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Contemporary writing from Canada and around the world
$4.50 (plus G.S.T.]
1991 Fiction Contest Winners  JWL
international  AA.
Rodger Cove
Executive Editor
Patricia Gabin
Fiction Editor
Francie Greenslade
Poetry Editor
Vivian Marple
Advisory Editor
Keith Maillard
Associate Editor
Murray Logan
Business Manager
Elizabeth Drumwright
Fiction Contest Manager
Terry Armstrong
Editorial Board
Rita Davies
James Farenholtz
Zsuzsi Gartner
Patricia Jones
Shelley MacDonald
Fran Muh*
Kris Rothstein
Jane Scott
Shannon Stewart
Laurel Wade PRISM international, a magazine of contemporary writing, is published four times per year
at the Department of Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver,
B.C. V6T 1Z1. Microfilm editions are available from Xerox University Microfilms, Ann
Arbor, Michigan, and reprints from the Kraus Reprint Corporation, New York, N.Y.
Contents Copyright © 1992 PRISM international for the authors.
Cover art by Roxanna Bikadoroff
One-year individual subscriptions $16.00, two-year subscriptions $24.00, library and institution subscriptions $22.00, two-year subscriptions $36.00, sample copy $5.00. Canadians
add 7% G.Spp
All manuscripts should be sent to the Editors at the above address. Manuscripts must be -
accompanied by a self-addressed envelope with Canadian stamps or International Reply
Coupons. Manuscripts with insufficient postage will be held for six months and then discarded. The Advisory Editor is not responsible for individual selections, but for the magazine's overall mandate including continuity, quality, and budgetary obligations.
Payment to contributors is temporarily $20.00 per page plus a one-year subscription.
PRISM international purchases First North American Serial Rights only.
Our gratitude to the Canada Council, Dean Patricia Marchak, and the Dean of Arts' Office at
the University of British Columbia.
We gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the Government of British Columbia,
through the Ministry of Municipal Affairs, Recreation and Culture.
Second Class Mail Registration No. 5496. Oct. 1992 Contents
Vol. 30, No. 3    Spring, 1992
Leslee Becker
Danuta Gleed
Darleen Quaife
Wendy Mai Rawlings
Linda Raymond
Eden Robinson
The Personals   66
One Of The Chosen   39
The I Ching Of Shoes   56
Kissing Back   27
Book Of Questions   82
Dogs In Winter   7
Kim Carter
Yannis Goumas
Fernand Roqueplan
Jelena Lengold
translated from the Serbo-
Croate by GordanaStevanovic.
Anna Synenko
Rhea Tregebov
Terry Worobetz
J. Michael Yates
The Winter Bride   37
Deposition   80
The Life Of The Party   81
Daru Girl   25
Panacea   36
Architectural Secrets #1   64
The Common Palsy   26
Canadian city nature poem   65
Sapsucker   54
Chickadee   55
Cover Art
Roxanna Bikadoroff
Monster with Girl who is bringing
him home (ink & guache on paper)
Contributors    93 1991 Short Fiction Contest Winners
$2000 Prize: Eden Robinson, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
"Dogs In Winter"
$200 Prize: Leslee Becker, Fort Collins, Colorado, U.S.A.
"The Personals"
$200 Prize: Danuta Gleed, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
"One Of The Chosen"
$200 Prize: Darleen Quaife, Priddis, Alberta, Canada
"The I Ching Of Shoes"
$200 Prize: Wendy Mai Rawlings, Fort Collins, Colorado, U.S.A.
"Kissing Back"
$200 Prize: Linda Raymond, Orangevale, California, U.S.A.
"Book Of Questions"
1991 Finalists
John Isaacs, U.S.A. "Georgie's Habit"
Roberta Reese, Canada "Hand Of A Thief"
Gayla Reid, Canada "Sister Doyle's Men"
Jerry Saviano, U.S. A. "Toothpaste And Monkey
We would like to extend a special thank you to Susan Musgrave, this
year's final judge, and to Terry Armstrong our Fiction Contest Manager. Dogs in Winter
Eden Robinson
1. *WARNLNG: Sex
Aunt Genna's poodle Picnic, greeted people by humping their
legs. He had an incredible grip. A new postman dragged Picnic
six blocks. Picnic hopped and ground as they went; the postman
swore and whacked the poodle with his mailbag.
"Picnic is the most affectionate animal I know," Aunt Genna said when
the S.P.C.A. arrived at our door to take Picnic away. "He should not be
punished for his love"
Picnic, however, humped the wrong legs when he burst out of our lilac
bushes and made love to Officer Wilkenson's calves. On that fateful day, I
was lounging on the porch swing, watching humming birds buzz around
the bird feeder. On this quiet, lazy summer afternoon, traffic on the nearby highway was pleasantly muted.
'What the fuck are you doing!" a man yelled.
I sat up. A policeman was trying to pry Picnic off. Picnic was going at it
steady as a jack hammer.
"Frank! Get this thing off me!" the policeman said to his partner, who
was unhelpfully snapping Polaroids.
The policeman lifted his leg and kicked it out. Picnic hopped off and attacked the other leg. Officer Wilkenson gave Picnic a. kick that would
have disabled a lesser dog. Not Picnic.
Eventually, with the help of a broom handle, thelitfo police officers
managed to quell Picnic's passiop§|
"Oh my," Aunt Genna said, arriving on the porflpwith a tra^ of lemonade. Aunt Genna was the very picture of a Victorian Lady. That day, she
was wearing her hair up in a big, salt and pepper puff-bun at the back of
her head. The lace on her dress fluttered as she rushed down the steps
to the walkway where the policemen stood. "Is something wrong? Has
Picnic been hurt?"
*At the beginning of certain sections, WARNINGS for such topics as Sex, Death,
andlor Immorality, implied or explicit, will be put up for those readers who might
be offended and wish to skip over said sections. "Is. This. Your. Dog," Officer Wilkenson hissed.
"Why, yes," Aunt Genna said, putting the tray down. She knelt down
to stroke Picnic's head. "Oh, pookums. Did the nasty man hurt you'"
Picnic whimpered.
"Nasty man! Nasty man!" Aunt Genna shouted. "How could you hurt
my helpless pookums! Look what you did to his darling new hair-do! Nasty, dirty man!"
I shrank down in the swing. Aunt Genna grabbed the broom from Officer Wilkenson and wonked him over the head with it.
"I will speak to your superior officer about this," Aunt Genna said
"Could you do that again?" Officer Wilkenson's partner said to Aunt
Genna, holding up his camera. "I missed it."
2. WARNING: Death
There is a lake I go to in my dreams. Mama took me to it the first time
I got my period.
In my dreams, she and I are sitting on the shore, playing kazoos.
Mama has a blue kazoo; mine is pink. We play something classical Mozart, I think. Crickets are chirping. The sun is rising slowly over the
mountains. The lake is cool and dark and flat as glass.
A moose crashes through the underbrush It lumbers to the edge of
the lake, then raises its head and bellows.
Mama puts her kazoo down slowly. She reaches behind her and pulls a
shotgun from her dufflebag. She steadies it on her shoulder, takes aim,
then gently squeezes the trigger.
The shot sounds like fireworks. A hole appears on the moose's head. I
don't know what I expected, maybe the moose's head to explode like a
dropped pumpkin, but not the tidy red hole. It collapses forward, head
first into the water.
"Let's go get breakfast," Mama says.
Wearing a blue dress, I walk slowly into the lake The pebbles on the
shore are all rose quartz, round and smooth as ping pong balls. As I go
deeper into the lake, my dress floats up around me. When I am in up to
my waist, I see the moose surfacing. The moose rises out of the water,
its coat dripping, its eyes filled with dirt It towers over me, whispering,
mud dribbling from its mouth like saliva. I lean towards it, but no matter
how hard I try, I can never understand what it's saying. 3. WARNING: Death
I can't remember the first time I saw Aunt Genna. She was just always
there, like the sun, and sky, and furniture One of her dogs—Jenjen,
Coco, or Picnic—was always following her. Although she was born in the
1930's in Bended River, Manitoba, she liked to believe she was a Lady
from England. We had tea parties every Sunday after church Aunt
Genna brought out her plastic dishes and sat the dogs on cushions. Jenjen
and Coco loved tea time. I would serve them doggie biscuits on plates
with pictures of blue bears and red balloons on them. Picnic didn't like to
sit at the table and howled until Aunt Genna let him go to his hallway
Since I wasn't allowed to have real tea, Aunt Genna filled the silver tea
pot with grape juice.
"How are you today, Lady Lisa?" she would ask, in her best English
"Oh, I am quite fine," I would say. "And yourself?"
"I am quite well, except that I have gout."
"Oh how awful! Is it very painful?"
"It makes my nose itchy."
"Would you like a sugar cookie?"
"I would adore one"
It was at one of these tea parties that I first asked about my parents.
Jenjen was gnawing at her biscuit, spreading crumbs ou the table Coco
and Picnic were howling. I poured grape juice for both of us then said,
"Are my parents dead?"
"No," Aunt Genna said. "They are in Africa."
I crawled onto Aunt Genna's lap. "What are they doing in Africa?"
"They are both doctors and great explorers. They .wanted so very
much to take you with them but there are too many snakes and tigers
and elephants in Africa. They were afraid you would be eaten."
"But why did they go?"
"They went because they were needed there There are very few doctors in Africa, you see, and every single one counts."
"But why did they go?"
"Lady Lisa," Aunt Genna said, kissing the top of my head. "My Lady
Lisa, they didn't want to leave you. Your mother cried and cried when
they took you out of her arms. Oh how she cried. She was so very sad."
"They why did she go?"
"She had no choice Duty called. She was called to Africa." "Was my father called too?"
Aunt Genna sighed. "Yes. Your mother called him with her. They went
"When are they coming back?"
"Not for a long, long, long time"
I put my arms around her and cried.
"But I will always be here for you," she said, patting my back. "I will always be here, my Lady Lisa."
Aunt Genna told me many things. She told me there was a Santa Claus,
an Easter Bunny, and a Tooth Fairy. She told me there were monsters in
the world, but all you had to do was be a good girl, and they wouldn't get
you I always believed Aunt Genna, until Mama killed her.
4. WARNING: Death & Immorality
I was fourteen when I first tried to commit suicide. I remember it
clearly because it was New Year's Eve Paul and Janet were at a Costume Ball and thought I was with friends. Paul was a pirate and Janet was
a princess.
They drove me to my friend's house Paul put his eyepatch on his chin
so it wouldn't bother him while he drove. I sat in the back, at peace with
myself. In my mind, I was seeing my foster parents at my funeral, standing grief-stricken at my open casket, gazing down at my calm face.
When they let me off, I walked back home I brought all Janet's Midol
and all Paul's stomach pills upstairs to my bedroom where I had already
stashed two bottles of aspirin. I went back downstairs and got three bottles of gingerale and a large plastic tumbler.
I then wrote a poem for Paul and Janet It was three pages long. At the
time, I thought it was epic and moving. I squirm when I think about it
now. I'm glad I didn't die. What a horrible piece of writing to be remembered by. It was something right out a soap opera: "My Darling Parents,
I must leave/I know you will, but you must not grieve" sort of thing. I
guess it A^pildn't have been so bad if I hadn't rhymed everything.
I poured all the aspirin into a cereal bowl. Deciding to get it all over at
once, I stuffed iffiandful into my mouth God, the taste. Dusty and bitter
aspirin crunched in my mouth like hard-shelled bugs. My gag reflex set
in, and I lost about twenty aspirin on my quilt. I chug-a-lugged three cups
of gingerale to get the taste out of my mouth, then took it more slowly
and swallowed the pills one by one.
After the twenty-sixth aspirin, I stopped counting and concentrated on
not throwing up. I didn't have enough money to get more pills, and I
10 didn't want to waste anything. When I got to the bottom of the cereal
bowl, I'd had enough. I'd also run out of gingerale. Bile was leaking into
my mouth. Much later, I discovered that overdosing on aspirin is one of
the worst ways to go. Aspirin is toxic, but the amount needed to kill a
grown adult is so high, the suicider's stomach usually bursts before toxicity is reached.
My last moments on earth I didn't know what to do with them. Nothing seemed appropriate. I lay quietly on my bed and read a People magazine Farrah was seeing Ryan O'Neal Some model was suing Elvis' estate for palimony. Disco was dying. A Virginian woman was selling
Belgian-chocolate covered caramel apples at $12 a piece to stars, who
said they had never tasted anything so wonderful.
At midnight I heard the fireworks, but was too tired to get out of bed.
I drifted into sleep, my ears ringing so loud I could barely hear the party
at our neighbour's house
In the morning, Janet and Paul were hung over. They didn't notice anything unusual. I crawled to the bathroom at the end of the hall and spent
an hour vomiting thin strings of yellow bile into the toilet.
All of the next week, I wished I had died. My stomach could hold nothing down. Janet thought it was the flu and went out and got me a bottle of
extra-strength Tylenol. I missed three days of school Janet thought I
needed to get out of my bedroom, so she and Paul carried me downstairs
to the livingroom couch. I watched All My Children, The Young and Hie
Restless, Another World and General Hospital, in the morning with Janet
Then she took off for her part-time job and I flipped back and forth between channels, finding it easier to watch only five minutes of a program
at a time.
To this day, I can't stand the taste of gingerale.
5. WARNING: Death & Immorality
By some strange quirk of fate, Mama came for me an hour after a
S.P.C.A. man took Picnic away.
Aunt Genna was weeping quietly in the upstairs bathroom when the
doorbell rang. She was always telling me not to let strangers in, so when
I saw the woman waiting in the hallway, I just stared at her.
"Auntie's busy," I said. "Go away."
The woman's face was smooth and pale "Alisa," she said. "Don't you
remember me, Baby?"
I backed away, shaking my head.
"Come here, Baby, let me look at you," she said, crouching down.
11 "You've gotten so big. You remember when I used to sing to you? Remember?"
Her eyes were brown and familiar. Her dark blonde hair was neatly
highlighted by streaks that shone in the sunlight.
"Aunt Genna doesn't like me talking to strangers," I said.
Her face set in a grim expression. She stood. "Where is your Aunt?"
"She's upstairs," I said.
"Let me go talk to her. You wait right here, Baby. When I come back,
maybe well go shopping. We can get some caramel apples. They used to
be your favourite, didn't they? Would you like that?"
I nodded.
"Stay right here," the woman said as she walked by me her blue summer dress swishing. "Right here, Baby."
Her high heels clicked neatly as she went upstairs. I sat in the hallway,
on the highbacked chair that used to be Picnic's bed. It still smelled of
him, salty, like seaweed.
Something thunked upstairs. I heard a slithering sound, and then the
shower started. After endless minutes, the door to the bathroom
creaked open. Mama's high heels clicked across the floor.
"I'm back!" Mama said cheerfully, bouncing down the stairs. "Your
Aunt says I can take you shopping if you want to come She's taking a
bath" Mama leaned down and whispered, "She wants to be alone"
She had my knapsack over one shoulder. I jumped out of the chair.
Mama held out her hand. I hesitated.
"Coming?" she said.
"I have to be back tonight," I said. "I'm going to Jimmy's birthday
"Well then," she said. "Let's go buy him a present"
She led me to her car. It was bright blue and she let me sit up front I
couldn't see over the dashboard because she made me wear a seatbelt
Aunt Genna's house shrank as we drove away. I remember wondering if
we were going to get another dog now that Picnic was gone I remember
looking down at Mama's shoes and seeing little red flecks patterned
across the tips, like a splatter-paint I'd done in Kindergarten. I remember
Mama giving me a bad-tasting orange juice, and then I remember nothing.
6. WARNING: Death & Immorality
"Yuck," Amanda said. "I'm not touching it"
"No problem" I said. "I'll do it."
Biology 11. Amanda—black-haired, blue-eyed and busty—and I were
12 in the same class, looking down at the body of a dead frog. We were supposed to find its heart
When lab partners were assigned, I was hoping for Buddy Anderson,
the left guard in the school's basketball team. Instead, I got stuck with
Wonder-woman. Buddy never looked at me when Amanda was near.
"Oh God," Amanda said, as I made my first cut
For a moment I was by the lake and Mama was smearing blood on my
"Now you're a real woman," she said.
I shook my head, goosebumps prickling up my back, making my neck
hairs stand on end.
"I don't know how you can do that," Amanda said.
"Well you lift the knife and put it against the skin. Then you cut It's
very simple Want to try?"
She wrinkled her nose and shook her head, crossing her arms over her
"Chickenshit" I said.
"Better than being a ghoul," she said.
"Just my hick to get stuck with a wimp," I muttered loud enough for
her to hear as I poked around the frog's jellied innards, looking for a small
purple lump.
"Very good, Lisa," Mr. Anderson said when he saw my work. "I bet
you'll be a great surgeon. You have the touch "
"Thanks, Mr. Anderson," I said, blushing.
"Now Amanda," he said. "You can't let Lisa do all the work. You have
to do your share"
"But 111 be sick!" she said.
The potheads at the back of the lab started to make vomiting noises,
then burst out laughing.
"Here well start you off on something simple" Mr. Anderson said,
giving her a cow's eye
Amanda hunched over that eyeball for a half hour. Buddy came up and
stood beside her. They talked, and Buddy said something to her. She
handed him the eyeball He bounced it off the table a couple of times,
then left I went up to her and showed her my frog's heart She glared at
me, going pale.
She rolled up her sleeves fifteen minutes before lunch, gripped the
scalpel in her left hand and cut tearing a jagged hole in the yellowing eyeball
I never noticed if she did her lab right becausi||right then, I saw the
scars on her wrists. When she noticed me staring at them, she pulled a
bracelet down to cover them.
"I slipped," she said defensively. "And cut myself."
13 We looked at each other, both oblivious to the murmur of the class
around us.
"Don't you say anything," she said.
Instead of answering, I unbuttoned the cuff of my blouse and rolled to
up my arm. I turned my hand over so the palm was up.
Mr. Anderson came over so I rolled my sleeve down.
"How's it going, ladies?" he asked.
"Fine," I said.
"Yes," Amanda said. "Everything is fine now."
7. WARNING: Death and Immorality
The second time I tried to commit suicide was when I was fifteen, exactly one year after my attempt with the aspirin. This time I had done my
homework. I knew exactly what I was going to do.
Determined, I bought a straight-edged razor.
I cheerfully wished Janet and Paul a happy New Year as they raced
through the rain to the car, so as not to damage their rented finery.
I closed the door and listened to the house. Then I marched upstairs
and put on a bikini. I ran the water, put in Sea Foam bubble bath, mango
bath oL I stepped into the bath, then lay back slowly letting the water envelop me as I watched the bathroom fill with steam.
The razor was cool in my hands, cool as a doctor's stethoscope. I put it
underwater to warm it up. Flexed my arms a few times. Took several
deep breaths. Shut the water off. It dripped. There was no way I could
die with the tap dripping, so I fiddled with that for a few minutes.
Got out of the tub. Took a painkiller. Got back in the tub. Hands shaking. Placed the razor in the crook of my elbow. Pushed it down. It sank
into my skin, the tip disappearing. I felt nothing at first I pulled the razor
towards my wrist, but half-way down my forearm the cut began to burn.
I yanked the razor away.
Blood welled in the cut Little beads of blood. I hadn't gone very deep,
a few millimeters or so. Just enough for the skin to stretch open slightly,
gaping. Not enough to reach a vejfljor an artery.
I was shaking so hard, the bubbles in the tub were rippling. The wound
felt like a super big paper cut. I clutched it, dropping the razor in the tub.
"I can do it," I said, groping for the razor.
'fpit the razor in the same place and pushed it deeper. A thin stream of
blood slithered across my arm and dripped into the tub. It burned, it
Paul and Janet came home and found me in front of the tv watching
14 Jimmy Stewart in/fs a Wonderful Life. It always makes me cry. So there
I was, bawling as Paul and Janet came through the door, and they were so
drunk, they hugged me.
In two weeks the cut had healed so that all that was left was a long
white line running from the inside of my elbow to my wrist like a seam.
8. WARNING: Immorality
In a tiny, grungy art gallery on the Queen Charlotte Islands, in Masset,
I found the moose Paul and Janet brought me with them to their business
conference. Bored, I left the hotel and wandered down a street into this
art gallery.
Nature pictures and small pieces of sad-eyed Indian children cluttered
the wall. The hunchbacked owner followed me everywhere I went not
saying anything. He didn't even say, "HL" He watched my hands like
they were mutating or something. I was about to leave when I saw the
"How much is that one?" I asked, reaching for it
He grunted at me and slapped my hands away.
"How much?" I said.
When he didn't answer, I grabbed the picture and handed him twenty
dollars. He pushed me out the door.
"What on earth is that?" Janet asked when I got back. She was at the
mirror, putting on her pearls.
"Oh, nothing. Just a picture"
"Really? I didn't know you were interested in art. Let me see "
"It's just a tacky tourist picture I'll show it to you later."
"Here," Janet said, taking it from my hands and unwrapping it
"Careful!" I said.
"Yes, yes, I—" Janef s mouth fell open and she dropped the picture.
"Oh my God, that's disgusting! Why on earth did you buy that! Throw it
out right now!"
I caught it and hugged it to my chest She tried to pry it from me, but I
clung to it tightly. Paul came in and Janet said, "Paul throw that disgusting thing out of here! Now!"
She made me show it to him, and he laughed. "Looks very Dali," he
"It's obscene"
"This from the woman who likes Pepsi in her milk."
"Paul, I'm serious," she hissed.
"Let her keep it" Paul said. "What harm can it do?"
15 10. WARNING: Death & Immorality
When I was twelve, I took the picture the Officer Wilkenson had given
to me to a police station in Vancouver.
In the picture, Aunt Genna and Officer Wilkenson are both blurs, but
there is a little brown-haired girl in the background, crouched on a white
porch swing, grimacing.
They were very excited. Three days later, an important looking man in
a navy blue suit came to me His voice sounded strange; it had a flat nasal
"Is this you?" the man said. He held my hand tightly in his. "Is this you,
Eyes still dazzled from the pop-pop-pop of the newspaper flashbulbs
outside on the steps, I looked at the man and his face was covered with
green spots.
"Yes," I said. "That's Aunt Genna. And that's Officer Wilkenson And
that's me"
"Holy smokaroonies," the man said. "We've got her."
11. WARNING: Death
There is a feeling to summer mornings that inspires poetry.
Mama loved to camp. She would wake me early, and we would sit outside and listen. My favourite place was in Banff. We were by a lake as
blue-green as a turquoise. Mama made us bacon and eggs and pancakes
over a small fire Everything tasted so much better in the outdoors. I
always ate more than I should have When we were in Banff, Mama was
happy. She whistled all the time even when she was going to the bath-,
room. Her cheeks were apple red, and always dimpled up in a smile We
hiked for miles, seeing people only distantly.
"Imagine we're the only people on earth," she said once, smiling as she
closed her eyes and opened her arms to embrace the mountains. "Oh
just imagine it*
When we left, we travelled until Mama felt the need to settle down.
Then we would rent an apartment Mama would find work, and I would
go to school. I hated it I was always behind. I never knew anybody and
just as I started to make friends, Mama would decide it was time to leave
There was no arguing with her. The few times I tried, she would give me
this look, this strange distant look.
We went through the Badlands of South Dakota when I was 11, and
^- while I was sleeping in the back, the car hit a bump, and Mama's clipping
book fell out of her packsack.
Just as I opened it to the first page, Mama slammed on the brakes,
reached back and slapped me.
"Didn't I tell you never to touch that! Didn't I? Give it to me. Now,
young lady, before you're in bigger trouble than you are!"
Mama used the clipping book as a fire starter that night, but it was too
late. I had seen the first page, I had seen the first headlines, and I was beginning to remember.
That night I dreamed of Aunt Genna showering in blood. Mama held
me until I stopped crying.
"Rock of aaa-ges, cleft for me," Mama sang softly, as she rocked me
back and forth. "Let me hide myself in thee "
I closed my eyes and pretended to sleep. Mama put me to bed and
then climbed in beside me. I waited, afraid, for Mama to do something, to
say something. As the night crawled by, I became afraid that she
wouldn't and that I would wait and wait and wait and that was worse, far
worse than anything Mama could ever do.
12. WARNING: Death
We never talked about it. In all the time we knew each other, Amanda
and I said not one word about it.
13. WARNING: Sex, Death & Immorality
The third time I tried to commit suicide was about six weeks after
Amanda started work at the Sailor's Delight. Paul adored her. She was
never late, she never complained, and she always wore a big, bright
Her mother came in once, but she didn't stay long. Dressed in a dark
blue business suit her hair done up in a Princess Diana style, she stuck
out from the tourists and the fishermen. When she saw Amanda, she
waggled her fingers.
"Oh brother," Amanda said, still smiling.
Her mother took a corner table, and I was about to go ask for her order
when Amanda gripped my arm.
"Let me do it," she said.
"But I-"
19 "Please."
I shrugged. "Go for it"
They talked quietly for five minutes. Other customers tried to flag
Amanda's attention, but she was focused down on her mother, who was
smiling, and holding Amanda's hand.
Finally, Amanda said loudly, "How nice for you Are you going to order
Her mother said something else, yanking Amanda down into the chair
beside her. Amanda pulled herself back up.
"In case you didn't notice, I have a job," Amanda said. "Now, are you
going to order or not?"
Her mother left soon after, and I raised an eyebrow when Amanda
came back behind the counter for the coffee pot
"Nailed the bitch," Amanda said, not bothering to explain.
Matthew picked her up sometimes after work. Paul and I had fun trying to guess what he'd dress up as. My favourite was his impersonation of
Elvis. Paul liked his mermaid look. Amanda just rolled her eyes up,
breathed in deeply, and expelled a loud, long-suffering sigh
Paul kept a small automatic on the top shelf of the pantry. It was supposed to be as protection against robbers, but it wasn't loaded and I had a
hard time finding ammunition for it When he was busy with an order, I
put the gun in my purse
This time I was going to get it right.
I remember it was a Wednesday. The sky was clear and there was no
moon. I didn't want to mess up Paul and Janet's house, so I was going to
do it at Look-out Point, where I could watch the waves and listen to the
I left no note Couldn't think of anything to say, really. Nothing I could
explain. Nothing to explain. There was a queer deadness to my body as I.
walked up the road, trying to hitch a ride This time this time was the
last time.
Cars passed me I didn't care I was willing be benevolent They didn't
know. I remember thinking, how ironic, when Matthew pulled over and
powered down his windows.
"Where to?"
"You going anywhere near Look-out?"
He winked at me "I am now."
I opened the door and got in. He was surprisingly low-key for Matthew. He had on a purple muscle shirt and black studded shorts.
"Going to a party?"
"Yeah," I said. "Me and a few old friends."
20 Something British was on the radio We drove not saying anything until we came to the turn-off.
"You were supposed to turn left," I said.
Matthew said nothing.
"We're going the wrong way," I said.
"Yeah Look-out's that way."
"Matthew, quit fucking around."
"Euw. Nasty language."
"Matthew, stop the car."
"I can't heeeear you," he singsonged, putting his fingers in his ears.
"You idiot," I said, grabbing the wheel. "Pull over."
"Shitting my pants. Pull over."
"You know," he said casually. "I could do anything to you out here and
no one would ever know."
I let go of the wheel.
"Anything," he said.
"I think you'd better stop the car right now before we both do something we might regret later."
"Are you scared now?"
"Pull the car over, Matthew."
"Babe, call me Matt" He cranked the radio up and pressed a button.
The doors locked. The sunroof closed.
"You are making a big mistake," I said.
He just grinned.
"You don't know what a big mistake you're making."
"Shitting my pants," he said.
I unbuttoned my purse Felt around until the smooth handle of the gun
slid into my palm. The deadness was gone now, and I felt electrified. I
could feel every nerve in my body singing. Matthew pulled the car over in
a deserted parking lot and turned to me
"Just do what I say," he said. "And I won't hurt you."
I don't know what he saw on my face but it made him look puzzled. He
opened bis mouth, but 1 shut him up by slowly levelling the gun at his
"You could try to slap this out of my hand, but I'd probably blow your
nuts off instead of your stomach Do you know what dum-dum bullets
are, asshole?"
He blinked slowly, Ins eyes fixated on the barrel of the gun.
21 "I asked you a question, asshole."
His mouth opened and he touched his tongue with the tips of his finger.
He reached slowly over to the dashboard and picked up a dog collar. I
clicked off the safety. Eyes feverbright he watched my face as he put the
dog collar around his neck then attached a leash
We didn't move The radio played "Mr. Sandman". A semi rumbled
past, throwing up dust that blew around the car like a faint fog.
"Command me," he said, offering me the leash "I'm yours."
14. WARNING: Death
Once upon a time a '°ng time ago in Bended River, Manitoba, six people were reported missing:
Daniel Smenderson: 32, while going out to the nearby 7-11
for cigs
Angela Iyttenier: 18, hitchhiking
Geraldine Aksword: 89, on her way to a curling match
Joseph Rykman: 45, while on a lunch break at a
construction site
Peter Brendenhaust: 56, from the St Paul Mission Home
for the Homeless
Calvin Colnier: 62, also from the St. Paul Mission.
After a thunder storm that cut off power to three different substations
near Bended River, a police officer, investigating complaints of a foul
smell, went to 978 West Junction Road. A little girl greeted him at the
door in her nightgown. He asked if her parents were home and she said
my daddy's in the basement.
"Where's your mommy?" he asked.
"A-hunting we will go," the little girl sang. "A-hunting we will go.
Heigh-ho the derry-oh, a-hunting we will go."
He took her hand, but she wouldn't go down to the basement with him.
"Mama says it's bad."
"How come?"
"Daddy's down there"
As he opened the door, the reek grew stronger. He reported a tingle
in the tips of his toes, a sign that always meant trouble He asked for back
up, and was refused. The other officer on the Bended River Police force
was on lunch break fabvering his mouth with a handkerchief, he took a
deep breath, switched the light on, but it didn't work He went back to his
car and got his flashlight, then descended.
22 And found nothing. The smell seemed to be coming from everywhere.
Nauseated, he called out, asking if anyone was down here
The basement had neatly tiled floors. Everything sparkled under the
flashlight's beam. Faintly, beneath the overpowering reek he could smell
antiseptics, like the hospitals used. There was a thick butcher's block
with a marble counter against the wall in the centre room.
"It smelled something like rotten steaks," he told friends later. "But
more like the smell my wife gets when she has her period."
There were only three rooms in the basement. A bathroom a store
room, and the centre room with the marble table After checking them all
twice, he noticed that the marble counter of the chopping block had hinges on the underside. He heaved and strained but couldn't lift it He was
about to go upstairs when his toes tingled again.
There was a button on one of the butcher's block drawers. It was small
and light grey. Shrugging to himself, he pressed it, thinking he had nothing to lose
The counter top popped up an inch He tried again and managed to
slide it oft Inside the butcher's block was a freezer. It was making no
sound, no humming or purring. It was dead. The smell intensified and he
thought he was going to faint.
He reached down, and lifted the lid. For one moment he thought the
skinned carcasses inside the freezer were deer, or calves. Then he saw
the arms and legs, neatly folded and sealed in extra-large Ziploc plastic
bags and piled in the large tray that normally held ice-cubes.
Three days later, Moreen Alisa Rutford was charged with seven
counts of murder. The body pieces were later identified, but this was
made difficult because of the lack of heads and fingers, and Moreen's absence Dental records for the victims could not be obtained, except for
David Jonah Rutford, Moreen's husband, who was only missing his heart.
16. WARNING: Death
As one of the conditions of continued co-operation, I have made them
bring me back to Aunt Genna's house.
This is the house where Picnic attacked Officer Wilkenson, I think
The CSIS agent behind me coughs. A woman, wiping her hands on her
blue apron, comes out onto the porch and smiles at us.
"Are you lost?" she says, coming down the steps. "I seen you somewhere before. I know you, don't I?"
23 I shake my head. I ignore her, and look at the house In the yard, in my
mind, I can see Coco, head cocked, waiting for me to throw his Bell-ball.
Picnic is sitting on the porch Jenjen is barking somewhere in the back
"I know you!" the woman grows excited. "I saw you on tv—five or six
years ago, right? I remember, that was when Al wanted to sell the house.
You're that woman's daughter! You're the one that turned her in!"
There she is. Aunt Genna. Telling Jenjen to behave shaking her finger
at him. She is in her favourite dress, the white cotton with real French
lace at the neck and cuffs and hem. She looks out of the window and
waves to me
"They caught her yet? Do you know where she is?" the woman is saying eagerly, opening the gate and advancing.
"Good afternoon," I say to the house. "How good it is to see you
The CSIS agent has his hand on my elbow and drags me back to the car
saying something about security. All the locks and all the guns m the
world won't save me from Mama, I want to tell him. You can move me
anywhere and change my name to anything, but one day she'll find me.
After we drive away, I catch myself singing "Rock of Ages," touch my
throat, and think of ripping out my tongue
24 Fernand Roqueplan
Daru Girl
She speaks to her married sister through fogs of reason
About other worlds far beyond Tamai and Tibet, cities
Unthinkably high-rising from Tahawndam; each season
She caches silver rings and turquoise beads for taxis
She will never see but rides, breathless through her mind,
Leaving hill-jungle, hunger, goat flock Daru blood feud.
On mornings thick with smoke and rhododendron scent
She washes clothes in the cold, swift, green Adung River.
Tall cormorants pick across the rocks, hooked necks bent
For fish Chupa kneels into a pool, lathers her long hair
With a precious scented scrap of Burmese soap. Spring
Has opened the Irrawaddy, poisoned her heart with longing,
a yellow-throated dipper's harsh singing.
Today, the burial of her mother, Makikin: teeth, ashes, bone
Poured gentry into a bamboo tube, buried above family fields
Of barley, corn and pea in a high shelf of rock a flat stone
Scratched with her name. Chupa prays, milks the goats, yields
Enough cream and butter for the strong tea, heavy corn cake
Her father and brothers fuel the toil with Rough hands shake
Salt across boiled spinach, beets; lying stomach-down they eat,
Staring at nothing, speaking, when at all, of the midday beat
25 Rhea Tregebov
The Common Palsy
Though I should, I don't know the name,
much less the reason for the common palsy
that takes the aged, that makes the woman
ahead of me in line for this bus shake
and shake her head as if she were uttering
a constant no; no to the wait
and the air at the platform, no
to her handbag and her coat and her shoes and
no to all of it, to all that takes her
and takes us all; I who will be, am
her, who feel already in me
the no and no and no.
26 Kissing Back
Wendy Mai Rowlings
We are on our way to visit Vanessa. Squeezed between Melanie
and Reesha in the front seat of Melanie's old Valiant, I twist
my hands in my lap and whisper, "Whose idea was this?" Melanie is laughing. When we stop at a red light she turns and fixes a smile on
"You really look like men in those outfits! Remind me to get a picture
of us," she says.
All the way to Vanessa's I am sick with worry that our gag won't go
over. Whether it does depends on whether or not Vanessa actually
watched the movie we took her to see at the plush Syosset Triplex,
where the curtain rolls up in slow scarlet velvet waves and the screen
stretches all the way to the edge of your vision. Vanessa sat on the aisle,
her IV standing sentry next to her, me on her other side Several times I
glanced at her and caught the startling smooth silhouette of her skull, or
allowed the slow drip of solution into a plastic tube that snaked toward
her arm to mesmerize me A bright moment on the screen illuminated
two heads in front of us merged in an openmouthed kiss, and I pretended
I did not notice Vanessa, slackjawed, not watching the movie at all
The plot of this movie, I know, turned on Julie Andrews disguising herself as a man. I remember her careful straight mannish walk her somber
suits and bow ties, the tingling pleasant shock of her slender white arms
when she appeared in a sleeveless dress toward the end of the movie A
yellow frock Or maybe this was the Julie Andrews I knew in "The Sound
of Music?" If Vanessa does not understand why we're wearing men's
suits, I will not be the one to explain it
Vanessa is at home with her family again, in their new house in Locust
Valley. The sod for the lawn has not even been laid yet, so her house
sprawls in dusty dirt, one of only ten in Oak Neck Estates. All of us—me,
Melanie, Reesha—grew up in the next town over, in cottagy winterized
beach houses. Thus, we walk timidly up Vanessa's broad blacktopped
driveway, pausing for Melanie to snap a photo of us in front of the
wrought-iron gate. She slings one arm around a statuette of a black sen-
27 try carrying a lantern. "Now that both of you are practically married off, I
guess 111 have to pick up men all on my own," she says.
As I walk by, I rap the statuette's red and white striped cap with the
heel of my hand. I hate tacky lawn decorations. I hate the pair of black
lanterns with electric light shining in them, even though it is daytime. As
we approach the front door Melanie pulls ahead of us, and I decide against
trying to question or change her buoyant mood. It seems to me that all
our trips to Vanessa this past year have been marked by Melanie's irrepressible good cheer. I cannot think of any reason for this. I decide again
to let her be the liaison between us and Vanessa's stepmother, Angelina.
Angelina does not like me. The first time we met I was carving my initials and Vanessa's into a birch tree in their front yard. There was
Vanessa, squatting next to me in a pink dress and matching ballet flats.
We were ten and reading Harriet the Spy together. We read jealously—
me because Harriet got to hide in dumbwaiters and write in her notebook
about people she had never even spoken to; Vanessa just because Harriet was allowed to wear overalls. I carved VS -I- AG FRIENDS FOREVER in the birch bark with my pocket knife while Vanessa cursed Eddie
Grandinetti and all boys, and we agreed that Eddie Grandinetti was a stupid name; it was like naming your kid Tommy Salami or Lizzie Gowizzy.
"And if you married him your name could be Vanessa Grandinessa!" I
told her triumphantly, delighted at this name of my own invention.
Vanessa bent one knee of her white tights into the dusty dirt and reached
between her legs because she couldn't stop laughing, then gasped "Stop
Adrian, I can't hold it in I'm gonna pee in my pants." I was laughing too
and wiping my runny nose on my shirt sleeve when Angelina shot out the
front door and yelled something at us in Italian. Vanessa grabbed my hand
and said we had to come inside.
After that invitations to Vanessa's did not come so frequently. Angelina
was suspicious of me anyway, suspicious of girls who played sports, girls
with mothers who worked outside the home, girls who read too much
people who were reduced to living in beach houses year-round. She encouraged us to play board games like Life or Clue, or to help her make
desserts: Jell-0 layered with whipped cream in fancy parfait glasses,
wobbly green or orange Jell-0 molds with tiny slivers of pineapple suspended in them. When she did not hear noise from us upstairs, she found
reasons to tiptoe up and spy on us. Once she marched in and snatched a
copy of Wuthering Heights out of my hands and snapped it shut, causing
me to lose misplace in the book Vanessa and I had been reading aloud to
each other, the two of us pressed together beneath a reading lamp in
Vanessa's father's study. "Pretty girls ruin their eyes reading too much"
Angelina said, and made us follow her downstairs, where we were permitted to watch a soap opera called Edge of Night and eat Perugina choco-
28 lates wrapped in blue and silver foil. Apparently Angelina did not worry
that chocolates could hurt a pretty girl's figure.
I have not seen Angelina since she found out she was pregnant. Two
months ago she gave birth to a fat baby girl. I saw blurry Polaroids of the
baby tacked up next to Vanessa's bed in the hospital but Angelina and I
never ran into each other at the hospital. After the baby's birth she became anemic and had to stay in bed. Often I ran into Vanessa's father pacing the halls of Sloan-Kettering, un unlit cigarette or a stale danish in his
hand. One evening when Vanessa was fast asleep we slumped on stools
outside her room and he confessed that he'd wanted this new baby to be a
son. He'd planned to name him Walt after Walt Disney. "Daughters," he
said, tilting his head in Vanessa's direction, "are a lot of trouble"
I said I thought Walter would be a hard name for a boy to manage in
"Not Walter," he said. "Walt"
TH be sure to keep my fingers crossed for a boy," I said, and wished
Vanessa would wake up.
When Angelina opens her door and finds the three of us, in mismatched
men's clothes, waiting on her doorstep, her face rearranges itself from
cordiality to polite distaste She recognizes me first with my unmistakable freckles and close-cropped hair. I am engaged now; Angelina and I
have not met face to face in six months and I feel older. These past six
months I have memorized the inside of a cancer hospital. I have helped
Vanessa gather clumps of hair off her pillow and save it in a sealed plastic
bag. I have held a kidney tray for her while she dry-heaved into it all the
time moaning something that was not quite words and not quite nonsense In these things I have gained certain rights to Vanessa. I step forward and offer Angelina a gentleman's bow.
"We're here to see Vanessa," I say.
Angelina looks harried, her wiry black hair yanked up and tied high on
her head, her eyes dark as brewed coffee and lined underneath as if with
gray chalk, her lips smeared the colour of burgundy wine Reluctantly she
steps back and allows us to crowd the foyer.
"I don't know whether she's up for visitors today..." Angelina glances
skyward, as if Vanessa, from her bedroom, might give some sign of acquiescence or refusal.
"This whole thing really only works if she sees us all together," Melanie says. "It's from that movie we saw last night—did Vanessa tell you
about it?"
"She didn't tell me anything," Angelina says. "I was asleep when she
came in."
I smile at her and she glares back Years ago, when Angelina had just
29 married Vanessa's father, Vanessa and I came upon Angelina pressed
against him in the living room, unlit except for the flames from two white
candles flickering on a low table. We pressed ourselves to the wall and
listened to Angelina purr in Italian, and we saw her shove Vanessa's father against the wall with a motion in her hips. He ran one hand through
his thin silvery hair while she kissed him brusquely on the mouth and said
"Ricardo, Ricardo." I did not realize this was Italian for "Richard," his
"In the middle of the night I hear her saying that," Vanessa whispered
in my ear.
That night I stayed at Vanessa's and we crouched in the hallway and
listened to Angelina saying "Ricardo" over and over again. We went back
to our beds and whispered about Angelina as if she was a scandalous celebrity we'd seen in a restaurant: Can you believe that dress she wore?
That red nail polish on those claws of hers? Whenever I pictured
Angelina, she was exhaling smoke a silver cigarette holder between two
white bejeweled fingers. It did not make any difference that in real life
she wore only a thin gold wedding band, or that she always smoked her
Marlboro Lights holderless. "Does she always speak with that accent?" I
asked Vanessa. "Or is it an act?"
"Oh no," Vanessa said. "It's no act Most of her relatives don't speak
a word of English "
Angelina's accent only made her more of a celebrity. More sophisticated, more scandalous. I did not realize that she was only twenty-three, a
year younger than I am now. I did not know that she was closer in age to
Vanessa and me than she was to Vanessa's father.
In the morning she was expansive flitting around the kitchen in a satin
bathrobe and black summer sandals. We each got half a grapefruit with
half a maraschino cherry in the centre, and Angelina gave us spoons with
teeth around the edges to eat them. Then buckwheat pancakes, with a
thick blueberry syrup that Angelina made herself from blueberries we'd
picked, boiled for hours over slow heat with lots of sugar. Vanessa and I
knew this was about sex, but we only communicated our understanding
through blushes and innuendo It was several months before Vanessa got
up the courage to say, "They were doing it That's why she says his
name like that."
After that we did not creep into the hall late at night and listen to
Angelina anymore. We had solved the mystery, and listening after that
would clearly be voyeuriM, dirty. But we resented Angelina, resented
her good moods and her perfect pancakes and her sexy satin robes, and
when she slapped frozen waffles in the toaster oven for us or wandered
downstairs with a red cotton bathrobe belted loosely at her waist a Marl-
30 boro dangling from between two fingers, we watched her exhale and sigh
and sift through her unpaid bills with an unspoken, barely contained glee:
Angelina hadn't been doing it
Angelina looks at her watch and curses in Italian. "Porca madonna!
Where's that nurse? We hire her just for this reason and she's never
around." Then with a sweep of her hand she tells us to go upstairs, and
we follow Melanie tripping on our trousers.
Vanessa lies on a hospital cot wedged between the window and her
canopy bed, which is covered with fashion magazines: Mademoiselle, with
a picture of a woman in a plaid skating outfit gathering her bright coppery
hair into a French twist; Cosmopolitan, with its unabashed trademark a
woman wearing a V-neck dress that shows perfect, powdered breasts.
This month her dress is ice blue This month a single sapphire hangs as if
suspended between those breasts.
"DA-DA-DA!" Melanie sings, shuffling into the room and lifting her
straw hat up and down on head like a Vaudeville actor.
Vanessa smiles and lets her gaze fall slowly on each of us.
"Do you get it?" I ask immediately.
"Of course she gets it" Melanie says.
"You guys look really cute," says Vanessa.
"We brought a hat for you, too." Melanie carefully places a black chauffeur's cap on Vanessa's head. We smile at her and Reesha says "It looks
good" in the same reassuring tone of voice she has always used when we
ask for her opinion. Always the moderator, always the mediator,
Reesha's response is always noncommittal: it's fine, it looks good. Once
when Melanie drew out dour strong Irish cigarettes she'd stolen from her
grandfather and offered one to each of us during a winter walk on the
beach Vanessa and I each took one and tried to smoke. While we
coughed into our hands and watched Melanie for how to'inhale Reesha
walked serenely at the water's edge, the glowing ash of her unsmoked
cigarette falling in the water. "Thank you for the cigarette" she said to
Melanie when it burned down to half its length She dipped it daintily in
the water, then wrapped it in a tissue and put in in her coat pocket.
Vanessa does not try to remove or adjust the hat It is a relief for us all
not to see her bald head—the skin high on her forehead translucent with
a few pale blue veins barely visible beneath; the vulnerable, startling
bump just above where her skull joins her spine, the shock of so much
brown hair gone.
Melanie starts to clear the magazines off the canopy bed so that we can
lie across it and talk "You know if you want them I have a huge stack of
back issues of Cosmo and Glamour. I think for a while I even went on this
31 w
celebrity stint and started getting People." She is chattering now and
Vanessa does not seem to be listening; she is staring out the window at a
hat blowing around the yard.
"Do you want me to bring them over?" Melanie is asking. "I also have
all of Jimmy's running magazines that he just left when he left. I mean, I
have no shortage of light reading material. If you didn't want it I could
just get rid of it, it wouldn't be a big deal."
"Someone should get that hat," Vanessa says, pointing toward a small
tan wisp tumbling in the dirt.
"Oh!" Reesha says. "It's mine! You didn't get to see the whole outfit I
put together."
"Maybe go out and get it." Vanessa sighs and settles back on her pillows. I watch some greenish-yellow fluid drip into a plastic bag attached
to her bed and think: bile. I think of Vanessa and me at sleep-away camp,
Camp Meadowlark in Maine. Her pulling the crotch of her one-piece
bathing suit to the side so she could pee without taking it off, squatting
over the toilet and saying 'Wouldn't it be great to pee like the boys? You
can just whip it out, I've seen my brother do it." Me holding the door to
prevent it from swinging open while she was peeing, staring at my sunburnt nose in the bathroom mirror because I was embarrassed to look at
Vanessa, embarrassed even by the sound of the stream of pee hitting the
toilet water.
Now Vanessa does not pee. It drips out of her through a clear plastic
tube This is something I would like to ask her about.
Reesha leaves to get her hat We listen to her gallop down the stairs,
then watch her move out into the middle of the yard. She is shapeless in
her enormous suit, her straight black hair whipping across her face as she
bends for the cap. Just as she reaches for it a gust of wind sends it against
a bush and we watch her dive for it. Her dive is desperate, as all of our
actions here are. We want to be in control of things, we want to move
things forward, out of this sickness. This is why Melanie is making such a
big deal out of the magazines; this is why Reesha is chasing a cap all over
the front yard. We have tried with ice-cream and flowers, magenta or
turquoise scarves, promises of trips fo California, Paris, Club Med. I
have tried with novels, all my favourites, in hardcover. The trips have
been couched indefnaij^y, the ice-cream placed on a table to melt, the
flowers arranged in a vase for the windowsill, the novels stacked on top
of the television. Only the scarve^iave served any real purpose:
Vanessa has wonj|jhem for almost a year. Last night she did not. None of
us has asked her whjg?When we met Melanie in the movie theater foyer
and she saw Vanessa's bald head she Snarly dropped her Coke.
32 I decide that I need to get out of this room for a minute Even if it is
just a minute it will be a whole minute without having to see Vanessa's
smooth skull I excuse myself by saying that I need a glass of water.
I start down the stairs toward the landing. The house is a split-level
with a giant sitting room sort of stuck between the first and second
floors. I hear the sounds of someone playing the white piano in the middle
of the room. And a thin voice singing in Italian: Angelina. Her back is to
me but she hears footsteps on the stairs and turns.
"I was just coming down for some water," I say.
"There's coffee if you want it How is she?"
"I guess she's okay. She seems pretty lucid compared to when she
was in the hospitaL"
"I thought so, too. She seems better, I think I tell her father I think
she is better all the time" Angelina rises and walks toward me. We are
almost the same height even though Angelina wears heels.
I realize she is waiting for further confirmation from me
"Soon, I think" Angelina says. "Richard does not sleep—at night he
paces but soon she will be getting better and then things will be normal here again."
"Yes," I say, "soon things will change." We go downstairs and
Angelina pours me a cup of coffee. All the way up the stairs again, I hold
the cup near my nose and smell the cinnamon she has sprinkled in my coffee
When I come back into the bedroom Melanie is telling a long story
about fending off a drunk Australian in a cowboy hat at the White Horse
Tavern. "Are you feeling okay, Vanessa?" she asks suddenly. "Can I get
you anything?"
I perch on the bed with my hands around my coffee mug. Melanie taps
out a jittery rhythm on the wooden floor. I am wondering whether she
knows that she's doing it
"You know," Vanessa says, "Angelina made all this food yesterday—
these little almond cookies, and cannolis. Someone should eat them."
At this Melanie is on her feet anxious to do something. "We could go
get some... or we could eat them and then come back up..."
"Why don't you do that" Vanessa says.
I start to follow them, but when I look at Vanessa I see she is telling
me to stay. "I'll be down in a minute," I say.
I sit down next to her.
"Tell me about how Darryl proposed to you," she says. "Tell me what
it was like"
"It wasn't really my kind of thing at all" I say. "He took me to the Cape
33 and while we were having a picnic on the beach and I was freezing my ass
off, this plane flew by and spelled out, 'Marry me Adrian'."
"Well? Will you?"
"Sometimes I think I won't be able to handle a white dress and being
Mrs. Somebody or other, but I guess those aren't really the important
things. I mean, I'm keeping my name."
"And you only have to wear the dress once"
"Right" I say to Vanessa. "That's right"
"Tell me the rest," Vanessa says. "What you did that night. How you
told your family."
Now I feel shy and a little foolish All my details—the clam shell Darryl
gave me on the beach with the engagement ring wrapped in pink tissue
paper and tucked inside; the bed and breakfast in Brewster where we
made love in a creaky canopy bed; the strands of seaweed that caught in
our hair and our underwear when we dared each other into an off-season
swim in a rocky cove after breakfast—all my details seem quaint and unreal when I am staring at the neat square of gauze on Vanessa's neck
Someone gave her a tracheotomy, so she could breathe. I do not know
why she couldn't I am too afraid of Vanessa's answer even to ask
I gaze out the window at her dog, Amos, straining on his leash Angelina trying to pull him back onto the front walk Amos scrabbles around in
the dirt, stirring up a cloud of dust "I don't know," I tell her. "It's hard
for me to remember now. We had a nice evening. We told my family over
dinner at the Mill River hm. They like Darryl They're glad."
"Are you glad?" She is leaning forward now, perfectly still except for
the blinking of her eyes. I watch the steady drip from her IV and say,
"Yes. Before I met him I wouldn't even think about getting married.
Well, you already know that"
"fes," she says.
We both watch Amo$: resist Angelina, leaping up only to be yanked
back by the leash
"If my father saw her treating Amos like that he'd have a fit," Vanessa
says "It's not like I can do anything about it though "
"Yeah" I say. "That must be hard on him."
"Adrian," she says. "I want you to know Fta not doing so welL "
"Yeah" I say. I set my coffee cup down on top of a magazine
"I don't really know what that means. I just wanted to tell you"
"Okay," I say.
"I think what it means is I might die."
I look up and see the sliver of Vanessa's body outlined by the sheets.
Once she had bigger breasts than I did. Once we went to Macy's together and bought Maidenform bras, an A-cup for me a B-cup for Vanessa.
34 At first we thought I'd be the B and she the A, and ended up trading the
ones we'd chosen by passing them under the changing room stall.
"I can't even think about that" I say.
"But you have been. You've been thinking about bridesmaids."
Neither of us says anything for a minute Vanessa's hand rests on the
metal safety bar of her cot I put my hand over hers. We sit like that until
I hear someone call my name I get up and lean over to kiss her. As I lean
close I smell antiseptic and iodine. "Kiss me," she whispers. "Kiss me
like you kiss Darryl"
And so I lean and put my lips full on hers, and watch her eyes flutter
and close, and I kiss her the way Darryl told me he likes it, long and full,
and Vanessa kisses back and imagines this person in the hat and suit she
is kissing is Eddie Grandinetti or a groom in a black tuxedo or a man she
flirted with before this all began. But I am just kissing Vanessa.
35 r
Jelena Lengold
translated from the Serbo-Croate by Gordana Stevanovic
Strange is the very word that binds us, my dear
and I will not utter it
The other night, between your thigh and mine
lowering her head was a young woman from a French
the one who, back in the 1960's, destroyed all my chances.
Some other road,
I had, instead of you, held in my palms
the head of a cavalier who sometimes appears
when your gaze wanders oft
Something in the way I wash your laundry
suggests negligence
something in the photograph of your youth
I find odious
and such different views on poverty
something in collecting crumbs from the table,
but I want you see someone who
could eat my socks
because of their smell,
and I always ask myself
what would become of this odd union
if, for example, a lion bit off my hand
if, for example they shot in my eye,
something in the fear
with which the comb in my hair anticipates your arrival
and the cups which begin to tremble
then once again I call the young woman from a French
to lie between us
and then it just happens:
I have the perfect body
and you are young again.
36 Kim Carter
The Winter Bride
Four-thirty. Wedding day.
My dress drifts over my body hke a light snowfall.
But it does not blanket my anger.
My mother stands there shaking her head,
her mouth a zipper of martyred hurts.
For months we have played politics:
hurled words, like snowballs,
over organists and invitations.
Now she asks for the tenth time
why I choose to marry in the season of dead things.
Not her choice
the cold knife light of December.
Nor this logical and precise ceremony
I say I have arranged for tax purposes.
Still nattering, she hands me my veil
I want to tell her how winter
has always eased my pain.
But I cocoon behind the icy muslin.
I conjure up my father instead.
Remember how he chopped icicles from the root
She said they were like knives;
but he said they were popsicles.
During the long cloaked nights
his laughter was a ribbon of cold.
He is now a memory
distant as those polar stars.
37 I want to tell her
I am doing this for him.
Five thirty. We walk out the door
watch the moon skate across shadows
to maim us separately. I turn to speak.
But my throat thickens and the consonants never come
38 One of the Chosen
Danuta Gleed
Not much to show for eighteen years in England, Luisa's mother
says, but she is smiling as she lays out clothes and shoes on the
bed and tries to decide what to pack in the suitcases shell take
on the plane, and what to pack in the crate that will be sent on to Canada,
where Mr. Frankland is waiting. When her mother leaves, Luisa will go
to live with Basia, her mother's younger sister, Basia's husband, James,
and their ten-year-old son, Andrew.
Luisa's mother used to work in Mr. Frankland's store in town until
early this year, when Mr. Frankland's wife died and he decided he was
homesick and returned to Canada to the place he left forty years ago
when he married his English wife Luisa's mother wrote to him. He
wrote back Now they are going to get married. Luisa did not really believe her mother would marry Mr. Frankland. Her mother is forty-one
Mr. Frankland must be a hundred. But this morning Luisa's mother said
she was going to leave the furniture behind in the flat The next occupants can use it for firewood. It was when she laughed that Luisa could
tell she was definitely leaving, in five days' time no matter what
Luisa has not said that she doesn't want to live with her Aunt Basia and
her Uncle James. She is not one to cause trouble not any more She has
figured out something important and thinks about it a great deaL Her uncle is not really her uncle and never will be They are not related by blood
at all If Aunt Basia hadn't married him, they may never have met him.
She tried to explain all this to her mother but her mother flapped a wet
dishcloth at her and told her to stop talking crazy.
Although Luisa has figured out something else now, she will keep the
knowledge to herself this time For a while anyway. Basia and James are
being very kind, her mother says, considering. And it is only for three
years, after all, until Luisa finishes high school when, her mother promises, she can come to Canada, if she wants. Until then, it's better that her
education not be interrupted. Besides, Mr. Frankland never had a child
and would find it difficult to get used to have one around at this stage of
his life When Luisa thinks of Mr. Frankland with his white, wispy hair
and the lop-sided bow tie under bis chin—a different colour for each day
39 of the week—and the way he looked somewhere over her shoulder when
he spoke to her and always called her Laura, she knows, that of all her
mother's statements, this one is the absolute truth
Consider yourself lucky you have such a nice place to stay, Luisa's
mother tells her. Basia is preparing the large room above James' dental
surgery, in the part of the house that juts out at the side. The room is
twice as big as Luisa's bedroom in the flat. The ceiling is high and engraved with a pattern of leaves and twisted stems. There is a large wardrobe, a built-in bookcase and a fireplace on the wall opposite the window.
Every room in the house, even the kitchen, has a fireplace. Basia says
this Is because the house was built seventy-three years ago, in 1890, in
the time of Queen Victoria, and this was then the only way of heating
such a large place
Luisa will fill no more than one shelf in the new bedroom with her
books, and probably less than half the wardrobe with her clothes She is
also taking the navy blue shoebox with Clark's written in white along
each side in which she has packed her missal thirty-seven holy pictures,
a packet of razor blades wrapped in a shiny gold chocolate wrapper, her
black wooden rosary beads and the white plastic cross which is about
three inches tall and has the words, At the Blessed Grotto I have prayed for
you, printed on the front Sister Margaret brought two dozen such
crosses back from Lourdes last summer and gave one to each of the girls
in her Religion class. When the other girls weren't looking, Sister
pressed a small round medal of the Virgin Mary on a thin blue ribbon into
Luisa's palm. Luisa wears it each day around her neck under her clothes.
Sometimes, Sister lends her books about the saints: St Maria Goretti,
St. Joan of Arc, St Winefride, all young women—girls, really—and each
one of them a martyr.
Luisa knows that Sister Margaret has noticed there is something different about her because she has talked privately to her about vocations.
Sister has explained that the word vocation comes from vocare, a Latin
word that means to call. To be given a vocation means to be called, to be
singled out by God for something special. She herself heard the call to the
religious life at a young age, at fifteen or so, the age Luisa is now.
"Do you think you have heard God call you?" Sister has asked her.
Luisa thought for only a moment Then she nodded. Luisa, Luisa she
has heard, lately. She was not surprised when she realized that this was
the voice of God or, perhaps, one of his angels. Now she understands
that God has been preparing her for something for a long time, for as long
as she can remember.
Luisa keeps her shoebox hidden under her bed. Her mother does not
yet know that her own daughter is one of the chosen. Yesterday, when
40 Luisa returned to the flat after the six o'clock Mass at St Alban's, her
mother, who does not usually get up until noon when she is not working,
was standing by the window in her black nylon nightdress, a cup of coffee
in one hand and a cigarette in the other.
She stubbed out her cigarette in the plant pot with the crooked old cactus and frowned. "That Sister Margaret and those Sisters Mary
whatever-their-names sure as hell give you some strange ideas," she
Luisa didn't answer. She was not quite sure which strange ideas in particular her mother meant. Is it that she now says the Rosary each night
before bed? Is it her lack of interest in the Saturday night dances at the
Polish Club? Does the way she wears her hair—in one braid hanging
down her back—offend her mother somehow? Her mother is always suggesting that she have it cut and styled. Don't you have any pride in your
appearance? she asks.
Luisa has more important concerns now that she knows things that
most people including her mother, don't know. The things she knows
are not ordinary things, such as how many rivers there are in England or
what year Mr. Macmillan became Prime Minister, or how the African elephant differs from the Indian. She can never remember about the elephant anyway. The African one has ears as broad as palm leaves, the Indian has small ones, like a dog. Or is it the other way round? It doesn't
matter. Nothing in this world matters, now that she has been invited into
the real world, the world of the spirit
Sometimes, when she kneels in the school chapel, the angels make her
smile with the stir of their wings. Their voices are soft and urgent She
has heard demons, too, not in chapel but in her room at the flat Liar,
liar, they hiss. Bitch. Whore. Filth. Their voices are harsh Mke balloons
suddenly losing air. But they cannot frighten her. She knows they are
sent to test her. She makes the Sign of the Cross and orders them to
leave Once she forgot herself and shouted out loud. She covered her
ears with her hands and yelled, "Go away! Leave me alone! Leave me
alone!" and her mother flung the door open and snapped, "Luisa, for
heaven's sake Have you gone mad? Who are you screaming at?"
Luisa remembers the exact moment she received the sign that indicated she is one of the chosen. It was one year ago, at the Requiem Mass
for her father's funeral. She remembers sitting in the pew, staring somewhere above the priest's head when a sudden burst of light lit up the
stained glass windows into pieces of colour as brilliant as jewels. But she
knew it was raining. She could hear the rattle of raindrops on the porch
roof The light could not have come from the sun. She looked around but
41 all heads were bent. No one else had noticed the colours and she knows
now it was a sign, a message meant especially for her.
Everyone said later that she was very brave because she didn't cry at
all that day. She found it hard not to smile in fact, and scandalize everyone. Her father, who had gone to the White Swan last Sunday afternoon
and never returned, was right there, beside her, and she could talk to
him in her head. And when the pallbearers picked up the coffin to carry it
from the church she could hear angels and demons whispering and shifting around. Some of the demons were in disguise Demons are notorious
for their attempts to pass as human beings. They can steal more souls
this way.
One of the six pallbearers was Uncle James. He didn't look much different from the other men in his white shirt and dark suit and tie He was a
little taller than the others, perhaps, and he held his chin higher. His back
was stiffer because he is, as Luisa's mother is always saying, an Englishman, a dentist, a professional, a respected member of our community.
Luisa stared at him as he walked by. He didn't fool her for an instant.
Luisa knows that it will not do to talk about this other world to those
who have not been invited to be part of it They will only turn their faces
away and smile behind their hands. They will only tell her that she has
strange ideas, the way her mother does.
You'd think her mother, whose older sister is a saint in heaven, would
know better. You'd think being the sister of a saint would make her pause
and think a little. You'd think it would make her wonder. Luisa bites down
on her Hp when she remembers the way her mother's face creased and
her shoulders shook as if she was trying not to laugh when Luisa asked
for black rosary beads, like a nun's, for her birthday last May. Or when
she hung a picture of St Michael the Archangel wielding a sword in the
devil's face over her bed. Lack of understanding is a cross she knows all
the chosen must bear and she has taken to praying each day to her
mother's sister, the saint, for guidance
Her mother's sister is in the small yellowed photograph that hangs in a
silver frame on the living room wall. Basia, the baby, is also in the photo,
in the centre Marysia, Luisa's mother, is also there on the left, and the
oldest sister, the saint, whom the young Luisa is named after, is on the
right. The photograph was taken in front of the family home on the farm
in Eastern Poland, the year the war began, not long before the Russian
soldiers arrived and packed off the whole family to a labour camp in Siberia. Siostry—Marysia, Basia, i Luisa, w 1939 roku, someone has written
in black ink on the bottom margin. There is a crease in the centre,
straight through a small Basia's face and her pale curls, but you can still
tell that she is easily the prettiest of the three. Marysia is a tall girl with
42 skinny bird-legs and a thick dark braid over each shoulder. The Luisa in
the photograph is short, with a wide, pale face. She is squinting, or
frowning, into the camera. She is holding a cloth in her hand, probably an
apron because there are strings hanging from it down to the ground.
Good old Luisa, the young Luisa's mother always says of her older sister. She is a saint in heaven When their parents were sick with typhoid in
the labour camp in Sibera she kept Basia and Marysia away to protect
them and cared for their parents herself. She was already infected when
they died and died herself, soon after.
Luisa removes the photograph from the walL She tears the front page
of yesterday's Daily Express. Japan struck by disaster: three-train pile-up
kills 164; mine blast kills 327, injures 348, the headline reads. She wraps
the photograph in the paper and takes it into her room to put in the
shoebox. The three sisters have always interested her. She thinks there
must be clues in their young faces to explain each one of their lives, clues
to show how and why each one got from there to here. Each of their faces
is a kind of map, if only she knew how to read it
There is pretty little Basia. Luisa's mother insists that you could tell
even then that a man who can afford a big house and many other things
besides, would claim her. When she and Basia arrived in England after
the war, she had to take whatever work she could. She was twenty-one.
Basia was fourteen and was sent to a foster family and to school Five
years later she was a secretary to James. Soon after, she married him.
Marysia has not been as kicky as her younger aster. She married a man
she met one night in the Polish Club. She was taken with his promises
and his smile and the way he sang into her ear as they danced. It didn't
seem to matter then that he didn't have a decent job. That's always the
way. The pretty one has all the hick
As for Luisa, you could tell she was meant to be a saint, 'even when she
was very young. She was always the quiet one, the dreamer. Her mind
was always somewhere else
The young Luisa has lately taken to inspecting the face of the Luisa in
the photograph very carefully. She has noticed something that she never
noticed before The face in the photograph is pale and broad with straight
dark eyebrows like her own, the hair is neither black nor blonde but
somewhere in between. Muddy-brown is the way Luisa's mother describes her daughter's hair, and the certainly is the colour that would
best describe the hair of the other Luisa, the saint The two Luisas look
exactly alike They could be twins.
This is a mysterious thing. A miracle It's a wonder no one has ever
commented on the resemblance It's a wonder Luisa's mother has never
said, "Good heavens, Luisa. You are just hke my sister."
43 'What do you think?" Luisa's mother calls out Luisa walks into the
bedroom and stands by the window. Her mother holds up a navy woollen
jacket with a tartan lining. Her fingernails are smooth and scarlet as petals. She has recently had her dark hair cut in a pageboy style and when
she moves her head quickly the sides brush her cheeks. "Shall I take this
with me or send it in the crate? I may not need it for a while I have my
heavy coat" She folds the jacket without waiting for an answer.
Luisa stares out of the window at buildings trapped in the November
fog. The fog parts for a moment to reveal a tall factory chimney and
closes up again quickly, tight as a fist Luisa thinks of November in Canada. All she knows of Canada is the sprawling shape she has seen on a
map, something like the drawing of an amoeba in her science book and
that there is a lot of snow, and fir trees and mountains. For several
months letters stamped with Canadian stamps and blue Air Mail stickers
have dropped through the mail slot in the front door of the flat Luisa's
mother kept the tetters in her top dresser drawer. She was working in
the Ladies Sweaters section in Littlewood's at the time and constantly
complained about having to re-fold the sweaters after customers had
pulled them out She had to wear a pastel pink polyester dress with white
piping around the collar and cuffs and the customers were not quite as
nice, not quite the same class as the ones who once shopped in
Frankland's Fine Foods.
Luisa read Mr. Frankland's letters when she returned from school,
while she waited for her mother to come back from work Very hot and
humid this week, she read. I forgot how bad it could be. I have bought a
small house on the waterfront Very pleasant. My life is very quiet now. It
was all the same until the end of August when she read, Please do me the
honour of becoming my wife.
We will be living in Kingston, Luisa's mother said when she told her
she had accepted Mr. Frankland's proposal Kingston is a couple of hours
drive away from Ottawa, she added, as if this explained everything.
Luisa makes a steam patch on the window with her breath The patch
is as big as her face She scribbles it out with one finger. The glass
squeaks. She turns around.
"Maybe I can visit you at Christmas," she says. "I get three weeks off
She knows what her mother will say, but she wants to hear her say it
anyway. It will not upset her. Once she was full of cracks, like an old vase
that was ready to fall apart at a tremor, and shatter on the floor.
It is different now. Nothing anyone can say or do can unglue her.
"Christmas," her mother replies with a small sigh. "That's five six
weeks away. I'D have been married only a few weeks then." Her neck is
44 pink The pink spreads upwards, over her cheeks. "Summer," she
smiles. "Summer's a good time. The weather is nice in Canada in summer." She lifts out a dress from the suitcase and re-folds it "Remember," she turns to Luisa, "Be good when I'm gone. Don't give Basia and
James any trouble "
On a warm Saturday afternoon in July when Luisa was five years old,
she was walking with her mother from the bus stop towards the large
Victorian house where James and Basia lived. Luisa was wearing the pink
dress with puff sleeves and a lace ruffle around the hem which her aunt
and uncle had given her for her birthday. They were going to tea. Luisa
was also going to have her teeth checked. Her father was to meet them
there He often worked for James and Basia on the weekend when he
couldn't get overtime at the factory. He would fix a leaky tap, put up wallpaper, replace a cracked window. Thank God for the extra money,
Luisa's mother would say.
That day he was fixing loose boards on the coalshed roof Luisa and her
mother could hear the bang bang of bis hammer as they walked up to the
gate. Basia was carrying a tray and called out a greeting. She was wearing a flowered yellow dress Luisa had never seen before and her pale hair
hung in curls to her shoulders like a girl's
There was a table under the oak tree, covered with a white cloth
James was sitting in the sun, one leg crossed over the other, reading a
newspaper. He folded the newspaper in four and dropped it on the grass
as Luisa and her mother walked up.
"Luisa," he said as he rose "Come to the surgery with me now while
we're waiting for your father to finish He won't be long." He took her
hand and led her towards the side door.
He lifted her into the chair and raised it high He removed his white
coat from the hook on the back of the door and slipped it on. Open wide,
he said, and rummaged about in her mouth with an instrument that looked
like one of her mother's crochet hooks.
"AH right" He removed the instrument and placed it on a tray.
She was waiting for him to lower the seat when he lifted her dress and
slid his hand along her thighs. He pulled the elastic of her panties aside.
His rough finger probed her warm flesh "Be a good grri," he whispered.
His face was so close she could smell the sour smell of the pinpricks of
sweat on his nose and forehead.
She began to cry. The window was open and a warm breeze brought
with it the sound of Basia's and her parents' voices.
"Be a good girl," her uncle said again as he pinned her to the chair with
his free hand.
45 She cried louder. There was a sound of heavy footsteps and a quick
loud knock As the door flew open Luisa's uncle withdrew his hand
quickly and hoisted her up under the armpits to deposit her on the floor.
Her father was standing in the doorway. "Luisa. Luisa. Such a noise.
What is the matter?"
James shrugged. "She has two, three small cavities. She doesn't want
me to do them now. I'll do them later, one by one 111 make sure they're
finished before she starts school in September." He reached into a
drawer and pulled out an orange lollipop. He held it in front of Luisa like a
round, bright sun. "Here," he said. "You were a good girl."
"Well." Luisa's father was still breathing hard as if he had run very fast
There were stains on the knees of his work pants and a long smear of dirt
across one cheek Luisa held the lollipop tightly to her chest James was
picking up long silver instruments from a tray and depositing them with a
clink one by one into a drawer. His fingers were long and pale and he
wore a gold ring with a small red stone on the smallest finger of his right
Luisa's father picked her up "Well" he said again and turned towards
the door. "Say thank you"
That evening, Luisa's mother knelt on the bathroom floor to run
Luisa's bath Luisa was standing naked, waiting, when she suddenly
clamped her hand between her thighs and said, "I didn't like it when Uncle James put his hand here"
"Luisa." Her mother turned the taps off sharply. She gripped Luisa's
shoulders hard. There was silence Water gurgled in the pipes somewhere "Don't tell stories Don't ever say anything like that again. That's
very, very naughty."
When Luisa had to go to her uncle's surgery later, a new friend came
with her and squeezed into the chair beside her. The friend's name was
Lite. Lite's skin was pale and her hair was almost white. Although she was
as tall as Luisa, wore the same clothes and her long hair was caught up in
a similar pair of thin braids that hung to her waist no one except Luisa
could see her.
Lite slept beside Luisa at night She sat at the table at mealtimes Luisa
screamed if her mother or father sat on her friend accidentally. Her
mother grumbled. Her father laughed. Let the child be he said. Too
much imagination for her own good, her mother muttered. One day it will
get her into trouble.
When Luisa started school in September, Lite came along. Infants 1
classroom was a big room with five low round tables. Each table had six
plastic blue chairs. There was a playhouse as tall as an adult in the corner
46 of the room, with two windows and a proper door that opened and closed.
The playhouse, Sister Anna explained as the children lined up at the door,
was only for the children who were good.
When Sister gave the signal to sit, Luisa sat down in one of the chairs,
turned and placed her hands flat on the chair beside her. When Sister
came to investigate Luisa said she was saving the seat for her friend.
Lite. Lite was over there, inspecting the playhouse She would be right
over. Lite came everywhere with her, even to the dentist's, where she
sat beside Luisa and allowed Uncle James to lift up her skirt and put his
fingers inside her panties and inside the soft, dark places. She never
cried, even when he hurt her, even when he scratched her thigh with his
gold ring and a drop of blood, round and red as a Smartie, settled on her
yellow skirt. And Lite always let Luisa keep the sweets that Uncle James
gave afterwards, even the special ones like a crinkly packet of Licorice
Allsorts or a stick of Toblerone, her favourite.
Luisa didn't tell Sister Anna all this. She just kept her hands flat on the
seat and said, "Lite wants to sit here Lite is my very best friend."
Sister removed Luisa's hands from the seat. She called her a liar, a
wicked girl for making up stories. When liars die, they go to hell "Imagine the smell of your body burning," Sister said. "Imagine this pain for
ever and ever."
"Have you decided what you want to take with you?" Luisa's mother
"Yes. I can get eveiything in the big suitcase"
"You want these?" She indicates the stack of paperbacks on the dresser that she reads in bed each night Luisa knows each of these books has
a bright cover of some young woman swooning into the arms of a tall
young man. The woman has long, wavy hair—red or blonde or black—and
always wears a tight dress that shows the outline of full round breasts.
The young man is fair or dark but his arms are always muscular.
"No," she says. "I don't want them."
"Right then." Her mother reaches for her packet of Woodbines. "I
don't know what 111 do if you misbehave," she says. She strikes a match
and holds it up to her cigarette "You won't spoil it for me will you?"
Luisa shakes her head.
She knows her mother is thinking of other times, when she was younger.
The time she cried when she had her teeth checked.
The time James said she could keep the rabbit a child at school had
given her in his garden shed, because pets were not allowed at the flat.
47 The rabbit was black with two white spots on its back Luisa called her
Susie Uncle James bought a cage from the pet shop. Aunt Basia gave her
a bag of carrots and lettuce
Luisa took an extra bus from school every day for two weeks to visit
Susie She filled the cage with crumpled paper, grass clippings and twigs
because the days were getting cold. She took Susie out of the cage when
she visited and walked around the garden, holding her close, stroking her
long ears. Sometimes she noticed James in the surgery window, watching.
One afternoon the door of the cage was open. The cage was empty.
Luisa ran around the garden, calling, "Susie, Susie" Frost had stiffened
the blades of grass into whiteness The chill air cut through her coat,
wrapped itself around her legs. She thought of dogs and cats of a frozen
furry body under a bush "Susie Susie," she yelled. The words caught in
her throat.
Uncle James was blocking her path "Lost Susie, have you? Did you
forget to close the cage, then?" He smiled. "Over here" He took her
wrist and led her behind the coalshed. He pressed himself against her.
"Stand stiB," he said. Luisa wriggled away and ran.
"He let Susie out on purpose" she screamed at the flat "He did. He
did. I know he did." She stamped her feet
Her mother stepped her hard across the face "Control yourself," she
cried. "You're nothing but a troublemaker, you are."
Then there was the time Luisa's watch disappeared when they were
visiting James and Baste. The watch had a thin leather strap and a square,
flat face and had been a Christmas gift from them only three weeks before As they sat down to tea, James pulled the watch from his pocket
"Luisa," he said softly. He held the watch by the end of the strap and
swung it from side to side The face was squashed flat The hands were
missing and the glass was shattered. "I found this in the hall." He paused.
"Luisa, why did you do such a thing?"
Everyone was looking at her. Luisa imagined removing the watch from
her wrist throwing it on the floor and stepping on it hard. She imagined
and imagined until the imaged flickered in her mind, together with the image of the watch lying on a bathroom shelf where she had placed it before
washing her hands. Other pictures flashed and shimmered before her.
Her uncle's hands on her bare breasts. The smell of his warm breath
Peppermints. Behave yourself. Behave. Hands grab her clothes in the
dark hall push her into the empty room above the surgery. Another hand
(hers?) lashes out fingers curved, claw-like. An intake of breath Bitch.
Three red lines on the back of bis hand. Sound of a step. Her cheek
stings. Her head stems against the wall
Too much imagination will get you into trouble one day.
48 "Well Luisa?" Basia's cheeks were pink
The curtains were drawn. There was a crackle and hiss from the fireplace The room glowed golden. Luisa ran her forefinger around the silver rim of her plate There were small yellow flowers, each one no bigger
than the eye of a mouse, just inside the rim. She had taken a cherry tart.
It sat in the centre of her plate.
"Luisa. Luisa," her mother was shaking her arm. "Basia is speaking to
"I didn't" she said. "I don't know." The cherries in the tart looked like
bumps pushing up under a red skin. "I didn't"
"Then who did?" James laughed. "Fairies? Goblins? One of your make-
believe friends?" He touched her shoulder lightly. "You're not saying /
did it are you?" He was smiling.
"Apologize" Her mother gripped Luisa's arm. She turned to her husband. "I am so ashamed."
Luisa's parents wouldn't allow James to drive them home. I'm so
ashamed, Luisa's mother kept saying as they grabbed their coats. My
own daughter. So ungrateful. I'm so ashamed. They sat on the bus in silence Luisa's mother sat in front, her back rigid. Luisa sat in the seat behind with her father.
"Luisa," he said. "What is going on with you?" His face was yellowed in
the sickly light. His eyes were tired. There were hollows in his cheeks
she had never noticed before She tried to say something but no words
would come "James has bought you so many nice things," her father
added. "Clothes, a watch books. Things I could never afford."
"You'll help Basia with the house and with Andrew?" her mother is
Her mother sighs. "They've been very kind. James insisted they'll be
happy to have you. Baste says you've been much better lately. You'll be
good, won't you?"
"Yes. Of course, I'll be good."
And she will be, now she understands things she never understood before Everything is happening according to plan. Her father has gone
Her mother is definitely leaving. She will soon face the test for which she
has been preparing all the fifteen years of her fife.
During Lent and Advent the Sisters talk about discipline, about mortifying the flesh, to prepare for The Coming. The girls in school give up sugar
in their tea. They go to daily Mass. They give up films or kissing their
boyfriends. They chatter incessantly about how much they are suffering.
They groan and sigh
But the chosen must discipline themselves constantly, in extra, special
49 ways. Nuns have thin leather straps with sharp studs on the ends with
which they whip themselves Luisa has read about this in books The nun
strips to the waist kneels on the floor of her cell and lashes her own back
five or ten times More, if she needs ta Luisa doesn't have a strap like
that but she has found other ways She cuts the insides of her arms with
the small vegetable knife. She tries to be neat about it by making the cuts
exactly two inches apart and one inch long all the way up to her elbows.
She doesn't go very deep, just deep enough for the blood to burst
through When she sees the small, shiny red beads she becomes buoyant, weightless, as if she is about to float away. She used to cut her legs
too, but she won't any more because other people saw the marks during
gym. One girl asked her what they were from and Luisa didn't have an
answer. She wears her gym sweater now during gym to cover her arms.
No one should see these marks Discipline must be private.
"Here, get some papers and 111 pad the spaces in the crate"
Luisa gets the stack of old papers from the living room. She sinks to
her knees and helps her mother tear the pages crumple them, stuff them
between bulky packages in the large square crate in the middle of the
floor. Yugoslav earthquake claims 1,000 lives, she reads as she packs
ChurchiU retires after long career. President Kennedy visits Berlin WalL
Soviet Union puts first woman in space. She smiles She is thinking of
ants. Scurrying, scurrying.
There's a picture of the Soviet woman above the article She is wearing a bulky suit and a helmet like a motorbike rider. She is lying back with
her eyes closed. There is a piece of equipment like something a scuba
diver might use in her mouth The words Valentino Tereshkova in training, are written beneath the picture Chalk up another first, the article
says, for the Soviets in outer space. Junior Lieutenant Valentina Tereshkova has become the first woman to blast off and circle the globe. She comes
back today after her Vostok VI capsule made 48 revolutions in just under
three days.
Luisa thinks of this woman trapped in her tiny capsule tumbling round
and round. How does it feel she wonders to be so high higher than anyone else, above the clouds close to the stars and the moon? Was this
Valentina Tereshkova afraid? Was she? Luisa doesn't think so She thinks
the woman wished she could stay up there for ever and ever. She is sure
of it
"Luisa, stop daydreaming or well never be ready."
"Look" Luisa holds the paper in front of her mother. "The Russians
have sent a woman into space."
"Russians" Her mother snorts. "Don't talk to me about Russians
Space Siberia. It's all the same to me" She stands up. "Well, that's that
50 In five days I'll be in Canada. Ill write to Basia right away to see how
things are going."
"Don't worry. Ill be good. You'll see." Luisa's voice te strong and very
"Luisa. Luisa," her father said to her one Sunday after lunch It was
one year ago. She had taken out her school books and was sitting at the
table Her mother was clattering about in the kitchen. Her aunt Baste had
complained to her mother that morning after Mass about the previous
night when Luisa was babysitting Andrew while she, Baste, was at choir
practise James had been to a conference and arrived home earlier than
expected. Andrew was in bed. Luisa was doing her homework Her uncle
appeared in the doorway and said, "So." Luisa raised her wooden pencil
case and threw it as hard as she could.
"Luisa, James has a gash on his forehead," her mother said as they
walked home "He said he found you opening the liquor cabinet and when
he told you off you threw something. I could hardly believe my ears. How
could you? I am so ashamed. Baste is very upset"
"Don't be ridiculous Marysia," her father snapped. He marched ahead
with his hands deep in his pockets
"Me? Ridiculous? That girl is crazy," Luisa's mother shouted as soon
as they arrived in the flat. "Do you hear me? Crazy. Breaks things,
throws things Lies all the time. Remember those scratches on his hand?
She's always been crazy. She should be locked up." She marched into the
kitchen and kicked the door shut behind her.
"Luisa, what is going on?" her father asked. He moved a pile of school-
books aside
"Nothing," Luisa replied. She was scribbling circles round and round
on the back of an exercise book and suddenly her pencil was making
words without her being able to stop it Help help help help, she wrote.
She covered the words with her arm.
"Luisa?" her father placed his hand on hers.
There was silence. She thought about herself sitting at the table next
to her father. She was one person in the whole universe A speck She
could fade just as easily as Lite had faded one day. One minute Lite was
walking home from school with her, as she had every schoolday for
years, next minute she had disappeared. Now Luisa remembered what
made Lite disappear so suddenly. You're bad, Luisa said to her. You're
wicked, she shouted. You let him. Lots of times. Even when you could
have stopped him, you let him. You will bum in the fires of hell
She lowered her head over her books.
"Nothing," she whispered. "Nothing."
51 Her father rose She heard the front door open and close.
"He must be at the White Swan," her mother said hours later. "Go
fetch him. He promised to fix the pipe under the sink this afternoon"
A weak sun struggled through a layer of cloud and grazed her head as
she walked. Shiny puddles dotted the road. The street was quiet A bus
roared by and disappeared over the hill. A small green van appeared
around the corner and picked up speed. A man came out of the dark
double doors of the White Swan. His hands were in his pockets, his
shoulders hunched. He stepped off the curb. There was a screech of
brakes and the man flew high in the air like a heavy sack His limbs dangled. There was a thud and silence
Luisa knew before she got to him that this was her father. There was
no blood. He was lying still on the side of the road, one arm under his
head, as if he had decided to take a nap.
Luisa will help with the housework at her aunt's and uncle's house and
she will keep her own room very clean and neat and bare as the nun's cell
she saw the other day. She sneaked into the private part of the convent
with three other girls after school when the nuns were in chapel. The
girls had been reading / Leap Over the Wall and The Nun's Story and
wanted to know if nuns wore bras and if it was true that they wore long
loose gowns when they bathed so they could not see their own naked
The cell was small and square with a tidy bed, a prie-dieu, a closet and
a crucifix on the wall. Christ on the cross to ward off evil spirits The girls
crowded in the doorway. They did not dare step inside and look in the
closet where the answers to their questions might be
"Nothing" one of the girls whispered. "It's boring"
Nothing the others agreed, disgusted. They padded away.
Luisa, Luisa, someone called. Luisa left the group and walked back to
the cell. Here. Over here. She stared inside "Where?" she said out loud.
"Are you crazy?" A girl grabbed her arm. "Talking to yourself Come
on. Well get caught"
Luisa watches the nuns carefully these days She imitates the way they
fold their hands in prayer. She whispers the Angelus with them when the
bell clangs at noon. Nuns have only one foot left in the door of this world.
Maybe not even a foot. Perhaps only a toe or two Their faces are turned
in the other direction. No wonder they are calm, and move as silently as
moons navigating the planets
Now that Luisa is also standing at this door, she prays every day that
God will soon give her the signal to step inside The other day when she
52 k_
was clearing out the bathroom she found an unopened packet of her father's razors beneath the sink She opened the packet and pulled out one
razor and made three small nicks inside each arm. The razors are better
than the vegetable knife. The knife is blunt and she has to cut the same
place more than once sometimes and when she forgets to return it to the
kitchen her mother starts opening drawer after drawer and accuses her
of being untidy. The nicks that she made with the razor were not very
deep, just deep enough for the blood to gush through in small scarlet
spurts, like half a dozen tiny mouths opening. She inspected the wavery
blue veins on the insides of her wrists. They are as thin and pale as
threads. She wrapped the packet of razor blades in the gold chocolate
wrapper and slipped it into her shoebox for later.
Luisa stares in the mirror over her mother's dressen She moves her
head this way and that
"Do you think that I look like Luisa, your sister?" she asks.
"For heaven's sake." Her mother stubs out her cigarette in the ash
tray. "How am I supposed to remember what she looked like? She's been
dead twenty-one years. What brought this on?"
"Oh nothing, really."
What do saints look like anyway? she wonders In the photograph
Luisa looks quite ordinary. A saint a martyr, could be a someone you
pass on the street an old man or woman, a mother or father, or the girl in
a photograph who has been called out in the middle of washing the dishes
and is still holding on to her apron. A saint looks the same as anyone else,
until she faces the final test
St Joan of Arc praised God even as she was burning at the stake
St Winefride called God's name as she was beheaded and a fountain
sprang up on the exact spot her head touched as it fell to the ground.
"Here" Here mother fifts up Luisa's braid. "If you cut your hair short,
just below the ears and backcomb it on top you'll look really nice "
Luisa stands still and allows her mother to undo her braid, to fluff up
the hair on top of her head.
"Luisa? What do you think?"
Luisa is smiling into the mirror. Her features shift and return into focus. Open your heart and mind to do the Lord's bidding, Sister Margaret
says. Luisa is ready. Soon she will face her test Her heart flutters in her
chest like a startled bird.
53 /. Michael Yates
two poems
All night I by not listening to the cougar calling through the
black rain and mist white in the puncturing light
The sound fell into the seam between a child crying out in the
night and the mew of a small bird of charcoal and crimson.
The auditory cougar occupied my silence as ferns occupy
the fragile space between strong trees—not sun-spokes, variegated
green and all the fall of shadow into blinding black Not that but that inexactly.
Lupin and foxglove and skunk-cabbage were part of the
cougarnight, but not part of my not listening.
The child life of the cougar cry gives me disquiet but not
panic nor knowledge I speak more to the small black and red bird with
the unpleasant name
I have come to contain this mountain, the mist-space
it creates surrounding.
Each day spring breaks again, each day a little higher, as the
skirts of snow rise
Tonight in the rainy cougar, all seasons interwoven on this
mountain and contained.
Tonight I am alone in this place-
Only what I say of this remains
54 Chickadee
When as few as two are gathered in a small place of refuge
from weather or pursuit always there is one who is giving up so perfectly
that he seems to notice and appreciate even the smallest labour or
touch which has occurred since he was test here.
55 The I Ching of Shoes
Darken Quaife
— —   EARTH
He knows about the old woman in the kitchen with her bag of special
dirt. Not that he's really seen either the woman or the bag just glimpses
through the swinging doors as he sits over his daily bowl of sweet and
sour soup. The Dragon is handy, right next to his shoe store Already
he's become a fixture; they speak their English openly in front of him
now, but not often Since his ears don't work on the Chinese tongue, his
eyes are there to record the men and women who go back among the
knives and vegetables to consult the old woman But of course he knows
better than to use the barefaced western stare in this place At any rate
he's not real good at eye contact no matter where he is A habit his father
still points out as unmanly. There is no need for eye contact in his business no need to look above the ankle, and extremely dangerous to raise
the eyes to the level of a knee. "Salesmanship," his father's favourite
word. "Gotta lookm in the eye if you wanna sell" His father is or rather
was Fanner Brown Used Cars. Fanner Brown doesn't understand
shoes You don't have to see at all to sell shoes, not really. You listen*
something fancy make my foot look smaller nice high heel you know for the
calves functional killers crushing my little toe sturdy fiat sensible stiletto red
satin Oxford Buster Brown for a wedding no shit-kickers too bad pointed
toes Italian geeze fairy boots bunions God should have such feet used to bind
them you know black for a funeral nothing expensive you understand his
good shoes can go to his brother's boy lots of wear left do you bronze baby
shoes said I'd ask. Then he steps through the curtain into the back the
dim world of shoe boxes He stands quiet eyes closed remembering every word of the request The words break apart, syllables spin down
through his body like gyres of electricity. He wears rubber soled shoes
Grounded, he is charged with his mission, his hands reach for the shelves
guided not by his eyes but by a sixth sense by instinct... call it what
you will. It's enough that he doesn't read the labels on the boxes, doesn't
look to size or colour for his answer, no, he simply runs his fingers over
the bar codes—divining.
56 Known as Mr. Shoe or Buster Brown, he's never wrong. Never a pair
of shoes returned, never a complaint of a bad fit feet or ego. Of course
be understands better than most people that the psyche resides in the
feet not the head. Which means we are truly divided, separate and opposite clay vessels for emotion and thought, impulse and reason, spirit and
profanity. Mr. Shoe knows what kind of business he's in. The sign in his
window reads: COME IN AND HAVE A FIT.
She's got it down pat She can Step Back And Repulse The Monkey on
both the right and the left. But she proved back there in the restaurant
that she's not very good at Stork Cools Wings. This is what she thinks
This is what she thinks as she crosses the street and walks toward her
Tai Chi class in the upstairs rooms of the old Martin Building. Definitely
not cool to mutter about being tete for an appointment, grab her gym bag
and head for the door during the testimonials for the bride-to-be. Her
friend. A stranger when surrounded by women so polished they reflect
each other's perfection.
As she changes into her sweat suit, she notices how the material has
worn thin between her legs. It's like gauze, she sticks her finger through
to the flesh of her thigh No matter, she's not ashamed here among those
aspiring to Ride The Tiger. It isn't her clothes that need to be perfect it's
her resolve She's working toward the 108th Move the conclusion to Tai
CW, expecting to be disciplined, strong and flexible enough to execute a
109th Move she has dreamed up. It is her invention She calls it With
Little Toe In Mouth Blow.
Her shoes are worn too. Actually, that's where her idea for a 109th
Move came from: her little toe breaking through the fabric of her black
Chinese slipper. One day as she cast her eyes downward seeking the
Needle At The Sea Bottom Move 28, she witnessed at that very moment the tip of her little toe pierce the black cotton, thrusting itself into
the air like a nipple, like the valve on a tire no, an inner tube Yes that
was it the vision floating through her mind as she moved into Fan
Through The Back—under her too tight skin was an inner tube she could
This is the image she takes with her to each Tai Chi class to every
practice to each and every exercise Soon she will transcend Cross
Hands Move 107, and lift her toe to her mouth A sublime stork indeed.
Then she will be as graceful as the great white bird, unruffled, dignified in
a room full of women.
This is the very best time. The hours before lunch in The Dragon
Hours when the theatre is truly his own All that can be heard are his
footsteps, the click of his keys the snap of his film, hi these hours he
previews movies most of which he never intends to show his select pub-
He. There are days when he must watch the latest Hollywood imitations
from Hong Kong or the peasant dramas from China. His bread and butter. But there are other days when he runs White Palace, 9*/2 Weeks,
Cowgirls in Bondage, for himself.
His floors are very clean No popcorn in the aisles He doesn't permit
popcorn. So when he comes down from the booth to his worn plush maroon seat he feels nothing under his feet but the chill of perfect concrete
Painted red, red curtains, red wallpaper. He's satisfied.
The film on the screen is a shot of electricity that starts his heart, the
red walls expand and quiver, his stomach becomes light, his mouth dry.
At the moment the images enter hun, he remembers he is below the
street he has locked out the day, he te no longer a pedestrian The girl
opens her naked legs the camera as predatory as his eye, closes in on a
sparse crop of fair hair. There's a tingle in his right testicle The specific
nature of his response no longer surprises him. What does give him
pause is that his physical response is never this pinpoint when he looks at
his wife's dark privacy.
Now why had he thought that? It was tantamount to inviting her into
his space The idea was cold rain on his neck sending a shiver down his
back into his left balL Not entirely unpleasant What if he were to bring
her here one day? Sit her right down in the heart of the house and put on
this movie What would she do? Would she be an obedient wife and
watch? He notices his breathing has quickened. That hasn't happened in a
very long time. Not since he first started his private ritual of screening
naughty films. What would go through her mind?
In the dark he could hear her breathing, a rapid shock of air. Embarrassed eyes embarrassed by naked men in cowboy boots. He hadn't
thought of that. He hardly noticed the men in these movies. They were
just there to prop open the women's legs Something like a fleshy doorstop. Now he wishes she wasn't here He doesn't like the idea of those
men. And her, too surprised to hide her eyes He looks hard at the young
actors Tall, well-muscled unlike his own race in this Surely she would
find their excess of flesh and hair repulsive' Wasn't she used to his
smooth fine skin, his compact limbs? After all, good women desire only
Although in shock she would flee. Yes there was no point to his spec-
58 ulations. She would surely go. What a fool It had been a bad idea to bring
her here Sitting in the dark, he couldn't help but wonder what she was
doing at this moment.
It has been light for some time, but Our Lady of the Gilded Shoes still
sits wrapped in a blanket She hasn't moved from her place over the hot
air vent since her test trick left hours ago. The old curving vine cast iron
floor grate connects her like tendril tips to the other apartments, the boiler room, and even the kitchen of The Dragon. She should be able to smell
the various breakfasts soon; wonders if the various occupants can smell
the wet wool covering her rump. She sniffs, her facial muscles twitch and
the dried blood on her face cracks Closing her eyes she sees herself sitting suspended over a black hole that catches her blood as it drips from
her body. If she stood back she could see the hole leads to the centre of
the earth
The bell sounds on the door of the shoe store below, and her eyes
open. Mr. Shoe has arrived. Soon she will smell his coffee perking. From
her special seat she predicts he uses an old style coffee pot on a hotplate.
Will he get a warm blooded whiff of her as he opens his nose to the coffee? Will he wonder? If not today, then perhaps tomorrow or the next day
as she soaks the blanket There is no doubt she must sit over the hole
her entire time. She knew this the minute the john finished wiping his
bloody hands on her face It had nothing to do with the fact that he had
wiped himself with a twenty dollar bill then dropped it on her stomach
Not even half the price. She hadn't told him she was on the rag. No, it had
to do with hunkering down in a wind with the smell of your own blood.
He has been invited to float in the DEAD SEA. The flyer came through
the mail slot in the shoe shop door. New Age Health Club offering salt water meditation tanks. Float in the darkness of your dreams, murmur your
mantra as you rock gently.
"What if you don't have a mantra?" he questions the ad.
Looking for an address on the flyer, he expects to find such tanks
housed in a suburban leisure centre with the wave pool and sauna. Instead they are three blocks away. He can't believe be hasn't heard of the
place before now. A health club on this sole of the tracks? Mantra or no
59 mantra, he now feels obliged to visit. He has always been a good floater.
That's why the business of a mantra bothers him. Is it considered a necessity, the password into New Age Health? No matter, he can't resist
water, it's in his blood, hell walk down tonight.
He stands naked in front of the door. It reminds him of the outside
cellar doors in horror movies: a plank and plywood cover on mystery.
This door is red cedar, as pungent as pepper in the warm moist air rising
off the tank inside. Once open, the body size door reveals a black hole.
Not even a prick of artificial starlight in the draped dome of thick black
plastic. He slips feet first into the salt sea and as he lowers himself, the
door; tilted at an angle automatically closes with a heaviness that betrays
the cost of soundproofing. Black there te only black and the smell of
steam, salt and poly. The handle he feels the wall for the door handle,
tries it a bar of light codes his relief
Then darkness Floating on darkness he closes his eyes the insides of
his eyelids a more natural shade. No sound unless he splashes, creates
waves stirs up the electrolyte soup out of which life could rise up around
him. It brushes his thigh—a delicate tentacle a sweet antenna, against
his shoulder something of the jellyfish None are phosphorescent Not
even the two parts of himself In absolute darkness be is head; in buoyant
darkness he is body. The head needs no bodyin this first midnight The
body no longer defined, reforms reverts to a fabric of cells like a muslin
shroud dropped on the water. Water and salt stain him, leave their mark
so that every cell quivers
His head has never known his body, this body. Never known the fragile power of each and every cell If he were to open his eyes he would
now see that he is made of dots of light No need to look, he knows this is
true. Besides it is growing red behind his lids. Not blood red, but fire
red. There are flames in the night and cymbals galvanizing the air.
"I dance, I don't sing. I could dance 'Ave Maria' at your wedding."
"You'll be part of a choir. No one will know you can't sing."
"I didn't say I can't sing. I just don't do voice... I'm the physical type."
Lengthening her stride, she hurries her friend past the restaurant She
doesn't want the subject of her spontaneous departure from the bridal
luncheon the other afternoon to come up again. Today, together, they
are walking into their past This street was part of their growing up.
"Remember the gas station on the corner? North Star, or something
like that with that great concrete penguin, big as a truck"
60 "Polar Service"
"It was called Polar Service. And it was an eight foot polar bear."
"Yeah yeah but the bear came later, after the penguin." She should
have expected contraditions The bride-to-be always considered herself
"Where are we going?" her friend asks, looking the old street over
with distaste
"You'll see" She punches her, this immaculately dressed woman, on
the arm, before she can stop herself "Old habit" she says.
They walk, she pays homage to the haunted heritage house, the candy
factory, the old sandstone school A tourist would show more polite interest The theatre surely the theatre where they slouched every Saturday, gradually, over the years, moving from front row centre toward the
back of the house Of course it wasn't a Chinese theatre then It's true
they've left this world behind. But her Tai Chi lessons have brought her
back and it's like she's found an old friend. She's comfortable here relaxed. On the other side of the river, in among the towers of industry,
she's a different person. All muscle and mouth strapped to the pedals of a
bike Spandex and ball cap.
Finally she gives up on the tour. "You want lunch later? Maybe The
Dragon?" She pulls down on the skirt hiking up her hips Wishes she
would've put sweats on after all
"Depends on the time I've got a lot to do."
As they come up beside an antique store she stops to look in the window. Her friend steps back to get a better view of the name over the
door. Obviously she didn't know the shop was here Obviously she's interested.
"Let's go in."
This te what she had hoped for. Her lead to a wedding gift But now
that her friend's in position, she drags her feet a little remembering lines
of poetry she read standing in a bookstore waiting for her next job to
come in over the radio at her hip. She never buys books just reads them
between deliveries. Poetry has become her favourite because it's short
and so is time Messengers are still busy like crazy, even with all the vacant offices But this book she can't put down when a call comes through
from her dispatcher. She buys it And now she stands inside the door of
this antique shop mumbling, "Some women marry houses. It's another
kind of skin." Anne Sexton and her standing paralysed before this house
of relics The nail clippings of domesticity enshrined. On her it has the
warning effect of a talisman. She remains on the welcome mat watching
noting what bits of sacred rag and bone her friend picks up, weighing by
61 hand the power of each piece Yes, if s another kind of skin. Standing
there blocking the door, she feels her skin itch and expand, her mouth
tastes like the inside of a shoe
Our Lady of the Gilded Shoes must have been working the upper end
of the street, because she's the first one to reach the restaurant after the
fire alarm goes off. It's a shame really, not about the restaurant it was
trendy, but the building was one of the oldest firehalls in the city. Red
brick squat and square as history, now glowing with irony. The Dragon's
Chinese arrive speaking of cows and heavenly dogs devouring the moon.
They're trailing their children who say, "Shit look at the dump burn
Mr. Shoe comes along just as the firetrucks pull up wailing to high
heaven He recognizes Our Lady as the new tenant in the apartment
above his shop. He's distracted by her shoes Spike heels that could kill.
Stilettos of base metal—gold and silver. The assault is double-edged as
he watches the woman bend over, tight skirting riding black nylons up
past garters to no man's land, and take her right shoe in hand to inspect
for some sore point The heel glints red in the firelight. The gilded lady
cocks her shoe at a firefighter on the end of a hose His cheeks burn.
Turning away, Mr. Shoe discovers the owner of the theatre beside
him. They stand silent before the fire, until the old woman from The
Dragon's kitchen comes up banging a pot lid with a stainless steel ladle
Her family makes no move to ban her noise
"Why is she doing that?" He stares openly at her.
"To scare away the beast. Save the moon and the old from misfortune"
"Fire is good and bad."
She points her ladle at the moon eclipsed by the rising smoke "Sing
sing," she commands.
He looks up through the yellow haze Head up, he's struck from behind. He thinks of the beast Swinging around, he's confronted by a woman balanced on a bike her feet still locked into the pedals as if an invisible
barrier, perhaps the smoke prevents her from running him over. Her
windbreaker announces Xpress Messenger; her expression of disdain for
his pedestrian presence confirms her position. A courier in Chinese slippers? How flimsy. She should know better.
"Shit are you blind?" She stares hard.
62 He steps aside and waves her through with a flourish She glances back
at him over her shoulder. Following in her wake, he eventually stands beside her. She has moved up dangerously close to the burning building.
The exposed skin of his face, his hands feel the flames intensify then die
back He wonders at the cause A hum comes from her. He leans in to listen. There are words she is singing. He sings too.
63 Anna Synenko
Architectural Secrets #1
Like albino bats, asleep,
save for the occasional autumn eye
already weeping through worn cheesecloth
sachets of dried seeds
hang from the dusty rafters
of an add-on
Small hard kidneys
small matte pearls,
some saved from recent years
but the prized ones, the ones shown often,
hold within them the genetic ghosts
of Russian, German, or Venezuelian soil;
these and the shape
of byzantine onions hung up by their hair
like long locked heretics,
make the grandmother's house.
She names the original village
when dipping her hand into each sack
and with opened palm,
maps the essential journey of gardens;
transformations fertility, lineage
—each metamorphosis a memory sealed
like mud in a glacier,
where the aging process is contained,
where how far back you go
depends on where you stand.
Captives of the sun,
in white cloth embryos
they anticipate the spark
wait for solid ground.
64 Terry Worobetz
Canadian city nature poem
The crowd closes,
fans back
a paper flower
Out for blood
he swings
you're all used up you slut
she dodges
says nothing
someone yells
get 'em
and laughs
another chants
you're all used up
she waits
for her moment
this moment
she pushes the knife
into the pillow
of his groin
then darts
he slobbers
on the ground
/ don't wanna die
his voice
echoing later
in stories
coffee shops
in scattered
of laughter
65 The Personals
Leslee Becker
It was the second year of the drought Warm winds rattled the palms
and at night, during the long hazy sunsets, an orange corridor of dust
and smoke lined the sky. Earthquake weather, people said, that second summer and well into the fall, as if they were expected, maybe even
eager, for something to happen soon.
Alice Pike was alone in her bookshop the day of the earthquake It was
an hour before closing time, and she was thinking of what she'd have for
dinner. The bell over the entrance sounded and the shades clapped
against the windows Then the real rumble began, a fierce banging, followed by a dizzying churning motion that freed the books from their
shelves The test thing Alice saw before she sought cover under a desk
were the leaves on the palm trees lifting like skirts, and people outside
running and falling.
She left the store soon afterwards joining a procession of drivers moving through streets bereft of traffic lights
There was no electricity in her apartment and in the dim light Alice
saw that her pictures had fallen from the wall some books and knick-
knacks too She found one candle and a flashlight but when she tried the
radio, the batteries were dead.
What she would recall later, and vividly, was that she had found herself
following other people ending up in an unfamiliar part of the city. An ice
cream truck trolled the dark streets playing a melody. She watched and
heard it pass three times as she stood in line at a convenience store Next
to her, a man with a baby pleaded for milk Occasionally, the door to the
store would open and a hand would reach for money.
"I got five kids" a woman said, tugging on Alice's sleeve "Please,
lady, some money for dinner."
AKee reached into her billfold and gave the woman five dollars. Then
the door opened and she asked the clerk for six batteries. When the derk
told her the price—thirteen dollars—she bought wine instead and a pack
of cigarettes.
She returned to her apartment and called Sybil Spencer, the woman
who worked for her in the bookshop "The power's out all over," she
said. "I'm surprised the phone works I'm glad you're okay."
66 "I've been staying by my phone," Sybil said, "trying to get through to
my family."
"Of course," Alice said and hung up.
The power returned the next day and all during that morning Alice
watched television, seeing and hearing eyewitness accounts of the event
She left her apartment early in the afternoon and went to a department
store determined to buy things to prepare her for the next time Clerks
busied themselves replacing merchandise on the shelves and customers
roamed the broad aisles their baskets filled with purchases. Alice
grabbed batteries and candles and then heaped her basket with bubble
bath creams and lotions She stayed by the cosmetics display, deliberating among the shiny tubes of lipstick. Then, with a trembling hand, inserted one of the tubes into her purse In the hardware, section, a slim,
black flashlight found its way into the open mouth of her purse as if both
were magically alive tike fish
Then she joined a long line of patrons in the checkout lane. Ahead
of her was a handsome man who was buying batteries too, and toys and
"I paid thirteen dollars for batteries yesterday," she said, "and I gave
the rest of my money to a homeless person "
The man shook his head. "I go over the Bay Bridge every day. Ifester-
day, I started home later. My family didn't know where I was"
"It makes you take stock and think" Alice said.
She left the store, her heart racing as she got on the freeway, hi a
short time she turned around, entered the parking lot of a movie theatre
complex and found herself talking to the woman in the ticket booth, telling her how surprised she was that the theatre was open.
"They figured people needed to relax," the woman said.
"This is the first weekday matinee I've gone to in years," Alice told
her. "I run a bookshop. That's where I was when it happened."
"I don't feel safe no more," the clerk said, "but I volunteered to come
in today."
"\es" Alice said, then went into the theatre and chose a seat in the
middle where one lone patron, a man, sat
When the lights dimmed and the movie started, Alice felt afraid for the
first time and found herself close to tears. She imagined other people doing important things pitching in with the cleanup process, taking stock of
their lives, and realizing how very fragile their hold was on anything.
When she returned home and looked at the things from the department
store she felt disoriented, as if she had picked up someone else's purchases
The next day she reopened the bookstore, and with Sybil's help got
things back in order. Sybil talked about her family and Alice told her about
67 the man who went over the bridge later than usual and about people in
the Santa Cruz mountains finding huge fissures in the earth and homes so
buckled that fireplace hearths jutted out into living rooms She described
these things as if they had happened to her, and later when she returned
home, she watched television again and found herself moved at the sight
of people on the street, their possessions heaped in carts and bags.
It was exactly two weeks later that she began reading the Personals.
She tried to picture the writers and to imagine herself with them in a restaurant or theatre She was convinced that some of the people in the cafe
she passed on her way home from work were writers and respondents,
meeting perhaps for the first time, finding beyond the initial pleasantries
something solid and revealing.
She had grown accustomed to men in the ads describing their physical
attributes and financial status and their specific desire for a particular
kind of woman She found an odd comfort too, in knowing these were not
the men for her. They seemed young and too certain of what they wanted
and what they could not possibly tolerate
But the one ad she read and reread said: "Recent widower with easily
triggered sense of humour, seeks companion Entering life's clubhouse
turn, I find myself alone."
Alice began her letter by telling the writer she liked his ad. After that,
she wasn't sure what to say. She glanced back at other ads and mentioned that she owned her own business, liked rainy days and watching
"I have a sense of humour," she wrote and looked at the sentence and
the earlier paragraph She wished she could think of something funny to
say, but she could not "I make people laugh all the time but that fe not
my intention in this letter.
"I find myself alone too," she concluded, then signed it and dropped it
in the mailbox immediately.
Later that night she regretted sending the letter, and worse, signing it
and giving her phone number and address What if the writer were someone she knew? What if he were dangerous? This is how things happen to
It was not until the next day, when she saw Sybil in the store that she
recalled her dream. In ft, she was alone in a small, dark room, her bed
facing a door that suddenly opened. Something was flung into the room
landing with a wet thud at the foot of her bed.
She did not tell Sybil about the dream and knew she would never reveal
that she had answered a Personal ad. Sybil had been in her employ less
than six months Like Alice, she was middle-aged, single, and kept to
68 "I felt after-shocks yesterday," Sybil said. "I suspect we'll be feeling
them for a long time "
"I'm afraid so," Alice answered.
"I've never seen the supermarket so busy. I bought lobsters Then I
went out to dinner."
"Did you go with someone?"
"I went alone. Later, I drove to the ocean."
"I should do that sometime" Alice said. "I hardly ever go to the
"Yes, it's nice. Maybe we could go and take in a movie too."
Poor thing, Alice thought. She's lonely.
That night after she closed the shop, Alice went into a store bought
wine flowers, and a lobster.
The writer called two weeks later. Alice was watching a rental movie
when a man called, identifying himself as Warren Mackie. Alice turned off
the volume on the tv and watched the figures move as Warren Mackie
spoke "I have your letter," he said, "and I have one I was meaning to
send, but I decided to call instead. Is this a bad time, Miss Pike?"
"No," Alice replied.
"I've never answered the Personals before" he said.
"Neither have L"
"We have that in common "
"I wasn't expecting a call" Alice said.
"I had to act" he told her. Then, after a pause, he told her he was fifty
five financially stable and enjoyed eating out and going to movies "It's
your turn," he said.
Tm forty five I like movies and eating in general," she said and chuckled.
"Do you have your health?"
"Yes, yes I have"
"Miss Pike," he said. "How would you feel about a gentleman buying
you dinner, say Friday?"
"Friday," Alice said. "I could meet you on Friday."
"All rightie," he said. "How will I know you?"
"I'm slim. I have brown hair, medium length" she said and found it difficult to continue. "M be wearing a green coat"
"I'm on the light side myself," he said. "Brown hair and a moustache.
Well find each other, Miss Pike"
They established a place and time, and then, moments after she hung
up, Alice wished she had gotten his phone number in case she decided to
back out. She looked in the phone book but could find no listing for him.
69 She wished, too, that she had asked him how many responses he received and why he chose her.
On Thursday evening, Alice asked Sybil out to dinner. "My treat" she
said. "It's been exactly one month since the earthquake We should commemorate it"
They went to the cafe near the shop. After some desultory talk about
the store they sat looking at each other and at the other patrons.
"Do you still like California?" Alice asked.
"Oh yes" Sybil answered. "I feel I've put down roots"
"Despite the earthquake" Alice remarked.
"Yes in a way it helped me feel more connected with the place I met
some people in my apartment building I wouldn't have gotten to know
otherwise and when I went over to volunteer at the library, I met new
people. If you think the store was hit hard, you should've seen the library."
"I read about it" Alice said. "I didn't know you helped out over there "
"It's the least I could do. It took my mind off things You know, this is
the second time I've lived out here I was much younger the first time.
My sister and I came out together. We could've headed east or west and
we flipped a corn. It came up heads for east but we followed our hearts'
desire and aimed the car west We stayed in motels and got waitressing
jobs. It was awful, but exciting too in a way. I can't imagine doing such a
thing now."
"I can," Alice said, thinking of the real difference it would make living
on the outskirts of some town or city, being able to move on, quickly. "I
wish" she said, "I could put all my things in a car."
"And?" Sybil said.
"I don't know. Start over again, I guess"
The woman at the piano had begun to sing, and the cafe was filling up
with people with couples Alice saw a man with a moustache and wondered if he could be Wanen Mackie He was with a young, attractive
woman. She found herself trying to hear their conversation, but Sybil had
raised her voice and was leaning toward her.
"What about you?" she was saying. "What's your story?"
"I came here with a man. We were together three years," Alice said,
then called to the waitress for brandy. "I don't know whatever happened
to him."
"Did he leave you?" Sybil asked.
"No. I left him"
"Mine was a baker. I put on fifteen pounds living with him. He made
wonderful pies. He was famous for his pies" she added with a smile.
"What happened?" Alice said.
70 "He died. He was twenty years older than I was He died."
"How sad," Alice remarked.
"He had this other family. There were squabbles. I found his daughters
going throughout the house right after the funeral. They went through his
bureaus and filled paper sacks with his things. Socks and neck ties. Can
you imagine? I've got a picture of him in my billfold," she said and showed
Alice a photograph of a tiny man holding an ugly miniature dog.
"That's him. That's Roger," Sybil said.
"Roger," Alice said, realizing she had been expecting to see a larger,
robust-looking man.
"He loved that old dog," Sybil said, brushing the photograph with her
fingertips before returning it to her wallet. "I've got more pictures in the
apartment. I could show you things some time, including vicious letters
from his daughters. I've saved them. I could show you," she said.
Alice was uncertain of what to say. She felt disappointed with the evening and wasn't sure if it was because she had hoped to say something revealing, or because Sybil seemed so eager to talk "Some day, we'll have
to get together and swap stories," she said.
"I'd like that," Sybil said. "I could cook dinner. I'm a good cook but it's
hard living alone. I come home, eat microwave dinners and watch tv. I
know I'm missing out on something. You know, you're the only person I
feel close to."
"We'll have to talk again sometime," Alice said.
As she drove her to her apartment complex, hearing Sybil thank her
again and again for the evening, Alice had the odd feeling of being a suitor. She kept the car running outside the building, and for a moment, the
two sat in silence
"Would you like to come in for coffee?" Sybil asked.
"I can't tonight. Some other time perhaps."
"Okay," Sybil asked. "Back to the salt mines tomorrow."
Alice watched her walk into the building, and when she was certain she
was safely inside, she drove home.
The next morning she awoke with a terrible headache. She called Sybil
and told her she would not be in.
"Uh oh," Sybil said. "Too much vino."
"No, it could be the flu. All my joints ache."
"I've got just the thing for that. Garlic soup. I could drop by with
"No, but thank you anyhow."
All that morning she lay in bed, taking aspirin, and feeling the weight of
the headache bearing down on her. She couldn't imagine what it would be
like meeting a stranger in a restaurant, feeling as she did. She wished she
71 could send Sybil in her place and had no trouble imagining Sybil hitting it
off with the man.
It was raining when she awoke later. She was cold, and her head still
ached. She heated up some soup and ate it in bed while depressing afternoon programs played on tv, most of them featuring people describing
personal misfortunes. She closed her eyes and recalled passing by homes
when she was a child, going to and from school, and hearing through
screened windows radios and televisions, and feeling a pang of sadness
for the people inside. She had imagined women in house robes and men in
pajamas and slippers, ill, or out of work and wondered how their lives
had come to this. It won't happen to me, she remembered telling herself
then and years later when she was with the man she had described to
He was a salesman, and when he was out covering his territory she
spent long dreary days in a spare apartment in a complex much like the
one Sybil lived in, with walls so insubstantial she could hear the rattle of
pots and pans next door, conversations and lovemaking, and sometimes
even the frank sound of a blow.
Then he was promoted and no longer had to travel. They looked at
houses and shopped for furniture and finally moved into a tract house in a
suburban neighbourhood. She left him soon after that, not, as he had
claimed, because she was afraid of happiness, but because she was afraid
of getting lost.
The day she left she loaded up her car, followed the circular drives in
the neighbourhood, ending up right back on her block then later passed
streets and houses looking so much like theirs she felt trapped and believed she could enter any one of the houses and find herself greeted, not
at all like a stranger.
It was still raining and she was running late as she left to meet Wanen
Mackie. The restaurant was noisy, the tables all occupied, and behind
them, a line of people waited. She felt a small despair when she saw an
older man alone at a corner table wearing an old-fashioned brown suit and
a hopeless toupee. He was thin, and his hands clenched the edges of the
table as if he expected it to be taken away. He stood, the moment she approached his table.
"Miss Pike?" he said and smiled. He held the chair out for her and took
her coat. "You didn't wear your green coat," he said.
"I forgot. I'm sorry. I've been in bed all day with a terrible headache A
"A migraine," he said and winced.
"Have you been waiting long?" she asked him.
72 "Yes," he said. "You have your rain You like rainy days."
"Yes, yes Ida"
"We need the rain," he remarked, then chuckled. "I wasn't going to
talk about the earthquake or the weather. Could you eat, Miss Pike?"
"I can always eat" she said, and he laughed politely.
They looked at the menus and ordered cocktails and appetizers.
"If I may say so," he said, "you must be a trusting person. You gave
your name, phone number and address."
"Did the others give box numbers?" Alice asked.
"There were no others" he said.
Alice waited a moment, then told Warren Mackie she had considered
putting an ad in herself. "Then I saw yours, and I said to myself, 'Why
"Exactly," he said. "Thatta girl."
"Life's short."
"Not mine," he said and laughed. "I lied. I'm not fifty five."
"You don't look your age" Alice said.
"You do have a sense of humour," he said. "This might be an artificial
date, but there's no need for us to be artificial 111 tell you about myself,
and you tell me about yourself, or you can start first What'll it be, Alice?"
"You go first Warren," she said.
"Well" he began, "my wife died. Doris just this past year. I have a
son and a daughter, both married, both living far away, so you don't have
to worry about them meddling in our affairs. I sell shoes for a living, been
doing it for years. I've got a chain of stores, four to be exact I'm not rich
but I'm not poor either. I play golf, as you may have guessed from my ad.
Not much to show for a life, huh? When you spell it out like that, it
doesn't look tike much, I guess Doris well, she was sick a long time, so I
can't say her death came as a shock This part does, though " He paused
and looked away from her. "A couple of months ago, I hooked up with an
outfit specializing in matching up people My match turned out to be a sad
sack Maybe she was mental. Get a load of these, Alice," he said, reaching for a sheet of paper, which he began to read from. "'Do you often
ponder past misfortunes? Do you have the kind of life limited to only a
few expressions of enthusiasm? Do you browse through railway timetables directories or dictionaries just for pleasure? Do you suspect the actions of others?' "And get this Atice, 'Do you often sit and think about
death, sickness pain and sorrow?'"
Atice said, "yes," to herself, but shook her head and laughed along with
Warren Mackte.
"See that's what she did on our first date Handed me those questions."
73 "What'd you do on your second date?"
"Hah" he said and laughed. "Second date. Ill tell you something. The
only time she got animated was when she described her personal history,
just the bad parts rnind you "
"What was she looking for, I wonder?"
"What are any of us looking for?" he said, his face turning serious
"You feeling better, Alice?"
"Yes, I think the drink and food helped," she said. "How old was the
woman you dated?"
"Middle aged. She never stopped to smell the roses if you know what
I mean. Well enough about her. What about you? Ever been married?"
"No. I came close one time though I have no regrets, mind you"
"I da Plenty. Right now, I wish I had ordered the trout" he said and
laughed. "Are you regretting this date?"
"No, I like meeting new people," she said.
"You haven't told me much about yourself, Alice "
"I haven't? I guess I'm afraid of sounding like your other date"
"Fat chance," he said. "You could begin by telling me exactly what
you're after. What made you go to the Personals?"
"I'm not sure Do you mind if I smoke?" she asked, and he shook his
head. When she reached into her purse, she saw the stolen tube of lipstick "After the earthquake I took stock of things I guess you could
say. I wasn't attached to anything Just habits Eating alone, watching tv.
Something felt missing. I've always believed something was in store for
me maybe just around the corner."
"Yes yes" he said. "I know the feeting."
"After the earthquake, I think I expected that things would change,
that people would change"
"My kids " he said, "were wonted sick It took them two days to reach
me. I did the strangest thing. Strange for me anyhow. I went to church I
tried to pray. I tell you it's the most alone I ever felt It didn't help."
"I went to a movie" Atice said.
"Good for you I like you, Atice You five in the here and now."
"I don't like to think too far ahead," she said. "I just follow my heart's
desire. That's how I ended up here"
"On this date?"
"Yes, and coming to California in the first place I didn't know a soul
when I came to this town."
"I want to show you something," he said. He reached into his pocket
pulled out his wallet, and showed her a black and white photograph of a
small store "It's my parents' store They sold clothes to farmers mainly. My father started out with a truck and some general merchandise
74 blankets work boots, and so forth He used to drive up into the country
and deliver things to farmers. Then he and my mother got their little
store in town. Doesn't look tike much but they made it Then I went into
the business myself Now, I own four stores." He leaned over and looked
beneath the table "What are you, a six, Alice? Six narrow. You have a
stim, lovely foot"
"Six and a half," she said, feeting a blush come to her cheeks
"You know what they say about small feet, doncha?"
She shook her head.
"Small feet small shoes," he said and laughed.
Alice looked down at her feet and laughed with him.
"Do you have pictures of your family?'' she asked.
"Sure," he said, "but you don't want to see those, do you?"
She nodded and he showed her a photograph of his son and daughter as
children, then one of his wife, a large and pretty woman with vivid dark
eyes "These are all old, of course," he said, then put the photographs
away. He looked at his watch and then for a moment both of them remained silent "Dessert?" he said finally.
"I couldn't eat another thing," she said, thinking of what would happen
next. He would walk her to her car, and they would part. Perhaps he
would ask about calling again.
He helped her with her coat and then they went outside It had
stopped raining. The sky was clear, and the air felt cool. People strolled
the streets, looking in shop windows
"My car's just up the street" she said and started to point to it when
she felt something yank against her right shoulder and with it the sensation that she was being undressed, her coat and purse strap sliding from
her arms She saw the boy, her bag in bis hand, and Warren pursuing
"Warren," she shouted and felt embarrassed as a young couple made
their way toward her. "I've been robbed," she said, then saw Warren
running back toward her, holding the bag in both hands against his chest
"I got it Atice!" he shouted. "I got it!"
"All right" the young man said. "Way to go. You want us to call the police?"
Warren shook his head and handed the bag to Alice "Just a kid," he
said, trying to catch his breath "It happened so fast You all right, Atice?"
"I'm all right" she said. "I didn't even hear him."
"He came up right behind her," Wanen said. "Next thing I knew I was
chasing him. I caught hun, just tike that"
"Jeez," the young man said, shaking his head. He took bis girlfriend's
hand. "We saw it"
75 "We'll take it from here," Warren said to the couple. He extended his
arm to Atice, and they began walking down the street. "I didn't think I
had it in me. Just a kid. He's gone now. Long gone. Good thing he was
"Something like this has never happened to me before. I don't know
how to thank you," she said, uncertain of what else to say or if she should
begin to draw away from his
"We're all right, Atice. By God, we did it this time Did you see the
look on that couple's face? I showed them, didn't I?"
"Yes," she said, "yes."
"I don't want to go home," he said. "Please, stay with me a little longer. All right?"
"Just for a little while," she said and went with him to his car. He
opened the door for her, and when he got in she could hear the sound of
his breathing. When he reached across the seat to open the glove compartment, his hand brushed her knee. "Sorry," he said and took from the
glove compartment a silver flask and offered it to her. She drank from ft,
and so did he, and as they sat in the car she felt as if she were someone
else, someplace else and that whatever happened afterwards would not
"I feel like a kid," he said, "doing this."
"I know exactly what you mean," she said.
He held up his hand. It was shaking. "Damndest thing," be said. "I
haven't felt this good in a long time. Trust me"
He started the car, and in a short time they were on the outskirts of
town. "All this," he said, pointing to the stores and lights, "used to be orchards. People had picnics where this highway is. You should've seen it.
It was something. See those railway tracks over there At night the
snakes used to curl up beside the rail to warm themselves and hoboes
slept in the underpasses. My brother and I used to shoot our BB guns at
their tin cans. I wanted to be a hobo, or maybe work for the railroad." He
shrugged. "I sell shoes. Good thing for us we can't see too far ahead."
"I agree," she said, then remained quiet
"Tennessee Williams sold shoes. Did you know that, Alice?"
"I didn't know that," she said. "The man I almost married was a salesman. Pharmaceuticals."
"Pharmaceuticals," Wanen said. "What happened to him?"
"I lost him. That was a long time ago. The funniest thing happened,
only it wasn't funny at the time. I started having dreams about big pieces
of furniture swallowing me up."
"It happened. My dream came true."
76 Warren laughed. Then Atice laughed too.
They were entering a mall. The stores were closed for the night, and
in the mammoth lot the trees looked thin and tentative.
"See that" Warren said and pointed to a small shop called Great
Strides. "That's mine. That's my shoe store"
"Great Strides," Alice sakL "It's a good name."
"Doris came up with it. Want to see ft from the inside? We won't stay
long, promise"
They got out of the car and entered the store Alice looked at the
shoes on the sale rack and began to feel embarrassed.
"Sit down, relax," Warren said, then disappeared into the back room.
Alice looked at her reflection in the mirror. Her hair was mussed and
her coat and face looked drab and pale under the bright lights. She recalled what she felt as she prepared to meet her date and how she had felt
later in the car and wished she could go back to that moment when Warren brushed her knee and when she drank from the flask but the moment
had passed, the feeting too, and before her she saw a severe, pinched,
looking woman.
Suddenly, music began and Warren emerged from the back room,
holding liquor and glasses, shoe boxes and stockings against his chest tike
a looter.
"For you," he said, spreading the things at her feet. He opened the
boxes and removed shoes with dramatic high heels The room was rich
with the smell of leather and liquor. Tve got handbags too," he said,
spreading his arms expansively. "For you, Doris"
She knew he had not realized his mistake and she said nothing as he
sat on the floor in front of her, pushing the shoes toward her feet She felt
his hand on her heel the shoe sliding off effortlessly. She watched the
back of him in the mirror and did not want to look at herself as he lifted
her foot and pressed it against his chest.
"I don't want to be alone any more," he said.
She felt her foot slipping from his hand, the stocking rasping under his
fingers. He got to his feet immediately and sat next to her. She looked to
the mirror, saw him touch his toupee and wince.
"It's all right," she said, "Warren..."
"I'll take you home" he said.
The moment she reached for his hand he got up from the chair and began returning the shoes to the boxes Seeing him bent over this way
touched her. "I know what you're feeling," she said.
"How can you? I don't even know. Ill take you back"
He went again into the storeroom. The music stopped, and while she
slipped her shoe on, she felt small stingy, and dishonest, and for a mo-
77 ment had no trouble imagining herself in a different place, a child awaiting
As soon as they returned to the car, she told him what she had done
the day after the earthquake. "I was in a big store No one was paying attention to me," she said. "I stole things. No one saw me"
"Promise me" he said, "you won't tell anyone about tonight. Promise
"But nothing happened, Wanen"
"Yeah" he said.
They returned to the street where her car was parked. The stores had
closed for the night, and in the restaurants and cafes waiters were cleaning up. "The scene of the crime" he said, then reached across the front
seat and opened the door for her.
"Thank you I..."
"Don't" he said. "Don't tell me you had a wonderful time"
As she got out of the car, she heard him say,- "Forty years Married
forty years"
She watched him drive away, and then she returned to her car. She
drove by her store and in a short time, found herself at Sybil's complex.
While she waited in the car, she heard the sound of television sets and
the rattle of dishes
She was outside the door to Sybil's when she realized she had no idea
why she was there or what she wanted to say. A thin frontier of light
showed beneath the door, and inside a television was playing. She rang
the bell and Sybil appeared, looking happy to see her. She was dressed in
a blue robe and on her feet were leather slippers large and backless a
man's slippers
"Alice, it's you," she said. "What a surprise Come in Are you all
"I think so," Atice said.
"That nasty old flu," Sybil said. "Ill make us some tea. Sit down Make
yourself comfortable."
Sybil turned off the tv and Atice watched her scuff across the room,
stopping for a moment in front of a hall mirror to touch up her hair.
"I had to get out," Alice shouted toward the kitchen
"Oh I know what you mean," Sybil answered. "I can't stand being
cooped up myself If I had known you were coming I woukTve tidied up."
The apartment was tidy, small and familiar, with beige thin-looking
walls On the sofa where Atice was sitting was a TV Guide and on the end
table some mail. She glanced at the envelopes—a cable tv bill advertising
flyers, and a bank statement. They could have been addressed to her.
78 In a short time, Sybil emerged from the kitchen bearing a silver tray
containing cookies and a tea service.
"I have brandy too, if you'd like that" Sybil said. "I made the cookies
"They're delicious" Alice said, finishing one and helping herself to another.
"Roger's recipe," Sybil said. "Of course he made large quantities. I
cut the recipe in half and still have plenty. Eat" she said. "You'll feel better."
Atice ate another cookie and imagined the smell of fresh-baked things
in the small apartment a comforting smell, sweet and warm.
"Tell me about him," Atice said. "Tell me about Roger."
Sybil moved toward her on the sofa, poured more tea into Alice's cup
and urged the dish of cookies upon her. "He was older, as I've said," she
began, and as she went on, Atice pictured a place with rooms exactly like
hers In the closets and drawers were a man's things a thin, bereaved-
looking man. She could see an upstairs window and a figure behind it parting the curtains and looking out to the streets below.
"I find myself alone" she could hear a voice saying.
She wanted to ask Sybil to show her the letters from Roger's daughters, hoping perhaps to find in them a confirmation of the things people
did when they were desperate but Sybil was talking about goodness and
"We had such times together," Sybil said. "He made love to me once
right in the bakery on a long table, flour everywhere and pink boxes filled
with cakes Whenever I go in a bakery now, weft, I have associations,"
she said and nudged Atice
"With me it's shoes " Atice said and knew the moment she said it that
she would return to the store She might wait outside for the close of the
business day, or she might walk in and look for him. There were so many
things she had not told him, so many things to be revealed that she felt a
small flutter in her breast imagining what it would be like to feel if only
for a short time real danger.
79 Yannis Goumas
two poems
30th May, 1990
at 9.45 a.m.
whilst on a bus to Piraeus
and outside the U.S. Embassy
I saw a dwarf—a dwarf not only dwarf
but crippled to the point of heightening his dwarfishness-
managing on legs tike chopsticks in unskilled hands
The whole scene was no more than a flash of sun
on a windscreen, but ft burned a hole in my heart.
This is by way of registering the incident,
perhaps the only accolade this wretched dwarf
will ever know.
80 The Life of the Party
As I place my slippers
beside the bed
for a tomorrow,
it dawns on me
that all my life
has been an effort
to silence my silence.
a Book of Questions
Linda Raymond
One time I came home from work and here's Barn laying up in
Yolanda's bed like he owns the whole damn house. He's got a
hash pipe in one hand and Yolanda's left titty in the other. When
she sees me standing in the door, she pokes out her bottom lip and crosses her arms on her chest. I say "Yotenda, you got to be crazy because I
know you ain't stupid. I ain't running no whore house" She puts her tip
out even further and takes a drag off Barn's pipe
If I wasn't so mad I would of laughed. Here's these two kids doing everything they can think of to be grown, sitting up naked in a bed with purple balloons flying all over the sheets I look over on Yolanda's dresser
and she still got the Easy Bake oven her Granny gave her when she
turned twelve. Her floor is strewn with Barn's clothes—the flared bottom
jeans I thought he never took off and one of his Dashikis. A trail of his underwear heads for the bed with one black silk sock hanging off the mattress I look back at them and now Barn's blowing smoke out his nose.
He looks at me through the haze with pale grey eyes and I'm tongue-
tied. Barn's eyebrows are smooth every hair going the same way, like
he combs them. His nose is straight and short Underneath it he's got a
silky thin mustache curling over his top lip. His lips are pooched into an
old maid frown that says he's looking at something he don't tike Those
nasty gray eyes look right at me He blows smoke out and his nostrils
flutter like paper. I stand there letting the smoke go up my nose, then
I've had it
"Yotenda, what you got this raggelly boy in your bed for? You're sixteen years old. He's fourteen"
She scratches her head tike she got to think about ft.
"Mama, you know Byron's old for his age"
"This boy ain't old enough to be in nobody's bed and particularly not in
She uncrosses her arms then huffs. Now Barn's breathing his smoke
"I am old enough to conduct my life in a manner in which I see fit" she
82 says. Her skinny arms barely cover her titties. "I can make my own decisions thank you." Barn pokes his elbow into her ribs hands her the pipe.
"Thank you Byron."
I feel tike taking him by bis nappy hair and pulling him out of the bed,
and kick his butt out the back door. Then stem it But I don't do none of
that—I'm too tired. I'm going to do like those child psychologists in the
magazines say—I'm going to talk to these children.
"Barn, do your mother know where you are?"
I don't even know why I ask him. He look like he ain't got no mother.
He don't look dirty or nothing, that's not what I mean. He look like he
missing something, tike he looking around trying to find where he misplaced ft. I know he ain't finding ft in my house
Barn looks up from his pipe.
"Do you want me to call your mama and tell her where you are?"
"No ma'am. We don't have a phone" He takes another drag off the
pipe and I watch his smooth brown chest inflate
"You want me to talk to her? Where do you live?"
Yotenda starts squirming in the bed.
"If you tike," he says, "But really, Nettie Lee, I don't see that this involves either one of you." He blows out and his chest goes down to normal and he looks tike a kid again. Fourteen I go over and sit on the bed,
on Barn's side It sinks down and he almost slides into me, but he
straightens himself up. He sets his back against Yolanda's pillow. He
looks tike a king sitting up tike that, the white ruffled pillow fanning out
behind him. With his left arm, skinny with a hard little muscle knotted on
top, he nudges Yotenda up straight.
I can see I need to try something different, make them act like they got
"Ifou planning on marrying my daughter when y'all's baby's born?"
Yotenda busts out a laugh at that, then covers her mouth and says
Barn looks from Tfolanda to me. "I don't believe marriage is a viable institution."
"I think it is."
"Not as practiced in the. West."
Now what is he talking about—the west? We five in Ohio. That mess
he smoking gone to his head. Then he go on talking like he reading from
some magazine
"And if I did deckle to formally commit myself to a female, I wouldn't
do it now. I'm not old enough to even consider restricting my opportunities for..."
83 He stops talking and looks at Yolanda. She's got her hand up to her
forehead, wiping ft back and forth She barely turns toward him and
mouths the word, "Later." With the tip of his middle finger, Barn
smooths first one eyebrown, then the other.
I feel like I can't breathe right like something is itching inside my
heart I grab that boy by his hair, put my hands into that African mess on
his head, and yank I jerk his head down to his chest Then I do it again.
He winces and takes it. But all I can think is, it's soft His hair is soft and
fine tike a baby's. So I let ft go. I can see he's squinting back tears
I get up off the bed. Bam and Yolanda sit side by side, like two of the
same thing, but they don't touch each other. Yolanda has a scared look
I've seen too many times Barn's face don't look like nothing to me I tell
her, "Yolanda, 111 talk to you when you get your clothes on" Then,
"Barn, you better go home and don't show yourself around here no
I stand at the foot of the bed waiting for them to do what I said. When
Bam realizes I'm not going anywhere he says, "Would you leave so I can
get dressed?"
That little punk thinks he a grown man.
Yolanda is sitting on the couch next to me, plucking up a little bit of the
sheet between her fingers This couch is where I sleep, because I know a
teenage girl needs a bedroom to herself Someplace she can go and plan
her future or just dream. At first she said, "No, Mama. If you're not here
I'll get lonely." But after I put my things in the hall closet she started to
like having the room be hers. Now, she pulls up another piece of the
sheet and rubs ft with her thumb. I suppose she's waiting for me to start.
"Yolanda, honey, you are a fine young lady, now. Almost grown" She
doesn't answer. "You have to take care of yourself because a boy is not
thinking of doing ft for you." She studies the piece of sheet in her hands,
turns ft over and rubs the other side "Do you hear what I'm saying to
"Saying the same thing you always say."
"And just what is that?"
"Men are no good."
"Oh Mama, I'm sorry, but every time we talk about anything it always
comes back to 'Men are no good.' We can be talking about something as
stupid as dinner, and ft turns out we can't have what you'd tike because
we don't have the money and we don't have the money because of Daddy, who left you because "Men are no good.' We talk about your friend
Rita. I say how is Rita today? and you say, 'Men are no good. Her boy-
84 friend left her in the middle of the night got right up out of the bed, left
her hugging the pillow.' Everything we talk about got to have the same
conclusion. I just get tired of hearing it sometimes"
"I wasn't about to say that If you could wait a minute and listen you'd
find out what I was about to say."
Oh my feet hurt. Hurt worse than they ever did. I got to work eight
hours every day bending over that conveyor heft, picking up those
flanges, trying to see if they made right and I got to come home to this
mess. I kick off my shoes pushing them back under the couch then bend
down to rub my corns. They hard and dry—I'll use some lotion on them
tonight nib the sore spots out.
"First of all," I say, "I was talking about birth control. You using any?"
Yolanda looks back to the hank of sheet in her hands. "Mama, that's
"Not if you have a baby!"
"It would be my baby."
"Not in this house!"
"Would you please give me some credit for having common sense? I
wouldn't have a baby if I didn't want one. I'm smarter than that Byron
doesn't want a baby anyway. He said so."
"At fourteen I should hope not"
"Mama, I keep telling you that age doesn't matter. It's just a number
tike on a lottery ticket Some people act older, some people act younger,
and their birth certificates say they're the same age" She looks so sincere about what she saying, makes my head hurt
"Do y'all think you're in love?"
"I love him, yes."
"He love you back?"
She don't say anything, rests her hands in her lap. She got hands like
fresh-baked sugar cookies—plump, tan skin, nails buffed pink I hate to
see those hands go to waste patting Barn on the behind. Yolanda's smart
and could be a teacher if she wanted ta I just don't know why she don't
want ta
"He loves me," she says "He hasn't said it yet but I know he does"
"His hair that short you can read his mind?"
She gives me a look "Na Mama. He treats me like he loves me He
lets me talk He doesn't tell me what to do. I feel tike I can take a deep
breath around him."
"Girl if you want to breathe, there's a whole big world full of air right
past that door. Go outside and knock yourself out"
Yolanda sighs, sucking up our words and pushing them out again.
"I knew you wouldn't understand," she says and stands up. "And do
85 you know why? Because you don't know who I am. You don't have a
As she slams the front door, I see my old yellow sheet has a dent in it
where she been sitting.
I didn't catch Barn at my house after that but I knew. I could smell him
in the air in Yolanda's bedroom and on her sheets and pillowcases, a sharp
odor that came off his head and got into everything, not a bad smell just
different from Yolanda's. When she was a little girl, three or four, I'd lay
my cheek down on top of her head just before I'd wash her hair. I'd lay
my cheek flat against her braids and smell that smell. I could get drunk off
it. A smell like fresh dirt. Barn's smell was tike that too, but different
That smell was around so much, I started feeling like there was a ghost
in the house, the ghost of Bam. Seemed tike if I turned around fast
enough I'd catch him disappearing around a corner, maybe going to the
bathroom to pee, or sliding into the kitchen to empty his ashtray. But the
place his shadow grew clear was in the smirk on Yolanda's face I wanted
to tell her, "Girl, you don't have a secret," but that smile wasn't an invitation to talk.
I watched her when I was home at night. She didn't go out too much
especially on school nights. By the time I got home she'd have dinner
started. She made pretty good spaghetti sauce from the I Hate to Cookbook, so that's what we ate. When I walked in she'd already be at the
kitchen table with her school books spread out in front of her, hunched
over in her chair, arms crossed, a frown pulling her face into a point She
never asked me for help, just looked up from her books and said "hi"
Then I'd say, "What'd you do today?" and the ghost of Bam would slide
around the comer and flush the toilet I'd go lay down on the couch for
just a little while to rest before dinner, but ninety-nine times out of ten I'd
fall asleep.
What goes around comes back Yolanda started missing school started
staying in the bed, stopped having dinner ready when I came home Said
she must have the flu
One morning it's already eight-thirty, snow on the ground, and I'm running from the bathroom, pulling on my coat, trying to make my bus. I look
in the bedroom on my way out.
She's in bed with the blanket pulled up over her head. She looks small,
just a little lump under the covers. I go to the window and yank the
drapes open. Thin December sunlight, the kind that don't warm nobody,
comes in. Dust is flying all around, them drapes been closed $o long. I
. lean over Yotenda, pull back the blanket and press my hand against her
forehead. Feels tike touching myself
"Yotenda, you sick again?"
She turns over so she's facing the wall and says, "Yeah" tike she's
'What you think is wrong with you? I never heard of no flu test three
months." I'm trying to keep the sarcasm out of my voice, but there it is
She sits up, squeezes her face into a frown, boosts herself out of bed
and runs to the bathroom groaning. Oh hell, my job can wait I sit on her
bed trying to figure out what I'm going to say. When she comes back she
lays flat on the bed and stares straight up.
"Go ahead and ask me," she says, looking at that same spot on the ceiling. "Go ahead."
"How far gone are you?"
She darts her eyes at me They say this is not the question she expects. I smooth the hair back from her forehead, away from her eyes.
Her face is a blotchy jigsaw puzzle, the pieces are all there but they can
be shook loose Her hair feels rough under my hand, so I smooth it down
and smooth it down, until she closes her eyes and says, "June."
Men are no good. And it's too damn bad because they don't have to be
that way. They do things just to be doing them. When Walter left me and
Yolanda, I asked him over and over, "Why? Why are you going?" He said,
"Why you got to be so nosy, Nettie Lee? I'm going because I feel tike it.
That all right with you?" I stood out on the sidewalk with Yolanda in my
arms. I never even thought of answering him back I didn't want to waste
my breath
Now I hear Yolanda in the bedroom talking on the phone. First tittle
whispers, then loud screams
"You trifling nigger, you..."
I block it out I shut off my ears. I look out the window, out to the
street That's where I'd rather be. Away from here.
One night in May I came home from work and I smelled him when I sat
down to take off my shoes. I reached under the couch to get my house
shoes and I pulled out his black Dunhills slipper instead. The way it felt
light, weightless made me throw it across the room, against Yolanda's
bedroom door. From inside I heard her say, "Mama?"
She is in her nightgown, sitting on her bed, resting her back against the
pillows her thin arms crossed tightly over the hump of her stomach She
tikes to sit tike that, says she's hugging the baby. Barn is sitting right be-
J side her smoking his pipe, his legs stretched out on top of the blanket
When the smoke curls from his nose, Yolanda fans ft away with her hand.
"Byron says he might move in," she says, looking at him.
"You don't have the sense you was bom with"
She takes her arms off her stomach and says, "I thought you'd be
"Why do I want that boy here? I already got a child messing up my
"Why do you think?" She's getting hot now. "My baby will have a father. Byron's here" She looks at Bam tike he is her salvation.
"Where's the baby's father been up till now?"
"The baby hasn't been bom yet And you don't have to talk about Byron like he's not here "
I look right in those grey eyes and I say, "All right. You answer the
question. Where you been all these months Yolanda been pregnant?"
Barn puts bis pipe in the green bubble glass ashtray my mama gave me
when she (tied. It's the only thing I have left of her. He's laid it on the
blanket beside him.
"I realize you don't like me..." he starts up
"Boy, it don't matter if I like you or not. You don't put food on my table" "
"And I know you think I'm too young to take care of Yolanda."
"You got that right," I say. "Little fourteen-year-old I-dont-know-
"I'm fifteen now. And you think I don't know how to be a good father."
'Well you seem to know all about what I'm thinking" I cross my arms
and stand over the bed, right on top of him. "Do you know how to be
one? Doesn't look like it to me. Where you been for five months—on vacation? The Bahamas? It ain't been no Bahamas around here"
"I was home taking care of my family. No, let me finish Just let me tell
you something. I don't have a father and my mother left when I was
twelve. Do you understand me? Nobody raised me I raised myself and
"Who's that?"
"My little brother."
"All by yourself?"
He nods his head.
"Well, how'd you manage with no Mama or Daddy?"
Then he looks like he ain't going to say no more He reaches for his
pipe, then change his mind. He looks at Yolanda giving him a message
with her eyes to go on, tell it.
"Well at first Mama's sister, Chickee stayed wfth us She even
looked tike Mama in some ways, like how she walked. Sometimes if I got
88 tired and wasn't paying attention, I thought she was Mama. Nathan was
worse than me He'd curl up on the couch with Chickee watching tv. Had
his head in the crook of her leg, laying there till way past midnight. I'd
have to half carry him to bed. And he never even knew she was passed
out" He smooths his eyebrows with his finger.
Yotenda is looking at me to see if his words need embroidery, if he is
getting through to me. I sit on his side of the bed. They scooch over to
make room.
"What happened to Chickee? Where she go?"
He shrugs. "Wherever Mama and Daddy went"
I don't say anything. I don't have any answer for it
He shakes his head. "I don't really care, either. They're not necessary
to my fife. I've already proved that Chickee stayed about three months,
then she said she had some important out-of-town business to take care
of. She had on that old red knit dress she thought made her look cute, and
wobbly high heels She told me, "Vail be fine. I have no doubt" I had to
explain that to Nathan. Explain what was wrong with Mama and Chickee.
I said they're a tittle mixed up. They'll be back later."
I don't know if he believes this or not Can't tell by bis face
"After she left, we just stayed on in the apartment, pretending like she
was there That tested about two weeks, then Mr. Winn came over and
asked about the rent Said ft hadn't been paid in three months. What was
I supposed to do about it? I got no job at twelve And here's this okey-
doke looking motherfucker handing me eviction papers. I almost went off
on him.
"I got me a job that night catching for the dealer in my building. Everybody knows Marquis* doing business upstairs. All I had to do was hang
around outside from nine to five in the morning. Somebody funny-looking
come by, I tell Marquis. Or if I miss that and they get up to Marquis'
apartment, then I go around back and wait at the bedroom window. Lots
of hustling and shadows on the curtains then the window scrapes open
and out flies Marquis' duffle bag full of materials. I catch it and run."
"Barn, you going to get hurt doing that mess."
"It was a job, and ft paid. That's all I cared about then Now I'm looking
for something more. I got my own business Anyway, the point is I know
how to take care of my family. Been doing it too long not to. I can take
care of Yolanda and the baby, and I can take care of you, toa"
And me toa Somebody wants to take care of me toa Well, I kind of
tike that idea, except he tacks me on tike he's adding another raggelly ribbon to the tail of his low-flying kite
Barn and Yolanda are outside looking up into the grey sky, checking for
thunderheads. They stand beside cardboard grocery boxes loaded up
89 with stuff from my house Bam wants to take them to the new apartment Yolanda wants to wait says the rain will come down any minute
She has her hands on her hips her face thrown backward. Her maternity
blouse blows tike laundry on a clothesline
"One just hit me on the face!" she says to him and wipes her cheek
with her finger. "See that? That is a raindrop." Bam, like a long tree
branch, bends over to took
I can't see her raindrop, but other drops hit the living room window and
I know I am not going to move all this stuff now. The couch te sitting in
the middle of the floor, waiting for us to carry it out the door, but I lay on
ft instead. That way I know it's not going nowhere
Yolanda says Barn's new apartment is so fine it's got two bathrooms.
She wants me to move out of this house to stop working and stay with
her and Barn. Be like a mother-in-law on tv. I said they'd have to get
married first but all right since I owe it to her. I want to see my little girl
happy just once. But I been thinking about it. I have to break my promise
because I don't want to go.
Rain or shine I want to stay in my little old raggelly house. From way
before Yolanda can remember, this has been my house. I saw the
boarded-up windows and the condemned sign. I read the warnings posted
on the front door. I paid the dollar it cost to take it off the owner's hands
I signed my name. I bonowed tools. I bought lumber. I stole bricks I
ripped out, tore apart, hauled away. I hammered and plastered and wired
until they told me I could quit The day the county inspector ripped the
condemned papers off the door, he looked at me and Yolanda with unnatural pale eyes and said, "This te the worst thing you could have done. All
the houses on this block are boarded up. Youll have rats for neighbors
and that's all!" Yolanda buried her face between my legs. I pulled my hand
out of my coat pocket and poked my middle finger at his back and told
him, "I'm getting rid of the rats right now!" But he was already driving his
truck off.
No, I don't want to move from here This house is too much like me—
used up. If I move away to a new apartment with old big square white
rooms where will I lay down?
Bam and Yolanda come in with a man wearing a maroon windbreaker
splotched up with rain The man says "Yeah I'm here for the couch and
shit," and stands over me. "That ft?"
"Yes" Bam says "It makes out into a bed."
"How much you want?" He squats down and runs his skinny dark fingers along the fabric on the arms. "Looks kind of worn Looks real worn.
How much?"
Bam and Yolanda are standing there with this man, looking down at
90 me. Barn's mouth twists up ready to sell my couch
"Not a cent," I say standing up. "This couch ain't for sale. What fool
said it was?"
He looks at Barn. When he turns, the water on his kinky head drips
down his neck
"Look" he says to Barn, "I ain't here to waste time, yours or mine
This shit for sale or not?"
"My shit ain't for sale and never has been," I say. "Get out of my
He looks over at Barn and snorts. Before he goes out the door, he
bumps into Barn and whispers too loud, "Boy, you shoulda asked your
Mama first." Barn don't answer, his eyes don't flicker, his lips don't
As soon as that man is out the door, Barn and me will talk I got things
to say about how no frfteen-year-oW-tittle-something can sell my furniture
out from under my behind. How I don't need a new apartment—I got me
a house. How I don't need him—I already had a man once How I'm not
moving nowhere Ever.
But Barn don't wait around to talk He pulls on Yolanda's hand and they
both walk out to his car, rain hitting their heads, their shoulders
Yolanda's blouse sticks to her back and I see the sharp edges of her
shoulder blades They both know they will catch their death of cold, but
they go on tike you can't tell them nothing. They get in his new Mercedes
and it pulls off
Once Yolanda yelled at me, "Mama, I am my worst self around you!"
And I said, "Grri, you know ft don't take no special occasion for you to act
a fool" But I'm sorry I said it, and if I could take it back I would. I see
Yolanda tike a voodoo doll—full of needles. If I could, I'd pull them out one
by one but wouldn't that hurt her too? Maybe once you got a curse put
on you, the best thing is to just go on out and do your magic.
Yolanda is on her hands and knees crawling across the labour room
floor. She says she can take the pain better that way. First she crawls
forward, screaming the whole way, then she crawls backward. That's
harder—she can't see what's behind her. Nurses are looking at her
through the open door tike they think she's crazy.
"Yotenda," I say. "Why don't you let me help you get in the bed? You
going to wear that baby out"
She sits in a heap, legs splayed out in front her hospital togs open in
the back "Oh Mama," she says, and I can hear all the weary in her
voice, "I can't stand this How long do I have before the next one?"
I look at the clock over her bed. "Look like forty-five seconds."
91 "Oh shit" She puts her head in her hands
"Why don't you go back to bed? You feel better if your stomach don't
hang down so far."
"No, I feel better this way, when the baby hangs out like it's just part
of me, not all of me How many seconds?"
"Five," I say. "Four, three..."
"Oh, Mama, don't be funny. I don't have time to laugh right now." She
gets back up on her hands and knees
The nurses come in and out They pick Yolanda up off the floor, get her
back in the bed. They strap a monitor around her stomach Later, they
take her to the delivery room. I say I'm the labour coach so they let me
come too.
And where is Bam? I'm thinking this when I stand beside Yolanda at
the delivery table holding her hand. She's gripping me like she ain't got
nobody else. I tell her to pant, blow, push. I pant with her until I get lightheaded. We're together like that, me trying to help deliver this baby, her
trying to push it out I'm thinking things are so different now. I was asleep when Yolanda was bom. I didn't know nothing about panting, waiting, helping the baby come out in its own time, having to be patient with
the birth I guess I'm just surprised I didn't mess it all up myself.
Then here comes the baby's head, I see ft shiny wet coming out between Yolanda's legs. She cries says "Help me, Mama. Help me" And
I say, "Pant some more. Now push." I think about something I read in the
Book of Questions: If two people you love are drowning, and you can only
save one, who would you save? I just don't know.
92 Contributors
Leslee Becker grew up in the Adirondacks. She has had stories published in The Atlantic
Iowa Review, Nimrod, New Letters, River Styx, and elsewhere. She also teaches at
Colorado State University.
Roxanna Bikadoroff is an internationally acclaimed illustrator.
Kim Carter works in public relations in Toronto, Ontario and has travelled widely in
Europe and Asia. Her poems have appeared io CV 2, Dandelion, Zymergy. She has poems
forthcoming in Quarry. This is her second appearance in PRISM.
Danuta Gleed is an Ottawa writer. This is her second consecutive year as a PRISM fiction contest runner-up.
Yannis Goumas lives in Greece where he writes, translates, acts, composes, broadcasts
and is vice president of the family shipping concern. His original work and translations have
appeared world-wide, including The Malahat Review, PRISM international, London Magazine, Poetry Review, Shenandoah, Chelsea, Tribune, and many others. He is also the author
of seven books of poetry and has translated widely among contemporary and modern Greek
Jelena Lengold is a poet, broadcaster and journalist living in Belgrade, Serbia (Yugoslavia).
Darlene Quaife won a commonwealth Writers Prize for her first novel. Bone Bird. She
has recently completed her second novel. Days & Nights On The Amazon, and is working
on a third, to be titled. Pleasure Dome. The story The I Ching of Shoes" is part of a collection in progress titled Dancing Trap: An Erotic Journey.
Wendy Mai Rawlings, 25, grew up in New York and is now teaching Creative Writing at
Colorado State University and completing her M.F.A. and first collection of short stories.
Work is forthcoming in Cimarron Review.
Linda Raymond holds an M. A. in Creative Writing from the University of California,
Davis. She lives in California with her husband, a veterinarian, and their son. "Book of
Questions" is an excerpt from her novel in progress. Rocking The Babies.
Eden Robinson has lived in British Columbia all her life She is currenUy working on her
first novel
Fernand Roqueplan is a sculptor who lives by a loud and clean river in Idaho. His life is
rarely punctuated by crisis. His poems are usually written in transit from his country to
others: Argentina, India etc...
93 Gordana Stevanovic is a freelance journalist and translator based in Windsor, Ontario.
Anna Synenko lives and writes in rural Manitoba. She will complete her first collection of
poems, entitled Local Currency this summer.
Rhea Tregebov teaches at York University and Ryerson in Toronto Her most recent collection, the Proving Grounds, was published by Vehicule Press in Spring 1991.
Terry Worobetz is a writer living in Victoria, BC. He is looking forward to living and writing in France later this year through to 1993.
J. Michael Yates' book, LINESCREW: Memoirs of a Prison Guard, is forthcoming from
McClelland & Stewart.
94 Five million Canadians cannot read or
write well enough to function in today's
society* Every Canadian has a fundamental right to literacy. You can help.
Read to your children. Write to your
member of parliament. Become a
literacy volunteer. Make a donation.
For more information, contact:
Canadian Give the Gift
of Literacy Foundation
35 Spadina Road
Toronto, Ont. M5R 2S9
Tel: (416) 975-9366
Fax: (416) 975-1839
The book and periodical industry of Canada supports
the Canadian Give the Gift of Literacy Foundation.
* Southam Literacy Survey 1987. 00
Poetry • Novel/Novella • Short Fiction, Stage Plays * Screen & TV
Creative Writing B.F.A.
m The University of British Columbia offers a
Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing.
Students   choose ^three genres to work in
Translation.   All instruction is in small
workshop format or tutorial.
Faculty-. Sue Ann Alderson
Hart Hanson
George McWhirter
Keith Maillard
Jerry Newman
Linda Svendsen
Bryan Wade
For further information, please write to:
Department of Creative Writing
University of British Columbia
Buchanan E462 - 1866 Main Mall
Vancouver, B.C. V6T 1Z1
auiiuAA • SAey oipey • sAey ai $ usaios • sab|<j aaeis 'uoipij  Fiction
Leslee Becker
Danuta Gleed
Darleen Quaife
Wendy Mai Rawlings
Linda Raymond
Eden Robinson
Kim Carter
Yannis Goumas
Femand Roqueplan
Anna Synenko
Rhea Tregebov
Terry Worobetz
J. Michael Yates
In Translation
Jelena Lengold
ISSN 0032.8790


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