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 PRISM
international
FALL
$4.50
35:1
Contemporary writing from Canada and around the world  PRISM International
is pleased to congratulate
RICK MADDOCKS
author of
"Lessons from the Sputnik Diner"
which was chosen for the 1996 edition of
THE JOURNEY PRIZE ANTHOLOGY
Short Fiction from the Best of Canada's New Writers
and shortlisted for
THE JOURNEY PRIZE  PRISM.
international
Editor
Sara O'Leary
Executive Editor
Tim Mitchell
Fiction Editor
Rick Maddocks
Poetry Editor
Regina Weaver
Advisory Editors
Keith Maillard
George McWhirter
Business Manager
Shannon McFerran
Production Manager
Jennifer Herbison
Editorial Board
Colleen Anderson
Dorothy Bartoszewski
Kevin Chong
Shauna Fowler
Lee Hendersen
Paolo Javier
Jessica Johnson
Kevin Lee
Jean Lum
Jim O'Toole
Dawn Petten
Denise Ryan
Sarah Stacy 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
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E-mail address: prism@unixg.ubc.ca
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Contents Copyright © 1996 PRISM international for the authors.
Cover art by Janice Wong.
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Our gratitude to the Canada Council, Dean Patricia Marchak, and the Dean of
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We gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the Government of British
Columbia through the Ministry of Small Business, Tourism and Culture.
Publications Mail Registry No. 5496. October 1996 Contents
Vol.35, No. 7  Fall 1996
Drama
Joey Tremblay &
Jonathan Christenson
Elephant Wake  26
Fiction
Andrew Bryant
Michael Blaine
Christian Petersen
Faith Miller
Kevin Dooley
Michelle Berry
Dog in the Manger  7
White Castle, To Go  14
Fig Tree  48
For A Good While  62
Recognition  73
Did You Ever Hear Such A Tale
in Your Life?   75
Poetry
Cathal Bui Macgiolla Gunna
translated from the Irish
by Seamus Heaney
Bruce Taylor
Derk Wynand
Andrew Zawacki
Wooi-chin J-son
Duane Williams
Yellow Bittern  12
My Son  25
Courtyard  46
Lapidarian   60
Z.   61
Novena  72
Pigs Eat Rabbits  80
Contributors 82  Dog In The Manger
Andrew Bryant
For my grandfather, he is sick."
"Don't stop," Pablo said.
"He is sick. I will pay you."
Cline stopped.
"Come on," Pablo said.
"I will pay you."
Cline started walking, following Pablo.
"He is sick."
Through a doorway behind the man who was asking, faces in the shade
of a room. "He will die."
"So will you," Pablo said, turning but not stopping.
"Why would I?" Cline asked.
They were in the full sun briefly going up steps, then under awnings
and in shade again.
The man in the doorway was calling out to someone else, "You can
give blood, for my grandfather. He is sick."
"We could have made some money," Cline said.
"How much money have you got?"
"A little," he said.
'You'll be all right."
"Do you think so?"
"No."
They turned from the street into a tunnel.
"I can't see."
"Stop and get used to it," Pablo said.
"Can you see?"
"Perfectly."
"Sure."
Someone spoke, close by him, but Cline could not see the man and
did not understand what was said.
"Are you there?"
Something white went past his face, close, and he stepped back against
the wall.
"Are you there?" Something touched him.
"Pablo?"
The smell of cloves and nettles went past. Cline breathed it in, and
was glad for the moment that he could not see, because the smell was
better without sight.
"Pablo?"
"Yes."
"Can you see?"
"Look."
"Where?"
Along the tunnel faint daylight came down some stairs and figures
moved through the light.
"Let's go up for a coffee," Pablo said.
"I have to take lunch back for my wife."
"Give her time to make the bed."
They walked slowly along the tunnel and went up the stairs onto a
patio and sat at a table in the sun.
A waiter came to the table.
"Khawah," Pablo said.
The waiter left.
Over the flat white roofs and the dark facing walls, across the valley,
and behind the television antennas and wires, the sun reflected from the
windows of cars driving on a road bulldozed through a cemetery.
Cline looked down at his arms resting on the table. He was sweating,
even on the backs of his arms.
The waiter came, carrying a brass tray. He set two white china cups
on the table with a bowl of sugar cubes between them.
"Shukkran," Pablo said, and paid.
Pablo dropped a cube of sugar into his coffee.
"The stars are falling."
"Now?" Cline asked.
"They're always falling. Just because it's daylight for us doesn't mean
that they stop falling. You understand?"
'Yes."
"Some people don't."
There was no one else on the patio.
Inside the dark cafe indistinct figures at tables raised and lowered
small white blurs of cups.
"Only tourists like you sit outside in this heat," Pablo said.
"I'm not a tourist, and you're out here too."
"I'm only out here to keep you company, because you're afraid to go
inside."
'Tourists stay in hotels." "What does your wife want for lunch?"
"I don't know."
"I'll take you to a place on the way back and we can buy something."
"I don't have much money."
'You don't need it."
They sipped their coffee.
'Your wife likes living here," Pablo said.
'Yes."
"Most Westerners don't. Most of them hate it. They stay for a few
days, and then run for the bus. And when they get home they claim that
they lived here. They don't stay long enough to get brown, they only get
red, but they claim they lived here."
"Veronica said that as soon as she came in through the gates, as soon
as she was inside the walls, she felt at home."
"Like she'd lived here before?"
"Yes."
"Maybe she'll stay."
"Maybe."
"How about you?"
"If she stayed, I would stay."
"Would you?"
"Of course."
'You know marriage is not a pastime for jealous people."
"I didn't know that it was a pastime at all."
"It can be," Pablo said.
"I'm not jealous."
"Then why do you want to take her lunch? She can get her own lunch,
and if she won't, there's any number of young men in the Quarter who'll
do it for her."
Cline drank his coffee. Some of the black grains from the bottom of
the cup went into his mouth and he spat them back.
"Do you want another?"
"No."
"I'll pay."
"No, thanks."
Pablo finished his coffee slowly.
They got up from the table and went down the stairs and into the
tunnel. They walked slowly, touching people that they could not see.
Someone shouted at them, and Pablo laughed.
They turned out into a narrow street. A line of blue sky was far away
above the awnings and the balconies.
Pablo went in under a stone arch, and Cline followed him into a room
with a dirt floor and no windows. One lightbulb burned in the ceiling, and fires burned in a line of ovens along a wall. The air was thick and hot.
A man worked at the ovens, sliding small flat trays of seed around
with a black oar.
"Does your wife like sesame?" Pablo asked.
"I don't know."
The man poured seed from a sack into a drum turned slowly by a
small electric motor. From a spigot at the base of the drum a line of gold
oil ran into a pail. When the pail was nearly full the man turned the spigot
off and carried the pail to a table. He poured some of the oil into a bowl,
added seed from one of the ovens, and stirred with a wooden spoon. He
added more oil and more seed and stirred again, and when it was right
he sliced pieces of the mix from the bowl with a knife and shaped them
into loaves. He put the loaves on wire racks to cool and set. There was a
line of cooling loaves across the table.
Pablo pointed to one of the loaves, and the man wrapped it in oiled
paper.
Pablo paid.
The man went back to the ovens, sliding trays around, and turning the
seed.
They went out and walked down the street.
"Do you like the smell in there?" Pablo said.
"Yes."
'You know all you really need is sesame, carrots, and honey. No one
needs anything else."
"What about drink?"
'Water."
"Coffee?"
"That's a luxury."
They turned into the alley where Cline and his wife had a room.
"I'll pay you for the lunch," Cline said.
"No."
Behind them, the unshod hoof-falls of a donkey, and wooden wheels
turning on the stones.
"I saved your life today," Pablo said.
"Did you?"
'Yes."
"When?"
"When you thought about selling blood to the man with the sick grandfather."
"How did you save me?"
'There is no sick grandfather. About once a month a body as white as
a white tourist can get washed up on a beach, drained of blood."
"I see."
10 "Do you?"
They stopped outside the black steel door in the stone wall. Pablo
unwrapped the loaf, broke it in half, and tore the paper in half. He re-
wrapped the halves and gave one to Cline.
"If you're not a jealous man, you can live here very cheaply," Pablo
said.
"I don't know if I am."
Pablo opened the door and went inside.
Cline did not follow him.
Pablo turned in the doorway and said, "Do you know what you'll remember about today?"
"No."
"You'll remember the smell of the sesame grinder's room. You'll remember the sick grandfather, and you'll remember the stars falling in
daylight. That's all."
11 Cathal Bui Macgiolla Gunna
translated from the Irish by Seamus Heaney
The Yellow Bittern
Yellow bittern, I'm sad it's over.
Your bones are frozen and all caved in.
It wasn't hunger but steady thirsting
That left you foundered on the shore.
What odds is it now about Troy's destruction
With you on the flagstones upside down,
Who never injured or hurt a creature
And preferred bog-water to any wine.
Bittern, bittern, your end was awful,
Your perished skull there on the road,
You that would call me every morning
With your gargler's song as you guzzled mud.
And that's what's ahead of your brother Cahal
(You know what they say about me and the stuff),
But they've got it wrong, and the truth is simple:
A drop would have saved that croaker's life.
I am saddened, bittern, and broken-hearted
To find you in scrags in the rushy tufts
And the big rats scampering down the ratpaths
To wake your carcass and have their fun.
If you could have got word to me in time, bird,
That you were in trouble and craved a sup,
I'd have struck the fetters off those lough waters
And have wet your thrapple with the blow I struck.
12 Your common birds do not concern me,
The blackbird, say, or the thrush or heron,
But the yellow bittern, my heartsome namesake
With my looks and locks, he's the one I mourn.
Constantly he was drinking, drinking,
And by all accounts I am just the same,
But every drop I get I'll down it
For fear I might get my end from drouth.
The woman I love says to give it up now
Or else I'll go to an early grave,
But I say no and keep resisting
For taking drink's what prolongs your days.
You saw for yourselves a while ago
What happened to the bird when its throat went dry;
So, my friends and neighbours, let it flow:
You'll be stood no rounds in eternity.
13 White Castle, To Go
Michael Blaine
" 11    I e's down there again," Carla says, peering out the loft window.
I    I "He's looking for another handout."
JL JL"Whatta you expect me to do? Lotsa people live in their cars."
What I'm trying to do is get over a hangover without a drop of Bustelo in
the house, not fix my brother Wally's life. "How come there's no coffee?"
"He's your brother. And don't blame it on Reagan. Wally'd be living in
his car even if everybody else had a job." Backlit in the ten-foot window,
Carla looks frail in her strapped t-shirt, her shower of dry blonde hair.
Her voice is soft, but she's intransigent. "Make him go away, Stan. He's
been there for days. Did you mention AA?"
'Yeah," I lie. AA. A job. A shrink. A girlfriend. We've been planning all
of these wonders for Wally, but I can't quite bring up the subject with
him. Cotton-mouthed, I haul myself off the rickety kitchen chair and
plunge down the pitch-dark staircase. The landlord, some giant management company, is saving on light bulbs.
Mercifully, Vito's Italian Deli stands ten feet from my front door. I
order two double espressos which Pete serves in paper cups emblazoned
with the red, green and white Italian flag, plus four dusty doughnuts, the
healthier type. Arranging this fare on the hood of Wally's pus-green
Plymouth Fury, I peer through the windshield. Wally is sleeping it off
sitting up in the back, his legs draped over the front seats. Over his long
face he's pulled down an oversized butcherboy cap. Only his fleshy nose
and prognathous jaw protrude.
Pizza boxes and modeling magazines line the Fury's floor; pages of
sheet music lie mixed with mysteries like The Livid Lemon Sky.
It takes several sharp raps on the autoglass to stir him. Finally, he
rolls down the window. The fresh aroma of Blarney Stone at dawn wafts
out. "I oughta clean this place up," he says, joining me on the hood.
"Remodel. I was thinking of doing some landscaping, too," he adds with
a sweep of his hand suggesting rolling lawns, banks of wood lilies.
I know it's time to give him the speech about AA and the shrink, but
he's got me laughing already. After knocking off the coffee, Wally reaches
into the passenger side of the Fury and produces a warm, tall Ballantine
Pale Ale. "Ahhh, alcohol spells relief."
14 What am I supposed to say? I'm not exactly the Christ Kid myself.
"Gimme one of those Kools."The taste of mentholated spring sears my
lungs. I'm still alive.
Balancing the Ballantine on the Plymouth's roof, he burrows into the
back seat and pulls out his acoustic guitar, actually a very decent Gibson.
"Listen to this change."
The trench coats and briefcases are marching past now on their way
to the phone company, the Federal Building on Church Street, City Hall.
Taking another quick slug, Wally launches into his anthem, "What to
Do?" His eyes are slits, the spit is flying, he's banging time on the guitar
body while the trench coats make conspicuous detours. In Philly we used
to introduce him to audiences as "Jersey City's gift to the Blues." And he
still is.
When the early snows hit the city, it's time. Even with the army blankets
I've given him, Wally is getting chilly in the back seat. Carla's taking a
hard line, too. She says he's got to fend for himself, it's the best thing.
That gets me off the hook. I can blame her.
"And it's an issue in our relationship," she adds.
'Talk that way some more. It gives me a hard-on."
She laughs but doesn't let up. "He's invading my life. No, it's worse
than that, he's seeping in, before you know it you're surrounded by him.
He's a big, Polish amoeba. I mean it, really. It's him or me."
Actually, I think she's been taking too many psych electives. "Don't
forget, the old lady's shanty Irish."
After scraping a sheen of ice off Wally's windshield with an old metal
spatula, I get in on the driver's side. It's like entering the beating heart of
Anheiser Busch and Co.
"Wake up, Wally. I'm taking you to the old lady's. C'mon in the front. I
gotVitofood."
Still wrapped in his blanket, he hauls himself out onto the sidewalk
and wordlessly takes the seat beside me. All the way down Varrick and
through the Holland Tunnel, he maintains a serene silence, but when we
start bouncing up Tunnely Avenue, he speaks.
"Stop over there at the White Castle on Kennedy Boulevard. I'm feeling
a mite peckish." This venerable Castle, circa 1951, is just around the
corner from the old lady's Liberty Avenue apartment.
You would think a man in Wally's position might express some minor
note of disillusionment. But once inside the White Castle he doesn't even
refer to the fact that he's being deposited, at age thirty-two, at his mother's
three-room railroad flat. Not to speak of the fact that the old lady is barely
scraping by off her Social Security and a few bucks from the First Marine
Division in memory of the old man's Guadalcanal malaria.
15 Wally has made a careful study of this fading burger emporium. "I was
reading this article the other day on the history of the White Castle," he
explains, biting into a square, nine-a.m. burger dripping with onions. The
tang of ammonia and second-rate urinated cow meat sets off a wave of
nausea I fight off by sticking my nose in chicory-laced coffee.
A pair of Meinecke Muffler guys in their monkey suits occupy stools
at the other end of the tin counter. A colourless white guy in a wind-
breaker—I always think of the type as Jersey City white—stirs his third
cup of mud.
"Where'd you read that?"
"I dunno. Some article in this fan magazine about diners. It was about
the history of fast food. Anyway, these Castles were built to last ten years,
but turns out this porcelain enamel cladding lasts forever. They perfected
their proportions with the oversized windows and the big graphics, and
you don't realize the ceiling's only nine foot."
"Did you check out that paste-up class? All you need to know is the
basics, and I can get you into Timetables." I've had a temporary job at
Timetables, Inc. for a year and a half now, as well as teaching the sculpture
class at Corona Community College. Wake me up in the middle of the
night, and I can insert a six-point disclaimer into an Amtrak schedule in
a flash. It should be perfect for Wally considering his obsession with
miniature railroad trestles, miniature doll houses, miniature battlefields.
But he's not in the mood to think about his career. Sucking hard on a
Kool, he goes on. "It's actually a neat optical illusion. You look at me
when I stand up in here," he says, raising his six-foot-two-inch bulk from
the stool, "and you would think I was a lot smaller. Now figure I've got
some huge 250-point Poster-Bodoni type behind my head that says, 'Buy
a Bagful!' It's a perceptual thing."
Contrary to his assertion, he seems to fill the cramped diner. He's got
a cascade of chins now, a gut that spills over his belt. I think he's been
wearing the same black pullover and fatigue pants for months.
"A shaggy thing's more like it. You've got to think about your wardrobe,
Wally."
"Let's break it to the old lady," he says.
It turns out Timetables, Inc. is perfect for Wally. In a month he can hold
a single period on the tip of a matte knife while carrying on a conversation with his deskmate, Abdul, the whirling dervish from Detroit. He's
also struck up a friendship with Richard, a ghostly Brit whose woes are
so private he seems normal, and a punk rocker named Al with an interest
in extruding trolls. I'm just marking time, waiting to get a new gallery.
There was a time in the early eighties when I was fighting them off. I
was doing a conceptual thing with string: giant cats' cradles. I even showed
16 in Birmingham, England, and my gallery paid part of the travel expenses.
Then there were the state arts grants, the article in New York Magazine,
getting a little dog-eared now, that listed me as one of the "99 Hottest."
Anyway, Carla's given up painting—she says she's tired of meaningless
gestures—and she'll have her MSW soon. Then I can blow off Timetables
the day she graduates.
She has an ironclad maxim: "Pain during the day, pleasure at night.
That's where you come in, hot pants."
"Vinyl hot pants to you."
We're close, we can't live without each other, but it's hard to explain.
Sometimes she gets so exasperated with me, she threatens to leave. "I
don't know, when we're out with Mona and Barry, you're this big
extrovert, but when we're at home you're just...you're just...."
I try to help. "Morose?"
'Yeah, that's it. Morose."
It feels good to see things in the same way.
Now that he has disposable income, Wally disposes of it as fast as he
can, buying full-priced, newly-released videos, a wristwatch that turns
into a miniature robot, an answering machine he never plugs in, a
combination radio-cof feemaker that he sets for Sports Talk, a telescoping,
space-age walking stick, a tent that can fit in his wallet. (He's planning to
take a hike, but so far he's only bought a hiking video.)
The old lady, a real Irish coffin fly, sits there sipping blush vino from a
coffee cup and reading him the obits from The Jersey Journal while he
ignores her, stoking himself with Bustelo and practicing impossible Joe
Pass solos for hours.
Then he starts shopping in earnest. The old lady is hauling groceries
up the three flights of stairs for him, good steaks and butterfly shrimp
and his favorite Chinese sauces, and doing his laundry, too, while he's
stocking up on two tvs, an extra toaster oven, exotic model kits from
Europe and Japan that he stacks on newly installed metal shelves. Every
once in a while he puts together a vintage French fire truck, or a '40s
Mercedes lorry, pulling all-nighters hunched over the coffee table in the
living room. He buys every modeling magazine in print: military modeling, railroad modeling, miniaturist broadsheets with circulations of two
hundred. In his black John's Bargain Store windbreaker and his terrorist
fatigues, he pores over scale model Louis IV furniture at the Tiny
Dollhouse in midtown, and obscure plastic jewelry fittings in the West
20s that he turns into tiny howitzers and pill boxes.
Wally has a genius for weathering surfaces, burning and melting plastic
parts, creating landscapes of shrubbery, litter and ruin scaled one half
inch to one foot. For days on end he'll get lost in his cave recreating
17 Napoleon's retreat from Moscow or Pickett's blood-curdling charge, the
dioramas materializing with painful slowness on the coffee table beside
the couch where he sleeps in a shroud of Kool smoke, his three-inch
bedside tv whispering all night.
Over time I rag Wally into giving up the military kits. Sometimes he
comes into Manhattan to regale me with the history of special glues and
custom-made gunk he's layering on plastic walls. Sometimes, to avoid
the old lady, we meet at the White Castle. Nowadays the clientele has
changed. A few spats between the local Dotheads, an East Indian gang,
and their rivals, the Blood Monkeys, a white motorcycle fraternity, has
left a spattering of shrapnel scars right around the deep fryer, and
pockmarks from automatic fire of various calibres behind the pie case.
Gun-shy, the help now serves burgers behind bulletproof glass, through
a slot, like money in a cheque-cashing establishment.
As we stand before the thick glass waiting for our burgers, Wally's eye
roams. "You see that rag in the dishwater. I know a resin that could
reproduce that grease that's lying on the surface, you see it? All these
kitmakers, everything they make is too fucking clean, they're not in the
real world."
I let this pass. When we sit down he whips out a new issue of The
Nutshell News, pointing me to a profile of a woman named Norma Gluck.
"I met her at a convention. If you want to make a decent-looking diner,
she makes the best miniature lunch meats. Even olive loaf. You can slice
it!"
Grey hair is sprouting from Wally's ears these days, and overall his
hound's face is loosening and gathering more folds, but he's ebullient.
"Look at the depressions in these stools, hundreds, thousands of asses
have sat on them! See the way the plastic's dried and cracked, that one's
got duct tape on it? Or how 'bout this relish jar?" He picks up the deco
vessel and lifts its lid. "Calcified. That shit's been in there since 1942.
You've got to show that! Look at the way that fluorescent is flickering, it's
almost shot. Look at this counter, it sucks up the light, can't reflect anymore. All these hobbyists want to do is make sterile shit. But just look at
things!"
Until now he's never talked so passionately about his craft. Usually, he
speaks carefully, disguising his underbite. But now the words pour out
of him, his small, blue eyes otherworldly, wild. And I understand that
this battered, skeevy shithole of a White Castle is Wally's private universe.
"Why don't you do this joint? A diorama, forced perspective. No, how
about a three-hundred-sixty-degree job? Do a piece of the parking lot
with all the broken glass and rubble you like."
"Maybe I should...." "Why not? The rest of your life's fucking worthless."
"Thanks, bro." Contemplating the sweet undertow of decay, Wally falls
quiet, lost in White Castle dreams.
A few months later Wally calls us in the middle of the night. 'The old
lady, something's wrong with her."
"So take her to a doctor. You're living with her."
'Yeah, but she can't move.... She's got a really bad fever...."
"Wally, get a phone book and call an ambulance." Along silence. "Wally,
talk to me, what's going on?"
"I don't know where her papers are, the insurance and shit."
By now Carla is stark raving awake, reading the conversation from
my side. Ripping the phone from my hands, she issues a series of orders
in a calm, firm way, making Wally write everything down. Then we race
to the PATH train to meet him at Mary Hague Memorial hospital, a huge
pile of masonry erected by the former Jersey City potentate, Mayor
Hague, in honor of his dearly departed mother and kickbacks on stone,
cement, plumbing, wiring and terra cotta tiles.
Half of the gigantic neo-classical building has been shut down to save
on utilities. Vast wards are dotted here and there with patients in white
iron beds; our heels echo in the high vaulted hallways. Finally, we find
Wally and the old lady. She's being examined by an Indian doctor behind
a tattered, almost transparent screen.
'You say you do not drink alcohol, Mrs. Gombrovicz?" His piping
diction is clipped, penetrating.
"No, doctor. Hardly any," she whispers in her imitation of the lace,
curtain lady she's certain she is.
"Then why is your liver twice its normal size, Mrs. Gombrovicz? Why?
You have very bad pneumonia, you know? Water in the lungs," he adds.
"Maybe it was something I et, doctor," she suggests.
Later, cranked up in her Mary Hague Hospital bed, she reviews her
treatment. "I think these coloured doctors, they're not very polite. I mean
the questions they ask, dear Lord."
I'm just trying to do my duty. To be honest, I don't feel the faintest
connection to this strange, bloated woman in the bed. "You gotta get off
the sauce, mom. That's what he's telling you."
Wally stands on the other side of the bed, twisting his butcherboy cap
in his hands. "That's what I've been telling her the whole year. Shit's
gonna kill her."
"The suds king? You're preaching to her?"
"Oh, Wally stopped drinking months ago. Doesn't take a drop," she
says proudly, as if he's just fulfilled all her dreams and donned the cassock.
'Yeah, I thought I was Ray Milland. I wanted to sell my typewriter, but
19 then I found out I didn't have one."
Fucking Wally, he can always make me laugh.
"He says he wants to give up the cigarettes, but they're such an addiction. It's terrible," the old lady says. She puckers her ruined mouth in
Puritan disgust. All three of us start laughing now, then the old lady, too,
but you can tell from her vague, blue eyes that she doesn't know why. I'm
related to this woman in the bed, to this recluse of a brother with the face
of a Bruegel peasant. Surreal.
"I can't stand it, we've got to separate them," Carla insists over supper.
All I want to do is keep listening to the Met game. Doug Sisk is wild
again. "When did we dump him there, when did we leave the loft on
Thomas Street?"
"Sisk sucks," I respond. Who knows how long? Who wants to know?
'Ten years, he's been living with your mother for ten years! Maybe
you can ignore it, but I can't. I don't want to have to keep going over
there to clean up the next horror show. We can find your mother decent
housing, God knows she can qualify for every kind of assistance, then
help Wally get an apartment."
"Let him rot," I suggest.
But Carla is implacable, and I know she's right. Despite my real
instincts, she makes me do good works.
One day Wally and I are in the White Castle, going over his sketches
for the free-standing model he's been dreaming up for a year. As usual,
he's trying to cram too much into a small space, adding a tenement wall
behind the Castle, and the doorway to a Chinese restaurant. "I can use
these chaser lights around the Hong Kong Gardens' sign," he explains
avidly.
"So, you check out The Journal for apartments like you promised?"
'Yeah...they're expensive now... Lookitthis," he says, producing a pinkie-nail-sized French fryer from his pocket. "Nice, huh?"
That's when I lose it. "You fat fuck! How much longer you think you
can sponge off the old lady? She's seventy-two years old for godsakes!
She just almost croaked on the kitchen floor in case you don't remember."
"I know it's immature, you don't think I've analyzed it?" He sticks his
soft doorknob of a jaw out defiantly. "The way I start spending money.
But I don't have anybody to come home to...."
"So stop stuffing your face. Go into therapy. You think you'll be the
first one? Maybe you'll take up women again some day."
Secretly, during the last number of years, I've been afraid that Wally
has some intractable sexual problem. What are you supposed to say to
your own brother?
"Actually, I've been dating somebody."
20 I'm floored. "Who? Who're you seeing?"
He fixes his stocking cap squarely on his forehead. 'You remember
that woman, Sylvia, the Indian woman, Sylvia Patel. I introduced you to
her at the Timetable party."
Vaguely I recall a wispy figure with the body of a twelve-year-old and
owlish glasses. Like the other over-educated exotics who wash up on the
Timetable, Inc. shore, Sylvia, a devotee of Naipaul, told me she was just
passing through that great grey world of numbers on newsprint.
"The little tiny woman?" I blurt.
But Wally seems to revel in the incongruity. 'Yeah, she says to me the
other day she's down near Church Street where the wind comes whipping
off the river, and she says she got lifted off the ground. Wind picked her
right up."
And I can see her, too, eighty-nine-pound Sylvia, her sari over jeans,
her hair in a braid, sailing between the Twin Towers. It's all too Wallyesque
for me. "So why not get your own place now? Carla and I have a few extra
bucks, we'll help you out." The extra money is the whitest of lies.
"Yeah, but the rents...."
"What're you going to do, bring Sylvia up to that rattrap and have tea
with the old lady? Don't you need a place to take the woman?"
"We go to her place," he says sullenly.
But he does let us help him find a two-room suite on Maxine Avenue
only ten blocks from the old lady's. Then I go into a frenzy. I get a copy of
The Jersey Journal, scope out the cheap furniture ads and practically drag
his carcass to Sam the Sham's Unpainted off Route Three in some
industrial netherworld populated by chemical factories, machine tool
works and motels that charge by the hour. On my credit card—Wally
begs off, saying he hasn't been paid yet—I place one scotch-plaid pull-
out sofa and a Formica dinette set with four spindly chairs, a pole lamp
and an unpainted four-drawer dresser just right for a cub scout. (Wally
doesn't have any clothes anyway.)
"Now," I say to Carla, "I'm taking a vow. No thinking about Wally, no
discussing Wally, no Wally, no way."
"You may have to take the veil," Carla replies.
By now things are getting a little rough for me. For years I've had my
part-time gig at Corona Community, but Governor Taki's budget makes
a particular point of taking my livelihood away. The thoughts of putting
together my paste-up kit again and haunting the likes of Timetable, Inc.
are horrifying. Anyway, I don't know Quark from quack. I hate moving
hair-thin lines around on blinding video screens. Luckily, whole families
of women and children are living under the Brooklyn Bridge and beneath
the Long Island City stretch of the BQE thanks to the new governor, so
21 Carla's getting a promotion. Now she's running a whole shelter.
I haven't been able to get a gallery for years, since String Art went out
of fashion. I've even broken down and tried Bad Painting, but I'm never
quite bad enough; they tell me my craft is too high and my color sense
lacks a vital, vulgar edge. I find myself groping blindly, my heart into
nothing else but the next New Thing, and when you get into that state of
mind you're always at least six months behind the curve. Every line you
draw, every gesture you make seems absurd, a product of second guessing the gallery clones, the market, yourself. You remember you were an
artist who believed in an idea, but you can't believe you believed it now.
Every book you read, every movie you see, every new acquaintance you
make seems to be infected with a creeping banality. I'm in the wilderness.
Even then I'm worrying about whether or not Wally has left his apartment lately—he once stayed inside for two solid months working on dioramas of trench warfare—but I understand that I have to put him out of
my mind. The problem is that I've been taking care of him since my
mother fed him too many soft doughnuts in his crib and his teeth fell out
like Chiclets.
"I think we should try living apart," Carla tells me out of the blue.
'You're kidding, right?"
"Don't make this harder than it is, Stan," she says, her voice shaking.
I feel guilty, but with half an ear I'm trying to catch the end of Mookie
Wilson's at-bat. 'You're stuck, you're not going anyplace, and I think you
need time to think about what you're doing. Not doing."
Carla is a round-cheeked, stocky woman now, substantial in every way.
Even more than a little officious. But she starts crying anyway.
"Can't we talk about this?"
"I've been trying to for the last five years." She dabs her eye. "Look,
I'm not saying we shouldn't see each other, but I've got an apartment
over on Greenwich Street. I'll get you the number."
Turns out she's already packed and the cab's at the door. Wilson strikes
out.
Meanwhile, Wally lies low. For some disconnected reason, I leave him
a message on his machine about Carla and me. I'm telling an answering
machine my wife left me. Of course I get no reply, so I duck into the
PATH and head for Maxine Avenue.
On the second landing, not far from Wally's door, a man lies face down,
spread-eagled on the faded linoleum. The building smells of dust,
ammonia and bug spray, but soaked to the gills, this tenant adds his own
piquant aroma. As he's breathing softly, a sure sign of life, I step over
him and let myself into Wally's place. Taped with layers of newspaper,
22 the windows are completely sealed. The plaid couch is still in its plastic
wrapping. The dinette table, the chairs, the lamps, the curtains are all
sheathed in pure, Jersey-City dust. In the cabinets over the stove, the
pots and pans we gave him sit undisturbed. Unlocked, the refrigerator
door swings open to the touch, revealing a single can of Tab. Afew of my
old shirts, still in their tapes from the Chinese laundry, are stacked in
drawers, grey and stiff with a fine grit. Inside the medicine cabinet, the
over-the-counter condiments, when lifted, reveal white templates of themselves on the shelf: the toothpaste a rocket shape; the aspirin bottle a
white cylinder; the deodorant a white moon.
The single new addition is a bank of metal shelves like the one he
installed at the old lady's. This one contains a series of boxes wrapped
meticulously in black plastic, and stacked with care. Even though I know
Wally is the least likely person to come through the door, my heart starts
racing. It's as if I'm committing some primal violation, but I can't help
myself. I pick up one of the boxes and begin unwrapping. It contains a
White Castle I've never seen before, an early, boxy structure from about
1929, the kind that was always located near an auto plant to capture the
UAW trade. Surprisingly, this one has a neon sign, and goose-necked
lamps over the plateglass window and the doorway. After running an
extension cord to the dinette table, I plug the Castle in, fiber optic wire
flashing in place of neon, the miniature goose necks flooding the enameled exterior walls with brilliant light, illuminating the window sticker
that offers perennial items.
Hot Drinks
Coffee
Chocolate
Beef Bullion
5C
Now I understand the advantage of the apartment's blacked-out windows. Dousing the single overhead bulb, I can see the interior of the
White Castle perfectly, its austere design clearly visible when I crouch
and peer through the oversized front window. Inside, the eight stools
reveal the diner's vintage, the early Great Depression. As Wally has taught
me, in those years the White Castles served everything on napkins. Fittingly, a single two-inch square burger sits abandoned at the counter. If I
squint, I can see the forlorn patty oozing juice onto its paper plate. This
White Castle has the look of a ferociously cleaned, but faintly seedy institution.
A sign behind the counter says Ladies Invited. On the cash register a
23 small white paper hat, crenelated like a medieval bastion, balances precariously, as if the waitress has just departed. There are no figures, only
this suggestion of motion. The more you look, the more you see. A malted
milk machine. A miniature toaster. A deep fryer. Grill. Stainless steel
coffee urn. A pie case, pie crusts split to reveal apple and cherry varieties. Shelves of creamy cakes and doughnuts. Signs: Cheese Sandwich,
Fruit Cocktail, Hamburgers 5C.
Especially because of the absence of figures, I can sense the moody,
tired men that pass through, mechanically cramming in whole bagfuls:
four, eight, a dozen burgers soaked with so much ketchup the paper bag
turns bloody. Easy nostalgia and loss mix in the diorama's interior, and I
don't really care if it's art or not. I can't stop looking. I have to open the
others, there's no way I'm going to stop now. I'm stunned at how many
boxes are stacked on the shelves.
And they're not mere re-creations from photographs. Each Castle is
in a different setting: a corner next to a bank; in mid-block beside a
shoemaker's; on a blasted stretch of asphalt in a neighborhood of abandoned tenements. I look into diners whose kitchens are visible through
half-open doors in their depths. I look through a side window at a Chevy
with a running board. Next door there is a bar with a show of exotic
dancers; above, a billboard advertising a William Bendix extravaganza.
Street lamps, telephone wires, traffic signals, and hydrants in the foregrounds imply live streetscapes.
Wally has recreated the entire world of the White Castle.
Then the key turns in the lock. I feel as if I'm caught in one of those
dreams where I go to work in a blue pin-striped shirt but forget my pants.
No one notices for a while, but I'm in terror that somebody might look
down at any second and see my knobby knees, my hairy, ostrich legs,
my stained jockey shorts. Quickly, I arrange my face. Who else could it
be but Wally?
Then Sylvia Patel sails into the room, floating in Wally's arms, they're
both laughing and hooting so hard they don't even notice me. The
diminutive Sylvia in a tweed suit kicks her stockinged legs, her black
pumps teetering on the tips of her dark toes.
"Oh, put me down, you wild man!' she shouts affectionately.
'You never moved in!"
Wally buries his face in her neck, a neck so slender he could enfold it
with his hand. Then he looks up at me and shrugs, 'Yeah, they're stuffing these Peruvians in upstairs by the carload. And they got all the whistles
and bells. Drums."
His answer seems perfectly reasonable to me. Why haven't I been
able to understand all these years? Then the strangest thought seizes
me: I can't remember my own life.
24 Bruce Taylor
My Son
How much death in this small fist?
How much in twelve weeks of the summer,
in the black star-map of his footprint
pinned to the wall over my desk?
Fourteen pounds: I have a bag of rice
heavier than that.
Yesterday he fell, or I dropped him
three steps down to a slab of concrete.
I examined him well, he was still closed
and perfect all over,
not open at all. Nothing was different
but still I saw it,
how much death there was,
how all of it poured out, a cloud of moths
hiding the light.
25 Elephant Wake
Joey Tremblay & Jonathan Ghristenson
There are two boxes in the upstage right and upstage left corners. There
is a ladder behind each one, invisible to the audience. Stage right is a
pile of flour bags. Stage left is a neatly organised pile of various objects
and boxes. Everything on stage, other than the flour bags, is covered in
papier mdche.
Jean Claude is behind the stage right box, hidden from the audience. He
makes a loud elephant trumpet and appears on top of the ladder. He is
wearing an elephant nose.
You know a long, long time ago. Before uh.. .well I don't know what before. But you know before Jesus and Noah and all that there. Well, you
know, before even the Bible and all that. Well you know what I mean,
that long ago there, it's that elephants, they could fly. And I don't mean
like a cartoon, like Dumbo or something stupid like that, eh? Not fly like
with their ears, you know, like this, but they could float, like a balloon,
like this. And I'm not shitting you, this is true. And I believe this because
I read this in a book. You might laugh and think I'm some kind of crazy.
But I believe that as much as I believe that Jesus could walk on water, or
make water like wine, or even rise up from the dead. So maybe I'm crazy,
but there you go.
Removes the elephant nose. He makes the noise of a car passing by.
When I lie in the ditch sometimes a car might go by.... They don't see
me. I hide in the long grass in the ditch. I watch them go by, and the dust
it flies like a big black cloud there all over the place and me I feel like I'm
not on the ground no more.
I'm in the sky floating like the elephants a long time ago.
He makes the elephant trumpet and slowly disappears from view. He
reappears on the ground in front of the boxes.
26 My name, did you know, is Jean Claude. A lot of guys, they call me J.C.
The ones from Welby, they call me that. I don't mind J.C. that's okay,
eh? But sometime when they joke there—or bug me to be so funny—
do you know what they call me? Do you know what they say? Never
mind. That's what.
All my cousins, my uncles, my aunts there, do you know what they call
me? They call me Choux Gras. The Weed. It was Pepere gave me that
name. He told me, 'You are just like a choux gras beside the road. Nobody wants you in the garden, they always pull you out, but when they
see you growing in the ditch they all say, Yoyons. C'est beau 9a'," that's
beautiful. So that's why they all call me that.
He places a potted weed downstage centre.
Did you know, me, I'm the son of the twelve of two twelves. Don't call
me twelve pack.
He picks up a case of 24 beer bottles, all papier mdched. During the
following he sets down one bottle for each member of the family, creating
a line along the down stage edge.
Mon oncle Ellis—Ma tante Lucille—Ma tante Marianne—Mon oncle
Joseph—Yves—Yvette—Claude—Claudette—Bernard—Bernadette—
Paulemille—Marthe.. .that's my Memere. She was only 4'10" but when
she wore her big shoe she was 4' 12".
Ma tante Colombe—Ma tante Florida—Ma tante Rosaline—Ma tante
Maria—Therese—Sylvia—Jean—Giselle—Juliette—Jacqueline—
Jacinthe—Leo...that's my Pepere. He met my Memere at a dance and
they got married in the Ste. Vierge church.
Before they got married, Pere Champagne, he looked them in the eye
and he told them, "Don't forget: French people should have lots of kids
so that Ste. Vierge will grow and grow."
So that's what they did.
He picks up a 12-pack.
Manon—Sarah—Christine—Pierrot—Marcel—Nathalie—Louise—
Michelle—Hugo—Phillipe—Yvonne—Jeanne...that's my mother.
27 Twelve. Twelve. Twelve.
Throughout the following he sets up the town with boxes, all covered in
papier mdche.
When I was little there was a lot of people in Ste. Vierge. Well I don't
mean a lot there like in Welby But there was enough kids for a fucking
school. Most of them were my cousins. But some of them they weren't.
I'll tell you something. A long time ago there, before I was born, when
Memere was a kid.. .Ste. Vierge used to be a big place. There was even
somewhere to buy grocery and never mind that there was even a cafe.
That's fucking true. A cafe in Ste. Vierge. Ayoi! They don't have to walk
to town to get an 'amburger deluxe.
Memere always tell me there is no time to cry. There is no time to act
sad. If you're sad you are being lazy. "II faut etre fort. II faut travailler
fort. Lave la vasaille. Lave le plancher. Travaille. Travaille. Travaille."
Now I will tell to you "The Story of How Ste. Vierge Got Its Name."
He does the following in a mock Gregorian chant.
Je suis Pere Champagne. Je suis Pere Champagne.
Notre Pere qui est aux cieux. Capri. Caproo. Capri. Caproo. Je suis Pere
Champagne and I come from France. France. France. A long time ago
when I was so small, la Ste. Vierge she came to me. She came to me in a
pile of rocks, and I fall on my knee. Je vous salut Marie pleine de grace.
And la Ste. Vierge, she tell me,
"Get up. Get up and go. Go. Go far away to Canada." So off I go, go, go.
And I travel far, far, far. And the winter is cold. And the mosquito they
bite. And I don't have a place to sleep at night. And when I get here to
this pile of rock the Ste. Vierge she come back to me. "Build your church
here. And the people will come." So I build and I build all by myself a
church with the cross so high to the sky. And I call this place...Ste.
Vierge.
He places a statue of the Virgin where the church would be.
It was Memere told me that. That's why I know it's true.
Now I will tell to you "The Story of Welby."
28 Once there was a stupid English man, and he had a skinny wife, and his
name was Mr. and Mrs. Welby. And one day Mr. Welby he say to Mrs.
Welby, "Oh my dear lady, why don't we go for a ride across the West in
our nice horse and buggy?"
He picks up a rusted bedpan.
And Mrs. Welby she say, "Oh my, yes, let's do it!" So off they go riding
across the prairie.
(Fart) "Oh Mrs. Welby, was that you?"
"No, it must have been a goose."
(Extended farts) "Oh, Mrs. Welby, I think we should stop for some tea."
"I think so too."
And so they drink their tea and eat their cookie just like the Queen. And
after they finish they ride off again.
But then they hit a stone and the wheel falls off.
"Oh my star! Oh my goodness! What can we ever do?"
"Good gosh! I don't really know about it. I guess we have to live here."
And so they make a town and they call it Welby.
He places the bedpan to indicate Welby.
And that my good friend is not a lie. That my friend is the stupid fucking
truth.
During the following he pulls out a newspaper 'road' that connects Welby
to Ste. Vierge.
You know why they call me a bastard? I'll tell you why. It's simple, they
call me that because I don't have a dad. I know you think everybody
must have one and I guess me too, I have one, but I don't know who he
is. I know that my dad he's not French. I know my dad is from town. I
know my dad, he fuck my mom and make her pregnant and then nobody talk about that. Everybody suppose to shut up and not talk about
29 that. But I still hear some things.
After they build the road from Welby, everybody in Ste. Vierge, you
know, they buy the car.. .they build the road, everybody want the car....
The people, they drive to town—because it's so fancy there. They have
their car, they have to drive their car to town. They have to shop in
town. They can't shop here. (Indicates Ste. Vierge) They can't get the
fancy thing they want here. They have to shop in town—the IGA, the
CO-OP, Macleod's. Eh? No one want to shop at home...So, it all close
down.. .the grocery store, it close down. The cafe, it close down. Everything. Kaput!
He makes car noises.
Now this road here. If you keep going that way there, you can get to the
highway that take you to the States. A lot of guy from Welby they drive
through here because it's a short cut to Minot, North Dakota and you
know they buy their beer and their smoke there because it's cheaper.
Car noises.
If you walk in the ditch you can find a lot of beer bottle. Me, I don't like
the mess, so I always pick them up. When I get enough I walk to town
and get the money. Usually I have enough to buy an 'amburger deluxe
and a Coke at the Chinaman.
When I was small 'tit Loup, that fucking Metis, him he like to play a joke.
So at night we hide in the ditch and when the car drive by we throw mud
and rock at the windows. "What the fuck was that? Jesus Christ." And
me and 'tit Loup we try so hard not to laugh. We hide in the long grass
and they never can find us.
I like to lie in the ditch at night and look at those stars, eh. Do you know
the dipper? The big one? Me, I can find it easy but I'll tell you what, I
don't think that's really such a dipper. To me, that's really an elephant.
Well, fuck, you just have to look and see. There is the head and that like
this is the trunk. That's not so hard.
Do you know an elephant, that's a big guy, eh? Everybody think if you're
a big guy, you make a lot of noise, you bump into stuff, you make a big
mess. But that's not true. The elephant, him, in the bush he walk so-o-o
quiet.
During the following he does an elephant walk through the bottles.
30 He move his leg like this.. .so careful.. .and his foot.. .his big round foot
there.. .it goes down so soft.. .like this here.. .it doesn't make a noise.. .it
doesn't break a branch...do you know how he does it? If you took his
foot and saw it inside you would see inside that big thing little toes pointing like this, like a ballet dancer. And those toes, they never get sore
because the shoe he's wearing is like a big pillow.
You didn't know 'bout that! A big, big guy like him walking in the bush
tiptoe really, really quiet.
You can hear some things when you pretend not to listen.... I heard a
secret. I heard that when I was born in Meniere's house in the bedroom in the back, there was no doctor, only my mom and Memere. It
was such a secret that not even the priest know about it. He was very
surprise when my Memere ask him to baptise a bebe with no mother
and with no father. Maybe she told him she found me in the garden.
Nobody ever told me nothing. When I walk in the room—Sshht! Ecoute!
If you listen you can hear some things they say and then you pretend
you didn't listen and they don't know.
I know that not too long after I am born, my mom, she move away, and
me, I live in the house with my Memere and Pepere.
I know that no one can never—never, never, never—say "Jeanne," the
name of my mom, when Memere is in the room.
I know that some of them—some of my tantes—they don't like me here.
Ma tante Yvonne, she say, "That's too much for Maman and Papa. They
had twelve of us to raise, they don't need another one. Who does she
think she is to leave her little bastard, her mess with that maudit anglais."
Maybe they don't talk about it. Maybe they don't want you in their houses
because they think you're a dirty mess, but...you can hear a lot of shit
when you pretend you don't listen.
Meniere's house was the biggest in all Ste. Vierge. Chaline! It was big
because they had twelve kids and they needed the room.
He mimes playing the violin.
Pepere, him, he like to dance but in Ste. Vierge there was no place to
31 dance so he would invite the people in the living room of Meniere's big
house. And I remember he would move all the furniture and we would
have a dance.
He sings and dances.
En passant de la rosier
J'ai renconte mon ti' cavalier
Y voulais me embrasser
J'ai dit 'cout mon 'ti 'fronter.
The Metis could play all the instrument and they could sing really loud.
Memere, her, she didn't like too much drinking, and the Metis, well, she
always used to say, 'The Metis, they're good people but I don't like
them in my house." My pepere tell her, "Never mind Marthe! Swing ta
bottine au fond du boite a bois!" He would swing her around and make
her scream and laugh.
Me, maybe I'm only this big but I remember these dance and I can hear
this song like it was today.
He puts on the elephant nose.
Do you know that when an elephant finds the bones of one of their dead
friends they like to pick them up and touch them. Sometimes they pick
them up and try to put them together like a big puzzle.
Removes the nose and breaks his mood by getting back to work. He moves
flour sacks from one side of the stage to the other.
You know one time me and 'tit Loup we were walking in the bush and we
found a dead horse. And it stink so much and it had bugs crawling in his
mouth. Fuck it stink. And 'tit Loup, him, he doesn't like that and he puke
in the grass and he had to go home. But me I came back almost every
day. I watch the dead horse shrink and shrink until there was just bones.
You know sometimes when a car drives by it might hit a skunk or a
gopher, or maybe even a fox. I don't like to leave these dead guys on the
road, so when I find them I like to carry them behind the shed and I let
them go rotten in peace. When they finish and they're just bones I wash
them in hot water. Last night do you know what I found? I found a
porcupique. You have to be careful when you carry a porcupique. Because pick, pick, pick. Ca fait mal. But me, I know how to carry it so I
32 don't get pick. He's a big guy. I bet you he has a lot of bones.
One time that crazy 'tit Loup he get an idea. He take the scarecrow from
Meniere's jardin and he put that on the road like somebody dead, like
this. He tie a rope to the head then we hide in the ditch. When the cars
come by...(car noise) "Fuck! Somebody is dead on the fucking road."
And just when they come out there, to check about this, me and 'tit Loup
we pull the rope and the scarecrow he jump up like that and he scare
the shit out of them. That 'tit Loup he sure make a good joke.
Do you know about le Vieux Cackoo and mon oncle Ellis? A lot of people
say, 'Those two were fucking crazy." But me, I don't think that's nice to
say. I don't think they were so bad.
Mon oncle Ellis was Meniere's brother and he lived in a shack in the
valley with le Vieux Cackoo. When I was little I used to walk to visit with
them. Mon oncle Ellis, him, was so excited to see me he would dance in
the kitchen. "Ah, seigneur! La grande visite de Ste. Vierge. II faut faire
un beau gateau. Angel food pour le petit Choux Gras."
Vieux Cackoo was deaf and he couldn't talk. He would always want me
to play the big piano. Me! I can't play so I just bang like crazy and him, he
would put his ear against the wood and tap his hand and sing, "guh guhh
duu." Mon oncle Ellis would come in laughing, "Quelle belle musique!
Chant les boys! Chant fort!"
Then, when the cake was made, we would take it outside with a blanket
and have a picnic in the long grass. Mon oncle Ellis would always tell
funny, funny stories but when he drank more chokecherry wine the
stories would be sad and he would start to cry. Sometime he would cry
so much Vieux Cackoo would have to hold him and rub his head like a
baby until he would fall asleep. Then we would carry him in the house
and put him in the bed.
When Vieux Cackoo died, mon oncle Ellis, him, he was so sad. In the
graveyard he fell in the snow and he screamed, "J'ai perdu mon Cackoo.
Je veux mourir." I didn't know what to do so I rub his head like this. And
I say, "Pleure pas mon oncle Ellis. II faut etre fort. II faut etre fort."
He gets a beer and drinks throughout the following.
Labatts Blue!
3 3 Me, I like the night. I like the night because the moon, him, he's francais.
That's right...French. He round and fat and he always smile and he always tell a good joke. Just like my Pepere. And when he drink a bit he
sings a good song.
Eh? That's the Moon. Un vrai bonhomme.
The School in Ste. Vierge, I go there when I'm little. The stupid teacher
she make me sit beside Sisco Belhumeur. And he stinks like smoke and
he always scratch his head, and pick his nose. The teacher, she's Madam
Labousse and she talk French but she tell us we can't talk French in
school because now we learn English. All the older ones they know
how to talk and they always laugh at me and Sisco. Sisco, he can't talk
English just Cree and French and me, I know a bit of English, not too
much, but I'm too shy to talk. I don't like school. I don't like Madame
Labousse. I never understand what she talk about and she always yell at
me when I look out the window.
Pepere, him, he don't like school. Whenever I don't want to go, he tell
me, "Mais reste chez nous. Today you help me with the cows."
Me, I don't like the day. I don't like the bright day. And I will tell you
something and you might think I'm some kind of crazy guy but I can tell
you something that I know is true. The sun. The sun up there in the sky.
She's anglaise. That's right, English. She sits up there always so smart
and so serious and she can't laugh and she can't tell a joke. She just
point at you and she don't smile.
When I was in grade three they build a brand new school in Welby. A
skinny man from Regina came and told us the school in Ste. Vierge would
close down. At first I was so happy because I thought, "Fuck! We don't
have to go to school." But the skinny man told us that there would be a
bus to bring us to Welby and Pepere, he was the bus driver.
Mrs. Fruin was a mean bitch. Every morning, when the Ste.Vierge bus
come to school, she would stand at the door and tell us, 'Take off your
boot. Take off your boot. You don't want to mess the new school." One
time I didn't want to take off my fucking boot because I have a hole in my
sock and I didn't want the kids to tease me. But Mrs. Fruin say, 'You
take off those dirty muddy boots, young boy, or I will pull your ear right
off." And I told her, 'That's not mud on my boots, that's shit. I must have
stepped in some cow shit." Ayoi! Clack in the face and she pull my ear
and brought me to the office. "Maybe they talk like pigs where you come
34 from young man, but now you're in Welby and in Welby we don't use
dirty words."
On the bus back home I told Pepere, 'The teacher slapped my face
because I said shit. You know, shit's a dirty word." But Pepere, he just
laugh, and he tell me that Mrs. Fruin thinks that shit is a dirty word
because her, she doesn't shit. She doesn't even have a hole. That's why
she's got such a big ass, because the shit doesn't go out. It just stays in
her. That's why she wears so much perfume. To cover the smell of shit.
And that's true. Pepere told me it was.
He lays out the family' bottles in a circle around him.
Do you know why elephants can't fly no more? I'll tell you. One time
there, there was a big, fancy teacher. And she was under a tree teaching
a big, fancy lesson to all her kids. And the elephants, they were floating
around in the clouds, holding their breath and they need to have a rest.
So they stop in the tree. Bien. Well the tree it can't hold so much heavy
guys so it breaks, uh, and it falls on top of the teacher. Well the teacher,
her, she was so mad she swore at the elephants and she said a magic
thing there, so bad that the elephants they forget how to fly. Bien, that's
true. They forgot. After that they never fly again.
Singing a Christmas carol he puts candles in each of the bottles.
Before Christmas, me and Memere, fuck, we were so busy. We had to
clean the house, change all the sheet in the bed. We had to make tortiere,
sucre en creme, pate de fois. We work and work. Because, this year,
everybody is coming home for Noel.
He lights the candles.
And the present, too, we have to make. Everybody get something from
Memere. Something made from papier mache...that's a lot of work.
Sometime we stay up all night to make sure it's ready.
Then, they all show up. The whole family. All my cousin, my uncles, my
aunts. The house is full. We don't hardly have enough place to sleep.
Me, I have to put a pillow and blanket under the stairs because my bed is
full.
At night, we go to La Messe de Minuit. The church is full. The candles
everywhere. And la creche that Memere make is up front. And every-
35 thing get so quiet when Maurice Blouin sing "Minuit Chretien c'est
l'heure solennel."
Apres la messe all the cousins, we go to Meniere's for le reveillon and
we stay up all night. The ladies in the kitchen they make a lunch and the
men in the living room they drink Labatts Blue. And when they get so
drunk Pepere puts on Don Messer and everybody dance and dance and
we don't go to sleep. But always in the morning Memere brings in a big
box and it's full of the stuff we made for all the other kids. And my cousin,
they're so excited about all that stuff. Little horses and cows. Like this
here. Ducks. Some sheep. Stuff like that....
Bah! That's a long time ago. Now everybody move away. Christmas
nobody come around here.
During the following he blows out all of the candles except one.
"It's not right. She can't raise a boy by herself. We have to send him
away. That bitch Jeanne should come and take him. Maman doesn't need
her little bastard."
"II faut nettoyer la maison la. Tous le monde va arriver. Lave la vaiselle.
Lave le plancher. Fais les lit."
"Je vous salut Marie pleine de grace."
"Notre pere qui est aux cieux que ton nom sois sanctifier."
Ahhhh! Everybody dies. Everybody move away. Don't get fucking crazy
about that.
Puts on the elephant nose.
You know a long time before? Before the big ice went all over. It's true,
elephant used to look just like a gopher. It's no lie. Just like a gopher.
But after the big ice it start to grow and grow and grow. And now the
elephant is a big guy and now everybody want to kill the elephant. You
know they should have stayed the way they were. I think it's better to
be a fucking gopher.
Removes the nose.
Pepere died in the kitchen. Before we went to school. He told me to tie
36 his boot. So I did. Then I heard him go,
He makes grotesque sucking noises.
And I think he's making a joke, so I laugh. But then he fall off his chair.. .on
the floor...moving crazy...all blue. Then he stop.
Memere told me we had a lot of work to do. We had to clean the church.
We had to clean the house, change all the sheet in the bed. We had to
make tortiere, sucre en creme, pate de fois. We work and work. Because everybody is coming home.
I told Memere I was going to miss Pepere. She told me, "Pleure pas
Choux Gras. II faut etre fort. Ton pepere est aux cieux.. .aux cieux avec
les anges."
He blows out the final candle.
One time, at Christmas after everybody get the present, Memere tell
me to go outside by the shed and get some wood because the fire is
almost out. So I dress up there and I go behind the shed and, fuck! I
can't believe it. In front of me, all over in the fucking snow, there is all
kind of little animal, just like the one we made my cousin... only bigger.
Des vaches. Des chevaux. Des moutons. Des cochons. And in the snow,
painted red it say, "Joyeux Noel, Choux Gras!" And I can't believe it.
How did she make these? When did she have time to make all these?
And I look back to the house, and in the window behind the frost I see
Pepere and Memere. Standing there. Just watching.
Now everybody move away and Christmas nobody come around here.
So, I guess I don't have to clean.... Sometimes, ma tante Yvonne, that
lives in Welby, you know, she ask me to come for Christmas. So, I bring
some sucre en creme. That's easy to make. And her boy there... uh, I
don't know his name—Darcy or Daryll—I don't remember, but it's the
little one, you know. Anyway, he don't want to sit beside me. He says I
stink too much. So Yvonne she tell him to eat in the room with the t.v.
After supper we all watch the t.v. and me I try not to fall asleep. I just
want to come home but Yvonne say I sleep in the basement beside the
furnace. She make a bed for me.
I don't like town. I don't like the people in town. Pepere always said,
"Maudits anglais manques, they can have the fucking Maple Leafs and
they can keep Joe Clark." And when he was really drunk he would stand
37 in the middle of the room and yell, "God Fuck the Queen."
Mischievously putting on lipstick.
One time me and 'tit Loup we were picking chokecherry in the bluff
across from the church, and that crazy Metis he make his lips all purple
with the juice and he say, "Look at at me I'm a girl. I'm a girl. Kiss me
Choux Gras. I'm a horny, horny girl." That 'tit Loup, he always make
me laugh.
Heh? If you come to Ste. Vierge and you want to see inside the church
you have to ask me because I have the key. It's really dirty right now. I
don't clean that for a long time. Some bird get in, you know, and they
make a fucking mess. The statue of la Vierge is still there but the bird
shit is piled up on her head.. .like a big hat.
He puts lipstick on the statue of the Virgin.
Me and 'tit Loup we sneak in the church with some chokecherry and
we squeeze the juice on the white face of la Vierge. And you know what
she look like? She look like a hooker! When Memere see that she say
"Oh, Seigneur! Qui a mis de la jam sur la face de la Vierge?" I tell her it
was 'tit Loup. "Maudit Metis!" And she lick a kleenex and she wipe it off
and we say the rosary five times.
Ashamed, he wipes off the lipstick from his own face and the Virgin.
It was the bishop who came all the way from Regina to tell us they were
building a new church in Welby and the Ste. Vierge church would close
down. "Not enough people live around here." Memere was not too happy.
When everyone was going up to kiss his ring, we went home. "Maudit
Anglais. Jamais. Jamais. Jamais." She said she won't go to church in
Welby. She said we can go to the church in St. Joseph.
'There the priest is still French and we have a lot of cousin there." But
Memere, you know, she can't drive a car and me, I'm too small, so
Memere says, "We can walk. C'est pas trop loin...maybe ten, twelve
miles if we cut through the bush." But, you know, I think it's farther than
that, because, fuck, my leg get sore after we walk all day. So sore I don't
even listen to the priest in St. Joseph. I just rub my leg.
On the way home we always sit in the grass and eat our sandwich.
Memere would tell me all kinds of story about when she was little. She always would tell me, "Don't forget how to talk French and always remember tes prieres."
Talking to her in the sky:
But sometime Memere I forget something. You can't help that. I don't
have anybody to talk to anymore. They all move away. In the bush some
old Metis live there. Chechess. La Vieuve. Blondeau. But I don't see
them too much.
Yelling:
Memere. Ecoute. Je veux parler francais...but I forget a lot.
Heh! Don't think I'm fucking crazy, all right? Maybe she can't hear me
but.. .maybe she can. So fuck off!
He leaves and after a brief pause returns sheepishly with a pail of water.
Do you know how to make the glue for papier mache? You don't? I can't
believe it because it's so fucking easy. All you do is take some water.
Then you put some flour inside and mix it quick so it's not too lumpy.
That's all you do. That's easy, eh?
He makes glue.
After Pepere die, Memere said we have to keep busy. She say, "J'en ai
des idees la." She say she want to make un 'tit pare by the road—"Un
zoo la"—full of animals. Animals made from papier mache. The first one
we make is un veau—a calf, this big here. Then we make a small pig.
Then, because we found some horns in the bush, we make a deer. After
that Memere found in a closet an old black fur coat. So we make a bear.
He stand up like this and he hold a Labatts Blue. In his mouth he has
teeth like a man because we found those under the bed. They were
Pepere's. We made everything. Even a buffalo. When we were finished
with the animals, we made a whole bunch of lemons and we tied them in
the trees.
He climbs to the top of the stage left box.
You know one time a car driving by, there, they stop and I heard the
man say, "Isn't that strange. Hey kid! Who made the art?"
39 And I tell him, "Don't be stupid, that's not art, that's a zoo. My Grandma
made that. And me, I help her."
"What's it for?"
"Mind your business. That's what it's for." And he drive away.
He pours the glue into the box.
When 'tit Loup move to Ste. Vierge they drove up in an old, old truck
that make a big bang. Tit Loup, him, he was sitting in the back there, on
top of a bunch of junk. He was smoking a cigarette and drinking Coke. I
watch them from the ditch. They were moving their stuff in the Ste.
Vierge school. There was his dad, Cinq Sous, and his two sister, Jig-Jig
and Louise. When 'tit Loup saw me in the ditch he walk over with a
cigarette.
"Do you want a smoke, funny face?"
"No, me, I don't smoke. How come you move in the old school?"
"I don't know. My dad bought it."
"Me, I live in that big house with Memere. Do you want to see my zoo?"
When 'tit Loup saw the zoo he ran around like a crazy Metis and he
jumped up on the back of the deer. He just laugh and laugh.
During the following he rips a pile of paper and puts it into a small box.
One time when me and Memere were walking home from St. Joseph
and we were almost home because we were on the gravel road and we
could see the church, well, fuck, a big grey storm started to move to us.
And everything started to get real cold and fucking windy. We could see
like a—a grey thing there you know.. .uh... Chris! What do they call that?
You know, like a tunnel spinning? What is that? Uh...you know what I
mean.. .fuck! A grey thing was coming straight down the gravel road.
Memere she grab my hand and we run in the ditch and we crawl inside
a culvert under the road and we start to pray, "Je vous Salut Marie, pleine
de grace," and we don't stop until everything is quiet. Then we crawl out
of the culvert and we watch the storm move away. That's when Memere,
she tell me, "Choux Gras, le zoo n'est pas fini!"
40 Do you know there is two kind of elephant? That's right. Two kind. One
is from Africa. And the other one is Chinese. The one from Afrique is
tall, tall, tall and very skinny. He has big, big ears and his back it scoop
down like this. The elephant that Memere made for the zoo is Chinese.
The Chinese one is round and fat and not so so tall and the ears are not
so big. I know that because I read that in a book and I show Memere. I
tell her if we make an elephant we have to know which one to make and
she point her finger to the Chinese and she say, "Celui-la."
He climbs up the ladder behind the stage right box.
If you want to make an elephant you have to work hard, because it takes
a long time. You know you can't make an elephant in two fucking days.
So don't say, "Oh, me, I can make an elephant so easy," because that's a
fucking lie. I should know. I help Memere make one.
He dumps the ripped paper into the large box and comes back around to
the audience.
First you have to find the right legs. Me and Memere we walk in the
bush for a day and when she squint her eye and see the perfect tree,
"En vois, coupe-les."
Then you have to find something good for the body. Us, we use an old
bureau from upstairs. It's nice and strong and just the right size. We put
that on the legs.
For the head we found a Coke box made from wood. Not quite big enough
but Memere said we could add some pieces. The ears we made from
some old tire tube. And the trunk, we took the wood from an old mirror
that look like this and we put that together and, fuck, that's a trunk.
So when you have all the skeleton you have to hammer and tie that
together good and tight so it can stand all by itself.
So there you are. You have an elephant with no skin. Now my friend the
fucking work begin. Bring the water, make the glue, find all the paper
you have in the house—magazine, The Welby Spectator, Christmas paper—everything you can fucking find because the elephant has to be fat
and round just like the picture.
Me, my job is to put the glue nice on the paper and give that to Memere
and she put paper on the right spot. Glue on the paper, give that to
41 Memere. Glue on the paper, give that to Memere. Glue on the paper.
Stop! Memere has to check the picture to see, like this.
Okay. Glue on the paper, give that to Memere. Glue on the paper, give
that to Memere. Glue on the paper, give that to Memere. Glue on the
paper...holy fuck! There he is. And you can't believe it. You can't believe this big fucking guy.
She took some stones for his eyes and she painted them so real and he
stare at you so sad, almost like crying. So sad, you know, because here
he is. In Ste. Vierge. And he's maybe a million miles from China. 1 wrap
my arms around his big neck and I rub his head like this and I say in his
rubber ear, "Pleure pas. II faut etre fort."
It was 'tit Loup's idea to put the wheels on the legs. He said it would be
good if one could sit on top and the other one pull. So that's what we do.
We pull our sad elephant all over Ste. Vierge. I told 'tit Loup the elephant
was ours, even though Memere said it was only for me.
One time me and 'tit Loup we had a big fucking fight. We were out in the
pasture with the elephant, eating sandwich on the hay rack and 'tit Loup,
him, he get a crazy idea. He want to teach me how to dance. And I say, "I
already know how to dance."
And he say, "Not like a Metis, you can't. You can't jig like a half breed."
And he start dancing a funny step on the rack. "Come on Choux Gras
show me how you dance." So me, I get up and I show him my dance and
'tit Loup start laughing at me. Laughing and laughing like a crazy Metis.
"Stop laughing, 'tit Loup."
"I can't help it. You dance like an anglais. You dance like someone from
Welby."
"Fuck you, you dirty Metis! And quit laughing."
"Fuck you, Choux Gras! You maudit anglais!"
"Tit Loup, you're nothing but a stupid Metis! And your dad is always
drunk," and I take the rope on the elephant and I start to pull him home.
"And another thing, 'tit Loup. This elephant is mine. My memere made
it for me. And you can't ride it because she doesn't want no Metis to
even touch it."
42 That's when 'tit Loup, he throw a rock. Capow! Right in the head. And I
fall down in the grass. The next thing I know 'tit Loup is over top me.
"Wake up Choux Gras. I'm so sorry. Wake up." And he help me up on
the elephant and he pull me all the way home.
I told Memere I tripped and fell on a rock and she wiped the blood off
my head with a cold cloth.
Memere, her, she been to a lot of place. After Pepere is dead she used
to go away for visits. Usually she go visit my aunts and my uncle that live
away. Me, I have to stay home and make sure everything is all right.
You know Memere, she even went to Edmonton to visit ma tante Louise.
She took the train in Welby all the way to Edmonton. And you know
what? You won't fucking believe it. When she was in Edmonton she went
to a real zoo and she took a ride on a real elephant. That's pretty good,
eh? Memere on a real elephant. They even took a picture. She said the
skin was rough, rough, rough, but she said the trunk at the bottom there
was soft to touch. Soft like a little baby's hand.
The first time I'm drunk is with 'tit Loup. Memere was gone to visit in
Regina, and I was supposed to keep care of the house. Tit Loup said,
"Let's have a party. We'll tell some guys in town and we'll have a party in
the big house." Me, I'm nervous and I don't want a fucking party, but 'tit
Loup say, "Come on Choux Gras don't be an old lady. Let's have some
fun. It's so boring in Ste.Vierge."
You know when the bar closes in town they all show up. Eight-ball. Bobby
Welcher. Minty. That stupid Murray Lloyd. All the gang. All the ones
that never talk to me but when there is a party they come in with a case
of fucking Molson beer and they act like your best fucking friend.
Me, you know I'm so nervous. I drink a lot and I drink fast. I'm nervous
because I don't want these maudits anglais to wreck the house. I heard
there was a fight outside. I don't want that in the house.
Bobby Welcher, him, he's in the middle of the room stomping his foot
so hard. "Another one bites the dust." All the windows are shaking. Girls
are drunk and they are laughing at him, but he just keep dancing like a
big joke.
Tit Loup he tells me, 'You're acting so weird Choux Gras. Don't worry.
Everybody is having a good time. Tomorrow we can clean. Go have
43 another beer."
When I go in the kitchen I see that stupid Murray Lloyd. And he's got
eggs from the fridge and he's breaking them on the floor. And everybody is laughing. It's supposed to be a funny fucking joke. "Murray don't
do that. That's not so funny." And I try to pick up the mess, and Murray,
he drop an egg on my head. And everyone is laughing at me and I try to
get up but I slip on some eggs. I want to find 'tit Loup. I want him to make
everybody go away from Memere's big house.
I don't want this party anymore. But when I find 'tit Loup he's holding
some girl. He's pushing his face in some girl's face...with his tongue.
And the room is spinning and Bobby Welcher is dancing, "Another one
bites the dust." And the windows are shaking. And I have to run outside.
I've got shit in my hair and I'm going to be so sick. And I run down the
road. I run and I run like I think I'm going crazy and when I get to the
church I stop and I look up and in the window upstairs I see the moon. I
see the moon in the window of the Ste. Vierge church. And just before I
puke all over the gravel, I scream out, "God fuck the Queen!"
That's when I hear the noise. The noise of a car that slam the brakes on
the gravel road. And a bang like it hit something. I see the lights of a car
down by Memere's house, and I hear, "What the fuck did we hit?"
Run, run back to the house. Run to the circle of guys standing on the
gravel road. I see Eight-ball. I see Bobby Welcher. I see stupid Murray
Lloyd. "Hey J.C, maybe you should put up a sign on the road: Elephant
Crossing."
And I see my elephant down on the road. In the light of the car that hit
him. On the road like this.. .with the side smashed in.. .and head all twist
like this and his sad stone eyes fall out on the gravel with Christmas red
paper showing underneath...just like blood.
Me, I'm like ice and I can't move. I'm scared to talk because maybe I
might cry.
"Who put that guy on the road?"
I hear stupid Murray Lloyd, "Maybe he walk out all by his self."
"Shut up, Murray!" It's 'tit Loup. I see him there holding hands with the
girl he kiss in the house And I see something in his dirty half-breed
44 face. And I start to get hot, so hot.. .and I know...I remember the scarecrow and I know...maudit fucking Metis.. .and I swing my fist like I never
did before and I crack him one in the face. And the girl, she scream
when 'tit Loup, him, he fall down on the road holding a handful of blood.
And I yell, swinging at all of them, "Everybody go. Everybody go away
or I'll kill you. I'll kill you."
Angry at himself for letting the audience see him cry.
There's no time to cry. There's no time to be sad. If you are being sad
you are just being fucking lazy. When Memere died ten years ago I didn't
cry. I was too fucking busy. I had to clean the house, change all the sheet
in the bed. I had to make tortiere, sucre en creme, pate de fois. I work
and work. The church, too, I clean up. I scrape off the bird shit from the
bench. I shake the mice out of the tabernacle. I even wash the big curtain behind the altar.
There's no time to cry. There's no time to be sad. II faut etre fort. II faut
travailler fort.
He returns to his work of ripping paper.
A while ago I go to the place in the tall grass and I find my elephant. But
there's not too much left of him. A lot of junk, you know, wood and old
paper and grass growing through it. There I am in the tall grass with the
bones of my elephant and everything is quiet and everything doesn't
move. And that's when I heard a whisper so quiet in my ear like a kiss
and it say, "Hey, Funny Face! You wanna smoke?" That's when I get my
idea. That's when I know what I should do.
Me, I'm going to make an elephant, I'm going to make an elephant so
fucking big that when he stand over the gravel road the cars, they can
drive right through his legs. I'm going to build an elephant so fucking
big that the people they can see it from Welby, they can see it from St.
Joseph, they can see it all the way from Minot fucking North Dakota.
And the people they will come from all over to see this big fucking guy.
They will come from all over the world and Ste. Vierge.. .Ste.Vierge will
grow and grow.
He continues ripping paper. Slow blackout.
45 Derk Wynand
Courtyard
Stones on top of the walls that defined the courtyard appeared softened
in time by geraniums, their many pink mouths. Or the intense sunlight
softened them, beating down on them until we could almost see them
crumble. How foolish the intruder who might have tried to scale them,
the mouths all shouting at once, every leaf and blossom raising the alarm,
impossible to ignore. For all that, undisturbed, we whiled away the late
morning and afternoon hours, dozing, daydreaming, dreaming, the same,
or at least very similar, garden hose watering both the real flowerbeds
and those of our dreams.
Despite her black coat, the dog chose a sunlit spot to lie in. She closed
her eyes, panted almost fiercely to the point of suffering—ours, at least—
and did not seek shade. From time to time she whimpered, her legs
twitching, a sure sign she was dreaming also.
On the greenest leaves, aphids let black ants milk them. Too fascinated
or squeamish to crush them between our fingers, and reluctant to spray
the recently transplanted shrubs, we squinted down at them, forcing our
eyes to focus. It seemed that important questions here demanded
answers, but in this heat we could not come up with any.
From time to time, someone would rise, wipe sleeve or handkerchief
across a wet brow, and pace back and forth on the white gravel, against
the patterns raked into it by the gardener: parallel lines, concentric circles,
waves. The sound of the disturbed gravel startled us at first, as did the
sight of its broken lines, but slowly our eyes and ears came to terms with
that. We accepted it, as we did everything else. No one picked up the
rake to restore the order. The dog raised her head once, only bothering
to open one eye, and relaxed again. We nodded off too.
46 The high wooden gate, its dark green a good background for the
geraniums' pink, opened then, offering a glimpse of the city. Cars drove
by, honking, though not, apparently, at us. Pedestrians, dressed in
importantly dark suits and carrying important briefcases or purses,
hurried along without turning their heads. When the geraniums
complained, almost audibly, the startled visitor muttered something—
a slurred apology maybe: the brandy, the heat, his head, his stomach—
then closed the gate behind him to our great relief, restoring the silence
and the balance.
47 Fig Tree
Christian Petersen
Tkhe congregation knew her story soon enough. The all-time attendance record at the Fraser Baptist church was one hundred
and eighty-three, set the previous Easter, but on your average
Sunday morning it was half that number, even less during the summer
months with folks taking holidays, horse shows every other weekend,
and the local golf course in its best shape. The inner circle—the deacons and their spouses—was small enough that any worthy rumour
made the rounds within the space of seven days. So after Shawna Psalzer
came with her kids the second Sunday in a row, word about her got
around.
There was a goodly amount of sympathy. In the foyer after the service Carol Barnes, the pastor's wife, made a point of taking the younger
woman's hand in welcome. And following her lead a number of other
church women did the same.
Shawna Psalzer's husband had been involved in a head-on collision
which left two other people dead and himself in a coma. The newspaper
noted that alcohol had been involved, Psalzer and his buddy having left
the bar shortly beforehand in his pickup. Apparently, the lone driver of
the other car was a tourist en route to somewhere, driving through the
night intent on reaching his destination, perhaps dreaming of it, or of
the woman he was meant to meet there, moments before he was decapitated by the chrome bumper of the 4x4.
Shawna was left with three kids: a thirteen-year-old boy, and girls
aged nine and seven. No sort of insurance. Fortunately she had a job as
a sales clerk in a clothing store.
As a teenager she had once been invited to the church by a girlfriend,
and had attended for most of a year. Then her life changed so fast that
she'd all but lost track of it for a while. Her parents had divorced. She
lived with her mother, and they fought constantly. Around town she was
considered something of a dark-haired bombshell and was dating or
hanging around with fellows several years older than herself. At seventeen she became pregnant, defied her mother's advice, and had the baby.
Two years later she married Tony Psalzer, who was not the father of
her first child. Following the accident, almost fifteen years after she'd
48 briefly attended the young people's group at the Fraser Baptist, she
went back to the church one Sunday morning. The other women welcomed her, bestowed their charity, and some were quite sincere about
it.
* * *
They had gone through numerous pastors at the Fraser Baptist over
the last decade, none of them lasting more than a couple of years, for
various reasons. One was too fire-and-brimstone; the next, fresh out of
theological college, had the gall to suggest Genesis be read as allegory
rather than literal truth; the next was not satisfied by the salary. Then
there was the yokel from Saskatchewan who wore the same brown suit
every Sunday with his clip-on ties.
Phil Barnes struck the balance. He wore steel grey or dark blue, and
smiled in a manly way. (Between themselves some of the women said
he smiled like Robert Duvall, as much with his eyes as his mouth.) He
was conservative, yet open-minded at the same time, which is a good
attitude for a preacher to have, so the deacons thought. Plus he liked
sports, and the first summer he was there he organized the congregational softball tournament, which became an annual event. He had a good
batting arm too. His sermons drew from both Testaments, and sometimes from events in the world news. His wife, Carol, was a gracious,
attractive woman who involved herself in church activities without stepping on any toes. They had four children: three teenage boys and a
younger girl who sang like an angel.
* * *
"Good morning Mrs. Psalzer," the pastor says through the screen door.
It was a blustery day in April, with dirty pyramids of snow still melting
slowly in the shadows at the side of the house. It was an older place,
showing some neglect, with a half-stripped pickup sitting in the carport,
the front axle on a stack of planks. It was one of several houses along a
sloping crescent street, which years ago might have been quite a pleasant neighborhood in view of the river, but was now on the brunt of the
industrial strip—lower working class—situated at the very edge of a
mill yard where spruce logs were heaped in ridges. The pastor took
this in as he parked his maroon Buick in the driveway. He reached for
his leather case, then chose at the last moment to leave it in the car.
With just his Bible in hand he walked up the scuffed wooden porch steps,
hesitated half a moment. Knocked.
She'd been expecting him because he called the day before to extend the offer of a visit.
"Hi," she says, her hand at the screen latch. "Come on in." She stands
aside to let the pastor through the doorway. He pauses to remove his
49 shoes.
"Don't fuss about that, please." She gestures at a chair by the table. A
blue cloth has just been laid, the neat fold lines plainly visible. There was
a plate with some baking set out. "Would you like coffee?"
'Thanks, that would hit the spot," he replies, though he needs no
more. This is his second visit of the day and he drank two cups at the
last house. She places a steaming mug in front of him. He helps himself
to a spoonful of sugar.
The pastor spends three days a week visiting members of the congregation. His wife suggested he visit Shawna Psalzer, to see if there
was anything she particularly needed, and to speak with her of the Holy
Spirit. The kitchen was clean, though the pattern was worn off the linoleum and the walls were yellowed. There's a scent of cigarette smoke,
although no ashtray on the table. A cat's food and water dishes were set
on a newspaper beside the moaning fridge.
This is part of his job. He has shared the grief of many families over
the years. It calls for a sensitive approach, above all the willingness and
patience to listen to memories of the departed, to questions. People sometimes grow angry, demanding an answer from God's representative: why
has this happened? Other times words fail those grieving, and the pastor must tread with care near their void.
Shawna Psalzer seems comfortable enough, or at least not displeased
to have him there. She doesn't say much. She's a rather small-framed
woman, wearing a faded sweat shirt and blue jeans, moccasins for house
slippers, and an expression of slight distraction. A bit tired, maybe. The
striking feature of her face is those thick black, finely-curved eyebrows.
They chat about their children, and the unpredictable spring weather.
Only last week there was a late flurry of snow, yet now the first green
blades are peeking up through the unraked lawn. The pastor poses a
few careful questions, but she avoids any reference to her husband's
accident. She doesn't seem distraught, or fragile. An overcast, mid-morning light is suspended in the kitchen windows. She seems, in a curious
way, too calm.
The pastor reaches for the offered baking, eats a slice of lemon bread,
one cookie, then another. He's used to gently guiding a conversation,
but this woman's manner does not allow him that ease—she unnerves
him slightly. Fig newtons. Little squares, dark and rich. He should say
what he came to say, he tells himself, mouth firmly closed, nibbling tiny
seeds between his front teeth. He touches the black Bible gently with
his left hand, takes a sip of coffee and prepares to broach the matter. He
opens his mouth to speak when Shawna, who has not been looking at
him, stops him with a question.
"Do you ever think about life backwards? I mean, go back step-by-
50 step in your mind to things that happened. Things that changed what
followed for you?" She glances into his eyes and away, runs a finger
back and forth along the table's edge.
The pastor shuts his mouth and watches her for a moment. He's
unused to answering questions about himself on these visits, in these
times of others' grief and crisis.
"We all do, I believe, from time to time. And it isn't always easy to sort
these things out on our own."
"Oh I don't expect to sort much of it out," she laughs at the idea, her
teeth protruding slightly, "but some days I have to wonder about the
whole shitaree. Excuse my French."
'Yes..." he nods. And does not follow with his usual reference to the
role of the Personal Savior, etcetera. He cannot bring himself to say
what he should. 'These are very tasty," he says instead, reaching for
another fig newton, "and I haven't had one for ages."
'Yeah, the kids don't fancy them, so it's something I can usually find
in the cupboard. Always loved them myself." Her fingers take hold of
her first fig newton and the pastor gets a glimpse into her mouth, her
teeth and tongue poised, just before she bites.
Their discussion wanders, somehow skirts the reality of the husband
who lies inert in the hospital, and avoids any spiritual concerns. She has
a habit of looking off to the left as she speaks, not facing him. This heightens his own attention to what she says, and each time their eyes do
meet he receives a tiny shock; hers are rich brown beneath dark curved
brows.
"Oh," he starts, reading the clock on the stove, "I hadn't noticed the
time. I'm afraid I have another appointment at eleven."
It's quarter to the hour. Fired by caffeine and an odd nervousness
the pastor leaps to his feet, and grabs his Bible. Out on the porch, feeling slightly rude or unsatisfied by his counselling, he turns and says,
"So, Wednesday is your regular day off? Would you like me to drop by
again next week, by any chance?"
"Ah, sure. That'd be nice," she smiles, holding the screen door open
for a moment against the spring breeze.
* * *
Where does the imagination go when it's confined in a coma? Does it
wander out through the life-support lines, foray into the social consciousness, or curl up like a surly badger to hibernate for however long?
Along the highway outside the hospital, local traffic starts with logging trucks snorting out to the bush at two a.m., shift workers heading
for the mills by six, then business and government people, then bankers and hairdressers. The river rolls south, surges over its crust of ice,
sweeping stray logs, miscellaneous objects, a few green trees felled by
51 its forceful undercut against the banks. Geese angle north. Blind animals are born underground. Somewhere, far away, wars smoulder and
flare.
Moon orbits earth.
* * *
There was no change in Tony Psalzer's condition. Nothing was certain,
but the neurologist had confided that any chances of recovery were
slim. The pastor learned this from Shawna on his second visit.
She was clearly less tired, wore faded jeans and a flowered blouse
which accentuated her breasts. There were fig newtons set out on a
blue-rimmed plate. Again, despite a moment of prayer in the privacy of
his car earlier on, the conversation veered its own way, a bit beyond the
pastor's control. They talked about common things, how her kids got
along in school, and his own. As it turned out her son played hockey at
the same level as his two youngest boys.
"Ah ha, I thought I recognized you," he said. "I mean that first Sunday you came to the church your face seemed familiar. Maybe we were
at some of the same games last winter?"
"Could be," she nodded while gazing out the window. "I went sometimes to watch Alan play. Partly cause Tony never bothers...he and Alan
didn't get on very well. Do you mind if I smoke?" The way she threw the
question in took him offguard.
"Ah, no, of course not."
"I've been trying to quit," she said, rising to fish a silver package of
cigarettes, her lighter, and an ashtray from a drawer, "but haven't quite
got there."
He smiled his practiced, neutral smile. The mention of her husband
had slipped by and the pastor chose to let it go, yet was conscious of
those words receding.
They chatted for almost two hours. Long enough for the pastor to eat
half a dozen fig newtons. Shawna smoked four cigarettes, and he watched
how she did it out of the corner of his eye. He wasn't used to smokers.
He noticed the slightest dark down over her upper lip, and he became a
bit self-conscious while chewing the soft cookies. She was in many ways
so different from the people he was used to. For a moment he visualized their lives positioned in different colours of some abstract spectrum: his own dry beige, Shawna's more purple melancholy; images
which briefly confused his senses. As did her voice, and the faint shadow
over her lip. Then came a gust of noise as her children arrived home
from school, the two young girls giggling over something. When they
saw him they hushed and were shy for a moment or two, then ran into
the next room and resumed laughing. By contrast the boy seemed sullen. He was fair, or pale, and much slighter than the pastor's own sons.
52 Alan was thirteen, and his chin and forehead were dotted with pimples.
Unlike his mother, his moody eyes immediately locked with the pastor's
own.
Phil soon excused himself, realizing with an inner puzzlement that
once again he had delivered very little in the way of spiritual help. From
the bottom of the porch steps he turned to say, "Please feel free to call,
if you'd like me to stop by again."
"Thank you," she smiled, "I'll do that." And she did.
* * *
Phil's mother had been pleased when her son went to Bible College,
exalted when he chose to devote his life to God and the ministry.
He was a popular student, devout and scholastic, in addition to being a
good athlete. For one semester he'd had an afternoon class with Dr.
Rudolph Kraig, a course on the Gospels. Dr. Kraig was a distinguished
elderly professor, going senile. He regularly lost track of his lessons,
sometimes filling out the hour with stories of the years he spent as a
missionary. For a time he'd been on an island near Borneo, one of the
first whites to make contact with a tribe of cannibals living in the jungle.
One of his colleagues had in fact been "stewed" by the cannibals according to Dr. Kraig. These sorts of digressions had won Phil's admiration of
the old man, although the class was often trying to sit through.
One afternoon the subject was Jesus' cleansing of the temple. On
that occasion He took after the moneychangers who had set up shop,
and threw their loot out in the street, as described in Matthew chapter
twenty-one, verses twelve through sixteen. Dr. Kraig read the passage
aloud, then laid his study Bible flat on the lectern, thought silently for
two or three minutes, then began his analysis which somehow, as always, involved a host of tangential references from political history to
quotes from Albert Schweitzer. He was a lovable old gentleman.
But Phil, on this particular afternoon, was not following the lecture.
Through the window of the classroom the sunlight played across the
page of his own Bible, and he read on in Matthew, and discovered in the
next verses the account of Christ cursing the fig tree. He'd read it before, of course, however this time it bothered him. Exactly why, he could
not have said; but from that day on it was as if the image of the withered
tree was a crude drawing on the far back wall of his mind.
* * *
Shawna Psalzer and her children sat toward the rear of the chapel, respecting the front pews favoured by the tithe payers. During the singing a few people cast a glance their way, maybe to offer a compassionate
smile.
They offered her bags of secondhand clothes for her children, which
53 she accepted. They invited her to the weekly women's prayer meeting,
and although she had not yet attended, someone always invited her again.
The church women were not all of one mind regarding Shawna Psalzer.
She didn't seem all that contrite, some noted. Some were jealous of her
looks, the awareness she stirred in their men. Some were attracted to
her themselves, and looked upon her as they would an actress in a melodrama. For these various reasons they were all interested to see her
more safely within their fold.
* * *
The pastor was reading the newspaper, his habit in the late afternoon.
Each morning he picked up the paper from his front porch, folded it
neatly, and laid it on the sideboard in the dining room. His day began
with ten minutes of prayer, and twenty minutes of Bible study during
which he had his first cup of coffee. A high-fibre breakfast, then on to
God's work; long ago he'd made the decision not to distract himself with
worldly news in the morning.
Now he was reading his paper, sipping a blackberry sparkling water.
In Bosnia and Rwanda, war fed upon the population. The Vancouver
Canucks had advanced to the NHL final.
The aroma of food drifted from the kitchen where Carol was preparing their dinner.
"Phil?" she called out. "Are you there, Phil?"
"What is it dear?" he said, while continuing to read the paper.
"I thought I'd invite Shawna Psalzer and her children over for dinner
one night this week. If that's okay with you?"
He lowered the paper and gazed at the empty doorway from where
that question had come. It was Wednesday. He'd been with Shawna not
more than two hours ago. He forgot to answer his wife.
"Phil?" Carol queried, stepping into the dining room, looking to where
he sat in his colonial chair pushed back from the head of the table. "I
haven't called her yet, if you'd rather not. It might be nice though."
'Yes," the pastor finally said, "Of course. It's very kind of you to think
of her. And it would be nice."
* * *
Branches in bud swirled in mild winds. After school Alan raked the lawn
for an hour each day, and the portion he'd done thickened with new
green grass. Against the wooden handle his young hands blistered.
For weeks clouds raced across the sky, releasing the last of the cold
rains. After the clouds passed and the sun struck the ground, steam
issued up. The potent sunlight covered the lawns and fields and the golf
course; sunlight shot through the runoff rippling in the ditches and gradually dried the town's unpaved ground.
54 From the beginning, her voice seemed to wrap around him: its frank
tone and the double-edge of humour—often bitter. Her laugh anchored
him to the earth, to every sensation. One minute it was out of the question, a guilty thought, and the next her touch prompted an embrace.
During their third visit the pastor finally managed a degree of grief
counselling. Shawna nodded quietly for a time. She toyed with a spoon
and fingered the edge of the tablecloth. She smoked her cigarettes.
When their cups were empty she rose to get more coffee.
She did not sit down again, but stood near the sink, staring out the
window as she spoke: "What bothers me most is that what I feel doesn't
seem like real pain. Not like when my mother died. I cried for weeks
then." She placed her hands against the stainless steel sink. "Sometimes
this feels like relief as much as anything. Tony wasn't—"
She hesitated. She wasted no words, so that the pastor hung on every one. The fridge continued its droning. He wanted to rise from the
table, but held back.
'Tony had a temper. I don't mean he's been so bad that he deserved
what happened. But it wasn't always easy living with him, especially for
Alan...he was mean to Alan."
The pastor stood up from the table and stepped toward her. He stopped
short. She turned, and saw his worry, smiled gently and touched his
arm.
* * *
Their embrace changes everything. This house, her house, the place
she lives is suddenly vivid with detail. The mustard-coloured fridge, its
laboured rhythm, its still-white interior with her milk, eggs and the usual
staples on wire racks. On the floor tiny brown triangles of cat food are
scattered on newspaper. Nothing is ordinary: not the changing light in
the window over the sink, the shamrock on the sill, the blackbirds
perched in the dusted silver maple beyond the glass.
For hours at a time it's as if he sheds the self he's been living as for
forty-six years. Her past, her experience, varies so much from his own.
The way she speaks is so unexpected. She laughs often, sometimes
with an edge to her voice, sometimes as a defense. She possesses hard
wisdom, and while it saddens the pastor to see this, he's also drawn to
what he knows nothing of.
Her arms go up, her fingers lace around his neck as they kiss. The
first time his own arms flutter clumsily in the air before coming to settle
on her back, then her waist. The dark above her lip is moistened by
their mixing breath. Against his bicep he feels the stubble of her underarms, and pulls her tighter to him. Nothing is said for the longest time,
as she finally stares into his eyes with her own. On later visits he picks
55 her right up off the floor, her legs wrapping round him. Her laughter.
"I can't understand this," he gasps, gripping her thighs, his face perplexed, frowning.
"You understand everything else, of course," she grins at him, mussing his hair, as he carries her through to the bedroom.
Her breath is smoky, her body lithe. The first time she takes his
penis in her mouth, he rears back surprised, knocking his skull against
the headboard. (This left a sore bump of which he was all too conscious
while delivering his sermon the following Sunday.) She covers his chest
with kisses, bites his shoulder, leading their play. His skin is stark white
against her darker skin and from her breasts deeper coloured blossoms
swell. Shawna shows him what pleases her, guiding him with her hands,
so that, virtually for the first time, Phil knows himself as a lover.
Afterward they talk the situation over again, and again, and all but
swear not to let it happen anymore. The mood of their parting is unsettled, but despite anxiety there's always a last tender smile. Until the
next phone call, and the next Wednesday.
* * *
18 Now in the morning as he returned to the city, he hungered.
19 And when he saw a fig tree in the way, he came to it, and found
nothing thereon, but leaves only, and said unto it, Let no fruit grow on
thee henceforward forever. And presently the fig tree withered away.
Matthew, Chapter 21
Sitting behind the wheel of his parked car, Phil Barnes read these verses
over again although he knew them by memory all too well; knew them
from three translations. At Bible College the students were given grave
cautions against reading out of context. The miracle described in Matthew 21:18-22 was sometimes cited to exemplify the power of faith. But
why did Christ have to curse the tree, especially if figs weren't in season?
It was Tuesday morning. The pastor was driving toward the old folks'
home for his monthly visit there when he heard Shawna's panting cries
as clearly as if she'd been lying in the back seat. They aroused him
momentarily, then an icy sweat frosted his forehead. His maroon sedan
cruised through a red light. Horns blared. He sped across the bridge,
past the Sunset Lodge, no idea where he was going or what year it was
or how on earth he'd gotten into such a predicament. Five miles up the
highway, his arms shaking on the wheel, he turned at the entrance to
Butte Park and drove up to the parking lot at the viewpoint.
"Dear Father," he prayed, aloud. He prayed hard for about ten minutes. There was no one else around.
Beneath the butte the landscape fell away. He looked far out over
56 forested hills and patches of range land, followed the distinct line of aspen growth up the valley to where the great brown river, the region's
main artery, curved into sight. This viewpoint was highlighted on any
tourist map. It was a place the locals brought their visiting relatives to
see, but teenagers had taken to holding weekend parties up there, and
some said they had ruined the place. Last fall a girl had been raped
inside a van while other youngsters were drinking beer not forty yards
away. Rude graffiti was sprayed along a low stone wall at the butte's
edge.
After a second session of prayer, Phil lifted his forehead from the
steering wheel, took a deep breath, and pushed open the car door.
He walked along the escarpment. The hills were dark, thick with protected spruce, fringed at the lower elevation by aspen and birch in new
leaf. Why did Christ, the all-loving, omniscient Savior, curse the tree?
Why, on any of her weekly trips to the grocery store over nineteen
years, had his wife Carol never bought fig newtons? Why on earth had
he gotten involved with Shawna? Was Satan present now, shaggy and
evil with drool on his pointy chin, trotting invisibly along the butte's edge,
taunting?
Turning back toward his car, the pastor noticed the charred remains
of a weekend—party fire, beer cans squashed in the gravel, a stark white
wad of tissue. Something else. He bent closer. The thing lay there like a
sloughed translucent skin.
"Oh Jesus," he whispered to himself, "oh merciful fuck, what if I've
caught some incurable disease?"
* * *
Her climax takes him in a rush, her voice and fingers, his body bucks
with a furious pleasure. She falls forward on top of him, murmuring as
her gasps subside, humming. Phil presses his lips to the soft indentation of her temple, her hair. Just before drifting off he's conscious of
their moment, much as though it's something stolen from the rest of
the frantic world, hidden away between them—a shared breath.
* * *
Alan made his way home along the street, his sport bag slung over one
shoulder, having skipped his afternoon classes. He didn't feel well; he
couldn't stand being at school anymore that day. He wasn't part of the
crowd of kids who hung out downtown, and couldn't think of anywhere
else to go, so he wandered home. The early afternoon was bright under
a May blue sky. Everything—the traffic and ordinary town activity—
held more interest for him because he wasn't used to being out and
around at that time on a weekday. He wasn't sure what he'd tell his mom,
except the truth. He didn't feel well. The rake was propped against the
57 fence of the front yard, marking the last strip of ground to be done. He'd
be happy enough to do it now, but then his mom was sure to ask how
come he was healthy enough to rake the yard but he was home sick
from school.
The driveway ran alongside their neighbours' hedge. Only when he
turned in off the street did Alan see the big red car that was parked
there. Peering in the passenger window he saw a tan leather case and a
black Bible flat on the seat.
He eased the screen door shut, and stood still for a full minute in the
kitchen. The house was quiet, yet he sensed something like an echo of
activity. He set his sport bag on a chair, and cautiously walked down the
hall.
The door to his mom's bedroom was half open. He saw her hunched
over the man, her skin, saw the long arc and indent of her spine and the
splay other naked hips. The pastor's arm lay across her back, the other
was outstretched. Her head lay upon his chest, and as Alan watched the
pastor gently kissed her hair. Then his eyes lifted and met the eyes of
the boy.
* * *
The Fraser Baptist congregation was proud of the new church building
which had been completed two years earlier. Not too proud mind you,
not boastful, they had not wanted an ostentatious structure, just a bigger, better-insulated, carpeted, more functional church, located on more
pleasant property than the stucco one which they had outgrown. That's
what they got. Several of the men were in the construction business so
they supplied equipment and materials at cost, and there were many
Saturday work bees. The new exterior was sided with oil-finished cedar.
They managed to bring the whole job in at just under a half a million
dollars. On the feature wall behind the podium was a large, contemporary stained glass window featuring a cross amid spreading shafts of
golden light.
At five to eleven the pastor sits alone in the small, acute room off the
wing of the podium as he has done on a thousand Sunday mornings with
a prepared sermon, stemming from many previous sermons. Over the
last six weeks or so he's come to view his calling as a peculiar one.
In stray moments he thinks of Dr. Kraig back in Bible school, that
condom in the blackened gravel, the taste of fig newtons, and Shawna's
scent. He thinks of the summer farm labour between his years at college, washing green hay dust from the hair of his arms at lunch time,
the tart lemonade, and Shawna's scent. He bows his head, makes himself focus on the job at hand. A sermon from Second Samuel, an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things, and secured—two dozen per package in cellophane—for all my salvation and all my desire, will He indeed not make it grow? What a morass we inhabit. The organist concludes
the piece she's playing within a minute before the hour. The pastor
stands, and opens the door.
The deacons rise, followed by the rest, to sing, "Praise God from
whom all blessings flow, praise Him all ye here below, praise Father,
Son and Holy Ghost, Aaaaaaameennnnn."
The services obey a time-honoured pattern: the pastor's greeting
and standing prayer, followed by a hymn, the week's announcements,
often a special musical performance by a family, or trio of inspired faces,
another hymn for all, occasionally two, sometimes a prayer, then a
twenty-five minute sermon, a hymn, and always the brief, uplifting prayer
to close. The predominant mood is one of stability. No outbursts of "Hallelujah" or hand-clapping here.
The walls of the main chapel feature a row of tall, narrow windows,
and as the sun rises this morning they glow like fluted pillars of white
stone.
When the third hymn concludes, while people are sitting down and
getting set for the sermon, the pastor grips both edges of the lectern
and leans over, evidently reading the underscored verses in his open
Bible. In fact, at this moment he experiences a curious sensation of standing outside his own body, perhaps at the rear of the room, observing his
physical self as he might observe a stage performer. He touches his
forehead, the frontal curve of the skull, and clears his throat.
Lifting his head, he sees that someone remains standing near the
end of a middle pew. Shawna tugs at the boy's sleeve, but Alan shakes
her off, pulls free and takes half a step into the aisle. People take notice.
Some crane their necks to see what's going on.
The boy stares, rocking back and forth as if in the next moment he
might leap either backwards or forwards, either escape outside through
the mahogany doors or charge the podium and hurl himself against the
pastor. Judging by the fury in his eyes, anything is possible.
There are murmurs, whispers, people looking from the boy to the
pastor. What on earth?
The pastor is centred within himself now, in the muscle in his chest,
the depth of doubt, and his will is flagging before the rapt eyes of the
congregation. For an instant he recalls the missionary stewed alive by
cannibals and he wonders what happened to that man's faith in the final
minutes. Was faith even an issue, was all metaphysics and theology
eclipsed by one silly, niggling question, or the memories intimate to skin?
59 Andrew Zawacki
Lapidarian
In the chrysalid days when the dawn-air ached
and the earth was blue like an orange,
the weeping of bright stones was not to be missed:
throughout the sloe-grove the tremens were loosed—
a beautiful lamentation of virgin unyerking.
Orpheus himself never sang such a courant of light.
They exfoliated like picotees on fire, angels
ascending from the ffwg, each face a wrinkled umbel.
Well-groomed as pipistrelles slicked with the rain,
adjusting their epaulets, their eyes as glisted as obols,
they scribbled a coupee of shadows along the espalier.
They shed their wings with an almost human cry,
then walked the tenebrous forest, together, alone.
One half bore the scar of hot inflorescence,
while the heritage of drupe was double-slung under the other.
They had a prayer for their sickness that went:
The salt of the earth is the psalm of the sky
0 Noblesse of Sorrow
0 Foiblesse of Stone
60 z.
For him there was no pleasure like crossing the bridge into town
While the sun blew its first pink breath against the buildings.
The tower bells, reciting their prolegomena, heralded him
As the trees leaned into an arch of copper fish-scales.
The skitter and cluck of a bicycle approached like a history
Which came true for a moment
before
its decrescendo to the selah
He meant to approximate. He had few alternatives:
Days were a little light glimpsed between two acute darks.
What mattered was coming from and going to,
The marking of syllables lineated by turns in the street.
The bridge was a cretic slur in a metrics of morning,
And his leisure in walking was the need to measure himself.
61 For A Good While
Faith Miller
Ti he night I returned from England we stayed overnight in Dublin,
my father and I, staying in the Clarence Hotel beside the Liffey
I'd heard of the hotel years ago when my mother and her boyfriend, Liam, had spent a weekend there. I had prawns menueire in the
restaurant and my father got me a glass of Guinness.
'You're looking great, Slaine," my father said, leaning across the table.
"Cheers."
We clinked glasses.
"How's Aishlin?" I asked. "And Andrea?"
"Ah, good, good. Looking forward to seeing yous. Aishlin wanted to
come along, but the baby had a cold."
"Is she all right?"
He nodded, clutching his stout. "Ah, fine, grand."
"Good."
There seemed nothing to say. My father looked older than I remembered, less attractive, his hair going grey.
"You're looking great, Slaine, grand."
I put a shrimp into my mouth, put my teeth through it and chewed.
"Michelle..." my father said, his words trailing off.
"Aye?" I speared another shrimp. He had lines on his face.
"Mary thinks...Michelle...."
I met his eyes. "What?"
'Your Mammy..."
"How's Declan?" I asked. "And Aidan?"
"Ah, fine, fine," my father said, releasing his breath, his skin looking
normal again. "Missed you so they did."
I nodded. I had missed my brothers as well, particularly Declan who
was close in age to me.
"Care for a sweet, Slaine?" My father asked.
"Ah, no, a cup of tea, though?"
He nodded. 'Two teas," he told the waiter.
I waited until we had our tea and my father had sweetened his. "What
is it then?" I asked softly. My gaze though was directed into his face, a
hard stare.
62 He seemed barely recognizable.
"Michelle?" I asked again.
"It's too much for your Mam," he said. "It's too much." He put the tea
down, his hands flat on the table, entreating me for something. 'Your
Aunt Mary, she's getting on...you, you left them." His tone accused.
I put my own cup down. I crossed my hands across my chest. 'You
left them," I said, and there was nothing soft about me. 'You left Mammy
with Michelle. You left us behind."
My father sighed, palms raised up again. He wore a crucifix around
his neck. It looked to be new.
'You left her and went to New York. You left them all," I said.
"I took you." His voice begged me for something.
I gave him nothing: I felt I had given it all. "Ah, yeah," I said, "you did.
And then back in Ireland you left us again. Went to Cork." I thought,
looking from the walls to the ceiling, from my hands to his, from his
nose to his eyes, about how they rhymed: New York and Cork.
"I took Aishlin," he said. His face was red.
"Ah, yeah," I said. 'You took Aishlin." My words were slow and measured; my tone was even. Had you asked me how my reunion would go,
what I had come back for, I would not have said this. It had not crossed
my mind, so. Yet, staring across the table at this man who was my father
and a stranger both, I realized it could have been no other way. "And
where, Da, did you take Michelle?"
He folded his hands, as if in prayer, grabbing the cross between them.
He lowered his eyes away from mine. "I took her to the home," he said.
'The one outside Tralee. She's well taken care of there, Slaine, the
nuns...." He raised his gaze for a moment and lowered it once more.
"It's the best thing." He looked around the room and signalled for the
bill. "Best all around, sure." His voice sounded nearly casual now.
It wasn't until we'd got up, the pair of us, his hand reaching to leave
the money, that I realized he'd gripped the crucifix so hard it had made
him bleed.
* * *
I was home. In my room. With my silent mother and diffident brothers.
Declan was thirteen now and Aidan had just made nine. I had a job, a job
of sorts, working in my aunt's pub, doing the washing up, helping with
the ordering and the books. It suited. My mother had a new boyfriend,
Seamus, a widower with three children, two of them in America. He was
grey and gaunt and old-like. I had not seen my sister Aishlin since I returned or her daughter or my father since he dropped me off at the
cottage.
"I'll not come in," he said, pressing fifty pounds into my hand. "For
yourself." He reached into a pocket and drew out another twenty. "For
63 your mother." I kept the twenty and gave her the fifty.
"Welcome home, daughter," my mother said, drawing back when I
moved to kiss her.
I was the only daughter she had left. The eldest always. I fell back
into doing the cooking and the cleaning, giving her some of my wages
for the electricity and the heat. It was a fierce cold winter in Kerry that
year, even a bit of snow, spraying the landscape white.
When I thought too much, I worried. I worried about Declan and his
wee girlfriend, Geraldine, what they were getting up to. I worried about
Aidan who ran wild with the boys from the Tinker camp. I worried about
my wee sister Michelle who didn't seem to recognize me when I went
on the bus to Tralee to see her. My Aunt Mary and I went the first time,
with sweeties for Michelle and a rag doll my aunt had made. I went, as if
to mass, weekly, Sundays, skipping the church for the penance. If the
nuns there knew they knew better than to say anything.
I brushed Michelle's wild hair, cut short, but grown curly as if in defiance. I stroked her small face. I dressed her in pretty frocks and drew
pictures for her. She sat there, doll-like, allowing it.
"Does she never speak?" I asked one of the nuns, a young girl from
Scotland, Jenny.
"No, I haven't heard her."
I despaired of it. "Michelle," I told her, sitting on a small painted chair
by her side. "Do you know about the fairies?"
She, of course, didn't answer, but she looked a bit interested.
"Aye," I said, forcing my voice low and seductive. "The fairies that
live in the glens. Sure isn't Ireland filled with them." I touched Michelle's
clammy hand. "Will I tell you about them?"
She made no objection. I sat on the cold stone floor and pulled my
sister onto my lap. She was heavy and smelled of piss. I kissed the top of
her head. I tried to remember the stories I had read. "Once upon a
time," I said, "and it could be this time, all Ireland was crawling with
fairies. Some of them you could see dancing in the sunshine, others
waltzing back and forth when the moon was full. Some fairies like the
dark and some like the day." I smoothed Michelle's hair and she relaxed, leaning against me. "Some of the fairies live in the field, underneath the buttercups, and some live beneath the ground in villages and
cities like. Some of the fairies are among us now, passing as human beings, changelings they're called. The fairies steal the human baby away
and leave a fairy child in its place."
Michelle shivered against me. A faint smile on her full face.
I bent down and kissed her lips. She was cold. I hugged her tightly,
trying to give her some warmth. "The fairies now, they play tricks on
people. Play on their greed and their needs. The fairy children though,
64 raised among the humans, know better. They know the secrets. They
dance in the sunshine and in the moonlight. The changeling children,
they are. Not human at all, but fairies."
Michelle seemed to nod her agreement, but, perhaps, she was just
falling asleep, leaning against me, eyes closing, her breathing gentle and
even.
I rose and gently placed her in the cot. Looked down at her small,
mad face. A child left for us by the fairies. A child to dance the night and
day away.
* * *
The fall dragged on slow. Nothing happened but I kept busy. I went once
to Cork City to see Aishlin and Andrea. We walked down by the sea.
Aishlin was pale and pasty, grown large, her bosoms straining at her
sweater. "I look at them ships, Slaine, and I fancy being a stowaway. I've
to get out of this Godforsaken wasteland." She slid a silver band up and
down her ring finger. "Tis no life here."
I pushed Andrea in the stroller. Aishlin was sixteen. She could have
passed easy now for forty-five. "See the ships, darling?" I asked, squatting down beside Andrea. She looked bored, the pink sweater not suiting her sallow complexion.
"I've never been anywhere," Aishlin said, eyes still on the boats. "Not
to New York. Not to England. Not even to friggin' Dublin."
"We'll go to Dublin," I said, "in the springtime." Saying it, though, I
wondered where I'd be when spring came. I'd not lay a wager I'd still be
living in Killarney with my mother.
Aishlin snarled. "Aye, you'll go to Dublin come the spring, Slaine.
Meself and Andrea we'll be right here. Watching them boats."
"You mustn't think that way," I said, rising with the baby in my arms,
"tell your Mammy." Andrea reached out towards her.
"She's hungry. That's all she's saying now." Aishlin took the baby
from me and headed over to a bench, pulled up her green jumper and
gave Andrea her breast.
I came over beside them, trying not to stare.
'That's all this one ever is." Aishlin spoke harshly, but her fingers
were gentle as she caressed the baby's thin reddish hair. "How was
London then?"
London seemed so long ago to me. "All right. Nothing special."
"No, I don't fancy London. Maybe Paris."
I shrugged. "Will you come with me next week to see Michelle?"
"I'm meant to work. Sometime though. You give her a kiss from me
though." Aishlin lit a cigarette, and stared again at the sea. "Does she
say anything?"
"No."
65 "Does she know you?"
"I think she does. I tell her about the fairies. It makes her smile."
Aishlin nodded, her head bobbing up and down like the markers for
the boats. She cuddled Andrea to her breast, kissed the top of her head.
"Give her my love, Slaine. Best be going." We walked back to her flat,
Aishlin carrying the baby and myself pushing the empty stroller.
* * *
My mother and Seamus were often in the pub. They ignored me and I
paid them no mind. All close and lovey-dovey in the snug. They could
finish a bottle of brandy a night between the two of them. Sometimes
they were joined by Seamus' son, Derek. I couldn't stick him. He was
loud and obnoxious, acting like he was somebody important.
My brother, Declan, found a job working in a newsstand, doing the
lifting, helping with the stock. He was never home now between the
work and the girlfriend. Aidan was home, quiet, sneaky-like, furtively
roaming from room to room like some small rodent.
"How's school?" I asked, putting on the kettle.
"S'all right," he muttered, picking up a comic book and heading for
his bedroom.
"What are you doing now?"
"Ah, nothing much."
I turned to cut the bread and he made his escape. I sighed. I missed
school fierce myself. If I'd been in the academic program it would have
been my last year. I'd have been applying to universities. I might've gone
to college over in America. I could see myself a lawyer or a teacher or a
banker making lots of lovely money. I could see myself in London or
Dublin or New York dressed in high style, eating a fancy salad, drinking
a bit of wine.
At night, twisting and turning in the bed that had once been mine and
Aishlin's, I dreamt of myself living on a farm with an auld farmer and our
children, too many of them to count, then I dreamt myself screaming
when he reached out to touch me again and woke up. I was covered in
sweat and lay there, smelling myself, smelling the faint whiff of urine on
the mattress left over from when Aishlin was a child, and I shivered
underneath the down duvet.
I lay in that bed in the dark, sobbing for what might have been and
what might yet be. I thought no one heard me, no one had heard the
screams, no one to notice the crying. Yet there was a light tap on the
door and it pushed open and there was my mother, wearing a white
nightdress, carrying a cup of warm milk to me.
"There, Slaine," she said, passing the mug to me. "Are you okay?"
I sat up, peering at her in the dim light that came in from the front
room.
66 "Drink this," she said.
And I did, the warm sour taste going inside me, tasting sweet as my
mother sat silent beside me waiting until I was done.
'You're all right there, daughter, you're all right," she said, disappearing out of the room, leaving me in the darkness again.
* * *
I went with Aidan to see Michelle. He seemed nervous, not still on the
bus ride, jumpy-like, sucking down sweets.
"You'll want to calm down, darling," I said to him, reaching to put my
fingers through his hair. Lovely hair he had, all dark and curly. He looked
a great deal like our father, so he did. 'You're going to be dead handsome."
He blushed. "Gwan with you, Slaine. Get me another choc, will you?"
We were walking through the bus terminal. "All right and pick out
one for Michelle."
Aidan stood there, deliberating, finally choosing a Kit Kat for himself
and a Cadbury chocolate bar for Michelle. I paid the vendor the money
and took Aidan's hand. He tried to pull loose from me, but I held fast.
"I'm not going to be after explaining to Mam how I lost you."
He scowled, somehow looking more like my da. "Is it far?"
"Not so far. A ways."
He ripped open the wrapper and bit into his candy. "I'm tired."
"Sure, we haven't walked even a block yet, Aidan."
"I need a piss."
"Why didn't you say so? Back at the bus station?" I wanted to wring
his solid little neck.
"We'll stop in a pub, will we?"
"No," I said. "We will not. Walk a bit faster and we'll get there sooner."
He took another great bite of the Kit Kat. He dragged his feet.
"Look at the roofs," I said as we trudged past a thatched roof.
"Who cares," he said. "I need to go, Slaine."
We were at the outskirts of the town by a field. It was quiet, only the
odd car, no one about. "All right," I said and he headed over to the fence.
I watched as he unzipped his pants and watched as he pulled his little
willy out from inside. I watched as a small stream of yellow trickled onto
the walkway. I watched although I knew I ought not. "Are you done?"
He rubbed his hands on his corduroy trousers, raised his eyes to
mine. "I don't want to go, Slaine." His voice was wee.
"Why not?" I took him by the arm to get him moving. "We'll be late,
so. Come on will ye, boy?"
"I don't want to go," he repeated, tone faint, but eyes determined. He
wasn't moving at all.
"Oh, come on with ye. I've no patience for this." It was getting late. I
67 wanted to go see my sister and get on home. I had the dinner to cook. I
had a new book by Maeve Binchy I was after wanting to start. Seemed
like light novels were all I could manage these days.
"Slaine," Aidan whispered.
"What is it?" I knelt down on the cold hard ground beside him. I could
smell the piss although it was a foot or two away. The sun had gotten low
in the sky. "We've the sweeties for Michelle."
He nodded. He looked into my eyes and I reached up and brushed
his curls away. "What is it, love?"
"You'll not leave me, will ye?"
"No," I said. "Come on then."
We walked together, not touching, but close to one another; walked
to the place with Michelle in it. She seemed happy to see Aidan, smiling
at him and that, paying me no mind. They ate the rest of the chocolates
together, sitting in the shade, him talking non-stop and her laughing. We
stayed until they rang the bell for the evening meal and then Aidan and I
walked back to the station in silence, him stopping to pee before we
boarded the bus home.
* * *
My mother went away. Packed her valise and was gone. She didn't say
where she was going, just walked out the door and got into a car. Aidan
and I stared after her, looked at one another and shook our heads. It
was as if we were miming each other.
Declan burst into the living room late and dirty. "Mammy?" He looked
around. "Slaine?"
"I've your dinner made," I said, "Sit down."
"Where's Mammy?"
"She's gone," Aidan said, suddenly and loudly.
Declan sat down at the table and picked up his fork. He stabbed a bit
of potato and put it into his mouth. He chewed. He swallowed. He looked
down at his plate and speared another bite.
"Eat, yourself," I said, nudging Aidan.
He stared down at his plate and gave his head a slight shake.
"What's the matter?"
"Eh? Nothing."
"Eat up, then, both of yous."
Declan had put his fork down as well.
"Eat, will you!" My voice was shrill to my own ears.
"I'm not hungry, Slaine," Declan said.
I looked down at my plate at the thick vegetable stew and the starchy
potatoes. I could see why they were not appealing. I could imagine them
eating, and myself as well, if it were a nice steak before us or a joint or a
bit of ham. I could not think of the last time I'd had meat or the last time
68 I'd had prawns or crab. I put my spoon into the stew, watching it collect
carrots and peas and grease. "Eat," I said.
'You're not eating yourself," Aidan accused.
"I am," I said and raised the spoon to my mouth.
They watched me, the four eyes, as I swallowed the stew, filled the
spoon, raised it up and swallowed again. I wanted to retch, I felt wretched,
the eyes of my brothers were cold and hard-watching as I ate the stew
alternating with bites of potato. When my plate was clear I walked away
from the table, walked into the bathroom and threw it all back up again.
I lay on my bed, on the bed that I had once shared with Aishlin, that
smelled still of her piss and sweat. I gagged and wanted to be sick again,
but my stomach was as empty as my mind and nothing came out when I
tried.
* * *
My mother did not come back. Did not ring us. Our money was gone.
Declan gave me what he had, the wages he made doing whatever it was
he did, and gave up spending whatever on his girlfriend. We had potatoes and nothing but. Our own famine come again.
There were times when I yearned for the vegetable stew, longed for
a bit of sweet or a glass of cider. We had nothing. The mortgage went
unpaid and the lights as well. Declan stopped going to school altogether
and we fought over that.
Although I saw my aunt everyday I said nothing to her although I
could feel her eyes on me, measuring my lost inches of flesh.
"Are you slimming, Slaine?" she asked once, or more than once.
"Ah, yeah." I turned so she would not see into my eyes.
At night my eyes burned big and bright in my starving face. I saved
what there was for my brothers, eating only the odd bag of crisps from
the pub. I slept fretfully, fitfully, covered in sweat.
Aidan cried in his sleep and Declan walked through the house. Half
ghost and half real. I had no money for the visits to Michelle. I had nothing.
My youth, my looks, were gone and it hadn't taken long, now. Not
long at all. It was just two months ago she had gone. Summer was in the
air, the grass smelling sweet. In the evening I would walk out and lie
down in the grass, remember my old boyfriend, Colm, wondering how
he was. If he had made it to New York and how it was there for him.
There was no word from him nor from my father. Declan was thin
and Aidan was scrawny. There was food though, now and again, bangers
Declan found somewhere. I asked no questions.
When the school year ended my aunt gave Aidan a job sweeping up
in the pub. I could tell she wanted to ask us the obvious questions, where
my mammy was, and that, but she never said any of them. Sometimes I
69 found an extra pound note in my pay envelope, but I always put it back in
the register. I knew my aunt knew, but we, neither of us, mentioned it.
She gave Aidan a hot meal though and he ate it, ate the vegetables
and the potatoes like they were cakes and candy. Declan got another
job, working in a bookie shop, and brought his pay home to me.
I made eighteen. My aunt baked a cake for me and I had a glass of
Guinness there. And another one and a third. My stomach couldn't
handle it and I ended up sick in the ladies', staring at the stranger in the
mirror, wondering why I had come home to this and where had I gone.
My aunt followed me in. "Are you all right, Slaine?
I looked from my face to hers. "No."
She reached out then and pulled me against her, her warm full body
providing some comfort. But I knew it was temporary, short-lived, and
that things would have to change. "Slaine," she whispered in my ear,
"love."
But I pulled away from her then, looked back at myself, at me. "We'll
manage though," I said and drying my tears walked back out to my brothers.
* * *
We managed, so we did, but not without help. My aunt Mary gave me
carrier bags filled with food, paid the mortgage, got the power back on.
'You should've asked her sooner," Declan scolded, and I nodded.
I should have, but I wasn't sorry I hadn't. I found myself another
part-time job, working in a bookshop for the summer. I was busy, but
that was good. I didn't want the time to think. I went from working to
chores to sleep and then back up again and if I wasn't happy, I was not
sad either.
Declan and Aidan were good, helping with everything, scarcely children themselves anymore.
"I hate me mammy," Aidan said one night, eating his cheese salad.
I frowned.
"I hate her," he said, mouth closing tight and fierce.
"Ah, no," I said.
"Well, I hate her as well," Declan said defiantly, standing up with it.
He was taller than I, skinny, not a boy anymore.
I was reminded of the time, years ago, when my sister Aishlin had
told my mother that she hated my absent father. I felt my mother's rage
throbbing through me. I shut my eyes against it, feeling the blood coursing through my veins. My mother had slapped Aishlin for it, and my
hands clenched into fists. One for each of them.
I felt myself my mother then, all of her responsibilities, all of her
weariness, all of her anger. I felt my own rage towards her and the hate
and the love, always the love. I opened my eyes and looked at my
70 brothers. "Come here," I said, levelly, my tone broaching no chance not
to obey. "Now," I said in my mother's voice.
But when they crept towards me, Aidan fearful and Declan defiant, I
put my hands soft against each of their cheeks and then I pulled them
into my arms, against my thin body, and we stood that way for a good
while.
71 Wool-chin J-son
Novena
Though the white gates are never locked
we crawl, like thieves, through a hole in the wattled fence
up a slope to the statue behind the chapel
and scrape off these shells of wax pasted around Mary's feet.
We'll later melt them into crooked candles.
And afraid to offend mercy, we purse our lips,
kneel, and whisper long rosaries for the sin
we're about to commit. Even in our poverty, we appease
the goddess by whispering our prayers
into the unfinished prayers of burning candles.
Between piety and the fear of being caught, our breath
comes forth like slender needles which bend the flames
and melt a groove in the halo that holds the wax;
rivers rush down these candles, and cooled by the marble slabs
harden into white shells. We collect them all, and as we leave,
we're caught near the gate by Father Dominique who hollers
and hobbles toward us on his walking stick. We do not run
because we know God is everywhere, and we can outrun
an elderly priest who tells us insomnia has brought him out
to witness two boys cleaning the porcelain feet of Mother Mary.
72 Recognition
Kevin Dooley
Tme way that woman looked at that baby, did you see it? Did you
see the way her eyes opened, the way the creases in her forehead
went away? She almost smiled. She almost became beautiful. You
almost couldn't see that her nose looks like she lost it at sea and had it
replaced by an iron hook. You almost couldn't see the mustache the way
she glowed for that second. For just that second you didn't want to hate
her for being old and ugly and mean.
And then, as fast as it turned on, the glow was gone and you could
actually see her heart breaking. Did you see it? You could see a specific
pain from a specific incident. Something, some specific thing crossed
her face like a cloud casting a shadow on a window but from the inside.
For a second she looked shocked, terrified almost, like she had just heard
some terrible news. You must have seen it. Then her face went back to
what it was before, and she walked away in that funny slouched-over way
of hers.
How could you not have noticed it? How could you not have seen how
she crossed the mall to get away from that baby, changed her course
completely? She was obviously going to the Wal-Mart. Then, after she
saw that baby, she went over and sat down on the benches in the middle
of the mall. She sat down there and just sat. She sat like she was trying to
remember something. Or maybe she was trying to stop remembering
something. But she just sat there. I kept expecting her to look through
her purse for something, a Kleenex or a list or money or whatever
someone like that carries in her purse. But she just sat there.
The mall music system was playing some schmaltzy version of The
Man I Love. It was so ironic—"Some day he'll come along, the man I
love. And he'll be big and strong, the man I love,"—while she sat there
alone just sitting. Maybe she was listening to the music. I don't know.
She didn't seem to be enjoying it if she was listening. Her face was all
scrunched up like she was thinking really hard or constipated or something.
I wouldn't have believed that a baby could affect somebody like that.
The malls are full of babies. And this one was just as bald as any of them.
I can't tell them apart. We must have seen a dozen babies in the mall that
73 day. Remember? That woman must have seen them too. She must have
seen a dozen babies every time she went to that mall, which had to be at
least once a week. I've seen her there before. Always scowling, always
just rushing from one store to the next and then gone. Pushing people
out of her way, cursing at the kids. She must have seen babies before.
Maybe that particular baby reminded her of another baby she used to
know. Maybe she thought something like, hey, it's that baby, my favourite
baby. And then she realized it was no baby she knew. But I don't know. It
looked like just another bald little baby to me. Did you see it better than
I did? Or maybe it was just flirting with her. You know how babies flirt
sometimes with anybody, any stranger, even an ugly old woman? And
maybe she was just flirting back. But it sure looked like she was recognizing someone she knew and was happy to see.
So I was kind of watching her, because I'd never seen her do anything
but scowl before. And I was starting to think maybe she was a human
being after all because there was just that spark, that second when she
was looking at the baby where she looked like she was really alive.
Then the song ended and she kind of relaxed a bit. She breathed a
really big breath and grabbed her purse and the bag of knitting stuff or
whatever an old woman like that buys at the mall. And she stood up like
she was getting ready to go back home, or maybe she was going to finish
her shopping. I don't know. She just looked like she knew what she was
going to do, and she stood up.
She stood up stiffly like old people do sometimes, you know. She stood
up and took a couple steps toward the Wal-Mart. And then she turned
and started walking toward the food court, took another couple steps,
and then turned toward the exit. But she just stopped and stood there
like she was making up her mind about what direction she was really
going to go.
And then I saw her turn her head around toward where that baby was,
because it was still there. Its mom was just holding it, patting it on the
back and bouncing it up and down a bit to make it not cry while she
talked to another woman. I saw the old woman look around and look
again at that baby. But this time her face didn't glow. This time she just
kind of looked like she was in pain.
So that's when she fell down. I know you saw her fall down. She fell
down. She just fell straight down, still holding her shopping bag and her
purse. She fell straight down, just like her bones all went mushy on her.
She fell straight down, and the cops said she died right there. She just
fell down. I didn't know she died until later, when the cops said it. And
then, like as soon as she hit the ground, that tiny, bald baby started crying so loud and painful. I never knew any baby that small who could
make so much noise.
74 Did You Ever Hear Such
a Tale in Your Life?
Michelle Berry
tor joe Kertes
Tihere are two men standing in front of Lisa in the lineup at the
grocery store. They are holding hands. Lisa looks down at her
hands and feels the weight of the potatoes tugging at her wrists.
"Oh my God," one man says. He drops the other's hand.
"What?"
"Potatoes! We've forgotten potatoes!"
They are almost to the front of the line. The one man looks back at the
large lineup. He scans the aisles. He puts his hand up over his eyes, like
he's shading them, and scans the aisles for something that will tell him
where the potatoes are.
"We'll get them on the way home," his friend tells him. His friend
takes his hand again. "Don't worry. We'll get them later. We're almost at
the front of the line."
"I could run. I could run for the potatoes and, by the time you're up at
the cash, I'd be back." He drops the other's hand again.
Lisa watches.
"No," he says. "No. I couldn't leave you here. I couldn't leave you alone."
He says this so quietly that Lisa is a little afraid she hasn't heard it
right. She moves in closer. She pretends to read the Weekly World News.
"Baby Alien Hatched From Dinosaur Egg," the front page shouts.
"Woman with Seven Heads Meets Headless Man and Falls in Love."
The two men are holding hands again and the potato-worrier looks
like he might cry. His friend is looking at his feet. He admires his Doc
Martens and then plays with the red handle of his grocery cart.
Lisa looks around at the cavernous store. She hears the echoes of
hundreds of shopping carts' squeaky wheels.
"What about yams? We can use the yams instead of potatoes," the one
man says.
"No. That just won't do."
75 Lisa is desperately trying not to stare at them.
"Man Caught in Cyclone for Eight Days Eats Own Leg to Stay Alive."
"I still have time to get them. Look. That man is so slow. I could be
back in less than a minute."
"Don't leave me alone!" The one man shouts this.
Lisa looks up. The two men are staring at each other hard.
The potato-man has blond hair. It is dyed blond and his mustache is
red. The effect is startling. The other man is bald. He isn't bald by nature,
he's done the shaving himself, or had it done somewhere. Lisa can see
the stubble growing back. It is patchy and dark.
Behind Lisa there is a woman and a man with a small child. The child
is sitting in their half-empty grocery cart, singing, Three Blind Mice, and
eating an Arrowroot cookie.
"Homosexuals," the man hisses at the woman. Lisa stares at him. She
doesn't care if he sees her. "Homosexuals," he says again. The man says
this with such contempt that Lisa is suddenly afraid.
She moves closer to the two men, picks up the Weekly World News and
opens it to page one.
Three blind mice.
Three blind mice.
See how they run.
See how they run....
Lisa reads the caption under the picture of the woman with seven
heads. It reads, "Nice legs, shame about the heads."
"I'm just nervous alone," the bald man says. "I just feel so vulnerable."
"I know, I know." The potato-man is caressing the bald man's back.
Lisa can hear the man behind her hissing something. He sounds a lot
like a snake. Or a gas leak. "I'm sorry. I just wanted potatoes."
The woman at the checkout looks haggard and rushed. She groans
when she looks up and sees how long the line is.
"Marianne, open checkout six, please," she calls into the microphone
next to her. Half of her lineup rushes to checkout six, but when they get
there it is closed. Lisa transfers her bag of potatoes from one hand to the
other.
All Lisa has is potatoes. She's on this potato diet and all she can eat for
six days are potatoes. She can cook them any way she pleases (fry, bake,
microwave, roast); she can buy all types (white, red, P.E.I., sweet); she
just can't eat anything but potatoes. When she saw Mark on the street
with Tina she decided to try the diet.
Mark.
Lisa's ex. The ex-boyfriend who left Lisa because she wasn't ethnic
76 enough, because her past was no nasty secret, because she had no clouded
history. Lisa thinks she can't lose anything by trying the potato diet.
Anything but weight.
The seven-headed woman looks a lot like Tina. At least she has Tina's
body. Small and shapely with large breasts. And one of the heads does
bear a mild resemblance—all that kinky black hair and those dark,
piercing eyes.
"When we are separated I feel so...."
"Vulnerable?"
"No, I said that already. I feel exposed."
"Isn't that the same as vulnerable?"
"I guess so."
The bald man spits on his finger and cleans the toe of his Doc Marten
with it.
Lisa hears a hiss from behind.
"Can't you say anything nice?" the woman behind Lisa whispers to the
hissing man.
"Faggots," he says.
They all ran after the farmer's wife,
Who cut off their tails with a carving knife.
The two men turn, look at Lisa and then stare at the hissing man. Lisa
turns red. She can feel it spread across her face. She feels like she's the
one who has hissed. The man behind her whispers something to the
woman and then they pull their cart out of line and walk over to checkout six. Lisa sees all these confused-looking people at checkout six just
waiting for Marianne to open up.
"Marianne, open checkout six!" Lisa's checkout woman screams this
into the microphone. The store suddenly goes quiet. She blushes. "Sorry,"
she says to the old man trying to pay his bill in pennies. He ignores her
and keeps counting.
"A dollar eighty-six, a dollar eighty-seven...." His total reads $20.04.
Lisa sighs. Then the two men in front of her start kissing. Their tongues
move in and out of each other's mouths. They look over at the hissing
man and they kiss and the bald man's legs shake so badly he almost
loses his balance.
The Weekly World News hasn't told Lisa anything she doesn't already
know.
She can hear faint singing coming from the child at checkout six.
Did you ever hear such a tale in your life?
Three blind mice.
77 She looks over at checkout six, at the child singing in the grocery
cart, and sees the hissing man staring at the two kissing men in front of
her. She shivers.
"Here," she moves up close to the kissing men and hands them her
bag of potatoes. "Here. You have them. I don't need them."
"God, thank you," they say in unison.
"How nice of you," says the potato-man.
The bald man touches her arm with the finger he spit on and Lisa
leaves the lineup and moves quickly out of the store. A breeze from the
cars rushing past on the street hits her face. A street car screeches
menacingly. A man asks her for spare change. It's not until Lisa is a block
away that she realizes she is still carrying the copy of the Weekly World
News. She opens it and looks again at the seven-headed woman. She looks
at the woman's body. Just like Tina's body. There is no picture of the
headless man she has fallen in love with but Lisa thinks that he must be
handsome to get a woman with a body like that. Then she laughs. She
doubles up, laughing on the street, thinking of a handsome headless man
and what that could possibly mean.
People stop to look at her. She stops laughing and walks on.
Further down the street Lisa sees a blond, pimply woman in a red
checkout outfit. She is sitting on a park bench, chewing gum. She is holding her chubby arms around her chest, rocking, in the cold of the day.
Lisa sits beside her. She leans over, pretending to get something out of
her knapsack, and looks at the woman's name tag. "Marianne," it says in
large, pink letters.
"Excuse me," Lisa says. Her voice is dry.
"What?"
"You're wanted on checkout six," Lisa says.
Marianne looks at her like she's crazy. "Pardon me?"
"In the store," Lisa says. "Checkout six." She points towards the grocery store.
"Yeah, well, I quit," Marianne says and then she starts to cry.
Lisa hands her the Weekly World News she is still holding. Marianne
takes it and opens to page one.
"Nice body," she says. She is looking at the seven-headed woman.
'Too bad about all those heads."
"They could come in handy," Lisa says. She sees the two men, holding
hands, walking out of the grocery store. Her potatoes are somewhere in
their bag.
"For what?" Marianne stops reading and chewing and crying and looks
at Lisa. Her eyes are puffy and a pimple near her upper lip has burst.
There is a drop of blood on it.
'You could see behind you, you could talk to yourself and no one would
78 think you were crazy, you could kiss seven men at once, you could eat
seven different flavours of ice cream, you could sing and it would sound
like a concert, you could—"
"I get the picture." Marianne doesn't seem impressed. "I'd rather have
one head," she says, "even if it is this ugly one." She gets up, takes the
Weekly World News with her, and walks, shoulders stooped, towards the
grocery store.
The bald man and the potato-man wave at Lisa from across the street.
She waves back.
79 Duane Williams
Pigs Eat Rabbits
What comes, nothing
else, as I lie in the dark,
is that you knew that
pigs eat rabbits
and I did
not.
On his farm, you learned
the truth about pigs, not
three who fought a wolf
for their homes, but
pigs who rule
hunger.
Sleepless, I
go to your father's farm.
As you dream, I drain
the red from white
rabbits, and by cold moon,
tie their silence to
branches.
Sleep. Do not
be disturbed
by the tongues of death
in the trees. Dream
of a river, just
beyond the electric
fences.
80 Now I know that
pigs eat rabbits.
I know what you know.
I serve fatal blows
as I wander his barn—
ruby eyes, all that
hunger in your
darkness.
81 Contributors
Michelle Berry has been published in The Malahat Review, The New Quarterly,
TickleAce, and many other Canadian periodicals. She is Associate Editor for
Blood & Aphorisms and lives in Toronto. Did You Ever Hear Such a Tale?, a
collection of stories, will be published by Turnstone (Spring 1997).
Michael Blaine's short fiction has appeared in The New England Review, The
North American Review, Shenandoah, and The Village Voice Literary Supplement,
among others. His story "Whiteouts" has been nominated for this year's American Fiction Prize and will appear in American Fiction 97, edited by Joyce Carol
Oates. Mr. Blaine lives in rural, upstate New York with his wife, the artist Rose
Mackiewicz, in a one-hundred-and-sixty-year-old farmhouse balanced on a boulder.
Andrew Bryant was born in Wales. He has been previously published in Poetry
Wales, Poetry Toronto, Waves, and Blood & Aphorisms.
Jonathan Christensen and Joey Tremblay are the artistic co-directors of
Catalyst Theatre. Elephant Wake was first performed at the Edmonton International Fringe Festival. The production received four Stirling Awards: outstanding new work, outstanding direction, outstanding performance, and outstanding
production. It will be performed at Catalyst Theatre and at the Globe Theatre
during the 1996/97 season.
Kevin Dooley is a Toronto-based writer, computer consultant and a free-lance
particle physicist. He is currently working on his first novel. This is his first
published piece of fiction.
Seamus Heaney was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995. His
impressive body of work spans three decades. Recent notable titles include
The Redress of Poetry: Oxford Lectures (1995), Seeing Things (1991), and New
Selected Poems 1966-1987. Heaney has translated works by Dante, Ovid, and
Yirgil. He has also translated Sweeney Astray (Buile Suibhne) and The Midnight
Court (Ciiirt an Mhean-Oiche) from the Irish.
Wooi-chin J-son attended college at the University of Southern Mississippi
and then at California State University, Northridge, and is now teaching at Long
Beach City College in California.
Cathal Bui Macgiolla Gunna (c. 1680-1756). It is thought that Macgiolla Gunna
was born in Co. Fermanagh.
Faith Miller's work has appeared in numerous literary magazines including
82 Djinn, Hanging Loose and Blue Penny Quarterly. She lives in New York City and
has recently completed a novel called Logic Parallels. She has a BA in Writing
from Knox College in Illinois.
Christian Petersen is a previous contributor to Grain, The New Quarterly,
Swiftsure Weekly, Pottersfield Portfolio, The Fiddlehead and others. His story, "Heart
Red Monaco", which appeared in PRISM (30:4), has been selected for a forthcoming anthology entitled Key To The Highway, edited by Lorna Jackson and
Mark Jarman. He lives in Williams Lake, B.C.
Bruce Taylor's next collection of poetry, Facts, will be published by Signal
Editions in the Spring of 1997. He has previously published two collections of
poetry: Getting on with the Era (Villeneuve, 1987), and Cold Rubber Feet (Cormorant, 1989).
Duane Williams lives in Hamilton, Ontario. His short stories have appeared in
Queeries and Queer View Mirror (Arsenal Pulp Press). He has published stories
and poems in Absinthe, Church-Wellesley Review, People's Poetry, Afterthoughts and
Kairos.
Janice Wong is an artist from Saskatchewan now living in Vancouver. A Lost
Treasure is from a series of paintings that focused on fragments of paper, organic
matter and shards of pottery.
Derk Wynand's long poem, Airborne (1994), received an honourable mention
for the bp nicholl Chapbook Award (1995). Another collection—his ninth—
Closer to Home, has been accepted by Brick Books and is scheduled for publication in Fall '97. He was last published by PRISM in Vol. 33, No. 4. Since 1992, he
has been the editor of The Malahat Review at the University of Victoria.
Andrew Zawacki is an editor of Verse. His work has appeared in The Rialto,
Envoi, Oxford Quarterly Review, Thumbscrew, Oxford Magazine, and the 1996 May
Anthologies (edited by Simon Armitage). He will be representing the UK at the
1996 Vilenica Conference in Slovenia this September.
83 $2000 First Prize
& Five Prizes of $200
Plus Publication Payment!
f
Prism Internationa
(Sl^rtQlWbn Contest
^/j/jaximum length per story is 25 double-spaced pages. Your
name, address and the title of each story must appear in a cover
letter — do not put your name on the manuscript(s).
The entry fee is $15 plus $5 per story submitted. You may enter
as many stories as you like. Entrants from outside Canada should
pay in American funds. All entrants receive a one year
subscription to PRISM international. Current subscribers will
receive a one year extension to their subscription.
Please make cheques payable to PRISM international. Entries must
be original, unpublished material, not under consideration
elsewhere.
The contest is open to anyone except students or instructors in
the Creative Writing Program at the University of British
Columbia. Entries will not be returned. Winners will be notified
by or before March, 1997. Include a SASE for a list of winners.
Preliminary judging by the PRISM international editorial board.
Final Judge — Kenneth J. Harvey
Entries must be postmarked no later than December 1 5, 1996.
Send entry fees and manuscript(s) to:
PRISM international Short Fiction Contest
Creative Writing Prog., University of B.C.
E462-1 866 Main Mall, Vancouver, B.C.
Canada V6T1Z1 Creative Writing M.F.A
U.B.C.
The University of British Columbia offers a Master of Fine Arts
degree in Creative Writing. Students choose three genres to work in
from a wide range of courses, including: Poetry, Novel/Novella,
Short Fiction, Stage Plays, Screen & TV Plays, Radio Plays, Writing
for Children, Non-Fiction and Translation. A course in Editing and
managing a Literary Magazine is also offered. All instruction is in
small workshop format or tutorial. The thesis consists of imaginative
writing. The Creative Writing Program also offers a Diploma
Programme in Applied Creative Non-Fiction.
Faculty
Sue-Ann Alderson
George McWhirter
Keith Maillard
Jerry Newman
Linda Svendsen
Peggy Thompson
For further information, please write:
Creative Writing Program
University of British Columbia
Buchanan E462-1866 Main Mall
Vancouver, B.C. V6T IZl National Sports
(of all sorts)
The Fiddlehead 1996 Writing Contest
Was hockey our national sport
before it was kidnapped by the
capitalists and media? Is it the Canadian equivalent to opera, the
essential blend of violence and
lyricism, the blade and wing? From
what ancient myth is Don Cherry a
refugee, anyhow? Where were you
for the Henderson goal? Which is
more damaging to the Canadian
psyche: the separation of Quebec
or the first Gretzky trade?
But there are other candidates
for the honour that need their own
voices—candidates such as slo-pitch,
Euchre, bowling, barbecuing, snow-
blowing (for speed and artistic impression), parking (utilitarian and
romantic) fishing, curling, lacrosse,
video gambling, racquet-ball, aerobics, jogging, tractor pulls, biking,
national unity debates, getting on
Morningside, etc. etc. Not to mention those national obsessions from
other countries—cricket, soccer, the
Olympics (games, drugs, politics),
heck, even baseball with its union/
management intrigue.
$300 for best Story
$300 for best Poem
Submission: Not to exceed 10 typed double-spaced pages per entry.
Judging: Blind. Please type name on separate sheet.
Entry fee: $18 per entry; includes a year's subscription to The Fiddle-
head. (Additional $8 postage for US & overseas entries.)
No submission previously published, or accepted for publication can
be considered.
Please send a self-addressed envelope and Canadian postage if you wish
the manuscript returned.
Deadline: December 15, 1996.
Winners will be published in 1997.
Send submissions to: National Sports
The Fiddlehead
UNB PO Box 4400    Fredericton NB    Canada E3B 5A3 Announcing the second annual
Pottersfield Portfolio
Compact Fiction / Short Poem Competition
Pottersfield Portfolio is looking for stories of 1500 words or
less and poems of 20 lines or less.   Authors of the winning
entry in each category will receive a cash award of $150.
Winning entries will be published in Pottersfield Portfolio.
Your entry can consist of np to either 3 poems or 2 stories.   A
non-refnndable fee of $20 mnst accompany your first entry in
either the poem or story category.   An additional $5 fee mnst
accompany each subsequent entry in the same category.   The
initial $20 entry fee entitles you to a 1 year subscription to
Pottersfield Portfolio (3 issues) beginning with the May 1997
issue.   Those who pay to enter in both categories will receive a
2 year subscription.
Your name must not appear on the manuscript.   Please type
your name, address, phone/fax number, story or poem titles,
and (for the fiction category) an accurate word count on a
separate sheet.   Material that has been previously published or
accepted for publication cannot be considered.
Entries cannot be returned.   If you include a self-addressed
stamped envelope you will be informed of the competition
results.
Entries must be postmarked no later than February 14, 1997 to
be eligible for consideration.
Send entries to:
Compact Fiction /
Short Poem
Competition
Pottersfield
Portfolio
P.O. Box 27094,
Halifax,
Nova Scotia
B3H 4M8   So, my friends and neighbours, let it flow:
You'll be stood no rounds in eternity.
from The Yellow Bittern, a Seamus Heaney translation
of Anbunnan Bui by Cathal Bui Macgoilla Gunna
Michelle Berry
Michael Blaine
Andrew Bryant
Jonathan Christenson
Kevin Dooley
Seamus Heaney
Wooi-chin J-son
Cathal Buf Macgiolla Gunna
Faith Miller
Christian Petersen
Bruce Taylor
Joey Tremblay
Duane Williams
Derk Wynand
Andrew Zawacki
Cover Art: "A Lost Treasure" by Janice Wong
ISSN 0032.8790

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