28
fc "Ma'am, I am sorry about your son. I can't imagine the pain of losing a
child," the visa interviewer said, shaking her head slowly. "But I need
some evidence that you know it was the government There is fighting
going on between tribes, there are private assassinations. I need some
evidence of the government's involvement and I need some evidence that
you wiU be in danger if you stay on in Nigeria."
She looked at the faded pink lips, moving to show tiny teeth. Faded
pink Ups in a freckled, insulated face. A face that cared about her in a way
that was deep yet shalio w, in a way that was generic. A face that she might
convince to grant her a visa if she said more, if she unfolded her arms,
talked about her husband, about Nnamdi, perhaps cried.
"He was three years old," she said.
"Ma'am, please, I want to help you. You have to help me help you. You
need to be more detaUed."
She had the sudden urge to ask the visa interviewer if the stories in the
The New Nigeria were worth the life of a chUd. If what her husband did was
really bravery or plain fooUiardiness. But she didn't She doubted that the
visa interviewer knew about pro-democracy newspapers. She doubted the
visa interviewer knew about the long tired lines outside the embassy gates
in cordoned off areas with no shade where the furious sun caused friendships and headaches and despair.
"Ma'am? The United States offers a new life to victims of poUtical
persecution but there needs to be proof..."
A new life. She wanted to plant ixora flowers in Ikoyi cemetery, the
kind whose neecUe-thin stalks she had sucked as a chUd. One plant would
do—his plot was so smaU. When it bloomed, and the flowers welcomed
bees, she wanted to pluck and suck at them whUe squatting in the dirt And
afterwards, she wanted to arrange the sucked flowers side by side, like
Nnamdi had done with his Lego blocks. That was the new life she wanted.
"Ma'am? Ma'am??
Was she imagining it or was the sympathy draining from the visa interviewer's face? She saw the swift way the woman pushed her corn-coloured
hair back even though it did not disturb her, it stayed quiet on her neck
framing a pale face.
Her future rested on that face. A face that did not understand her, that
probably did not cook with palm oU or know that palm oU, when fresh,
was a bright bright red and, when not fresh, congealed to a lumpy orange.
She turned slowly and headed for the door.
"Ma'am?" she heard the interviewer's voice behind her. "If you choose
to leave now, you will have to re-apply for another interview."
She didn't turn. She walked out of the American Embassy, past the
beggars who still made their rounds with enamel bowls held outstretched,
and got into her car.
29 David Galef
The Perfect Couple
Joe and Norma never fell into the usual marital spats about free time
and sex and money and power. Nor did they wrangle much over where
to eat out (they both favoured French bistro fare), what to do on Sunday afternoons (museums or movies), or how to furnish their West 75th
Street apartment (retro pop on brick walls, Italian art deco furniture). Instead, they quarreUed constantly, with the monstrous fidelity of abiding
love, over who suffered more and how.
"Christ it's been a rotten day," Joe said Friday evening as he came
home with his jacket over his shoulder, like the dashing lawyer he once
was and still hoped to be. After making partner at Dougalby and Hache
seven years ago, he had begun to subdy sag. He unloaded a bag from
Fairway's that included mesquite-smoked turkey, twin baby baguettes, and
arugula, all loosely comprising the theme of dinner. He announced each
purchase in turn as if it were an important item of evidence, then returned
to the motif of his day. "First Alan, that pain in the ass, didn't prepare the
backup we needed, then Marty somehow landed us with the wrong briefs,
but that's nothing—"
"Compared with the trials I've been through," announced Norma spreading her arms like a despairing diva rather than the graphic artist she was.
She worked for a firm called Le Logo, which valued her at precisely her
level of abUity, which made for constant friction. "I had to run off five
different versions of that chicken-head sketch before Arnold would let me
show it and then— "
"'Rrraaanh!" cried Desmond, sinking his claws into the tan armrest just
above Norma's tanned arm. Married almost a decade, Joe and Norma had
long ago decided against a status-chUd in favour of a cat the only animal
who could make even more insistent claims on their attention than they
did and so draw them a little out of themselves. Desmond, a rather
baroque-looking Manx with a grey-and-white coat had his own chair, his
own feline ego, and might have even had his own sex life if Norma hadn't
insisted on having him fixed several years earUer when the furniture began to smeU like ambergris. Now he spent his days padding around the
apartment and sunning himself in his chair by the window. For dinner, he
received an absurdly generous portion of smoked turkey and some High-
30 land Farms clotted cream in a bowl. Norma made a sort of salad, and the
two humans dined in comparative sUence. The rest of the night passed in
magazines and a Thin Man video.
On Saturday morning when Joe was out running, Norma stared at herself in the bedroom's fuU-length mirror for a whUe. The apartment had
two other large-scale models, in the bathroom and by the front of the
walk-in closet, but the one in the bedroom, through the subtlest warping,
flattered her figure. If only she weren't so damned tired. She felt pale and
looked bruised, or was that the other way around? She spent the next ten
minutes brewing coffee for herself and her weekend athlete. Joe liked it
strong and she liked it weak, but today she felt accommodating and made
it medium strength for them both. Desmond got a Uttle skim mUk in a
saucer. Look at me, she communicated to Joe by telepathy on his return, not
yet willing to come right out and say how crappy she felt. Be more sensitive
to my needs.
When Joe came out of the shower, he stretched hugely. "Look at me,"
he commented, "already yawning this early."
"I hope to heU I feel better on Monday," Norma mumbled into her
piUow that evening. But she didn't Sunday was just as bad, and getting up
for the work week was like carrying around heavy carpeting on her arms
and legs. Her whole body ached, and she felt—what was the word her
British friend Dorothy used?— rheumy. She decided to stay in bed.
"I've god a code," she told Joe as soon as he came home, and he nodded
in confirmation.
"I was worried about you," he told her unconvincingly as he proceeded to
describe his harrowing day: more missing briefs and underling problems.
Still, he did heat up some broth for her and watched approvingly as she
spooned half of it up, leaving the rest for Desmond. She took some heavy
cold medication and dropped into bed at nine.
But the cold didn't go away, and soon Joe began getting impatient with
the sickness routine. Or, as he put it irritatingly, "Aren't you sick of being
sick? I know I am." When she began coughing up green gunk the second
week, Joe insisted she caU Dr. Schlansky, a balding gastroenterologist who
put on an avuncular GP act for his nostalgia-ridden patients.
"Now, there, young lady," he told Norma, who felt like 90, "what seems
to be the problem?"
"I don't know..." Despite her confessional bent with doctors Norma was
of the "don't ask, don't teU" school of medicine, under the Ulusion that she
was basicaUy okay until admitting she was Ul. It even bothered her to
bring in an appUance and have the repairman teU her what the problem
was.
"WeU, let's just check under the hood." Dr. Schlansky stethoscoped her
31 chest depressed her tongue, and gave her a prescription for good
old-fashioned tetracycline. "There's a lot of that going around this season," he told her.
Norma was adept at popping puis. She swaUowed her antibiotics dafly
with a swig of Evian, and after a week the symptoms disappeared. Then Joe
came home sick. He said he felt achy and lay on the sofa with Desmond
purring against his back. Norma fussed over him a Uttle, bringing him
aspirin and cappuccino in bed, which was more her idea of a good time
than his. Joe was no more into denial than Norma but didn't like what he
caUed "coddling his illness," which he felt was making concessions, and
even tried to keep up his racquetbaU.
"My impatient patient" murmured Norma possessively, taking his temperature and announcing that he had a low-grade fever.
"Low-grade—my God, can't I even have high-quaUty symptoms?" He
looked rumpled in his blue-striped pajamas, forming a sort of nest by his
groin into which Desmond snuggled. "I haven't got time for this."
But the achiness persisted, funnelling into a lump under his left armpit.
And even though he self-diagnosed it as a blocked sweat gland, he duti-
fuUy went to his doctor, a gangly internist named Behrens, on the principle of what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, though who'd first
said that Norma or himself, he couldn't remember.
Dr. Behrens gave him a fuU physical check-up, peered at Joe's left armpit said it was probably an infected gland, and put him on azithromycin.
The achiness mosdy dissipated, though the swelling didn't recede much.
When he went out to run on Sundays, he felt somehow clunkier, as if
running in combat boots, but couldn't prove anything since he'd stopped
timing himseff after making partner. That Norma said nothing about it
bothered him. He waited vainly, in vain.
As Norma's analyst once explained to her, women's narcissism was
based chiefly on appearances and a wish to be adored, whereas men's
narcissism was founded more on performance and a need to be admired
(Norma digested aU this but soon forgot it as she did with almost everything her therapist told her). Thus, Norma would continuaUy teUJoe, "God,
my hair looks so mousy," inviting a tricky-to-negotiate cross between
sympathy and spirited disagreement. And Joe would complain about his
slowing down but grow peevish if she concurred with him. When he resumed his racquetbaU on Tuesday and Thursday nights, Norma in retaliation joined an evening Ufe-painting class downtown and began having
long coffees afterward with a Cooper Union crowd. They contemplated
buying a 1960's Eames chair for the Uving room but couldn't agree where
to put it And time passed desultorily until September, when the ficus
leaves began to swirl about the sewer gratings, and Norma came down
32 with something upper respiratory, which this time really Ungered.
"You look pale again," Joe accused her.
"I know." She coughed into her latest bouquet of tissues. / suffer in
silence, she radioed him. Tell me how I look like a doomed heroine from a
nineteenth-century novel
He shook his head gendy. "This is aging both of us."
"Shut up, Joe," she told him.
"It's understandable you're upset I felt that way when I was sick." He gave
her such a sweedy comprehending snule that she wanted to kick him.
"This isn't going away," he told her after three weeks. "If you love me,
you'U go see Dr. Schlansky again."
"Your white ceU count is over 90,000." Dr. Schlansky's Ups, usuaUy as
wide-open and mobUe as a comedian's, were compressed into two bloodless lines. "I'm sending your sample to a hematologist"
"Which means?" asked Joe that night after hearing the news. He paced
in a circle bounded by their Afghan throw-rug. "What does he think it is?"
"I don't know, I don't know, I hope it's not-that" Norma had contracted into a fetal baU on their newly acquired Eames chair, holding onto
her feet and rocking niounifuUy. Desmond batted a catnip mouse in her
direction, but she simply wasn't interested. Getting through the week was
like crouching under a ruined ceiling, waiting for a large chunk of plaster
to faU on her head. Joe kept telling her how upset he was. When she finaUy
went back to the doctor's office—no results over the phone—she took baby
steps aU the way.
"Look, I'U be as honest as I can with you." Dr. Schlansky passed a hand
over his thinning gray hair, and suddenly Norma realized how her doctor
had aged since she'd started seeing him seven years earUer. "We've checked
the blood smears. They show a pattern of myelocytic leukemia—we're not
sure how advanced. We need to do a bone-marrow extraction for that.
Now, we're going to be aggressive about this," he continued helplessly as
Norma started sobbing. He offered her a tissue from his desk, and in taking it she clutched his hand up to the wrist After a whUe, he gendy disengaged himsetf and sent her to the nurse to set up another appointment
"Oh, God, I can't believe it-my darUng!"Joe held her so hard that she felt
him almost pass through her. He acted both consolatory to her and angry
at the world, and he tiptoed around the apartment performing Uttle
kindnesses for her until she told him to quit it she wasn't that far gone. But
when the bone-marrow results came back, she locked hersetf into the bathroom and wouldn't come out for hours. Staring at herself in the mirror, she
imagined herself already wasted away. "At least I don't have to worry
about going on a diet" she told her reflection, but her laugh was more like
33 a frog's croak. She wanted to go to Argyle, a cute Uttle boite in the East
Twenties, but the drug regimen Schlansky had put her on didn't leave her
much of an appetite, and she ended up vomiting instead and nuning a
Prada blouse. The chemo was dripped in through an TV, so at least she
didn't have to swallow a flood of pills, but it seemed to bit like a wave.
Joe played the role of ministering angel for a whUe, showing unsuspected creativity in his ministrations: bouquets in the armholes of her
jacket in the closet and he even half-trained Desmond to half-fetch Nor-
ma's sUppers. "I know-you're suffering, too," she told him, kissing his stiff
upper Up.
"Listen, you're strong, and I know we'U beat this thing." It wasn't necessarily what he beUeved, but it had the right tough-guy edge. He put his
whole ego into it. He tried to remind himself that when she snapped at
him, it was just her illness speaking, even when she told him, "Fuck you,
it's me, Norma." He cut back on his racquetbaU nights to attend to her and
felt he was attaining the status of a saint The needier she became, the
stronger he felt
It couldn't last. Two months into her treatment he announced, "I'm
bushed," to Desmond, who had taken to eyeing him suspiciously as if he
were a faux Joe. His fatigue didn't disappear but grew to encompass his
whole day. It felt like another low-grade fever that wouldn't go away, and
his left armpit ached again. That meant a trip to Dr. Behrens, who clucked
his tongue and said they'd do a biopsy. Joe paced the Uving room at night
"Biopsy, biopsy—why do I hate that word?" Norma bit her tongue for his
sake and quiedy bought seven different wigs to cover her growing baldness.
The diagnosis of lymphoma (non-Hodgkin's, metastasized to the chest)
was deUvered by the end of the week in a consultation room with the Ughts
dimmed, as if in recognition of the dismal news. Behrens put his hands on
Joe's shoulders, like coaching a punch-drunk fighter before the final round.
"Look, it's not the end of the battle. We've still got some firepower to
combat this invasion." UsuaUyJoe admired Behrens's military metaphors,
but today they struck him as overdone. He viciously kicked at a row of
trash cans on the way home until the super came out and told him to beat
it.
Norma held him tight murmuring, "Oh, Joe," repeatedly. She found
the rhythm soothing. Norma had read about Florence Nightingale when
she was a girl and began to reaUy get into it In the days that foUowed, she
was so sympathetic that he suspected a misery-loves-company motive,
though he couldn't quite bring himself to say that Instead, he let himself
be given a temple rub and a foot massage. AU Sunday the three of them,
with Desmond in the middle, lay in bed and made up games to pass the
34 time. Norma won the ceiling-shadow labeling contest but Desmond beat
them both in hide-and-find the catnip mouse.
"I'm still going to work," announced Joe tighdy, stuffing three fat folders into his briefcase. "I won't let this take me over." When he got to his
office, no one treated him any differendy, and at first he was pleased.
Arnold told me to take off as long as I wanted, mused Norma Do I really look
that bad?She spent over an hour in front of the closet mirror, scheduled a
4:30 facial at Maxfrie's, and appeared at Le Logo a little before lunch. She
soon became absorbed in her latest project a scholarly-looking jack rabbit
for a speedy copy service. She had the impression that everyone was tiptoeing around her but didn't feel she could say anything. As for telling
other people, both she and Joe were single chUdren, and only their mothers were still aUve, in twin nursing homes coincidentaUy three nules apart.
Joe guardedly informed two of his coUeagues cum racquetbaU partners,
and they surreptitiously told a few others. That meant he was treated more
deferentiaUy at work, a subtie shift—until a secretary sobbed how sorry she
was to hear that he had lymphoma, and that night he played his last game
of racquetbaU, weakened but vicious and uncontrollable. 'Joe's final game,"
as he narrated it to himself, distorting the score in his memory.
Norma's art friends could see quite weU what was going on and whispered
how sorry they were, and behind her back how sorry a sight she had
become. Norma thought briefly of herseU as a work in transition, but
performance art wasn't her metier. She took to bringing home what she
called her Scarred Nudes: a series of naked women with tumorous black
splotches in strategic areas. Dr. Schlansky had vetoed a bone-marrow transplant because there was no match available. "I am truly unique," she consoled hersetf.
A few weeks later, she and Joe agreed to rendezvous after work at
Sakura, a sushi place in the East Fifties. Joe, who had just started on a new
drug regimen, ordered a tekamaki plate that he couldn't finish. Just to be
poUte, Norma got plain white rice and, with one chopstick, pushed around
the pickles that came with it They sipped green tea and tried to commiserate with each other.
"I know you feel drekky," said Joe, sympatheticaUy but tacdessly. She
thought he was referring to how she looked.
"WeU, you've got to be run down, too. It's taken you half an hour to
attack that tekamaki." She leaned closer, her pale face and shadowed eyes
more than a Uttle Munch-like. "Offhand, I'd say it's winning."
Joe viciously stabbed the remaining half of his food with a chopstick
and said hoarsely, "Let's leave."
Three months later came a roUer coaster of remissions and false hopes.
"I feel like me again!" announced Norma brightly and wondered whether
35 she should join a gym. "My self-image is back."
"I'm glad to hear it" mumbled Joe. When he complained, she let him,
but what good did that do? Even Desmond, with his finicky feline soul,
seemed to treat him with forbearance. What hit him most was his inabiUty
to perform, whether in bed or in court And here was Norma chattering
about a health club. He let Dr. Behrens switch his medication and hoped
for a change—better or worse, he didn't care.
The new drugs took a while to make themselves felt but they kicked in
just as Norma fell ill again. Joe slowly reacquired his energy and even
wondered whether he could beat some of his former racquetbaU partners
again. That's the old Joe, he sang to himself. Meanwhile, a deep-seated
infection lodged in Norma's left lung, and she was prone to coughing
spasms that lasted from the couch to the bathroom. She began to bruise as
easUy as an over-ripe peach, an unkind comparison that Joe made one
night after noticing the mottled skin on her forearms.
"Damn it Joe, if you knew how I felt—"
"But I do know how you feel—"
"No," she declared. "Lymphoma's not as bad as leukemia."
He stuck his mottled tongue out at her. "It's worse."
She threw up her hands. "All right, it's different."
" Vive la difference." He would have pursued the sarcasm, but Norma
snatched that moment to have one of her coughing fits. Dramatizing her
illness, he thought sourly.
High on prednisone, one of the immunosuppressant mainstays even in
his new arsenal, as Dr. Behrens called it, Joe succumbed to a stomach bug
that he might have otherwise fought off. "Messy, messy," chided Norma as
she stepped from the shower around her retching husband. Joe roUed his
eyes at her, she roUed hers back, and they erupted into a bile-black laughter that they both cherished for the rest of the dav.
"A pact okay?" said Norma the next morning. She was industriously
applying foundation to hide her saUow complexion. One of her discarded
wigs lay splayed on the toilet seat cover as if covering a giant white groin.
"You don't comment on my appearance, and I won't make any cracks
about yours."
"What's the matter with the way I look?" demanded Joe, who'd just
finished checking his urine for blood. Not that it was supposed to be one of
the symptoms, but he worried anyway.
"Nothing. Dear." She smiled in a way that seemed to crack her face in
half and pecked him on the cheek. "We're both perfect okay?"
Joe forced a grin. "Right. Every day in every way, we're getting better and
better. Our mantra for the day."
36 No one asked Desmond what he thought.
One Monday evening, Norma dragged herself home from what was left
of her job at Le Logo at around the same time that Joe limped back from
lawyering and stopped off at Fairway's. Hearing the clunk-clunk of his
wingtips up the stairs, she wished for a moment that the sound would just
continue upward, past the threshold of the door. No one to judge her, no
one to detract from her suffering. But no, the key came out of the jingly
pocket to fumble in the lock, and Mr. Sick walked in.
"Took me half an hour to get through the subway crowd," he groaned,
perhaps a Uttle more theatricaUy than necessary.
"That's nothing," she practicaUy cackled. "I had a dizzy spell after
lunch that floored me."
"Anyway, I made it to the store." He hoisted his limp plastic bag heroi-
caUy. "I got smoked turkey and some hothouse tomatoes—"
" Yukk. Even the thought of food-"
"I know, I know, but we've got to eat."
"You do it then."
"I don't feel so great either, you know."
They compared recent symptoms: his night-sweats versus her low-grade
infections, her bronchial troubles as opposed to his endless aches.
"I win," she announced with as much triumph as her blocked air passages could muster.
"The heU you say!" He intended to kick the table but connected with
Desmond instead, who hissed as he fled into the living room. At night
both had dreams of impossible health, usuaUy at the expense of the other,
symbolized in Joe's versions by a coal furnace of guUt. Norma dreamed of
endless fields marked by gaping pits and a man stuck in each of them.
They pondered the idea of couples counselling, going so far as to get a
recommendation for a grief therapist "but I don't see much of a future in
it" Norma joked. The leukemia had spread to her bones, and Dr. Schlanksy
had begun to mumble. Joe's condition had hit a new low plateau stabilized
by yet another drug therapy. Dr. Behrens was sticking to his miUtary metaphors but talking more of conditional surrender. Joe could barely walk.
Desmond was regretfuUy packed off to a friend of Norma's who had seven
cats and presumably wouldn't mind one more.
On their fifth anniversary, which seemed in retrospect like some mythical faraway country, they had checked into the Waldorf. Now, as their
tenth anniversary loomed in the iron cold of February, they decided to do
it again. Only neither would admit it was a hospice instead of a hotel.
"I guess you pay on the way out" whispered Joe as he was wheeled into
the elevator. He insisted on pushing the button himsetf, which made him
feel more in control, even though Norma wanted to push it for the same
37 reason.
"Ask about the room service," cracked Norma wheezily. When Joe was
wheeled out on the tenth floor, Norma blew him a kiss but stayed inside.
By mutual agreement they would be on separate levels. It had simply
grown too difficult to keep competing. But Norma was determined to
out-suffer him, and she visited her husband for two weeks as his vision
darkened and his jaw slackened. They talked about themselves like two
tape recorders slowly running down in an empty room. Every once in a
while, when they paused to acknowledge each other, they could be tender.
"You look in rare form," she told him, knowing he liked that phrase.
"You're not so weU done yourself." He grinned like a skull.
DuringJoe's last few days, in and out of lucidity, he talked about torts,
and he died with bis arm upraised as if to connect in a final racquetbaU
shot
Norma survived him by less than a day, her mind numbed with painkillers and filled with floating shapes that wouldn't stay still long enough
for her to paint them. I'm still here, she thought right near the end. But
when she turned to teUJoe, he wasn't there, and that just killed her.
38 Tim Lander
How They Made a Man of Me
And in those days
they said they'd make a man of me
gave me a scratchy battle dress
and a pair of boots to shine
told me to cUmb on the pot belUed stove
and sing
well yes I sang for them
Made me yeU and charge across a muddy field
in my shiny boots
and yelling thrust a bayonet deep in the mortal guts
of a bag of straw
and I yeUed and thrust
and thrust again and yeUed
They gave me a pickaxe handle
and told me to stand guard
long winter nights
that christmas when the IRA
looted an armory
just down the road
so we marched around in the night
swinging our axe handles
smoking in doorways
getting a Christmas nip
from the Sergeants' wives
And in those days
it was all Suez and Hungary
and the commies
knocking loudly on the door
nor were the Egyptians
acting much like gentlemen
39 whUe we learnt our drill
backwards and forwards
up and down the old parade ground
every day
Slope Arms! Present Arms! Order Arms!
About Turn! At the Double Mark Time!
They said they'd make a man of me
and gave me an old gun
told me how I'd learn to love it
like it was my favourite girl
showed me how to point it at a person
two hundred yards away
hold my breath
and gently squeeze—not blinking
then it jumped into my shoulder
showed me how to work the bolt
shove another bullet
up the hole
and squeeze again
aU in five seconds
or was it three?
the accurate dispensation of death
and I learnt it all unthinking
learnt their lesson
how to be a man
and the accurate dispensation of death
and what women were for
and how to use them
we learnt that on the side
from the old soldiers
with their brothel talk
Such a piece of equipment
This is what you call the parts
and this what you use them for
Any questions?
and keep your equipment clean
doing it all by numbers
40 One two three
One two three
One
About turn
at the double Dismiss!
Squad wiU advance, by the night, quick march
Squad wiU retreat about turn
double march
They taught me how to be a man
PoUsh y'r boots
Blanco y'r gaiters
Shine y'r buckles til you can see y'r face in them
Uttle circles
Uttle circles
a hot spoon to smooth away
the pimples in y'r boot leather
"BagsofBuU"
they said
"BagsofBuU"
"It's not bullshit it's Personal Pride"
they said
"There's no bullshit in the army"
Kit aU folded to the size of a mess tin
Mess tin polished til you can see y'r ugly mug in it
you never put no food in it
you'd spoU the shine
you have a greasy one
you keep it out of sight
that's what you take
when you go down to the cookhouse
PoUsh y'r boots
drink y'r beer
faU in for Church parade
Sing hymns to God and his British Empire
I am a man
'cos that's wot they made of me
gave me a number
to remember all my life
two, double three, double four, five six two
sapper lander, sir
41 "Wot you think this is?
a fucking garden party?
Wot's y'r name and number sapper?"
"23344562, SAPPERLANDER SIR!"
"That's better, say it like y'r proud of it
I don't want anyone in my troop
who's not proud to be a sapper. Right?
Get y'r feet down hard!
You horrible little man sir
WOT R U ?"
"A HORRIBLE LITTLE MAN. SIR."
"Why can't you keep in step you horrible little man?
You march like a pregnant duck
You look Uke a bag of shit
tied together with a string round the middle"
So they made a man of me
Come on, Let's have you!
"Hands off your cocks and on with y'r socks!
Get y'r feet on the floor!"
Make y'r bed, lay out y'r kit
faU in on the road
march down to breakfast-
stand by y'r beds
"Wot's this? You caU this a straight Une?
get out y'r piece of string
Une it up all again"
The beds, socks, underwear
Spare cap badges
"There's dust here sapper
y'r on a charge
Report to the Guard room after parade"
Out on the parade ground up and down
or "Today we're going to buUd us a bridge,
you lucky lads"
Twelve men to a bridge panel
"All together. Lift. Quick march"
night exercises
stumbling in the dark
same old bridge
same old mind hole
42 Church parade
pray for the sergeant's soul
Down to the sick bay
roll up y'r sleeves
jab it in
"No drinking for 48 hours
or we'U have to give you another
then     with sore arms
and inflamed lymph nodes
sent home on leave
in scratchy uniforms
back to our mums
for a long weekend
to dance with the girls
"It's not bad reaUy
I can take it"
to their soft
unmilitary eyes
J        J
and aU to make sure
it was
that the sun on the
British Empire
set
in an orderly fashion
shot"
43 Kevin Kerr
from Unity (1918)
CHARACTERS
Beatrice — a farmer's daughter
Sissy — her younger sister, a doomsday prophet
Mary - a debutante, Beatrice's best friend
Rose — a telephone operator
Doris — a telegraph operator
Sunna — a mortician and an outcast
Stan — an incompetent farmer and widower
Hart — a blinded war hero
Michael — a farm hand
Glen — a returning war veteran
Two Men on the street — farmers
A chaperone at the V-Day Dance
NOTE ON EVENTS
In the faU of 1918 an influenza pandemic swept the planet. Largely forgotten now, this was the deadliest outbreak of an infectious virus in recorded
history. Although it is uncertain exactly how many people died, estimates
range from 20 to 50 million people worldwide. The Spanish Flu, as it
became known, was an especially unusual strain of this otherwise common
sickness, since the victims were mainly young adults 20 to 40 years of
age—strong and healthy and in the prime of life. In Canada, where per
capita war casualties were particularly severe, more people died in four
weeks of the flu than did in four years of war.
The foUowing excerpt is from Act II. The Spanish Flu has turned from a
rumour into a terrible reaUty. Beatrice, a young woman who has just turned
21, is struggling with the changes she is seeing in the world around her.
She dreams of Glen, a local boy who is overseas and with whom she has
been secretly infatuated. Her sister, Sissy, has become a doomsday prophet
eagerly awaiting the apocalypse and has grown even more unpredictable
and eccentric since the death of Michael, the young farmhand who is the
44 first to succumb to the flu. Beatrice has also been paying visits to the
mysterious blinded war hero who arrived in Unity in search of his estranged father—the town's undertaker. The soldier, Hart, finds instead that
his father is dead and his cousin, Sunna, a girl of 15, has taken over the
fanuly business. Also, Stan, a local farmer who has lost his wife in childbirth, is now courting Sunna, and Mary, the chUdhood friend of Beatrice
mourns the death of her fiance, a victim of the flu on the front lines.
FinaUy, the town's telegraph and telephone operators Rose and Doris attempt to keep their fingers on the pulse of the tiny town even though
contagion is battering at their door.
Unity (1918) was first produced in March, 2001, by Touchstone Theatre at
the Vancouver East Cultural Centre in Vancouver, BC. Unity (1918) was
created through the generous support of the Canada CouncU for the Arts,
BC Arts CouncU, Playwrights Theatre Centre, and was further developed
at the Banff Centre play Rites 2 000 playwrights colony.
45 ACT II SCENE FIVE
IN TOWN
On the street, two men wearing masks approach and pass each other.
Man 1: (turning back) Fred?
Man2: Who's that?
Man 1: Is that you Fred?
Man2: Ted?
Manl: Fred!
Man2: Ted! Geez, how are you?
They shake hands then wipe their palms on their trousers.
Man 1: Oh, real good.
Man2: You done threshing then?
Man 1: Oh yeah, you?
Man2: Oh, nearly, though.
Man 1: Well, that'll be good then. It's like a ghost town down here.
Man2: Yup.
A woman wearing a mask passes by. They tip their hats.
Manl: Afternoon.
Man2: Who was that?
Manl: Wasn't that Gadfly's wife?
Man2: Was it?
Manl: I thought it was. Yep, it's quiet down here.
46 Man2:   I read that this flu is uh.. .might be the Germans.
Manl:   Is that right? I thought it might be the germs.
A little laugh.
Man2:   No really, though, some secret weapon they planted on the coast.
Man 1:   Hmm. Now how did they manage to figure that out?
Man2: Well if they can get it going in one place on the coast with maybe
one of those U-boats, then the rest sort of takes care of itself. It's
contagious.
Manl: I mean, but how did they figure out how to make a disease like
that?
Man2: Oh, yeah, yeah, I don't know. They can do all sorts of things these
days.
Manl: I guess that's true.
Man2: That poison, uh, gas.
Manl: Sure. Electricity and such.
Man2: Hmm?
Man 1: It's amazing what can be done.
Man2: Oh, it sure is.
Sissy enters and, as she passes, gives them a handmade flyer.
Man2: What's that say?
Manl:    (reading) "End of the world to come
Date set for late November
Sissy WUde speaks on the Apocalypse"
Man2:   That's another epidemic.
Manl:   What is?
47 Man2:   Women speaking pubUcly.
Manl:   Oh, yeah. There's that one... What's that they say about a dog
walking on its hind legs?
Man2:   I don't know.
Manl:   Oh, it's something about that a woman talking is like a dog on its
hind legs, or... You know that one?
Man2: No. You know Gadfly's got a smart Uttle dog there.
Man 1: Gadfly does? Oh, yeah.
Man2: Yeah, a Uttle Collie or something.
Manl: Is that what it is?
Man2: A Uttle CoUie I think. Smart Uttle devU. Herds like a son of a gun.
Sunna walks by reading one of Sissy's pamphlets. The men nod to her.
Man2: Who was that?
Man 1: That was that Thorson girl.
Man2: Oh, yeah. WeU I guess she's got her work cut out for her now.
Manl: Yep. I suppose she's in the right business now.
Man2: If the world don't end.
Man 1: Right Well, better head for home.
Man2: Sure, then. Getting cold.
Man 1: Oh, yeah. Yeah, could be a cold one.
They exit.
48 SIX
ACALLFORHELP
A split scene between the Telegraph office and Beatrice's home. Doris lies convalescing while Rose speaks to Beatrice.
Rose: Women are naturally good at taking care of others. Men, even
doctors, are weaker than women. The town needs your help. There's
a natural strength that a woman gets when she's helping others
that protects her. You'll get the flu faster by not helping.
Bea:      Uhhuh.
Rose: You know, Beatrice, fear is the real killer. This town was doing
fine until people started to beUeve they could catch the flu.
Doris:    It's a war.
Rose:     Yes, it's a war and we must be ready to fight.
Bea:      It's a war.
Rose: Yes, a war. There are so many families that need you. And you
know how to look after people.
Bea:       I do?
Rose: You've been looking after your father and sister most of your Ufe.
I'd be out there, but it's essential that I keep the telephones operating and care for Doris. And we know how quickly she would
volunteer if she wasn't so ill. You can go to doctor Lindsey's and
take anything you need.
Bea:       Okay.
SEVEN
ANATOMY
Sunna and Stan are silhouetted in lantern light. The soldier sits motionless in the
corner. Sunna wears a simple white wedding dress. Stan kisses Sunna. Sunna
then begins to undress Stan. He does not hear her speak.
49 Stan:      Oh, Sunna.
Sunna: There are things that you can know. There are patterns you can
find. Clues.
Stan:     Oh...
Sunna: Most human bodies are the same. Draw two paraUel lines down
from the pupU of the eyes and you find the comers of the mouth.
Tip of the thumb to the tip of the index finger is the length of the
nose. Length of the nose is one-third the length of the face.
She touches his face: chin, brow, top of head.
One. Two. Three. The width of the eye is the distance between the
eyes, which is the distance from where the ear joins the skull to
the top of the ear. From the chin to the lower Up is twice that of
the upper Up to the nose. From the wrist to the tip of the middle
finger is the width of the head. And the depth of the head? That's
the ball of the heel to the tip of the toe.
Stan:     Sunna
Sunna:   And halfway between the hip and the knee is where the longest
finger touches when hanging freely by the side.
Differences are only on the surface. Look closely and you wiU see
the same. The model is consistent Like triangles or circles, there's
a pattern. I look for patterns. Clues to keep me going.
Fade to darkness.
EIGHT
A SORT OF SALVE
In the mortuary Beatrice is changing Hart's bandages. The Ukrainian funeral
song is in the distance. Hart's back is to us as Beatrice slowly and tenderly unwraps the bandages. When she finally uncovers his eyes she recoils momentarily,
then stares for a moment.
Hart:     Pretty messy?
Bea:       Oh...
50 Hart: What's that music?
Bea: Uh, Ukrainians.
Hart: (laughs) Oh, right.
Bea: What?
Hart: Musical place—the Ukraine.
Bea: I don't know.
Beatrice produces some ointment in ajar. She puts some on her fingers and moves
towards his eyes, stops, withdraws, then tries again. Stops.
Hart:     What's that smell?
Bea:       Huh? Oh, I have something that might help. It's a sort of salve for
the skin. Um, for the burn. You rub it on.
Hart:     Oh, sure. Let's have some.
Bea:       Okay, just uh...give me your hands. Please.
Hart extends his hands, and Bea transfers the ointment from her fingers to his.
Bea*       Now just rub it around your eyes.
He does.
Hart:     Quite a smeU. That's nice singing.
Bea:       I think it's a funeral.
Hart:     Oh yeah? How's this?
Bea:       That's pretty good.
Hart gropes for something to wipe his hands on. Bea looks too, but there's nothing
around. She offers the hem of her dress. Hart, without realizing what it is, wipes
his hands vigorously, dabs his eyes and blows his nose. He starts gathering up the
material trying to find its end.
51 Hart:     Wow, a big hanky.
Bea quickly snatches it away, embarrassed. Silence. Bea puts the ointment away.
Hart:     (figures it out) Oh! (pause) Oh...sorry.
Bea:       It's okay.
Hart:     I thought ..I didn't.. Oh, that's reaUy terrible of me.
Bea:      No, it's fine, (small laugh) Big hanky. Here's a fresh bandage.
She bandages his eyes.
Hart:     Ah, that's good.
They sit. Silence.
Hart:     Yep. (sings) Dee diddely dee.
Pause.
Hart:     It's nice to have company. The living sort.
Bea:       (pause) I've got the newspaper from Saskatoon. Would you like
me to read it to you?
Hart: Oh that sounds nice.
Bea: They have this section where they write stories of Canadian bravery.
Hart: War stories?
Bea: Yes.
Hart: No.
Bea: They're always quite good.
Hart: No, I don't want to hear any!
Bea: Oh, but-
52 Hart: I said no!
Bea: I-
Hart: They're not true.
Bea: They're not?
Hart: No.
Bea: I'm sure they wouldn't write them if...
Hart: They're always some stupid story about some stupid guy who's
run out of ammunition and wounded in every part of his body,
who takes over command after his captain's been killed and somehow runs a mile into enemy territory where, with only a rock and
comb, manages to kUl seven hundred Germans and take an entire
battalion prisoner, who he marches right across the EngUsh Channel whUe getting them aU to sing God Save the King. Right? But
they're never about the guy sitting in a trench with his lousy
jammed up standard issue rifle that has only fired one shot
before busting with his head between his knees and his pants full
of his own shit because he's been there for three days in the same
position between the corpses of a couple of guys who looked up
when he said "Heads Down" and he's wondering if the captain
who he last saw running the other way was reaUy just going for
more supplies or is he dead or is he what or is he just the only one
who had any brains.
Bea-       Oh.
Hart That's all. So I don't like those stories. Is there anything else in
that paper?
Bea: Well...um... Not much... else... Just some other little news and
advertisements.
Hart:     For what?
Bea:      Oh, you know, medicine, biscuits, uh stove, ladies fashions, auto-
mobUes...
Hart:     Yeah read me those. Ladies fashions. What's new this fall?
53 Bea:       Ladies fashions?
Hart:     Yeah. What are they wearing now?
Bea:      Well, here's one for hats-quite a few hats-and I think they don't
look very practical.. .and right next is silk.. .uh.. .silk underwear...
Hart:     Mmmm...
Scene shifts.
NINE
AFIRE
Sissy stands in the night air with a lantern. She reads from the bible.
Sissy: "And behold a pale horse, and he that sat upon him, his name was
death and heU foUowed him. And power was given to him over
the four parts of the earth, to kill with sword, with famine, and
with death, and with the beasts of the earth!" Members, we are less
than a month away from the prophesized date and we wiU soon be
released. Six thousand years are up. Michael, like the lamb, you
were the first. Clearing the way for us aU. A fire, a fire you wanted.
So tonight a fire for Michael, for life at the edge of death, at the
edge of eternity.
Flames rise.
TEN
TELEGRAPH OFFICE
Rose is at the switchboard. Doris is resting.
Rose:    Central. HeUo Stan. Good lord, where? Oh my lord. Just a second.
She rises and looks out her window.
Doris:   Now what has he done?
Rose:     (to Doris) Shh! (to Stan) Yes I can see the flames from here. WeU
who can I caU? We'U never get enough people together. As long
54 as you're safe... CaU who? WUdes? What for? She did? Why? Oh
my lord, she didn't! Why would she do such a thing? That's a
desecration... I'll caU and I'll come right down.
ELEVEN
THE MORTUARY
Beatrice alone.
Bea: November 11th, 1918. StiU no trains into Unity. Father rode BUs-
ter to Saskatoon for winter work. He said he wasn't worried about
the flu—too many other people to pick on in the big city. He said
he wasn't worried about us. He knew that I could take care of
things. When I told him that I would make sure that Sissy went
back to school when they opened again he said it didn't reaUy
matter. The girl knows too much already. I didn't teU him about
Sissy wanting to give a speech about the Bible. Last night I was
woken by a call from Rose.
In the mortuary.
Stan: How the hell could you think of doing that to another human
being?
Sissy: It's what he wanted.
Sunna: He was dead.
Stan: You destroyed my property! (to Sunna) What?
Sunna: He was dead, is aU.
Stan: What difference does that make? (back to Sissy) It was my property! You've committed some serious crimes here.
Beatrice enters.
Bea:       Sissy! What's happened?
Stan:     Where's your father?
Bea:       Saskatoon.
55 Stan: Saskatoon?
Bea: Yes, he left-
Rose: (entering) Now what's going on?
Sissy: He works at the sawmill there after harvest is done.
Stan: Quiet!
Bea: (to Sissy) What happened?
Rose: (to Beatrice) You shouldn't be here.
Stan: She stole a body from here and burned it-
Sissy: (to Rose) She shouldn't? And you should?
Stan: on my haystack, (to Sissy) I said quiet you!
Rose: God help us!
Bea: Sissy!
Sissy: Michael wanted it!
Hart: Excuse me—
Bea: Sissy...
Stan: I have horses!
Rose: What's the matter with your horses? (covering her nose as she gets
close to the body) Oh my lord!
Stan: Nothing, but they'U starve this winter thanks to this—
Sissy: They won't starve!
Stan: girl here. They will without feed!
Sissy: It's the end of—
56 Rose: What happened to the boy?
Sissy: Beatrice?
Hart: Excuse me—
Stan: She set him on fire.
Rose: Oh my Lord! Where is he?
Sunna: (referring to a corpse under a sheet) Here.
Sissy: Beatrice, please.
Rose: (looking under sheet) Oh, my Lord Jesus Christ!
Stan: See!
Sissy: It's worse because they pulled him off! You should have left
him!
Stan: Don't you dare blame us you evil bitch of a whore!
Rose: Stan!
Stan: She destroyed my feed!
Sissy: Not aU of ft!
Rose: What about the boy!
Stan: That's another thing altogether.
Sunna: I'U bury him tomorrow.
Sissy: You don't touch him. I'U bury him tomorrow.
Sunna: Fine.
Stan: You'U do no such thing! We'U end up-
Sissy: You can't teU me—
57 Rose:
I don't know why he wasn't buried before!
Stan:
losing the whole town. God knows what- (to Beatrice) goddammit
girl! Your father wiU pay me for that lost hay!
Bea:
I'm sure we'll be able-
Sunna:
She wanted to see him.
Hart:
HeUo! Excuse me! If I may say... Excuse me, sorry, but if I may
say, Sissy may have been trying to help you all.
Stan:
What the hell-
Hart:
That boy died of the flu. The body carries germs. Burning it may
have been wise, in a way. I'm not saying it's all right, really,
but-
Rose:
You don't treat a human body like some pile of rubbish! No it's
definitely not all right!
Sissy:
Rubbish? It was a funeral!
Stan:
(to Bea) What's wrong with your famUy?
Bea:
Nothing!
Hart:
Sir, be fair. These girls are very kind.
Rose:
We would have been better off if you never came here.
Stan:
Leave him alone!
Sunna:
This has nothing to do with him!
Rose:
He brought this flu!
Bea:
He's not even sick!
Hart:
Is she talking about me?
Stan:
Rose, he didn't do anything!
58 Rose: I'm not blaming the girl, Stan, although it's certainly doing her
no harm with people sick and dying.
Stan:     You keep your mouth shut about her!
Rose: She's just like her uncle was. No sense of-and then bringing in
someone who's been in the middle of an epidemic.
Hart: She didn't bring me in! She didn't want me here!
Stan: Well why the hell did you come?
Sissy: He wanted a fire!
Pause.
Hart: Me?
Sissy: Michael! Michael wanted a fire! I was doing it for him! No one
would help him so why do you care? (to Rose) You! Rubbish? He
was thrown dead off the train like rubbish! Nobody complained
then! Now you're upset? I won't have him stuffed underground
with no one noticing or caring. Even when you knew there was no
one for him at home you wouldn't let him back! And I wasn't
trying to stop the flu either! I hope you aU catch it and you aU
die!
Underneath the end of her line the phone begins to sound a strange pattern of
rings.
Rose: Shhh! Emergency ring! (shepicks up the phone) HeUo? Yes? Speak
up. Oh my Lord, oh my Lord, (she hangs up) Telegram. It's over.
The war is over. It's victory.
Silence for a moment. Suddenly everybody cheers and hugs. Sissy joins in the
rejoicing and is included by all. Hart is pulled into the fray. The group suddenly
stops and there is silence except for a howling wind that has come up. Everyone
slowly withdraws from each other and masks are produced and donned. Lantern
Ught flickers, then darkness.
59 TWELVE
V-DAY DANCE
Bea: November 13th, 1918. Last night I slept so deeply. Last night I
didn't dream. I awoke to the sound of the train whisde as the first
train pulled into the station since the town was quarantined.
Mary: (she clears her throat with a little cough) Sorry. The Victory Day
Dance. Welcome. Under special provisions, the town by-law prohibiting pubUc gatherings has been amended to aUow for this
celebration dance in honour of the end of the war. However, there
are certain and specific rules: masks must be worn at all times, the
dance will only last one hour and thirty minutes, and band members playing brass instruments are kindly asked to not empty
their spit valves onto the bandstand or dance hall floor. Thank
you. Also, dance partners wishing to dance must remain one yard
apart at all times. A very special welcome home to Unity's own
returning war heroes—Alan McCaw and Glen Brambley.
Beatrice, Sissy, and Mary stand separately. Shadows of dancers flicker about the
stage. Glen stands in uniform, isolated in a shaft of light. Beatrice tries to get up
the nerve to approach him, when Sissy beats her to the punch. Sissy and Glen dance
a waltz without touching each other. Over time their steps become more complicated
and they are perfectly in synch. Meanwhile Beatrice watches in frustration until
she can't take it anymore. Glen dips Sissy still without touching her. When she's
fully extended backwards, Beatrice screams out.
Bea: Glen!
Sissy falls.
Bea: Glen!
Glen: Hi?
Bea* Hi. Sorry.
Sissy: What are you doing?
Bea: You don't mind Sissy. Sorry.
Glen: Who is that?
60 Bea: It's me... Beatrice. Beatrice WUde.
Glen: Oh. Oh, hi. How are you?
Bea: Fine, (to Sissy) Get up!
Sissy: I was waiting for a hand.
Bea: You don't need a hand.
Glen: I'm sorry. Let me help you—
He reaches down and helps Sissy up.
Voice: One yard apart!
Glen: (pulling back) Ooops.
Sissy: Thanks.
Bea: I don't mean to interrupt but—
Glen: That's okay.
Sissy: I'm going for punch.
Bea: Okay.
Glen: Thanks for the dance.
Sissy: Save another one for me. You're pretty good.
She exits.
Bea: How are you?
Glen: I'm really good. How are you?
Bea: Fine.
Glen: WeU, great You surprised me there.
Bea: I'm sorry. I just wanted to tell you-
61 Voice: One yard apart!
Bea: Oh. I just wanted to teU you how proud.. .we all are of you.
Glen: Oh, thanks.
Bea: And we're reaUy glad you're home.
Glen: Oh me too.
Bea: You are?
Voice: One yard apart over there!
Glen: (to the chaperone) Sorry! (to Beatrice) Do you want to go outside?
Bea: Uh... (pause) yes.
Glen: Great! Let's cool off, as they say.
Bea: Sure.
Beatrice hesitates looking back at Sissy and Mary, and then exits with Glen.
Suddenly they are outside in the night air.
Glen: Yeah, it's good to be home.
Bea: It is?
Glen: It was a long time.
Bea: I know. It was.
Glen: Yeah, and you begin to forget things.
Bea: You did? Like what?
Glen: Oh Uttle things. The look of town, the feeling of being here, people...
Bea: Does it seem different?
Glen: Well, then you come back and it all just seems like yesterday.
Nothing's changed and what you—
62 Bea: No, it hasn't.
Glen: thought you had forgotten is aU there again.
Bea: Oh, that's good. You're just like I remembered.
Glen: Yeah?
Bea:      WeU, you seem more... WeU.. .1 don't know.. .You look... (she mumbles) Well you look very handsome.
Glen:     What?
Bea:       Oh, you just look nice in your uniform.
Glen:     Oh, thanks.
Bea:       It must have been hard to come back to little Unity after seeing
the rest of the world.
Glen:     No, it wasn't hard at aU. What I saw of the world wasn't all that
great
Bea: Oh.
Glen: I'm looking forward to getting back on the farm and settling down.
Bea- ReaUy?
Glen: Sure. Hey, can I show you something special?
Bea: Yes.
He produces a wool sock.
Bea: (gasps) Oh. I recognize that.
Glen: You do?
Bea: Yes. I.. .1 knit that sock, (pause) And another one just like it.
Glen: No.
63 Bea: Yes.
Glen: You're teasing me.
Bea: No. I know it's mine. See this? This is something special Fd do.
I'm sure no one else would do it just Uke that.
Glen: Wow. That is very strange.
Bea: I know.
Glen: It's amazing!
Bea: I know!
Glen: You knit this sock?
Bea: Yes!
Glen: And I got it!
Bea: Yes!
Glen: It's amazing!
Bea: I know!
Glen: Because this sock is very important to me.
Bea: It is?
Glen: Yep. It kept me going through the war.
Bea: ReaUy? How?
Glen: 'Cause it protected what was most dear to me.
Bea: What?
Glen produces a locket rolled in the sock, opens it and shows Beatrice a picture.
Glen: This is my wife.
64 Bea:      Wife?
Glen: Her name is AUce. I met her in London before going to fight We
got married just before I left and I carried this picture with me the
whole time over. I'm sure I would have busted it without this
sock. It's a real great sock. She's coming to Unity. She should be
here in the spring.
Bea: Oh. She's pretty.
Glen: Oh, she's real sweU. You'd Uke her, I'd bet.
Bea: I'd bet
Glen: WeU, Beatrice WUde. I owe you.
Glen moves to hug Beatrice. He suddenly sneezes, pulls back, laughs. The threshing
machine roars. Darkness.
65 Contributors
Amanda Ngozi Adichie was bom and raised in Nigeria, Her fiction is
forthcoming in the Iowa Review. She lives in Connecticut.
David Galef is a professor of EngUsh and the MFA program administrator at the University of Mississippi. He has pubUshed nine books including the novels Flesh and Turningjapanese, two chUdren's books, two translated books of Japanese proverbs, and a critical study of flat and minor
characters in literature. His most recent book is the short story collection
Laugh Track.
Kevin Kerr is a Vancouver-based writer and a founding member and co-
artistic director of the Electric Company Theatre-a creation based coUec-
tive with whom he's co-written several plays including Brilliant, The Wake,
The Score, and Flop. His recent play, Unity (1918), was premiered by Touchstone Theatre in Vancouver in 2001, and wiU be pubUshed by Talon Books
in the spring of 2002.
In 1956 Tim Lander was conscripted into the British army—who gave him
a free ride to Malaya. He moved to Canada in 1964. He is a poet and a
book designer, and supports himsetf as a whistler. "WhistUng's okay when
you're young and energetic, but it's quite a different matter when you're
old and asthmatic." (Marina Tsvetaeva, Lander's translation)
Nancy Mattson, an Albertan Uving in London, England, has recendy had
poems in UK magazines and anthologies and an essay in Going Some Place
(Regina: Coteau, 2000). "GUI Baby" is from a sequence, "Old Baby Tales,"
in her current poetry manuscript Writing With Mercury. Her first poetry
coUection, Maria Breaks Her Silence (Coteau, 1989), was shortlisted for the
Gerald Lampert Award.
66 Mark Ryden received a BFA in 1987 from Art Center CoUege of Design
in Pasadena, California. His paintings are treasured by coUectors from
Australia to Sweden. A few of his cUents include Stephen King, Leonardo
DiCaprio, Patrick Leonard, Ringo Starr, Danny Elfrnan, Kirk Hammett,
Paul Leary, Chris Carter, Don Was, KidadaJones, Bridget Fonda, Henry
Selik, and the famous anti-mogul Long Gone John. Currently, Mark is
Uving in a magic house in Sierra Madre, California, with his lovely wife
Carolyn, his imaginative son Jasper, and sweet daughter Rosie. You can
find him late at night in his studio among his many trinkets, statues, skeletons, saints, and old toys that he coUects for inspiration.
Virgil Suarez was born in Havana, Cuba, in 1962. At the age of 12 he
arrived in the United States. He is the author of two new poetry collections, Palm Crows (University of Arizona Press) and Banyan (LSU Press).
This year Guide to the Blue Tongue, his sixth collection of poetry, wiU be
pubUshed by the University of Illinois Press. He is the co-editor of the
anthologies American Diaspora: Poetry of Displacement and Like Thunder: Poetry of Violence in America, both pubUshed by the University of Iowa Press.
He divides his time between Key Biscayne and Tallahassee where he Uves
with his wife and daughters and teaches at The Florida State University.
Matthew Vollmer grew up in Andrews, North Carolina. He now Uves
with his wife in Lafayette, Indiana, where he teaches freshman composition and business writing at Purdue University. His recent work has appeared, or wiU appear, in New Letters, Paris Review, and Tin House.
67 to
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Creative Writing Program, UBC
Buchanan E462 - 1866 Main Mal
Vancouver, BC V6T IZl
CANADA
PRISM international
Creative Writing Program, UBC
Buchanan E462 - 1866 Main Mal
Vancouver, BC V6T IZl
CANADA  Fiction/Poetry/Drama/Translation/Creative Non-fiction
40:3
Although I should go down to the Atrium to snag one
of those fly Thai salads that Richie Valens (dude has
the LaBamba look down to a T) fits so beautifully into
a transparent plastic cube (aesthetically pleasing
AND mobile), I don't. Instead, I crush up and snort
three Ritalin (sorry, Mom, if you're reading this, I
know you're against me snorting my pharms)...
Matthew Vollmer, Page 13
Amanda Ngozi Adichie
David Galef
Kevin Kerr
Tim Lander
Nancy Mattson
Virgil Suarez
Matthew Vollmer
in
Cover Art:
Balloon Boy by Mark Ryden
7 ™ 75DDUMat3bl"1 a
03

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