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 ■  TI
_MJ international  TI
J\7U international
Murray Logan
Executive Editor
Patricia McLean Gabin
Fiction Editor
Zsuzsi Gartner
Poetry Editor
Shannon Stewart
Advisory Editor
Keith Maillard
Associate Editor
Anna M. Nobile
Business Manager
Vigeland B. Rubin
Editorial Board
Meredith Bain Woodward
Jennifer Davis
Anne H. Ferncase
Mark Hill
Tony Kazoleas
San Khanna
Angela Lavery
Rosalind MacPhee
Catherine Mamo
Maureen Medved
Barbara Nickel
Anthea Penne
Eden Robinson PRISM international, a magazine of contemporary writing, is published four times per year
by the Department of Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver,
B.C. V6T IZl. Microfilm editions are available from University Microfilms Inc., Ann Arbor,
Michigan, and reprints from the Kraus Reprint Corporation, New York, N. Y.
Contents Copyright © 1993 PRISM international for the authors.
Cover art by Heather Adair
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.S.T.
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 responsible for the magazine's overall mandate including
continuity, quality, and budgetary obligations.
Payment to contributors is $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 Tourism and Ministry Responsible for Culture.
Publications Mail Registration No. 5496. August 1993 Contents
Vol. 31, No. 4 Summer, 1993
Donald Anderson
Cynthia Flood
Will Harvey
Lisa Daus Nevile
Patrick Roscoe
April Bulmer
Mark Cochrane
Neile Graham
David Hart
C.E. Hull
Caroline Marie Souaid
Patricia Young
Heather Adair
The Art of Fiction   72
The Usual Accomplishments    7
The Only Place He Felt All Right    44
All Men are Immortal    61
Wild Dogs    79
Four Poems from "Sisters of the
Sacred Heart"    34
Mapplethorpe    74
Society for the Preservation   75
Tomb of the Eagles    70
Crag Inspector   38
Spider    56
Praying Mantis    57
Night    59
1970    60
The Herb Garden   76
19th Century American Greenhouses    77
Cover Art
Make the Eagle Scream
(hand painted Silver Gelatin photograph)
Contributors  87 PRISM international
wishes to congratulate
Gayla Reid,
who won a National Magazine Award
and has been nominated for the $10,000 Journey Prize
for her story "Sister Doyle's Men"
which appeared in
PRISM international Vol. 30, No. 4 The Usual
Cynthia Flood
Miss Tilly Talbot sat on a flowered loveseat in the lounge of the
English residential hotel, The Times crisp on her thick grey
flannel thighs. To sit next her was to feel small; the elderly
Talbot twins were big ladies, and Tilly the bigger. A trifle deaf, she was
also the younger of the two—"only five minutes after Milly, mind you!"
Milly's eagle nose and humpy back dominated her appearance. Today
Tilly wore rose, her sister raspberry.
My father complained. "Where do Englishwomen find these awful
sweaters, Rachel?"
"Jumpers, Gerald, do get it right. Milly knits them."
"Awful. Shapeless."
"She's a wonderful knitter," my mother insisted. "And good wool
hasn't been available for years, because of the War."
Sometimes the twins spoke in unison. "We were very sad of course
when Daddy died," and "I do like a man to smoke a good cigar," and "We
do like city life," and "That was after Mummy."
"Formidable," said my father. "The Professor says they work the
Times crossword without filling in the boxes."
The custom of The Green House reserved the lounge for the Talbot
sisters' working of the crossword after breakfast each day. They also
used the hotel's copy of The Times. Mrs. K, the proprietor, explained to
my mother, "I don't begrudge it to the poor old souls. A little fun. They
don't get about, at all." She herself, proudly, had neither slept away from
the hotel for more than a single night since 1938—fourteen years—nor
been home to Ireland since the Abdication. Every morning after the
crossword, Mrs. K hoovered, dusted, and tidied the lounge.
Milly now took the newspaper from her sister. Alone on a matching
loveseat across the coffee table from Tilly and me, she turned the pages.
My head throbbed. Was my fever coming back? Milly and Tilly.
"What are those names short for, Mum?" I'd asked a few days previously, lying in bed. She wiped the thermometer on her skirt. "Let me think," squinting.
"Millicent? Mildred? You're still running a temp, Amanda."
"How high?" The click of the thermometer case said Canada, home,
measles and ginger ale and the shadowy June warmth of my lilac-fragrant
"And Tilly—Matilda, I guess. Over a hundred."
"Still?" My head hurt. Without the electric fire, my hotel room would
soon be stony cold.
"Milly is the first-born. So-Miss Talbot and Miss Matilda Talbot. Remember, Meg was Miss March?"
Little Women was not in the library of my school here in Oxford. Neither was Anne. "Milly Tilly Talbot Twins. Funny."
Influenza stretched time thin, like taffy on the buttered marble slab at
home, and tore big holes. I'd turn a page of Ransome or Sutcliff, then realize I'd been in darkness (how long, where travelled?) and now faced improbable words pocking coarse white paper. My mother brought
Lucozade at noon, was immediately at my door again. "Tea time!" Now
Milly and Tilly and I had The Times crossword before us: a treat for
maybe convalescent me.
Milly read the clues silently. Tilly and I were quiet. Shrouded, the piano straddled the corner of the lounge. Biscuit was the colour of the fitted
carpet, Mrs. K insisted. Not cookie.
"We'll begin with the five anagrams."
"What are anagrams, Miss Talbot?"
"Do you really not know the word, Amanda?"
"Tea, Amanda," Tilly suggested, "what could those letters turn into?"
And eat!" Tilly cried. "Jolly good."
Once Tilly and Milly did not speak for three days because Milly called
her sister a greedy girl.
"It was about those cream buns at Sunday tea last weekend," my
mother reported. "Apparently, when they were little girls at a vicarage
tea, Tilly ate too many. Milly reminded her."
"Imagine," my father mused, "pre-Great War cream buns."
"Well of course, Gerald, years pre, they were born in 1880. And Tilly's
sash came undone when she was exploring the vicarage shrubbery. She
stepped on it and it tore."
"Victoria. Gladstone. The Boers. Egypt. Rachel, how many of the
people who were at that tea are still alive, do you suppose?"
"Milly had to tie up Tilly's sash."
Tilly was often just passing through the lobby as Mrs. K lugged in her
string bags of food. "What fine apples! One of your wonderful tarts on Sunday, Mrs. K?" Or she would just slip out to the post as the fishmonger
pulled up to the kitchen entrance. "Look, Amanda. Fresh." The haddock's crazy eye shone.
"I close my eyes for the anagrams, Amanda, so I can move the letters, " said Tilly.
"Twenty-one down. Masters turn to current affairs," Milly read. "Turn,
Amanda, implies rearrangement. Masters."
Eyes closed: m, two ss, a e t and r wobbled like fruit suspended in jellied blood. Current Affairs—at school, Visiting Speakers spoke on those.
And once Tilly had told me of Milly's former position as secretary to a retired colonel, "which kept her very much up with current affairs, dear.
He was writing his memoirs. She often went up to London. Research.
She prepared the index. Much praised." A long warm sigh. "He had
served in India for many years. Rajahs, everything. So interesting for
The letters ran about like children playing musical chairs, and sat
down. "Stream. Streams!"
Milly nodded. "That is correct, current. Twenty-three down, Trots
wrongly. Corrected, trots will be—what?"
But I did not know torts. When Tilly explained that a wrong was right,
my giggling head hurt.
"Now Milly, read our next one!" Tilly enthused.
"Who is leading today, Tilly? I believe I am. Mutt! hen needs accommodation, seven."
When their father was dead and the Second World War was over and
they were sixty-five, Milly and Tilly put their country cottage up for sale
and came to Oxford in search of accommodation. In their thick flannel
coats-and-skirts (so old the fabric had felted at the jacket corners), in
their cotton combies and hairnets and wool and lisle and leather they
walked the streets, stepping in unison, toes turned out like hens'.
"Hutment," Milly snapped. Whatever is that?
Now the sisters lived in this old brick house, not green at all but the
colour of raw bacon. Here also were old Mr. and Mrs. Ledington—the
Lemurs, my parents and I called them, for their astonished anxious
eyes—and old Miss Honey, she of the black dresses with the yokes
fringed in winking tinkling jet. (The wind-chimes on the verandah of our
Muskoka cottage sounded the same.) And Mrs. Orr and Mrs. Elphin-
stone. And old Professor McGeachie. In my illness, late at night, I heard
him next door, heard him bang his pipe, crumple into his bed, drop his
Greek book with the others heaped in the dark. His feet were near my
head. And Mr. Fisher the accountant, and red-haired Miss Clyde who
taught maths at a girls' school (not mine). "Poor Miss Honey!" Tilly sighed to my parents, as the sisters took tea
with us one day. "To be old and alone."
"Poor Professor McGeachie!" Milly corrected. "It is worse for men,
Tilly. They are not accustomed to a solitary life."
"But the Professor does not lack for company, does he, Milly? People
seek him out, do they not, Milly?"
My father asked later, "Rachel, what was all that about?"
Now Milly cried, "Next, girls! Fourteen Down, It's choler, maybe, if
they don't suit." Did maybe always signal anagram? Was choler sick or
cross? Tilly's "clothiers" seemed worthless. My head sang like a saw biting into resinous wood, into summertime.
"Why are all the anagrams Down clues?" My voice felt whiny.
"The which, dear? Goody, four clues, we're one-eighth done. Clever
girl, to notice that!" said Tilly. "Why, Milly?"
"The mind of each crossword-maker is unique, Amanda. Each man
creates differently. This is Torquemada."
Men in offices fitted letters into boxes, made them criss-cross and
spell, even made black empty stand symmetrically against full white. The
men made up clues. Then we sat in The Green House lounge and tried to
think backward through their thoughts: sixteen Downs, sixteen Acrosses,
fifteen squares each way. /// could only look at the puzzle—but to sit by
scary Milly.... Could Tilly and Milly make puzzles? Imagine the sisters in
offices like those at my father's publishing company, seated at big desks,
their big bottoms cupped in swivel chairs, with tea, sheets of paper, dictionaries, HBs, carbons, typewriters....
"Those old girls in an office?" my father chuckled, later.
"Milly had jobs," I protested.
"She did indeed, Gerald. Secretary, and then companion to Mrs.
Brocklehurst, and then chaperone to the Dickinson girls."
"Mum, why did Milly leave home and Tilly stay home?"
"Primogeniture," my father answered. "Milly is the elder. The son, as
it were."
When I told my idea to the Talbot sisters, at a shared coffee-time, Tilly
giggled. "Us? In an office?"
Milly said then to my father, while Tilly showed my mother her embroidery, "Of course Tilly has no idea of real work, Mr. Ellis. Her life has
been very sheltered, I'm afraid."
"Why afraid, Miss Talbot?"
"She always lived at home. First helping Mummy, then looking after
Daddy by herself. A country cottage, a small garden."
Now Milly said firmly to Tilly and me, "There is only one more anagram. Four Down: Regal tour."
10 "Oh the queen, that reminds me!" Tilly cried. "I'll tell, when we've
done it." Nine crowned letters sparkled in my red darkness. Ornamental
fireworks would spell Elizabeth next year, when the new queen was
crowned; last month, the old sick stuttering king had died at last.
"Regulator," Tilly and I spoke and laughed. Then, moving with big
speed, she took The Times and found the front page. "Here. The Aga
Khan! 'Because of a slight indisposition'... I expect he's had the flu, poor
man, just like you, Amanda... 'will be unable to attend to correspondence for the next three weeks.
"What is an Aga Khan, Miss Tilly?"
"An Eastern potentate," dreamily.
"He is a foreign prince, Amanda, and a very rich man, who has a London residence. Might I continue with our clues, Tilly?"
Tilly and Milly had moved to the big city.
My mother snorted. "You can see the quotation marks. Tilly thinks
she's talking American."
"Oxford isn't big," I objected. "When we went up Boar's Hill you could
see where the buildings start and stop. You can't see the end of Toronto
from the Park Plaza."
"Don't tell her that," warned my father.
"And do listen to this," Tilly said, poking at The Times so it crackled.
"Milly, couldn't this just have been us? 'Woman graduate (28), married,
living near London in NW direction seeks post. Some experience journalism, usual accomplishments, wide interests, especially people.. . .' Not that
we were graduates, Amanda. Or married, of course. Or journalists.
'Write Box 1636.'"
"I hardly think we'll need the number, Tilly."
Her face fell—I had never seen this. "I was remembering. What it was
like. To be at the beginning, Milly."
"We're still at the beginning of this crossword." Milly retrieved the paper and her voice gentled. "Amanda, next come wordplays. They're like
puns, rather."
"Oh they're fun!" Tilly cried into Milly's cold smile.
I rubbed my sore head. "It's a job that lady wants, isn't it? What are
usual accomplishments?"
"Ten Across: Makes a tremendous impression, but not in the circus.
Two words, five and four letters respectively."
"French, for example. Piano. Dancing," Tilly whispered quickly. "At
the circus, Amanda—what animals?"
At home, after Barnum and Bailey's, our cats Tiger and Willow pretended they were panthers, lions, fabled Siberian snow leopards. Blinking, they crouched by the ring I drew in the sunny dirt near the garage,
11 purred, slept. While we lived this English year, they were staying with
my uncle in Hamilton. Were they happy? Circus animals. Seals: at the
zoo, they danced in the water with their whiskered noses sticking out,
the magic nostrils flaring and sealing. In Kipling's story of Kotick, though,
sealing was killing, by sealers. In those, my mother preserved fruit. And
Miss Trout, our history mistress, who did not approve of modern dancing, spoke reverentially of the Great Seal.
"Well? Did the circus make no impression on you, Amanda?"
The folded melting in my head solidified. "Great Seal! Can I write in all
the words we've got?"
"No no dear," Tilly said quickly, "here." She held a little pad, where
were listed olream torts hutment clothiers regulator.
"Amanda," Milly said in her precise voice, "we usen't to do it this way.
Earlier, we filled in the words in the puzzle as we went along, did we not,
"The which, Milly? Fill—? Oh yes yes. Such fun, to see the squares filling up! But too easy."
"Much too easy. The shapes of words are revealing."
"You shall write them all on the pad, Amanda, and in The Times when
we've done."
"Very well. Thirteen Across, Superfluous to 9 it, though some do, nine
"How do you m'wesomething, Miss Talbot?"
"The reference is to Nine Across. Hoist."
"A flag. Another way to say that?" Tilly's tone was playful.
"Run up, I guess."
Milly tsked. "I guess? Such an odd expression, Amanda. Well? What
does one not need to run up, though foolish children do?"
"Milly, you oughtn't to be so peremptory with Amanda."
"Amanda has a good mind, Tilly. She must not be a slacker."
"She isn't well."
"She's quite well enough for a simple clue like this."
My head hurt. "I don't know."
"Escalator," Milly snapped, and the nine letters raced up from the
Tube's depths. L and t were tall and thin. Tilly shifted her thick legs.
Milly's were as thick. What colour had the sisters' hair been? Iron-grey
and ashen. Their ringless hands were large, the nails ridged and bare.
They kept their gloves on at the cinema when we went—my mother's
idea—to see Alastair Sim's new film A Christmas Carol. We sat in this order: my mother, Tilly, me, my father, Milly, Professor McGeachie.
"Never a hint of a husband, I suppose, Rachel?"
"Plain women have a hard time." My mother's voice cut.
12 "Don't flare up so, Rachel!" An affectionate glance. "That jacket is
very becoming."
Now Milly's sigh was impatient. "Eight down: Not a summer blazer.
Four and three."
On this March morning in the stuffy hotel lounge, my sweater felt thin,
"Yule log," Tilly answered promptly. "Eight done, Amanda!"
"Seven Down: Pen that sounds like a fleece. Nine."
"Not a writing pen, Amanda," said Tilly, "easy, Sheepcote."
"Eighteen Down: The hat you eat."
"Pork pie!" Tilly and I shouted into Milly's "Four, three." We laughed
and laughed.
"Good work. Fifteen Down: Paddy's periodical. Four, five."
"Not the Irish Paddy, Amanda," Tilly warned. "Think of China, Japan."
Rice. Rice. "Rice paper!" Lovely feeling when the right answer came!
Sunny watery fields, filled with people reading.
Rap rap loudly on the swing door—we startled. There was Mrs. K, a
cigarette pasted to her lower lip, holding a wicker basket of Vim, wax,
oils, rags, brushes, sponge. The hoover stood behind her.
"I'm off to do my bedrooms, ladies, and then I'll be getting your
Ovaltine. Bless you now," and the door swung shut. A whiff of Players
"Dear Mrs. K! Really, the Irish are so hospitable. She comes in to see
us three times every morning, Amanda."
"Tilly, our Ovaltine and Peek Freans are stored in the kitchen. Mrs. K
serves them. There is nothing to remark upon. And her knock is needlessly loud. Bog Irish, I should say."
The hoover blundered thumpily up the stairs.
"And she comes four times each day. Tilly. Not three."
"Did you know that Isabella Bird went to Japan?" Tilly asked, in the
same yearning tone in which she had spoken of the Aga Khan. "Imagine!
She even spent time among the Ainu."
"Still wordplays, Tilly."
"The which, dear? Oh, of course."
"My sister is somewhat absent-minded, Amanda." So said Milly, the
day when I came to their room as appointed to find Tilly not there, although she had promised to start me on embroidery, which Miss
Michaelson at school refused to permit for anyone "so utterly incompetent with her needle" as I.
Milly and Tilly had twin beds, ha ha. Milly's was nearer the window,
13 and on her wardrobe stood photographs: a man like Tilly, a woman like
Milly. On Tilly's were small china giraffes. The sisters shared night-table,
bookcase, escritoire. An embroidery-stand stood on Tilly's side, where a
wild crimson dragon writhed within a circular frame; out from his gigantic
whorled nostrils, silver steamed.
"Where is St. George, Miss Talbot?"
Milly emitted a laugh. "This dragon is Chinese, Amanda."
"Has Miss Tilly been to China?"
"Don't be silly." She collected herself. "My sister has had the opportunity to read widely, Amanda."
The dragon's scales were smooth as glass.
"You admire my sister's work." Milly shrugged her hump.
"Oh, it's beautiful. It's kind of strange, too."
On Tilly's two walls hung a carving in black wood, a framed oblong of
brilliant weaving, a scroll where a waterfall trickled down among plumey
trees. On Milly's were watercolours—Ely, Derwentwater (the same
view as on my paintbox). Large black-and-white framed photographs
showed a formal garden.
"Kind of? A Canadianism, I suppose."
Milly closed the door after me and the key turned.
"Come, girls," she said briskly now, "two more wordplays. Nineteen
Across: They are not the runners. Four, five."
My hurting head had lost the rhythm. Tilly did not speak, but gazed
dreamily toward the door.
"Tilly, come back. Race goers." Milly took the pad from Tilly, wrote.
"That's my job, Milly! Just because you're older...."
When would my mother come back? She had gone to meet an author,
to make him understand (again) the distinction between corrections and
alterations to proofs. That evening in the lounge, she would act out their
conversation. Professor McGeachie and the Misses Talbot (my father
said this was the right way to refer to them) would laugh and laugh. Puzzled Miss Honey would smile and the old Lemurs would peer, bright-
eyed. Mummy. "When I get back, sweetie," she'd said, "we'll play Scrabble, O.K.?"
"And," said Milly, "Twenty-five Across: No Grand Tour. Tilly, easy
for you. Five, four."
Tilly laughed. "Me? Why, I've never left England! The opportunity
never came. Now, Amanda, imagine. Tour: journey?"
"Voyage?" We had sailed to England on the Empress of Canada, really
steamed over green beauty. On maps, oceans were blue.
"Lucky you, on a liner! Trek? That's South African."
14 "Cheap trip!" This must be English.
"Good," said Milly. "The wordplays are accomplished. Now, the
straight equivalents."
"Miss Talbot, I thought accomplishments were things you'd done, finished. In that ad, what does that lady mean?"
"The usages are nicely distinguished, Amanda. A young person's accomplishments are what he is capable of doing, as a result of his education. If using the term of an older person, one would refer to what he had
done with his life."
"French, yes," said Tilly, ticking off on her fingers. "Milly's was very
useful, wasn't it? With the military at the Colonel's, and with Mrs. Brock-
lehurst's Continental friends, and with Jocelyn and Josephine Dickinson at
Cambridge? Such opportunities to meet people Milly had, Amanda!"
"There remain three straight equivalents," said Milly. "We already
have Hoist."
"And dancing. Needlework of course. Piano. Piano is always nice, I
think. Milly and I loved our piano, didn't we? Duets, Amanda. Such fun!
We still know our pieces. But the Times crossword man isn't a bit musical, such a pity. And, well, being able to run things. A dinner party. A
sale, for the church. Flag Days. Dear Queen Alexandra! That girl might
find a post with a charity. Or be a companion. Cards. Card games."
"There are also one or two hiddens," Milly continued. "The answer is
fragmented in the clue."
"Cards?" my mother had said to Tilly and Milly. "Sure, let's play cards.
What'll it be? Hearts? Canasta? Gin? Bridge? Something Amanda can play
too, till her bedtime anyway. Five-card stud? What do you usually play?"
The sisters looked as if my mother had up-ended a cornucopia before
"I don't play bridge," Tilly said shyly. "Milly's very good, though," admiringly. "She plays with the Professor and the young people." (She
meant Miss Clyde and Mr. Fisher.) "At Cambridge, she often made a
fourth. The girls gave her a book of card games, as a farewell. So many
solitaires! Really, she is never bored."
My mother got the card-table from Mrs. K and my father went upstairs for port and Lucozade, while I showed Tilly and Milly how to build a
card-house. Shortly, we were all playing Continental and drinking out of
plastic sherry-glasses. Milly played without hesitation. Tilly dithered and
laughed and looked about at us, little eyes alert with pleasure in the soft
broad face. She got so confused in the ten and eleven card hands that I
became her consultant. "The which, dear?" We laughed, the sisters'
cheeks pinked, the port sank.
"Oh, I couldn't, Mr. Ellis, and there's very little left."
15 "There's another bottle upstairs," my father said, tipping steeply into
Milly's glass, "and as far as I know the wine-merchant is still in business.
So no holding back, ladies."
At our cottage, a few weeks before our sea-voyage to England, we
played cards. Aunts and cousins and friends filled cabins, tents, the boat-
house, and as many people stood around the long table to watch the after-
dinner poker game as were actually playing it. Teasing, unwanted advice,
decrepit family jokes—the cottage was lamplit noise on the edge of dark
water. Later, in my warm Flit-smelling tent, above the soft breaths of a
baby cousin beside me, I heard continuing adult amusement, and later
still heard the howl of the CPR's Transcontinental at the distant foot of
the lake, en route for MacTier and Parry Sound and the midnight stop at
Sudbury. Here in The Green House, only winter rain sounded as I settled
in bed to read Alison Uttley. Now in March, our cottage too would be silent, in snow. Breaking ice, shifting docks were weeks away.
"The direct equivalents are Across clues," said Milly. "Twelve, put
out, five. Sixteen, lisping song, five."
Thong came giggling right into my cold hurting head. "The list looks
like a secret language," I said, adding my word.
"The which, dear? Oh yes." Tilly laughed. "Now Twelve. Half-done!
Amanda, do you know about the silly sleepy man who wound up the cat
and put out the clock?" I did, but Tilly did not know why the moron threw
the clock out of the window. We laughed more, Milly frowned, Tilly hurriedly said, "Expel."
"Really, girls. Pay attention." Milly pursed her lips as if tasting bitterness.
Did I need to swallow a bitter pill? In strange England, pills were at a
place called Boots', and so were books. There I met Tilly. After a morning with the Mothers' Union, she was purchasing cornplasters, while I
was once again borrowing The Far Distant Oxus and Swallowdale. We
walked back to the hotel, our home.
"I'm not very good at this," she said, her breathing laboured, "and my
sister doesn't walk at all, for fear of falling. Her brittle bones." In her
loose raincoat, Tilly resembled a limping tent.
"Miss Tilly, did you read Ransome when you were young?"
"The which, dear? Oh no, I'm far too old," Tilly answered comfortably.
"But I know why he is so popular. Reading about adventures—why, I've
done that all my life."
We stood at a zebra crossing. These were new to Oxford; people
wrote to the newspaper, for and against. Milly and my father followed
this debate. One of her letters had been printed.
"Amanda, think how surprised a zebra would be, to be here!" We
16 crossed the Woodstock Road safely. "I used to read to Daddy, you see,"
she continued, "because Mummy had always read to him. Of course I
couldn't do as well, but with the eye-strain Daddy couldn't.... And so
when he retired, he was accustomed...."
"What was your father's job?"
"The which, dear? His—? Why, he was a headmaster. A boys' prep
school, small, but good, oh good. Daddy was well-respected, I believe.
Our cottage was nearby. I'm afraid Milly found it small and shady, after
Mrs. Brocklehurst's. Daddy and I. Twenty-three years, after Mummy,
till his retirement. And then another twenty-three! Wonderful how he
lasted. So frail always. Very deaf, latterly. After breakfast I'd settle him
in his study, and read till he dozed off. And after his afternoon nap. And
sometimes after dinner, although he did like the wireless."
"What did you read to him?" We passed old houses with dark dank gardens, not front yards, edged in towering laurel. Rain slid off the leafy
slickness. Might a zebra peer out from the glistening foliage, peer with
pale blue excited eyes?
"Trollope," promptly. "Sometimes I felt I knew Barsetshire better
than Oxfordshire. Wasn't I a silly? We read the Chronicles eleven times."
"Did you like those books?"
"I love Mary Kingsley," said Tilly, twirling her umbrella like a big black
flower. "Of all the lady explorers, the very best writer. Travels in West
Africa—the first time—never forget. In the garden—wallflowers so fragrant—peas shelled for dinner—a little time." She stopped by a scarlet
pillar-box and waved her free hand as if conducting. "Listen. 'When we
got into the cool forest beyond it was delightful; particularly if it happened
to be one of those lovely stretches of forest, gloomy down below, but
giving hints that far away above us was a world of bloom and scent and
beauty which we saw as much of as earthworms in a flower bed.'" Tilly's
eyes gleamed. "Fancy, Amanda. Then I heard Daddy calling." She resumed her uneven trudge.
"Did your father like Mary Kingsley? I never knew there were lady explorers. Like Drake and Raleigh?"
"The which, dear? Harriet Martineau, of course," Tilly enthused,
"America and the East, though so opinionated. Lady Ann Blunt, Syria and
Saudi Arabia and Egypt. What a life! Such a nice man! And she was a good
writer too, though not like Mary. And Lady Hester Stanhope. I am not
sure that all was well with her mind, Amanda. The Lebanon. But what
descriptions! The people she met! And Isabella Bird went simply everywhere. To every mountain. Cold, but such courage. I stayed up hours,
every night, reading. Alexandra David-Neel. Alexine Tinne...." She
17 "Wouldn't you like to travel yourself, Miss Tilly?"
Expel thong run up: our list of finished clues was lengthening. Above
us, the distant hoover growled.
"What's next, Miss Talbot?"
Milly stared at the crossword. "Tilly," she said, "there may be a difficulty. "
Tilly's thigh stiffened. "Where, Milly?" softly. Her right hand patted
the list—There there.
"Seventeen Across. Van of the broom display, five. I'm not receiving
anything, Tilly," in a thin urgent tone.
"Milly dear, you know that sometimes happens." Her twin's voice was
slow, incantatory. "Sometimes. And now we'll simply. Go on with our
work. And in due time. Seventeen Across. Will come." Tilly's gaze
reached her sister, humped over the Times. "We'll go on now, Milly. Tell
us, Milly. What's next?"
"Why, only two hiddens, and then the literary and historical references." Milly sat up, blinked her dark blue eyes. Tilly's leg relaxed.
"Twenty-seven Across, Result from having eaten suet-pudding, five.
Amanda, join the end of each word with the beginning of the next. Does
any combination mean result?"
Ultfr, omhav, ingea. "Ensue!"
"Now Twenty-eight Across. First synonyms for two words, then the
same technique. Material insects that are striped. Nine."
"Insects, Amanda," Tilly invited.
"Spiders? Beetles? Flies? Butterflies? Dragonflies? Ants?"
"Ants." Her voice was warm with pleasure.
"Silk ants? Satin ants? Cotton ants? Wool? Linen? Silly."
"Think, Amanda! Don't shirk it."
"Serge!" Tilly burst out, and wrote Sergeants on my list.
"Are sergeants striped, then?"
"The which, dear? Why, of course they are."
"She wouldn't know, Tilly. The colonies didn't really go through the
War." Milly's appraising eyes reverted to the clues.
"What does she mean, not receiving anything?" I whispered.
"Oh." Tilly's pale blue eyes looked inward. "Amanda, when a mistress
at school asks you a question, and you can't answer, but you feel the answer's in your mind?" I had not known that anyone else felt this. "For
Seventeen Across, Milly does not know that she knows."
Footsteps sounded down the staircase.
"Colonials do not understand the War, either," Milly added.
"Dieppe. Lots of Canadians were there." The French town issued cold
and angry from my mouth, unfamiliar—I had only read and heard the
word. Very young, I came upon my mother crying over a newspaper; I
18 ran to our back yard, hid in the earthy dark under the mock-orange.
Later, my dry-eyed mother called me for lunch (baked custard), and insisted to my father, "Slaughter, Gerald. Butchery of children." Dieppe.
Chill pain seeped down my spine. Mummy would hold me. We would play
Mrs. K's footsteps went smartly across the parquet of the lobby and
on to the stone flags of the hotel kitchen. Wouldn't you like to travel,
"My sister Milly concentrates and is very precise," Tilly explained to
my mother. Out of a canvas bag on Tilly's lap, layers of crisp white paper
unpleated, and from this emerged altar cloth; Tilly was a surgeon at work
on a small exposed section of sacred tissue. From the point of her needle,
IHS grew to glossy fullness. "When she came home for visits, she
wanted to cook. I'm afraid I always let her."
"Why afraid?"
"And Milly would insist on using recipes. No substitutions! Impossible
in war-time, of course. I simply cooked what Daddy liked, or what was in
the garden. And after Milly left each time, when I first made a favourite of
ours, rice pudding perhaps, he would say, 'That's the way.'" Tilly's smile
was fond. The embroidery silk dove like a snake into its hole.
"Look, Amanda," my mother said. On the nether side of Tilly's work,
IHS was exquisitely smooth.
"Milly so much admired the way the kitchen was run, in Mrs. Brock-
lehurst's great house."
"Perhaps your sister would have liked to run a kitchen?"
"Oh Mrs. Ellis, who could want to? Boiled eggs just right. Shepherd's
pie every single Tuesday. The fish—fresh so hard to come by. And he
couldn't understand rationing. So cross." Tilly rethreaded her needle.
"And never a break. Do you know, the headmaster after Daddy never invited us back? Not once. In very little time, the whole tone of the school
changed, we felt."
Milly sighed now. "Time, Tilly! We've only done nineteen clues." The
big twin's face sagged. Milly smiled. "Our rule is to have two-thirds done,
Amanda, before our Ovaltine."
Rap rap, and Mrs. K burst in again. This time she carried a large tin of
Peek Freans, a bottle of lemon oil, and a chamois cloth. She set all before
us and smiled at me, quirking her black eyebrows.
"Enjoying yourself, are you? Off to do my lavs and baths now. Kettle's
on." She was gone again.
"Really! That woman. So familiar."
"This is her home, Milly. We are paying guests. And she only comes
three times."
"Tilly, do you wish to drink tepid Ovaltine this morning?"
19 Tilly folded her hands.
"Good. Now. One Across. Risky to hoax a sea-captain, nine."
"What is two-thirds of thirty-two, Miss Talbot?"
Milly stared silently at her sister.
"Milly only allows me fifteen seconds," Tilly then said loudly, "for the
literary and historicals. Milly knows them all already. Except Seventeen
Across. Milly doesn't know that."
"Foolhardy." Milly's tone was confident. "Amanda, do you know the
painting of the death of Nelson? Four times, Tilly. She comes when
we've finished. Amanda, kiss me Hardy?"
No. No clue. My skin shivered, like lake water at dusk after a windless
day. Mrs. K's smoke lingered, queasily.
"Miss Talbot," said my father, "what was the nature of your work for
the Colonel?"
"I performed the usual secretarial duties, Mr. Ellis."
Milly and my father discussed the Colonel all through the Sunday joint
and the treacle tart, while my mother and I showed Tilly my uncle's letter
and the affecting photo he'd sent of Willow and Tiger curled up in a hammock on his back verandah.
"The old boy sounds a bit of a tyrant," my father reported that evening. In my dressing-down, I sat wet-haired on my parents' bed, wearing
a towel-turban. "Made her retype a page if he so much as changed and to
"Afraid to finish the book perhaps." My mother unwrapped the towel
and felt my hair.
"Damn thing wouldn't have seen print without her. Miss T doesn't say
that, mind you."
"I'd like to read it." My mother combed softly. I winced.
"Probably the standard My Twenty Years in Poona."
"Seventeen years she spent with him."
"Like a fairytale." I was sleepy.
"That," my father corrected, "it was not." He took off his tie and emptied his pockets, chinking coins and keys into the containers on his dresser.
My mother combed smoothly through the last tangle. "Years and years
with Mrs. Brocklehurst. Years with the Dickinsons."
"Miss Talbot says he hadn't a strong strategic sense." My father examined his image. "Remarkable comment for a woman."
"Tilly told me she went to visit Milly at the Colonel's once." I yawned.
"She took five buses. One after another, the whole day long. To the sea.
At Torquay. She'd never seen it."
20 "Years." My mother's pat on my head was final.
The photographs in Miss Talbot's book showed the Colonel on or near
various animals, and with personages in unusual clothing. My parents
skimmed the text, my father humphing about "great empire and little
minds," and examined the index. Tucked inside the dust-jacket was a yellowed clipping.
"The reviewer dined well before writing that, Rachel."
"Not the last paragraph," my mother said. "Listen, Amanda. 'Mention
must finally be made of the admirable index prepared by Miss Millicent
Talbot. Detailed and accurate, it is the more noticeable within the context
of the volume's general quality.'"
"What does that mean, Mum?"
"The book's punk but the index isn't."
"High praise, from TLS," my father congratulated Milly.
Milly's dark blue eyes looked for hiding. "I did not know that my sister
had pasted the review in there," she said, wringing her hands, huddling
down. "I did not know, Mr. Ellis."
Tilly explained, when she had escorted Milly upstairs, "My sister is
very shy, Mrs. Ellis. It seems the wrong way about, doesn't it? So hard
for her, to meet all those people! And I never went anywhere."
"And you went from the Colonel to Mrs. Brocklehurst?" my father
asked Milly next Sunday tea-time, gently; Tilly was showing my mother
her stitches for the lily-stamens.
The lines around Milly's mouth loosened. "To the garden."
"Miss Tilly and your father—had they a garden, too?"
"Of a kind." Milly's voice sharpened. "Small, though Tilly's complaints
would make one think it was Sissinghurst. Shady." She sat up straight.
"But so much might have been done with that garden, Mr. Ellis! She
didn't care. Sometimes I lose patience with her. Sometimes I think everything was the wrong way about."
Now Mrs. K's footsteps clacked over the parquet again. Going upstairs, she called impatiently to the maids.
"Milly, another literary and historical, please," meekly.
Milly smiled. "Three down. A pilgrim by name, seven. Do you know
the Progress, Amanda?" At home, my teachers wrote Good progress on
my report. How would I fare at this English school? Don't worry, my parents said, meaning well.
Wiggling her fingers, Tilly counted. "Christian nine, Faithful eight,
Evangelist, Worldly-Wiseman, no no no. Of course, Hopeful. Always be
so, Amanda!" I wrote the word. "That's why I liked that advert, Milly.
That hopeful girl. She's wondering what there is for her in the world."
No sense to me, no clue. What were my accomplishments? Some
French. No piano. Would Latin count? No dancing. Could I run anything?
21 Writing letters, yes; secretaries do that. / could too do things. I would do
them. Word-games—yes. What had these two accomplished? Wouldn't
you like to travel, Tilly?
"Really, Milly, come to think of it, there are very few women in Pilgrim's Progress."
"Really, Tilly! Bunyan describes the travels of a soul. Its sex is surely
irrelevant? And as for hopeful—plain silly, I'd call that girl. She can't be
making much of a wife."
"I suppose you would know."
"And what do you mean by that, Tilly?"
"Very clever, the way you sat next to him at the cinema."
"And what about all your hopefuls in the old days, Tilly? Every term, it
seemed, you wrote me about some new master."
"Those explorers kept me hopeful, Amanda," Tilly had said, as she and
I ended our journey in the forecourt of The Green House. "Those brave
ladies, travelling so far!" Snowdrops bloomed by the doorstep. "Tiresome little things," and she shook her umbrella at them. As we entered,
she assumed a quoting expression. "Listen, Amanda. 'Here and there the
ground was strewn with great cast blossoms, thick, wax-like, glorious
cups of orange and crimson and pure white, each one of which was in itself a handful, and which told us that some of the trees around us were
showing a glory of colour to heaven alone.'" Tilly fitted her umbrella into
the stand and clapped her hands. "Glorious cups! Each one a handful!"
The lobby smelled of soup. Tilly limped to the oak settle and sat heavily down to rub her ankles. "Daddy and I gave a dinner for every new
master. And his wife of course, if he had one. Fancy, Amanda: me opposite Daddy, in my best dress! Only a few were married when they arrived. Al those weddings in the school chapel!" Her big feet were boxed
in black laced shoes. Thick cocoa lisle was visible to mid-calf, followed by
the rumpled wool of a hand-knitted suit with wide horizontal corrugations. Milly's was olive, Tilly's celery. "Milly always says I had such opportunities to meet people."
Wool next to the skin. My sweater chafed my wrists.
"I see you knit in the European way," my mother had said admiringly
to Milly, watching her needles exude smooth fabric.
"We had a German governess for a time, Mrs. Ellis," Milly replied.
"The Germans were not then the enemy. I make clothing," she added.
"My sister's work is decorative."
"My God those skirts are awful," my father expostulated, at dinner.
"Broad-beamed women shouldn't be allowed to wear things like that.
Don't they know how they look from behind?"
"Milly couldn't find proper skirt lining, Gerald," my mother remon-
22 strated. "There still isn't much in the shops, you know. Amanda, don't
eat too many potatoes. What I wouldn't give to get those two into decent
Tilly had retied her shoe laces and sniffed. "Mrs. K's potato soup. Al
those dinners I cooked, Amanda! All those men, saying the same things.
I laughed." Mischief tightened Tilly's wrinkles. "Oh, not aloud. But I
used to fancy—what Harriet and Isabella and Mary and Ann could tell, if
they were at table! Jungle dinner. Desert dinner. Dinner at Gondokoro,
dinner on the bounding main." She heaved to her feet. "I must tell Milly
I'm home. She worries."
"Tilly," Milly said now, "if you simply sit and giggle with Amanda, we
shall never have our Ovaltine. We shall never finish this crossword. And
you know my worry about Seventeen Across, Tilly. You know."
"Yes, Milly. What's next?"
"Twenty-six Across. Novel sign-post reader? Five letters. Diana, of
Tilly blinked. "Diana?"
"Of the Crossways. Meredith. Next, Seventeen Down."
"Wasn't that Mrs. Brocklehurst's name, Milly dear?"
"Meredith? No, Diana."
"I meant Diana."
"You weren't plain, Tilly. So often you are not plain."
"I knew it was Diana," Tilly said with satisfaction. "Why didn't you let
us try, Milly? That wasn't fair to Amanda and me." Old cold fingers patted my sweaty hand.
My mother was also good at word-games. Accomplished. We would
play, when she came back. "Maybe the Talbots would like to play Scrabble with us, Amanda? You ask them, this morning."
"Diana," Milly had explained to my father, proprietorially, "Diana
Brocklehurst, although to use her Christian name was quite a mark of distinction. Very few people...."
"Not including Milly, of course," my mother said in exasperation to my
father and me, as we drove out to Burford for tea at Huffkins'. "What a
country. Years and years, Yes Mrs. Brocklehurst No Mrs. Brocklehurst
Milly do this Milly do that."
"What did the great Mrs. B do? She had money."
"She was a lady, Rachel," my father protested. "That's an accomplishment. "
"Gerald! You are too much in love with England. She had money.
That's all. Well—she made a beautiful garden," my mother conceded, exiting smartly (my father closed his eyes) from the roundabout at the city's
23 north end; she had quickly adapted to a right-hand drive. "She and her
gardeners. Never lifted a spade herself, mind you. But beautiful, yes.
You've seen the photos."
A waterfall, lawns, terraces, a wall swaying with roses, vistas overarched by ancient trees.... In Mrs. Brocklehurst's flowerbeds, plantings
were tiered like the bleachers at Varsity Stadium back home. Back home
grew no fields like those we now passed in our Morris Minor, fields like
the thousand patches of green silk in Dorothy's homeward-bound balloon.
"Did Milly lift a spade, Mum?"
"Oh yes. Mrs. B thought her touch essential for the roses. And the
bulbs. And the pruning."
"Milly was a valuable assistant, then," my father said.
"More, Gerald," my mother insisted. "Look, Amanda, in that field-
lambs. " The pale green country flowed past as if the car were a stone in a
river. "Over the winters, Milly prepared scale drawings of the garden.
With tissue-paper overlays."
"Strategic planning."
"She's kept some, along with Mrs. B's obituary. All labelled. Elevations, layouts. Look, there's a black lamb, jumping! The Italian garden
from the east. Sequences of tulips that lasted months."
Was that an accomplishment, to make a garden? Tilly hadn't even done
that. The garden wasn't Milly's, though.
"But it wasn't her garden," my father said.
"No. These houses! Wonderful, the Cotswold stone." An unremarkable greyish-yellow. "Mrs. B's house was huge."
"Tilly told me that Mrs. Brocklehurst sent a Rolls Royce to meet her
at the station, the time she went to visit Milly. It had little flower vases
stuck up by the windows, inside. Fresh flowers every day. The chauffeur
said so."
"Other people's houses, other people's lives."
"Rachel, what were those girls called whom Milly chaperoned? Jilly and
Janie? Jessie and Jenny?"
"Daddy, can't you ever remember names? Jocelyn. Josephine."
The hill of Burford High Street fell away before us. Vigorous pollarding
had been performed on all the trees.
"Dreadful," my father lamented. "Wretched deformations."
"Only gardeners understand pruning." My mother parked.
Huffkins' Sunday tea was clotted cream and cottage loaf and butter and
homemade jam and crumpets and honey from happy Huffkin bees and
large striped cups filled with hot dark brown.
"Delicious damson," said my mother, "as good as mine."
"Delicious," my father responded, taking another crumpet. "There's
nothing like this in Canada."
24 "Dreadful," Tilly exclaimed, when we told of our outing. "Those poor
trees, Mrs. Ellis. Murdered for those silly electricity wires. Was the jam
damson or strawberry?"
Later, Milly's laugh was dry. "You heard, Mr. Ellis? From murder to
jam. One cannot reason with Tilly. To her, fact means little. In fact, her
so-called brave ladies all had independent means. Or no responsibilities.
Or odd husbands. Or even all three. Such opportunities they had! No. To
Tilly, brave ladies." Her voice desiccated even the /. She turned her
"Why does Milly have a hump, Mum?"
"Osteoporosis. From the Greek." My father explained.
"Tilly and Amanda, do you not hear Mrs. K coming downstairs?
Clumping, rather? We have very little time. Seventeen Down is surely
easy. What Elsie, Lacie, and Tillie drew, seven."
"Treacle!" We spoke in unison.
"Dodgson had a Tilly too." Tilly sounded proud. "The other kind, ie.
Tillie at the tiller. Of course she wasn't like me." She shifted her bulk on
the loveseat. "Have you seen his photos of the Liddell girls, Amanda?"
Not a clue.
"Three more before Ovaltine," Milly said.
"Slender pretty little things." Tilly vaguely scanned our list of words.
"Even some snaps of them without their undies on. Why ever would he
want to do that?"
"It is a work of fancy, Tilly. Those girls were fortunate to have the attentions of a well-known author. Otherwise, why would anyone remember them? Twenty-three Across, One pre-eminent in woodcuts, three,
six. This is not literary."
I counted what felt like fifteen seconds, counted again.
Tilly's lower lip puffed out. "Why are you mixing them up, Milly?"
"Keep you light on your toes, Tilly." Milly's eyes gleamed.
"It isn't fair. You've broken the order, Milly." Tilly's voice slid up the
scale. "You're never fair, Milly, never."
"Really, Tilly!"
"And keep on your toes—you. mean I'm fat, Milly, I know you. You
meanie, Milly!" Tears dropped. "Fancy. Fancy. Wishful thinking, I call it.
Your Professor. You want to leave me here to die alone. You talk to him
softly so I can't hear, but I know. But he'll never ask you, Milly, never
never never!" in a shout.
"Really, Tilly! No one is dying. Not before the child."
"What is the word, Miss Talbot?" I cried. Milly glared.
"Top sawyer."
25 "You said not literary, Milly!"
"Not Tow, Tilly. Top."
Mark Twain wasn't in my school library here either.
Milly sighed. "Amanda, the Professor and I occasionally enjoy The Observer crossword. He is an amusing person. Have you seen him blow
smoke-rings and wiggle his cigar inside them? Twenty-two Across now.
You aren't at your best this morning, Tilly. Biblical queen's anaesthetic,
"It's my turn tomorrow, Milly. You'll be sorry." They do this every day.
The kitchen door slammed. "And Milly, the fourth time that Mrs. K
comes doesn't count. We've finished then."
"Ether," Milly said, ethaw, her chin up, looking at us: fat old twin and
feverish four-eyes. Mean hateful Milly.
"Think it through, Amanda. Surely you know the story of Esther, King
Ahasuerus' queen? Very well. Then, anaesthetic. Ether is common. And
the word is Esther the queen with her s, as suggested by an, Greek without, and aes. Thus, ether."
Greek: an accomplishment? Sixth Form girls studied that code, which
old Professor McGeachie read as easily as English. Footsteps clacked on
the parquet.
"It is necessary to follow the logic of the associations," Milly continued. "Professor McGeachie says—"
With her back, Mrs. K pushed open the lounge door. She carried a tray
of steaming cups.
"The Professor and his Greek," said Mrs. K. "Poor old soul."
"Lovely Ovaltine!" Tilly cried, clapping her hands. "Lovely biscuits!"
Soft hateful Tilly.
"Thank you, Mrs. K." Milly's tone was icily dismissive. Mrs. K did a
slow circuit of the room, picking up copies of Punch and The Countryman
and setting them in right-angled piles.
"Just making a start, ladies. You'll let me know when your little puzzle's done?"
"Intolerable!" cried Milly as the door swung shut. "To think that that
superstitious Irish peasant owns this hotel! No, Tilly, you may not open
the Peek Freans yet. One more, one more! Amanda, you have visited St.
Paul's? Two Down, 0 Sir Christopher is possessive. Five."
The Ovaltine smelled unpleasant. Ether anger trickled on to my
tongue. "Owner. That's really an anagram, Miss Talbot." I wrote it down
and counted. "You said two-thirds, Miss Talbot, but we've done more
than three-quarters."
"I may have lost count."
"Peek Freans! My sister often does that when she's leading, Amanda.
26 Don't be cross, dear, do choose." Tilly held out the tin.
My father and I always ate the Swiss Mochas right away, and then
more slowly the Fruit Cremes and the Sandwiches. Then came the
sparkly Nice Biscuits; the Digestives, coated preferable to plain; finally
the Arrowroots and my father's complaints, until my mother said, "Really
you are a child, Gerald. Open the new tin, for heaven's sake." He
laughed, I pried off the lid, my mother ate remnants.
"How many can I have?"
"May I."
"The which, dear? What a sensible question. At your age, I always
wanted to know. She said it wasn't proper." Tilly glared. "We take three,
Amanda. A plain and a not-so-plain and a fancy."
The sweet cardboardy paste of Arrowroot filled my mouth. A skin was
forming on my Ovaltine.
"Mummy would say May I too, Tilly."
"Gracious, you're eating your plain first, Amanda! I'm afraid I love my
choc. Daddy always gave me his." Tilly bit largely into a Swiss Mocha.
"The which, Milly dear?"
"Mummy would say the same, Tilly," in a pleading tone.
Tilly's hand subsided into her lap. "Dearest Mummy," the sisters
"What happened to their mother, Mrs. K?" my mother asked once.
"Do you know that story?"
The three of us were pushing furniture about in my parents' room;
Mrs. K had brought up yet another bookcase for them. Her feather
duster flicked over the shelves while ash dropped from her cigarette.
"The change."
"Women don't die of menopause, Mrs. K."
"It came on her young."
"Button, Mrs. K?"
"What is the change?" I enquired. Mrs. K and my mother looked at me
and at each other.
"Growths, there were," Mrs. K offered. She pushed, my mother and I
pulled. "There. Perfect. Now you're right."
"Cancer, then?"
"That's not a word I'll speak, Mrs. Ellis."
"You can start now, Amanda. Reference books on that shelf."
Mrs. K inhaled. "Hard for a woman at the best of times. Not that you'd
know yet, I expect?" My mother shook her head. "Miss Talbot now,"
and Mrs. K exhaled, "she had to leave her post with that Mrs. Brocklehurst and come home, because Miss Tilly was took so bad with it."
27 "Mum, what is the change?"
"I'll leave you to it," Mrs. K said. "Mr. Ellis'11 be pleased with his bookcase, I hope."
"Thank you, Mrs. K. Now, Amanda...."
"Now Amanda," said Milly, crisp and precise once more, "just while
we're having our break, shall we finish up the Downs?"
"Then it wouldn't be a break, Miss Talbot. Would it, Miss Tilly?" We
split open our Creme Sandwich Fingers.
"Up the Downs," Tilly giggled, as we peeled off the filling in strips like
yellow band-aids. The pad of Tilly's forefinger was yellow with callus.
"Some never get accustomed to a thimble," she had explained to my
puzzled mother, "and I'm one. It held my hand in, somehow. My only difficulty was during the change. I perspired so, Mrs. Ellis!" She took another stitch in the flower.
"You had a hard time with the change?"
How could a smile be sad? "The hardest part of mine, Mrs. Ellis, was
Milly's. She had to leave her post with Mrs. Brocklehurst, to come home
so I could care for her."
"How long?"
"Five years." Tilly's stitching brought the silvery-white petals up into
three dimensions, so their vigour swelled above the fabric. "Then she
took up her post with the Dickinson girls, and went to Cambridge."
"Five years for you to care for her and Mr. Talbot?"
"Oh, Daddy was happy to have her home." Perhaps the sadness stood
in her pale blue eyes. "He was so proud of her. Milly would have a pond
in the garden—but the space simply wasn't there. And the expense! So—
an elegant birdbath. Milly's design. Such trouble to keep the cats away!
And then that wonderful opportunity"—Tilly's voice brightened—"to live
amidst all that learning. My sister is very intelligent, Mrs. Ellis."
"So are you."
"Oh my goodness, Mrs. Ellis, I'm the one who stayed home."
Now Tilly rolled up her creme rilling into a squat log and ate it in one
bite. "Delicious! ShaU we?"
"If you two are quite ready, it's Twenty-four Down: Wish for an annual letter. Five." Milly's tone said that the answer sat ready on her
tongue. Swallowing sweetness, I closed my eyes.
"To wish for," Tilly said longingly.
"Or consider the reference of annual." The sisters' voices melted, like
warm maple syrup scrolling queasily over snow.
"Good girl." Tilly took the pad from me and pencilled. "Another, quick
while we're doing so well!" No. No more food.
"One down. Musician's large reward. Seven."
28 "Why, fortune." Mean Tilly did not even wait for me to try.
Nasty sweetness coated my teeth. "I thought fort in French meant
"Substantial. Those nuances come later, Amanda, in the study of any
language." Mean Milly. My minimal accomplishments.
To face both sisters, I leaned away from Tilly. My tummy tilted. / want
Mummy. "What are your accomplishments?"
"The which, dear? Oh, hardly anything, I should suppose." Tilly chuckled, as if to ensure joking. "I kept Daddy happy."
"The Downs are not yet done," Milly reproved. "Twenty Down, Not
the same as an E, however, seven. Amanda?"
"Lonely? Sickly? That kind ofy?"
"No no, seven letters. And e. Noty." Milly.
"Repartee, Amanda. Like that." Tilly.
"Seven letters... but well tried, Amanda." Milly's tone was surprised.
"You know toff? You're warm."
What Milly said, what she asked—deep in my head sounded an infinitesimal answering call. I was warm. The word was starting to move towards my mouth. How to help? How to meet the gathered coming letters, so we could speed out and speak? My eyes closed. Now I was all
over chill. Toffee in the wet mouth: distasteful.
"Yes, look at the dark," Tilly urged.
"Think, Amanda."
"Think of it! Milly in Cambridge," Tilly had continued, as my mother
and I watched the golden stamens growing. "Mr. and Mrs. Dickinson
thought it unsuitable for their girls to be alone there, especially with
Jocelyn's mathematics; not one other girl read maths in her year. So Milly
was their companion. Charming rooms they had. I visited once. Oh, the
One lily stem curved down to twine with another.
"What did Josephine take at college?" I asked.
"Take? Oh. She read classics. Milly had schoolgirl Latin and could help.
She learned so much herself! Some Greek, imagine."
"Why didn't you and Miss Talbot go to college yourselves?"
My mother fidgeted.
"The which, dear? Us? Oh no." Tilly adjusted the fabric on her lap. "By
that time Mummy wasn't very well, and university wasn't quite... it
wasn't thought necessary. For girls. The expense. Then Mummy died.
And we couldn't leave Daddy."
"But Milly left, Miss Tilly." Smiling deafly, she began a duplicate lily.
My mother's elbow was sharp in my side.
Lily. Exactly. Blanker Like a toff. A toff showed off, was spiffy and
29 smart. And grand. "Grandee! Grandee!" I stood up and showered Peak
Frean crumbs. The gristle went out of my knees like dead elastic.
Milly smiled and Tilly laughed.
"Tilly laughs a lot," my mother said to my father. "But Gerald, Amanda
and I watched her sew, this afternoon. The same damn beautiful lily,
stem, leaves. Lily, stem, leaves."
"At least she has come social life. Her Mothers' Party."
"Mothers' Union, Gerald, do get it right."
"Tilly isn't a mother, Mum."
"The group is for all the church ladies." My mother snorted. "Anyway, she took care of that child for decades."
"What child?"
"Old fool. Old tyrant."
"But Milly, Rachel," my father persisted. "Crosswords. Bridge. Knitting. Correspondence. With a brain like hers?"
"Fights with Tilly," my mother sighed. "Seven decades of childhood
"So tiresome," Milly remarked, when my parents returned from a trip
to London to see a major Turner exhibition at the Tate. "Tilly will tell you
a dozen times, if you let her, how the West African waterscapes reminded Mary Kingsley of Turner's paintings. And what, Mr. Ellis, is the
point of travelling to Africa if all you see there reminds you of an English
painter? So tiresome." She handed back the full-colour catalogue.
Now I flopped back on to the loveseat.
"We're not finished with you yet." Milly smiled. "Five Down. Make
farms and foes, five. Well, child?"
Not well—but the word emerged. "Yield." Wet, sour, my mouth
closed and filled with saliva. I swallowed.
"Yield." Milly ticked off the clue.
" Yield." Tilly poked the pencil toward me. I wrote.
"Three more. All difficult. All Acrosses." Milly's tone was peremptory.
"And one of them is Seventeen." Tilly's was cold.
"That is for the end." Milly's lips pursed. "Eleven Across, Fifty enter
without Tudor collars calmly, nine."
Tilly laughed. Her leg relaxed. "Eleven, Fifty, Nine—my goodness,
quite a party!"
At the New Year's Eve party at The Green House, my father took off
his jacket and tie to recite "How We Brought The Good News From Aix
to Ghent." (In Canada, he was never tieless except at the cottage, in the
summer heat fragrant with raspberries, pond mud, clover, skunk.) That
was his party turn. Then Professor McGeachie blew smoke rings and told
an obscure Greek joke. (Several days later, my father was still trying to
30 explain it.) Then came the Lemurs' slides of English Birds. As each in
turn coloured the lounge wall, Mr. Ledington said "Grebe," or "One of
our many coots." For a small tousled brown creature, open-beaked, Mrs.
Ledington's thin nasal voice suddenly offered, "Hardy. 'An aged thrush,
frail, gaunt, and small,/ In blast-beruffled plume.'
This Hardy isn't that kissing Hardy, but this bird begins the answer.
Tilly's eyes widened. "The which, dear?" I had not spoken.
"The bird was beruffled," I said.
Milly: "A Tudor collar is a ruff."
"The fifty are ruffless," Tilly mused, "or unruffed."
"The Latin for fifty is L." Me.
We all said, "Unruffled." I wrote it on the list. The words wavered at
"Two more," said Milly, "only two more."
My mother's party turn, and then the Talbots'. Laughing, my mother
brought a heaped trayful of rare Oxford snow into the lounge ("She's
gone out without a coat, Mr. Ellis! She'll catch her death!"), and looped
hot maple syrup all over. Politely puzzled, those English people licked. I
tasted winter.
Over the piano, Mrs. K had draped red velvet. Tilly beamed, Milly
smiled, in their dusty rose and cranberry knitted dresses.
"A duet," Milly said.
"A rousing piece!"
"Marche Militaire."
The piano bench could scarcely contain those two broad beams: I
poked my mother, whispering, "Siamese twins."
"Shsh! Listen."
Militaire. The files of notes executed their manoeuvres, while in their
bright uniforms, with epaulets and harness and instruments and weapons
glinting, the band played and the horses wheeled and the soldiers stepped
and stepped about their square, flourishing their tiny courage. Right to
the end of the keyboard the music ran up clear and high, unstoppable,
Milly leaning back as her fingers fluttered precisely—and the music returned; and then it fled downward, sounding for depth and distance,
Tilly's sensible shoe pressing like a lover on the pedal, her torso bent in
weighty urgency above the keyboard; and then the music duly returned,
returned to the blending centre and the miniature pomp, half-humorous,
of the appointed melody.
"Bravo!" my father cried, on his feet and clapping while the twins rose,
beamed, bowed. Tilly's hem caught on the piano bench, and Milly flipped
it free.
31 "Gerald, couldn't you just see them at the turn of the century?" my
mother asked later. Half-asleep in the early hours of 1952, I waited for
them to finish their nightcap and go off to their own room. My Christmas
presents, Scrabble at the top, were still piled on the floor by my bed.
"The young Misses Talbot, playing for company? Their hair up, their long
pretty dresses?"
"Their figures, in those bustle things?"
"Really, Gerald!"
"What's important"—my father sipped his brandy—"is that they played
the same piece then. Milly told me, over the punch."
"That punch wasn't up to much."
"Mrs. K has a woman's hand with the spirits. Here's to you, Rachel.
You look very pretty in that dress." My parents touched glasses. "When
Milly was in Cambridge with the whatsit girls, yes yes, Dickinson, Tilly
went to visit her."
Once. Tilly in her tent, trudging among the colleges.
"During Tilly's visit, the Dickinson girls organized a musical evening.
With friends. And dons, tutors—not only young people." He drank. "Tilly
and Milly played, at this—musicale, Milly called it. They played Marche
Militaire." He drank again. "And Rachel, she said they had quite a little
triumph." My father's voice skidded upwards.
"What else did she say about Cambridge, Gerald?"
"In Milly's judgment, the mathematical Dickinson girl should have won
a certain prize, but it went to a young man. She abandoned her studies.
And the other married right after taking her degree." My father finished
his brandy. "My God, what lives. Rachel, do you imagine either of the
Talbot girls ever—?"
"Now," said Milly triumphantly, "I'll show you Six Across."
"Oh Milly! Mayn't we try? Wouldn't you like to try, Amanda?"
Twice, Milly said, "Not the Bohemian girl. Five."
I didn't know who she was; how could I know who she wasn't? Perhaps
I would feel better with my eyes closed.
"Milly, I haven't the faintest, foggiest clue. And tomorrow it's my turn,
"You've eaten two fancies, Tilly. I saw. Amanda? Wake up."
Closed felt awful too. Not the opera, because in The Times musical
clues were so rare. No. Bohemia. John Huss and Hussites. Their "narrow Calvinist thought, Amanda." And so: hussy.
"Is it not clever, Tilly? Tilly?"
"Yes Milly Milly. And Seventeen Across? I'll read it, shall I?" Tilly
snatched the Times. "Van of the broom display, five." Silence. "Van of the
broom display, five." Silence. "Van of the broom display, five. The third
32 time of asking, Milly! You can't do it. We can't do it. And there's Mrs. K,
coming downstairs."
Tilly threw the newspaper on to the fitted carpet before me: Hoa-Binh
Winston Churchill Ideal Home Exhibition Thomas Beecham Coronation
Stone Yorkshire Colliery Fire The London Library. What might Tilly and
Milly do to each other with Scrabble? Do to me? And: Quo Tai-Chi Grand
National Egyptian Parliament. Mrs. K was crossing the lobby. And: Saskatchewan. Foot-and-mouth disease had broken out.
In Geography at home, we coloured British Columbia green as its
trees, and the Atlantic provinces blue. Purple was for unusual Quebec,
and red for our Ontario. The prairies got yellow, orange, and rich brown.
Saskatchewan—the nation's granary. All straight borders, the only one.
We'd used our rulers. I moaned.
"Don't grizzle, child. It is often not possible to accomplish what one
wishes. You will learn."
Tilly chuckled. "One becomes accustomed to disappointment."
Though I had never travelled there, 1 loved Saskatchewan.
"Miss Talbot. Miss Tilly. I'm going to be sick." The door swung open,
and I was.
33 April Bulmer
four poems from "Sisters of the Sacred Heart'
Sister Lou
My Sisters and I in our summer habits gathering herbs. My hands hold
the scent of sweet fennel and rosemary, sage—dusty and blue. How to
say hope does not line my gut like soil or rain.
Shepherd's purse, woolly thyme...
Our habits are light and perfumed with God's grace, but I am a dying
root, refusing the weight of pods, the glory of blossoms, and of fruit.
Lady's mantle, goat's rue...
I want only to lie in the earth's dark mouth, thin as mint, a single green
But I cast out that demon, wander into the crop field. I am alone in alien
corn: my heart is a dry husk. I ring a little bell and kneel to ask Our Father for a few kernels of love. Come Lord, I say, past the silo, the garden
of herbs, the bruised reeds. Bless the stones in the pagan grounds, the
bones of buffalo, their white grief. Come Jesus, I am too weak to cut a
swath for thee. I am a broken machine, just another tractor rusting with
the wheat.
34 Sister Lou
I thought God so loved the Virgin, He Himself stepped out of His work
pants, hung His belt on a nail. I wedded Him in a bridal gown, never saw
His eyes, His great lips, waited all night for the jingle of keys He wears at
the hip.
But God so loves me He sent Diamond. Days I watch him from the window combing the earth for knots, tending a bonfire of leaves and brown
petals. I envy his steady swing and hack at a tangle of brush.
I trip on my way to chapel, fall into the rose garden. The thorns break my
skin, my ankles and calves bleed. Diamond takes me to his shed where
he stores his tools and bags of loam, lays me down on a burlap sack: a
leak in the roof, a hymn gentle from the chapel. Mud on my hem, a smell
of cider and smoke. My hose torn, blood on my shoelaces. A hot drink,
eggs scrambled over fire, crusty bread Diamond hacks from a loaf. When
the cinders die, shadows sweep the ashes.
35 Sister Lou
The nuns pray for me—dark bird beating from their flock—peck at me for
weeks. They hold me in their downy dreams. When it snows that April, a
lily opens her white mouth as though to sing, then purses her stiff lips.
Nights I drag my belly and curse my thighs. Nights I lie low and hiss.
I dream my heart is a boulder I roll from the grave, my wimple hangs in
the sepulchre like a bat, beats from the cave. I cross the lawn, take the
cross from my neck, pull the wedding band from my finger. Diamond digs
a little hole in the earth. I drop them in: the chain, the charm, the perfect
gold ring. He fills the hollow and pats the mound. He finds a stone on the
path to the barn, a fist-sized rock, a few specks of pink at the base. I plant
it firm.
36 Sister Page
Sister Lou's vows are a clutch of faded roses, three broken stems, fallen
petals not beautiful in her hands. No longer a bride spinning inside her
lace, she is a black widow mourning the lining of her hood.
She packs a little bag, tosses the habit like a pall over the iron bed. She
kisses the Saviour as she kneels in the chapel on her way. Touches my
shoulder, say?, Peace of Christ.
Diamond waits in a dark truck, the motor throbbing. Lou wears the white
blouse, knitted cardigan and Black Watch kilt of the school girls. Adolescent, her hair braided long. Then the pickup like a black boot kicking the
I am upstairs sewing, lifting the hem of her habit for me to wear. Holding
her cloth: the dark web from which she slipped. Lou is wound tight round
the hard spool of my heart. She is the bright thread I pull through a tough
37 David Hart
Crag Inspector
Eight baby puffins impatient
to leap off the lower edges
and three still parents;
the black-eyed gull even sulkier
than usual, as if the best
fish of the night got away;
the dog daisy almost losing
its hold on the overhang
asks me nothing and I can do nothing
Doing my job
by the letter
on good days
by the spirit
I meet myself asking
awkward questions, the job a quarrel
between urgency
and patience.
I tell myself to speak
and to keep silent.
There's a gull follows me around,
we are partial
to the same kind of biscuits. Our planet is going into the darkness
of the dead. No-one will be here
to describe it as progress.
The pilgrimage daily
to be kept in good nick
as the sun rises and sets,
all my surfaces.
My irrelevant 'I,' an itch
to the rock if the rock feels anything
ramparted by Celts
besieged by Romans
nailed by rock climbers
overflown by fighter jets
picnicked on by tourists
dynamited by quarriers
used for mere height by radar operators
the rock inspects me.
All my foreshortened life
ever since I could run ahead
and get a grip on a crag
my eyes have been reflections of slate
from one day to the next
from one week to the next,
from one month to the next,
from one year to the next. In the morning
I wake with their shapes in my mind
so that sometimes at breakfast
after an intense dream of flying
I am the mountain, its hardness,
its cracks and gullies. In the mist cormorants,
39 guillemots, gulls,
razorbills, puffins, occasionally
gannet, shearwaters and, I saw once,
an arctic skua,
have no statutory existence,
only presence.
I do the job
day after day
and it makes a life.
Christmas comes
and Easter
and the tourist season,
I don't ask these times to come,
they come and I fit in,
and it makes a life.
I return to my windowless hut,
a cliff cupboard really, no room
even for a chair. The whitewashed walls
are so white, so plain white,
glaring so white at me,
seeing what I see there
I think (and I like thinking)
I am going mad
while not knowing the difference.
I wonder sometimes if gulls
go mad, or crabs, or seals.
So far as I know I've never seen a mad one,
in fact the thought strikes me
as absurd. Back to work then,
40 keep a sandwich in my pocket
for later, my pencil needs sharpening,
I'll do that on the way up.
I have seen silk scarves ooze out of crevices,
the tips of ladies' fingers come and go in the evening light,
I have seen a rupture open out of a pure green skirt
so that the spray wanted wiping from it with bladder wrack,
I have had ferns smoothing my way and holding me back,
shale has rolled me into the ocean almost.
Off the mountain
I inspect cracks in pavements,
I inspect holes in bread,
I inspect fault lines in biscuits,
my home breaks slowly apart.
Better to have your voice
taken away by the sea wind
than fill a large room
with every word heard.
This dead razorbill
seems to have broken a leg
and torn a wing,
taken shelter
and accepted death.
When I bury it under stones
other birds collect themselves overhead,
hover as if through a window,
now let themselves be taken by the wind.
41 12
I am unable to speak,
I hesitate,
I begin sentences—people wait,
more often a tree, an outcrop,
a gull—I begin sentences
and I don't complete whatever it was.
Something speaks.
The people who constructed with stone and turf
circular houses on the slopes
of the mountain,
they speak to me still.
Something speaks.
The Romans who conquered in Latin, long
marching columns of it along long straight roads
of it to build high slate walls of it,
they speak to me still.
Something speaks.
Something else, something else,
something I can't explain,
something that comes with the job.
Have I spoken about the terrors?
The visits.
As if I were not born.
Or knew too much.
As if I shall be wandering down there
on the lowest grass above the sea
and be found by chance by my closest
who will not recognise me
but will instead days later
report me missing.
42 13
I might tell you about the writing I have seen
running along the sheer faces after rain
from crag to crag, or when I've been tired at the end
of a hot day, but honestly I can't say
I've ever been able to decipher it. The signs,
you understand, the inherent speech of the rock,
its necessary speech. I could ask myself again
say Friday week and see if I've had better luck.
43 The Only Place He
Felt All Right
Will Harvey
The motorcyclist went in slowly, steering instead of leaning his
bike, but the wheels shot out anyway. They shot out fishlike, rippling the deep gravel. The handlebars parted, escaped his fingers,
and he was left floating. There was gentleness and absolutely nothing to
think about, until the shock of the ground and his bones shook him awake.
Embarrassed, he pushed the bike back up. He pushed the bike back up
quickly, but inside he was going slow. Inside he was heaven, grains of
sand and light.
The motel office was wood-panelled. It smelled of wet nails. "You
ought to grade that lot or something," he said to the man behind the
counter. He put his helmet down. He slapped at the fine white dust on his
"Wiped out, huh?" said the man. "That's rough."
The man was sitting in an overstuffed avocado armchair. He was
watching football on a tiny television. "You need a room?" said the man.
He reached up and slapped a card down onto the counter. He did not get
out of the chair. "Fill that out if you need a room."
The motorcyclist started writing. When he came to 'address,' he
stopped. He held the pen like a dart above the counter. Then he wrote
down Irene's address.
The man got out of the chair and scrutinized the card without appearing
to actually read it. He looked up at the motorcyclist. "Welcome to Florida," he said. He grinned. "What brings you down here?"
"Curiosity," said the motorcyclist.
"That's magic," said the man.
The man had a red afro, black-framed glasses and a polyester shirt.
Behind the lenses, his eyes looked wet, as if he'd been crying.
"Are you all right?" said the motorcyclist.
"Yeah, I'm all right. What do you mean?" said the man.
"You look upset."
"I'm not upset. Hell. Are you upset?"
44 "No. I'm good," said the motorcyclist.
"Well, then?" said the man.
They looked at each other across the counter. The man cocked his
head. "Have I ever seen you on television?"
"No. I don't think I've ever been on television," said the motorcyclist.
"But you could have been, right? You could have been on T.V. and you
wouldn't have known it," said the man.
"I guess so," said the motorcyclist.
"I think you'll like it here," said the man. "Great weather. Here, take
these vouchers for the lounge... on account of your mishap."
"Right," said the motorcyclist.
He went outside. Across the highway, through the sun and motel ruins
and dry palms, the gulf lay limp and boundless. It had a feeling—that
sticky calm the motorcyclist would feel before vomiting.
The motorcyclist pushed the bike carefully through the gravel and
stood it in front of his room. The saddlebags were new. They sparkled
dude-like against the age, the dirty creases and faded metal of the bike.
He unbuckled the bags and went inside. The door jolted open, light as
balsa wood. The only resistance was the stale drain-pipe air of the room.
The motorcyclist threw his saddlebags onto the bed and turned on the
television. He sat down on the bed and looked around the room. It was a
sad room. There was wear—the chipped and scarred wood of the desk
and bureau, the frayed fabric of the armchair. The motorcyclist could feel
the passing of others. But the idea was, they had never been there. This
was the understanding between him and the motel. The room had been
wiped clean of specific traces. There was nothing under the bed, nothing
in the drawer, just the Bible and the phone book. The idea was, the room
was pristine. But when the motorcyclist took off his boots and socks and
put his bare feet down on the matted shag carpet, he could feel the feet of
others in the soaked and oily fibre. As he walked to the toilet, his footsteps disappeared beneath him. He had already never been there.
The motorcyclist hung a leak, then he made a phone call. "It's me," he
said to the answering machine. "I'm in Florida, in case you've been wondering. You probably haven't been wondering. I'm all the way down here
in Florida. You wouldn't have guessed that about me, huh? You probably
thought I was on my way back. But no, I'm here. I don't even have a road
map, you know. And I'm feeling different. I think I'm different now," he
said. He paused. "Do you know who this is?" he said.
The motorcyclist watched the television for a while, then he took a
shower. When he got out of the shower, it was dark in the room with just
the light of the television and the light from the parking lot coming
through the quarter-moon window of knobby green glass in the door. He
45 turned off the television set and got into bed. The sheets were coarse
and slippery, like nylon. He sat with his back wet against the pillows.
He sat naked in the bed in the dark. Now and then he would look at the
green window, forgetting he could not see through it. He heard people
bumping around in the next room. He heard the murmur and squeak of
their voices. He heard them leave their room and drive away. He tried to
see them through the green window. He remembered a "Twilight Zone"
episode in which, outside the people's door, the world had become a different planet.
Later the motorcyclist went out. He stood on the concrete sidewalk
which ended in drifts of gravel and looked at his bike. He admired the way
it held the incandescent light. He admired the shadows in the metal. He
felt like a true motorcyclist inside his stiff leather jacket.
He crossed over the highway and went down a sand-covered walkway
between two mouldy Spanish-style motels. The breeze was up, and the
oil and silver water was bubbling against the shore. The breeze blew into
his ears and inside his head like a shell. The motorcyclist imagined he had
stopped breathing, that he didn't need to breathe any more, because he
was inside the lung of the world.
He asked himself some questions, such as where he was and why he
had left. Sometimes he would panic in a crowd. Sometimes he would
sneak out of a party without saying goodbye. Weekends, he would usually stay at home. Irene would go out. The motorcyclist would stay at
home and masturbate. He would masturbate while in his head he retraced
the sex scenes of his life. His life was a montage of clipped and foreign exchanges in which he was no longer a participant. The motorcyclist would
masturbate into the past, trying to catch up by going backward.
After he had come, the motorcyclist would return to a wan present. He
would sit still while the stillness of living collapsed upon him. He was confronted by a mounting catalogue of missed opportunities: jobs, films,
trips, women, rock bands. Come and gone. Only when he stopped thinking was he able to make it out of the apartment and down to his motorcycle.
He kept his motorcycle in the street, always where he could see it
from the window. He loved the motorcycle, and it made him uneasy. One
day he would get on the bike and that would be it. He would be launched
irretrievably forward, unable to retrace or even remember his steps.
The beach was mauve and phosphorescent. The motorcyclist noticed
something in the sand. A woman's underpants. He bent down and picked
them up. He zipped them into his jacket pocket. Then he returned to the
He made a call from the pay phone outside the lounge. This time there
46 was a message for him on the answering machine. It went, "Fuck you,
limpdick! You're history. Here listen..." A man's voice came on. "Hey
there!" the voice said like a game show host.
The motorcyclist hung up the phone and went into the lounge. He took
a stool at the horseshoe bar. He put his feet up on the rung of the stool.
"Can I drink scotch on these vouchers?" he said.
"Long as it's from the well, you can," said the bartender. "How would
you like it?"
"Just ice," said the motorcyclist.
The bartender pulled down a glass from overhead.
The motorcyclist drank quickly, because he was alone. He bought a
pack of Marlboros with his next drink, even though he did not smoke.
"No time like the present," he said to the bartender.
"How so?" said the bartender.
The motorcyclist shrugged his shoulders. He looked down at his
hands. The bartender gave him a funny look. The motorcyclist started
tearing open the pack of cigarettes, then he put the pack unopened in his
The lounge was stained wood and beer lights. Quiet, with undefined
corners. There were some people talking softly at the tables. A man and
a woman sat down at the bar across from him. They were in their early
forties, about ten years older than him. The man and the woman were
wearing matching yellow satin jackets with red stripes on the sleeves.
Race car driver jackets.
The woman was attractive. She was blond and well-tanned, and her
jacket was unzipped part way, showing off a nice pair of breasts. The motorcyclist guessed that the woman had nothing on beneath the jacket.
While the bartender was taking orders at the tables, the man got up
and walked to the toilet. It was just the motorcyclist and the woman at
the bar. "Howdy," she said, tipping her glass.
"Hey," said the motorcyclist.
"Where ya from, hon?"
"New York," said the motorcyclist.
"Why not, right? I mean, why not?" said the woman. "So. What brings
you down?" Her eyes moved like bats, erratic, never landing.
"Problems," said the motorcyclist.
"Ha! Don't I know it. Me and Buddy, too," said the woman.
"Yeah? What kind of problems do you have?" said the motorcyclist.
"Boredom problems. We've got big time boredom problems," said the
woman. She paused and took a drink. "Ever since we won the lottery,
we've been flying around like a pair of idiots in Buddy's twin-seater." She
"Sounds like hell," said the motorcyclist.
47 "It is, hon. I assure you. Not a picnic."
"Did you really win the lottery?"
"I guess I oughtn't to have told you. That's our policy, not to tell anyone, especially not friends. I must be feeling good. Are you feeling good
"I'm half-way to feeling good," said the motorcyclist. He planted a look
on her.
"Watch that now, hon," she said. Her eyes stopped moving around for
a second. "You're messing with a bored woman over here."
The man came back from the toilet. He was still tinkering with his fly
as he sat down.
"Ho ho!" he said. "I'm in the can five minutes and someone's already
trying to pick up my sister."
The man had a chirpy voice, full of enthusiasm. His entire body jiggled
when he spoke.
"That's right, Buddy. We've got a date," said the woman.
"Well, what's his name?" said the man.
She shrugged, dragging a finger through her drink. "What's your
name, hon?"
"What? You're dating this guy and you don't know his name?" said the
"No," said the woman, "And something else, too."
"Go on. I'm all elephants," said the man.
"I spilled the beans. I spilled the beans on us, Buddy."
"Oh Christy! You didn't. He knows?"
She nodded.
"He knows! Now we'll have to buy his drinks," said the man. "Morality
dictates that we buy this gentleman's drinks for the balance of the evening." The man spun around on his stool. He waved to the bartender.
"Excuse me! Frank!" he said.
The man ordered drinks all around. He said, "Frank, we don't want to
see bottoms here. Keep them coming, please."
"Hon's a stranger here, Buddy. He's from New York," said the
"How'd you get down here, stranger?" said the man.
"Motorcycle," said the motorcyclist.
"That yours I saw outside?" said the man.
"Yup," said the motorcyclist.
"O.K. then," said the man, slapping the bar. "Now we're getting
somewhere. Things are coming together here."
The motorcyclist said, "Your sister tells me you've got a twin-seater."
"Four-seater in actuality," said the man. "A Cessna 180. I took the
18 back seats out for skydiving." He took a large swallow of his drink. "I've
had that plane since before we bought the winning ticket. I've always had
an airplane. It's the one constant."
"Maybe we all oughta go up for a spin right now," said the woman.
"Not right now," said the man. "Right now we're on the ground. Right
now we're getting our legs."
The woman made a sad face. "Maybe I'll put something on the jukebox, then," she said.
"No jukebox," said the man. "Quiet time." He grew serious. "Could
you do with some quiet time, stranger?"
"Quiet time sounds fine to me, Buddy."
The woman stared into the well of the bar. "I don't want any fucking
quiet time, Buddy!" she said. "I've had enough quiet time. Hon here has
some problems I haven't asked him about."
"Your friend has come a long way with an engine in his ear and his feet
up on a pair of pegs. You can ask him about his problems later on. Later
on we'll all go back to the room and you can ask him. Right now we're
getting our legs," said the man. He reached out to touch her hair, then he
drew his hand back.
They began to drink in silence. Before anyone could finish his drink,
the bartender would put a fresh one down on the bar in front of the old
drink. The motorcyclist kept his eyes on his drink and on the bar. Once in
a while, he would look up. He would look up first at the man, then at the
woman. The man would be staring off at an angle. The woman would be
looking straight back at him. The motorcyclist started looking up just at
the woman. He forgot about the man. After a while it got so he and the
woman would look up at each other and break out laughing. Sometimes
they couldn't stop.
Once, when he was laughing like this, the motorcyclist looked over at
the man. The man made bug-eyes at him. The man pretended his hand
was an airplane and flew it toward the motorcyclist, out over the chasm of
the bar.
"Enough," said the woman, holding up her hand. "We've had enough
now, Frank."
The motorcyclist got into the back seat of a champagne Cadillac Seville. The woman climbed in beside him.
"Our date officially starts now," she said.
The motorcyclist sank back into the plush velour seat. Little overhead
lights illuminated the woman's skin. She put her hand on the motorcyclist's thigh and started running her nails over his jeans. Her nails were
long, with star-shaped inlays.
49 The man swung the car onto the highway. "Stranger," he said, looking
into the rearview, "It looks to me like you want to fuck my sister tonight. "
The man drove well for the number of drinks he had in him. He kept
the windows closed and the air conditioner on. No sound from the engine
or the outside world came into the car.
"Tell us about those problems now, stranger," said the man. "Why is it
you're on the road? I know you're not vacationing. We recognize each
other, I think."
"Go on, hon," said the woman. She brushed the motorcyclist's hair
back behind his ear. "We want to know," she said.
"That's right. We're ready now," said the man.
"If that's what you want. 0. K.," said the motorcyclist. He sat forward
in the seat. He rolled his neck. "My problems didn't start until recently.
Before that, everything was 0. K. I had a nice job and a nice girl. I went
to work during the day. At night me and Irene would go out. Life was
normal. Then one day I stopped going out. It happened all of a sudden.
Just like that I didn't want to go out any more.
"O.K. So after that, two things happened. First I went out to lunch
with a friend. He brought some newspapers with him, newspapers from
different cities. He spread the newspapers out on the table and started
looking through the rentals. He was going to choose a city and live there.
He was ready to go anywhere. Come on, he said. Pick a city.
"I tried to pick a city, but I couldn't. It made me feel sick, trying to pick
a city."
The motorcyclist paused. He looked from the woman to the man, then
he continued. "A week or so later Irene and I were in her car. We were
going over to New Jersey for dinner, and we got stuck in traffic inside the
Lincoln Tunnel. Nothing was moving. I couldn't go left or right. I could
only sit there. I'd been stuck millions of times before, but this time was
different. This time it meant something.
"I said to Irene, This is it. This is my life right here in this tunnel. The
life I want is out there, out the sides of the tunnel. You know, not straight
ahead, but sideways.
"Irene gave me a strange look. She said, Bigshot, you've got to get
through this tunnel before you can go anywhere. She thought I was just
talking and so did I. But next day I was at the shop, buying saddlebags."
The motorcyclist stayed sitting forward on the seat, like he was expecting something big to happen. Then he was sinking, afraid he had told
too much.
"That's a good story, hon," said the woman. She slid her hand between
his legs. "I like that one. What about the girl? Did you leave the girl?"
50 "As it turns out, yes," said the motorcyclist.
"You left the girl and now you're going to fuck my sister," said the man
into the rearview. "You're out of the tunnel. You're in the wide-open, and
now you're going to fuck everything comes your way, am I right?"
"Don't start, Buddy," said the woman.
"Relax," said the man, "We're O.K. here. The stranger and I know
each other."
"I don't know where I am, Buddy," said the motorcyclist. "I think
maybe I've still got a ways to go."
"Nuts, hon," said the woman. "You're with us. You're with the lottery
"Oh yeah?" said the motorcyclist. "Where's that?"
"Where you want to be," she said. "We're the people whose picture
you see in the paper and you ask yourself, Why can't that be me?"
"I'm not like you guys. I'm on my own here," said the motorcyclist.
"Hey stranger, relax! We recognize each other. Sit back. That's the
Gulf of Mexico out there!"
The motorcyclist frowned and moved away from the woman. He put
his face against the window and looked out into the gulf. He felt very
alone, so he moved back across the seat. Her body folded to fit his.
The motorcyclist thought about what to say, feeling he should say
something. "You know, Buddy," he began, "I've read it can be tough winning the lottery. The old lifestyle goes to hell. They send you out there
swimming. Maybe what you and your sister need is a hobby."
"Is that a fact," said the man, flatly.
"Yeah," said the motorcyclist. He grinned. The woman was doing good
things with her hand. "A hobby would help ease the boredom a little."
"Is that a fact," said the man.
The balcony was attached to a giant pink castle of a hotel. They sat in
white plastic chairs. Below them lights bounced off the water. People
strolled the shoreline. The motorcyclist leaned toward the woman and
put his tongue in her ear.
"Whoa, hon," she said. "I'm already yours."
The man came through the sliding doors with a bottle of gin, ice in a
bucket and plastic cups.
"What about mix?" said the woman.
"Fuck mix," said the man. "Nobody's here for mix." He poured the
drinks. "How about another story? Who's got a story?" he said.
The motorcyclist shrugged. The woman did not respond.
"0. K. then," said the man. "I've got a story."
"I think I already know this story," said the woman.
51 "You can sit through it again for the stranger's sake," said the man.
"Look, Buddy, I—" said the motorcyclist, moving forward on his seat.
"Oh no. It's O.K., stranger. Really."
"Hand me that bottle," said the woman. "Here, hon," she said, topping
off the motorcyclist's cup. "You're going to need some too."
"Go easy on me," said the motorcyclist, placing his hand over his cup.
"There's these two people," began the man. "They're married and
what they do for a living is move houses around. They're contractors,
you see. She works in the office taking orders. He goes out to prepare
the sites for the trucks which back up underneath the houses and drive
away with them. He's got to make sure there's enough clearance for the
trucks, so they don't run into trees and wires and the like.
"Thing is, these two people live in one of the houses themselves, the
kind you can pick up and move in a matter of minutes. She's 0. K., because she stays in the office. She doesn't see this picking up and moving
around of houses. He doesn't do so well. He starts having nightmares.
He dreams that while he's sleeping, trucks come and move his house on
him. In the dream he wakes up and his house is moving. He looks out the
window and he sees trees going by. He sees shopping malls and fast food
joints, but he doesn't recognize the highway. He doesn't know where
they're taking him. Out the window it all looks the same.
"Even when he's sleeping in a different place, a hotel for example,
which is impossible to move, he dreams the building is being carted away.
He gets bad. He sweats and throws punches in his sleep. His wife won't
sleep in the same bed with him. And this. This is the part which makes
the whole thing a story. The only place the guy feels all right? The only
place the guy feels all right is in the air, is in a fucking airplane. Up there
he feels delivered. Up there it's religion."
The man raised both his arms in the air. "Now how do you like that?"
he said.
"I like that story, Buddy," said the motorcyclist. Down on the beach he
saw two people kissing. They were standing barefoot in the water.
"Really fucking excellent, Buddy," said the woman. "But you left out a
thing or two." She thrust her drink at him. It sloshed over the sides of the
"You left out the part about how the wife is left to be alone all day in the
office, and alone at night, wondering what in the hell is happening to the
man in the next room. You left out the part about how after they win the
lottery, they pick up and leave everything behind. They leave their whole
fucking lives behind and start flying around the fucking country. And you
left out the best part, Buddy. I'm surprised you missed this, you know.
The part where he starts introducing her as his sister in places where
people don't know them."
52 The man and the woman stared at each other. They stared like two
people remembering one another from a past life.
"Right!" said the motorcyclist. "Now I get it. Right!" He laughed out
The man stood up abruptly. There was trouble passing over his face.
"I'm going out to the airfield," he said. "I'll get her ready. You all take a
cab out there and meet me in an hour. We could all stand to go up for a
spin. Some good is going to come out of this somehow."
"Yup!" said the woman. "Without a doubt." She held her cup above her
head, toasting him. She held the cup up there until he was gone.
There were two double beds in the room. The covers on the bed were
perfectly smooth, new-looking. The motorcyclist and the woman sat
down on one of the beds. He tried to kiss her. She leaned away. He
grabbed her by the shoulders and pressed his mouth to hers.
"I knew you weren't brother and sister," he said.
"Congratulations," said the woman.
The motorcyclist kissed the woman again. This time she let him. They
kissed and rolled around on the bed.
The motorcyclist stopped kissing the woman and kneeled over her. He
undid the zipper on his jacket pocket. He took out the underpants he had
found on the beach earlier. "Put these on," he said.
"I don't know," said the woman. "They're kind of sandy."
"Just do it," said the motorcyclist. "And we're going to keep that door
open too. So I can hear the water."
"The water doesn't make much noise," said the woman.
The motorcyclist spoke emphatically. "I can hear it, because I know
it's there," he said.
The woman took the underpants from him and started wriggling out of
her jeans.
The motorcyclist reached his hand inside her yellow satin jacket. "I
knew there was nothing beneath this jacket," he whispered.
"Congratulations," said the woman.
After the motorcyclist had fucked the woman, he started falling asleep,
but she shook him awake. "Come on, hon. Buddy's waiting on us," she
"I'm not going," he said. He was drunk. He felt like vomiting.
"Don't you want to go up for a spin?" she said.
"No." He kept his face pressed into the pillow.
"If you come up for a spin, I'll let you take me around on the back of
your bike. I'll press these tits into your back. I'll paint these nails red
and dig them into your black leather jacket. We'll go anywhere you want
to go."
53 The woman pulled the motorcyclist up off the bed and got him into the
elevator. Inside the elevator there was a bright mist of cigarette smoke.
The motorcyclist rested his head against the wall. She watched the light
skipping across the buttons.
A cab took them back along the highway. The motorcyclist and the
woman sat apart on the clammy vinyl seat. He wanted to be far away
from this woman who was carrying his juice inside her. She was a distance, a matter of time.
Through the window of the cab, he saw his motel pass, saw his bike
standing there in front of his room. Soon they were on the causeway.
The man was waiting. He was vibrant. His shoulders twitched. "Glad
you could make it," he said in his chirpy voice. He led them across the
tarmac. "I thought you two had eloped."
It was still dark out, but the sky was bleaching. A faint light was coming
through the clouds.
"How'd it go? Did you score?" said the man to the woman.
"Fuck off, Buddy," she said. "Let's just get this over with."
"All right," said the man, cheerfully. Then, "There she is!" he said,
clapping the motorcyclist on the back.
The Cessna was pulled forward on the tarmac.
"This is going to be just the thing. Some good is going to come of this,"
said the man.
"Sure thing, Buddy," mumbled the motorcyclist.
The man climbed up into the cockpit. The woman and the motorcyclist
walked around the plane. She pulled open the door. It swung up and out,
under the wing. The woman sat in the jumping space with her back
against the parachutes. She let the motorcyclist have the seat.
The man put on a pair of glasses. He smiled. "Don't worry. I see fine. I
really do."
He tinkered in the dark, then the instrument panel lit up. It reminded
the motorcyclist of the instrument panel on his bike, how when riding at
night he would see only the panel and nothing else, and he would aim the
panel into the dark like he was flying.
The man started the engine. Then he started the propeller spinning.
"There's nothing to it," said the man. "It's easier than driving."
The motorcyclist had never been in a small plane before. He was unprepared for the tangible struggle of take-off. The entire plane shook.
The doors rattled. The side windows rippled like cellophane.
"It really feels like you're flying," said the motorcyclist.
"Ha ha," said the man.
Soon the plane was out over the water.
"No tunnels up here," said the man waving his arm. "Up here, it's wide
open. God's element."
54 The motorcyclist watched out the window, trying to see. There was
the glow of the beach, then just the oily darkness of the water.
The motorcyclist fought it, but his thoughts kept drawing him down
into sleep. He would shake himself awake, focus on a waking thought, but
the thought would bend and warp. The argument seemed far away, or at
least in another room, not in the same tiny space in the sky. "Fifteen
years is...," the man was saying. "It's a choice you...," he heard the
woman say.
The motorcyclist's thoughts were squiggly lines. His head touched the
window. The woman switched places with him. He lay down on the floor
of the plane.
"You go off now, hon," she said. "We'll wake you up if anything good
In his dream the motorcyclist woke up and the cockpit was empty. The
man and woman had parachuted. The plane was flying by itself. The door
was wide open. The gushing breeze corrugated his clothing.
He squeezed up into the cockpit. The plane was flying level. It was so
simple. The motorcyclist laughed. The sun came in in sheets of glass.
Below him was water. Sideways was a vast curving bough of space.
Sharp and milky as quartz.
He had some time before things would begin happening. Inside he let
himself go slow. Inside he became grains of sand and light. He drifted beyond his own outline and discovered a vast sucking calm. It sucked the
bad dreams out of him. It sucked the him out of him and he forgot everything.
The plane fell. As he began to die, he woke up.
He woke up to the smell of urine and the breeze pasting his pants to his
skin. The door was open. For a second he thought he might still be in the
air, but then he saw the fuzzy grey expanse of the tarmac.
He climbed out of the plane. He would walk until his pants were dry, he
decided. Then he would stop at the first place and have pancakes and coffee. It would not matter what the place was like, whether it was a slick
place or whether it was a dive. He would go in there for breakfast.
His faith was abundant.
55 C.E. Hull
two poems
mum burnt pornographic magazines in the garage / a
little fire to warm herself by on cold concrete /
i didnt understand why she was burning them / as i
caught the sight of bodies in smoke / of naked men
& women dancing on fire together / your father brings
these home from work to show your little brothers /
its wrong / he shouldnt be doing it / a splash of
turpentine & the bonfire boofed up to the roof / a
womans breasts connected to legs without a face /
curling around in cinders up around the rafters /
my trolley sat unused by some planks of stored
wood / i could not play with my squeaky red trolley
today / i could not connect it to my three wheeler
& ride away to the other end of the backyard / a
huge black spider was in it / it had made a dense
web & sat in the middle of it poised & waiting
for my fingers on it / mum mum: i called / she came
out from the house / she went into the garage / you
wait outside: she said & shut the door behind her /
later on she showed me the black spider in a jar
of turpentine / all its long legs curled in together /
as though it was hugging itself / & the turpentine
milky white / as though all the goodness of spider
had dissolved into it
56 praying mantis
my fathers back to me / digging in the front garden
with a spade / planting the jagged concrete pieces
in / & introduced trees later to be trimmed / & fat
cold earthworms to be split by the hook / i watched
as he unearthed a giant praying mantis / as green
as the front lawn ripe with insect movement & heat /
like the sound of concrete & grass whistling if the
hose was left running on it / the mantis faced my
father standing upright & began to box the shadow
of a huge man / dad stopped digging with a breath
out & raised his left hand / the mantis swayed from
side to side as if trying to confuse my father or
duck blows / suddenly i saw the mantis as six feet
high & my father as quite small / i grabbed hold of
my friends hand & took him around the side trellis /
i told him the new word / i whispered: my father is
a shit / friends thin blond hair pricked his ear as
he jumped / like when i had asked my nan about the
word cunt / who told you that word / the kids at
school / well its a very bad word / i looked up at
her / is it worse than fuck / yes its a very very
bad word so dont let me catch you saying it / &
stop picking your nose or it will end up like a
black fellas / & dont go cross-eyed or the wind
will change direction / & be good or santa wont
come / & dont cry or the disprin wont work / & dont
be naughty or jesus will punish you / friend went &
told my father who looked about to sweep the mantis
into oblivion with the spade / instead he threw it
down onto the grass clippings / & i raced inside to
my bedroom / & hid behind the wooden door & his heavy
footsteps down the hallway / he knocked me down with
57 blows to the head / black thuds to a red face on a
short green dress / outside i could see my friend
satisfied / & i knew the praying mantis would be
swaying to the breeze / about to take flight / a
moment away from death / on razor-edged legs /
barely touching down on the upturned earth
58 Carolyn Marie Souaid
two poems
on the dusty lampshade
my list of orders
in case we have to run in the
soot of the night
blackened lungs
broken beds in the street
my eye climbs the wall
to where the paper's lifted away
dry, yellow as fire
open crack in the ceiling where
the French Eyeball spies on me and the
cardboard box under my bed
scotch-taped a hundred times
treasures i'll take:
blue marble
mummy's old lipstick
two sea shells, a perfect spelling test
wing of a dead moth
midnight hurls
boulders at my chest, flaming rooftops
i pray to God for rain
59 1970
war on the street
marie-france and me, like criminals
best friends
sleep-overs saved for daytime between shadows
of fast-moving clouds and scrabby bushes
behind the shopping centre
mouths lightly touching
we crouch
in our dark leafy beds wet
with autumn, naked
arms and legs mingled with the roots of plants
j't'aime et j't'protege
she murmurs
black night
closing in on us
her tea-coloured lips
a cushion of fruit in my mouth
60 All Men are Immortal
for Thomas Vinnedge Allison
Lisa Daus Neville
You want to feel yourself up inside the skin of that life. You want to
know all about what it means to be alive, to breathe, to walk, to
be sitting in one room and imagining yourself in another. You want
to be too hot and sweat and then to know about pain like when a burning
cigarette ash falls on the back of your hand only deeper, harsher more irredeemable. You want to know about fever and illness and then death.
You want to know how the coral reefs look from under forty feet of water
and how the oxygen hose ties you to a newer world where you walk on
two feet but you are not quite at home there yet. You want to be naked
everywhere there is environment to press against your nakedness. You
want to know everything about sex how you are moved to nothing short
of insanity by that mouth on your belly those fingers across your pubis.
You want to be forced to sleep to feel your body fall into a place of all possibilities. You want to dream and in your dreams you will stand on the
highest peak of the Himalayas in black leather boots cracking under the
weight of snow and you will laugh. You want to know all about the secrets
of suffering and shame and compassion and evil. You want to build cities
and destroy them. You want to pick fruit and eat it. You want to be thirsty. You want to know desire. You want to die.
So you are born.
You think later this may have been a mistake.
Once you have form you forget everything you knew and you have to
know everything else all over again. You must expend energy. You love
and your love is not returned. You suffer and you never understand why.
You begin to know fear. You have life and life excites you, terrifies you,
bores you but you cannot remember not having it and you cannot tolerate
imagining its absence. You do not understanding anything but hunger.
Imagine you are a 15 year old girl riding a Greyhound bus and you are
not sure of your destination. You are riding north on the Pacific Coast
route: San Diego to Seattle. At the moment you are riding through California's Central Valley in the window seat, last aisle up against the
61 restroom, the seats that don't recline but that's 0. K. because you don't
sleep. You don't sleep because you like the way the darkness is broken
by small California towns, neon lights over gas stations, fluorescent lights
of 24 hour chain coffee shops. You are 15 and you could get off the bus at
any of these small towns and imagine a life. You could walk down any five
block long main street, into any 24 hour coffee shop, off of any freeway,
stand on any overpass and you will be offered shelter. And because all
possibilities are open to you, there is no need to choose. Because you
have never chosen you feel no guilt for this life and you continue lighting
cigarettes, one off the butt of the other.
At Santa Maria a man boards the bus and makes his way to the seat adjoining yours. In the beginning we were here, he says to you, but everything looked different. He looks to be in his middle years, pressed pants
and cowboy boots. His hands are larger than any hands you have ever before seen. They rest on his thighs like stones. Those are the kind of
hands you want on your hips, choking your flesh, turning you over. They
are hard enough to bite into your softness. The man sitting in the seat
next to you claims he chose this life. He takes a cigarette from your pack
and tells you he can never die. You feel his terrible burden of responsibility. You want to feel yourself up against the skin of this life, he says. You
want to be naked everywhere.
You must remember now that you are 15 years old and that, although
you are leaving an intolerable situation, you still believe in life as a place of
all possibility. You ask the man sitting next to you if he knew Jesus. He
shrugs. Who does God love more, you ask, Judas Iscariot or Jesus
Christ? This is a question the nuns used to ask you. Who made the
greater sacrifice? Once I was born, he says, I lost my capacity to know
anything. You pass through darkness, all the passengers have turned
their overhead lights off. When the dawn breaks, there are brown hills
outside the windows, wild sage and trailer parks. You pass a place in the
endless fields of grapes and lettuce and artichokes and asparagus where
the fields break and a row of shack houses emerge strange smoke issuing
from their doorways. "I worked here for 300 years," he says. "Pulling
food out of the ground. There is nowhere I pass through that I can't remember pain. I sleep under cardboard and spit. It burns my back in the
daytime and freezes my thighs at night. I forget everything but hunger."
Because food has been given to you all your life and you have never questioned its origin you cannot understand. "You chose this life," you say to
him. "I have lived seven thousand years," he says, "and I slept everywhere. " For the first time, the very first, you feel sections of the world
close to you. You want to forget. When he gets off the bus in Modesto
you follow him.
62 "Imagine you are swimming in a river," Tom said to me soon after I
met him. "It is August and the river is crowded with the bodies of other
children. Tree branches hang from sodden trunks and trail in the water.
There is a place in the river where a waterfall hits a mass of piled up boulders and if you swim under those rocks and under the falls and if you don't
drown trying you will reach a clear pool on the other side of the river
where no one will ever laugh at you again."
"Is that how you spent your summers?" I asked Tom.
Shot full of amphetamines.
You are a girl laying with a man in a Modesto motel room off Interstate
5. It's another summer and you are hungry for a lot that isn't food. You
look down at his erection and it is glistening with your fluid. He is hard
with a desire that has nothing to do with you. I've got to sleep, he says.
You pull your body forward and up and off the bed and walk to the table
and reach into your bag. You have a bottle of Seconal in your hand and you
walk into the bathroom and pour two glasses of water and bring them
back to the side of the bed. You take three Seconals and give him the
bottle and a glass of water. You sleep, you say, I'm going out.
In this heat?
I want to move.
He watches you dress and leave the room. He swallows all the pills in
the bottle and lies back down. He knows the sound the door will make behind you and what route you will travel and his interest passes as soon as
the knowledge registers. You pull the door behind you gently. He hits the
pillow once with the flat of his hand. He has always possessed this gift,
not of prophecy, but of infallible imagination.
Tom stood in the doorway to my bedroom twelve years ago. "I grew
up in the heat," he said. "I've always wanted to get away." It was the beginning of a new war or the continuation of a series of older ones. The
United States armies were killing people overseas. The United States
police were killing people at home. It had been this way all of our lives. "I
can't get this girl out of my mind," I said. "She's fifteen and she is making
love to a man who is 7000 years old, who has seen every war and who
will never die. She tries to leave him. She rises from the bed to walk outside but she always returns to lie on the bed again. She's caught in a time
loop. She repeats these actions again and again."
"There's a multiplicity of selves in each of us that's beyond our capacity
to realize, or unify," Tom said. "Every fraction of a second we live and
breathe there's another whole self which radiates outward and exists forever there. You find yourself living in a billion different time frames at
63 once. You can imagine any one of them but when you begin to believe it,
you'll find you can't move."
You are the fifteen year old girl, only now you are a German soldier, a
young Persian boy in the 8th century and you lay beside another boy as
you tend your sheep and you feel his penis grow large and hot in your
hand. You feel pride, confusion, fear, the dust blows a blanket into your
eyes and you have to feel your way through the desert with your hands,
your legs are lost to you and you fall in the street, a dozen bankers look
the other way. You are every age at once, every sex, every race, you
look up and the stars have moved in space. Imagine you have been hurt
and it is not your fault. Imagine you are terrified of the dark. Imagine you
milk a goat and spill the milk in the dust. Imagine someone loves you and
you can't imagine why. Imagine you wait two million years without ever
knowing what for.
Tom met the man fate intended him to love and be loved by three
years before he died. I was there the morning after the night they met.
We three had coffee and eggs and bread at 11:00 Sunday morning and
spoke about ordinary things. There is a way two people can open the
world for each other, a method by which the lover's essence is grasped
and completed by the beloved which lies beyond the capacity of any third
person to comprehend. When Ken went to get his car that morning in order to drive me home Tom and I waited at the entrance of the restaurant.
"Because I needed him, I imagined him," Tom said to me. "And now I am
afraid. Afraid that now that he is real, he will show me a world I have
never imagined." I was watching a man feed beer to a dog on the sidewalk outside. I am ashamed to say now that at that time I did not understand.
When you were a child living with your family you did not know the
world so you imagined it. Then later you moved to a place where there
was no more family and you had to remember. Now you realize you
never really knew anything about the world or family. Al you really knew
or had ever known about was buried in that ocean you had left when you
emerged from the uterus and you begin to wonder if there was anything
you have touched since that time that you have not imagined into being.
The immortal knew your face before he ever saw it. Felt your skin before he touched it. He could have drawn a map of all the cities he had ever
lived in before he crossed the county line. Even this he knew he had
known of previously. Even this Modesto motel room and the oppressive
64 When Tom was a boy living in Virginia he didn't sleep. There was
something that scared him about the sky. He sat up at night in bed and
read comic books. He was afraid of his dreams. His dreams were not a
part of him. They were an evil influence, part of a further penetration of
evil, further reaching than the banal ignorant smugness of a small Virginia
college town. Beneath the sheets something whispered to him: Who
writes the dreams that leave you cold? He sat up at night and watched the
sky. "You must have slept sometime," I said. But he never admitted to
Later when sores covered Tom's body, Ken crawled into his lover's
bed at night and put his arms around him and kissed his sores. "I never
thought anybody would love me if I wasn't handsome," Tom said to me.
"I never thought I could sleep like that." But there were dreams sometimes, dreams that indicated he must have been sleeping. He woke from
one of these dreams in the early morning to the sound of his father's belt
hissing through the air above his blankets. "Wake up you bastard," his father said. "So I know I must have been sleeping," Tom said to me. "What
was he doing?" I asked. "He was a sadistic prick," Tom said. "He found
the comic books I had to sneak into the house. I buried them in the yard.
He found them and he decided to whip me." "What was he doing digging
in the yard at two in the morning?" I asked. "I didn't think of that," Tom
"He was my father," Tom said. "I thought he knew everything."
"Let's say it happened this way," I said to Tom. "There is a fifteen
year old girl and she follows a man who can't die because she doesn't
know anything outside her body but she finds she can't bear his sadness
so she spends the rest of her life reenacting the memory of his pain."
"That's an implosion of the process," Tom said. "One of those monstrous inversions from which Demons are born. His selves lack the energy of release and he must live within their presence at every moment.
The din is terrible and there is nothing he does not know. Our tragedy
lies in our not being able to remember ourselves. The immortal's lies in
his not being able to forget."
"Do you want to die?" his sister asked Tom. "What a stupid question,"
he said to me. "Once you are born, you never want to die." We are always afraid, I said. "He wasn't afraid," Ken said later. "He didn't not
want to die. He wanted to live."
"How did he get that strong?" I asked.
When Tom was 16 he took 500 micrograms of LSD and drove his
mother's car into a patch of ice. He hit his head on the steering wheel and
was knocked unconscious. His mother came to the hospital and sat by his
65 bed for two days and three nights. When he woke, she asked him about
the earring in his left ear. Her lips were tight. "I took it off when I came
home," Tom said to me. "Only of course then I didn't have an opportunity. I thought, finally I will be able to tell her the truth. I felt relief."
Tom's mother told him what kind of men wore earrings. "'Ruffians,' she
said to me," Tom said. '"Circus people.' She thought I was running off to
join the circus because my father had left us. She thought it was her fault.
There was nothing I could say."
When I met Tom I was 19. We shared a flat in San Francisco. Tom
came into my bedroom and smoked marijuana with me. "I know just how
you feel," he said. "I was on the street in Houston for two years." "What
happened?" I said. "I've never been so wanted," Tom said. "I never felt
so important." "I'm getting tired of that drug," I said. The marijuana cigarette had gone out in Tom's hand and he brought it to his lips to relight.
"I know just how you feel," Tom said.
Imagine you are the girl on the bus only now you are standing on the
sidewalk in Modesto, California. Directly above you is an arced sign spelling out the words Water, Wealth, Contentment, Health. You have no
sense of irony or history and you have no way of knowing you are standing on the bones of a people slaughtered for that promise. The sunlight is
hot and the freeway cuts through the valley and everything is open to
you. Imagine you are Tom nine years after Stonewall and you are standing on Castro Street in San Francisco. There are men walking down the
street with their arms around each other and a photograph of burning police cars in a camera store window. You are 22 years old and everything
is open to you. You walk into a bar and order a beer.
A monk was coming out of Tom's hospital room as I approached it. He
had a shaved head and wore Buddhist robes. "When I went to zazen,"
Tom told me, "I saw him working in the garden. He had been completely
silent for six years. Then three months ago he began to speak." "What
were his first words?" I asked. "I don't know," Tom said. "But he told
me that when he decided to speak, it was two weeks until he could remember how." Tom looked for something among all the papers on his
bed. I watched the pigeons fight each other for food on the windowsill.
"Those birds never shut up," Tom said. "I can't sleep. Lisa?"
"You're Catholic, right?"
66 "Would you do me a favour?"
"Of course."
"Would you get me some ice cream?"
His father came to visit him that day. Flew out from Texas and told his
son he loved him. "My father bought my step-brother a rifle," Tom told
me. "They go hunting together. They shoot animals." "Do you want
that?" I asked. "I don't want to shoot animals," Tom said. "And I don't
want to be with my father, but yes, I want that."
You have no desire to return to that motel room. There is something
rotten about the man who will never die. You can smell it. You stand under the arch and put your hand under your skirt. You bring your fingers to
your nose. It's a sour smell. You want to feel your body fall into a place of
all possibilities. You walk toward the highway.
When Tom was 33 he called me and told me he had a dream. "They
found me resting beside a stagnant stream 30 miles from the Caspian
Sea. I was wearing a dashiki of gold threads and they thought I must be a
king. They ran me through with their daggers and left me to die but I did
not bleed so they became frightened and I was forced to rise and walk
away before they began to worship me. I lost my memory and my
clothes, I was put in prison. Later I lived on an island with people who
spoke to the sun. Later I made candles, twelve hours a day I stirred pots
of tallow, my chest and arms covered with hot grease. Later I left Europe. Later I built railroad tracks across North America. Then I played
dice in a cave in the Rocky Mountains and won back my soul."
He was a gambler, the man who had lived for seven thousand years but
gambling bored him. He couldn't predict the future but he watched the
present unfold. Patterns emerged for him from the present with the
surety of cells under a microscope. This gave him the ability to stay or hit
with 99% accuracy and this made him rich. This gave him the ability to
know where a woman wanted to be touched and how tenderly before she
spoke it and this made him beloved. He wanted to lose almost as much as
he wanted to die. You put your index and middle finger to his throat while
you are poised naked over him. "You mean you came all this way for
that?" you say. "Distance doesn't mean anything," he says.
I played cards with Tom four weeks before he died. We played Go Fish
and he lost consciousness every few minutes. When he lay back on his
67 pillows, I stood up, walked around the bedroom, went to the refrigerator,
opened it, closed it, went to the bathroom and urinated, came back and
tapped his shoulder, "Tom?" "Go fish," he said.
The man who will never die walks into an illegal gambling parlour in
Turlock, California. There are three cowboys, a businessman and a
woman at the poker table. He joins the game.
When Tom was 12 years old his father quit his family and his mother,
who had never before tasted alcohol, drank a fifth of Southern Comfort
and ran in circles in the front yard barking like a dog. Tom watched her
from the living room window unable to move until the police came.
The seven thousand year old man loses the first hand on purpose. He
wins the next without betting too high. The cocktail waitress asks him
what he wants to drink. He always drinks tomato juice. Now he drinks
vodka. He drinks three shots of vodka one after the other. He's hoping to
disorient himself. He's hoping to lose.
When Tom was 18 he realized God loved him. He was sleeping in a
trailor in Oklahoma City and he lay awake in that time between moon and
sun and heard the wind chimes that hung from the trailor porch sound. He
heard the wind stir the metal chimes and smelled the sage and felt an
eternal love of which he was object and which he would never forget.
When I was 26 my lover was lying with another woman and I had no
place to go. Tom took to me to his bed and put his arms around me.
"We'll sleep now," he said.
The man who will never die has won again. He walks five miles to a
farmworkers' camp. It is too late for fires and the people are asleep.
They wear all their clothes under the blanket and dream huddled together. There are armed guards in the orchards. In the morning the sun
will beat hard. He is suddenly tired and walks back to his motel room.
When Tom moved into my flat in San Francisco he brought three boxes
of books on magic and paranormal phenomenon up the stairs. We sat on
the floor and looked through his file of clippings on spontaneous combustion. "This happened in 1788," he said pulling one off the floor. "This
woman went to a barn dance in Maryland, and she danced and danced and
suddenly she burst into flame and within 20 seconds there was nothing
68 left of her but her shoes, no bone, no flesh, nothing." "If the heat was so
intense, why didn't it burn her shoes?" I asked. "That's the mystery,"
Tom said.
"There's no mystery to it," Ken said to me later. "People tell me I am
to be commended for sacrificing so much, but what Tom gave me I
couldn't have learned in a thousand lifetimes." "He loved you," I started
to say. "Dignity," Ken said. "Courage, honour. If I had never known
Tom I would never have known what those words meant."
You are standing under the overpass at Turlock. A sergeant from Fort
Ord stops his car. As you drive along with him you drink from his bottle of
Jack Daniels and feel his hand on your knee.
In the central valley helicopters fly over the fields and spray UFW organizers with malathion.
In government laboratories strange new viruses grow in petrie dishes.
In a vault of the office of the National Security Council lie blueprints for
concentration camps built in New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada.
You are 15 and you are drunk with the power of your sex and your age.
You feel the highway open to you like a woman to a man she desires. You
are moving into your future. You want never to stop driving.
In a Modesto motel room a man sleeps who will never die.
In a hospice in Virginia Tom pulls the intravenous devices from his arm
and whispers, "That's enough."
In San Francisco I sit at my office desk staring at the computer. Ken's
voice over the phone says, "He loved you very much."
Imagine you can't earn any of this. Imagine an intelligence beyond any
possible imagining that whispers to you while you sleep. Imagine you
stand in a courtyard and spread your arms and a thousand birds arrange
themselves at your feet. Imagine you spend your life pulling food out of
the ground and still you go hungry. Imagine you are feeding a child and
the child can't suck and she dies in your arms. Imagine you have to bury
everyone you ever slept with. Imagine as you watch the white line of the
freeway disappear beneath your wheels you dare to dream of freedom.
Imagine you are a good man and still you die young. Imagine someone
loves you and you've done nothing to deserve it. Imagine you are not
69 Neile Graham
for Ronald and Morgan Simison
Tomb of the Eagles
I'm left-handed like her—the child
who made this shard, who shaping a pot
marked its rim with her thumbnail,
the etch etch etch of her hand on red clay
then the vessel shattered with her grandparents'
clean bones and with her own. Her knife fits
in my fingers perfect like bones.
She carried it close. I can feel her hands fitting
where my fingers do, rubbing the notched edge.
Morgan Simison's palms slide over a skull
browned with 5,000 years of burial, her workworn hands
trace the furrow where the bone bowed
under the slow press of a strap slung
with the weight of fuel, food, child.
A life of hard work for a simple meal.
But among the bones no sign of murder-
survival enough violence for them all.
The blunt affection of her hands on the skull.
She loves what she knows of these long-dead folk,
the shape of the lands her husband and children till.
The tomb her husband uncovered built of generations
of hands that knew these cliffs, this soil.
The stories we can't guess, why the bones
of sea-eagles mix with their dead.
70 I want to shape the child's name, whatever words
she had for bowl and knife and the ragged sea
below the cliffs of her tribe's tomb,
the seal swimming along among the rocks,
whatever words she would use for the way my thumb
fits into the prints of her own.
71 The Art of Fiction
Donald Anderson
1. Take in a museum series of a woman's face: six photos. In each enlarged black-and-white, the woman's face (a slip away from plainness)
lures, broaches, transfixes, pricks. Beneath each view of the face, in this
sequence, in the artist's pencil cursive: Mother, Father, Sex, God, Death,
Self. And to introduce the photos:
The camera trained on Lisa was controlled by her. I provided the six
words in sealed envelopes. In a darkened room, Lisa confronted, six
times, a word. At the moment Lisa possessed the image or memory by
which she most embraced each faced word, she triggered the shutter:
EXERCISE: Consider the effect of such an experiment for you, then
compose six stories: Mother, Father, Sex, God, Death, Self.
EXTRA CREDIT: Snap/Develop the photos. Cope.
HELPFUL HINT: Memory is Imagination.
PROBLEM: Memory is Imagination.
2. Flex critically. Pen an essay embracing the vast terrain of story.
Consider, as a minimum, who you or we are—any of us—to suppose to
slip the summons of time, failure, tribe, success, panic, decent want, insanity, death, fashion, entitlement, lucidity, quiddity, impotence, license,
humility, blood, shame, arrival, unsettled grief, vision, terror, perfidy,
loss, fortune, pity, art, error, heaven, truth—mutinous truth, sympathy,
surrender, avoidance, damage, history, sperm, agency, tallying competition, self-pitying self-importance, glamour, turbulence, egg, chaos, inaction, imploration, tyranny, defiance, mask, horror, intention, invention,
rites, discovery, recovery, sweet order, troth, ire, murk, pox, sorrow,
clemency, inoculation, viscissitude, love? Be sure to include a thesis
72 3. Or, hell, write a story about your dog:
a. Your dead dog.
b. When your father came home, Naps was under the tire (the car
still in neutral, brakes off).
c. Because, even with your father's help, you couldn't push the dead
car up the incline off Naps, so your father flagged down a neighbour.
d. Because when the neighbour nudged his gas to nudge your father's car off Naps, his bumper rode up over your father's, locked, doubled the car's rear weight.
e. Because you had planned to recharge the battery by revving the
car (by driving it out past the Tastee-Freez, then back).
f. Because you had a buck in your pants for gas.
h. Because you planned to coast the car down the incline of your
street (switching the key, popping the clutch) to start it.
i. Because as the battery bled, you twisted up the volume (heavy
treble, light bass).
j. Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, The Big Bopper (Oh, Baby, you
KNOW what I like!).
k. Because, long tuned to the yowl of the faulty starter, what reason
had Naps to scramble?
1. The car (your father's, not your neighbour's): a 1949 green Hudson Hornet.
m. White whitewalls as wide as your palm.
n. As wide and white as your palm.
73 Mark Cochrane
two poems
Paint my lips. Arbrush my jawbone with talcum, my
jawbone is shaven raw-blue. Blush me, rouge me,
feather my scrolled wings of hair. I say to my wife.
I say, make me over like Mapplethorpe, lips open &
vulnerable. I say, a man like one idea of a woman.
Make me that. Later let me preen in leather, tough,
the same angle, but for now I pout into your f-stop.
Don't stop. Do me like that, yeah, like Mapplethorpe.
Closer now, cheeks lavender and brows blue, garish as
our ancestors, faces of baboons. Come to me with eyes
lined, lashes black, your broad gorgeous shoulders,
your freckled muscular neck. Let a man & a woman kiss
a woman & a man. Two palettes, & smudge, pigments &
oils: a diptych. There is gender all over our faces,
mixed up & blended over all of our faces & boy, boy am
I, am I ever, boy am I ever in love.
74 Society for the Preservation
Everything is used up, the thrush
hits the picture window, it's
broken inside, its
head out of joint, its
pincushion body of snapped bones
in the shoebox. There is no soil
we have not squeezed thru our fingers,
the water in this river
has been used before, even in this country
nothing is itself, the freeway crazy with
a car pulling a car
on a trailer, fishtailing, into the ditch
right in front, we could have died.
Our son in his carseat
or you, running along the medium
for help, at the convenience store, exit
73, alerting the RCMP then waiting
for a ferry. To cross the river to Mission,
river of water that has been used before,
passed thru bodies & leached thru culverts
under roads to the SPCA,
water that suspends a ferry of cars
above the sludge
with a broken thrush in a shoebox
on the seat beside our son, its rustle
in that darkness as we rush, we rush.
75 Patricia Young
two poems
The Herb Garden
The smell of cilantro filled the woman with desire
so fierce and sudden she'd drop to her knees.
Her husband, a passionate man, appreciated
the fine effect the scent of herbs had on his wife, especially
basil. He always insisted she pick the leaves
necessary for the evening salad.
In time, though, the man was exhausted.
He complained that this wife was too
demanding, he suggested she grow potatoes or corn.
The woman planted anise.
By late summer the plant had reached its full
and umbelliferous height. Ah, she sighed,
one evening, breathing the aromatic seeds.
The woman called for her husband
to join her in the garden but he closed
the window and continued to read an instructive manual
on car maintenance.
Another marriage bites the dust, people mutter
when they hear this little story but I say, wait—
the woman is walking into the room
where her husband's fallen asleep on the couch.
He is opening his eyes and the birds
on her dressing gown are singing in plum trees.
It is the beginning of time
and you can tell just by looking at their faces—
unhappiness is the one thing that has not been invented.
76 19th Century American
I turn the book's pages, not actually
reading the words and then
the words begin to take shape:
tomato, onion, rose.
I read about the stacks of plate
negatives that served
no purpose until 19th century nurserymen
began to use them to construct
glass walls. And now I am
stumbling across memory—
you are above me, beneath me, yes, it is your astonished
face I have captured with my photographer's eye.
The river is brown, we've thrown off
our coats and though it's December
the taste of that first kiss
and the sun's freakish
warmth persuades us to pass
from shadow to light. Was it that day
or some other when you first spoke
of the unsmiling soldiers
posed in full uniform? After
we'd kicked off our winter boots
that you began speaking of glass
negatives, thousands
bought after the Civil War?
Bought cheap and fitted side by side
in long, wooden frames so that
for years afterwards
heat shimmered off acres of roofs.
Death feeding life,
77 you said, or something like it. You said
the thought of those smoky faces
gazing down on the seedlings
beneath them so satisfied
something within you
that you would not
go near it, you'd let it stand
in your mind, untouched as the bodies
of those boys before they collided
with bayonet and history.
78 Wild Dogs
Patrick Roscoe
During hot, still afternoons, when only wasps disturbed the glassy
silence, Lily picked ticks off our dog. On the hard, shaded dirt to
the east of the house, beneath the bougainvillea, she held Ginger
tightly between her legs and worked fingers through the secret places of
his coat. Below his neck, beneath the flaps of his ears, and among the pits
of his legs she encountered ticks swollen fat with blood. These she
pinched between a finger and a thumb until the soft, tight skin of the sac
burst and Ginger's blood spurted over her hands. Picking up the can of
tick powder, Lily sprinkled white snow where the pest had nestled; it
was supposed to discourage further unwelcome visitors. But a hundred
more ticks would fasten to Ginger during his journeys through the brush
tomorrow; there were always more than Lily could kill, especially during
dry season. Already our dog squirmed unhappily, restlessly. Dissatisfied
with our company, he was forever trotting from sight, losing us easily if
we tried to follow. Lily told me that Ginger went in search of his tail,
which had been chopped off shortly after his birth as a boxer pup. ("It's
the custom," our father, Mitch, informed us. "Something people do," he
added weakly, when our puzzled faces requested a better explanation.)
Only the stump of a tail remained, scarcely enough to wag. One day Ginger would return home with his missing tail between bis teeth—instead of
the usual rats and snakes. Perhaps then he would become our loyal companion, our faithful friend, no longer prone to long disappearances and
battles with other dogs which left his torn ears permanent attractions for
flies. "They'll drink all his blood," Lily told me, not looking up from
Ginger's coat. Lips pressed tightly together, she declined my invitation
that we venture down the hill to the main road, where the sugar man sold
his cane. He would give us as much as we could carry if we sang something from Mary Poppins; all afternoon we could chew the sweet, stringy
cane he peeled with his big machete, spit out a trail of exhausted pulp to
show where we had been, like Hansel and Gretel in the haunted forest.
Still ignoring me, Lily moved her thin, freckled face nearer our dog's
coat. She didn't look up when a ripe pawpaw fell with a splitting thud from
a nearby tree; within ten minutes its sweet meat would swarm with hun-
79 gry insects feeding so ravenously you could almost hear the click of small,
sharp teeth. Now Lily suddenly loosened her legs and clapped her hands
three times near Ginger's ears, loudly. He bounded away. My sister held
blood-stained hands up to the sky, squinted at them with satisfaction.
With broad, sweeping strokes she painted her face with crosses; the
marks were nearly the same colour as the earth beneath us. After the
blood dried, Lily would have to be careful not to smile, or it would crack.
Our dreamy father had few rules, and these were laxly enforced. Mitch
forgot to check the correspondence lessons we were supposed to do in
the morning, and he wouldn't remember bedtime and brushing teeth and
letters to our mother. Another overlooked law was that we three children were supposed to stay together. "There's strength in numbers,"
Mitch explained. That we did play together, MJ and Lily and I, was
strictly due to necessity, for there were no other children at the college—
except for black ones who sang taunting rhymes to our backs, or threw
bowls of white mush in our faces if we were foolish enough to get too
close. Mitch encouraged us to explore as far and wide as we could, and
didn't express fear for our safety as long as we were home before dark.
"Where did you go and what did you see today?" he would ask eagerly in
the evening, when night spread around the house and things concealed
during day came out to prowl beyond the door. We looked at each other
cautiously, chose with care what we could safely tell Mitch. While we
often did move across that disturbing landscape as a trio, there were
many days when MJ had to lie upon his bed with tightly closed eyes. His
head hurt. You could see veins beneath his brow beat with blood angrily
trying to get out. When he came home from teaching, Mitch would massage MJ's temples, rub strong fingers into his eldest son's scalp. "It's just
the heat," Mitch would say. "It's nothing more than that." With MJ waiting to heal and rise, Lily lost loyalty to our broken group. I would turn to
see her nearly out of sight already, one of the old, pleated skirts donated
by the nuns swished by her quickly striding legs. If I tried to follow, she
would simply walk more swiftly; if I got in her way, she would push me
aside—not meanly, but efficiently, as you brush away a branch or vine
that blocks your path. I never knew where Lily went alone; upon returning, she would not tell me, and deflected Mitch's inquiries neatly. I suspected she followed the trail above the college, that through jungle led to
where the river roared between rocks. Up there the air was thin and
cool, an element that to me felt alien, not quite suitable for human lungs.
And there birds cried too loudly, flowers bloomed too boldly, the jungle
was too thick. Lily met Ginger by the river, I thought; together they
searched for something concealed along its bank. They would be home
80 when they were hungry, they would be home before dark. I never feared
Lily would become lost up in the jungle; she was eleven, two years older
than me, and I always thought her smart and strong enough to find the
way back down to us. And I believed that like Ginger she went in search
of something missing, an essential part of herself chopped off shortly
after birth. What was it Lily hunted during those slow afternoons, when
at the house below the only sounds were the ancient gardener's machete
striking stones in the yard, the houseboy's croon as he wrung dripping
clothes behind the kitchen, the whimper of MJ from his dim, painful room? What would Lily bear between her teeth when she returned
to view?
I'm sure Mitch gave us a dog with the best intentions. "I had one when
I was a boy," he said, and then we heard once more about his tough,
hardy Regina youth. Probably Mitch held in his head some clear, focused
photograph of three children frolicking with a happy pet. Caring for their
dog, the children would learn responsibility; in turn, he would act as comrade and comforter, and strengthen their number. Mitch didn't seem to
notice that from the start our attention to Ginger was not reciprocated;
we were not that interesting or necessary to our dog. We couldn't teach
him to fetch or sit up or roll over and play dead. "He's getting big," Mitch
observed happily, as within the door Ginger lifted his head at the sound of
wild dogs in the distance. They bayed at a rough beast who slouched
through the night. Our dog scratched to be let out, insisted with claws
until we had to give in and open the door. Slinking away, he would return
in morning smelling of something rotten, bad. Lily would disregard the
stink, pick more ticks from his coat, try to brush it smooth. Perhaps
things would have been different in a blander setting, without the scent of
wild blood to lure our dog from us. Mitch's hopeful vision might have unfolded more perfectly against a background of neat lawns and fences, tidy
sidewalks and maple trees. It was our father's fatal tendency to disregard
the landscape upon which he set his fantasies. And to believe that everything was all right as long as we were home before dark.
During those years Lily was taller than MJ and me, with hair hacked off
by Mitch in the shape of a bowl. (He enjoyed playing barber, liked to
shave MJ's and mine and his own head right to the scalp, pronounced
pleasure in the cool results.) My sister's face was sharp, her new teeth
had grown in crooked, scabs always decorated her knees. I was not
aware that girls played dolls and house, or dressed up in their mothers'
clothes: Lily didn't do these things, and never mentioned them. She liked
to swim and run and climb the tops of trees. She enjoyed silent activities,
81 such as our visits to Father Joe, the college naturalist, who kept cages of
snakes and guinea pigs. He fed the latter to the former. The biggest
snake—a sly, old boa—didn't like to eat in front of curious children. You
had to be very still and patient to catch him strike at the guinea pig shivering at the far side of the cage. Lily looked hard as with a gulp he swallowed it whole. Later I would always envision her studying intensely
something right before her eyes, while MJ and I had to turn away. It
seems to me that I was usually watching Lily rather than whatever lay before us; she saw for all of us, I think. When at the prison farm they
showed us how a cow was killed then skinned, Lily's eyes widened
slightly, then quickly narrowed again, shutting the sight inside herself.
Later, attempting to butcher the beef back in our kitchen, Mitch
scratched his head at the puzzle of sides and quarters, waved the saw in
the air, splashed in pools of blood. Lily worked alongside him; she pointed
and advised. From where I hovered with MJ in the doorway, I thought I
saw her nostrils quiver, as she breathed in deeply the stench of intestine,
the stink of death.
While MJ would sometimes tell stories about where we had lived before Africa and what had happened to us there, Lily refused to discuss the
past, and showed no interest in anything not visible in the present either.
MJ spoke about the dancing goat on the island in Greece and the little
one-armed girl in Spain; he described our mother, Ardis, who was far
away in Canada. "She has blonde hair and red lips," MJ mused again,
while without a word Lily wandered from our secret place beneath the
lemon tree. We found her occupied with an army of marching ants. Their
file was endless and perfectly neat; two by two they moved with determination toward some destination we could only fathom. You could stir
them with a stick or dump pails of water on them, but this interrupted
their progress for only the few seconds it took to scramble back into
rank. MJ said the ants were marching home. I said maybe they were lost.
Lily said they were going to war. We agreed that the ants could strip the
flesh from a large beast's frame in seconds. With the blink of an eye
bones were picked as clean as a whistle.
"The nuns!" MJ cried in alarm, too late. Before we could escape, a
dozen of the Dutch sisters surrounded us; they always seemed to appear
almost out of nowhere, and in the most unlikely locations. We would see
them filing solemnly across the golf course of the Morogoro Country Club
early in morning, or clustered in the open back of a pick up whirling down
the road. Moving with surprising swiftness, they encircled us again, with
black habits flapping like huge wings in our faces. For a long time we
82 couldn't distinguish one nun from another; their costume lent them anonymity. Gradually we learned that Sister Bridgit was tall and thin, Sister
Mary a short and plump, Sister Elsa always flushed, and so on. They nodded and clucked and patted our heads with concern; in gutteral Dutch
they discussed us between themselves, seeming to search for a solution
to a difficult problem. Then they would attempt several tentative sentences of severely accented English we could barely understand. "By the
sea of Galilea," I thought Sister Anna said. MJ said they were telling us to
prepare for the Second Coming. Lily didn't like the nuns; she wouldn't
look at them. From beneath their robes, like magicians, they pulled skirts
and blouses sent from Holland to clothe a little black girl. Lily accepted
these gifts rudely, glaring at the ground. Finally the nuns would sigh, pat
our heads once more, then turn toward their convent at the highest point
of the college, where the jungle began. Sometimes, on our way exploring, we passed the nunnery and heard voices raised sweetly in hymn.
Rather than soothe, the song seemed to add a jarring note to the setting,
as if there were nothing in this air to receive such words of praise and
During our third year in Tanzania, when Lily turned twelve, her
breasts began to grow. They irritated her. She picked constantly at the
front of her blouse, lifting cloth that chafed the sensitive spots. This reminded me of the way Ginger shook his head violently in a vain attempt to
banish flies clustered upon his bloody ears. They wouldn't heal; he insisted upon scratching them while still raw with the claws of a hind leg.
Leaving the houseboy to feed our dog, we went on safari several times
during the first years in Morogoro, and on another occasion made a
longer trip when Mitch suddenly decided it was necessary for us to see
the pyramids and Sphinx without delay. The first time we returned home,
Ginger was not waiting for us, and showed up only three days later; the
second time, he was gone two weeks. After that he came around less and
less frequently, and between visits I would forget the shape of his nose,
the colour of his eyes. Sometimes he came home to eat; sometimes we
saw him in the distance, among the pack of wild dogs that made wide-
ranging expeditions through the area. They ran in a loose cluster, noses
near the ground, direction determined by invisible forces, snarling at
each other. Now Ginger would not come when called; he had forgotten
his name. "Leave him alone," said Lily, turning away. "It was a stupid
name anyway. He's not the colour of ginger at all." Though Mitch didn't
seem to realise that our dog was increasingly absent, he did appear to
sense that somehow things were not the same for us. Something had
changed; he tried to put a finger on it. "Do you have everything you
83 need?" he once asked abruptly. He seemed less confident that he held
just the right solution to anything like a wild card up his sleeve, and in
evening inquired less brightly about where we had been that day. Lily especially made him uneasy. He suggested she pay visits to Prima, the chic
young East Indian woman who lived in the house below ours. Lily stared
at him. "What for?" she finally asked. For several moments Mitch rubbed
his head, glanced at his watch, hummed. Suddenly he snapped his fingers. "Chess!" he exclaimed. "Which of you kids thinks he's smart
enough to beat the old man?"
People began to say the wild dogs were getting out of hand. Their pack
grew larger. No longer skulking warily at a safe distance from humans,
they became bolder, more threatening. Al night they would circle and
howl around a certain house, trapping its sleepless inhabitants inside.
They killed chickens in the village by the college. More than actual damage or harm, they caused disturbance, fear. "Rabies," it was muttered.
The Africans wanted to get rid of the wild dogs with axes and machetes.
They believed them evil spirits risen from centuries of tortured sleep.
They believed them demons escaped from nightmare. One night we listened to the wild dogs tear apart Prima's pet monkey. "Go back to
sleep," said Mitch, a black shape in our bedroom door. The monkey's
screams died; MJ moaned in his bed between Lily's and mine. His headaches were worse, though the Morogoro doctor, a proud graduate of the
Bombay Institute of Dental Hygiene, had promised he would grow out of
them. Lily slipped from bed and stood before the window, face pressed
against the mesh screen that was supposed to keep our insects and
snakes. "What are you doing?" I asked. Lily's nightdress, another gift
from the good Dutch nuns, was too short around her thin, scratched legs.
It gleamed in the darkness. "Where are you going?" I whispered, as
Lily's bare feet padded from the room. I heard the kitchen door click
open, then shut. In my safe, hot bed I fell asleep, while outside Lily
roamed in search of secrets contained in the carcass of a mutilated monkey. I dreamed I saw her eyes burning yellow in the darkness, her mouth
frothing white, her nose smeared thickly with blood.
What did I see, what did I dream? Later I would never know for certain
if I ever really saw Lily poised at the edge of the sisal field below the college, a circle of wild dogs dancing around her, leaping up to snap at her
face. Back straight and arms folded across her chest, she stood still amid
the whirling beasts. Did her lips move? Was she speaking to the dogs? Al
at once she turned on her heels and ran from the writhing ring. The dogs
took after her, barking madly; they were hunting Lily or they were fol-
84 lowing Lily. The pack entered the sisal that grew taller than my sister. All
I could see was a dense green field, with no hint what it contained, unfolding still and calm before me. Troubling my eyes.
Finally we returned to Canada and to our mother, who was able to stay
out of the clinic if she took her Lithium. None of us spoke much about
Morogoro, and Mitch seemed disappointed that we were not grateful for
the opportunity for exotic experience he had given us. His efforts to
settle down in the small B. C. town were half-hearted at best; his temper
became uncharacteristically short and sharp; in five years he would go
away again, this time alone, this time for good. Meanwhile, Lily refused
to remember anything about Africa; she would barely admit we had lived
there at all. In Brale, B. C., my sister said she couldn't recall our chameleon with the leash of string around its neck or our hunts for frogs in the
gutters above the college church. Or seeing the Milky Way creamed
above the Serengetti, when in the middle of a night drive home Mitch
stopped the car and insisted we get out to view the sky. "The stars are
closer when you're in Africa," he told us. I still believe that, as I continue
to believe many of my father's patent untruths. But Lily denied knowledge of the shape a baobob forms against the sky and the shriek of a
colobus monkey when you pass through the jungle below. In Brale she
wore a disguise of make up and drank home-made wine with Italian boys
down by the Columbia River. Now her hair was long, covering her eyes.
From beneath bangs Lily watched Ardis warily, sniffed at our mother
from safe distance, tried to determine if this stranger posed danger. "Go
back to the loony bin where you belong," she snarled, when Ardis said
she must be home before dark. Our mother retreated behind the closed
door of her room again; in the basement MJ watched another hour of TV.
Despite a battery of tests and medications, his headaches were never diagnosed or treated with success; clearly they were due to something
more than just the heat. MJ was unable to heal and rise; he couldn't attend high school frequently enough to graduate. At nineteen he disappeared on his way to Montreal, where he was headed to look for work. I
think he couldn't stand for us to see the veins still throbbing with angry
blood beneath his brow. He needed to lose Africa, to lose us. I continued
to believe that a dark continent lay hidden just beneath our skin; with a
sharp knife you could peel away a layer to discover the rich taste of
mango, the smells of charcoal and dust and rotting fruit, the mocking
laughter of hyenas in the night.
Perhaps Lily was searching for these things when she used the razor
on herself. By this time—like MJ, like Mitch—I had left behind the Brale
85 house beneath the reeling crows, beneath white powder sprinkling
through the sky. We went our separate ways, gave up on the promise
that there is safety in numbers. Only Ardis remained behind when Lily
entered the psychiatric wing of the regional hospital. ("Jesus," Mitch
wrote me in Morocco. "We should have the family name engraved on a
door of the place.") During the next three years, while Lily was silent, I
sometimes thought of Ginger. By the time we left Morogoro he was no
longer ours; now he was one of the wild dogs. He never came to the
house of cement blocks even to eat, and would have sunk teeth into our
hands if we had reached out to pet him. Once we heard disease had swept
through the pack of dogs; for a while their number did seem smaller, then
they appeared as many as before. Several times, in the car, we might
have seen Ginger loping along the ditch beside the main road. We weren't
sure. I thought yes; Lily disagreed. "He's dead," she said. "He died a
long time ago. He's not coming back." When I finally heard from Lily, she
said she had found Jesus; He had enabled her to leave the clinic at last. I
couldn't help but think of Jesus wandering lost amid the bamboo shoots
beside the Ngong River, impractical white robes tangled in vines and
roots, waiting for Lily to find Him and to bring Him home before dark. My
sister sent me poorly printed religious tracts and urged me to become
saved before it was too late. Through post cards he mailed me from Thailand and Indonesia and Tibet, I understood that Mitch also received
warnings of a Second Coming. In Morocco today skeletons of starved
dogs haunt my step, whine in my ear; obscurely shaped icons crowd the
market. The mosque's bell clangs hollowly just before dusk; below my
balcony the streets suddenly fill with beings scurrying home before dark.
Night creeps into the alleys of El Jadida, then descends upon the barren
desert beyond. Stars rise in the sky. "They're closer when you're in Africa, " I used to write to Lily. But she refused to visit me in El Jadida; she
remained in Brale with Ardis and Jesus and medication. Beside the cold,
swift river they passed calm years, I gather, made up of cleaning and
dusting and other careful rituals. The last time I heard from Lily she enclosed a photograph of herself. I couldn't recognize this woman with puffy
face devoid of freckles, with hair pinned into a neat bun, with untroubled
eyes. Lily looked without smiling into the camera, as if afraid her face
would crack. As if parting her lips would allow a wild dog's howl to swell
the air.
86 Contributors
Heather Adair will be a graduating student from Emily Carr School of Art and Design. She
lives in Vancouver and is a sculptor and photographer.
Donald Anderson directs Creative Writing at the United States Air Force Academy. He
is editor of the journal War, Literature, and the Arts. His fiction has appeared in a number of
journals, including The North American Review and Fiction International.
April Bulmer is a graduate student in the faculty of Divinity at Trinity College, Toronto.
She holds an M.A. in Creative Writing from Concordia University. Her book of poetry, A
Salve For Every Sore, was published by Cormorant Books in 1991.
Mark Cochrane's poems have appeared in numerous journals, including Poetry Canada
Review, Canadian Literature, The Capilano Review, and The Moosehead Anthology. His
work last appeared in PRISM 31:1.
Cynthia Flood's two collections of short fiction are The Animals in their Elements and My
Father Took a Cake to France (Talonbooks, 1987 and 1992). In 1990 she won the Journey
Prize. "The Usual Accomplishments" is one of a linked sequence of short stories, to be
titled A Civil Plantation.
Neile Graham is a Canadian writer currently living in Seattle, Washington. She has published poems and reviews in various Canadian and American magazines, including Canadian
Literature and Quarry. A second collection of poems, Spells for Clear Vision, is due from
Brick Books in Fall, 1994.
David Hart lives in Birmingham, England, and works part-time for the West Midlands
Regional Arts Board. He started the Poetry Squantum at the Hay on Wye Literature Festival and edited the documentary book of the first one, Border Country (Wood Wind, 1991).
He's been an Anglican priest and a drama critic.
C.E. Hull is an Australian poet and artist. She has been published in magazines and
anthologies in Australia, Canada, U.S.A., India, and the U.K. She is enrolled in a Master of
Arts course at Deakin University (VIC) and her first book of poetry, In The Dog Box of
Summer, will be published by Penguin Australia this year.
Will Harvey grew up in Clarkson, Ontario, where the sport was box lacrosse. He lives
now near the Grand River with Greta and Bon, girldog and tomcat.
Lisa Daus Neville is a novelist and story writer from California. She is currently living in
Boulder, Colorado, where she is completing her novel The Meaning of Relativity.
87 Patrick Roscoe is the author of two collections of short stories, Birthmarks (Penguin
Canada, 1990) and Beneath the Western Slopes (Stoddart, 1987); most recently, he published the novel God's Peculiar Care (Viking Penguin, 1991). His fiction has been widely
published, and received many awards.
Carolyn Marie Souaid is a poet living in Montreal. She is currently working toward a
Master's Degree in Creative Writing at Concordia University. Her work has appeared in
several Canadian periodicals.
Patricia Young's most recent book is More Watery Still (Anansi, 1993). She recently won
the League of Canadian Poets 1993 National Poetry Contest.
88 Creative Writing M.F.A.
The University of British Columbia offers a Master
of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing. Students
choose three genres to work in from a wide range of
courses, including: Poetry. Novel/Novella, Short
Fiction, Stage Plavs, <s. Screen & TV Plays, Radio
format or tutorial.   «i^-^^^ The thesis con
sists of imaginative writing. The Department of Creative Writing also offers a Diploma Programme in
Applied Creative Non-Fiction.
Faculty: Sue Ann Alderson
Hart Hanson
George McWhirter
Keith Maillard
Jerry Newman
Linda Svendsen
Bryan Wade
For further information, please write
Department of Creative Writing
University of British Columbia
Buchanan E462 - 1866 Main Mall
Vancouver, B.C. V6T IZl A Quarterly Magazine
of Contemporary Writing
Since 1952 Quarry has been publishing new, innovative
poetry and fiction by young, emerging Canadian authors.
Committed to discovering new talent, Quarry has published,
in the 1960s, such emerging writers as Margaret Atwood and
Michael Ondaatje; in the 1970s, Susan Musgrave and Leon
Rooke; and in the 1980s, Roo Borson and Guy Vanderhaeghe.
Discover with us tomorrow's
best known Canadian writers.
Rates: $20.33/yr. individuals; $34-24/yr institutions, GST included.
Quarry Magazine
P.O. Box 1061, Kingston, Ontario K7L 4Y5 EPOCH
Painting, 'Monument with Kerbstones," 1991 by Camille Ward. Oil on paper 14" x 16"
Published three times per year. Sample copy $5.00. One year subscription $11.00.
Available from 251 Goldwin Smith Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853 .'.'S3 ;'  "■■  ..        . ■ ,.:■  i ■■ '   ■ ..,:    ,   ■ :■■[.:■■
.    i" i       C hipi ■        :>vua:'   ^V-'F^-klU^.:'.:; ^'::::Cnvi;vK:'-::.:'-. »ti Har vest Mtisuni < 'i!
Food for Thought
The Fiddlehead's Writing Contest for 1993
Poems and Stories about Food in any dimension:
$300 for best Poem
$300 for best Story
Recipes   (Non-competitive)
Old or invented; Fiddlehead recipes especially are encouraged.
(Efforts will be made to circulate the recipes to all who submit.)
Submissions: No longer than 10 pages per entry.
Deadline: December 15, 1993.
Judging: Blind; please type name on separate sheet.
No submissions previously published, or accepted
for publication, can be considered.
Entry fee: $16 per entry; includes a year's subscription to The
Please send a self-addressed envelope and Canadian
postage if you wish the manuscript returned.
Winners will be published in The Fiddlehead.
Send submissions to:
The Fiddlehead
Food for Thought
UNB PO Box 4400
Fredericton NB E3B 5A3'~::n.n,            '            -"W rtmn.pUm     - ..      .!» 0-..v. «<:    S.S? fc«. . !3 ?;;;;    -S!>    " 'I'.l,
I uMleix arts    I'ni, i|.|.l.-       hw  F i Salmon Juke Satice Roils Bologna I.ilh,^ PRISM
$2000 1st Prize
5 Prizes of $200
plus publication payment
Judge: to be announced
Deadline: December 1, 1993
For entry form and rules, please send
a SASE (outside Canada enclose SAE with IRC) to:
Fiction Contest
Prism international
Department of Creative Writing
University of British Columbia
Vancouver, B.C. V6T IZl


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