PRISM international

Prism international Prism international Oct 31, 1978

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Fall igy8
Special Canadian Under jo's Issue II    international
Special Canadian
Under jo's Issue II Editor-in-Chief
Associate Editors
Editorial Assistants
Managing Editor
Advisory Editor
CONTEMPORARY WRITING This is the second of our two special PRISM international
issues devoted to Canadian writers who are under thirty
years of age. The first, PRISM 17:1, contained mostly
poetry, and this issue, 17:2, contains mostly fiction. It has
once again been our editorial policy to publish our contributors for their strengths of craft and original style, and
to be as representative as possible of their work. Enjoy.
Editor-in-Chief »
Bruce Byfield
Two Poems
Brian Bartlett
Tent by the Sea
Stephen Boston
The Erosion of Privacy in the New Age or
Caged on a Stage with No Place to Hide 23
Danny Feeney
Two Poems
Terence Byrnes
Getting the Hang of It
Mark Frutkin
Two Poems
Barry Dempster
A Large K in Kill
Paul Gotro
Two Poems
Levi Dronyk
Baxter Jack
Sean Hearty
Three Poems
Tove Ditlevsen
Kevin Irie
Three Poems
Lesley Krueger
The Songs of Anna Marten
A. Labriola
Silent Films (poem)
Beth Powning
Nicholas Mason-Browne
Memoir (poem)
Dave Richards
Husband and Wife/Gratten/1927
Erin Moure
Three Poems
David Sharpe
In Another Light
Barbara Rendall
Parental (poem)
Robert Sherrin
Best Falling Dead
Martin Reyto
Two Poems
132 Donna E. Smyth    The Temptation of Leafy 136
Betsy Struthers    Two Poems 145
Joel Yanofsky    Ghost Stories 147
Notes on Contributors 177
Books Received and Recommended:
Canadian Under-30 Authors 180
PRISM international, a journal of contemporary writing, is published twice-
yearly at the Department of Creative Writing at the University of British
Columbia, Vancouver, B.C. v6t IW5. Microfilm editions are available from
Xerox University Microfilms, Ann Arbour, Michigan, and reprints (Vols. 1-5)
from the Kraus Reprint Corporation, New York, New York.
PRISM international now appears twice-yearly in the Spring and Fall. The cost
of single issues is $4.00, one year individual subscriptions $7.00, two year subscriptions $13.00, three year subscriptions $18.00. To libraries and institutions:
one year subscriptions $10.00, two year subscriptions $15.00, three year subscriptions $20.00.
Our gratitude to the Canada Council and the University of British Columbia for
their continued support.
PRISM international would like to acknowledge the kind assistance of the following individuals and organizations in the compilation of the two Canadian
Under-Thirties issues: Clark Blaise; Fred Cogswell; Dave Godfrey; Ralph
Gustafson; Dennis Lee; Rudy Wiebe; the League of Canadian Poets; the
Writers' Union of Canada; and the Creative Writing Programmes at the University of Toronto, University of Victoria, and the University of Ottawa. Bruce Byfield / Two Poems
Yes, I have walked the way of beaches, stared,
pretending not to stare when blue-smeared eyes
opened deer-wary.    When each body's bared
in lotioned ease, I've eyed across breast-rise
and knotted on nylon-bound loins I passed,
blood wilding on the bottlecap-bright sands.
Then every shadow has seemed couple-cast
except my own.    From tideline I've toed fast
past those sprawled back on grass, hands spread on hands,
and empty as an echo, found cement,
my unmingled heat unspent. STOOD-UP
(A Poem for a Voice)
Twilighted reek in a blood-rugged hall —
my drumming fingers bring no one before the door.
Walled whispers.    I wait,
wait for the okaying eye,
weight down left foot, right foot.
Secret as thieves, I nudge the doorknob around —
Did I board an early bus?
You woman.    You witch.    Bitch.
The door's swatted flat-handed.    I fling down the hall.
I stretch on a bench, bored as a cat.
I put a page of my book away.
The letters are calm, so calm!
I go needle and thread through streets,
stare out of stores not to miss her.
I should go ask the neighboring gay,
I should stab at her blinds with a stick.
Why am I circling, circling her rooms like the sun?
Why am I something she'd rather wipe off her feet?
I eat a peach.    I eat pizza,
I knock again, knock again
until the skylip leeches the sun away
and I wander home, home
in darkness like undeveloped film. Brian Bartlett
Tent by the Sea
As soon as his father's car disappeared in a cloud of dust, Henry
dropped his folded puptent onto the grass and looked through
shadows of trees past a bank down over the long pale beach to waves
breaking onto the sand. The grey-green ocean was just close enough
that he heard it murmuring. Even when he hit his thumb while
pounding a peg into the ground, he kept smiling. Dropping the rock
he shook his hand, thinking as if the skinned knuckle were someone
else's, Blood — what a nuisance. Sparrows scrambled under the trees
at his back. Quickly he picked up the rock and drove in the other
pegs, which sank smoothly into the rich-smelling earth. Inside the
tent he emptied a knapsack throwing his cans of stew and beans,
frying pan, flashlight and grey paperback along one wall. Having
picked a site with no other campers either way for two sites, he heard
nothing but sparrows stepping on leaves as he changed into his
bathing suit.
Hot sand flowed over his bare feet as he walked towards shore,
the sound of the ocean like a slow enormous beast coming closer.
Across the half mile afternoon sunbathers were scattered rather than
mobbed, Thank God. A few yards from the sea he stretched out his
towel, buried his glasses in sand and lifted his arms over his head. He
began running and tried not to howl as the Fundy cold hit his ankles,
then his knees, then his stomach, then his chest. Submerged he soon
felt warmer, his long hair floating back so freely it felt like a crown
of fine sea grass.
When he broke surface he drifted on his back, blinking at the
cloudless sky. Even salt water trickling into his mouth tasted good,
tasted even better when the past week flashed by his eyes: writing
grade 11 Departmentals in a humid packed gym he had stabbed his
hand with a compass point to stop dreaming about the beach, and
promised himself A weekend by myself, away from all this! Now
10 waves lifted him high and low, wrestling and embracing him.
Though he was half blind without his glasses he saw drenched
kaleidoscopic patterns wink all around him where sunlight and water
Only when he headed back to his tent did the cut sting again, so
he sucked it to clean away the salt. Back in his T-shirt and cut-off
corduroys he walked jauntily through a stand of spruce to the canteen, where a man wearing a baseball cap was turning a hamburger
on a grill. As he rested his arms on the counter Henry asked, "Got a
box of Band-Aid's?"
The man reached into a shelf and tossed a white box onto the
counter. "Tentin' here with friends?" he asked, chewing bubblegum.
"Naw — by myself." Noting the price scribbled on the box, Henry
pulled change out of his pocket.
"Come to check out the honeys by the sea, huh?" the man asked,
taking the money. One of his front teeth was missing. "I see lotsa
guys like you all summer — come here and try to start up somethin'
with every honey in the campgrounds."
"I — huh, I hadn't thought of that."
"Sure you hadn't, sure you hadn't." As Henry clutched the box
of Band-Aid's and left, the man called, "Good huntin'!"
The rocks of the parking lot under his sneakers made sounds as
harsh as his anger. That man was like his father's friend who always
asked how many girls' names and numbers he had in "the little black
book," as if everyone in high school worried about nothing but messy
kisses in back seats of cars and had never heard of the gods Poseidon
and Triton. His father's friend and Gaptooth back there didn't know
a damn thing about pitching your own tent for the first time, all the
shackles that threw off. As he reached the path the noise of gravel
stopped and again he walked silently over spruce needles.
Back by his tent he sat on a tree stump and put a Band-Aid on his
thumb, then piled together paper from his knapsack and sticks from
under the trees, started a fire in the cooking pit of his site and twisted
open a can of Irish stew. Within minutes the stew bubbled and spat
in the frying pan. Hunched on the stump watching sand lolling
down to the sea and the sea lapping up over sand, he ate stew and a
grape jam sandwich. Insects fell onto his skin and clothes and he
looked at them closely before calmly brushing them away.
By 7:30 he was thirsty. When he reached the canteen the man
was off duty and to his relief a woman — Gaptooth's wife? — served
him without speaking. With a box of chocolate milk in his hand he
11 passed through the trailer park, glad his parents had never dragged
him around in one of those miniature wheeled suburban houses.
Trailers! He wanted to throw rocks at them and run away, laughing.
Beyond the campgrounds a tall young woman in a peach-coloured
bikini was strolling along the edge of the forest, her sleek black hair
dripping and her rounded hips gently swinging. She seemed to be
talking to something held up in her hand; he stared, seeing it was a
large dried starfish. If there weren't a legend about a girl communing
with starfish, there should be. Maybe he would write it.
It took an hour to figure out the intricate forest trails. All hidden,
ovenbirds and spring peepers chanted tirelessly. More campers than
he'd expected were taking walks, especially young couples, the trails
so narrow only two campers could walk abreast on them; whenever
he met a couple coming arm-in-arm or hand-in-hand he stepped
down and pressed against trees, as if backing against the wall of a
narrow hall, to let them pass. Giggling or whispering or silent, they
all seemed to him unaware and blundering.
One trail led to the river, which was no wider than a brook that
close to the sea. After the deepening darkness of the trails, by the river
the purples of violets, oranges of dead ferns and whites of bunchberry
blossoms almost stunned him. He rubbed his hands in them until his
palms were lightly painted. // / was a dog I'd roll around in these
colours. It was hard following the river down the rest of the way
without a trail and with scratchy trees interlocked everywhere. Now
the woods were almost too dark for him to see his feet, but after
crashing through the last branches and sliding down onto shore he
clearly saw his dirty white sneakers in the clean white sand.
Around a bend from the swimming beach, here stones and boulders were more plentiful than sand. Starting back towards the
swimming beach he climbed onto a rise of copper-coloured rock. A
slender yellow-legged shorebird flew by with a fish in its bill. When
he reached the highest level of the rock he walked to the edge, threw
his fists in the air and let out the happy yell that had built up all
afternoon. Ah-ah-ah-ayeeeee!
In his tent he ate a devilled egg and crawled into his sleeping bag,
keeping on his shirt to stop shivering. With the flashlight beamed on
his book he started reading, struggling to care that Jack Durbeyfield
discovered his family was once illustrious. Yet he liked the girls and
women on their "club-marching" festival crossing town with willow
wands and white flowers; he could almost hear Tess's dress swishing
outside his tent though to almost everybody she was a fine and pic-
12 turesque country girl, and no more. Somehow she got mixed-up with
the round-hipped girl holding the starfish, and his eyelids dragged.
Once the flashlight was off he forgot both girls and felt he was back
in the sea riding with the waves.
"Danny, don't you dare take fig-bars for breakfast!"
A woman's sharp voice somewhere outside. The top of the tent
paler green, more in light, than the bottom. Tess and his glasses at
his side. He tugged on his sneakers, hearing New York accents in
those voices.
"Dad, the tent's crooked!" called a boy.
"Don, give me a hand here!" shouted a man.
Squatting, he shuffled out of his tent. Square on all sides, their
tent was as big as a trailer and partly blocked the sun. "Great," he
muttered, turning toward the public outhouses. He heard the father
shout, "Don, you can unpack later!" and saw a girl in sky blue
shorts and blouse step out of the tent. Don? Dawn. Before hearing
her speak he hurried away, knowing from experience girls his age
always brought out the worst in any accent.
After eating a can of pears he changed into long pants and pulled
on a sweater, then again walked through the trailer park and forest
to the dead end by the river, down along the river breaking branches
and pushing aside boulders, out to the sea and the rock and around
the beach where he watched gulls picking at corn cobs left from a
beach picnic. Already he felt that walk in his bones as he'd felt other
walks: from his family's home on the hill to favourite haunts downtown —■ the library, the movie theatre, the rink — back to home.
Four lawn chairs now sat outside the large tent, the girl in the one
farthest away — a sweep of light brown hair and a foot in a sandal.
Crawling into his tent he heard the father say, "No film at that canteen. You'd think they haven't discovered photography in this part
of the world." The girl still hadn't spoken. Maybe she's mute, maybe
she's retarded he thought, pulling on his bathing suit. Good — then
she prob'ly won't bug me. A girl's voice said, "Danny, quit picking
your nose or I'll. ..." It was softer than the other voices; he'd made
out only half the words but already heard music in that voice.
Her voice stayed with him until he splashed into the sea, shouting
as the cold hit him. It seemed not Fundy cold but Arctic cold and he
became warmer only when a jellyfish floated by his face, a simple
and almost translucent blob. Rocking in the waves he felt almost
that simple himself.
13 At the canteen the man with the baseball cap chuckled, "Found
any mermaids?"
In his damp bathing suit he ate a cheeseburger on the stump outside his tent, then strolled along the beach almost as far as the
copper-coloured rock. Here he could see no one except in the distance. On his towel he lay on his back, serene and drugged by the
sun, caressed by heat rising off the sand. When a cool breeze rippled
over him he shivered and recalled how in some movie he'd seen on
the late show a Medieval man —■ crusader or monk — had stripped
to a loin cloth, stretched out by the sea and testing his fortitude let
icy waves lap over him. As he saw himself huddled in his puptent
trying not to hear the New Yorkers he decided he must find out how
it felt to be that monk/ crusader, and pushed on his glasses.
On the shore he crouched where, when a wave reached that far,
it scattered between, but not over his toes. Lifting off his glasses he
lay flat on his back, his feet farthest out so the waves would reach
his face last. The first waves curled along the edges of his body and
seeped under his legs. Soon waves rose to the fronts of his legs and
when one swept over his bathing suit, he jerked, groaned and curled
up his toes tighter. What he was doing was so crazy he felt like
laughing. A wave splashed all the way over him but he forgot to hold
his breath and water rushed into his mouth and nose. He lifted and
shook his head, coughing. Then something pulled at his hair.
Rolling over he sat up, coughing. "Oh My God!" she cried. "I
thought you'd drowned! What're you doing?"
Turned around, he shaded his eyes with his hand. Her eyes were
grey and wisps of brown hair sticking from under her bathing cap
shook as she bent toward him. "Try — trying an experiment," he
said, pushing hair out of his eyes. "Freezing . .. have to get back to
my towel."
They seemed exactly the same height as they walked up to his
towel. She was carrying a sandal in each hand, jiggling them by the
thongs. In the sand he huddled under his towel. "I — I saw this
movie once, where a monk or something did that."
"I thought you'd drowned!" she said, starting to laugh.
"Sit down if you wanna." He tried to laugh but coughed, salt
water stinging his throat. While she sat and crossed her legs, her
drab one-piece bathing suit black against the sand, he dried his
glasses with the towel. "Well thanks for checking on me. If most
people saw a ... a corpse they'd be gone like a bat out of hell." "Guess I'm not a bat out of hell," she laughed lightly. She slipped
one of her sandals against her feet, knocking sand from between her
"Your accent. New York — New Yawk — is it?"
"Now don't make fun of my accent or I'll never rescue you
"D'you come here every summer?"
"Oh no it's my first time out of the country." Not wanting her to
call the States the country, he wanted to peel off that bathing cap
which made her look bald. "Oh no, here comes the Tasmanian
Devil," she said, dropping the sandal. "Let's go in the water before
he gets here." Over her shoulder her brother was approaching,
swinging his arms high, a popsicle in one of his hands.
Swimming with her was not like swimming alone. Even when he
couldn't see her he sensed where she was, how close or distant, above
or under water. Even when he knew she was yards away she seemed
right next to him; a wave could have been her arm around him, a
trickle of water her fingers. Paddling on her back she called, "Why're
you camping by yourself?"
"Cause I hate people!" he called with mock fierceness.
She flickered near the surface of the water. "Am I people?"
"You're Dawn!"
"How'd you know? . . . been spying on us?"
"You Yanks talk so loud!"
"... hiding in the trees spying on us!"
As they walked back up the beach she tugged off her bathing cap,
releasing her wavy springy hair. Their shadows fell across the sand,
one shadow nearly touching the other. Watching her blue-veined
feet he recalled girls he had taken to movies, how he'd dropped the
ticket before passing it to them or forgotten at the canteen what
candy they'd wanted. If Dawn had been the girl those times she
would have laughed, not stared at him glumly to pick up the ticket
or said What's that? I don't like coconut. Their shadows touched on
the sand, she was laughing; it seemed he had never heard a girl
laugh before.
Outside her tent she introduced him to her mother, who sipped
ice tea in a lawn chair and said, "Isn't that nice, a local boy."
Blushing under his sunburn he laughed weakly to cover his sudden
anger. A local boy. Back in his tent he hurriedly dressed into his
T-shirt and cut-offs and smiled when he remembered the mother,
not Dawn, had said A local boy.
J5 She was wearing her sky blue blouse and shorts. As they walked to
the canteen and drank Cokes on a ridge above the parking lot her
New York accent seemed as natural as the ovenbird voices last night.
"I had a crazy nightmare in the car," she said as they sat in the
grass. Her legs and arms were browner than his; her hair rose like
a thicket framing her face but didn't touch her high brown forehead. "I was inside a giant washing machine — Dad runs a laundromat on Amsterdam Avenue, did I tell you? Whenever I saw someone I knew, they just whooshed by and disappeared in the suds."
"I wish I had dreams like that. Mine are usually real boring, like
about putting my shoes on the wrong feet."
"Putting your shoes on the wrong feet! I'd rather have funny
dreams like that than washing machine nightmares."
They walked out to the hot black highway and started along the
weedy roadside, careful not to brush against one another. While they
watched dragonflies swerving over the floating logs of a swamp, he
asked after a long silence, "You ever read much Hardy?"
"Oh Hardy, I like him but he gets to be a fatalistic old bastard. I
tell you what I really love — something like As You Like It. I played
Rosalind in a school production we put on."
"Yeah? Hardy's okay. For a fatalist."
"Well I can't stand fatalists."
"I'm not one," he said, not sure what one was. Throwing a stick
into the swamp, he felt she was attacking his choice of books and
maybe bragging a little about the Shakespeare acting. But when they
were leaning on a rotted fence at a farm beyond the swamp, she
pointed at his hand gripping the fence and asked, "How'd you bang
up your thumb?" and he thought Those other girls wouldn'tve asked
what happened if I took them to a movie with a cast around my
Back at the campgrounds she was limping. He was both afraid she
had blistered her feet and excited she might have blistered them to
be with him. As she hopped off the gravel up onto the grass he said,
"You shouldn'ta walked all the way in those sandals."
Among the spruces the young woman in a peach-coloured bikini
passed them, murmuring to a starfish in her hand. Dawn whispered,
"The Starfish Lady, she seems to be everywhere. The guy at the
canteen told Dad she's a real nut-case, but wouldn't hurt a flea."
"I didn't know she was that. I thought ..." He couldn't say the
woman had seemed beautiful to him.
They stopped by the rope he had tied between two trees outside
16 his tent. "Hey, your bathing suit fell in the grass," she said, looking
down. She picked it up by the string and handed it to him.
"Crappy clothesline," he laughed. Draping it back over the rope
he still saw her fingers on the string.
"Listen, ah, we're going to King Kong vs. Godzilla at the drive-in
tonight," she said, fingering a button on her blouse. "You like to
come? You might feel kinda dumb, sitting there with my mom and
dad and kid brother. My mom wanted me to ask you."
While he made his supper he couldn't stop thinking, "My mom
wanted me to ask you" — I bet she made that up.
"Okay, you guys sit here in front. My little lady and I'll take the
back," Mr. Owen announced, putting his arm around his wife.
Henry opened the door at his side and moved up into the driver's
seat, high beams from other cars at the drive-in sweeping across his
face like search lights. On the other side Danny raced up ahead of
Dawn and she grabbed his arm trying to squeeze ahead until Mr.
Owen called over, "Dan, you take the middle for this half, but
Dawn has it for the second."
"You scared of monsters?" Danny asked Henry once they were
"Only monsters like you," Henry said, grinning uncomfortably.
Garbled sounds crackled from the speaker hung on the half-
opened window near his ear. Soon across the screen buildings collapsed and mouths opened screaming, black and red colours ran and
coagulated, the creatures thrashed around. Now and then Mr. Owen
reached over the seat and sneaked his hand under Danny's chin,
going "Rarrrrrrrr!" Henry was afraid Mr. Owen would do the same
thing to him. Though Dawn was at the other end of the seat she
seemed so close he almost believed his arm could encircle her, the
space between them was nothing, Danny was nothing.
Half way through the movie he volunteered to buy snacks and
Mr. Owen handed him a $5. bill over the seat saying, "Canadian
dough." As they walked back to the canteen over dusty ground
he was finally beside her, breathing deeply as if fumes had been leaking in the car. Danny fell behind, walking backwards watching the
screen. "It's funny."
"Yeah, but Danny thinks it's scary."
"I mean it's funny — sitting there with your family."
"I told you so," she laughed, the sleeves of her white windbreaker
flashing in the dark.
17 Having folded the bill into the size of a stamp, he now began
unfolding it and tried not to think of what a classmate of his had
said the morning after taking a girl to the drive-in: Sure had a good
time, man, but I didn't see any of the fuckin movie. Bumping into
her he said, "I'd rather be with just you."
"Hey you guys!" Danny cried. "Look what Godzilla just did!"
She said, "Yeah, families can be a drag."
Both his hands folded the bill again. She hadn't understood him.
He hadn't been talking about her family, he had been talking about
Through the second half of the movie she sat beside him. When
he held up his ketchup-splattered hands she handed him a kleenex,
their fingers touching. Then he was afraid to move, afraid if he
merely brushed her arm or leg he would throw himself against her.
A few times Mr. and Mrs. Owen murmured and Henry heard
sounds of a light kiss or two. He imagined Mr. Owen lying on top
of Mrs. Owen on the back seat, both of them half naked. Dawn
turned to him and said, "Good Hollywood culture for you." Noticing the keys still in the ignition he figured he should switch on the
engine and speed away letting the cord of the speaker rip from its
post. If he had a gun, he was sure, he would turn to each of them
—■ the father, the mother, the brother — and blow out their brains,
to be alone with her.
Their hair was wet from a late morning swim with her family.
The man at the canteen eyed the two and said to Henry, "Well
well well, lookee here." On the ridge above the parking lot they
sprawled in the grass, ate cheeseburgers and laughed about King
Kong vs. Godzilla and other bad movies. After wiping their fingers
in the grass they walked out to the highway, Saturday's traffic even
heavier than Friday's. Whenever silence grew between them he
stared at her sneakers or kicked rocks or poked at his clip-on sunglasses, she whistled almost imperceptibly or felt her ear or picked a
piece of straw and nibbled it.
By the farm as they sat on the fence he asked her for her birth
date. "April 26 1953," she said. "A.D."
"Hey, that's only two weeks before me!" The fence swayed under
them as he turned to her. "We could have a birthday bash together.
The Bash of the Century."
"Then that's a date for next year. At whose house?" No don't laugh I mean it he almost shouted as she jumped off the
From the window of a passing car a grinning man waved at them
■—■ or only at her. "Lemme get on the outside. Better a car knock off
my block than yours," Henry said, dodging around her closer to the
pavement and nudging her toward the roadside weeds.
"Big hero!" she laughed. "Like one of my friends back in New
York. Once in a big crowd he pushed me ahead of him to get on
the subway, then the doors closed before he got in."
A subway. He had never seen a subway, let alone been on one.
Poking at his sunglasses he heard A local boy and tried to picture her
riding on rattling subways with grizzled winos and Puerto Ricans with
tennis shoes bumping against her. But that vision slid away and the
only New York he could feel was that of Miracle on 42nd Street, a
merry city in winter; he saw her in twenty-floor department stores
steering herself through crowds with such a frank calm face all the
clerks waited on her first.
At the swamp where dragonflies hunted silently, she lifted her
blouse out at her neck and blew under it saying, "Pheww, I'm dying
for a swim." Her blowing on herself made him stop feeling all the
miles, six hundred, seven hundred, stretching between their homes.
I'll cool you like that if you like.
Minutes later when they were in the sea he knew: swimming alone
with her was not like swimming with her family. They pulled themselves underwater repeatedly until the cold became bearable. Floating on his back he saw her blur of arms, legs and bathing suit. "I
saw a jellyfish here yesterday!" he called. "96% water!"
"What?" She swam so close her toes grazed his stomach.
"A jellyfish is 96% water. Sounds like a lot, except we're 70%."
"Where'd you hear that crap?"
"Not crap, it's true!"
"There's a giant jellyfish in the aquarium back home."
Back home. "I'll have to see it sometime."
"You — " She said more but a wave rose between them.
Dressed again outside her tent he watched her come out in a
yellow T-shirt and black shorts, slipping on her windbreaker. The
crest of the windbreaker included the letters AT. "Look at the sky,"
she said, pointing up at dusky clouds rolling over them. "Now show
me that path you were talking about."
"I hope you're not expecting something special, it's really nothing
special. If it rains at least the woods'll cover us."
J9 Walking at her side through the forest he felt thirsty and wished
he had detoured to a water fountain. If he kissed her by the river he
would make a joke first, call her bumblebee because of her yellow
and black clothes. A bushy-moustached man came from the other
direction and stepped onto a log to let them pass but nobody else
appeared on their way to the end of the trail. The river was darker
than before, the sun now behind a cloud. Colours he had seen, of
violets and dead ferns and bunchberry blossoms, seemed to have disappeared. Ugly grey bracken grew all over the side of a tree. He
would kiss her by the sea instead. "It's a lot nicer when the sun's
"It's okay. Look at those rapids."
"I should wade in to see how deep it is."
She touched his arm. "No you don't. You'd drown, you blockhead. I might not rescue you again."
As he touched her arm her white windbreaker felt soft, sliding
smoothly under his fingers. Like panties he suspected, shaking.
"Okay, there's no path the rest of the way. Just watch where I
step." Now she was behind rather than beside him. They walked
slowly, halted and stumbled. Suddenly he realized she was looking at
him from a foot or so away, at the back of his head, neck and shoulders. He tried to straighten his shoulders but a thin branch stung
across his face. Whenever she said "Ouch" he was stricken with
guilt and imagined her covered with scratches, bleeding down her
arms and legs.
Brushing needles off their clothes they walked onto the copper-
coloured rock and up to its highest level. Waves beat heavily, bits of
water flying in the air beyond them. "Good, it's not going to rain,"
she said.
Turning, he looked sadly into the sun. "I kinda hoped it would
rain." He laughed, "I saw us running through a storm." She was
watching a gull riding on the air, hardly moving its wings. There
was a tiny hook-shaped scratch on one of her legs. "Maybe it'll rain
"Tomorrow," she began, then she bent to tie her sneaker lace as
if it hurt her to speak, "tomorrow Dad wants to drive back through
Maine by suppertime."
He looked from her to the gull.
"I'd just as soon stay but he's the boss."
"Yeah. Yeah." Hard sunlight glanced off the rocks, clawing his
face. More gulls flew by, cackling.
20 "I have to help Mom with supper," she said, standing.
"You look mad at someone."
"Mad? No." If he had put his hand over her right breast it
would've covered the crest saying AT. Instead he grasped and
squeezed her shoulder.
"Promise to visit me when you're down our way?" she asked.
"New York — when the hell am I ever going to be in New York?"
His grip on her shoulder tightened. "You would have to be from
some place like New York, wouldn't you?"
"Whaddo you mean? What's the matter with my city?" she asked,
pushing his hand away.
"It's far from here," he accused her.
"Well don't get mad at me."
He jammed his hands into his pants pockets and began walking
over the rest of the rock toward the swimming beach. "We're toasting marshmallows tonight," she said, following him. "That'll cheer
us up."
"Toasting marshmallows won't cheer me up."
"I said don't get mad at me."
They talked no more as they climbed off the rock and headed up
the beach, hands in pockets. Their shadows, long and lurching,
moved farther apart the closer they came to their tents. Two laughing young men in bathing suits were chasing a screaming young
woman in a tight white top and shorts. She went on screaming and
tossing as they carried her, one by the arms and the other by the
legs, towards the sea.
Waking, he felt without looking outside that the site beside his
was empty. Yes he had heard them talking, canvas thudding and a
car starting, and sluggishly drifted back to sleep. Now he reached
over to his jeans and felt in the back pocket for the scrap of cardboard she had given him at the quiet marshmallow toasting. On his
back he slipped on his glasses and read the pencil-scrawled address;
one number could've been either 9 or 7 and he was afraid a mistake
in a New York address could be fatal to a letter. When he noticed
Tess at his side he almost laughed recalling A picturesque country
Walking to the canteen he heard girls' voices and all of them
sounded flat and common. At the canteen he leaned on the counter
and waited for the man to make his toast. "You had any luck with
21 the mermaids this weekend?" the man asked. "Saw ya with one here
Henry turned and looked toward the trees.
"She was pretty cute," the man said behind him, pushing down a
stiff toaster lever. "Now there's one sure way of figuring out the
honeys here." The man's voice came closer until he was standing
behind the counter. Henry turned and stared at him stonily. "You
mosey over to any of 'em smokin' cigarettes on the beach and you
start talkin' and, you know how they like blowin' big smoke rings.
Well you sit close to one so's when you're talkin' casual-like you reach
up your finger thisa way — " the man made a circle with the thumb
and finger of one hand, and lifted a finger of the other hand " — and
stick it through the smoke ring." The finger jammed into the circle.
"If she laughs that means she'll go down for you, sure thing."
"If she laughs. ..." Henry said aloud to himself.
"Yeah," said the man, grinning.
"... sandwich in my tent."
"Hey!" called the man holding onto his baseball cap, when Henry
was already out in the gravel. "You can't get me to make toast, then
just run off like that!"
"Eat the toast yourself!" Henry called, then he mumbled, "And
choke on it for all I care" and broke into a run. Crossing the parking
lot he was thinking If I write if she writes so what it will end then he
wanted to laugh wildly at the man's startled face then he was thinking A batch of letters nothing but a batch of letters. Along the path
sweat gathered under his arms and the sunburn on his legs itched.
Outside his tent he pulled the scrap of cardboard from his back
pocket, held it up in both hands and hesitated before letting it drop
into the cooking pit. He hesitated again before falling on his knees,
picking the cardboard out from among the ashes and sliding it back
into his pocket. Below the sand water sprawled invitingly but he
doubted if he would swim before his father arrived. The sea, he
feared, would feel empty without her.
22 Stephen Boston
The Erosion of Privacy in the New Age
Caged on a Stage with No Place to Hide
I was sitting alone in the big empty cafeteria full of empty booths
and tables, piling the torn pieces of styrofoam coffee cup into a
tower and wondering where everyone had gone. Perhaps they'd gone
home for the weekend, or perhaps they were studying, but it being
only the second week of term I doubted both. And now the only
other occupants, a happy group clustered tightly at the distant other
end of the room, were getting up to go, walking this way. I tried to
keep my attention concentrated on the tower, but as they went by
my booth I accidentally looked up to meet the gaze of a comical-
looking guy with a crazy loping walk and an Afro hairdo. He
stopped to lean over me, peering suspiciously through his dirty gold-
rimmed glasses.
"Engineering!" he said, pointing to the tower.
I gave him a look that said he was crazy and he mouthed a laugh,
making big goofy bobbing motions with the upper half of his body,
which gradually subsided to a quick nervous nodding of his head as
he stood back to light a cigarette. He made a long exaggerated reach
to put the match into the ashtray beside me; it was as if he were
trying to avoid disturbing the equilibrium of his sturdy stance. All
his motions were like this, stiff and self-conscious, designed to give
an impression of casualness and ease, but even the good humour and
the trace of satire on his face failed to mask his anxiety.
"Hey Chancy, you coming?" someone called from the doorway.
He jumped to act surprised. "Wanna go to a party there, Major?
he asked, toking noisily at the pinch of his forefinger and thumb.
23 1. "So guess who phoned today."
"Who?" She was right to be excited: these days no-one ever
phones when it's only me at home so she suspected it must be someone from the past. Someone nice. "Louise!"
"No, not Louise. Chancy: Chris Prince."
"Oh that's nice. What did he have to say?"
"He's coming to stay for a few days — You're not pleased."
"Sure I am, but I was never really ..."
"He thought a lot of you. He was always under the impression
that I stole you from him."
"Oh we were just friends. He was cuddly and cute."
"Well I'm looking forward to seeing him. I miss those old days,
you know. Everything was so much more casual and easy. People
were more tolerant, I guess."
"And I suppose your life now is restricted and miserable."
"No come on, Jennie. I didn't mean that."
"That's what it sounds like. You're always talking about 'the old
days', 'when I was at school', 'before I got married' or something."
"Don't say 'always'."
"You say it enough for it to seem like always."
"That's just because you're so easily threatened. If you weren't
so bloody insecure."
"And no wonder I'm insecure the way you're always thinking that
the best part of your life is behind you — before the part where I
come in."
"Sometimes — sometimes I feel that way."
"It's more like I stole you from Chancy and all those other stupid
assholes you used to hang around with."
"Well I haven't had a real friend since."
"Don't be ridiculous."
"Name one."
"Fred's in Nigeria! He doesn't count."
"But he exists, he's alive, he's your friend. And there's Charles,
"Charles? Charles wouldn't like me half so much if you weren't
thrown into the bargain."
"Ohhh, I'm going to sleep."
2. She was wearing a camel skirt and jacket, a silky chocolate
blouse open at her lean white throat, standing erect, strong, with a
24 busy intelligent look, refined but with a tough stance, her lean thighs
parted so that they were outlined against the skirt. I had fallen into
imagining myself next to her on a plane, savouring the tension of her
coolness and distance, the small crisp sounds of her intimate movements when her eyes met mine and we had to look away, showing
no more recognition than we'd give to the same old unchanging
scene we see every day. But she turned back to look behind me, her
gaze touching mine for a micro-second and then falling away to the
street behind the doors where a tall, calm and efficient man would
eventually appear to take her away in a clean tan Mercedes. She
showed a flicker of impatience and then turned to watch the passengers coming through the gate from Chancy's flight.
I recognized his loping walk while he was still well back in the
approaching crowd. He flopped a casual wave in reply to mine but
otherwise made no sign of recognition, just continued loping along,
looking around him slow and bored — until he saw the woman in
the camel suit. He gave a sudden jerk of surprise; she stared at him
questioningly and then he mouthed a laugh: hanging his tongue out,
making goofy bobbing motions with the upper half of his body.
Amused, she shook her head and turned to watch him crossing the
floor towards me, he wrenching his head around every few steps to
look back at her. She shook her head again and with a big happy
grin looked away to watch the passengers coming through the gate.
As Chancy came up to me I could hear the wheezing of his otherwise silent laugh, but he hadn't yet really met my eye.
"Well, well," I said to attract his attention.
"Now there's a nice tight little cunt," he said looking back over his
shoulder just as the woman ran to embrace a grey-haired, dignified
old man who was bursting with smiles for her.
"So," I said, "It's really good to see you." And he shoved his
hand at me. It was trembling and clammy.
He hadn't changed a bit; pretty much the same Afro, the same
dirty glasses, and though now the lenses were tinted red, behind them
were the same eyes looking as if they were about to drip with tears
except for the same flickering grin that tried to deny it though somehow couldn't quite. I felt like hugging him but I didn't dare.
"Good to see you," I said again. And he smiled and nodded as if
to say, "Well naturally."
3. You have to go through the woods a bit to get to the house,
along a narrow path going down the hill to the bay. That evening as
25 we came out of the trees onto the shore, the water was so still it
looked thick and black like oil or jelly with solid gold bars flickering
across the surface from the sun going down. And everything was
quiet except for a gull far away and the sputtering of an old boat on
the other side, and the gentle slurping and gulping of the water's
edge; and Chancy's hacking cough as he marched along in front of
me, marched solidly, head down towards the door of the little cottage
that sits right at the water's edge.
I had been looking forward to seeing he and Jennie meet again
after all these years, but as we went through the door, she stayed
standing awkwardly on the other side of the room trying to smile.
She didn't run up to embrace him as she usually does with these
visitors from the past, she just said, "Hello Chris."
"Well Jennie," he said, dumping his backpack, "Long time no
see." He sniffed hard, stretched, "Ohhhwahhoh, what a trip!" It
was an awkward restrained movement during which he examined
the floor from wall to wall. "I guess there'll be room for Old Chancy
to crash here."
"Sure," I cried boldly. "There's always room for you, Chancy."
He laughed the goofy silent laugh again. "Well," he declared,
"I've squeezed into some pretty tight places in my travels. This will
be adequate."
I made a little laugh. Jennie took a look at me and then looked
4. Jennie had taken care with the dinner. It was a complicated and
time-consuming dish which she served with pride and enthusiasm,
almost with glee.
"Well Jennie, you're quite the cook aren't you," he said, watching her excitement. It sounded like a crack; she looked hurt, her
smile blinked off. He laughed at her, wheezing with his tongue
hanging out. "No no," he reassured her, "I'm sure it's eatable. But
you don't have to go to trouble for me. After eating on the road it's
going to be good just to have a home cooked meal again." And
indeed he ate with gusto.
After wrashing the dishes, Jennie went to read in the bedroom, I
played a record I'd been wanting to share, and he sat down to write
letters to friends.
"I write a lot of letters," he said. "I've got a lot of correspondents.
You don't mind me giving them your address eh, so they can send
letters back to me."
26 "If you write so many how come you've never written to me," I
said, trying to sound teasing.
He coughed, laughed uneasily, "Well ..."
"Who you writing to now?" I asked to let him off the hook.
"Diane MacKenzie. You remember Diane." He licked a corner
of his mouth, flicking his eyebrows suggestively.
"Oh yeah."
"A very fine lady. She's in Halifax now, doing her docky in phys.
You remember Gordie."
"Gordie Melansen, used to hang around with Tod."
"Oh yeah."
"Well he's living with her now. A very lucky dude. Got a pretty
good job, too: silly service. Set for life. Crashed with them for a
coupla months. Now there's a pair of beautiful people." Lovingly,
his hands trembling, he smoothed the paper he'd been writing on,
sweeping away any dust that may have accumulated. Then after
inspecting the page carefully, blowing now and then at stubborn
stray specks, he took a deep drag on his cigarette and turned to gaze
at the window which was dark by now, reflecting.
"While I was there, Bull Shepherd came and crashed for a coupla
weeks. Amazing dude." He looked at me with an intimate air, his
eyes swelling with tears again but his mouth set hard. Suddenly he
broke up into his goofy laugh again. "You wouldn't believe!" he
wheezed. He lifted one cheek of his buttocks off the chair and farted
loudly. "Good food, Jennie," he shouted at the bedroom door and
then did the laugh again, looking at me as if we were in some mocking conspiracy.
"I'd really like to see Old Bull again," he said after a while. "I'll
have to write to him, tell him I'm back in old Can. That is if the
posties can track the dude down. We had some good times. Now
there's a dude to shake you up. He just doesn't give a fuck. A drifter.
Just like me. Ran into him in the Auckland airport. Auckland!
Auckland of all places. Amazing dude. Amazing. Everybody thought
we were nuts, didn't know whether to arrest us or not: screaming
and laughing and poking at each other. Shit. Now there's a trip for
you." He glanced at the bedroom door and said, "You don't know
what it's like. You oughta travel you know. You need that experience
to grow. You just hang around here, don't you?"
"Mostly yeah."
"I bet you always do. Come on, Steve. Fess up."
27 "Well no, we did go away for a while last summer."
"Oh I see yeah, I see: The World Traveller." He shook his head
in disgust. "Where'd you go? Nanaimo?" I shrugged carelessly.
"Come on, Steve. You can tell Chancy. Your old friend? Old
buddy?" He hung his tongue out to laugh at me.
"Went to Calgary," I said with a glance at the window. The truth
is it was Red Deer to see my sister, but I didn't dare tell him.
"Calgary!" he cried. "What a pissy town. What the hell d'you go
there for? And you went with Jennie of course?"
"Sure yeah."
He shook his head with a grave look, "Doesn't count. You got to
be alone, to be free, no ties." He brushed off his letter paper as if to
dismiss me and then lifted his pen to write — lifted his whole arm
off the table, far more motion than was necessary for the function:
it was as if he were doing it so the people at the back of the theatre
could see. But even after all that the pen didn't reach the page. He
looked up at me over the top rims of his glasses, "You know everyone else from the Old U has done some serious travelling, Europe at
"I've got other things to do," I said with a shrug. "I don't like
travelling much anyway."
"You get into it, Steve. And you really need it to relate these days,
it's part of the common experience. I'm serious. And it'd do you the
world of good. You and Tim Johnson. But he can't help it. Couple
of kid's now."
"Tim! How the hell is Tim? What's he doing?"
"Yeah everybody wants to know about Tim."
"Tim was pretty important to me. He helped me through some
bad times."
"Yeah," he said to the window. "Most people used to feel that
way about him. He's working for some investment company in TO
"Some big shot job pushing people around. And he wouldn't see
me. Went to see him and he wouldn't see me. Margie always came
to the door or answered the phone and said he didn't want to see
me, didn't want to see anybody from Fred." He was shaking so
badly he could hardly get a cigarette out of the package.
"Jesus he was always so — "
28 "Yup, but people can change." He smoothed his paper, lifted his
arm. "Well I gotta finish this letter. Try to write a letter every day.
Of course some days, (some very good days), you never get around
to it." He made one goofy bobbing. "You go ahead with whatever
you want to do there, Major. You don't have to entertain me. I
know you feel you have to be a good host." The tongue hung out.
"But just pretend I'm not here." It was a genuinely magnanimous
gesture. He took a big lungful of smoke and blew it out into the
room, followed it up with several short sharp puffs and another
billowing lungful and then farted again, sniffed and went back to
his letter.
5. "How long is he staying?" Jennie muttered under her breath as
I slipped in next to her sleepy warmth. The tone of her voice was
"What's the matter?"
She stirred uneasily. "I just want to know how long he's staying,
that's all."
"I don't know. He hasn't said yet."
"Oh Jesus, Steve, he's planning on staying for months."
"No he wouldn't," I said with an alarming lack of conviction.
"He's not just visiting. He's settling in."
"Let's not fight about it, OK?" I said turning away from her as
if to sleep. And then to calm us both I said, "We won't let him stay
that long." I tried to remember something which might reassure me
that he didn't intend staying more than a week or so but my mind
wouldn't settle to it. I listened to Jennie's breathing, waiting for it
to take on her sleeping rhythm: if she felt easy enough to sleep then
probably my alarm was exaggerated.
"He's a gossip," she whispered suddenly, turning onto her back.
"It's how he lives. Staying with old friends and telling them about
their old friends. He's a travelling nostalgia show. He looks the same,
he talks the same, he acts the same. He uses the power that whole
group used to have to intimidate you. The whole travelling thing.
And Diane MacKenzie."
"Oh Christ, Jennie."
"And you can bet when he leaves here eventually, he'll take the
whole story to entertain his next victim, threatening in his insidious
way. Look at the way he tries to destroy Tim. Tim probably couldn't
stand him either and that's why."
"But he's really suffering, you know," I said, trying to excuse
29 him. "I've never seen anyone so uptight. It must be agonizing. He
thinks he's on stage you know. It's like he's got chronic stage fright."
"So what you're saying is that you're not going to tell him to go
when he starts driving us crazy."
"Oh come on. He won't stay that long."
"Oh Jesus, Steve" she hissed, tossing over into her falling asleep
position. My legs broke out into a prickly sweat, my heart heaved,
and from the living room where he had just turned off the TV
came the shiny slithering sound of Chancy crawling into his sleeping
bag. He let a loud tearing fart and an exaggeratedly grateful sigh,
coughed, sniffed, coughed, sniffed and sighed again. To let the world
know he was falling asleep now.
6. The next morning when I came out to eat breakfast, he was
balled up on the floor. By the cleanness of the table I saw that
Jennie hadn't eaten there, probably because she felt too self-
conscious, and I wondered, guiltily, if she'd eaten at all.
The sounds of my coffee cup and plate hitting the table were
unusually loud. Chancy stirred. Although I felt sorry for disturbing
him, I resented his sleeping — I'd been looking forward to his company over breakfast. To make things worse, I began to suspect he'd
been awake all along (his body was too still, his breathing too
shallow) and that he intended to lie there listening to my eating. In
an urge I clumped my coffee cup down hard, too loud for anyone
to sleep through. He looked up at me, feigning surprise.
"What the fuck time is it?" he grumbled.
"Ten o'clock."
"Jesus." He flexed and crawled.
"You want some breakfast?"
He snorted. "Coffee's fine for me, Steve." He said it with condescension.
"On the stove."
Grunting, he lumbered into the kitchen. "Oh hoh! Real coffee!
Real class!" Although he meant it was totally lacking in class, he
meant it was bourgeois. "You didn't have to go to all this trouble
for me. All I need's to get the old caffeine into the old system." He
sat across from me and lit a cigarette. Guiltily I noticed he looked
genuinely tired.
"You know I was thinking," he said, suddenly awake. "I was
wondering what you've got to write about. You just hang around
30 this same old place, never doing anything with your life. You'd do
a lot better if you had something to write about."
"Like what?"
"Like a trip around the world."
"I don't want to go around the world."
"So you said. So I thought of making my diary available to you.
Packed with lots of juicy adventure. Beats your life."
"My life's not bad."
"Well not meaning to be rude, Friend, but quite frankly your life
ain't much. But now if you were to go through my diary, fixing up
the incoherencies, the spelling, taming down the dialogue and stuff
like that, then maybe we could get ourselves a bit of cash. And you'd
get enough ideas to keep you going for fifteen years. I guarantee it."
"Well . .. Have you tried doing it yourself?"
"Just trying to help you out, Friend," he said with his hands in
the air. "As a matter of fact I have considered doing it myself but
— " He laughed to pull me into his confidence. " — I'm not very
good at typing and stuff like that. Names need changing too. Some
very personal stuff in there. Very personal. Wouldn't want to get the
ladies mad at me."
"You old dog."
He hung his tongue out and did a bob or two. "Ahha. I knew it!
You're jealous. Admit it, Steve, you'd just love to fuck the women
I've fucked."
"I don't know that."
He pulled the knapsack across the floor and plucked from a pouch
a packet of photographs. He looked at the packet proudly for a
moment and then with a cluck of his tongue and a jerk of his head
slid the photographs across the table.
7. It was mid-afternoon so the place was just beginning to get
lively. The regulars were playing pool, making furtive deals as cool
as they could, or staring glassy-eyed at nothing. Two old ladies
clutching parcels to their laps, who had obviously wandered into the
wrong place and found themselves too embarrassed to leave, hid
their terror by gulping sherry faster than ever before in their lives.
Chancy, seeing them as he came through the entrance, gave a hearty,
silent laugh and even quietly slapped his knee before sitting down
across from me.
"Well how d'it go?" I asked him.
31 "Like I expected: nothing. There's not a job to be had in the
whole damn country."
"Yeah this isn't the best place to look. I didn't realize you were
thinking of stopping here or I would've warned you."
"Well why else would I've come, Stevey boy?"
I looked across at the old women — one of them had managed to
smile at something the other had said — and tried to find some distraction in wondering what the joke could be, but it wasn't enough
to stop the slight turning down of the corners of my mouth. "Uh I
guess I didn't think much about it. I was looking forward to seeing
you." I looked away to avoid his eyes, tried to see if I could pick up
on the games at the pool table, but with the corner of my eye I
could see him bobbing back and forth.
"Oh ho, I see, I see. You thought I was coming just to see you.
Old Times."
"Well no. I mean Victoria's a nice place."
"If you like geraniums. Speaking of which I think they're getting
to you, Friend."
"Fuck off. You just said you were thinking of living here."
He laughed again. "Oh ho. Now his feelings are hurt."
"Hey, I'm just a drifter, Steve. I don't feel ties easily. I live the
best I can on as little as I can and that means I depend a lot on other
people to get me by. You know: put me up when the cash is low.
So I'm pretty good at getting people to like me. I have to be — to
When I turned back to face him, his face was smug. He looked
away quickly and with trembling fingers rattled a cigarette from his
pack. Suddenly he broke up with a laugh again, "Looks like those
two old dolls are getting to feel right at home." he said.
8.    "Steve, he's driving me crazy."
"Yeah, I know. He's a prick, a pompous, pious prick."
"You'll have to get rid of him."
"I don't know why it has to be me. It's you he's driving crazy.
He's only just started to bug me."
"Well goddam it, Jennie, you can't just kick him out. He's got
hardly any money, he doesn't know anybody around here — he has
nowhere else to go. And he's a friend, goddamn it. You can't just
kick out a friend."
32 "Friends don't act like him. Sitting there with the TV blasting out
the goddamn hockey game, and he knows how much we both hate the
sound of it. And farting. Smoking incessantly. Making insinuations.
He's got nothing but contempt for us. A friend! Shit!"
"Yeah I know. But I keep hoping I'll get through to him."
"What the hell for? He's not worth the trouble. The only thing
that'll get through to him is getting kicked out. He doesn't think you
have the guts, you know."
"I think he's right."
"You're just afraid of what he'll say. You're afraid he'll take a
bad report to all those people you think are so great. That people will
remember you as the one who kicked 'Chancy' out. You're so concerned what all those people will think. Why?" It wasn't a rhetorical
'why'; she expected an answer even though she knew I didn't have
one. "Ninety-nine percent of them wouldn't even remember you if
you were described in detail," she said. And it hurt like the truth.
"But even if everyone of them could, even if they thought about you
every day, what the hell would it matter?"
I couldn't answer, my mind was struck dumb. "It just does," I
said, "It just matters."
"Oh for pity's sake," she spat, and rolled over to fall asleep.
9. Defiantly I prepared an enormous breakfast for myself; I even
turned the radio on to listen to the news. And Chancy's scorn was
dripping. But I didn't care. I chomped and slurped with a heart
full of happy hate, and stared at Chancy's hands until they trembled
so badly his coffee cup rattled when he touched it to the table.
"What's bugging you, Chancy?" I asked suddenly, staring at him
He took a quick glance at me and said, "Oh lots of things bug
me, Steve. Why?"
"You're always shaking, you're always looking like you're just
about to fall apart. Ever since I first met you." I felt exhilaration
at the aggressiveness in my voice: that I would dare.
"Sure I'm more nervous than the average. I admit that." He was
boasting it.
"Nervous!?" I snorted at the understatement.
He shook some cigarettes out of the pack, but before he could
reach the matches, I'd picked them up and lit one, holding it across
the table towards him. He jerked backwards in exaggerated surprise.
"Why thank you, Major," he said, but he was frightened by it.
33 "I'd say you were in a perpetual state of terror."
He mouthed a goofy laugh. "Hey, what is this, Friend?"
"And that laugh of yours," I said in an off-hand way, just an aside
before stuffing my mouth with egg and toast.
"What about my laugh?" he said, trying to make his defensiveness
sound like an act.
"Oh nothing," I muttered between chomps. "I mean if you gotta
laugh, you gotta laugh someway, Friend. Who am I to criticize?"
And I hung my food-smeared tongue out, wheezed a few forced
ha-ha's and bobbed myself up and down just like he always does.
10. "So how d'it happen so fast?" she asked, cuddling a little
"Well right after I told him, he wanted to go and find a place.
Jesus it made me feel bad. I didn't think he was going to take it
hard as he did. It even looked like he might really cry at last. He
was a bit pissed off too, but I don't care. I guess."
"He must've known it was going to happen though. I mean he
must know what he was doing."
"I don't think so. I had to reassure him, right? I thought he was
going to have a nervous breakdown right there in the street, so like
an asshole I had to try and reassure him, tell him it wasn't him or
anything, that it was us and our privacy thing. And he lapped it up
of course and turned it back on me. You know what he said? He
said: T know what it is! You and Jennie are too uptight to get it
on when I'm right there in the next room listening.' "
"What a prick. Anything so he doesn't have to face up to what
a pain he is."
"And I was going so good this morning. I had him terrified I
think. I was really getting through to him, really shaking him up.
And then I had to go all soft. Goddamn. So he got away."
"Well maybe now that he's on his own he'll have to take a good
look at himself."
"Uh uh: he's not alone."
"Oh no."
"This couple needed help with the rent. They all seemed to get
along so well even, that they said he could move in as soon as he
"Do they know what they're getting into?"
"They do by now. When we got there with his stuff (about three
hours later — a couple of days earlier than they'd expected, I think)
34 he just walks in like he owns the place — which he does, I guess,
partly. I mean he lives there and everything, but still . . . And they
had the curtains closed, lying on the couch drinking wine. And he
yells something. 'Howdy gang it's me again,' or something, and walks
right in past them there on the couch and throws the curtains open
and says, 'Let's get some light in here.' And then he slumps over to
the kitchen area and starts banging all the cupboard doors and
yelling, 'Where d'you keep the coffee there, Major?' "
"Oh my God, Stephen."
"I couldn't believe it."
"Well what did they do? Didn't they say anything?"
"Yeah. The guy told him where the coffee was. And Chancy
made me a cup of coffee. 'Instant,' he says. T hope you don't mind.'
"Well I don't know. I guess I had it coming in a way. I feel like
such an asshole. I mean I would've broken down and screamed for
mercy if anyone had come charging into my home like that, but
this guy seemed to think it was all normal and OK."
"I bet she didn't."
"Well I couldn't tell. She disappeared into the shower."
"Yeah I think I would've too. And never come out."
"I felt rotten. And I had to sit there and drink the coffee. I
couldn't just walk out."
"He wouldn't've cared."
"He might've. Anyway this guy was so casual, so calm about
everything. I had to sit there like a dummy feeling shitty while they
talked — and you know what? Within three minutes they'd found
a mutual acquaintance."
"Well you're bound to get to know a lot of people when you
travel a lot."
"But I get the feeling that all those people know each other, that
it's all a kind of family, you know. That it's a family."
Jennie sighed. "Well I bet she won't like it. No matter who he
"I really don't know. I guess not. I mean: you can only hope."
35 Danny Feeney / Two Poems
I know every depressing thing
you could say to me
all the words are in my mind
signposts of my dead end nihilism
I have, how you say, survived
nicely, she has answered my
letters, I am proud
I met her when my speech
was crazy, my eyes steely
and my sex deformed
against the greedy transfer of hands
and morning papers
and coffee
Now I am not sure
where nothingness fails me
I break down every time
in the doctor's office
It's not mine, it's
nothing at all, it's
nobody's I say
36 Blood is an enemy of
kindness, its stains are hard
to remove
I scrub and scrub but it
changes and breathes
and grows and the air gets heavy
with ammonia
and I gasp a last phrase
I've been practising since I was ten
but it's not the scene of my death
not yet, I have wonders
to perform, I see
the sun bathes us all and still
we are dirty with nicknames
religions and paranoia
Dear God, if I stood in a circle
and prayed
would it be your absence that saved me?
players walk off to those gold-red clouds
twisting near the edge of deeper dimensions
twilight closes in, orange transparency dims
a cheap stain cracked by long shadows
shadows pausing, extending fuzzy borders that disappear
neighbourhoods settling, lawn chairs folding
dusk into packets
the lighted room travels
out an open window and down the greying avenue
as dusty corners disperse among residences
sound of one absent crying over newspapers
and Oh for the nightly death
of accomplished innocence
I saw those tiny diamonds
years ago, tumbling from the shaft of her eyes
and down her cheeks
she put on a jacket
and took to the streets
where players played knights and maidens
sincere artists beneath the streetlights
and isn't that her face
in that pile of bloody paintings lying there
like the wrecked face of an old dark woman?
in the kitchen a name disturbs the cutlery
I open the recent layers of night and seek that name
one mysterious fife among so many
38 Terence Byrnes
Getting the Hang of It
Every Saturday, when the listener surveys had been tallied, one of
the popular Top 40 stations in Miami declared itself the winner.
The first month they lived in the city, they listened for the results
each Saturday afternoon. They had followed the warm weather
from Nova Scotia to Florida, having left windy Truro at night to
find Indian Summer in Massachusetts the next afternoon. Two
nights later, lost on an orchard-lined road in Georgia, Paul heard the
distant voice of a Miami announcer suddenly wash in over the
twangy hillbilly station that his father had chosen. When it washed
out just as suddenly, his mother pushed all the tuning buttons in
sequence so that the dial pointer scuttled across the band trying to
receive the signal as though it were a homing beacon.
They took the Collins Expressway into Miami Beach, where they
learned from a short-sleeved motorcycle patrolman that Miami itself
was miles to the west, on the other side of Biscayne Bay. They
blushed and nodded gratefully, stunned at the idea that they had
driven two thousand miles to the wrong city, and took the causeway
to a motel on Biscayne Boulevard in Miami. The same afternoon his
father arranged to sublease a house in Coral Gables. The square
white note pad that the manager kept in the motel's phone booth
was left covered with the rapid calculations of family accounts.
The house sat on a street of meticulously bordered lawns dotted
with dwarf banana trees, mango, papaya, and blanketed with the
smell of jasmine. They felt like intruders. His mother arranged all
their household goods in three front rooms, as if daring them to live
outside the frugal orbit she had established. His father's truck, with
its rusting Nova Scotia tags and spotty grey coat of primer, sat
incongruously in their white gravelled driveway. Curious neighbours
39 on after-dinner walks would stop beside the truck to read the sign
on the leaning plywood walls bolted to its bed. Watching them from
the darkened kitchen, Paul could see their lips sounding it out as
though either the words or the message were somehow difficult and
foreign: D. McConnell. Carpenter and Roofer. General Contracting.
On Saturday afternoon his mother would study the long column
of houses for rent in the Miami Herald, referring all the time to a
small map of the city she had borrowed from a neighbour. Some sections of the map had been neatly fenced off with pencilled boxes.
Other sections were labelled "White." While he waited for the Help
Wanted ads, invariably in the same section of the paper as Houses
for Rent, his father would leaf through old copies of Esquire, Flair,
and Look, which they had found in one of the unused bedrooms. He
often ripped the pages when he turned them, as if the movement
were too fine for his heavy wrists and fingers. His large hands were
always at odds with the rest of his body, which had a look of almost
hollow-boned fragility. In a baggy flannel work shirt, his chest
seemed to be concave. His hair, as light and fine as a baby's, formed
only a sparse fringe around the top of his head. His hands trembled.
Setting a nail into a stud, he would jab at it with the hammer at the
instant his shaking hand happened to be holding the nail perpendicular to the surface of the wood. All the same, Paul knew he was
a good carpenter.
When WQAM declared itself the winner on the fourth consecutive Saturday and WFUN, its competitor, was still on the air, Paul's
mother decided that their competition was all somehow duplicitous.
The listener surveys didn't mean anything. It no longer mattered if
she were loyal to the station she had first heard in Georgia, then lost,
then recovered in St. Augustine. The radio, she said, would have to
do without her. She let Paul spend two dollars for batteries at Wal-
green's so he could take the radio outside with him; she didn't want
to hear it.
At night, tired of hearing the same DJ's insistent voice as he lay
in bed, he would slide the tuning dial over to another station's frequency, where one DJ had been broadcasting continuously for one
hundred hours from a booth in a car dealer's parking lot. There was
an anxious, angry edge to his voice when he boasted about the world
records he was breaking and about his listeners who, he said, depended on him. He sounded like an inhabitant of some vivid, unrestrained and frightening world. Paul's father, walking past the
bedroom at eleven night would hear the radio and call, "Lights
40 out." Minutes later his mother would yell, "Put the damned thing
In January they were still living in Coral Gables, and renting two
rooms to a student from the University of Miami medical school. He
had been a doctor in Cuba, he told them, but now worked as a janitor at the university, where he was also studying to pass the professional exams which would allow him to practice in Florida. Having
a boarder gave them an almost giddy, proprietorial feeling. They
moved around the house with an exaggerated sense of responsibility,
ready to do anything their tenant might ask. But the young man
never asked for anything and after a few weeks the back half of the
house seemed as though it had never belonged to them. Paul would
meet the boarder in the yard as they both left for school and in their
surprise they would look at each other as though they were both
Paul met Mrs. Tannenbaum after answering an ad she had tacked
to the bulletin board at the 7-11 store. She wanted a boy to do yard
work. A stunted cabbage palmetto clung to the sandy loam in the
centre of Mrs. Tannenbaum's back yard and he would hang the
strap on his transistor radio over a broken frond on the tree so he
could listen to music while pruning the spare, nameless shrubs that
staked out the perimeter of her yard. Catching an occasional glimpse
of her watching him through a half-closed jalousy, he would flex his
arm muscles and try to look strong and tireless, working until droplets of sweat flew from his eyebrows into his eyes, making them burn
with a sharp salt tingle. Then, turning to see if she was still watching,
he would find her gone.
He worked for a dollar twenty an hour and lunch, always a warm
slice of salami on a single piece of bread. While he ate she talked to
him. She was a widow. She was from New York. A whining sigh
punctuated her sentences when she spoke about herself but she was
stern and full of sarcastic humour when she talked about neighbours
or relatives. She became as completely Floridian to him as white
stucco or healthy brown skin.
It was important to her that the blunt ends of table legs and the
underside of chair seats be waxed every week. She gave him a footstool so he could reach the highest leaves of a rubber plant in the
41 screened Florida room to wipe them with a dark, citric-smelling oil
which made them shine like plastic. Balancing on the stool, washing
the walls and ceiling, he would look down and see that she had
quietly walked into the room to watch him. Her floral Hawaiian
muu-muu billowed from her sloping shoulders and flapped and
undulated to the ground from her stiffly supported bust. When she
leaned forward, the tired elastic at the neck of her dress would let
the material droop, amazing him with the few full drops of perspiration which formed a wet and perfectly circular pool in the concave
slope between her breasts. As she stood up, the dress would close
about her again and exhale the cool smell of camphor-ice.
After he had worked for three weekends it seemed impossible that
Mrs. Tannenbaum could find anything more for him to do. When
he arrived at her home from the bus stop, carrying his tools in a
canvas duffle, she invited him to sit in the Florida room and gave him
a cup of tea and a sweet roll. Then, with a rush of explanation she
told him that she had seen some palmetto bugs outside, but there
were none inside and "even the best houses down here have them."
He had seen these dark cockroaches running from the light in the
kitchen at home. They were as long and dark and thick as a cigar
butt. Stepped on, their hard shells sent a shudder of sickening vibration through the sole of his shoe and up his leg to his stomach. To
get rid of them, exterminators covered entire buildings with light
fabric and pumped in gas until it inflated, making the house look as
though a billowing orange balloon had landed on it.
"Just find out where they are and do something," Mrs. Tannenbaum instructed him. "You know," she said, reaching for a can of
Raid under his wicker settee and putting it down beside his tea cup.
Outside, not knowing exactly what to do, he searched underneath
hedges and checked for entrance holes along the concrete foundation
and in window frames. At the rear of the yard he found a book-sized
slab of concrete raised just above ground level. He pried it up with
the blade end of a pair of pruning shears and pushed it aside. A
thick army of palmetto bugs moiled around the bottom of the concrete box it had covered, coming half-way the height of a water
shut-off valve inside. They churned like an agitated mass of dark
molasses, spilled over the sides of the box and disappeared into the
stiff grass. Jumping from them, he fell and then scrambled to his
feet, spraying insecticide into the grass in a defensive circle around
42 He retreated to the centre of the yard but the palmetto bugs had
all somehow disappeared. When he nudged his pruning sheers with
the toe of his shoe, a dozen more ran from their disturbed cover. He
carefully picked up the open duffle bag, shook it, and hung it from
a palm frond beside his radio. He heard a Cuban sternly reading an
announcement on the news. The Cuban said his name was Jose
Cardona. He said the Cuban Revolutionary Council had launched
an attack on Cuba at a place called Bay of Pigs.
Paul turned the volume up. His mother was working in a box
factory in Little Havana just off Flagler, and a week before had
brought home the news that all the Cubans were drawing their vacation pay, "and that means there's going to be something with Cuba."
He and his father had listened respectfully to what seemed like
romantic and even clandestine information. Neither of them had
thought of what it might be that was going to happen in Cuba.
They couldn't even agree on the direction in which Cuba lay off the
American mainland.
He looked back at the house and saw Mrs. Tannenbaum watching him through the jalousy. The slats snapped vertically shut and
Mrs. Tannenbaum appeared at the side door, waving a bamboo fan
and holding a glass dripping with condensation. "You did something out there?" she asked. "Didn't you?"
When the Cuban medical student announced that he was moving
out at the end of April, Paul felt an urgent need to ask him about
the invasion — to describe it, confirm it, anything. It was as if, after
his mother's disillusionment with the radio, it had redeemed itself by
reporting something that could be verified. In May, the rooms at the
rear of the house were as empty as they had been before.
An ad appeared in the "Personals" and in the "Help Wanted"
sections of the Miami Herald: "Anxious to Succeed? Young Men
13 to 17 Wanted for Sales Positions. Income as great as your desire
to get ahead."
He was in a third floor office in Northeast Miami. The building
faced south over the shabby grey frame houses and tenements of
Brownsville to the business district, almost a hundred blocks away.
The view from the office window was partially blocked by an air
conditioner that shuddered occasionally as it worked to keep the
small room overcooled. He tried to be inconspicuous about reaching
43 into his suit jacket pocket to recover the sheet of mimeo paper with
his instructions. Across the top of the page someone had hand-
lettered, "From the Desk of Nick Pappas." Beneath that, it told him
where and when to report for work and said he should memorize a
short sales speech which began, "Hi! Do you have a telephone?"
He waited uncomfortably with six other boys, none of whom wore
suits or even jackets. Tongue shaped shirt tails, which they wore outside their jeans, lay in their laps like short aprons. One boy, a Negro,
wore a white shirt that had acquired the spotty grey pallor of an
overbleached kitchen rag. Another boy, with scented dark hair and
a light purple shirt was obviously a Cuban. Apart from his general
appearance, Paul recognized the heavy, square glasses frames which
all Cubans seemed to wear. Two of the boys talked quietly. When
the air conditioner clicked off, their whispers echoed lightly in the
high-ceilinged room.
A young man walked into the room from an inner office. He was
wearing a beige suit with large buttons and a yellow tie with grey
diagonal stripes. "A short interview," he announced, crooking his
finger at the boy with the white shirt and the Cuban. The boys
glanced at each other with expressionless faces and slowly followed
the man's clicking footsteps into the hallway.
"I bet that's gonna be some interview," a boy said.
"It's the U.S. Space Program," said another. "Coon to the moon
by June."
Their sudden laughter stopped when the young man returned
from the hall. He led them to a meeting room with four rows of
folding chairs arranged in front of a low wooden platform. The
unfinished plywood walls of the room were decorated with framed
slogans and warnings. The largest read, "Never Use the Word
Free." Paul took a seat at the edge of the room and recited the sales
speech to himself.
The young man stepped up onto the wooden platform. Paul could
see the perforated violet panels on the tops of his shoes. "I am Mr.
Pappas," he began, "and my father wants me to work on his sponge
boat in Tampa." He let his hand dangle at the wrist, stared down a
snicker from one of the boys, and showed them a large sapphire ring
in a gold setting. "But I don't have to do that, you see. I worked my
can off and in a couple months I had something like this to show for
it." The boys, who were almost equally spaced in the room, like alternating squares on a checkerboard, leaned forward to look.
"And the way I got this is the same way you're gonna get it. You
44 sell the magazines that we buy discount subscriptions to, and if you
sell more than three mags to one customer, you pick up extra PM."
One of the boys put his hand up.
"PM is Prize Money. But you're stupid, right? You don't know
how to sell a life preserver on a sinking ship." He waited for their
laughter. "To get you started, we paid a consultant to write this sales
speech for you, and you all know it, right? And if you don't, think
fast." He pointed at Paul after dramatically sweeping his arm across
the room.
"Let's hear it," he said when Paul stood up. "But the jacket and
tie have gotta go. We don't want to scare anyone off. The image is
boys, not salesmen."
Paul took his jacket and tie off and blankly recited the sales
speech. Sitting back down, he realized that even the seat of his pants
was wet with perspiration.
"Next," Pappas called. Each recitation was more enthusiastic
than the previous one, as though they drew courage from each
other's mistakes.
"OK," Pappas said. "Anyone who doesn't know the speech washes
out. If your customer doesn't have a telephone, he can't afford to
be buying subscriptions. Any paperwork we have to do on the freeloaders gets billed to you." He handed around booklets of order
forms. "Let's do it," he yelled, with practiced enthusiasm.
The distance between the boys shrank as they leaned together to
talk. Paul edged in closer to the group so Pappas wouldn't notice
him. He wanted to leave but the noise the others were making
seemed to hold him in its centre.
Outside, they crowded into Pappas' car, a black Thunderbird that
drew exaggerated gasps from the boys. While he drove, Pappas told
them about his career as a door-to-door salesman. He said, that to
close a sale, he would offer to trim shrubs, water gardens, dust the
furniture, "Or even," he said, "to give the lady of the house a quick
feel and a bang while her old man's out. I used to have a hell of a
time explaining to my old lady how I got rug burns on my knees
from selling magazines." The boys' laughter was quick and shrill.
"But if you try it, you'd better know what you're doing. Nookie
don't pay for subscriptions."
Pappas drove the boundaries of each boy's territory and let them
off one by one. He let Paul off last. " I think we'll watch you today,"
he said. "Help you out until you get the hang of it."
Paul stopped at a corner house and knocked lightly on the door.
45 The street was a bare new development of concrete bungalows. No
one answered the door. Before he had reached the next house Pappas
drove along side the curb and hailed him. "Don't give up to easy,"
he advised. "Knock once, wait a minute, and then knock again twice
as hard." Pappas pulled away and Paul returned to the first house
to bang on the door. There was still no answer. At the second house
he could see a woman watching television in her Florida Room. When
she came to the door, he raced through his speech. Surprise filled her
face. She wrinkled her forehead and turned one ear toward him as
if he had a slight speech defect that could be overlooked by an attentive listener. When he finished he realized he'd forgotten to start off
by asking her if she had a telephone.
"That's stupid," she told him. "What do I need magazines for?"
and she closed the door without further sign of annoyance, as if she
had just turned off a radio. When he reached the end of the street,
where the Thunderbird was already waiting, he had tried eighty
Pappas, combing his hair in the rear-view mirror, signalled for him
to get in. "You're too tall and stiff," he said. "I wouldn't open my
door if I saw something like you coming up the walk. Not only that
but you've got an accent or something. Where you from anyways?"
"Hialeah," Paul lied.
Pappas let him off on an older street that ended abruptly in the
parking lot of a white frame church. This time, Paul tried to look
cheerful, walking across lawns instead of using the sidewalk, and
smiling all the way through his speech. A few bored faces listened to
him, thought for a moment, excused themselves to check with a husband or wife, and then came back to apologize. Some people would
tell him no, but not close their door all the way, as though they
wanted to let him know they were willing to be talked out of it. Seeing their indecision, he could think of nothing more to say, and left
quickly for the next house.
Pappas still hadn't come back by the time he worked his way
down to the church. He rubbed spit on the knuckles of his right hand
where the skin was worn off. He followed a tile path to the presbytery behind the church and knocked on the rattling frame of the
screen door. A short man, bald, but with hair curling out of his nose
and ears, answered.
"Hi! ..."
"I'm sorry, but I can't buy anything."
"This is an unusual offer."
46 "I'm sure I couldn't afford it."
"Just hear me out."
"Please don't make me be rude."
"Maybe you'd like some yard work done?" Paul wondered if he
should wedge his foot between the door and the frame.
"I don't have time to listen to you."
"Hi, do you have a telephone?"
"No, I don't."
Again, Pappas waited for him at the curb, the dark car running at
a fast idle to power its air conditioner. Two of the boys were already
squeezed into the narrow rear seat. One had sold four subscriptions
and the other, eight.
"I thought you might have had something going at that last
place," Pappas told him. "Good luck and brains is what it takes to
get something like this," he said, hitting the steering wheel with the
palm of his hand. "Some people just never get the hang of it. Everybody's a loser at something, you know?"
Sleeping in late on Saturday morning was a mistake. By nine-
thirty or ten the heat would have lapped up the stairs to their
second-floor apartment, filled the room like a heavy liquid, and
pressed wetly on the eyelids of anyone still asleep. Getting up in the
heat always seemed to signal a day in which it was impossible to
wake up or to shake off the night's dreams.
"You should've got me up early," Paul heard himself saying as he
woke up. He pushed himself up on his elbows, looked for his mother,
and realized that she had called him from another room. When she
appeared at the bedroom door, he waited for her to turn away before getting up. He pulled chinos and a white T-shirt on over his
sticky skin.
They had three upstairs rooms and a kitchenette in a duplex with
cracking pink stucco walls and a red tile roof. The landing at the top
of their stairs was screened on three sides, but the corrugated plastic
roof was half broken away and sometimes, thumbnail-size tree frogs
with tiny fingers that ended in small knobs would drop from the
overhanging persimmon branches and fix themselves to the outside
of the door. When his mother called again, Paul walked impatiently
past her and pushed the screen door open. He found one frog clinging
to the screen. Its back glistened such a perfectly gemlike green that
47 he couldn't imagine why his mother was afraid of them. A house
lizard, clumsy-looking without the two inches of tail it had lost in a
territorial battle, slipped through a tear in the screen as he approached it. He threw the frog back into the persimmon leaves.
"There had best be nothing left out there," his mother warned
through the door. "Makes me feel like I'm walking through the
bloody jungle."
As she walked down the stairs he could see that the weight of her
small purse was enough to unbalance her shoulders and give her the
hunch-backed look of some old women. Strands of hair clung to the
back of her sweaty bare neck.
In his bedroom, he reached under the mattress and fished out a
pack of Luckies. The cigarettes were flattened into ovals and threads
of tobacco hung loosely out both ends. He took one and tapped it on
the crystal of his watch to pack it as he had seen boys at school do.
Someone had told him that you liked either Camels or Luckies and
hated the other. He hadn't had the chance to try Camels yet. As he
smoked, he was careful to exhale through the open window.
It was the beginning of summer vacation and he hadn't been able
to find work, so he had promised his father help loading CBS block
and used brick on the truck later in the day. Except for cabinet work,
his father had said, Florida's houses didn't need carpenters. Just
masons, plumbers and exterminators.
Riding with his father, Paul had seen most parts of Dade and
Broward counties and he was beginning to feel some mastery of it
all. He knew that people his father's age called Fort Lauderdale,
"Likkerdale," but if he called it that in the presence of adults, they
would look at him as though he had cursed. Brownsville, the monotonous and decayed Negro part of town in the northeast was "Nigger-
ville." People who lived in the string of Keys south of the Florida
peninsula were known as "conches," after the large, spiralling shells
that sometimes washed up on the beaches. He had a good brown tan,
wore loafers, knew that the sharp green burrs which grew on Florida's
sandy lawns were called "stickers," and he was careful to pronounce
"grease" as "greeze."
East of Hialeah, his father pulled off the road at a corner everyone
called "The Slave Market." Fifty or sixty men perched on a long
wooden corner fence or sprawled in its shade on the ground. A larger
truck had already parked in front of them and a thin white man
wearing a construction helmet walked the length of the fence, point-
48 ing at some of the men and jerking his finger back in the direction
of the truck. The men he chose clambered over the rail siding around
the bed of the truck. The tops of their heads bobbed up and down
between the slats.
"Go get one," his father said. "But I don't want one that stinks."
Paul turned away quickly to hide his feeling of surprise — selecting workers was a man's job. He knew that the trick to choosing one
was to not walk the length of the fence as though he were canvassing
the stalls at a market. That way, the men chosen might think there
was something special about themselves and ask for a higher wage.
Instead, he quickly pointed to a slim, sweating young man with a
black silk kerchief tied around his forehead as a sweatband. The
young man hadn't appeared to be paying attention but the instant
Paul signalled, he pushed himself away from the fence. "Dollar an
hour," Paul said, surprised at his own feeling of confidence.
They worked through mid-afternoon selecting and loading bricks
from a bulldozed pile of rubble beside a ruined Motel sign. Though
the bricks were used, the labour of breaking off chunks of mortar
that adhered to them combined with their attractively weathered
look gave them a high resale value. The man Paul had picked
worked in a preoccupied and distant way, stopping only to untie his
sweatband and squeeze it dry. When the truck was loaded, they paid
him and drove him to an apartment building in Brownsville. As they
slowed for a traffic light, the man leapt out the back and slapped on
the side of the truck to let them know he was gone.
"I have to see if a jackpost I set up to level the floor in these
niggers' house has settled," Paul's father said. Paul looked at him and
saw that his face was the colour of a rash. He now wore thin cotton
work shirts which clung to the sweat on his chest and back, revealing
shoulders which slumped protectively forward. "It's just a dirty
crawlspace where this buck keeps his tires," he said, sounding as
though he were speaking to himself.
They turned at 17th Avenue and then turned again onto a road
that had once been paved but was now just a gravel bed with broken
slabs of asphalt lining its shoulders. It looked more like a Northern
street than any Paul had seen in Miami. The houses were frame with
shingled sides, some surrounded by broken or tilting wooden fences.
If the houses had ever been painted, it was with primer or whitewash only so the finish had a thin, dusty look. Red maple and a few
small elms lined the sidewalks. They stopped at a house with clapboard siding that was full of holes where the knots had fallen out.
49 Paul stayed in the truck to watch the tools in the open back. He
put his feet up on the seat in his father's place behind the steering
wheel and leaned the back of his head against the window. He closed
his eyes and listened to the voices outside — high-pitched sudden
whoops of laughter and funny, breathless name-calling. He sat up
and opened the window. A light-skinned girl was throwing a muddy
volleyball against the clapboard house and successfully intercepting
it on the first bounce before either of the two boys she was playing
with could reach it. It was hard to tell her age. Her breasts were full
and they swelled and bounced as she ran. He stared at her, trying to
catch her eye, but she seemed not to notice. They played at a frantic
rate until one of the boys picked the girl up around her waist and held
her, struggling and laughing, until his friend could retrieve the ball.
Back on her feet, the girl faced the truck and bent over, putting
her hands on her knees and breathing noisily until she caught her
breath. When her chest stopped heaving she walked toward the
truck. He nervously searched out the window on the other side of
the cab to see if she was walking to meet someone who might have
come up on him from behind.
"You got something on your mind?" she asked through the open
window. The cab was small and he felt trapped. The girl put her
hands on her hips and waited for an answer. At this close range he
could see that she was not really a girl, that she was a woman much
older than him.
"I was just watching."
"Well I don't like to be watch like that. What you doin' here
"I'm waiting for my father. He's doing some work in that house."
He looked for the two boys who had been playing with the volleyball. They weren't even watching. They ran to the rear of the building, passing the ball back and forth.
"That your father? Well he a crook. That floor look like a old
mattress. It uneven." She stepped back from the truck and walked
away, her hips twitching with anger.
He wanted to yell at her and tell her she was wrong but he felt
that if he tried to call out, he would choke on his tongue. He sat
upright, rigid with embarrassment, until his father appeared from
behind the house. The knees of his pants were caked with dark mud.
For a long moment he looked unfamiliar, like a sunburned tourist,
a complete stranger.
50 Mark Frutkin / Two Poems
Within their etched armor
the samurai warriors
have melted down
into a quaint suggestion
of dust
within his embroidered silk robes
which blinded peasants
with the sewing,
the emperor himself
has lost his face
in the air,
has given the beat
of his heart
to the distant
murmur of a stream
within their sheaths
the swords turn to rust
disuse and dissipation,
where once light
was sharp reflections
only clear spirit remains.
giving birth
to your own heart
as if it held a life
of its own,
allowing it another heart
within this heart
and somehow living
on the emptiness
left behind
like the inside of a bell
that was rung once
and will never quite
grow entirely silent,
only ever more subtle
ever more delicate music
and the heart you give
each moment
listens to its drum
and hears a pulse
within its pulse
a more distant and subtle music
like a heartbeat
in a womb
and each birth
gives birth to a space
a slightly ringing
and generous emptiness.
52 Barry Dempster
A Large K in Kill
July 19, 1976
There comes a time when all the excuses in the world are shown
to be what they really are: avoidances, illusory words as phony as
slugs in a dime machine. Lying to oneself in this day has become an
addiction. The succinct pain I feel in the back of my head proves it
to me. Repression is like a rock in the softest part of the skull.
Marjorie Hamilton Melzer is a human elision. Something has
been left out of her. God did not pronounce her alive in the proper,
foreseen way. He said: "Get up Marj and reap hell in some man's
nest. Peck at his soul until it drains and collapses like a beach ball."
The day is about as hot as a giant barbecue. All morning the
sweat runs down my forehead, splits at the start of my eyebrows and
taking two parallel paths, it trickles into the corners of my mouth
and makes me thirsty. Still, this afternoon I have to finish the Sudbury article and at four, there's a group meeting. I will stick to the
orange vinyl of the session room chair and have to peel myself away
like tape come five o'clock. Hell. Something has to give but Lord
knows, it's not going to be me.
July 20, 1976
She sits across from me chewing her food with words. Carrots are
transformed into gossip, steak is turned into questions about the
office, orange jello made to resemble answers about the mechanics
of the house. All the while her feet are tapping against the wood of
the dining room floor and her fork and knife, harmless dinner utensils, are wielded in the open air like anxious hands in a classroom.
"And you'll never guess what happened after that," she says and
proceeds to transfigure a simple piece of bread into an outrageous
tale about her mother.
53 It was the way she ate that first attracted me to her, back in '65.
We'd sit in the campus restaurant while I shoved greasy piles of
french fries into an obviously uncouth mouth. She never complained
or even seemed to notice, she just sat there chatting with me, fingering each chip as if it were a thin piece of ice. Actually she sucked her
meals. Food disappeared down her throat, with no real motion of
chewing or swallowing. So damn graceful. The first time we made
love I insisted she eat a bagel afterwards so once again I could marvel at the neatness; the noiseless, motionless, wonderful way she had
with sustenance.
But no, it wasn't all the food's fault. It never is. One bright sunny
day I woke up and rolled over, preparing to plant a rose-kiss on her
pink cheek and there she was: lips parted like a hole in the ground,
snoring like a tractor, the face of a farmer's wife or a gotten-up
actress in a rural play — not the vision of Marjie, the sweet girl I
married. I fell out of love like a meteor and the pit created was
the size of a suburb. From then on things have been getting worse.
Erosion and other atrophies.
Tonight at dinner, I almost threw my fork across the table —
aimed at her heart. Poor Marjorie. She thinks everything is bliss.
July 21, 1976
Alright, it's not all Marjorie's fault but before anyone gets out
their automatic label machine, let me say I've been as faithful as a
nun. When my libido starts a two-step, I rein it in like a horse and
shove it in the stable. So now I'm tired of cold oats and perfunctory
brushings — I want to trot.
Amy Billingham is the newly appointed product manager for the
magazine group. Often, with my copy of Mining Mirror under my
arm, I walk into her office and discuss ads, hoping to convey a lifetime of desire in the words "aluminum" or "gravel pit." We sail
over Sudbury together with heatwaves rising from the tip of our toes
and going who knows where? As I said, I am faithful.
Today Amy came to see me. Dressed in a black velvet suit, white
blouse unbuttoned two or maybe three pearl buttons, she was smashing. I wanted to applaud. "What can I do for you?" I said instead.
"I thought we could talk about the back of your book, next issue
that is."
"Of course," I said.
"Perhaps dinner one night. I'm a great cook. I live down at the
54 beach by the racetrack." She tossed her mane of blonde hair and the
air was showered with gold.
"Love to," I said, my hooves quivering, my nostrils opening and
closing like doors.
"See you then," she said, stepping out of the office with, I swear, a
smile on her rear.
Forgive me Marjorie of my memory: mellow Marjorie. I will
either have you stuffed or sold to make glue.
July 22,1976
The pain in the back of my skull grows worse. Last night, at three
a.m. I was sitting on the hard shut surface of the toilet bowl counting the squares on the black and white tile floor. Five aspirin were
melting in my stomach and shooting their mysterious rays over my
body, until finally they'd find the right spot. The base of my head
beat like a bongo drum.
At three-ten a.m. the ghost of my mother came into the bathroom.
She was wearing one of her flowered housedresses, a red apron and
didn't look any the worse for wear considering twelve long years
under a marble tombstone.
"I told you to shop around for the right girl. Miss Fancy Ass at
work may be the one but you've already sewn yourself into a potato
bag so to speak." Her voice reverberated off the white walls and the
stone of the bathtub and sink. She could have been God in disguise.
"Give me a break," I pleaded.
"If I'd only lived, I could have told you little Marjie Parjie would
have soured. The girl's a grape. You should have picked a nut, a
walnut, they don't go bad."
"I'll divorce her," I said, leaping up from the toilet.
"She's Catholic. She'll fight you to the death. Anyway you'd have
to pay so much alimony, you couldn't afford new socks."
"Alright, I'm trapped," I said, waiting for an answer, a solution,
motherly advice.
"You can say that again," she said chuckling and disappeared up
the hot water faucet.
I sat back down and although my headache was gone, I felt no
better. Even with the door closed I could hear Marjorie in the bedroom snoring down the walls, so I did what thousands of unhappy
husbands do — I curled up on the very edge of the bed and dreamed
dreams of another woman, in my case Miss Fancy Ass or Amy
55 July 23,1976
"You don't love me the way you used to love me," she whined. Her
eyebrows arched and her mouth coiled into a pout.
"Nonsense," I said burying my face in a pork chop.
"You hardly ever kiss me on the mouth," she said holding up one
finger, "and I could count the number of times you touch my body
on the hand of a war amputee." Up went another finger. "Not to
mention you never buy me little love gifts." The third. "Or brag
about me in the company of friends." The fourth wagged in the air
like a flag. "And in the fifth place, you never talk to me during
dinner." Her entire right hand waved in front of me.
"Move it," I said, "or I'll bite it off."
"Why ..." She gasped and clutched her throat. "How dare
The meal went downhill from there. Tears ran over her heaps of
mashed potatoes like butter, swilling on the bottom of her plate. I
was locked out of the bedroom, forced to sleep on the couch but
worse than that, in the middle of the quiet night, Marjorie stole into
the living room brimming full of apologies. I feigned unconsciousness and was gone early in the morning.
July 24,1976
We went to the Roxy as a "kiss-and-make-up-treat." Being an old
movie buff, taking me to a film is a form of penance. Marjorie made
sure I was comfortable and brought me a cup of soggy popcorn. The
first feature, Joan Crawford confined to bed listening in on her own
murder plans, passed over my brain like a light breeze. I was not in
the mood. Solutions to the problem of Marjorie kept buzzing about
my head like bees. As of yet, none of the stingers were viable. The
house lights came up and I listened to Marjorie gushing over Joan
Crawford's eyebrows. They went back down again. The last film
was Dial M For Murder. It started slow, Ray Milland only steps
away from having a lost weekend and Grace Kelly auditioning for
the role of a princess. But as the story unrolled, the plans inside of
me caught on to a snag in the reel. Soon I was planning Marjorie's
murder one step ahead of Milland's scheming over Kelly. The
phone. The hired killer. The perfect alibi. And there was no Robert
Cummings in our life.
We left before it finished. I had no inclination to see how it turned
out. I could tell from the apple blossoms in Kelly's cheeks that she
56 would prevail but Marjorie has no petal skin and she is as pale as
snow. No heroine at all.
July 25, 1976
We showed up at Toby's party a bit earlier than invited. Toby
and I grew up together the best of friends and remained so. I took
him into the bathroom and told him everything.
"What do you think?" I asked. I was anxious because what he
would say mattered enough to make me change my mind if he
thought I was being foolish. I figured that murder is something like
an idea for a Broadway show. You've got to test it out on those you
trust to see if it will ever survive the previews.
"It's that serious?" he asked. Toby got rid of his wife years ago
by telling her he had chronic V.D. He prides himself on that coup
but really the girl was as troubled as he was to end the union.
"Sure is."
"Then go ahead. I back you all the way. I never liked Marjorie
anyway." We put our arms around each other and the secret is
locked between us.
"Where do you think the best place is to find a hit man?" I ask.
"Geppy," he said. Geppy's another buddy, works for the Mob, in
fact his father was one of the founding members.
"Yeah Geppy," I said.
July 26, 1976
I have nightmares of being gunned down in front of Italian fruit
markets, tumbling amongst the overripe bananas and mouldy
oranges, tomato blood on my heart. I wake up and find that I'm
shaking. No matter. I slip Marjorie into the dream in the place of
myself and slowly go back to sleep.
July 27, 1976
"Geppy, it's me," I whispered into the phone. I'm in a booth with
"Suck me off, here's my number" sort of things scrawled on the walls
like scars. There's a smell of urine somewhere around my feet.
"Whose you?" Geppy asked.
"Me," I said reluctant to give my name. The plan is in motion.
Every precaution has to be taken or like Ray Milland, I'll be molder-
ing away my time in some unromantic prison cell.
"Well whose me then?" he asked.
57 I searched the baggage that's kept in the corners of my brain and
came up with, "Remember Delores Machavelli and the time we tied
her up with her own skipping rope just to have a look at her underpants?"
A short silence. "Toby, old boy," he said.
"The other, the other," I said.
"Oh Michael, it's you. How are you buddy?"
"Shhh," I hissed into the phone. Outside the booth, only inches
from the glass, a policeman was balancing himself on one foot, picking gum off the sole of the other. "I've got a job for one of your men,
a serious job. Can you meet me?"
"Sure. How about the Spaghetti Factory for lunch?"
"No, not in public, somewhere quiet." We decided on High Park
by the zoo, near the buffalo pen and by two o'clock in the afternoon
I had the names of four professionals to choose from. I took the
subway home feeling like a weight were being lifted from my fourth
finger left hand, everything normal except for the faint traces of
bison mixed in with the bad subway air.
July 28,1976
Tonight I dream about plain-clothed policemen. I'm standing on
the busy corner of a noonday street where I will meet all four of the
applicants. They'll be recognizable in white trenchcoats and out-of-
date fedoras. But as the hour approaches I count ten such men and
I know that six of them have badges instead of hearts, pistols shoved
into their pants in the place of other things. I make motions of going
up to several of them but no words are exchanged. Each one stares
at me wilfully until I back down and slink away like a cat.
When I wake up in the first indistinct moments of morning I
decide not to meet anyone on a crowded street. I stick to High Park
and unattractive buffaloes.
July 29, 1976
I confided my plan to Amy during our initial lunch and the outcome was supper at her place, by the beach, next door to the racetrack. We made love to the echoes of hard feet on equally hard
ground, the booming voice on a loudspeaker and ultimately the
applause of the crowd.
Near dusk I slipped on the noisy frame of a streetcar and got off
at the entrance to the Park. The green trees and grass were turning
black for the night, Grenadier Pond was putting on its dark lid. I
58 ran through shadows and shadows of shadows, down the hill and
into the zoo. Hurrying past the bear compound, the mountain goat's
fake hills, I turned the corner and there in front of the hulking shapes
of smelly buffalo, stood the man. I walked past him once, then
twice, just to be safe. He was wearing a grey trenchcoat and a hat
of indiscernible colour. "Strawberry cream," I said — the password,
fortunately something you don't hear too often.
"Yeah," the man answered.
"Has Geppy filled you in?" I asked.
"Are you game?"
"How much?"
"Your money, right now," he said and I felt the fist of a gun in
my ribs. I emptied my pockets like a customs agent rifling through a
bag and was left there, emptied.
It was with heavy heart I arrived home and climbed in beside the
black mass of Marjorie under the sheets.
July 30, 1976
The next two potential employees I met together, each one as
protection against the other and we met in daylight, at the beach.
Not too far from us Amy was sitting in the sand making giant castles
with her bare feet. She was the lookout.
The first man was huge, a Brink's truck of a man. He breathed
so heavily, the sound of the waves were almost drowned out. And
the second one was thin as a straw, nervous, picking the fingernails
on one hand with the other one and then alternating every minute
or so. "Experience?" I asked.
"Not much lately," the fat man said, " but the flesh is willing."
"And you?" I asked the thin man.
"Let's see," he said counting furiously on his fingers. "Three cats,
one racoon and a wino down on Church Street."
"I want her strangled with the telephone cord," I said and
watched for reactions.
"Oh I couldn't," the fat man said. "Their eyes always bulge out
of their sockets and the damn tongue pops out like a slab of meat.
It's sickening. And most times they turn blue, as blue as the water
out there," he said pointing out at the grey polluted lake. "No, it's
poison for me or nothing."
59 The thin man listened, still fidgeting madly. "I want to push her
out the window, please?" he pleaded. "I like to see them fall, please,
could you let me?"
I tried to explain and the fat man left, trundling up the beach like
a whale. Finally I shook the thin man off with a flick of my wrist
and a quick apology and started towards Amy who by now was
almost buried in sand. I felt a weight on my shoulders and as I went
down, I saw the thin man's bird face, eyes raging like pots of boiling
water. "If it's strangulation you want, it's what you'll get," he mumbled and put his skeleton fingers around my neck. Air escaped me
and I couldn't find the words to cry out. For what was probably
only twenty, thirty seconds I thought I was dead, then the thin man
loosened his grip and fell to the side. Amy was standing above him,
launching good swift kicks to his side. "How dare you," she said
between blows.
With her help, I made it back to her apartment where she
pampered me, rubbing my neck and back muscles until I was able to
relax. I was almost myself again in time for the first race.
July 31,1976
I met the fourth man at the Spaghetti Factory at high noon when
the place was packed full. We took a table in the centre of things so
that my back was pressed up against the back of another man.
Safety in numbers.
The man across from me was small, rat-like, with a long crooked
scar on his right cheek. His eyes looked like two black bubbles. There
was no emotion behind them. He was as blank as a wall.
"Did Geppy brief you?" I asked. I sat imagining every danger
possible in rush hour restaurants. A fork in the heart? A bullet in the
belly? Would anyone hear? I thought of shushing the place with a
long sombre finger but I didn't. Anyway, Amy was at another table,
mere feet away, just in case.
The man nodded and said: "I want a clear five thousand. Half
now, the rest when the job's done. You don't know my name and I
don't want to know yours. When it's over, it's over. I'll take my
money and be gone. No hassles." His scar twitched as he talked and
I couldn't help but be impressed.
"I want her strangled, you know. By the telephone cord. I'll phone
to get her into the living room and the rest is left up to you. When
you're finished, hang up on me."
"Okay," he said.
60 "You'll do it?" I asked, still wary.
"It's a deal." He held one of his small hands across the table and
we shook on it.
"You're quite the professional," I said as I was paying the cheque.
"That's right," he answered. "A killer with a capital K." For one
quick moment his eyes flared up and the bubbles burst into deep,
angry pools, then just as suddenly, they formed again and everything
was back to normal.
August 1, 1976
Amy and I lay in bed, a beam of stray moonlight fallen across our
chests. Our talk was lazy, our bodies quiet. I told Marjorie I went to
Sudbury for a day or two. When the night was perfect and the bedroom heavy with predictions of sleep, I rolled over on my side and
pressed close to Amy. "Soon my darling," I whispered. "Very soon."
K Day:
August 2,1976, 6:30 p.m.
"There's a board meeting after dinner," I say to Marjorie, spooning fruit salad between my words. There really is one. I arranged it.
"Oh that's terrible," Marjorie says, "and you just came back from
that horrid Sudbury. I had plans for tonight."
"Can't be helped," I say, biting into a cherry. "It's the business
that pays for this house, for all your comforts. We have to make
concessions to it, don't we?"
Marjorie nods and I think that I've silenced her until I feel her
foot climbing my leg, rising up into my loins. "Tickle, tickle," she
says seductively and winks at me.
"No time," I say bluntly and get up from the table. I kiss her
goodbye and tell her to go to bed early, that tomorrow night we'll
go out on the town.
The hot night air cleans the taste of her lips from my lips. She
dwells over the bananas in a fruit salad and I sigh thankfully as their
flavour melts away in the dull blue evening. At the corner I stop and
turn around, looking at the square sunlight that hits the front window. "So long Marjie," I say. "Good riddance."
7:15 p.m.
I meet the man out front of my office, on the street. I tell him
where to find the rest of the money that's hidden in the house and
give him last minute instructions. He is not to make a move until all
6i the lights are out and then he is to phone my number and let it ring
three times. I will grab it just before the fourth and act as if the
party has hung up. Then, feigning concern, I will phone Marjorie
while in the company of my business associates and I will pretend
the phone is never answered. The deed will then be done and getting
one of the men to drive me home, I will stumble onto the dead, bug-
eyed, long-tongued, blue figure of my wife — Marjorie.
9:35 p.m.
The phone rings. I'm in the middle of a sentence and I finish it,
extend it until the end of the third ring and then I pick the phone
up. "Hello," I say and hear the click, then the busy signal on the
other end. "Jesus, you'd think people would ring more than three
times." All of the men agree with me and the meeting continues.
Five minutes go by and I say, more to myself than to any of the
men, "Hope it wasn't my wife. She's not feeling too well tonight."
They all reassure me blandly and Tom Nixon of Lace and Leather
Magazine says: "Give her a call and see. We all need a stretch."
"Good idea," I say and pick up the telephone, begin dialing. My
heart is slamming against my ribs like a loose screen door in the
wind. I feel a bit faint, shivers of fear or anticipation rising from my
stomach up into my head. I nearly swoon.
The phone rings once. Twice. Three-four-five-six. Seven. Halfway
through the eighth the bell is cut off and I hear Marjorie's sleepy
voice saying, "Hello."
I am as quiet as a dead man. I hear Tom Nixon in the background saying: "No answer huh?" but I ignore him. There is the
sound of a struggle in my ear, bangs and whimpers crawling up into
my brain. My conscience is almost on fire. There is one loud, tortuous crash, a strained scream and then I hear my wife's voice saying, "Gordon Chamberlain!" Gordon Chamberlain? In her last
throes of life she utters Gordon Chamberlain. There is another crash
and then a man's voice in the distance cries out: "Marjorie Hamilton, oh no." And the phone goes dead. It is an amputated limb still
bleeding in my hands. I drop it into its cradle and Tom says: "My
God Michael, you look as if you just heard the stock market crash."
I stammer something fortunately inaudible and then in a louder
voice I say: "There was no answer, I'd better get home." Tom offers
to drive me but I shake my head and dash out the door. I fling alibis
aside like extra coats. The night is too hot.
62 10:15 p.m.
There are lights on in the living room and from farther down the
street, I can see the reflection of the kitchen light on the backyard
bushes. I creep closer to the front window on my hands and knees
until I reach the brick of the house and slowly raise myself and peer
through the curtains. Marjorie is sitting on the sofa, animated as a
puppet, chatting away to someone in the chair across from her,
whose face I cannot see. She doesn't have a trace of seriousness about
her so I gather the stranger is not a policeman.
Gathering up my courage around me, I creep to the front door
and slip my key quietly in the lock. Before I am even halfway inside,
I can hear Marjorie's voice buzzing on like a fly. "So then I knew it
would never work unless I could persuade you to give up that nasty
habit you had of chewing tobacco." I step on a floorboard that
groans back at the sole of my foot. "Is that you Michael?" I hear the
couch springs squeak and Marjorie comes walking out into the hall.
"Come here Michael," she says, her voice full of excitement. "There's
someone I want you to meet."
The rat of a man with bubble eyes sits in the living room chair.
"Gordon Chamberlain, my husband and vice-versa. This is the man
I almost married before I met you," she says to me. "He just dropped
over tonight after my not hearing a peep from him for thirteen years.
Imagine that."
I shake his hand and then bend down to the coffee table and rifle
through the pages of Saturday Night where I had hidden the remaining two-thousand and five hundred dollars. It's gone. When I
look up, he is smiling an empty-eyed smile.
"It's uncanny how we met again," Marjorie is saying. "Just a
minute." She bustles off into the kitchen.
"Where's the money you fool," I demand.
"Forget it," he says. "Anyone who wants to kill Marjorie Hamilton is a snake in my books and it costs you nowadays to be a snake."
"I'll call the police," I say, hoping that he, like a bird, might run
at the mention of a cat, even if the cat is a phony one.
"And we'll go down together."
Marjorie comes scurrying back into the room with a tray of tea
and Christmas cake left over from the winter. "I'm so glad you came
home early," she says to me.
I glare at the man and he glares back. I blink. He blinks. He is
63 my mirror reflection. I warn him with my eyes. He warns me with
"I said I was glad you came home early," Marjorie repeats.
"I'm not home," I say and with one last dual glare, I head back
for the door.
"You're not home?" she asks and giggles.
"Not for long," I say, opening the front door.
"Where are you going?" she asks, following me. "You haven't
heard my story yet."
"I'm going to the race track," I say and as the door is shutting
behind me, I hear Marjorie saying: "Such a strange man. It makes
me wonder sometimes if perhaps I didn't marry the wrong man."
Their laughter follows me up the street and gets on the westbound
bus with me. I retreat — winded from defeat.
64 Paul Gotro / Two Poems
The bamboo chimes hang silent, not feeling the
sumac or the webbing stuck to the tree's reddening leaves. A spider, stretching a tapis of
silk onto the landscape — a tragimonotony of
movement, to and fro, up and down — holds the
sumac and the chimes like the dropped note of
rain in its weaving.
A passer-by will see the creature, hideously
spinning, or feel its web stuck on their face
in the dark — not the effort or delicate
measurement, spinning, winning, from branch to
branch between the chimes.
The spider will be gone.
The sumac remains, the bamboo chimes hanging
from its branches, singing softly of dragons.
This is the day
I wait by the window for three o'clock,
For a tree to be split by lightning.
This is the day that sits me by the window
to drink coffee and smoke.
I think, at times, of the church:
My son has asked to go.
The doors, I say, are made from the wood
Of a tree split by lightning.
They are large and too hard to open.
No one needs two fathers.
There is too much understanding in his face:
His mother warned me:  The world, you say,
Is what he sees.
At 3:01,
The saloons will open.
I glance at my watch
And blow a smoke ring against the window.
Watch it break against the cool surface.
66 Levi Dronyk
Baxter Jack
He watches the fishermen. They point to where He is near the top
of a fir tree. He jumps, soaring toward the water spreads His wings
and shrieks. He levels parallel to the sea and His talons find their
mark below the surface. On His return to the tree He sweeps over
the boats and the fishermen cover their heads with their arms.
As He tears at the pink flesh He considers His next assignment. A
city job, another citizen on the brink of disaster, He supposes, more
violence than that research job. The research into the feasibility of
the saxophone replacing the harp as the Official Instrument. His
tedium in testing the horn was far from complete when he was
recalled. He faintly resented but soon dismissed the lost opportunity
of perching on a tall bridge, of wailing into the heavens until They
released their harps to fall through the clouds.
Baxter Jack is insomniac. Insomnious Baxter Jack hasn't slept,
not ever. There he is, easily seen from down below. Any time, night,
day, they can see him sitting on the window ledge in his room on the
top floor of the Marble Door Hotel.
His former friends, they're all former friends now, have torn down
the line they'd used to send up food and written messages. Crowds
now come to watch Baxter Jack sit. His former friends are nervous
looking up at him. They're all acrophobiacs; their stomachs turn
when they see him sitting on the window ledge, see him sitting there
dropping chocolate chips out of the window and stretching out at
arm's length to follow the fall.
eagle comix presents THE GENTLE SUICIDE
He lets the salmon half-skeleton slip from His grasp and watches
it fall to the beach. The gulls converge. Charting His course He flies,
67 wide-winged rises to a designated point, and now gliding to the roof
of the Sylvia Apartments. To begin with, He checks His work order:
Baxter Jack. Possible suicide. Respond kindly but without interference if possible. Impossible, He thinks. Next, he tests His sight, noting on a moving target, silk tie, mauve, silver pin; pink shoes, red
laces, three ends frayed, six eyelets on each shoe.
Baxter calls down to the woman. He usually cultivates indifference
but he seems to recognize the girl from Bible School. She is or isn't,
he decides, and sees her now as the first tourist of the day. Sitting
there, he pops five or six chocolate chips into his mouth, lets them
melt into a thick sauce and adds a marshmallow. He eats; looking
below him, not at the woman but at a cathedral; real or imagined,
an open-air church. He sees the walls covered with murals of Hell
and is fascinated by the variety of shades of orange. The studied
faces floating in fire. Heads of Lenin, Hitler and Stalin.
No it isn't; Baxter Jack considers death. There's a microsecond
of inconceivable pain, Baxter Jack guesses, if you pass out on the
way down the impact is dreamlike, but hurts twice as much.
The Hungarian is happiest at night. He tells himself he'll be dead
by morning. Half alive only, with desire, he follows women. He
watches men and women enter buildings and tries to memorize the
faces of the women before they disappear. Visualizing parades of
women, all in evening gowns; women with thick lips; lusty eyes and
red tongues. Rows of them with backs arched, waiting for and
expecting love. In bed, the Hungarian lays awake. He caresses his
own face and promises himself he'll never shed tears over the whole
business. Then he sleeps.
The Hungarian looks expensive in a rayon shirt, silver suit and
maroon shoes. He drives his equally maroon Thunderbird car to the
Marble Door Hotel. Finding a spot and staring at the woman with
pink shoes he knows that more will come. They came yesterday and
he'd plunged his head into a huge cleavage. She'll be back, he
thinks, with the other teasers, with their sister, mother, nurse and
guardian angel complexes. I'll tell them, he muses, that they belong
in movies, that their souls burn in their eyes and that their minds
open mine. Come on, just a little suck, he pretends, you're beautiful
like Rita Hayworth, come on. Bitches, his thoughts crawl up the wall
of the Marble Door and he shouts, "jump you dumb bastard why
don't you jump?"
Arrivals. On bicycles, in wagons and buses and on roller skates.
Coming to save, condemn, condone, exploit, pity, love, hate, pray
for, draw pictures of and sling stones at Baxter Jack. Two distinct
opinions; soon the chanting begins.
"honey, i could have his
ass, i mean, give him
some heavy loving"
"he should accept the
precious gift"
'Jesus, enter his heart
and save him from the
"he doesn't want to jump,
can't you see, he wants
to sleep"
"what! one shot,
he's down"
'it doesn't matter who
you are if you understand who that is"
"you might grow up to be
Prime Minister"
"i caught a bus, 20
"he's so young"
"that's better"
"big deal, i'm on
"ten bucks, wanna bet"
"i knew him in Sunday
'let's go sit in my car':
69 The Neville twins. Their age is 210. Between them they've witnessed several drownings and a dozen hangings. Lately, they're most
visible on the suicide circuit; today, among the jump crowd. Brother
John is being dragged down the street by his big dog Rum. Brother
John can't keep up to his animal. The dog stops at the Ukrainian
perogy peddlar's stand, flapping his long tongue for a handout. By
stopping abruptly, the dog Rum sends his master staggering, and
finally to a fall with loud cracks that are various bones breaking.
The perogy saleswoman wheels her cart into the crowd. Big Rum
dog sniffing behind her, dragging his fallen master past Brother Mike
Neville, busily rehearsing children with sling-shots. Brother Mike
fails to notice Brother John; they never loved each other anyway.
"Okay kids, on the last is enough you fire."
"Don't think it'll go that far mister."
"It will it will.
"Now, ready, 1 2 3 go.
"too much too much too much is enough enough enough is too
much of enough and enough of too much is enough of too much is
enough, Fire."
Stones bounce off the Marble Door, hardly close enough to
threaten Baxter Jack, and as they deflect into the anti-jump faction,
Sri Ohm Jr. steps forward.
"Please, your attention, ladies and gentlemen, thank-you.
"Consider friends. Our brother, he is not our brother, we are not
his keeper.
"He must not be influenced by anything he hears. Yet, neither be
influenced by his thoughts and desires. Desire not think not.
"To find truth his mind must be free so that he may find truth.
And then he will find God. God is not g-o-d. This is my truth. Not
yours. It is not his.
"To find his truth he must be free of fear, examine fear and it
ceases to be fear because he is no longer afraid of it.
"When you say jump or don't jump he is afraid and no longer
free. Truth discontinues and therefore God."
Speeches continue. A reformed drug addict manages to pull the
finger out of his nose and the thumb from his ass. A local politician
explains the fiscal responsibilities of death, but less effectively than
70 the undertaker who reads from the brochure of special rates. An
unemployed train conductor claims to have ridden in a U.F.O.
The saleswoman is breaking records. Only sauerkraut perogies
remain. Potato and potato/cheese are sold out. All the popcorn
vendors are out of stock. New ice cream wagons keep arriving while
more budget conscious families are spreading picnic lunches where
ever there's space. "Popsicles and Ice Cream Sandwiches," is the cry
as Max Soulbrethern addresses the crowd.
"Sinners! Sinners open your heart to the light. My brothers. My
sisters. Heathens! Pagans! Blasphemers! Wake up!
"Rejoice in the spirit of Jesus Christ who died for your sins. Open
your eyes. Brothers and sisters open your eyes . . . Jesus .... is coming. Open your hearts let us pray. Jesus saves."
Safeway Saves You More. The maroon Thunderbird is parked in
the supermarket parking lot. The backseat is a mess. Seat cover
loose, red shoe laces, silver suit jacket and the torn pages of a soiled
sex manual block the Hungarian's passage into the body of the
woman who went to Sunday school with Baxter Jack.
"Oooh god this is wrong," she moans as the Hungarian tastes the
skin behind her knees.
"Ooommff, yummm," the Hungarian attempts to swallow her
Tedium. The roof is hot and the rhetoric makes Him weary. He
is not amused and resists the impulse to rip the Hungarian's scrotum
wide open. From what He sees there is no reason for Him to interfere. Baxter Jack is not in danger. Scanning the scene below, He
focuses attention on the sketchbook of the illustrator from eagle
Serious collectors are busily framing each of the six illustrations
behind plates of no-glare glass and Baxter Jack splits a banana down
the middle, fills it with strawberry jam and sprinkles on pinches of
icing sugar and cake candies. He wipes his chin with the yellow peel
and tosses it out the window in hope of some slapstick entertainment.
Baxter Jack finds slapstick boring, and therefore believes it might put
him to sleep. The skin lands near the perogy wagon and the sales-
* We at eagle comix offer our subscribers journalism with a minimum
of words. Words are usually titles. Last week's issue pictorially depicted the prison riots with six separate illustrations on pieces of birch
bark. Each illustration was titled. For example, *6 was entitled ON
TRIAL, in bold-face over the painted picture of prisoner and guard
shackled together.
7i woman steps from behind it to chase that Rum dog away, again, and
slipping on the banana peel lands in the midst of NewLife Dance
Traffic as it prepares for an interpretive rendering of the traditional
dance of the flaming asshole.
The Hungarian is succeeding. His white ass appears and disappears from view.
"Oooh, get off me," says the woman who sat next to Baxter Jack
at Pentecostal Bible School. Tears come.
"We made bowls out of popsicle sticks," she sobs as she hears the
advertisement, "popsicles and ice cream sandwiches," and the Hungarian sucks the tear droplets from her face with a cocktail straw.
"Baxter chewed the sticks," she groans, and remembers how
Baxter Jack dropped moist splinters down the front of her blouse.
She still loves him and wants to marry him. Her shame is unbearable
as she seeks the Hungarian's mouth and sinks her teeth into his lips.
The illustrator from eagle comix accepts the story of Baxter Jack
as a challenge. I face two equally dull possibilities, she reasons, that
he'll jump and that he won't. She decides that her format, in any
case, must be unique. The design on the apron of the Ukrainian
saleswoman, who's sitting up against her cart nursing scraped elbows,
draws the illustrator's attention. Of course, she thinks, hollowed-out
eggs. She rushes off to call her editor, but has to speak to the publisher instead.
"Of course it's impossible," she screams into the telephone, "so
was 60,000 pieces of birch bark. Why do you think you can charge
$5,000 a copy asshole? Okay? Yeah, I can get it all on one egg.
Okay? Yeah, it should break by midnight. Shit, how am I supposed
to know? Yeah, bye."
She slams the receiver, a loud noise comes from the maroon
Thunderbird and NewLife Dance Traffic leaps into action. The
assholes flame in the soft dusk light. The preparation, was painful.
Asbestos insulation, the large funnel. Now the chance of overheating.
Fearless, they dance in three circles, like a circus, each ring encloses
a spectacular solo performance of splits, dips and flips. The crowd
diverts its collective stare from Baxter Jack, and is stunned by the
blazing energy of it all.
72 Away from the fire and cheering, another circle forms, the society
of Baxter Jack's former friends. Determined to end this pageant, the
acrophobiacs are divided; some feel that sleep is the answer, while
the rest insist upon death.
"You used to be his best friend. He'll forgive you and let you in.
Then you can push him."
"That's murder. I ain't going up there."
"Why don't you go sweet-talker? Maybe you'll talk him into
"I say push him off."
"Yeah, push him off."
"You go."
"You go."
"Up there? You crazy or what!"
"Somebody go."
A bowl of cumquat halves in white wine. Baxter Jack savors one
with loud smacks. Lifting the bowl to his mouth. The dance was
great, he thinks as he now watches the paraplegic martial arts
demonstration. To jump? It makes him shiver. He drinks some more.
"What? Who said that?"
The Hungarian. Crazed. His rayon shirt blood-stained. Lips fat
and hurting. The acrophobiacs are repulsed and back away. His
eyes spill danger after them. He slams a fist against the side of his
head and it improves his speech.
"P-push himmm!"
He is disturbed. More people arriving, and He fears the pro forces
outnumber the anti-jumpers. He considers his options. To go down
and put the fear of death into all of them would not accomplish anything. They'd soon return. I have no choice, He decides.
"JumP Jump Jump"
"Jump Jump Jump"
The Hungarian spits blood at the acrophobiacs. They run away.
Slowly, he moves toward the Marble Door.
"Jump Jump Jump"
73 "Jump Jump Jump"
He spreads His wings, "iiiiiiilllllHIIIIEEEEEEEEEEeeeeeeee."
The windows of the Sylvia shake, then shatter. Baxter Jack. The
crowd is silenced. A devout follower of Max Soulbrethern is ecstasized with fear and allows his piss to puddle on the street. The perogy
saleswoman crosses herself, again and again. The Rum dog begins
to howl and is joined by screamers whose efforts are terribly feeble in
comparison to the original one. No one leaves.
He draws Baxter Jack's eyes to the roof of the Sylvia. Baxter Jack
sees nothing. Blinded, he closes the book he's reading. He sets aside
the mustard coated celery stalks. Baxter Jack yawns and is surprised
by it.
Penetrating deeper into Baxter Jack with His warm stare. He
hates His job as He pierces Baxter Jack's brain. The book drops. The
crowd gasps. Baxter Jack falls asleep.
They look up and see him sleeping on the ledge. There he is, with
sleep, the gentle suicide. Relief. They think it's over. No hard feelings
on the part of anyone except the Hungarian. He waits, watching
while the crowd tip-toes away.
Sensing His work isn't complete, He guards Baxter Jack, and also
tries to define the uneasiness within Him. It's within My power to
know, He considers, but I'm not all knowing. I have worked thousands of jobs; this one is not over. His eyes remain fixed to the ledge.
The Hungarian skulks along the outside wall of the Marble Door.
Eases through the entrance, past the elevator. He creeps up the stairs.
Fat lips now trembling; footsteps, one floor, another after another to
Baxter Jack's floor. Creaking down the hall to Baxter Jack's door.
"Yeah, 850 dozen should do it. Try to have them all drained,
okay? What? Yeah, it's a drag he fell asleep. Sure, sure, just drain
those eggs. I know. Look, I'll stick around. I need one of him sleep-
"Oh-Pin Da Door," head screams, twice-filled with murder. The
Hungarian smashing it open with his head, feet, fists and knees.
The illustrator from eagle comix sketches. Phone booth offers an
angle where Baxter Jack appears to be squeezing his head between
his thighs, she grins, he's blown himself to sleep. Before that crude
image cements itself another comes bursting in, he's falling.
He examines His alternatives. Already, He's frozen time, leaving
Baxter Jack suspended in the air, the illustrator wide-mouthed in the
phone booth and the Hungarian wild-eyed at the ledge. His choices
are narrowed to four.
i. to not interfere; to let time resume so that Baxter Jack falls to his
death; to hit head first so that the skull cracks along the seam
and his brain spills as his spine splits perfectly down the length
of his back.
2. to interfere; let the Hungarian join Baxter Jack in a race to the
bottom of the Marble Door.
3. let them exchange places; the Hungarian in space, Baxter Jack
in the telephone booth and the illustrator on the ledge.
4. to fake it; to somehow demonstrate the magic that immortalizes
victims and sells subscriptions.
He decides. Time begins. The Hungarian completes the follow-
through of pushing Baxter Jack out the window and the illustrator
attempts to give sound to the horror she feels. He slaps the air once
and steals the scene. In a flash He's holding Baxter Jack by the
ankles. His wings drive a small storm behind Him as He ascends.
Banking above the Sylvia He takes Baxter Jack further into his
mouth. His size doubles as he blows by the window ledge and picks
the Hungarian's sockets clean. Baxter Jack is visible from waist to
head as He grazes street level and tears the door of the telephone
booth with the tip of a wing. She feels His mercy and only Baxter
Jack's head can be seen as He climbs once more, climbing and still
growing. Stopping high above the city, again His wings extend, and
His shape is outlined in hot white light. And then nothing, only
The illustrator partially recovers and begins work on the design
for this week's feature. Painted eggs representing the transformation
of Baxter Jack, from insomniac to what the subscribers will meditate
over as they sip morning coffee after bringing eagle comix off the
front porch.
75 Sean Hearty / Three Poems
I lock you with these words
into the Christian hump.
Your silence will eat
at the hinge at night
when the moon rages.
I force you with this bread
to the meated mast.
Your mouth will heat
the lip of the crutch
when breath is still.
I damn you with this wine
into the blooded form
of your womanhood.
My wound is an acre if I count the sun
Where I fuse my nerves' dead ends;
If I fire the lemoned light
That stings the soft eye;
If, in eye, I find the kiss.
My heart is a prism if I smash the glass
Where I stain the lover's lip;
If I plague the singed stream
That wets the moist brain;
If I mesh the corded blood.
Your youth is a spectre if you hold the bowl
Where you stock the shining bees;
If you suck the foreign fruit
That stumps the green tree;
If you pardon the sweet saint.
Your hand is an engine if you plough the womb
Where you bury the rich coin;
If you storm the forged mind
That clouds the new beast;
If you stumble in the dark.
Our hair is an anchor and we bruise the roots
Where we folded all music's prince.
When skin does waste to finger
Gods bleed the father stone.
When the parent star turns fruit
The wasp at raw earth sucks.
When, like the mothered fawn,
I skid the first-lapped lake,
Then frost's first seasoned sting
Punishes the child in shade.
Then the strapped skies strip the bird,
Feather the sea-sand's matter.
Then mermen, through the clay hero,
Stun the tumbling bee into my hair
Where I wax the father's sockets.
When does skin waste to finger?
The first sleep's deer is dead.
All since all the child's first river
Ribboned round the rocks,
Turned sour in the weather.
78 Tove Ditlevsen, Denmark
Translated by Elin Elgaard
The bed creaked and, frightened, she stared at the ceiling. Then she
placed the coffee cup very carefully in its saucer, prevented it from
chinking against the spoon. The bed had a different creak to it when
he was awake, different from his turning in sleep. But sometimes it
did not creak at all, which was almost the worst. This had been
going on for three years, and she never had time to remember what
it had been like before. He was a proof-reader. Worked nights. When
he came home in the morning his face immediately showed her
whether there had been misprints in the paper; sometimes, however,
he did not read it till he got up. He was terribly angry with her
when there were misprints, and, really, it was a shame, she thought,
when after all he did his job so conscientiously. She always took great
care to think of him in a nice correct way. But once in a while —
like now, for instance — when he was awake, she did think of how
cosy it would be if somebody came along, somebody to talk to. In
the beginning, Henny would pop in occasionally, as she had always
done. Henny was her sister, and she lived nearby. But although they
were very careful, talking very low, the bed had creaked all the time.
The wakeful sort of creak, and Henny said, "The way sounds carry
here!" And they'd started to whisper. Then he had shouted to them
there was no need to whisper, he couldn't sleep anyway. And she
was always glad to see Henny go. Better so.
Actually, she would like to have a cat. Cats are company, and
quite soundless. One day, when he was in a good mood, she would
ask him if she mightn't have a cat.
She looked at the ceiling again. Completely quiet now. Was he
asleep? She moved one foot a little, wriggling her ankle. She got too
little exercise. Once, they had always gone for walks in the afternoon,
or on Sundays. Now he stayed in bed Sundays, too. It was an old
79 bed. It was more run-down than hers, against the opposite wall: he
didn't care for the 'marital' bit.
She bent down to pick up a thread from the floor. She never
cleaned the house till he had left. She accidentally banged her head
against the table, making the spoon chink against the cup. The blood
shot to her forehead, her heart galloped. How clumsy she was! No
matter how careful, always some mishap or other. Why hadn't she
left the thread alone? The bed creaked.
"Drinking coffee again, are you?" he shouted.
"Oh dear," she shouted back," did I wake you? I was only having
a drop from this morning."
"I could hear you take the lid off the tin," it boomed through the
ceiling. "Drink away — all the coffee you like. No need for those
idiotic lies."
She stood rigid, the cup in her hand. She was about to take it to
the kitchen. She listened — if more was to follow. The echo of his
voice kept ringing inside her, and she could not move till it faded.
Now her heart beat normally again. The bed creaked violently a
few times, in triumph.
She went out there, put down first the cup, then the spoon, then
the saucer. He had been quite truthful: he didn't mind her drinking
coffee. He was really quite good-natured. It wasn't his fault that he
slept so lightly. She decided to pay Henny a visit. She'd often decided
that, hardly ever carrying it out. She liked her sister's children very
much, even if they were terribly noisy. She found it hard not to
believe that disaster must be the result of so much noise. As a kind
of counterweight, she always started whispering. And Henny would
laugh, saying she was getting honest-to-goodness weird. Henny said
it was Arthur who made her cranky by lying up there creaking all
day. But where else should he be? Henny was really quite unreasonable.
Uncertain, she took a few steps toward the door.
"Where you going gadding about now?" he shouted.
Her hand went to her heart. Her throat suddenly felt so dry. Then
she cleared it.
"No," she screamed. "I was just going to put my shoes on."
"But they clatter," he roared, and she could hear that his patience
was well-nigh gone. She made a tremendous effort: if she didn't
shout at the top of her voice, he declared it impossible to hear her.
Otherwise his hearing was excellent.
"All right — I won't wear them, then," she shouted, in despair.
80 Sat down at the table again. No sound from upstairs, and ten
minutes passed in an ominous, listening silence. Then the silence was
broken by a low, comfortable snore — one of the safest in her world
of sounds.
She stretched her stiff limbs, making joints give. Smiled and
rubbed her hands together. It would be at least an hour before he
woke up again. It was feasible to get to Henny's and back in an
hour. She was alone too much. Once, people came to their place,
just like any other home. Her mother had sat back in that chair, her
brother on the sofa next to his wife. All went well for a few hours.
Then, gradually, he would grow silent. They'd speak to him, and be
answered by monosyllables only. She never knew how it happened,
but suddenly they couldn't breathe. They spoke in low voices, as if
some accident had happened, threw little anxious glances his way.
Then they left, left her standing there with far too much food for
two people. And with a feeling of having committed a crime. When
she came back in — after a nervous, whispered goodbye in the corridor, he'd already fallen asleep in his wing-back chair. When he
woke up, he'd be very surprised to hear of their having left. He, too,
had had a few friends: a couple of young bachelors who'd sit for
whole evenings at a time, attentive to everything he said, while she
put out beer for them and collected the empty bottles. They themselves rarely spoke. Truth to tell, they'd been a bit afraid of him, no
doubt. She didn't know why. But all this had taken place on another
planet, as it were. She'd only think of it when he slept. While putting
on her shoes and coat — very carefully, very quietly — she also
thought of the child they ought to have had. Of course, she was too
old now (soon thirty-five), but when they were young. But already
then — on an even more distant planet — there would be long
between one time and the next. Only seldom, in darkness and deep
silence, would he get the better of his aversion. Afterwards, he had
been sort of angry with her. It was never mentioned between them.
She disengaged the catch before opening the door: he could
always hear its little 'click'. Out in the street, she looked both sides
and then, narrow and spectre-like of figure, half-ran the fifty paces
to her sister's place.
The two children ran into her arms.
"Dear me!" she said, touched; "but it IS a long time ago. And I
haven't even brought you anything."
And they took her hands, dancing with her, round and round, till
81 she got out of breath, sat down laughing, clapping a hand to her
mouth as if she'd gone too far and if he could see her now!
"I'm off again at once," she told Henny, who was pregnant again,
her eyes so merry and warm. "I only nipped across because he was
asleep, so I thought — "
"Yes yes," Henny said, "now sit down. Do calm down, dear. Keep
your hands still."
And the room was so light; that was the sun's doing. There was a
sewing machine, clothes lying about everywhere, and she didn't know
at all why, but suddenly she burst into tears. Then she blew her nose
with a mighty blare and couldn't help laughing out loud, couldn't
make herself stop.
"Oh," she said, "it gives me a stomach-ache. It's true, Henny:
it's sitting somewhere in my stomach now. It's downright bubbling
with it."
And why! there were tears in Henny's eyes, too; and she came up
to put her arms round her; something like an ice-crust melted, making her inside soft and light, a moment she would remember forever.
She'd never experienced anything so strange. Here she was, just visiting her sister, whose husband he could not stand, because there was
so much noise and laughter around him.
"Now, listen," Henny said, "it can't go on like this. He's scaring
the wits out of you. Don't think we haven't got eyes."
"But — " she was speechless, indignant, and she must go — "but,
dearest Henny," she said. "What do you mean? I'm just a bit nervous. He doesn't do me any harm, you know. It's just all that night
work. Poor thing, he sleeps so badly in daylight. And if only I had
a cat — "
Now she was babbling. There was really no sense in dragging a
cat into this preposterous accusation. She ought to put Henny in her
place, and then she did go on, anyway, without taking Henny up on
her nonsense:
"Just a small kitten, a soft and warm kitten, which would pun-
very quietly. It would just lie there, Henny, in my lap, purring all
day. Couldn't you get one for me?"
"Have you asked him?"
"No, but I was going to, this very day. I'll go home and ask him
right away. You really mustn't think I'm afraid of him — "
She stopped. Her eyes darted about the room. She was listening
inside herself. He was awake. She felt it through walls, through
oceans, through three years of tense alertness. She flapped her arms
82 a little as if to get out of the chair quicker. The sun hurt her eyes.
She longed to sit at the table, listening toward the ceiling. She longed
for the sound of the bed creaking. She could not bear to be without
that sound. Her heart beat wildly.
"I'm sorry," she said to Henny, and "goodbye, children" to the
invisible small figures dancing in the sun's rays. And Henny shouted
something behind her, but the wind bore it away in the opposite
direction. And "yes yes" she shouted back, "yes yes".
And if only everything turned out well this one time, and God
knows, she thought, I'll never demand a cat if only he's gone to sleep
again. If only he isn't awake.
She took off her shoes on the outside mat, creeping sideways in the
door, as if it would make less noise, the less it was opened. Then she
stood rigid, a pillar of salt, in the doorway to the living-room, for
there he was, the paper spread before him, propped on the coffee
cup. Infinitely slowly he raised his head, let his eyes run up and
down her, as if he had never seen her before.
"Well," he said impassively, "has there been an accident? You
look that way."
She took a step toward him, stopped.
"I — I was just over at Henny's place for a bit. I thought you'd
be asleep — "
Her voice trailed off, broke.
"I heard you go right enough," he said, again immersed in the
She stared at his Adam's apple. It was going up, down — up,
down. If only it would stop. If only something would stop. She'd be
happy if he would keep his Adam's apple still.
"I'd like —■ I mean —- wouldn't it be fun to have a little cat?"
"They're smelly," he said, irritated. "You shouldn't let her stuff
your head with such nonsense."
"No." She hung up her coat in the wardrobe.
Then she sat down carefully in her usual chair, at pains to take
up as little room as possible. He was reading the advertisements. His
face was terrible. Worse than when there were misprints, it seemed
to her. She oughtn't to have gone. By always staying in the house,
she averted something horrible which was always just on the point
of happening, something she was always expecting, something which,
daily, minute by minute, she pushed back in its place — the way a
wall will crash on you, if you don't push all your weight against it.
83 The clock struck six.
He folded the paper neatly, regarded her in silence a moment.
"There were no misprints," he said slowly.
"Oh, thank God," she said, "thank God! Now, just you forget
about that cat, Arthur. It doesn't matter. They smell nasty. You're
quite right. I'll just go and start the potatoes off."
And she tripped into the kitchen, with a vacant smile, and small,
deprecating gestures flailing the air, as if to ward off imaginary flies.
She dared not think of what might have happened if, on top of
all, there had been misprints.
84 Kevin Irie / Three Poems
Caught among a snag of trees
one crow
hooked upon a branch
snuffed to silence, still as coal
then two black sickles
strike the air:
a volt of leaves, the branches whips
that flail and toss and topple numb
while flung
and funneled up to break
the clouded surface to the sun
the crow ascends
beyond all sight
and wears the sky for feathers
They cut the wheat
the wind rolls them eastward
more and more
the sun flounders through a grey smoking cloud
a dull red hole
Into the iron jaws
the rats are harvested
socket, spleen and tails like stalks
the rabbits torn
the rodents pulped
swallowed by the raving bowels
a tunneled reaper
they fill its hollow vein with blood
Brown hands gather the summer's tinder
the earth erupts then returns to itself
The ice is a knife twelve inches long
that cuts through itself
a thousand crystals:
the wind enters
like a stranger
to where it once erased
autumn's scars from the ochre earth
On his face blood etches itself
like scratches of frost
Death cleaves his body like butcher's meat
fingers fall
toes peel off like gloves
leaving husks of skin and agonised holes
His coat tatters and blows
like the ragged wings
torn and abandoned by a mutilated bird
the winter laps his burial slowly
his body floats in a solid pond
he sees everything: his eyes are hailstones
and the wind
rolls his head
like some strange tumbleweed
across a prairie of untrodden snow
87 Lesley Krueger
The Songs of Anna Marten
Them funny kids is going out somewhere tonight, you can see what
they're up to. The daughters-in-law is running back and forth between the trailers and the house, their hair getting fluffier and their
mouths getting redder, oh my, red, like their cheeks too. The sons'
hair, ain't much of that left, but what there is gets darker with goo
slap-slapped on the head. Only the grandkid sits still, swinging her
legs until it comes to me that she ain't going out too, so I winks at
her, seeing as how we're in this together.
One of the daughters-in-law, she comes over to the chair where I
parked myself after dinner and she says to me, she says, "Granny,
we're going to a movie at the Odeon tonight. Would you look after
Alice?" So I nods at her and says, "Su-ure. Where you say you at?"
"The Odeon downtown," she says. So I leans back and listens to the
leaving noises while Alice sits there dealing solitary to herself at the
kitchen table.
"Pheum, pheum pheum pheum," the car starts with that big son
of mine giving it the gun and then it quietens down and I hear
Gertie, she hates me calling her that, she says, "Rudy, you know
where we're going now, do you?" And he says to her, "Shut up
Gert," so I can almost hear that nice wife of his, that Doris, move
and whisper to Gertie, "Sorry, sorry."
They drives off, but not before I gets me an idea from Gertie.
They bring me presents each summer when they come from the
Coast, them funny kids towing their trailers. Rudy and Doris, they
bring me sheets and towels, linen sheets what feel nice against an
old body. Gertie and Harold, they brings perfumes in big fancy
bottles. Now most of them I likes, makes the old girl feel like a bite
of mint. But this year, phew, this year they brings me this awful
crap, phew, I open the bottle and think I make better smells farting.
So when they leaves me alone I pours it down the toilet, phew phew,
88 and then thinks I should fill it up with something so Gertie's feelings
won't be hurt. I starts to fill it with water and then I get me an idea
and asks old man Olaffson when I gets the chance to get me a
mickey of rum. So he brings it and I pours out the water and pours
in the mickey. I ain't supposed to drink. Ingrid don't approve, Rudy
don't approve, Doris don't approve, Gertie pretends she don't approve and Harold he don't give a shit, but he's agreeable to the rest.
But I likes my nip and it don't hurt no one and old man Olaffson
secures it from the liquor store.
So anyways, my idea is to get that rum and that Pepsi from the
fridge and these pennies from the jar and have me and Alice a fine
time. I look over at Alice, there she sits playing solitary, and I says
to her, I says, "Alice, you like to play a real game of cards?"
"Sure Granny," she says to me.
"We play rummy," I says, and rolls the 'r' on my tongue Swede-
fashion, the way I rolls the rum. She grins, that one, and I creaks
out of my chair with my voice going, "Unh, unh," without me even
telling it to. Alice, she watches me, she don't move to help not because she ain't nice, but because it don't occur to her yet that she
should. Quiet, she only does what she thinks and not what other
people expect. I look at her and I think, Were I like her back when
I were i o, 11 ? I always think that, but I was never sure until the
other night when I were sitting in the kitchen and them kids was
watching the television in the front room. Alice, she's out there on
the back porch and after a while, she forgets I'm here. So she starts
leaning out into the warm night wind and sings sudden-like in a
little open voice, "Oh stars you are so pretty. Oh stars you are so
fine in the sky, in the sky. I like you stars, friendly stars, do you like
me?" And then she stops and breathes heavy thinking of me in the
kitchen, but she don't know I'm back in the Old Country, singing
in a low voice to the linden trees. They sure was pretty, them trees
against a fine blue sky, the wind pushing through them with slow-
moving fingers. And I think, I was like her once. I used to sing. And
that's something.
So she gets a Pepsi from the fridge, the kid do, and a couple of
glasses Rudy got from the gas station on the way up. She puts them
on the table and gets an opener and opens the Pepsi, fffzzzzit. Then
I says, "Alice, get Gertie's bottle of perfume from my bedroom," and
she brings it back to me and I pours a shot into my glass and she
says, "Granny, you can't drink Auntie Trudy's perfume. It'll make
you sick." But I laughs in this deep old lady's laugh and I says, "This
89 here ain't perfume now. This is rum." And so her face opens up in
this big grin which reminds me of the sun coming out on a wide flat
field. She hangs onto the back of my chair and sort of kicks it, thump
thump, oh that rattles the bones, but she don't know yet. So I gives
her a shot in a glass with a funny-looking dog on it and I hits us
both with Pepsi.
I leans back, that hip of mine I done broke last winter protesting
like a barn in a windstorm. Alice, she deals the cards and then takes
a gulp of her rum. "Faugh, cough cough," she says, and then has
some more. Her cards is in a neat pile. Were I that neat? I don't —
And then it comes back to me. Me in the Old Country, little little
with long skirts what hide my legs. My hair is blonde, white-blonde,
Swede-blonde, and it tickles my neck with soft curls. I is sitting inside
learning to knit, darn. Neat rows, lining up straight. I like those for
a time. Then I goes outside to the fields, many years running. Planting, tending, picking, sometimes in between stealing them little ears
of corn that taste so sweet they make you float off with the wind.
Them years I talk in different words, words that jump and race like
Alice-songs. I sing to the fields, the trees, the cow — she's a friend
— to the little kids in cradles. Then I sings to the little kids in graves,
sometimes that happened too.
Kids don't croak so easy these days. Alice, she born so early in the
old days she croak for sure. Then the mother she would have cried
and folded away all the little clothes until the next time coming and
the pa, he makes the box and digs the hole. Doris, though, she cry
plenty anyways, do I remember this correctly. Maybe because she
knows Alice is going to be the only one. Gertie don't have none,
though, like Ingrid, not a one there neither. Alice she's the only
grandkid and that old man, he would have hated no one having a
boy and the name dying. So what's so hot about Marten anyways, I
asks. That Alice, she's fit to end us all.
Su-ure she is. Look at that pile of pennies by her elbow. She been
saying "Rummy," "Rummy," "Rummy," like she got the hiccoughs.
She been beating the old lady, she's drinking her rum, gulp gulp,
and I pours her another shot of the stuff and belches.
I grows up on that farm happy. Sure I was happy, running free.
I don't have to worry and see things get done. There's always someone standing behind me to make sure they do. And that's a whole
measure of freeness to have that, so when the wind calls you can go
90 Do this one run? I never seen her. But cooped up in them old cities
running ain't worth much. You just end up at places like you started,
passing more places like the ones at the beginning and the end with
feet pat-patting against the hardness. I think I see her mind go
running sometimes though, as she sits singing.
Singing, singing. How I sang. That's how Samuel said he first
seen me, singing over the fields. I were 16 with big hips, big tits and
lips and shoulders, a Swede farm girl made for working the earth.
He were new thereabouts, walked down to his uncle's place, the third
son hired out to make do. Ya he were big and wide with hard blunt
moves that made him stand out among the poorer bent folks. Yet
he were gentle and knowing too, that Samuel, when he felt private
alone with you. He told me things and said he liked my songs and
married me when I were going on 17 in the Old Country still. He
still makes me tender, that Samuel, old woman going on 75 though
I be. He calls up memories of teeth and long waved hair what is
gone, leaving me with damn old falsies what click and a grey scrub-
brush on my head.
That Samuel though, he had one bee in his bonnet. He would
go to America, even though I find out there's a kid on the way. Now
I don't think of saying nothing contrary because Samuel, he's like
my ma and pa gone, he stands behind me to make sure things
happen proper. But for the first time I see this means not just freedom to run, but ropes to tie you to others' ideas, and I wonder how
you has both at once and cries.
And rummy, here I got a rummy old fool woman sitting here in
her memories. I don't see it right away and gets one of them hot-
cold hits of fear in the forehead what says, "Woman, you old." And
I gets this bad picture in my head of that hospital what I went to
last winter with that hip, where they sit in memories and shit and
that's all. And I think then, Anna Marten, you never gets lost that
way. You keeps a hold of yourself old girl. And for a while I were
scared to remember, until I get scared thinking of everything else
too. You try thinking of what's in the newspapers and magazines
and you get scared just cause you don't understand a lot of what's
there — you must of missed something somewhere along the line
and what's that say about you, then? You get scared too after a
while watching the boob tube, since you start thinking, how them
pictures get there? Just like you think, that phone, where the voices
coming from? And you gets scared of your own past and a present
you don't understand and after that you gets scared of your own
91 future. So many things you don't know. What does happen to a
body when it croaks? And you get touchy and jumpy and Ingrid
says in her long-distance phone voice, "Rudy, I just don't know how
to handle Mother after her hip. She's one big bundle of nerves and
she's wearing my nerves to a frazzle." And you sits there thinking,
how can I tell you Ingrid but what I'm scared to die, you'd be so
So there's a while when I just sits and pulls myself together. I
thinks, I got to live my life in little pieces what is easy to chew. I got
to bring my vision in, thinking in parts and not letting the old brain
go leaping and jumping and getting scared. I'm strong, ja, I'm a
strong old bugger of a woman and I does. Have another drink,
Anna, varsagod. Tuk, don't mind if I do.
I wins, I is on a winning streak and that kid, she's pleased. She
don't like winning so easy against her old Granny. To show how
pleased she are, she takes one special penny she's been touching all
night off her pile and she says, "Granny, here's a real neat penny for
you. It's old. I like it." And I peers and squints at it, but even with
my glasses it's pretty fuzzy, so I asks Alice to read it to me. And she
looks at it again and says, "Nineteen twenty-eight. I like them from
the twenties. That's a long time ago and you don't see many around.
Some from the thirties." Her sentences is short but her words run
on long. The rum is getting to her and I says to her, I says, "Kid, I
were born in 1885. What you think of that, eh?" And she nods.
"Sure I remembers 1928. Nineteen twenty-eight? I remembers a
long time before that. We had a farm in the Old Country and me a
little girl. And then a married woman with a bun in the oven." She
looks at me sideways and grins. She knows.
"And then I is a married woman with a bun in the oven on an
old boat in 1904. We is crossing the Atlantic."
Crossing the Atlantic in a puke-ship of sick Swedes. Tall white and
yellow people with green faces heading for America. I move among
them, the sick Swedes and Norskas, cleaning up and tending. I am
19 and considered long time gone a woman.
"You and Grandpa Marten were coming to Canada, Granny?"
the kid says, her head on the side. I is slightly surprised.
"No, me and old man Samuel. Samuel Samuelsson." She don't
know. Them funny kids, them asshole kids with their grown-up
secrets. They make her grow up and think it's a shame to marry twice
if they carry on like this. Makes an old woman want to heave. Funny
92 kids. What they think if they find out I only marry once, not twice,
and then not to their pa?
"Samuel Samuelsson, sure. He's my first husband. Big Swede. We
go to America. We get off the boat and he talks Swede and no one
understands us, only pushes us into lines, into more lines, stamp stamp
us and we is on a train with most money gone and the other Swedes,
they say Minne-sota."
And we sticks to them and talks, me with the other young wives
and him with the men. They say, Samuel Samuelsson, you want to
be a big farmer, you need more train money to go to Canada. You
stop in Minnesota, you work in the mines, make money and go. So
we go to Minnesota, bun pops out of the oven the second day on
the train. The other women help. I remember making my body rock
to the train, that's all.
Minne-sota. We settles down in a town with other Swedes. Other
Swedes help us get a house, not with a boob tube like I got now,
didn't have them, a little house outside town. That Samuel, he gets
a mine job and I stays home, tending the baby and the house and
the garden, happy. Singing? I sang. I is happy with that baby, nursing it, singing to it. Other Swede women come to me, we make shy
talk of strangers, but I don't need them. I sing to my baby in old
songs, new songs following the pattern of the wind, the drop drop
of the rain. So when this new sound comes from the mine one day,
I is rocking the Johan baby and singing to it and it seems quite right
to make up a song of toot toot toots. I joggle him and sing toot toot
toot and laughs and I swear but that he smiles, that baby do, and
that's why I don't believe the wives when they run and tell me there's
a cave-in come to the mine. I sits and laughs and rocks my baby in
the sunlight and it's only when they brings him in broken and black
that I starts this scream and I do say I ain't never heard anything
like it before and since and I never want to neither, no I don't.
But what's that noise now? There it are. Me singing in a deep
old lady's voice in rocking sad Swede words. The kid she's half
listening, eyes closed, and I stop like she done in her song to the
stars. Who told that old voice to start singing, eh? And she opens
her eyes and says to me, "Teach me some Swedish swearwords
Granny," before she falls onto the table. Clean cold passed out.
I passed out after the old man died. Then I come to and me and
an old woman we laid him out and buried him. And then, I forget
how, I get a job as a cook on a farm for a widowman and his hired
help. I take that kid John along and he starts growing up in the
93 healthy farm air. Sometime when he is about two I start singing to
him again and sometime when he is about five he dies, Johan baby,
that John kid, he up and dies on me. And now I know I can't stay
in America no more, so I takes my bit of money and I catches a train
to Alberta where I got an aunt and she got a son and a farm. They
says I can cook, the old lady's getting wobbly, and I can cook there.
They're round about Drum, down south, and I takes a train into
town and walks to the Marten farm. I can do these things now. I
has to. Nobody's standing behind me to help me out if I muffs it.
I muffs it and I go hungry and I go underground. Somehow I don't
want to croak yet. My teeth is fine and my hair is strong yellow
waves and I is 25.
Well that farm is some farm for sure. They has two quarter sections of fine land and the wheat has a way of running and bending
in the wind what makes it look like the hills is bowing. We have a
big vegetable garden what I tends and weeds and some chickens and
pigs and milk cows what I milks. There is cats all over the barn,
small quick-moving cats with slippery eyes and ears half gone in the
winter freeze. I names them and they follows me and Peter, he's
mad, them cats is supposed to be hungry barn mice killers, I probably likes mice too. But I growed up on a farm and I pats the cats
and knows not to feed them. I only feed him and he can shove it
up his rear end, which is a way of talking I learned on the last farm
with the widowman, who used to pat my round Swede ass.
Ja Peter, Pete. He was a funny one, sometimes into a bottle, which
is where I learned this. Later I come up to his room at night when
he's liquored up and find him on his knees praying. "God, please
keep them ghosts away." So I laughs and he starts up and I says, "So
you believe in ghosts, Pete Marten?" And he says, "I ain't sure if I
believe in ghosts now nor in god neither. But I figure if there is
ghosts, there is a god too, and if I asks him, he'll keep the ghosts
away. But if there ain't no god to answer my prayer, there ain't no
spooks neither, so I'm safe there too." He spoke so serious I didn't
know if he were joking. Later I finds out he weren't, later when his
mother dies, later when I becomes his sorta wife, and that story sums
up for me the whole of Peter Marten.
Crazy coot. Stooperstitious, no practical sense, believes in omens.
You thinks god spends all his precious time sending omens to Peter
Marten. Pete, sell the farm, move to Grande Prairie, to Calgary, to
Edmonton. Buy a car Pete, sell a car, try to make a quick profit, god
says. Peter sees a cloud shaped like a horse, it means this. A cow
94 pisses upwind, it means that. God spends so much time sending Pete
Marten messages, he never has time to work things out. But Pete
Marten, he's so helpless, I stand behind him, behind them three kids,
fixing up the ends of things.
That Pete Marten though, he gets liquored up and he bashes us
around any number of rooms, although he's mighty sorry afterwards.
I'm sorry too, and bruised, and I washes his back with warm soapy
water and thinks, poor little man, you won't ever understand why,
will you? And until you do, you won't ever make things work out.
And so we lives, and so we lives. Harold, he's too young to go to
the first war, too old to go to the second, but Rudy he goes to the
second, to Dieppe. They never talk about the war and I never know,
until I start reading them books and magazines after my hip. And
then they frighten me like nothing ever frightened me before, because
I think, I never understood those wars. But even if I did, there was
nothing I could do about it anyways. And here's me thinking and
being superior to the old man because I got it into my head that if
he knew what was going on, he could have handled things proper
for both of us. He couldn't, though. Not alone, not with me bitching
and screaming, with everyone else saying, Peter Marten, that head-
in-the-clouds fool. Maybe he knew somehow there weren't never
nothing he could do on his own. Maybe those really were omens,
bad omens, always bad, showing what would happen if we didn't
all believe. And so one night I prayed, "Dear god, if you are there,
please keep Pete Marten away from me, if he is there, because I
couldn't stand having to face him knowing he was right." And me
74, thinking this. And me, 74.
That old man, he died in '48. Cancer got him and he stank lying
dead. Ingrid, her husband were dead too, from the war, and she got
a pension and we got this little house. Part of a house, actually. We
share it with other families and they make noises, noises now, late
though this be.
What noises? Traffic noises outside, walking noises upstairs, kids
hot summer night-time yells. Alice snores quiet at the table. Her
mother, that Doris, she says the kid's got to have her adenoids out.
Her cheek's in a pile of pennies. All careful I move her special penny
over by her nose. Least I think it's the right one — feels old, worn
like me. I leans back, creaking. Hear more noises. What they be?
An old deep scratching. What's that? Me singing another Swede
song. Ja, and a "Pheum pheum," from outside. Voices, and there's
that Doris talking soft yet high in words that carry through the
95 night. They catch up in my song, bending through it, and I change
the tune so her words fit. I make that Doris sing, ja, and close my
eyes. Then that Rudy, deep bear voice, and I gather it into my
Swede song too. Harold, Gertie, Harold, Gertie, and my song brings
their words in with a jumble of Swede and English. They marry
during the thirties, those two, and Doris and Rudy too before he
goes away to war and my song is sad since they have but one kid
between them. This Alice. She sleeps, her face in the pennies and
her glass in her hand with the fingers on that dog's nose. So I throw
something about stars and a few Swede swearwords into my song
just to fit her in too. And those funny kids in the hall they quit talking, even Gertie who don't quit talking ever, except when someone
mentions that time when she were in the hospital in '42, which was
when she got rid of a kid.
I'm singing, they're quiet, all bunched up out there. Then that
Doris she comes into the room and she looks at me and at Alice and
she says, "What Granny, what?" while I sit back in that chair singing. Then Rudy walks in behind her and picks up my glass and has
a sniff and I put the bear back into my song for him. Doris she grabs
the glass and has a sniff and shrieks and my old lady's voice lifts up
as far as the old body'll let it go. Then Ingrid shrieks and Gertie
shrieks and I start laughing an old lady's rasp and Gertie shrieks
again and I say, "Tell us about your operation in '42, Gert," and
she shrieks again and Harold says "Mo-ther."
Ja, and there goes that song again, jumping in Swede risings and
fallings as Rudy looks at me disgusted and picks up the kid and
throws her over his shoulder. She belches, I belches louder for effect.
"Mo-ther," Harold says, he says to me. I leans back even farther, as
far as an old body can, my eyes closed and that song walking around
me. Then I opens my eyes and winks at Rudy and he can't help but
half grin back, that Rudy, and wink too. I belches. We're all in this
together, I thinks, all of us, and my voice swells to catch them in a
ringing Swede song rising high on the night wind.
96 A. Labriola
Tih Minh (1919), take me into
The vast house, through the listening rooms,
With ornamental tables, the carved staircase,
And the portraits of limp women, sleeping
Let me touch all the sobs of their breasts,
Like a beloved assassin
Burdening anguish, moaning voluptuous hymns
To the polished skull
On the table, shatters of stillness
Inset with burning shells
The pearls which drown their eyes,
Drown us in wakening horror
With statues murmuring
The faint greed of paranoia
Lift the skin of time
To find the disquietening sleepers
And the flowering shells of solitude
They wear like hysterical bouquets
Early, I was the Skeleton (man or woman)
At the scented feet of the voluptuous Theda Bara
Whose anthropomorphic body
Was/is as corrupt as the
Isotta-Fraschini of the murmuring 20's
Imagine her body, now dead, as the automobile
Delirium or the bird descending
To pick clean my bones with tremors of doom
I touch the jewelled asp adorning
Her breast, memory and desire,
Beyond dark, or forbidden love
I am talking about remorse
The chimerical destroyer, desperately
In love with the man-eater
97 We'll take our place among photos of Garbo
In Wild Orchids (1929), in the sleeping city
Or the immeasureable garden, we'll be like Garbo
And the beautiful Robert Taylor in Camille
Or the World War I lovers: Cooper and Hayes
As poisonous as the same glance that went between them
Or the drowned eyes of child-women
Lillian Gish, May McAvoy, Mary Pickford (1927)
All the bee-sting lips and dreaming eyes, now silent
Yet all these mirrors shatter
Glamorous lipstick on a cigarette or a glass
We come to it now,
Especially the lips of Heddy La Marr
And one thing is certain
Their angelicism without genius or love
Lurks and limps with death itself
In the presence of that desire,
Silent, they sink through boredom,
The stinking shadows of Error and Fame
And they do not touch my darkening soul
Fluttering like a moth
To the flaming of nightmare
Or the despair of old films
And do not touch me when we leave the house
Waste and empty
When my body, too, is a spice bowl
Like Betty Grable's,
A pomander of broken promises
98 Beth Powning
Gavin and his mother watch the goats coming up from the alders.
Mists drift across the hillside beyond the pasture. The air smells of
damp earth and balsam. Behind them a house trailer crouches
against the grey sky. Tar paper on the goat shed roof glistens dully.
Gavin sits on the top bar of the fence. It is a cedar sapling and
springs slightly under his weight. He grips it, leaning forward with
his rubber boots on the lower bar, and watches the goats intensely
as they straggle up over the greening field. Their submissiveness
makes him feel powerful. His eyes are cowlike, too big, like his teeth,
and his head. He hunches awkwardly, knobby wrists bare below the
frayed cuffs of his denim jacket.
He glances over his shoulder at the mother collie. She is huddled
on straw, chained to her hutch by the diesel tank. She never takes her
eyes off Helen and Gavin. Even from here, he can see their whites,
sorrowful, accusing.
He glances at his mother.
She is studying the hillside. Her face seems rumpled, slightiy, with
Gavin feels important. Five children, and none of the others had
even bothered to offer to stay home and help her search.
"Wha'd she want to drap the pup off there for, anyway, Mum?"
Helen moves suddenly, as though startled. She is strong, stocky,
but there's an apologetic expression on her face, a look of hidden
refinement, and an apologetic set to her shoulders, as though she's
not quite accepted, or believed, what she's become. Her hands are
shoved into the pouch of a grey sweatshirt and Gavin knows they
are clenched into fists, hidden in there. She stands with one leg forward, the knee bent. She shakes her head slightly, rapidly wipes her
nose with the back of her hand. Her eyes drop automatically to the
goats coming out of the grey silent landscape.
99 "Just jealous, Gavin," she says lightly. "Wants all my attention."
"She musta known that was the very one," he says, outraged.
Helen nods simply, not looking at Gavin.
"Old bitch," he adds explosively, and looks evilly over his slouched
shoulder at the dog. The collie is still staring down at them. She
seems to writhe forward inside her fur as she feels his scorn.
The goats are almost to the gate. Their small hooves tap fastidiously on the hardpacked soil, on bits of yellow straw. Mist settles on
their coarse brown and black coats and the hair is bristled along
their spines. They seem aggrieved. Old Molly's bag drags on the
ground, blue veins bulge, the goat waddles and stares at Helen with
unfeeling yellow eyes. The herd jostles together vaguely. A bell
clanks, a tail lifts and droppings rattle to the ground.
There's a heavy jouncing thud as a truck hits a pothole in the dirt
road, and Gavin grins at his mother.
But she seems almost not to know he's there. She's staring back at
the hill again.
She is composed, her face is serene. But she's like a child, innocent
of her transparency, not realizing how the crow's feet, the downward
lines around her mouth, the forward jut of her jaw, even the wisping
of her greying hair, reveals the anxiety that underlies and supports
the composure.
She squints hopefully as though she can see something moving.
A breeze stirs her baggy doubleknit pants, she puts her hand to her
bare throat, gathering the collar of her sweatshirt.
"Cold, Gavin, eh?" she says without looking at him.
She speaks lightly, as though nothing is ever as bad as it seems.
Gavin's eyes slide sideways at her. He's afraid sometimes of her
The goats huddle around the gate. They wait in unquestioning
stances, a head up staring at Helen patiently, Old Molly's freckled
white ears drooping, her lips fumbling at the straw.
Gavin swings his legs over, jumps down importantly. "Mus' take
them in now, Mum."
Helen looks at the herd. Her eyes widen slightly, become vacant,
her lips tighten as she stares at the ground, at the eighty black and
white ivory hooves. She nods, then lifts her eyes and stares at Gavin
with the same expression.
"You take them in Gavin. I'm ..." she glances at the trailer.
The mist looms nearer, the ragged maple trees by the road have
become indistinct. "... I'm just going to have one last little look."
ioo Gavin's mouth opens. He turns jerkily, looks at the goats. "But...."
"I know, I won't be long," she says quickly. She seems almost
Then Gavin feels smug.
"Hokay," he says exuberantly, and slides back the top bar. "This
way, ladies!"
Helen disappears surprisingly quickly, a vivid figure plunging
down the hill at a half-trot, her arms out for balance, her hands in
She can feel the muscles at the backs of her legs as she goes up
the old logging trail once again. It is so steep she climbs with her
toes pointing out. Her insteps feel the scrabbly wet soil through her
rubber boots. Red beech saplings thrust through the soft layer of
decaying leaves. There are white violets, innocent in their tiny delicacy, of footsteps, tractor tires.
At the top she stops, leans against a spruce tree. Her fingertips
grasp the grooves of rough bark, she puts her other hand on her
chest and feels her heart thudding.
Under the mist, nothing stirs. Leaves are limp, the trees fade back,
their trunks become like columns of smoke that might drift away,
and there is a sound of dripping, a smell of wet leaves, soil, spruce
resin. A thrush drops five notes into the quiet, the sound hovers,
trembles, fades away.
. . . the children have no notion of the way the front wears thin,
the way she and Donald build it again and again, when the requests
for shoes, hockey sticks, hairpins, records, fall like hail on their precariously renewed stock. But it will never be otherwise. Never. Never.
The pups were born yesterday, purebreds, worth seventy dollars
apiece ... the pup had lain in her cupped hands limp and soft, sleeping trustingly. Helen, kneeling alone in the pen, in the sunfilled barn,
quiet save for the sudden fluttering thuds of sparrows against the
window, had felt a desire for the pup that startled her with its force,
its boldness. She had sat back on her heels and traced the pup's neat
skull with her finger. It would not desire her, or possess her, it would
not be inseparable from her, she would need neither to hide nor to
give .. . the mother dog had whined, wormed away from the sucking
puppies and nudged her head under Helen's hand, and Helen had
risen onto one knee, stroking the dog absently and gazing at the pup
as though something unstoppable had suddenly stopped. .. .
101 Helen pushes off from the spruce tree and goes on up the trail.
She walks with one hand on her waist, she is limping as though
there is a stone in her boot, and yet she is unhurried.
"Here pup," she calls, calmly, as though the pup might be following her.
There's a feeling of space, the mist becomes denser and whiter,
she hears a hoarse croak and the soft rushing of feathers as a raven
flies over the clearing she's come to. The road still winds ahead, but
it is no longer an alluring path. R.aspberry canes are starting up
through moss, stumps rise from a tangle of grey slash on either side
of her.
She stops again. She sniffs and wipes her nose, she hunches her
shoulders and stands irresolutely listening. Hair strays over her forehead and she tucks it back vaguely with a finger whose knuckle is
baggy and holds garden soil in its creases. And then her hand drops
onto the top of her thigh and rests there while she pauses expectantly,
hopefully, and yet hesitantly, as though Donald, children, chores, are
gathering behind her as naturally and relentlessly as the dusk.
She turns suddenly off the trail.
She is picturing Donald's face as she grasps a dead branch, pulls
herself up onto a fallen tree, stands looking over the slash and then
drops awkwardly into the grey branches. They are like the curved
backbones of bleaching animal carcasses, they crackle under her
boots and she plunges through to the moss that grows softly underneath. A branch scratches her cheek, she has to stop to pull a twig
from her hair.
He is incredulous, his eyes are squinted in a mocking leer, he's
grinning, yet she imagines his uncertainty. He's half-afraid of the
part of her he has never understood.
And she could not explain it even to herself. The feeling of anger,
of loss, of longing, is unfamiliar and yet demanding and more
powerful than all her impulses of control. And it pushes her through
the slash as though she is thigh deep in snow, caught in a sudden
storm and heading desperately towards home.
But it is hopeless.
After awhile she stops in the middle of the slash. The woods are
silent, as though listening to her frantic crashing. She rubs her forehead, looking down and breathing deeply through her nose. Her eyelids are heavy with sweat, her shirt sticks to her back, her hair is lank
with mist and exhaustion.
Her emotion gathers to a point. She closes her eyes and presses
102 hard with her fingers, imagining the small black mother collie slinking stealthily, swiftly, with animal sureness to the most inaccessible
spot in the woods, with the pup dangling from her jaw, its paws
flopping helplessly, its tiny muzzle pointing towards the ground, innocent and secure in its mother's grip.
Helen's arm drops suddenly, she looks up as though relinquishing
a pointless anger. She seems to stop, all over. Her search ends. It is
a familiar feeling, the simple, patient cessation. She has accepted,
again, and again, and again. She has stood before defeat quietly, all
her life.
The mist wreathes over the grey boughs. Half-furled ferns are
bent, glistening. Far off a thrush calls and its notes seem clarified by
the silence.
Then she sees the pup.
She doesn't move. She stares at the small black body lying under
a branch that curls over it protectively.
It is as though she has to see it without recognition, she has to
look away again as though going on with her search, calmly, while
her mind tells her what she's seen.
Then, cautiously, she looks back.
The little black body is exactly the same, it is perfectly motionless.
She looks away, looks up at the white sky. Her legs are braced
apart, her boots press against the broken branches. She closes her
eyes. A muscle twitches in her cheek.
She stares down to her left, down towards home, down off the
hillside. She nods very slightly, seeing nothing, feeling nothing,
thinking nothing.
Suddenly she turns and thrashes across the scattered debris. She
stumbles, catches herself, whispers something to herself, stops to tug
her sweatshirt from raspberry prickers, looks sideways, her face
strained, her eyebrows lifted and tense with bitter disappointment,
the struggle not to care and helplessness before sadness.
She kneels next to the pup.
It lies on its side. One eyelid is partly open, there's a viscous glisten.
Its head lies back heavily, its paws and legs are flung out, it is like a
pup deeply exhausted but there's no rise and fall of ribcage, its body
has been abandoned.
She strokes the pup. Her hand on its flesh makes one leg pull up
stiffly, makes the eyelid lift, slightly.
For one brief moment she allows herself to remember the moment
of the pup's birth, when it had turned its head blindly, trustingly,
103 out of the iridescent slime. And afterwards, when it had fallen asleep
close to its mother's pink belly.
Then she lets it go.
Her hand goes on stroking the cold, dewed fur. She sits quietly,
feeling the mist settle on her hair just as it settles on the ferns, the
moss covered rocks, the black fur of the pup.
She knows they are down there, waiting. The mother dog, Gavin.
Yet the trailer seems far away, a remote place of heat and exhaustion
and senseless movement.
Her hand goes on stroking the pup, but as she stares at it something drains out of her face, out of her body, sucked away with the
coming dusk as though tendrils reach up to her, all the way from
beyond the woods, and the alders, and the pasture.
When Helen reaches the edge of the pasture, she sees Gavin sitting
on the fence up at the top, waiting for her.
He is whistling. He's not waiting anxiously but he stares with
childish incuriosity over at the neighbour's barn, where cows are
filing through a doorway. He seems to be holding himself carefully,
as though full of some surprise that he doesn't want to spill before
she gets there.
His face is a pale spot up there, and behind him the mist makes
the light from the trailer windows soft and blurred, like candlelight.
Night is crouched in the mist, ready to spring down on them.
Helen walks through the shallow brook at the bottom of the pasture. The water eddies around her boots, the tone of the water
changes, rushes chockily, pebbles roll and rattle.
She walks up the pasture like a nun, her hands clasping her forearms so that her fingers are tucked inside the sleeves of her sweatshirt. She doesn't pause, she walks steadily, looking at her boots coming up, up, and up, and up. Beside her, there are beads of mist on the
page wire fence, the fenceposts are dark. Soggy bits of yellow lichen
grow on their tops where the maul frayed them.
She glances up briefly and sees Gavin, watching her now, and she
looks down again without waving, as though she's holding something frail and fragile to her stomach.
"...find it?"
She pretends not to hear. Food and beds and broom and dust-
mop and socks and boots and cat dishes and money and mud and
gravel and holes.
104 "Did ya find it." It is a demand.
There's a familiar leap inside Helen. Irritation, and the quick
She's closer now and she looks up.
He looks unsure, one leg is reaching down, groping for the next
rung, his arms holding all his weight as he starts to come towards her
and yet holds himself back.
"Yes," she says quietly. The word hurts.
He's down now, he comes along the path running a stick along
the page wire, click-a-click-a-click-a-click. He comes right up to her,
he turns and walks along next to her. She feels his smallness, his
leechlike closeness, his trusting insistence.
"Mum, didja find the pup?"
They're at the barway.
Helen takes her hands out of her sleeves, slowly, without looking
down at Gavin, and crosses them on the top bar of the gate. She
looks up at the dog house under the diesel tank. The mother dog has
not moved, it's as though she's been poised all day waiting for Helen
to discover her guilt and now her body quickens as her eyes meet
"I found the pup, Gavin," Helen says quietly, but not lightly. Her
voice is edging towards harshness.
Gavin looks up at her sharply, then looks at her arms on the fence.
Then he glances up at the dog because Helen is looking that way,
but he looks back at her, as though he needs an explanation but
doesn't dare ask, and isn't sure why he's suddenly afraid.
Helen leans forward and looks directly at the dog. "It was dead,"
she says, distinctly, across the tumbled timbers and the wild rose
The dog convulses into a sitting position. Her mouth opens in a
collie smile, and she pants. One paw comes up. Then she barks, once.
It's a mute plea for understanding, for forgiveness of an act as
incomprehensible to the dog as the need which prompted it.
Helen looks away, shakes her head impatiently, not wanting to
see the dog's pathetic eagerness, not wanting to admit her own
understanding and angry sympathy.
She shoots the top bar back, feeling her harshness turning subtly to
irritation. "Old pest," she says sharply.
Gavin is looking up at her.
"Come on," she adds, waiting for him to hop over.
105 She goes on ahead of him. "Dead because her mother was a . . . "
She hears the quick flap of Gavin's boots. "Just a little pest," she
adds quickly, looking down at his black head.
Gavin breaks into a trot, runs ahead of Helen and then turns,
facing her in the path.
Helen has to stop.
The hillside is a darkening hunch against the sky now. The world
is close around them, sheds, old tires, figures moving across the windows, the smell of the chicken yard.
She pushes her fingers back through her scalp. The backs of her
legs feel hot, hollow. She stands with one leg forward. Her body feels
heavy and yet rugged with childbearing, with animal handling, with
wood splitting. With endurance.
"Just a nuisance, that's all, wants all my attention," she says
again, beginning to feel ashamed.
"Mum," Gavin demands. His big head is forward, anxiously, his
mouth is open and she can see his teeth and his hands hang out of
his sleeves and they're clenched into fists.
"I milked all of them," he says importantly.
The game begins again, with its familiar rules. Helen, gazing at
her son, out of her tiredness and her disappointment, feels their
intricate demands start their push and pull inside her, filling the
painful place of emptiness.
She crosses her arms. The crow's foot wrinkles deepen beside her
eyes, which have become gentle even though her mouth still pulls
down at the corners from weariness and failure.
"You never did."
His face seems to open, his anticipation is rewarded.
"Even Molly!"
"Not Molly."
She follows him as though his jauntiness, his pride, pulls her
against her will.
The light is on in the barn and she steps over the rotting sill,
looks down the row of bony backs, smells molasses, sweet hay, hears
jaws crunching. Gavin touches Old Molly lightly with his stick and
looks at Helen as though he does not see who she is, and yet he
knows her better than anyone else ever will, and needs her more.
"I milked her, Mum," he says.
And her desire for a simple love fades away as silently and
stealthily as it came.
106 Nicholas Mason-Browne
We used to live in cargo lifts.
This was in Shanghai.
Sometimes we tried to hear the pigeons
pecking at bread-crumbs above our heads,
but never did.
Curled up in tea chests,
we picked the straw out of our hair
and wondered if it were the Chou Kingdom
or the Han Dynasty,
or if people still read "Dream of the Red Chamber",
but couldn't decide.
One of us talked endlessly
about the Civil Service examinations.
Another went mad and thought
he was a lacquered bridge in Canton.
In the end, we died.
Our skeletons were like straw.
The fog-horns went on hooting.
107 Dave Richards
Husband and Wife
Gratten (1927)
Gratten shuddered and put his hand over his face. Everyday there
was something. Everyday. In the morning she'd walk along the hallway, and he'd hear her voice and Janet's saying 'Yes Mrs. Gratten'
long before he rose. Her face was soft toward him, to the idea of
him, her flesh graced her nightclothes. There was a close scent of
reclining bodies when he woke. In the morning she'd walk along the
walkway. He'd think about the grove, about the day she signed her
shares in Gordon's store over to her brother. Yet everyday there was
"I'll take him fishing some other time," he said, softly.
She didn't answer. He didn't watch her face. Whenever he looked
at her face he'd be reminded. Twice she'd given him money, and
twice he'd done something with it. This morning too when she'd
looked at him in the kitchen and nodded her head quickly it made
him flush. A feeling passed like cold stone and he wanted a drink.
"You tell me how you were brought up," she said. Her voice ached
in the evening air. "You tell me how you were brought up — hiding
behind your mother so your father wouldn't beat you — and everything else — and then you have children — and you let some man
take Ernie fishing."
"He's not some man," he said. "He's my foreman — I'll get him
to do what I damn well please — outta yer Goddamn childhood
because ya had everything, because ya had that safe sorta life that
let ya graduate, and I grew up without one cent to rub against the
other." He shuddered and raised himself on his elbow. They sat
behind the front veranda screening. Across the lawn there was a
light rigged to a pole and a swarm of flies under it. They heard the
Bay. The tide was full now. This afternoon Samual had hurt his
right arm placing the last timber, but he'd taken the mower into the
yard and pushed it along with his left. His right arm hung limp out
108 of his shirt and Gratten had watched him from the bay window, but
he didn't want to go out to him. There was something frantic in the
way he pushed the mower, his eyes narrow and hard as if he wanted
to be rid of something. Then Amanda went out from the kitchen
and told him to stop.
"Maybe you should come back tomorrow," she said, "and finish
it then — there's no sense straining yourself."
He kept pushing the mower as she spoke. There was a smell of cut
grass in the air and Gratten began sneezing. Samual looked up and
saw him staring out the bay window and he turned the mower
around and went along another row, close to the house. The grass
was moist when it was cut and clotted the blades, so it must have
been hard to push. Gratten watched him. Amanda came in and said:
"Daryll why don't you tell that man to go home — his arm's all
"He's got a mind of his own," Daryll said. "He hasta come and
ask me for time off — I don't go running out to him and tellin him
to take it off."
Samual flipped the mower over with his left arm enabling him to
clean the blades better.
"Please Daryll?"
"Please yerself," he said. "He won't quit fer you he's not gonna
quit for me."
"You're his employer."
"I've got nothing to say about that."
Samual lifted the mower upright. Again he strained along another
row. Daryll put a cigar in his mouth and watched him. Now and
then Samual would look toward the window. When he saw Daryll
he'd spit and push harder.
He shrugged and looked along the dirt roadway. It was almost
dark now, and he looked into the darkness and tried to remember
the map of the sou-west where his men cut. It'd been hot all day but
now the breeze was cool and smelled like rain. Far along the shore
a light gleamed and far off shore on Fox Island another light echoed
and rotated. She clicked her tongue against her mouth. Out of all
this — out of her Goddamn childhood, he thought, out of her birthday parties with Margaret Hitchman, knowing Max Aitken and Bennett and the rest. If he had a cigar he'd start choking so he didn't
bother. Yes, too he wanted another drink but he didn't bother.
"I'll take him fishin some other time," he said.
109 Why did she bring that up? His father'd burned his hand on the
stove when trying to catch him, but he could run faster than his
father ever could. But his father'd burned his hand and wanted to
beat him. He tried to punch him, but he hid behind his mother —
and his aunt started crying. His mother smelled of holy water — it
reeked in her clothing, a scent somehow like a graveyard because his
grandmother had been doused with holy water in her casket. He
shrugged coldly and tapped his shoes on the veranda flooring. Lester
was supposed to bring their sister down in a week or so and then
perhaps Amanda would have some company. For some reason he
remembered the way his brother walked when he was a child — that
day they were scampering along the wharf with the smell of peeled
timber in the spring air.
Out of her Goddamn childhood, he thought to himself, out of her
safe childhood, one good thing to the next and gossiping about each
other, and parties and the whole Jesus bit — going to Halifax for a
year when she was fifteen, and Margaret Hitchman off to Boston. I
was in the woods when I was fifteen ha yes. He smirked again and
belched. The thought of what he'd done for himself made him belch.
He knew she didn't like it so he prolonged the belch and raised himself on his elbows. If he looked at her she'd stare at him, shake her
head and click her tongue against her mouth. Her mouth was soft
and saddened. The smell of her auburn hair in the heat would make
him forget. He lit a cigar and inhaled deeply, smiled and looked
across at the water. Though things hadn't been going so well at the
mill he was sure next year or the year after everything would be like
it had been in the early years when his men would cut for ready
buyers; because it'd been good in the earlier years he was sure it'd be
good again. In the early years when he wasn't so sure of himself, and
didn't know how to talk to his men or to the buyers, or to men in
the same business as himself, everything had fallen into place —- now
that he knew exactly what to do and how to do it nothing seemed
to be right. He thought of Hitchman in his wheelchair in a white
room, with mush at the corner of his mouth, with his kindly yet
arrogant smile and his flesh cooled. It cooled in the breeze from the
Bay, and from inside himself.
"My father was a good man," he said, "so you don't haveta go
railin off about him."
"I never mentioned your father," she said. "What are you talking
no "I'm talkin about what you were just talking about —- my family
— I know what in hell yer old man called us when you were about
to marry me — oh yes, yes I overheard what yer old man said."
"What did he say?"
He could see her profile in the darkness, the one bulb far across
the lawn, her smooth face twitching and hear a swarm of flies against
the veranda screening. It didn't bother him if she was angry. Out of
her whole childhood she probably never had one cause to be angry.
She probably felt because they had a little money it entitled her not
to be angry or anything else. He knew that was not true but he
wanted to think it. He rubbed his hands on his pants. The way she
kept a house — even in that way. She'd not once leave anything
alone. The children were always immaculate, their hair combed,
their heads washed, their clothes pressed. Sooner or later she'd have
to learn the truth about the way things stood. He rubbed his nose,
snorted and spit through the screening.
"He called us all riffraff," he said calmly.
"He did not," she said. "He never said any such thing — you
know it as well as I — he never said anything like that, who do you
think helped you when things were starting — who do you think — "
"You know as well as I," he said picking her up, still calmly, "You
know as well as I it was to help you, not me — he was ashamed of
who you decided to marry — wouldn't one of the Bryans a been
better for you, wouldn't Kerry Donald Salome be better for you."
"That's not true."
"Go way," he said.
"He never mentioned one thing — he's dead now and can't defend himself can he?"
"Kerry Donald Salome," he said. "For over a year with you it was
Kerry Donald Salome — wasn't it. Too bad."
"Fish run in schools don't they," he laughed. He knew his breath
was sharp and his eyes almost closed. And he knew if he took one
more draw from the cigar he wouldn't be able to catch his breath.
Someday he'd go to a doctor about losing his breath like that. But
the doctors here knew nothing, so he'd go to Montreal. He still
believed if his father'd gone to Montreal he wouldn't have died.
Though at the end he couldn't talk or move.
"Don't say it," she said.
"I'm saying nothin," he said. "I wonder where Kerry Donald
Salome is now?"
111 "Daryll," she said.
"Fish run in schools," he said. "Though he smelled like a woman
and walked like one — and talked like one even — yes he even talked
like one, and you for a year — "
"Daryll," she said. "My father liked you."
"Your father liked nobody — some he didn't like because they
weren't good enough — like the Grattens — and some he didn't like
because they thought they were better than he was."
"Daryll," she said.
"And so he set his goal on Kerry Donald Salome, before I came
back, of course — though Kerry Donald Salome had other intentions — and everyone knew it, I knew of what he was, fish run in
schools. Now that's yer old man — that was his idea of a match, and
yours too, your idea for a great life, with a man that couldn't stop
smelling like a woman."
"I've heard it all before Daryll," she said. Her voice wasn't pleading. It was sad, and the smell of cologne on her flesh was sad.
His breath was rapid, his nostrils opened and he smelled rain in
the wind. When he'd begun speaking his voice was calm, but now it
wasn't. Nor was it loud. It was raspy, reminding her of his blotched
forehead and spotted back. He saw her jerk about in her chair and
knew in a moment she'd get up and go into the house again, and
he'd be alone. Though he never wanted to be alone, not in the twilight — the road and hedges almost dark. Yet nothing was to be
done. Perhaps too it was all so much simpler. The flies batted themselves against the veranda screening, and under the yard's bulb, were
black. He snorted and spit into the screening again, and tasted alcohol on his lips.
"I don't mind," he said.
"Daryll for God's sake," she whispered. He could feel her trembling. "I came out to rest for five minutes, for five minutes."
"If you wanta go in go in — rest in bed," he said. He waited. It
was motionless. She didn't stir. He could see her face painfully expressionless, blunt, staring straight out into the darkness — a scent
of fouled seaweed and rotted planking.
"I don't mind," he began, his voice once more calm, and almost
reassuring — as if they must discuss something now, expiate something between them. "I mustn't say I don't mind but it doesn't
bother me — it never bothered me a'tall what people thought a me
— I don't come from those type a people who are always interested
112 in what people think. But what I mind is how can people fall for
people and go chasing them around — like Kerry Donald Salome."
"Nobody chased him around," she said. He didn't look at her. He
knew by the way she spoke just the way she looked, and he'd no
need to stare at her. Mosquitoes drenched in his spit fumbled in the
screening. "Every Goddamn day for a year — every day. And the
thing is he never earned any money — he was one of those sons a
whores like the Aitkens and the Bryans, the people who I shined
shoes for — one a those Goddamn useless people who never had a
thought in his head about earning money — but just went day in
day out because his old man was a Salome — and you people
couldn't get enough a him."
"He was a friend since I was eight years old — and he never said
a word about you — never. He always thought a lot of you."
"I'm sure he thought a lot of me," he snorted. "Smelled like a
woman, and walked like a woman. Yer old man now."
She stood. The chair creaked and he paused to catch his breath.
He didn't want her to go in, but he couldn't stop speaking. Out of
her whole Goddamn past he thought, out of her whole Jesus past,
not once does she understand anything. Kerry Donald Salome. He
kept grating his teeth together so she'd hear the sound. His cigar had
gone cold in his hand, and his hand twitched. It wasn't jealousy. It
was someone having splashed water on him and it'd be hard for
him to catch his breath. The way Lester walked when he was a
child along the timber butts. His mother dousing them with holy
water and picking her teeth with a splinter from the woodbox.
"He never had any property — nor was he intelligent, but your
old man especially your old man thinking of him as if he had earned
his own money, and was intelligent."
"He was intelligent," she said.
"Go in," he said.
The veranda floor creaked. His hand wouldn't stop twitching.
"Go in," he said. "Go in." His voice was loud, and he couldn't
help it. She wouldn't answer him now, and he knew it.
"Every Sunday for a year after we were married there he'd be
sitting next to you at the table — his hands folded at grace — eh —
his hands folded at grace." He laughed and tried to thrust the cigar
through the screening, "And of course yer old man pleased as hell
that you talked to him more than me about poetry and everything
else — none of ya havin an idea what you were talking about."
She'd turned from him and was walking toward the door, "An I
"3 tolja that more than once — the lot a ya — the whole Goddamn lot
a ya —- him especially — "
She went to go inside but the door opened and Janet came out.
Amanda looked at her and then at Daryll. When Daryll saw her he
stopped speaking, muttered a little and raised himself on his elbows.
He searched in his pockets for another cigar, found the tie-clip and
began to rub it patiently between the fingers of his left hand.
"The kids are in bed," Janet said. Her voice was straightforward,
as if there was nothing wrong and she'd not heard him yelling.
Daryll grunted again and looked to his right, away from them.
Janet smiled.
"Are they covered well enough?" Amanda said.
"Yes Mrs. Gratten — I think so," she smiled, and there was something strange about the smile, Amanda thought, and the way she
stood in the dark.
"Perhaps you can go into my room and get the quilt," she said.
"Put it over Caully. It'll probably be cold tonight."
"Yes probably — probably be cold," Daryll said.
Janet looked over at him and smiled rapidly, though he wasn't
looking in her direction.
"Did you tell them a story?" she said.
"Yes ya better tell them a story," Daryll muttered. "Tell them two
"Yes —■ Ernie wanted stories about fish," Janet laughed.
"I don't know why — the little bugger didn't catch any," Daryll
"I'm going for a walk," Amanda said. "I'll just be a while — so
you can stay until I get back."
"Of course"
Amanda turned and went down the walkway, and Janet returned
inside, and Daryll watched his wife's shadow in the darkness, with a
queer strutt to it becoming finally immersed, part of the hedges. He'd
go to the study and have a cigar and another drink, and tomorrow
he'd go into town, just to be away from the first guests that'd be
He lifted himself from the chair and went inside. The house was
shadowed and retained the warmth from the day — a moist clinging
warmth. He could feel his pulse along his temples and hear his blood.
The furniture was dusted and orderly, but it had the stigma furniture
has that sits in an empty house for a long while.
He went to the top of the first landing and stopped at his study
114 door, rubbed his hand across his brow and waited, feeling sweat in
the thinning hair at the top of his forehead. Across the hall the light
was on, the door ajar. Janet must be getting the quilt he thought,
and he thought too that Ernie hadn't caught any fish. They'd held
the supper so that if he came back with even one trout they might
fry it for him. When he did come in there were fly bites on his white
cheeks, with white down at the side of his ears. His cap with the blue
ribbons had fallen into the pool and Emmett had to wade for it.
The ribbons had become spotted and dirty. He turned to go downstairs again — where the children slept, to open the door and look
in on them. "Outta her Goddamn childhood," he muttered slowly.
"Couldn't let him wear anything but caps and ribbons."
He moved from the study door and was about to descend the
stairs, without really thinking why he had to go down and look in on
them, or if that was his intention at all, when he saw Janet move
from the corner of the room toward the mirror. The door was opened
just enough so that he could see her standing in front of it, at the
side of the mirror looking at her reflection. It startled him for a
second because he'd not been thinking of her, and the hallway was
dark — and also his father-in-law had died in that room five years
before, a gigantic man who'd spent his last days sitting in a rocking
chair and staring out the window. A coldness swept over him and
he shook his head. He grabbed quickly for the tie-clip, but when his
hand touched it he suddenly realized how silly it was and took his
hand away. His shirt was still unbuttoned and a spot of light shone
on his belly. His mouth opened a little. First she did nothing. She
just glanced at her reflection. She carried the quilt over her left arm
and was about to turn away from the mirror — and he was about to
say hello if she came through the door, when she stopped once more
and put the quilt down. She looked at the bottles and jars on the
dresser, began picking them up and reading the labels. Her dress was
cut low and she rested more on one leg than the other. He could see
her examining the labels — but he didn't think this unusual. And
even when she took the top off Amanda's perfume, put some on her
finger and touched it to her throat, he thought nothing. She smiled
slightly, swayed a little, with one leg ahead of the other and opened
a jar of cream. This too she sampled. He opened his mouth to
breathe, the air was dead with the heat. He turned and went softly
to the bottom of the stairs because he didn't want her to come out
with him standing there, and yet all this time he thought of nothing.
"5 When he reached the bottom of the stairs the light went out in the
bedroom. He turned just as softly and started up the stairs again.
It was dark — the stairs and the landing. One floor-lamp burned
in the livingroom. For some reason he pretended he didn't notice her
coming down the stairs. She was whistling to herself and he kept his
head down, his fingers on the tie-clip. The things he must do in town
tomorrow went swiftly through his mind, and like always he saw
himself doing everything at once, from laughing with Peter to going
out into the yard quietly to observe his scalers, to going to the train
station to talk to the signal men.
"Oh Mr. Gratten," she said suddenly. "You scared the breath
outta me."
He looked up quickly and was startled himself. His mouth twitched
and he could feel the blood going from his face. There was the
familiar scent of Amanda's perfume and lotion in the heat. She
stood on the step above him, but he'd been climbing the stairs without looking up and he'd one foot on her step. He didn't realize this
at once. He stared at her and tried to keep his mouth from twitching.
Her breath was quick and short, his right leg pressed against the
inside of her left.
"Getting the quilt were you?" he said, for something to say and
his voice sounded odd. She smiled and he could see her face clearly.
"Yes," she said. "Mrs. Gratten wants Caully covered."
"Making him into a sissy," he said, again for something to say, and
again without knowing why, or even wanting to say that. She smiled
and nodded slightly. His mouth twitched and felt dry. She put her
hand on the bannister and he moved to the side feeling her thigh
against his leg.
"Yes," he said. "I grew up myself without one blanket let alone
four." He laughed clumsily at this and drew around her.
"Do you want me to put it on Mr. Gratten?" she said, without
"What?" he said absently.
"The quilt — do you want me to put it on?" The fabric of her
dress touched his stomach and she made no movement.
"Put it on —■ yes put it on, do what she says — do what she says."
He went by her, up the stairs and into the study where he closed
the door. He didn't know why he'd tried to sound rude to her just
then, but he could still feel where the fabric of her dress touched his
belly. He smiled slightly, went over to the desk and sat down. The
blood had returned to his face and there was a cool breeze through
116 the window and he could hear Bay sounds. He found a cigar and lit
it and without trying to think of anything remembered his wife's
strutt across the darkened lawn. "Where'd she be off to this hour?"
he thought absently. When he thought of his wife a queer sensation
filled him, almost as if someone were sticking him with small invisible
pins, yet something which gave him no pain. And, no matter how
he tried, he couldn't think of his wife without remembering Janet,
standing in the bedroom with one leg slightly ahead of the other. He
flinched and tried to catch his breath.
"Yes, yes," he said finally, looking about the study. "At least I've
made something of myself eh?"
117 Erin Moure / Three Poems
(for Paul)
Sometimes the invisible pulls
all its blankets away from us.
If only it would stop.
Last night, I saw you on the lake pulling
your brother thru a hole in the ice.
What lake, you say.
From grey water into your arms, the familiar
greeting between brothers, between
good men.
Snow pounded around you, ridiculous
image of white,
skies open like a grey bird, & you moving.
Whole forests of words.
You always wanted to leave like this,
the city & its stalled seasons, leave Main Street
& build a house, somewhere, or in Hope.
Dommage, dommage, but in my dream there were
no houses, only you & your brother & the monstrous
dance of winter, now —
you are singing, your brother
stiff with cold, still in your embrace; you are remembering
a whole childhood to him, together,
kissing his shocked head.
Into his ear you feed twenty-year-old bread, old doorways,
sour rats, a continent, more & more cabbages!
Finally he nods, mouth twisted open to laugh, his hand
clenched upon yours: he pulls
your arm, rowing it wildly —
he takes you with him
across the ice, rowing your faint lives, gladly, like brothers!
My brain a carburetor leaking
thru all the four rooms of the heart.
A man lies in hospital, the woman
beside him waiting, full
with language, her eyes eating his drugged
face, his fingers stuck with glue, grab
the sweaty bed.
My brain a carburetor ticking
thru all the four rooms of the heart.
Doors open & close unnecessarily.
A man walks in, says
he is jesus, takes off both shoes.
My brain a shoe ticking blood
thru all the four rooms of the heart.
At a table in one of the rooms sits
a man, he laughs a bit, shuffles
paper thru his fingers. He knows
four card tricks perfectly. He knows
he has a soul, & waits for it.
When it arrives, it will stoop to remove
intravenous tubes, sit at the table.
They will talk together about films,
violate each memory, eat
cooked meat from skewers, play jazz.
The landlord will be offended. Doors
open & slam without permission.
The heating bills in this building are high, &
no one pays them.
My brain a carburetor sticking.
The man in hospital still alive, moves
thru all the four rooms of the heart.
In one of the rooms, a man sits,
laughs at bit. He hears his soul in the hallway.
In the pale light of the refrigerator, a man singing
has as much right
as a cabbage.
It is nearly three in the morning & he peers down his stomach
in the cold atmosphere, the door
There is little to eat, some jars alone, no glasses to drink,
no puddings, newspapers, animals
holding their young up for the photographer
in the spring.
Just a man in the cold region, his toes curled, naked, watching
the light in the gross heart
of the machine.
Already he has phoned hospitals, the police, & received
no information.
The possible ended, he sings about
what has been proved.
About subways, by-pass operations, any other
road to the future, where
his voice is, where everyone is satisfied or
at least talking about it —
120 David Sharpe
In Another Light
A jet wind, the Tramontana, flooded the Spanish village of Cada-
ques and discovered every wire's whistle and whipsound, every
shutter's shudder. In the gleam of last day, the gale called up the
speech of countless creatures and engulfed two gleaners as they
gathered wood for a room turning black as sky, sticks for a sucking,
blowing fire run pallid and chill.
The gleaners searched under a dark ash sky where smokeclouds
turmoiled off the moon, a white coal touched with wind. Each time
the ember lost its light, they caught their breath and eyes rose suddenly ancient, worried and wordless in the cave of their faces. Fire
of night, they prayed, survive the storm . .. and each time, the moon
burned uncovered and strong.
A candle flamed in the window of their apartment where, one
more time, they denied the electric light that had replaced their eyes
with lightbulbs. Two weeks ago, they first pulled the switches and
sat vested in the violet and gold of candles, coated in cold, and
watched for other powers.
— Look — cried one gleaner — the moon is a well in the west,
cloudy water within.
Sunlight cut an edge from the dusk, a sickle so slim that the
Atlantic, the clouds of North America, and the noon Pacific tricked
out with earthly light the whole of the face hidden occult from the
sun. The dragon of the dark side, the yin releasing the tail of a full
moon, was caught in his complement and performed secrets in a
blue light. Eyes left their orbits and fell free.
— A porthole — the other gleaner added — with a shine behind
its rim.
121 ■—■ Lens into light beyond our black tarp universe — shouted the
first into the gulp of the wind.
Cool and fanatic, moonlight smoked in the rocky basin where sea-
water flowed, where, by day, sun lifted the Maritime Bar from the
beach and details swam declared and common. On the ridge above
the church of Cadaques, above the erosions of rock and canvas at
the villa of Salvador Dali, the two radar domes of an army base
waited to be lifted, ready and moonwhite.
There would be contact in the heavens that night. The limb of
the west was rising, reaching to the new moon, and the moon was
descending to a lunar landing somewhere near the U.S. Army, a
bubble sinking
-—■ It's a spotlight balloon, it is, hauled tight above the hill by its
upward surge against the cable.
—■ Yes, I see a man playing the line. Look, he runs the silk bulb
on a slant along the sky — They paused beside a slabrock fence,
olive trees bending in the weight of a wind as thick as snow. Sticks
like frozen arms gestured from their sides.
When the ridge above Cadaques coupled into the moon, roundness retracted like landing gear. The Pyrenees with hooks of metal
docked the earth to a black-ice sky and the wind guided outer space
to the Mediterranean.
—■ Igloo — said the coldest one — glow of oil lamp through the
ice, tunnel door bright.
—• No ■— answered the other, frigid with first fear — that moon is
the protoplasmic head of a creature, peering. Quick, we must return.
It drops in stealth behind the outcrop.
The gleaners ran beside the Mediterranean through astral winds
whirled like galaxies as the universe expanded and sucked heat from
the center. This low pressure system in the cosmos, this cyclone of
stars, pulled at their flesh until they felt they must radiate away like
the molecule masses from the aboriginal ice cube. From birth, as
moisture onto a seed, they had condensed to rain on the earth and
122 run, just as the earth itself had grown as a hailstone in primitive
clouds. Panic collected in their cold muscles like energy into first
matter and they fled precipitate in a storm, fearing evaporation.
Banggg ... flashback ... bang. The wind is lifting a round ball,
hitting it hollow, solid, against a pole. Banggg. The light from a narrow sun is green. Bang. The rope whines as — bang — another
swing begins — Bang — the pole bends, splinters — BANG — the
body fallls.
Oxon is born.
In a column by an empty road
stood Spanish power poles.
Lines of sparks flexed and popped
in the wet wind
as beings,
being from Electron,
passed messages
on naked wires.
The poles burst out,
gesticulating and spastic,
and stopped the gleaners
as they approached.
One stood stiff above them,
a monolith
with the galaxy behind,
the stars
flecks in the black
marble night.
The gleaners watched aghast,
pole after pole,
wires walk the land.
Ahead, light in the village
buzzed in tubes and bulbs,
cosmic night
sixty a second
with electric moonshine.
123 Oxon discovered the gleaners and pulled them by the neck back from
the live wires and out over the bay. Air billowed beneath and feet
rose over head in a long, giddy fall. Up under stars, a solar wind
parted hair from faces. Two pale infants in a pure night, their eyes
opened like mouths, and legs streamed behind. Higher over the
Pyrenees, the faces fed and the bodies angled in crosswinds.
When the last of sun cleared the upper reaches, the gleaners were
returned to the almond trees of Cadaques. Overhead, a new horizon,
the Milky Way, levelled for them like a sea. They stood on the road
with sea-legs, a galactic sense-of-balance rocking unsteadily on earth
while previously flat constellations sank in a suddenly deep sky. Each
star gelled at some different, distant depth, and three-dimensionally
below their feet, they pin-pointed through the dirt and rock, the sun.
They felt the whole deck of earth roll as the underside gathered light;
shallow warmth spread across the inner heat of its pit, weightless
heat on hot pig iron.
The gleaners re-entered their apartment with arms of fire and
were guided to the hearth by a new organ, a flesh button protruding
from drop-jawed faces, from the smooth flank of brow that now
covered their mundane eyes. Behind a fairing, a sensory dome, they
advanced in another light while electricity wept in the switches of
the wall.
Firelight sprayed its warm blood through the room, blood on Danish
sofas, disconnected lamps, the lintels of the door. Ears rode the
Tramontana as it bellowed in the hearth like a trumpet. All around
this eye of the electric storm, the lights of the village searched the
newly born.
Inside, the gleaners sat rarefied on the abyss of a rug, space cases,
one hand clapped to headside, ears ringed with the songs of celestial
spheres. Their brains were faced with thin and rampant populations
of thought, but a core, a boss ball of core, filled silent the center and
that slow meld of heat and rock, the mind majority on which they
stood, made peripheral the jubilations of sunlight, the squirming of
power through forms, the hesitations of night. Their skin quaked.
Their earthen shoulders shook. Faults opened their rock to the light
124 and many of their people died. In their spines, they felt the golden
chain of being, pulled.
When the gleaners attended the fire, elemental clocks chimed in
the flames as sticks released like springs their wound and wooden
light. They gazed with another eye on geoflex: time synclined in
stupendous steppes. They watched the fire aquaflux: change swelling
with interval, eroding in lifetimes. And aeroflex: winds and weather
variable, sudden the systems as the crow flies. Then, in flashes of
pyroflux so fast they strobed the dark, the gleaners viewed the
galaxies that fell like snowflakes in their headlights: constellations of
worlds and Romes and homes suspended in their storm by the
instance of a glance.
In a windless mist, the sun like the back of a plant raised a day-glo
pleasure dome, amanita orange. Magic and incandescent, the atomic
head lifted and blazed, a sunspore exploded from the soil of the
The gleaners slept beside the black slag of the fireplace as the
mushroom mounted higher in secret, fungus silence. The songs from
far Sea broke against their vacuum and, like the wind, died. Out of
their brows, the flesh button rose into the open, a solid tide flooding
into space. The organ expanded, folded its surface beneath, and
when a perfect bulb shone sunlit above the gleaners, a shudder
severed the growth. Floating, Oxon left behind the rough cinder
where the gleaners lay.
Later, in the dusk of the apartment, they turned on the lights.
!25 Barbara Rendall
Downstairs, we think of you
Above, curled mouselike
Around a simple dream.
You sleep,
And we rest in the curve
Of your done day —
All those direct delights
Brought round once more,
Tucked in.
Later, on the way to our own sleep,
We stop to give you
One last grazing touch,
For luck,
Before we cut the darkened house adrift —
And find you
Cocked and wide-eyed,
Nose to nose with your own patch of night,
Sheets clutched in your tiny fists
Like knowledge,
Riding out the wrong side of the light.
126 Robert Sherrin
Best Falling Dead
I am the best falling dead.
I had come round the house with a purpose. I was not there to
steal flags or range trucks in rows by the side stoop. I was not there
to find long legs behind the hollyhocks or look for mystery by the
apartment block with the white shingles. I was there to fall dead.
At that time death came from every side. We all seemed to understand that. All of us. You: the girl with the hair pale as tears whose
parents fought in the summer in the upper room while you and your
sisters cried in the shade, watching me cruise past on your bicycle.
You didn't need it. You were begging for silence. And it always
came, didn't it? There was always a great calm at the end of the
afternoon, you and your sisters exhausted by the crying and yelling.
On those days there was always a huge dead area between your house
and the neighbours'. They would sit on the far sides, the leesides of
their homes, out of the sun, out of the wind and the turbulence of
your parents' relationship. No one asked about the boxes beside the
garbage cans. But I looked. All broken: lamps, pictures, bits of
paper, letters, a china doll, a bottle. I hoarded things but I didn't
hoard those. I left them as I found them. Moved myself quickly to
the store across the street where most bought jaw breakers and root
beer popsicles. I bought the little wax cowboys with the coloured
water inside and bit their heads off.
Or you: the boy who threw stones. Who stood with your oversized
heart bulging from your chest like a humped spare in the fender well
of a car. You stood on the gravel path between the houses and you
waited for the children to pass on their bicycles, in their wagons, on
their trikes. You squatted there with that heart of yours like a pounding fist. You hated that thing in your chest but you wore it with
pride, dared us to put our ears to it, to hear the whispering blood.
We were told it must not be exposed to the sun yet you went shirtless
127 in the summer, strutted through the neighbourhood and chased the
girls, made them touch it, saying, I'm stronger than anyone, I will
live forever. But you were the one who was taken from the streets
every day by your mother and sent to bed for the afternoon. She was
painful to watch as she walked into the heat and sought you like
a thin hound does the fat hare or the ground hog. She hunted you
down and hauled you from our midday conferences in the shade of
someone's tree or the cool darkness of an underporch. Took you
away. Said to you, COVER IT UP, IT ISN'T A TOY. Did away
with you until after dinner. Loved you too much and feared you
more than we ever would.
So you watched and you waited. Watched as the boys backed their
wagons out of their sidewalks in mimicry of their fathers pulling out
of driveways. You waited with your arms raised and levied your toll:
touch my heart. Each driver, each little boy in his red flier, each girl
on her first CCM moved slowly past and touched you. They passed
on, down the thin gravel road, their tiny convoy raising a chimney
of dust in the prairie air. Gone before you like pioneers, leaving you
to your stones and the few of us whose parents could not afford
Or you: the boys who dressed in women's clothes, who gathered
in my basement and sorted through the rag bin, setting aside the
skirts and removing our pants. Pushed our genitals back and
pranced about saying we were pretty. We dressed well and we
dressed often. We walked in a circle and sat in a circle on the cool
concrete. We sipped at our imaginary tea. We asked for more sugar,
please. We touched hands and talked about our husbands: how
strong they were; how rich they were; how much they loved us; how
our children were disobedient and we were forced to spank them.
Some of us washed their mouths with soap. Some of us locked them
in their rooms. Some of us yanked them like kittens by the neck, took
them yelling and kicking from the dinner table and pushed them
roughly to their mattresses, said to our little ones: YOU EVER SAY
them alone to cry. That's our way. Our civilized mama's way. Our
civilized papa's way. We don't humiliate our little ones, we educate
them. Some of us hit them on bare buttocks with a leather belt and
sometimes they didn't cry. But we were good mamas. We talked
about babies and how messy they are. We said we never struck our
128 children unless papa was there. We needed only the words: WAIT
UNTIL PAPA GETS HOME. Our torture was simple.
After our tea we did our makeup, didn't we? We pursed our lips.
We patted our cheeks. We brushed our hair. We went to the bathroom together and sat with our dinks hidden even though we made
only water. We felt so good, so clean. We patted each other on the
backside. We called ourselves after each other's mothers: ROSE,
And we would stroll, wouldn't we, boys? We would walk up the
broad hot street, where the tar moved underfoot like something
nearly alive. People stared at us, laughed at us. But we walked, calm
and erect and gestured a great deal. We said:
My dear, isn't it terribly hot?
Have you seen my boy, Garson?
Oh I wear this only on special days.
My husband is very rich, you know. He drives the big white one.
All the way to the playground where the activities ceased as we
came face to face with real mothers who came to us and asked where
we got our fine clothes and asked us if we wanted their children.
Some turned from us and led their little boys and girls away. They
were the ones who didn't laugh. They were the ones whose boys had
shiny wagons and pants with creases and shoes with laces the same
length. They were as afraid of us as we were intrigued by them. We
took their swings, made magestic patterns with our fluttering rags
in the afternoon. LADY BUG, LADY BUG, FLY AWAY HOME.
We worked at staying alive by dealing with death. We put fire
crackers in bottles but that happened only once a year. We made
guns of clothes pins and rubber bands. We walked out to the sheets
of ice in the late winter and watched them tilt with our weight, felt
them sag with our passing, saw the water seep up to surround our
gumboots. Most of us were strapped when we returned home for
daring to walk the ice where children were lost each year when the
sheets gave way and they sank into the ice water and mud and the
wheatroot that strangled like wet silk. We were so beloved that we
were whipped to cool our passion, to learn the ways of our families.
And we tried. Didn't we? All of us. You, the blonde whose parents
parted when your youngest sister left home. And you, the boy with
the heart outside your chest. And you and me, the ones who dressed
as Rose and Sylvia and Eve and Nettie and Kay. Did we not?
We hunted through the neighbourhood for friends. We met be-
129 hind the apartment block with the white shingles and we played
Death. We took ten deep breaths and held the last, allowing ourselves to be grasped from behind by the strongest and our chests
squeezed until we lost consciousness. We slipped away so early, so
We would surround the dead and await their return. They all
came back. One would rise from the grass, her legs and arms taut
with the sensation of nowhere. Another, you, the one who was Nettie
when I was Rose, rolled over the steel pedals of a bicycle as you
returned and displayed no cuts or bruises. I returned always with a
rush of heat to my head and galaxies under my lids. I came always
to my feet and staggered with my arms waterwheeling in the air too
thinned by summer to support me. We were the soldiers of our street.
We were the fliers with ring twitter and the sappers with hollow ear.
We were those who came back, we were the echoes of our fathers'
voices when they said, HE WAS ONE OF THE GOOD ONES
And then we fell dead. We came, all of us, girls and boys alike,
bursting from the shade into the white of afternoon and met the
sweep of machinegun fire. The gunner was only yards away and he
panned over us, pumping round after round into the still air, each
shot drumming away through the canyon of houses. No one saved
us. No one tried to. We wanted to go. We wanted to be like Mom
who yelled from the back porch and fell down the steps; who
smelled like gasoline when we reached her and told us to BUZZ
OFF! as she made her way inside. We wanted to be like Dad who
swung wide into the driveway and went away in the fall with a gun
and came back with geese that bled from the eyes and were plucked
under bare bulbs, their urine overpowering as it was squeezed into
basins. We wanted to be the mamas and we wanted to be the papas.
The ones who lived among the smell of a fired Zippo and the touch
of nylon stockings. We went into the withering bullets with leaps
and cries of delight.
The girls went first, crumpling to earth, hands to chests, their
nipples like yours or mine, tasting of the same salt because we tried
and we knew. Then the boy who had been Sylvia with a bullet to his
head and much yelling and thrashing. Then the boy with the large
heart who had evaded his mother to join us, tripping, stumbling,
clutching his throat, falling to his back, the little mound glinting, the
skin a tight bony white. Then the blonde girl who had stayed low
but finally found herself skidding into the grass, hands clutching at
130 her flat little belly, flopping away to one side like a nearly living
thing derailed at last. Then Kay with one to the lungs. And me.
Finally me. Me at last. A pattern through my chest but my legs
churning though the body was finished, the mind failing. I went to
my knees but moved ahead. I came to a halt, still kneeling, wavering,
trying to raise my hand like the soldiers always did. Like everyone
wanted to. And the gunner looked at me through his clouds of cordite
and the rippling of echoes and pointed the barrel at my face. He
touched the trigger and I fell away into the sweet grass, my head at
your feet.
And things went silent because that was a rule. No one breathed
because that, too, was a rule. We yearned for the looks of our elders
who would say we were the good ones who didn't make it. That, too,
was a rule. We recalled every war film and western we had ever seen
and like the shotgunned hero we lay as still as we could because it
was important to be as real as possible in that world.
Finally I was touched. The gunner had risen and walked to me
and tapped me on the shoulder. He gave me the word: best falling
dead. And walked on tapping the others, bringing them back to life,
me moving into position as the new gunner who would mow down
the next wave. We all fell and we all rose to fall again.
And we laughed, didn't we? We were happy, weren't we, because
we thought we could do it all our lives, forever.
131 Martin Reyto / Two Poems
before long, we were all
thinking about escape: someone
said there'd be a boat with jewelled oars,
water-spiders would dart
on two straight ripples from the bow.
every day, there were our faces,
time-eaten, peering down the wharf
with onyx eyes while the spiders lay still,
resting on the water as we did
on chances, possibilities.
then sometimes wars were fought
by the mammoth clouds, they ate
each other with jaws
tailored precisely to each other's sizes, shapes.
decisions were constantly made, and
one man always heard a sound like singing.
children captured unknown insects,
brought them home, where they
shrilled all night in a bottle.
132 why of course we'll all
get out of here someday, our expectant
dances make the stars brood,
now so many people lie cradled
like relics in soft wool,
invisibly attended to; escape must have
come to them like the shards of a mirror,
but with hands that reached
and quietly drew them aside. I myself
had this dream last night:
a fish lay in the water like a silver arc,
like the moon playing at being a fish.
I shot an arrow into its side
and it leapt high, it was sunrise,
then it was a boat with glittering oars
and finally a bird which ate the sky
with one shriek.    Awake,
I am surrounded by those who remain.
their eyes are onyx
agate, amethyst;
they touch me with words,
with a whispered fugue.
I was lost for centuries,
elephants played soccer, finding
my naked form forsaken
and rotund on the savannah
by that time I resembled a crystal ball
dropped by alien civilizations again
and again on the revolting grasses
by that time I'd consumed
entire cities
countries, continents
and still and still
you may pick me up in the palm of your hand,
I'll flower there
index poverty on this wracked skull
index meteorology:
lunatic budgie-snatchers
skulking around Woolworth's
with empty shoeboxes, eyeing the cages
wear me, wedged tight
between their brains and spines
under their coats I have sucked up
curious toddlers
their mothers
their nights, their beds, their houses,
134 oh the playgrounds and the
and the streetcars they took
to get from there to here and it is
and it is I who move their
dirty old hands to the cage door
make them
dip in
merge their
gray wrist-bones and gray hands
with a blue-green
chattering and
tweeting universe:     I
a crystal ball, aggressive reflector,
planted in a mountain I sucked up Pompeii
I filmed it over, inside out, it was
holocaust in reverse,
and my dreams were profuse
with antlers and children and holidays.
J35 Donna E. Smyth
The Temptation of Leafy
— Leafy!
The voice was so loud it woke her up. It was that loud.
— Here I am. What you want?
Silence in the trailer. Only Sarah stirring in her sleep at the sound
of Leafy's voice. Only hush and hesitation of spring wind against
the window where the flap of plastic had come loose and she'd
meant to fix it but hadn't got round to it. Later on when the sun
came up it might be warmer but now it was chilly, shivery under
the sheets. Grey light before the dawn.
Where did the voice come from? Second time it had happened
and she couldn't remember a dream to go with it. Nobody'd get up
at this hour, unearthly hour, to play a trick, would they? Leafy
turned, trying to find the warm spot where she'd slept before the
voice. She called softly — Sarie! Sarie dear, come and keep your
Mama warm.
Instantly the goose blinked out of sleep. Bright blue eyes fixed on
Leafy, a gentle throat noise, almost a honk, greeted her
— C'mon up here, Sarie.
Leafy patted the side of the bed. Sarah was so well trained she
never clambered up without an invitation. Better than a dog, Leafy
bragged to the neighbours who had long since ceased to bother her
about the goose. In the beginning though, they'd tried to interfere
like folks always do. Fellas like James Thurston saying to her every
second week — Leafy, it's time you done away with that goose. Five
years is more than any bird got a right to expect
Leafy reared at him, she was that mad she was seeing stars in
broad daylight
— Who you tellin' what to do, James Thurston? I knew you when
you was a tadpole — no bigger than the blink of an eye. And I
knew your father before you. Worst little hellion in Hants County!
136 The young man shuffled a little but held his ground. He muttered
— But it ain't good sense, Leafy. You keep a goose too long, all the
goodness goes out of her.
— Look at that bird there. You tellin' me there's no goodness left
in her?
And they both looked at Sarah who preened herself in the sun,
white and glossy she was, long-necked graceful. A very goose of a
goose and gentle as a lamb. She'd only attacked once — a stray dog,
mutt of a dog who'd snarled at Leafy when she was out collecting.
Ordinarily Leafy wouldn't have minded, she had a way with dogs,
but this one looked mean. Leafy backed away slowly, searching out
of the corner of her eye for a stick. A rush of feathers burst out of
the bushes and a hiss like doom, like a dozen snakes. Neck stretched
out, wings beating the air, Sarah flew at the dog like an avenging
angel. The mutt hesitated for the fraction of a second and then
turned tail and fled, yelping like he'd seen a ghost. Years later the
memory of it still tickled Leafy's fancy.
She turned solemnly to James Thurston
— You mean to tell me I should do away with a goose who saved
my life?
'Course the boy didn't have a leg to stand on. Nobody did when
it came to Leafy's goose and after awhile they took it for granted —
wherever Leafy was, Sarah went with her, untiring, unflagging
goose guardian of a dozen years and more. Sarah seemed never to
get old.
In the summer she followed Leafy like a puppy up and down the
roadside ditches where the beerbottles lay, amber jewels in the sun.
Leafy collected assiduously, had only curses for the new-fangled tin
cans which weren't worth a plug nickel. Weekends were the best
time, 'specially Sunday mornings after Saturday night's screeching
around. Sunday mornings when the sun filtered through the leaves,
sending shadows dancing, and the jays cheekier than weekdays,
flashing blue past her. Once that preacher boy down the road, Marks
was his name, he tried to convince Leafy to give up this Sunday collecting and go to church
—■ Mrs Lutz, you got to remember that you're getting on. At your
age you should be thinking of making your peace.
■—■ Peace? What good did that ever do a body? 'Sides, I got plenty
of peace right here.
■—- Your peace with God, Mrs Lutz. Remember, God sees all things.
Leafy cackled, she couldn't help it
137 — Preacher, God and me ain't been on talkin' terms for a long time.
The young man —■ they were all young men these days — laughed
nervously. Leafy could see he wasn't much of a one for a joke. Had
a high flutey voice like a woman and a belly like he was pregnant.
Soft brown eyes behind glasses. Earnest. He cleared his throat and
began again
— That's what I mean, Mrs Lutz. Doesn't it bother you to think
about. .. about...
— Dying? That what you mean?
Gravely he nodded. It was plain that dying bothered him some,
even brought out the sweat in tiny drops on his forehead
—- Yes. We must all make our peace before we go.
— If God don't like me the way I am, it's too late for either of us to
do anything about it. Way too late.
Leafy gathered up a wad of spittle she'd been forming in her mouth
and spat it out neatly beside the preacher's shiny shoe. He gulped
— Mrs Lutz, I'm only trying to help you.
— The Lord helps them what helps themselves. Ain't that right in
the Bible, preacher?
— The sin of pride, Mrs Lutz, the sin of pride. You have an account
to settle with God.
— Well, let Him come and settle it then. I'll be waitin'.
Next Sunday she returned to her collecting as usual. The preacher
boy drove past on his way to church and Leafy waved from the ditch
but he didn't seem to see her. She shrugged. Nice boy but a Christian.
When the burlap sack was full, Leafy sat down for a smoke, measuring out the tobacco carefully so's she didn't waste any. Sarah
settled in the long grass beside her, tramping it down till it was a
sort of pocket into which she wiggled her bottom till she was comfortable. With her neck outstretched, her beak just touched Leafy's
skirt. Leafy began as usual
— Sarie dear, see here, we two got what most folks want. Only they
don't know it. Most folks never know what they want.
Leafy puffed meditatively, squinted at her cigarette. Preachers
couldn't tell a body half what you needed to know. She tapped
Sarah's beak lightly
— There's a kind of love between the creatures. Holy love, I call it.
Came to that a long time ago, so long ago you wasn't even an egg.
Love between folks, now that's all tangled with hurtin' till the hurtin'
gets bigger than the lovin'. You follow me?
138 Sarah's eyes opened with the question, she watched Leafy lovingly.
The goose followed every inflection of thought and voice with a kind
of intelligence Leafy never doubted. When things were flowing good
like now, mellowed by a quiet smoke in the sun with a full sack of
empties to be traded in on Monday, Sarah seemed to know and
rejoice with Leafy. She'd sidle closer until, absent-mindedly, Leafy'd
put out a hand to stroke the soft feathers. If a goose could purr like
a cat, Sarah would have purred. In fact Leafy swore she did purr,
not out loud but with a body hum that vibrated through Leafy's
fingers. Hum of goose contentment.
When things didn't flow, when they got knotted up with kinks
and twists under the inexorable grey of sky, white of snow, with
Leafy's small trailer rocking in the bitter wind, then Sarah watched
anxiously as her mistress paced the patch of linoleum, pattern worn
to a sheen. At such times Leafy waved her arms like a preacher
—■ There's a mistake, a mistake in livin'! God's cruel, Sarah! Cruel
to make us, cruel to make such a wind it bites holes in the trailer.
Sarie dear, you're the only one who hasn't left. My first man, he
beat me. The second one left. Then they came after me, sent those
social workers after me. Animals know — the creatures do know.
You crawl into a hole to lick your wounds. But folks won't let you,
no sir, they won't let you. Have to be pryin' and meddlin' till the
day they die. I spit on social workers! I spit on men! I spit on the
lot of 'em!
The rum in the bottle on the table was working its way down inch
by inch. Leafy stopped ranting to swallow, sat down in the one chair
at the table. Drunk — carefully rolled a cigarette and smiled at
the goose
— Come to Mama, Sarie. There, there, don't be scairt of the old
woman. You're the only one who understands me, God's truth you
are. Kids they see me — you know what they do? Run away. Scairt.
Think I'm a witch. Maybe. Maybe. Kids ain't what they used to be.
Up here, Sarie dear.
The goose was lifted to Leafy's lap where she settled like a cat.
Leafy stroked feathers and sang
■—■ "All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small"
Another swallow of rum, contemptuous wipe of the mouth with the
back of the hand
—- Hah! What about the ugliness, Sarie? What about the ugly and
the dirt and the lonely? Who made them? You tell me that an' you're
r39 a wiser bird than I. God, God! If He was to come down here tonight,
I'd call Him to account! That I would!
By early morning the wind had died to a winter-cold stillness.
Two bars of the electric heater reflected red in the semi-darkness of
the trailer. Empty bottle on a table burnt with cigarettes forgotten.
Asleep like an old woman, Leafy's mouth was slack except when she
called out of her dreams, subsided back again. Asleep like a goose,
Sarah's head was tucked underneath her wing.
It often seemed to Leafy that it might have been that winter or
the next and then it was summer, last year's or this one, and the
seasons changed but life didn't change. Sarah didn't change either.
Each year she was a little plumper, more serene. When she was
twenty years old, by Leafy's calculations, she was no longer as spry
as she used to be but then neither was Leafy who couldn't decide
whether she herself changed or did not change. She marked time by
the neighbour's kids growing up and those kids having kids. It all
went on changing and not changing at the same time. And more and
more Sarah seemed to know what Leafy was thinking until it got
so's sometimes Leafy forgot Sarah was a goose or maybe forgot
whether or not she was an old woman.
On this particular morning then, with grey light becoming pink,
Leafy confided to Sarah
— Sarie dear, did you hear the voice? It was that loud I nearly
jumped out of my skin. Sat bolt upright like a scairt rabbit. I must
of been dreamin'! This big voice — never heard a voice like it — it
says: Leafy! Leafy! If those kids come back to play tricks, I'll tan
their hides!
Sarah snuggled closer on the blankets, her head touching Leafy's
arm. When she was younger, the goose would be up at the crack of
dawn nudging Leafy with her beak so's to be let out to do her morning business. But nowadays Sarah was inclined to doze and drowse
in the early morning light, 'specially on spring mornings when it
took the sun awhile to warm the damp grass. And Leafy drowsed
with her, muttering still about her dream, fingers pushed into the
downy under Sarah's feathers
— Leafy!
Leafy's eyes flew open. Was she awake or dreaming?
—■ Sarie, did you hear that?
— Leafy!
Leafy trembled. It was not inside nor outside, that voice, it was
both inside and outside. Not a voice. Leafy forced herself to answer
140 — What you want?
And she ducked, half-expecting a cuff from an unseen hand.
— Do you love me, Leafy?
Leafy groaned
■—■ I dunno, I dunno! Oh God, is it the accountin' already? Damn
that preacher — I got to get the place cleaned up.
She shoved back the blankets, swung her legs out and looked
around the trailer for the first time in a long time seeing it as if for
the first time. As if she was a meddling neighbour come in to find
out what happened to Leafy Lutz. She saw a table littered with dirty
dishes, crumbs, bits of crust, newspapers. A floor filthy with dust and
dirt trod into uneven, colourless linoleum. Cobwebs hanging, festooned the rusty trailer ceiling, draped over the two lanterns. Once
white sheets a dingy grey against skinny old legs roped with veins.
Leafy saw it all and cringed. Sarah was the only white and shining
thing in the place
— Leafy!
— I hear you! I ain't deaf.
Now Sarah woke up, looked expectantly at Leafy. Almost time to
put her outside. Leafy grabbed the goose and hugged and hugged
— Sarie dear, it's the Lord. He' come for me like the preacher said
He would!
— Do you love me, Leafy?
Frightened, Leafy clutched Sarah to her. Too late now for excuses,
lies, regrets over small cruelties, large trespasses. Leafy moaned,
rocked back and forth with Sarah — I dunno! I dunno! What's
The voice was silent. Did it expect her to know? It wasn't fair, it
wasn't. She was just Leafy Lutz, an old woman alone in the world
with her beloved goose. How could she know anything?
The answer didn't come slowly but was there all of a sudden. It
hit Leafy like a punch in the gut, leaving her breathless and doubled
up with pain. She cried aloud
— No, no! You can't mean that. It's not right!
The voice refused to argue. But she felt it suspended around her,
waiting. Sarah nudged her shoulder, wanting reassurance
—■ Sarie, human flesh an' blood ain't stood by me like you! You're
all I got left.
Sarah honked gently, seemed to agree. She searched the woman's
face with a grave goose look. Seemed to say — I'm yours, Leafy.
Do with me what you will.
141 The voice spoke again. This time it was small and still, not like a
voice at all
— Leafy, do you love me?
It was the softness that broke her. She was all set to rear and fight
when it came so small and clear like a child's voice. Then Leafy
— Everything it means, don't it? Everything. That's love.
The first rays of sun lit upon her like a hand. Leafy shrugged off
the comfort. She was still struggling
— She's the only one I got! Why'nt you go to James Thurston up
the road? He's got plenty.
— Leafy. ...
The voice sounded like her mother years ago when Leafy told a
lie and got found out. Her father would have belted the life out of
her, her mother just looked like she was sorry for Leafy. Leafy
couldn't stand nobody feeling sorry for her. She stood upright and
said to the voice
— I know. I know what has to be done.
Then, softly to the waiting goose
— Come along, Sarie dear.
Leafy stepped into the rubber boots by the door, slipped into the
old coat she'd found some five years ago dangling from a highway
sign. Sarah was so close behind Leafy almost stepped on her when
she opened the door.
Outside was spring warm and clear, the kind of morning light
that hides nothing. A week of this weather would bring out the may-
flower buds. She and Sarah would take some lunch and head down
the old logging road behind the trailer. .. .
— Leafy!
The voice recalled, recollected her. Followed her. Insistent. Leafy
— Alright. Don't rub it in. I know, don't I?
Sarah had squatted in one corner of the weedpatch Leafy called
her garden. Doing her goose business. Then she waddled towards
Leafy, slowly, enjoying the sun. The whiteness of her glowed, her
eyes were finest blue. Such a perfect goose of a goose.
One hand in her pocket, Leafy squatted
—■ Here, Sarie, Sarie dear.
The ritual was always the same. Sarah came with dignity to the
outstretched hand, ate the offered corn with a certain elegant restraint, not greedily, not hastily, but as if it was her due. Leafy patted
142 her all over, feeling the solid little body, the powerful wings and
curved, proud neck
— What a fine bird you are! The finest in the world!
Sarah's look was trusting, loving. Leafy's voice broke
— Sarah, for what I am about to do, may you forgive me.
She rose quickly then, determined to have it over with. Behind the
trailer, to the left, was a little shack where she kept the tools and the
ax for the wood. Leafy was particular about her tools — a shovel, a
pitchfork, a hammer, bucksaw, screwdriver, pliers, ax. She kept
them hung up, each in its own place, oiled and clean throughout the
winter. Sharpened each fall before they were put away. The ax was
always sharp for splitting kindling. Every year James Thurston
brought her two cords of wood but he didn't make them up as carefully as his father had — too much slabwood. And every year he
offered to split the kindling for her and each year Leafy refused.
Sarah followed Leafy to the shed door but stayed on the threshold. When she saw Leafy with the ax, the goose immediately started
in the direction of the chopping block. Always the same routine.
Leafy walked slowly, she felt a hundred years old. She felt it was
time to die. She took out more corn from the pocket and sprinkled
it on the block. Sarah pecked each piece quickly, daintily. Leafy put
one hand on the goose head, held it so that the neck was stretched
across the block. The ax was in her other hand
—-Sarie, I'll give you a decent burial. My darlin' Sarah!
Now the goose head twisted so that the eyes looked straight at her.
Eyes dark with fear. Sarah knew. Leafy sobbed, lifted the ax
—- Leafy!
The voice arrested the sun-glinted ax hanging in mid-air. Leafy
swung around, furious
— Go away! Leave me alone!
She rushed to the slender young birch by the side of the shed and
began to chop blindly, strongly. A white gash opened in the trunk,
white with a lip of green where the inner bark was. The ax bit
deeper, harder. Again and again. Slowed. Thudded. Stopped. The
tree didn't exactly fall, it was too thin and green. It bent over, wood
sinews severed. It was dead.
Leafy shook her fist at the sky
—• There! Are you satisfied? Are you?
She fell to her knees on the frozen ground, tears salty on lips,
fingers. Forsaken. The very word cut into her, left her shivering and
alone. It was time to die.
143 Soft nudge at her shoulder. Leafy looked up into Sarah's eyes. The
goose made a loving honk noise deep in her throat. Leafy could
scarcely dare to believe
— Sarie, you mean it? You forgive me?
Goose head rubbed against her like a cat. Invited caresses. Leafy
held the goose to her and crooned
— There ain't a creature in the world as precious as you. Then she
frowned at the so-innocent looking sky
— You stay away from me, you hear? Creatures love, they know
what it means!
Sarah rested her head against Leafy's shoulder. They knelt there a
long time, woman and goose, in the spring sunshine between the
double-bladed ax and the dead tree.
144 Betsy Struthers / Two Poems
In the big field
on the hill overlooking
five farms
and a pocket of forest:
He peoples
the blue air
with ideas
sits, leaning forward,
hands stressing points
in the pattern
Behind his dark glasses
fight bulbs.
And I
lie back listening
insects hum over
my lips
clouds cartwheel
across my horizons
sun melts me
into ground rhythms.
He thinks.
He could be
I must point out
for him
both hawk and
lady bug.
A big man he
rocks on the edge
of the kitchen chair
cradles poems in
his awkward hands
these fascinate me
If I lay
mine against his
palms, my fingers
would not reach
his knuckles
in his songs hands
become birds broken
by windows
the fingers pale
caterpillars denied
146 Joel Yanofsky
Ghost Stories
All things considered it would be a perfect day to do God's work; a
perfect day to share God's everlasting love for mankind. Mother
once said there would be days like this and there are. The sky is
bright and blue and cloudless. The grass is green and wet from last
night's rain. Orange leaves are spread out generously on the lawns
and sidewalks like birthday icing. It is autumn's last sad recollection
of a vanished summer. On the whole a perfect day to soothe sinners
with the offering of salvation, to convince the doubtful, to renew the
tired and the confused. Two teenage girls, soberly dressed, breathing
rapidly, twitching and excited, begin their door-to-door mission. "We
have come," they announce confidently, humbly, persuasively "to
speak to you of God's purpose."
"I'll give you God's purpose," a strained voice mutters.
An aluminum screen door opens for a moment, pauses, as if
caught in reflection or in a moment's hesitation, and then slams shut
into its aluminum slot. The lady of the house walks away mumbling
something about nuisances and fanatics and takes no notice of the
azure sky. She is busy: her youngest child cries, the television blares
and the refrigerator hums threateningly. Spirituality has gone the
way of all things in suburbia: towards noise and gossip and tedium.
The street is unkind, and particularly unkind to strangers. The
cracked concrete sidewalk trips pedestrians and pilgrims alike. Stray
footballs, frisbees and children are formidable obstacles. Fat suburban women are irked at the idea of having to go to the door for
no better reason than salvation.
"I'm sorry," they say sarcastically, (married to bald tired husbands, they are masters of sarcasm) "but I gave at the office."
Some people dislike confrontations of any sort and when the doorbell rings they pretend that they are not at home. A moving blind, a
flickering lamp or a bobbing head usually gives them away; still
147 they crouch beside their front bedroom window until their solitude
is secure. Their transparency has become more than a way of avoiding things and people, it has become a fact. Undaunted, the young
girls continue (Oh to be young and Christian!) realizing by the
names on the mailboxes — Weinstein, Yampolsky, Rosen — that
they are in among the Pharisees and that they have somehow stumbled upon a challenge which is two thousand years old. They are
insulted, ignored and turned away from each door. Predictably no
one cares. One girl clutches at the crucifix around her neck not so
much for her own sake as for the sake of those people who refuse to
listen. The other girl bends to tie her shoelaces. No one here wants
to know anything. Mr. Morris, our next door neighbour and self-
appointed community leader, has a joke, he says that we are happy:
miserable the way we are. In his serious moments, Mr. Morris
wears light blue leisure suits — which he swears by — plays golf, on
Saturday mornings, in his backyard, chain smokes, believes in mankind and insists that we must, indeed, have to, assimilate, integrate
ourselves, Jews, Semites, into the French, Quebecois, Catholic society,
way of life, or else we will, in the future, one day, be in serious, profound trouble and distress. He comes by his redundancy, his wardrobe and his atheism naturally. Although everyone suspects that he
is right no one ever listens to him. Whenever he would begin one of
his long speeches at our house my mother would tell me to go on
with whatever I was doing just as if he was not there. It was not
hard. Inevitably, Christian forbearance stands up less well among
Jews than among any other non-believers. (Precisely, Mr. Morris's
point.) History probably has examples. The girls become irritated
and bitter: they will attempt one more door and then be sure to
write us off as a race. My doorbell rings and frankly I welcome the
interruption. I welcome all interruptions.
Although my interest in my own salvation has decreased over the
past two years, there was honestly a time when it was the only thing
that I considered important. I wrote long, agonizing stories about my
perpetual loneliness; and I was almost singularly concerned with the
salvation of my lost soul and the satisfaction of my neglected crotch.
I expected very little from life (I still do) but I did expect a great
deal from God and women. The one delusion, the one fairy tale left
me, was that I would find God, figuratively speaking, under a
woman's skirt. Like Jack finding the Golden Goose. That, in fact,
there was a woman wandering about, shadowy and vague like an
148 angel or a dream, who would save me spiritually and sexually, who
would end my doubts, forever. Things, being things, have changed
now. It's not that I'm less lonely or deluded, it's just that I'm tired
of waiting. Still, I am willing to listen, to, at least, negotiate. (Particularly, with teen-age girls.) Finally, truthfully, — an old schoolteacher, named Turpin, who is probably dead now, once told me
that no matter what I wrote, I should always be truthful — I am
eternally grateful for anything which separates me from my room
and my typewriter. My room has become a jungle: there are dark
neglected corners where things have begun to take root. Blank,
crumpled sheets of paper, tangled clothing and books are scattered
about the floor. Those books that have found their way to the shelves
rest upside down. My bed is a chaotic jumble of sheets, pillows, blankets and pyjamas and I am reluctant to replace a familiar mess with
the mess that would result if I tried to make the unmade bed. Now,
I may never learn to make my bed properly. My dusty gray underwood stares at me with its forty-two eyes — not including the back-
spacer — disappointedly. You see, though I try, there are no stories
left for me to tell. Only recollections: images, colours, shadows, alternately bright and dull, one on top of the other, jumping in and out,
side to side, up and down, in my mind, like figures in a Chagall
painting. No stories. No sensible plots. No full-blooded characters.
Just ghosts. The memory of my mother's cancer has placed an unbearable weight upon me, for now everything outside of the truth
seems frivolous and unworthy of my attention.
Mr. Turpin was an old gray man, a former evangelist, who quoted
seventeenth century philosophers, and cried in class. His hands trembled and his nose was always red. For months he wore the same
brown suit until it became so wrinkled that the shape of his body
was completely hidden: from the front he looked like a clown, from
the back he looked like a discarded candy wrapper. Mr. Turpin
liked me because I was the only boy in the class — girls can be smart
without being devoted — who had any regard or affection for words.
People like us, he said, are a vanishing breed. He would often keep
me after class so that he would have someone to cry for and, sometimes, not knowing exactly why, I cried with him. He told me once,
in the strictest confidence, that his wife had begun visiting him again.
Not knowing quite what to say I had said congratulations. But he
quickly shook his head and said that congratulations were not in
order, that his wife had been dead for thirty years. "She comes to
me at night," he whispered, "her hair and her eyes are black, her
149 skin is white like waxpaper and she curses at me. She blames me for
her death. She says that I bored her to death . . . Later we drink
cocoa and talk about my death." Mr. Turpin was eventually relieved
of his duties by the P.T.A. — who debated for weeks how he had
ever been hired in the first place — and the last words he said to me
were the words of Baruch Spinoza (he thought that I would appreciate Spinoza because we were both Jewish): "A free man thinks of
nothing less than of death and his wisdom is a meditation not of
death, but of life." He winked and, gratefully, I never saw him again.
He was content with his apparitions and his meditations.
"We are here to talk to you about God's purpose." They speak
quickly, in unison, in what is definitely a take-it-or-leave-it tone of
voice. They stand, hands near hips, legs apart, like linebackers, ready
for anything. Poor girls, have my neighbours given you a bad time?
I don't like them either. They are harsh and inconsiderate and a little
ignorant. Jews, obstinate, unbending, hiding in their houses and
ghettos, have always made it difficult for Christians to spread the
word of God's love and mercy. We hid, kept to ourselves and
remained unconvinced. Mrs. Wooden, who lives across the street,
has not left her house for as long as I have lived here, except occasionally to pounce on a trespassing baseball or football. Mostly, she
sits near her window smoking and only her head, round as a pumpkin, and the collar of her paisley housecoat are visible. As children
we imagined that she was a witch or some kind of disembodied Goblin and we threw rotten apples at her house late at night. In the
morning she telephoned our parents to complain and our parents
told her that she was probably mistaken — that it couldn't have
been us. I discovered later that she had been in Dachau and that she
had black indelible numbers on her forearm. Sometimes at night I
would hear her screaming and I would hear her husband, frustrated
and tired, trying to comfort her. (His burden, his indelible mark.)
Now that there are no young children on the street and no balls
rolling onto her lawn, she shuts herself up in her room, afraid of
German soldiers and Polish informers, the Avon lady and well-
meaning teenage girls. Hiding from those who seek to destroy her as
well as those who seek to save her. "Yes," I said, "I would love to
hear about God's purpose. Please come in. Sit down. Won't you?"
They come in, unsuspiciously, gayly, like young Hugh of Lincoln
skipping through the Jewish quarter, their scrubbed pink girlish faces
gleaming. After all, they are the kind of people who expect the best
150 from others — (I, on the other hand, expect the worst and am, therefore, never disappointed) who expect tolerance and kindness from
others. And when the rest of the world turns out to be something less
than cheery and decent they are noticeably angered, intolerant, filled
—■ a lingering vestige of their old testament origin — with a wrath
and vindictiveness worthy of good ol' Jahweh himself. Ready to bring
down the sword of righteousness upon the capped heathen head. But
now the slightest indication of kindness and encouragement returns
them to their old even-tempered optimistic selves. I, in my boredom
and typewriterphobia, am a genuine human being, while all the
others — my hiding uncooperative neighbours — are aberrations,
exceptions to an otherwise hopeful, God-loving world. I am a good
audience and to me they could speak, at length, of the resurrection,
the sermon on the mount and the golden rule.
Really, I have no time for this bit of religious entertainment.
There is work to be done. Debts to be repayed. Ghosts to be mitigated. The past creeps up on me like a vaudevillian hook and my
performance upon this present stage is limited. I am needed backstage where ancient male characters in wide brimmed black hats and
long black coats, where frail, tired women in white sheets and antiseptic hospital beds appeal to me, in Pirandello fashion, for sympathy, for immortality. For some kind of sensible death. A parade of
crippled bodies and wronged faces will not rest in me until some sense
is made of their suffering. And there is no sense in any of it. And I
am not up to such a task. I am no story-teller. I wish only to be left
alone. I wish only to converse quietly with my tender-hearted, angelic
proselytizers about God's true benevolent purpose.
They sit carefully on my mother's green sofa, their thin legs crossed
just below their knees. Both girls are dressed carefully and simply in
white blouses, black skirts and saddle shoes. (Evidently, they are on
the same team and it appears that their effort will be a concerted
one.) It has been years, fads, children and jokes aside, since I have
seen anyone wearing saddle shoes and it's perhaps the single article
in their uniform which is both silly and touching. While the soles of
their shoes are worn and discoloured from rain, ashphalt and gum,
the tops of their shoes are bright and polished and new. Bottom and
top, these shoes were made to last. Italian leather and sporty canvas
could never see the days these shoes have. Looking down at their feet,
I sit close by, perpendicular to them, in an old re-upholstered chair
151 in which, I fear, I am sinking. The house seems somehow older than
it is. Ours is the only red-bricked house on the block. It was my grandfather's wish. All the other houses on the block are white-bricked and
pretty while ours is dark and somber and older. My grandfather insisted that a house have character and maturity. Repairs are needed,
but put off. The brown patches on the lawn, the dying shrubs, the
cracked walk, and the door, blackened by a year of fickle weather,
dust, slush and hand prints, all will have to wait for spring. Inside,
the carpets, the furniture, the wallpaper have become ancient in only
two decades. I must have entered and re-entered each room a thousand times and though they have changed over the years it is impossible to picture anything ever having been different. Everything is in
its place, the same as it has always been with a single exception. I am
a good host as well as a good Samaritan and I ask my guests if they
would like anything to drink. Coffee, tea, milk, juice, coke, wine, gin.
They graciously decline. They shuffle, businesslike, through their
briefcases, each taking out a handful of beige pamphlets. (Something
tells me that they do not consider themselves guests.) I wait patiently
■—- patience being a virtue and the only one that I can manage —
and after a few moments of silence and throat-clearing, they look at
each other and the older (I assume) taller girl begins her prepared
"If you have not already guessed, we are Jehovah's Witnesses. The
Jehovah's Witnesses are a Christian pros — a Christian sect founded
by Charles T. Russell. The name is adopted from the Bible, from
Isaih —"
"Yes, Isaih. 43:10: 'Ye are my witnesses . ..' We have con — uh
members all over the world and our pamphlets are published in
seventy-eight languages including Polish and Zulu." 123 Her friend
continues: "Do you long for a better world, one of justice and truth,
free from sorrow, hatred and war?" I did not answer. I know a rhetorical question when I hear one. (Besides, my longings are best kept
out of this.) "Do you want to live at a time when genuine peace and
love prevail among people of all races?" From the Poles to the Zulus.
I like the way this girl speaks. Her face is not pretty, but her voice is
clear and fragile. Like glass. To do this, to confront strangers, to
become an imposition in order to help people, she has more courage
than I could ever gather. More courage and less common sense. I also
like the way her nose twitches when she speaks and the way her uncrossed leg dangles and swings like a pendulum. Her breasts are large
152 and round and seem somehow separate from her small body and her
soft voice. As if they had minds and moods of their own, enthusiastic, bouncy, welcoming like old friends. "Then we can help you! I
mean the Jehovah's Witnesses can help you. Using God's word, the
Bible, as our authority, we point out the clear evidence that the present wicked system of things will soon end, destroyed by God. But we
also announce the coming in of a righteous new order." The doorbell rings several times; ringing out the old and ringing in the new.
"Excuse me." I pull myself out of my chair and walk to the door.
There is no one in front of the house. I check the back door and
there is no one there either. I return to my chair. "I'm very sorry.
Please continue. I can't imagine who it could have been."
The younger girl continues exactly where she left off. "There
under the rule of God's kingdom, his heavenly government, people
will enjoy — "
"Actually the doorbell rings alot by itself, it's the craziest thing.
Nothing to worry about though." Apparently by the impatient look
on their faces and the anxious tap of their saddle shoes I am the only
one worried. They want to get on with it. The basic difference between us is in direction. They are straight-ahead and I, I am off to
the side somewhere. "I'm sorry, I guess I interrupted again. It was
probably just Elijah looking for a glass of wine. You see, at Passover,
we — "I smile, but they don't get the joke. Some day, some one will
understand my allusions. "Excuse me, again, please go on."
"Thank-you. There . . . there people will enjoy life forever in true
peace, health and happiness on a paradise earth."
There is a short pause as I wait to see if they are both finished.
They are. For the moment. Evidently, it is now my turn to express
some feeble doubt. "That's all well and good," I say, impressively,
rabbinically, scratching my beard, hoping to interest and not offend
them, for if they should leave there is nowhere for me to go except
back to my typewriter. "But this idea of a paradise earth, well, I
don't know ..."
What would Zeyda say? Me, sitting here, all education and charm,
talking theology with two shiksas. Not even pretty shiksas at that.
Jehovah's Witnesses of all things. What would Ma say? On bright
mornings, after late parties, my head ringing from too much beer,
my mother would make me coffee and eggs and matter-of-factly
question me about the type of girl I had met. By "type" she meant
"were they Jewish?" I would become angry or amused, depending
x53 upon my mood, and she would drop the subject. Once, walking
downtown, I was approached by a red-haired Mormon, tall and
lean. He offered me a booklet and I accepted it, being something of
a collector of fanatical literature and also being somewhat afraid of
tall, lean people. Later when my mother found it on my desk, she
disposed of it. She said that it was an accident, that she was just tidying up, but I guessed otherwise. She was just protecting me from
the gentiles and the fanatics. It is a Jewish mother's responsibility.
Who will protect me now? Her anxiousness about my associations
was a type of faith, in itself, a faith in my continuance, in my future.
"It seems to me that the dichotomy between the present wicked
earth and the future paradise earth is a half-truth. There is only one
world, after all, God's world, the one we have, wicked and beautiful
as well. First of all, we should have, if we give any credence to the
Buddhist and Hindu conception of karma samsara or re-incarnation,
as our first goal — though it shouldn't really be seen as a goal per se
— escape or release from the mundane, painful world — wicked, I
don't think, is a fair description — and even if we cannot obtain
that goal in this lifetime or in the next, perhaps some time. Each of
us being bodhisattvas, really, in the ultimate sense." Wrong. Wrong.
Wrong. I must break my habit of trying to fascinate people —
friends and strangers both — with my muddled, enthusaistic interpretation of Eastern religion. Their faces are blank, as blank as the
Buddhist pantheon. (That is the Hinayana school, I believe.) Or
even worse, as blank as the sheet of paper I had earlier rolled into
my Underwood. The sheet of paper I had been staring at, before
they came, for what seemed like nine years. (Like Bodhidharma staring at the wall of that cave in China.) Finally, the sheet of paper I
have no wish to return to. "On the other hand, who is to say that
there could not be, one day, a paradise on earth. Why shouldn't the
dead, the good dead, of course, all pop out of their graves and walk
the earth one day? They practically do it now, don't they?" There is
no reply. I can hear them breathing, exhaling their confusion and
disapproval, inhaling a new found patience and desire to save me
from myself. I chant to myself: OM. Trying to transport myself out
of the awkwardness I have created: OM. They look at me, oddly,
like a hungry cat eyeing a bird. We sit, the three of us, in spiritual
contemplation of the silence, knowing, in varying degrees, that God
is out there somewhere, either waiting to be found or late arriving.
154 The doorbell rings. Elijah, no doubt, has come to my rescue. I walk
to the door and there is no one there.
Hanging in the living room, next to the vestibule, there is a portrait of my grandfather, drawn in pastels, by a rather inadequate
and inexpensive artist. The portrait was copied from his photograph,
several years after his death, and had been intended as a happy
remembrance for the family, but neither the gay colours nor the
artist's singular aptitude for simplification had succeeded in hiding
the sadness in his dark, immigrant eyes. No doubt, an inherited sadness. The sadness of the race. A truthful sadness which I will never
know. Not even now. The eyes, in contrast to the artificial lines and
shadings of the face, seem almost alive, like in the old Hollywood B
movies where the painted eyes are removed so that the villain can
spy, unseen and invisible, upon any intruders. My grandfather stares
at me. He understandably, invisibly disapproves of my two evangelical shiksas. He blinks. When my mother died, eleven months ago, old
relatives with beady eyes, walking into the house to pay their respects,
forgetting to remove or even wipe their October-stained shoes, commented almost immediately upon how much I resembled my grandfather. My great aunt sprayed s's in my face and remembered her
elder brother to me. "Yankel, did you know, you are the sphitting
image of Matas when he wash a boy. The shame walk, the shame
build, even the eyes are the shame . . . You didn't know him when
he wash a boy, did you? No? A finer boy, a finer brother you
shouldn't want to know from. I'm telling you if you are half the man
he wash, one tenth the man, then you'll be bleshed, your family will
be bleshed, your children will be bleshed ..." Her lisp was unbearable, like a leaky faucet, but I stood patient, wet-faced, listening to
the stories of my grandfather's youth. She told me the happy stories.
I remember the others.
Almost as soon as I sit down the doorbell rings again. Several
times. The sound is familiar. I rush to the door — understanding how
Pavlov's dog must have felt — hoping to catch someone running
away, but there is no one in sight. I step out on the porch calling,
"Who's there? Is anybody there?" There is no answer, of course,
because there is no one there. When I return to my seat, my guests
are noticeably perturbed. Their enthusiastic twitches have developed
into nervous ticks. The younger girl holds her nose. My anxiety
about the probable faultiness of the doorbell or the possible presence
r55 of an unseen visitor is contagious. The younger girl sneezes. I think
that they are worried about me. They stare at my face, which has
grown white with the rushing back and forth, and say that I look
like I have seen a ghost. "Nonsense," I laugh, "there is no such
thing." They smile, but I can tell that they are uneasy. Their small
flat bottoms wiggle restlessly, uncomfortably. My mother's plastic
sofa cover quietly shrieks as the girls settle themselves. They recross
their legs on the other side, above the knee. The scuffed toes of their
shoes point to heaven. "We really have to get that bell fixed." They
both nod. They are now entirely in favour of such a reparation. The
day is made up of small mysteries which we somehow manage to
ignore or explain away. In turn, our lives are made up of larger
mysteries which are harder to explain. The girls regain their composure and the younger girl speaks, intently, devotedly, to her partner. "Beatrice, won't you please continue?" Beatrice continues. "If
you desire to be with the great crowd who will be standing before
God's throne, serving him day and night, in the post Armageddon
era, now is the time to prove to Jehovah that your service will — "
"Isn't that pronounced Jahweh. I was always taught — "
"Yes. Jehovah. It's the same thing . .. Now is the time to prove
that your service will be, not half-hearted, not lukewarm, not on and
off, but without let-up. It is not up to each of us to question or to
wonder why, it is up to each of us to serve." Both girls with the mention of the "great crowd" and the "post Armageddon era" become
much more animated. Their pale, patchy complexions become
coloured, red and bright like the sun at twilight. Beatrice, although
she is still reciting a speech, is ignited, absolutely fired by the consequences of what she is saying. Her dull green eyes widen, her drab
blond hair seems to sparkle as if she had been magically transported
into a Clairol commercial, her slight bosom heaves and her legs
uncross. She is leaning forward, speaking only to me, offering me,
alone, the ecstacy of divine awakening. "The love of Jesus is in me,"
she says, "and paradise is right before you, all you need do is hold
out your hand and embrace it. God loves you. He loves you so much
that he gave his only begotten son to the cross. Imagine the greatness
of that love, greater than all the love man has ever felt, in all his
centuries." Yes indeed. Something stirs inside me and, God knows,
it's not my soul. For a moment, for more than a moment, flat-chested
Beatrice begins to look good to me. I feel myself rising, almost out
of my old sagging chair, prepared to travel through purgatory,
through the inferno of hell, with my homely, aroused Beatrice. Now.
156 The time has come. But I do nothing. What can I do? Except swallow and sit quietly with my hands folded over my lap.
In my first year of College I fell in love with a girl — her name
was Rachel, I think — who eventually fell in love with someone
else. (Conveniently, I have forgotten his name and most of his face.)
Rachel and I shared an English class. "Thomas Hardy and D. H.
Lawrence — Apostles of Love?", and we spent hours together rummaging through WOMEN IN LOVE searching for womb images.
We berated Jude for his obscurity and his uncertainty. "Jude's
tragedy," Rachel said, "was his inability or reluctance to communicate his feelings. If, right from the beginning, he had only told Sue
that he loved her, if he had been confident and determined, then
surely things would have turned out better." I added that Sue had
some problems of her own. Rachel agreed, but still placed the responsibility with Jude. "What about class bigotry?" I asked. She agreed
again, but said that what Hardy was trying to say was that man must
shape his own destiny. "Men must make things happen!" she declared triumphantly. I disagreed. "Hardy is saying precisely the
opposite. He is saying that man cannot shape his own destiny. He
is saying that man is powerless when confronted with circumstances
that he can neither control nor understand. The tragedy — if you
want to call it that — is that each person is locked up inside his own
skin and the Jailkeeper has, out of spite or a twisted sense of humour,
laid down the key just beyond our reach. We are alone and helpless
in everything. In our desire, in our pain, in our faith, and finally in
our death. We accomplish nothing, except death." She laughed,
tossing her brown-haired head back, looking her prettiest when she
laughed, and said that I was an awful cynic. It was at that moment
that I thought, maybe, she liked me, even loved me. It was at that
moment that I thought, in her, I had stumbled across what I had
always been looking for. I carried that thought with me for several
months and though I never actually did anything about it, every
shrug of my shoulders, every twist of my head, every inflection of my
voice, were my own clever tricks of seduction. Everything was
planned ahead. Nothing, on my part, was spontaneous. It was all
done with the sole purpose of sweeping her off her feet, but unfortunately, I only succeeded in knocking myself flat on my face. One
spring day I saw her get into a red sportscar with a tall blond young
man, and as I watched them drive away, I believe that something
157 in her manner, something in her eyes, seemed to say to me, "Fool,
you missed your chance!"
Beatrice speaks louder, almost screaming into my ear, for I have
been distracted. She has been fighting the battle for my soul without
me. I have not been listening. The gospel has gone in one ear and
out the other. I apologize. She continues: "As it says in Collossians
3:23,24: 'Whatever you are doing, work at it whole-souled. Whole-
souled as to Jehovah, and not to men, for you know that it is from
Jehovah you will receive the due reward of the inheritance. Slave
for the master, Christ.' "
"Of course, that's true," I say. The girls are pleased. They believe
they have made some kind of impression on me. "But it is not easy."
"Yes we know that it is hard, but with determination, confidence
and faith one can accomplish anything. The harder the struggle, the
more gratifying the victory. After all, God helps those who help
"No you don't understand." And they don't and can't. Even their
best words, their most sincere, well-meaning words seem vulnerable
and hollow to me, vulnerable as balloons. Their best appeals, their
best twitches and gesticulations fall around me like blunt spears.
"Please try to see my position. It is not a question of difficulty or
struggle, you see, for some people, people like me, it is just not
My grandfather was a strong, handsome man. I am not a bit like
him. He loved his God so dearly, so completely that now I am
ashamed and envious. I have never been and will never be whole-
souled about anything, about God, or women, or my writing. He
came to Montreal from Kiev around the turn of the century. He left
Russia because he was a Jew and he came to Canada to find wealth,
freedom and religious tolerance. My grandmother's family came to
Canada from a small village in Rumania. They, too, came to escape
persecution and to find prosperity, but instead of finding prosperity,
my grandmother and grandfather found each other and they were
married in 1920. My grandfather fell in love with my grandmother
the very first time he saw her. "I knew," he used to say, "that I was
going to marry her. Of course, she didn't know any such thing, she
was afraid of me and who could blame her. Everytime she turned
around there I was, this small dark young man, dressed all in black
except for my white shoes — the ones I wore to synagogue — follow-
158 ing her about like a cocker spaniel. Finally, I went to see her father,
your great-grandfather, and I asked for permission to speak with his
daughter. Do you know what he did? He threw me out on my ear,
that's what he did. But I came back, every day, every single day, for
a month, until he realized that the only way I would leave him alone
was if he let me see his daughter. So for his own sake, I was allowed
to see her .. . Your grandmother was beautiful. She had long brown
hair that she pushed up on top of her head and held there with
hundreds of pins and berrettes. Her eyes were wide and brown and
she had a figure like an hour-glass ..." He would pause, for a moment, remembering, I suppose, that he was speaking to an eight-
year-old boy, or perhaps just remembering. "She didn't like me after
she met me either. She said that I annoyed her, she said that I was
conceited and, in those days, it's true, I was. There wasn't anything
I couldn't have, not if I wanted it bad enough. People were not going
to walk all over me. In Russia, I had seen my father and my grandfather beaten and spit on, and that was not going to happen to me.
Life was not going to pass me by, not if I could help it, and your
grandmother was not going to slip through my fingers. I waited for
her to fall in love with me and she did. When you are young there is
time to wait. . . and when you get older there is never enough time."
Zeyda, I am sorry for having let you down. I know how you must
feel. I think I know. I can see it in your eyes. In the yellow photographs. I am sorry for not being like you. For giving up so easily. But
it all comes to the same in the end, doesn't it? Whether you fight the
pain and the suffering or surrender and accept it. It all comes to the
same. No one ever wins, really.
My grandfather was almost rich. He owned a fruit store which
was three times the size of the only other store on the block, which
was another fruit store owned by a man named Steinberg. My
grandfather lost most of his money and the store when my father
contracted polio. Mr. Steinberg, incidentally, expanded. There were
other stories about how the money vanished. My grandmother, who
did not trust banks, kept all the money in an old cedar chest, in
brown and green paper bags, and my grandfather's two younger
brothers would borrow, and often forget to return, as much as they
needed. When times were bad it was the cedar chest that kept my
great uncles going. Gratitude, however, was never their best quality.
Today, family and cedar chests are forgotten as if the two were synon-
omous. My great uncles are busy cutting each other's throats. They
are both very close to being millionaires. (Rumour has it.) They
159 manufacture paper bags and their grandchildren drive red Porsches.
I, on the other hand, inherited the cedar chest. I only see my rich
relatives when someone dies, at which time they appear, looking
reasonably sympathetic, reminisce for five minutes and leave, waving a fleshy hand, always saying: "If there's anything you need." It
pleases me to think that they, like Claudius, are, or will some day,
be haunted by guilt. I hope, now, that their ears are burning. (I
suppose this means that I will have to squeeze a play out of my
abandoned typewriter, yet another task which I am not up to.) My
grandfather died in our house, lonely, betrayed and widowed. His
heart stopped beating. Early in the morning, from the bathroom, I
heard a single gasp. Not sad or angry or sonorous enough to make
up for a lifetime of disappointments, just a single gasp. I was too
young to understand. The human heart, like any machine or emotion, love not withstanding, can only endure so much — so much
irony and unfairness. That final beat of the heart must be the realization of the senselessness of repetition, of going on.
The furnace gasps and groans like an old man awakening. It is
doing its job, sensing some imperceptible, invisible coldness. Slowly
like tea dissolving in a glass, odd inexplicable noises filter through the
house. Things that go bump. It is only partly amusing. The roof
strains and creaks as if a heavy weight had been placed upon it. The
wind whistles through the eaves and bangs against the aluminum
siding. The glass in the windows rattles. Also, the doorbell rings every
fifteen minutes. We — Beatrice, Rosalind and I — are used to it. I
find the way they ignore trivial details attractive. It is just like a woman to look past things that don't really matter. Beatrice goes on
talking, using the ringing bell as a punctuation mark, while Rosalind
ties her shoes and pulls up her socks, folding them just above the
ankle. Beatrice and Rosalind have talked for two hours now and feel
certain that they are making some kind of progress. I warn them that
they are probably wasting their time — I have become fond, though
still confused by their strange zeal — seeing as how I am a circumcised Jew and will, for better or worse, stay that way. The Jehovah's
witnesses, they say, encompass all things, all traditions, all faiths.
Besides, they inform me, there are many cases of Jewish people
remaining Jewish and also devoting themselves to Christ and the
Watch Tower movement. I am curious. Will my long-lost prepuce
be refunded. They assure me that whatever I have lost will be
returned to me, within reason. "I'd like to see that," I say. Thank
160 Jehovah, they don't understand me. The sun has disappeared. The
blue sky has turned gray, noting, I guess, my changing mood. Summer never existed. It is late afternoon and I am hungry and drowsy
and restless and a little bit giddy. The girls, on the other hand, are
fresh. No thoughts of food, sleep or masturbation. (Oh to be young
and Christian!) I am beginning to feel that I am keeping them
unnecessarily, under false pretences. They like me and I am feeling
guilty. Beatrice said, laughing, that there is hope for me yet, and
Rosalind shyly whispered that I was a nice person, an unusual person. This whole thing, after all, is just an evasion for me. Perhaps I
should let them go, let them go on to other people who are a little
more lost and a little more willing to be found. However, there is no
way to be politely rid of them, so I wait and listen.
"One day," Rosalind says, "and that day is coming soon, I know
"Yes. Soon." Beatrice murmurs.
I hope so.
"... the glory of God's justice and mercy will be revealed. If only
we fill our lives with sacred service we can have the assurance of being among the happy crowd of Armageddon survivors who will
rejoice to continue such service day and night before God's throne
after the great tribulation is finished . . . Jesus will walk the earth
once again."
Downstairs there is a thump, perhaps not a loud thump, but a
thump nonetheless. Then the unmistakeable sound of footsteps. My
heart seems to slip a bit as if it was resituating in my chest. I think
someone has entered the house (at last, they have been lurking and
banging about for hours) either through the garage door (did I
forget to lock it?) or the back door or a loose window. Beatrice and
Rosalind did not hear anything. And I do not intend to frighten
them with something that might just be my imagination. (The
doorbell has been enough of an adjustment for them.) Anyway they
are too concerned with a general Armageddon to worry about a
local one. It could be burglary. The neighbours, around here, have
taken to stealing or borrowing anything that is not nailed down.
Clothespins, charcoal, rakes, bald tennis bells, suntan lotion, apples,
lawn chairs, but these are only and specifically outdoor capers. They
would not come into the house, I know that for a fact. Ever since my
mother died they have avoided this house as if it were haunted. I see
them walk by and avert their eyes and I know that the idea of death,
the proximity of death, frightens them, reminds them, I suppose, of
161 their own inevitable end. And as far away as they can physically stay
from the unsurprising, natural facts of death, the better. In the
movies the hero or heroine always gets up to investigate odd noises
or unusual occurrences, but I have no wish to know. It is not particularly fear, but more like laziness or an attempt at indifference which
holds me in my chair while possible strangers ransack the house. If
someone has intentions of taking our appliances and then my life, I
have no great desire to stop or even startle them. If the angel of death
has found his way in through my garage (stained only with oil and
mud, no trace of lamb's blood) then he will have to come and get
me, I am not going to him. If it is someone I have known, or will
know, at one time or another, then, no doubt, they will find me and
deliver the message which has brought them here at this time. Of
course I am acting irresponsibly. Like a child hiding from the bogey
man. I am letting my imagination get the best of me. Granted, these
noises are inexplicable, but must I always have explanations for
everything? As a child living in a decrepit apartment in the city I
stared each night, before sleep, into a black, ragged hole across from
my bed. Phantoms, witches and vampires creeped in and out of that
hole and creeped in and out of my sleeping and waking without
explanation. Often my mother would carry me from my bed and
let me sleep on the carpet in the living room, and with eyes half-
closed, grown-up legs stepping over me and Jack Parr talking on the
TV., I would feel safe. Burglars don't break into occupied houses in
broad daylight. Convicts don't generally escape to the suburbs. And
ghosts are only in the mind, they don't actually rattle chains and
pace back and forth in finished basements. So I tell myself, "Jake,"
(at times like this I call myself Jake) "It is nothing to worry about
and that is explanation enough."
"What a wonderful prospect is before us if we continue to render
sacred service to Jehovah in a whole-souled way. If we freely allow
God to enter into our lives and our hearts not as an intruder but as
a long-expected guest." Rosalind's voice is warm and quiet and, for
a time, it carries me away to a softer, safer place. It is an instinctive
voice, the voice little girls use to comfort dolls, the voice women use
to tuck children into bed. Rosalind's motherhood will be a wonderful
thing. Little witnesses, blanketed and cradled, wearing white booties
and sockettes and disposable diapers, fed on mashed spinach and
bible stories. The conception I am less sure of. "Free your imagination for a moment. Imagine all the wonderful possibilities. All our
dreams come true, all our hopes fulfilled. No more disease or war or
162 hatred or death. The good shall be awarded immortality and eternal
happiness and the dead shall rise up and walk the earth again.
Reborn. They will be rewarded for their service and their suffering.
All pains and wounds will be healed. All questions will be answered.
The dead will even be repayed, so to speak, for their death, Just
imagine it ... "
When there is no hope left you feel free and empty all at the same
time. They tell you that you must be practical, that you must face
the facts. The outlook is not good, not good at all. There is no use
pretending anymore. Life, then death catches up with you. And
waiting for rewards and justice, waiting for explanations is just time
spent waiting. In the hospital, waiting for my mother to die, I was
always angry. It seemed, then, that the anger would never subside.
A rage that I had never experienced before grew and spread inside
me like a malignancy. I hated everyone, the smug doctors, the loud
nurses and the stupid orderlies. I hated the screaming senile women
and the indifferent elevator operator — with his nightly joke to the
doctors about life being a series of ups and downs — and I hated
most of all the curious visitors. I saw them looking, the sideway
glances from the hall, the averted eyes, and the concealed expression
of fascination. What a shame, they whispered, how awful. Still, it
happens every day. Every single day. What can you do? Each time
I heard the cold tiled floor squeak I imagined that someone was
coming to look, to take notes, to have a sad story to take home with
them, and I would guard the door to my mother's room. All the
hatred and the anger I felt I would gather and put into a stare
which, usually, succeeded in discouraging the tactfully curious. There
were others who continued to stare. (An old female patient who constantly wandered the halls looking for her Daddy and Sidney asked
me why I was standing in the doorway. When I ignored her, she
pinched my arm and said, "Why are you hiding Sidney? You can't
hide him forever, it's only a matter of time until I find him, you
know?" As she walked away the strings of her hospital gown loosened,
revealing her flat, wrinkled bottom. Sensing the draught, she farted
nonchalantly. I remember laughing.) Visitors in hospitals cannot
help but stare into strange rooms. I know I have done it myself. I
don't know what we want or expect to see, but looking is a necessity,
even if it is the quickest, most regretted glance. Most glances are
regretted. At one point the three other beds in my mother's room
were empty. I was aware of five women who preceded my mother
163 into death, who survived my nightly visits, but who had vanished
like ghosts the next afternoon. Their empty beds were presided over
by young nurses with armfuls of white linen who tucked in corners
and replaced pillow cases, meticulously, with invisible effort. These
girls removed every trace of life or death, making it seem that undisturbed bed sheets were the supreme, most artistic accomplishment of
any hospital. It is the hospital's policy to put on a pretence of immortality. When someone dies, an inconspicuous bell rings which
only the staff can decipher, and the doors to each room are closed.
No one is permitted in the hall. The body, covered by a fresh white
sheet, is wheeled to the closest waiting elevator and is delivered to
the basement. A moment later everything is back to normal and it is
hard, for the average patient or visitor, to realize that anything at
all happened.
There is no possible repayment for death. All the sugar-coated
heavens and frilly paradises, all the consolation prizes, cannot begin
to compensate for the indisputable cruelty and indifference of God.
I imagine.
"Repayment. Bullshit. So to speak." I am passionate, for a change.
My bitterness has been appearing, disappearing and reappearing in
my mind all afternoon and finally it materializes in words. I would
like to do a little proselytizing, convincing of my own. "Where I
would like to know, where was the justice and the mercy in my
mother's death? I will never understand why she died, not if I live to
be a hundred. Why she died the way she did? Why I had to watch?
I prayed, you know, at the beginning, I prayed for her recovery and
then, when there was no hope left, I prayed for her to die. And my
prayers came to nothing. Covering my head, fasting, lighting candles,
crossing my fingers, God, these things we do for nothing."
"We didn't know." Beatrice says. Beatrice and Rosalind are surprised by the intensity and the suddenness of my outburst. They look
at each other. Uncomfortable, coughing and fidgeting, they wait for
me to continue. But I have already said too much. There is no sense
in burdening others. There is no sense in pity. Or in conversations.
Making my sorrow into some kind of cause or banner makes it only
more absurd. Words are vain. Inconsequential. Elusive. Vanishing
into space like the bubbles children blow into the air for a game.
After a long, awkward silence, Rosalind speaks: "God has many
ways of testing us, Jake, we must learn to accept his will."
164 "Still, that doesn't tell me why."
He did not have an answer either. All he wanted was forty-five
seconds of my time. Just forty-five seconds. Every Friday afternoon,
before the sun sets, young rabbinical students — orthodox Jews —
gather, along with an old Cantor's Bakery truck, at a local shopping
centre and attempt to herd groups of wayward Jews (like me) into
their truck so that we — the wayward Jews — can put on the long
neglected tephilim.
"Why?" I asked again.
"Because it's a mitzvah, a good deed, because you owe it to God."
He answered questions well for a person who was not prepared for
questions. You see, most people ignored him. Most young boys, his
own age, tripped him and threw his black hat in the mud.
"I don't owe God anything."
"You owe him your fife, don't you? He gives you life, doesn't he?"
"Granted. But he also takes it away. I figure that way we're even.
I don't owe him anything and vice versa."
"You are stubborn and bitter, I imagine."
"Just honest, I think."
"Bitterness is a mask for disappointment. Tell me, on what day
were you born?"
"What has that got to do with anything?"
"Are you going to fight with me or are you going to tell me?"
"Are you going to tell my fortune?"
I knew that he was trying to change the subject, but I was interested in his concern with me personally. When I told him that I was
born on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the holiest of Jewish
holidays, the day of Kol Nidre, he smiled, held a single lean finger
up in front of his eyes and said, "You see, underneath all your fancy
notions and ideas, there is a genuine holiness. Yes, I believe that I
saw that right away." My prophet. He knows all. He sees all.
Touched by the almighty hand of Jahweh. That accounted, I suppose, for both his arrogance and his persistence. "The Jewish soul,"
he went on, "is sometimes like an unpolished diamond, covered over
with dirt. It must be processed and cleansed and shaped so that its
purity and glory may shine through ..." Rabbinical platitudes and
cliches. He had learnt his craft well. The type of thing I have heard a
score of times before and since at weddings, bar mitzvahs and fun-
nerals. (Always followed by a joke of some sort and a meal of some
165 sort.) Still, I must confess I liked the fact that he could or thought
he could see through me and that what he saw, after all, was a pure
Jewish soul. Tell me of myself brother and we will talk of spiritual
things, of unworldly things, of irrelevant things. We will leave no
needle unthreaded, no nit unpicked. I argued, persisted, for argument's, for persistences' sake.
"We see things from different points of view. You see, in me, a
lost soul. And I see, in you, an untruthful soul. Your God can never
be my God, never again anyway."
He angered quickly, heating up like Moses faced with the Golden
Calf, and shook a stafflike finger in my face, but he said nothing.
This is what I wanted most of all, to anger him, to shock him — to
destroy his complacency, his security, his faith. To change his life, as
he, wanting me, just minutes before, to put on the tephilim, had
wanted to change mine. We will be brothers yet, if not in our faith,
then in our bitterness. But he calmed himself. He would have
patience with me — poor lost lamb that I was —■ the patience of old
put-upon Job.
"Of course," he explained, "there is only one God."
I suppose I should have expected that. Quite predictable. He
smiled. Scroll yellow teeth smiling, beardless, blemished face smiling,
six thousand years of wisdom and monotheism in his smiling eyes, his
sad smiling eyes. After all, he was toying with me. He was younger
than I was — a mere adolescent — but more convinced, more confident, more assured than I could ever be — me with all my fancy
notions, with my introduction to Zen Buddhism, with my university
"One God," I said, "for justice and mercy. One God for indifference and destruction. Perhaps both the same. Perhaps my friend,
you are right."
He winced at my backhanded concession. "God gives man free
choice. It is man who chooses to do evil, to sully himself."
More cliches and platitudes, pre- and post-dinner comments.
Dressed in an old black hat, a worn black suit and a partially concealed fraying, yellow scapular, clothes which have been handed
down from one generation to the next, he speaks with words that
have also been handed down, that are also worn and yellowing.
Remnants of a forgotten, phantom race, a disintegrating race — disintegrating in mindless, heartless forgetfulness. He wanted simply to
wrap me up in his words and his tephilim. He touched my arm and
I pulled away. The next time, he held my arm firmly, like a wrestler
166 applying a half-nelson, and said, "Come. Put on the tephilim. What
can it hurt? It'll only take a minute. It will be a mitzvah!" He
paused, then continued, almost reciting, "On the hand (he stroked
my left hand) as a memorial of His outstretched arm; upon the head
(he touched my head with his index finger) over against the brain
thereby teaching that the mind, whose seat is the brain, is to be subjected to His service. Blessed be He. Come." He stroked my cheek.
His hand smelled of onion and fish. His eyes were glazed and his
voice was hypnotic. He looked eagerly at the empty bakery truck
and said once again, "Come. You want to come. Come." I pulled
away again. This time completely. Inside I was on fire screaming.
"Let go. Let go of me you dirty smelly Jew. Let go. I could never be
like you. I never was like you. You are old and forgotten. You are a
liar, as all ghosts and phantoms are, as they must be. It can never be
again like it was, whether we like it or not and you will not trick me
into your illusion . . . Please let me go. You will not catch me up in
your dead wrappings, your dead ideas, your dead faith." He tried
again to hold my arm, but I was beyond his reach. As I walked
away, he called to me in a quiet, controlled voice. "You wish to
forget, but you can't. You can never forget who you are and what
you are. Never." The fire inside me lasted, as do all fires inside me,
only a moment, extinguishing as quickly as it had ignited. I realized
then that it was my lot to always know what I cannot be and to
never know what I can be. He was wrong, really, I am not trying to
forget, I am trying to remember.
Who ever broke into the house has either left or settled down for
the remainder of the afternoon. It is, as they often say in westerns,
too quiet. No good will come of this quiet, Kemosabi. The shadows,
the doorbell, the telephone, the furnace, the plumbing, the creaking
timbers and the shivering aluminum are all plotting something.
Waiting their opportunity. I must remain alert. Beatrice and Rosalind are crying, real tears for me. Oblivious to irony and metaphor,
they are concerned only with my sorrow and my bitterness. They
offer sympathy. A cure, a solution. Just like women to be preoccupied with concrete reality, when a terrible abstract danger
threatens. They regard me as yet another of Christ's lost, motherless
children. Suffer the little children, etc. I am, indeed, short and
round-faced (cute, so I have been told) and infantlike and they want
to hold me to their respectively ample and insufficient bosoms. I have
learned to separate, to distinguish love from pity in a woman's eyes
167 and although pity does not last, it has its momentary advantages. On
the whole, though, women are a mystery to me. They wander in and
out of my life like bad memories, never staying very long and never
offering very much in the way of spiritual or physical rewards. A
friend, whose success with women is surpassed only by his ignorance,
told me once that women are like buses, if you miss one, there'll be
another along any minute. (Unfortunately, my schedule has been
running a little behind lately.) "One hundred per cent confidence,
Jake," he explained, "that's all it is. If you just let them know who
the boss is, they'll treat you like a god-damned god, I mean it. Faith
in yourself, that's what it is. If you got faith and a good line then
you've got it made, man. Let me tell you, more ass than a toilet seat."
I am no longer angry. I have, in fact, misbehaved in front of my
guests and I apologize. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have bothered you
with my personal problems. We hardly know each other. Anyway, it
has nothing to do with what you came here to talk to me about. You
have to believe what you have to believe, I know that. And I — "
"Don't apologize, Jacob, please don't apologize." Rosalind's voice
is gentle and maternal. Beatrice blows her nose compassionately.
"We want to help you, we really do. Don't you see, Jacob, that we
must have faith. We cannot wrestle with God's will as if it were
something we could twist and shape so that it turns out the way we
want it to. Faith, Jacob, is the only way."
I would have given anything for it not to have turned out the way
it did ...
We — my sisters and I — watched and waited. My mother lay
quietly, opening her eyes now and again to see if we were there. We
did little things for her, but we were no longer sure that we were
helping. She lay helpless, hopeless upon the white antiseptic bed
sheets like Job upon the ashes. She wanted only to clear her throat.
"If only I could ..." The words were barely distinguishable. It had
become a task for her to speak and a much greater task for us to
hear, to comprehend. Life ends like this with no one hearing, no one
understanding. Her finger pointed to her throat. There was nothing
we could do except hide the blood she spat. A futile attempt to keep
everything white and hygenic and bloodless. The blood was everywhere. Endless, internal, eternal. We peeled off clumps of blood from
behind her lips and from her tongue and there was blood in her
phlegm and in her urine. As her face and fingertips became pallid,
168 almost transparent, showing the veins blue and visible, everything
around her became marked with blood. The bedsheets, the blankets,
the pillow case, unattached tissues, bits of cotton, disposable cups,
and my hands. (Blood is not indelible. A little water and soap clears
us of this stain.) That night, for some reason, I did not want to wash
my hands but I did, having no choice, for it is perhaps in the performance of these small habits that we are most alive. There was
nothing that we could do. We could only calm her and lie to her.
Stroke her forehead and kiss her cheek, like a mother comforting a
sick child. (Irony of ironies.) The doctor was in and out like a Jack-
in-the-box and uttered six words from the medical profession,
"Make her as comfortable as possible." Brilliant advise. Thank-you
doctor. She did not die in my arms as I wanted, as I feared. She died
alone in her sleep. The telephone rang with the news at six o'clock
in the morning. Answering the phone was unnecessary, we knew
what it was, we had expected it. The cord is cut, again. Life is a
succession of disentanglements and partings. She disappeared, not
like a shooting star or a television magician, but slowly and softly
like a dissolving spirit. Still dissolving.
My mother's life waned like the flame of a candle. Weakening.
Wax people, that's what we are, wax people, burning ourselves out.
Separate moulds, fading, forgotten impressions, flickering shadows on
the wall. Death is an end. Life, a continuance. In a way, a betrayal.
I go on so easily, so effortlessly. I forget so readily.
In sum a sad story girls. Sadder than most, but just one of many.
My memory is sharper, perhaps, than even I thought. But this is, all
things considered, a restful afternoon and I have allotted this time for
catching up on my memories. Or having my memories catch up to
"We want to help you, Jacob," Rosalind repeats, placing her hand
on my knee. Beatrice blows her nose again, even more compassionately.
"Is there anything that you want to talk to us about, Jacob, anything at all?" Beatrice says nasally.
They have become too serious. I like to regulate my own seriousness, turning it off and on like a faucet and they are too touched by
all of this. Their saddle shoes are off the carpet, poised, expecting
some enormous revelation. These girls have learned to live for, to wait
for breakthroughs and miracles and I have learned only that things
continue much the same way as always, and changes are minor and
169 for the worse. It is in their nature — young, Christian and fanatical
— to be serious, passionate and moved. It's not that I doubt their
sincerity, it's just that I wonder about their actual understanding of
my situation. They think me strange in my pain and unusual in my
confusion, when, in fact, it is their joy and certainty which is foreign.
Incomprehensible. Anachronistic. I could not and would not want
to make this clear to them. It is comforting, even for me, to know
that there are still people like Rosalind and Beatrice around. When
they leave, if I allow them to leave, they will be unchanged, I can
promise that. And I can be grateful for small mercies.
"People," Beatrice resumes, realizing that there is nothing I want
to talk about, but that there is still much that she wants to say to me,
"ask too many questions, that's the problem, it's part of the mistake
we all make: asking questions. Look at you, Jake, all you can do is
keep asking questions that you have no answers to, that there are
no answers to. Why this? Why that? Jake," she looks directly into
my eyes when she speaks and when she says my name it is as if she
has known me all my life. It's hard to understand why, but she cares.
Circumstances which would strike other people as distant and unimportant elicit the opposite reaction in Beatrice, she is moved to real,
honest-to-goodness sympathy and concern. Taking, like Jesus, the
cares of the world upon her. She has, in her, the makings of a misguided, misunderstood martyr. And that, above all else, invalidates
her sales pitch. "Why ask at all? You want to believe, I know you do,
otherwise you wouldn't have let us in or let us stay, otherwise you
wouldn't be as angry and as bitter as you are. Can't you see that you
are going against your own nature like a river that stops flowing or
a waterfall that stops falling." Rosalind excuses herself to the bathroom. I offer guidance, but she assures me that she will find it. She
makes two wrong turns and walks into the linen closet before she
happens upon the correct door. Smiling back at us, relieved and safe,
she enters and carefully locks the door behind her. "Ultimately, it is
a journey we must all make, from doubt to faith, from opposition to
acceptance. For it is in the acceptance of God that our doubts are
ended. The slate is wiped clean. Our sins, our regrets, our worldly
pre-occupations are all forgotten, erased. We are given a new chance
to start over, to begin again and it is only through God that anyone
can have such a chance. You can have it, Jake, if you would just
stop struggling, stop this crazy tug-of-war you're caught up in."
Rosalind rejoins us and asks Beatrice what happened. Beatrice nods.
Rosalind glances at me and, unable to nod, I shrug my shoulders. I
170 know it is, at best, a neutral gesture, but it is the most I can manage.
The plumbing grumbles like a primitive, vengeful God.
For seven days after my mother's death there was an endless,
handshaking parade of well-wishers, unknown relatives and insincere
bastards through the front door and out again. The doorbell rang
continuously. They came to pay their respects. Like debtors. They
came, I suppose, to wipe the slate clean. One more person they would
not have to think about. Death draws out relatives like vultures.
Those who couldn't make it to the house sent donations and cards
and food. And more food. (The Judaic cure-all is food. Life is hunger
and when you are no longer hungry, then you are dead.) And all
the time I remember expecting my mother to walk through the door,
apologize for the mistake, and politely get rid of all of them.
"Our deepest sympathies ..."
"What can we say?"
"What can we do?"
"Sorry. So sorry."
"So very sorry."
One thing I will say for them they certainly were sorry. But not
surprised. Aunt Matty said that she had seen the writing on the wall.
She had known, for a long time, that it was inevitable.
"She never smoked a cigarette in her life. Can you believe it? Well
how is anyone to know about these things." Mr. Morris added, holding his yellow index finger to his temple, flicking his ashes on the
carpet, "Not once did I see her smoke. Well what are you going to
do?" He shook his head incredulously.
Cousin Mildred whispered to her sister Florence that this was an old
story and then proceeded to update those gathered around her, like
girl scouts at a fireside chat, about imminent deaths in the family.
"Remember Sid, Jerry's brother-in-law, a big strapping man, a little
slow in the head, it's terrible, he's wasted away to nothing. Howard
and I went to visit him in the hospital the other night, God, it was
awful. His wife says that it's like he's disappearing right in front of
her eyes. It makes me shiver to talk about it. Howard says that he
used to weigh about two hundred pounds and now I'd be surprised
if he even weighed half that. I tell you it's killing everybody these
days and with all the research and all the brainy doctors nobody
knows why. A plague on us. Howard says it's got something to do
171 with the cells. You'd think by now they'd know why. The worst thing
is the way it eats you up ... oh ... I hate to even think about it."
Our rich relatives waved from the doorway and called out, "IF
there's anything, anything at all, you need, don't hesitate to call..."
Uncle Manny wanted to go out and get complete chicken dinners,
not just separate pieces, but complete chicken dinners with gravy
and french fries and cole slaw and bread and napkins and aluminum
trays and plastic forks and paper cups so that everyone could eat in
one motion, with no fuss. He wanted to know if there was a place
nearby where he could get complete chicken dinners and not separate
Mrs. Wooden smiled from her window. Her round face smirked
like a halloween pumpkin. For one night, she did not care who saw
her. Tonight, she had survived.
The Rabbi, dressed in a beige suit, wearing a beige, brown-
trimmed fedora, came to the house on the first afternoon of the shiva
to direct the Mourner's Prayer or Kaddish. (Although he had never
met my mother, such a first night appearance was included in his
fee.) For some, as of yet, unknown reason, he focused his attention
on me, asking me first if I knew the Kaddish. My reply was no. He
told me not to worry because, really, it was simple to learn. He then
asked me if I spoke or read Hebrew. Again I said no, qualifying my
answer by saying that I had forgotten almost everything that I had
learnt. He said, in that case, that I could read the phonetical spelling.
"Perhaps we could run through it once, just to see how it goes.
What do you say?" I was quiet. He spoke the strange words softly,
gently, pushing the words towards me like a salesman sure of his
product. "Yisgadal Ve'yiskadash Sh'mey Rabbo Be'ol'mo ..."
"I don't think that I want to say any prayers right now." It had
never occurred to me that I would be called upon to say anything.
Over the last two months I had prayed enough and it seemed that
mocking myself with still more prayers would not serve any useful
purpose. It had also never occurred to me that I would be obstinate,
for the hatred and the anger that I had felt in the hospital just days
before had mysteriously vanished, leaving me intact — a little relieved and a little unsure of how I was supposed to feel. Still the
Hebrew words would not come. As a small child, restless and fidgety,
in a subdued, silent synagogue I had laughed at the funny sounding
words. As a boy, studying for my bar mitzvah, the complicated pronunciations had frightened me. Now something inside of me was,
172 successfully, fighting back the words and whether I liked it or not,
there was nothing I, personally, could do.
"But you must. Let me explain. There will be a minyan, of which
you will be a part, and then, along with your father and your
mother's brothers, you will say the Kaddish. It has always been done
that way. You are not expected to say it alone, or, for that matter, to
be perfect. Just do the best you can."
"No." I shook my head slowly, almost sadly. "I'm sorry, I can't."
"But it's your duty ..." He pleaded with me. The simplicity of
the afternoon, of the procedure of sympathy and prayers, now in
question, he looked dazed like a stunned boxer. He removed his
jacket, unbuttoned the collar of his shirt, rolled up his sleeves and
pushed his hat back on his head. He leaned over me and moved his
lips in an exaggerated way. 'U'vchayey De'chol Baiss Yisroale
Ba'agolo Uvisman Koreev Ve'imroo Omaine. It's easy. Try."
"No, I won't."
"Ah ha, now I understand." He smiled wisely, looking like a man
who had solved a riddle. "Joseph, the living must go on living. We
cannot question the ways of the Lord. Life is hard, in time you will
learn that you cannot turn away from God when something goes
wrong. I know how you feel now, but you will get over it, you must.
Everyone does. Put your faith in God. Our God is all that we have."
His hands, as they squeezed mine, were cold and his eyes were indifferent. He had said these words before, in a similar situation and
I was frightened because I knew that what he said was true, in a
way perhaps that he did not mean it to be. The living do go on living, something like this — chatter and chicken dinners. I would get
over it. I would forget. Everyone does.
"There is no point in blaming God," he continued, "or in struggling with His will. We have no way of understanding his justice and
mercy. 'Canst thou by searching find out God? Canst thou find out
the Almighty unto perfection? It is as high as heaven; what canst
thou do? deeper than hell; what canst thou know?' " He was right.
Again, sadly, in a way that he, perhaps, could not understand. Sadly,
in a way perhaps that only I could understand.
"Now, repeat after me: 'Yisborach Ve'yishtabach, Ve'yispoar —' "
"Yisborach, Ve'yistabach, Ve'yispoar, Ve'yisrowmam, Ve'yisnasey
i73 "We can't go on like this all night Jonathan, please try. 'Yisborach, Ve'yistabach, Ve'yispoar, Veyisrowmam, Ve'yisnasey, Ve'-
yisadar, Ve'yisallay, Ve'yisallal, Sh'mey De'koodsho, Be'rich Hoo
9   99
"Yis bor ach Ve yis ta back Ve yis po ar . . . "
I repeated the words, pronouncing each syllable exactly. My heart
tightened, halted like a child about to utter his first forbidden word,
his first curse. My hands were clenched at my sides and my body
was rigid. I yielded only the words and those words he, having some
unexplainable strength, tugged out of me. I finished the Mourner's
Prayer praising God and cried thinking about my mother's death.
My sister asked me if anything was wrong and the Rabbi, standing
above me, his hands on my shoulders, my shoulders back against the
hard uncomfortable chair, said, "No, he'll be alright now."
"Jake, we have to be going, it's getting late."
"Yes, we must be leaving now."
On to other doorbells, no doubt. I suppose it is our opposite fates
to ring doorbells which no one will answer and to answer doorbells
which no one has rung. On to other non-believers or perhaps just
home to supper. After all, angels and missionaries have to eat too.
(My sisters and my father will be home soon expecting supper — the
supper which I have neglected to put in the oven. "You're always
forgetting something or other," they'll say, more frustrated than
good-humoured.) Outside the afternoon settles into a usual suburban
complacency. The sun occasionally comes out of hiding from behind
a white blanket of cloud, but quickly fades, making all of its appearances brief and theatrical like Macbeth's kingly apparitions.
Occasionally, the wind stirs and the sky darkens, threatening rain,
but the threat remains just a threat. It is naturally cold outside and
artificially warm — the furnace begins to groan again — inside. All
things considered it would have been a perfect day to sit and brood,
to reminisce, to stare at blank walls. The street is making preparations for twilight and eventual darkness. The giant streetlamps hum
and buzz from inside their silver-metal bodies, cars drive by with
their parking lights on, and mothers call their children in for supper.
The children hesitate and whine suspecting, correctly, that they will
not be allowed out again. Dogs return home voluntarily, cats are
corralled, and everything and everyone moves towards the day's final
meal. The house is hungry, too, grumbling like an empty stomach,
soon it will be filled with familiar people and its odd noises and
174 lonely mysteries will be buried under the din of television sets and
dishwashers and people re-telling the events of their day. The hunger
is general.
"Won't you stay for supper, Beatrice, Rosalind? Please? I would
really like both of you to stay. It's no trouble really. My family will
be home soon and I'd like you to meet them." The invitation is
reckless. First of all there is not enough supper, second what supper
there is, is cold, third I'm not sure I would like my family to meet
Beatrice and Rosalind. I'm not sure that I would know how to
explain. Perhaps I only want them to stay because I am afraid of the
hole their leaving will certainly create. Or reveal.
"No, we can't really, we must go. Roz?" They both rise at precisely the same time, their skirts stick to the plastic sofa-covers and
for a moment it looks as if the plastic will not let go of them, but
with an embarrassing squeak, they free themselves and walk to the
doorway. They are actually leaving. I follow behind and find, on
standing, that my left leg has fallen asleep. "It will be alright in a
minute," I say, stumbling and rubbing my thigh. "Something like
this always happens to me when I sit in that old chair. I don't think
it likes me."
"You shouldn't sit in it then," Rosalind suggests.
Beatrice stops in the vestibule and glances at the portrait of my
grandfather and asks who it is. "My grandfather. I'm supposed to
look just like him." I hold my head erect, turning it to one side and
then the other, allowing the girls to make their own comparison.
They are surprised and say that they never would have guessed.
"When he was younger, I have photographs of him when he was
"Jake, we really must be going." They pause, near the door, their
bodies gravitating towards the doorhandle, not knowing quite how
to leave, not knowing quite how to sum up their stay. A summary
will be expected. Required, no doubt. I do not envy them the task.
"The afternoon was spent in unsuccessful conversation. Prospect of
conversion or continuing interest, unlikely. Possibility of return in
the future, not recommended ..."
Approaching twilight, the loss of light, the shadows on the wall
bring out the feeling of desperation in me. I want to beg them to
stay and I don't know why. People like Rosalind and Beatrice do
not give up easily but their departure now, despite my invitation
that they stay, is a sign of their giving up on me and although I do
*75 not want to be changed, to be summarized as a victory, I do not
want to be abandoned either. I would just as soon leave the matter
open for discussion.
Rosalind shakes my hand firmly, as if she were never going to see
me again. Cold hands, warm bosom. By wanting too much, we can
miss out on a great deal. Beatrice holds out her hand for me to shake
and I hold it in mine for longer than I should. Awkwardly we gaze
into each other's eyes. More like strangers than lovers. If they leave
now it will be like they were never here at all. If they stay we may not
accomplish anything, but at least they will be here and you never
can tell ...
"Jacob, let go."
I release her hand and apologize for the last time. As they are
leaving Beatrice tells me that I should get the doorbell fixed. "It's
such a waste of time," she smiles "having to get up every two minutes
and run to the door for nothing."
"Yes, I know."
176 Notes on Contributors
Brian Bartlett lived all of his early life in New Brunswick but has been
in Montreal since 1975. A poetry chapbook, Cattail Week (Villeneuve),
was published this year. Other poems have appeared in such magazines
as Queen's Quarterly and The University of Windsor Review. Fiction is
published in The Fiddlehead, Quarry, The Atlantic Advocate, and Best
Canadian Short Stories: igy8 (Oberon). Two stories were listed in
Martha Foley's Best American Short Stories, 1973, and 1974. Brian was
born in 1953.
Stephen Boston has had fiction published in The Fiddlehead and Stories
from Atlantic Canada. He lives on Brentwood Bay in B.C.
Bruce Byfield is 20 years old and lives in Coquitlam, B.C. He runs seven
to ten miles a day, and studies English and Communications at Simon
Fraser University.
Terence Byrnes is a student in the Graduate Creative Writing program
at Concordia University in Montreal, studying with Clark Blaise. He is
from Verdun, Quebec.
Barry Dempster has recently received a Canada Council grant. His
stories are forthcoming in The Fiddlehead, The Dalhousie Review, The
Westerly Review, and The Texas Quarterly.
Levi Dronyk works as a technician at BCTV, writes record and concert
reviews for Monday Magazine, and takes 4th year fiction workshop at
the University of Victoria. He's been previously published in the 1976
and 1978 issues of From An Island. Levi was born in Two Hills, Alberta
in 1949.
Elin Elgaard was born in Denmark in 1950, and came to Calgary in
1971. In 1976, she obtained her degree in English Language and Literature, after going back and forth between Canada and the home university in Aarhus, Denmark for summer orals. She has had several stories
of her own published in Canadian and American literary magazines
177 since 1972. She now lives in Sackville, N.B. with her husband. The story
she has translated here, is by Tove Ditlevsen, a major Danish poet and
prose writer who committed suicide in 1976. Over three decades, six
collections of her stories and poems were published, drawing richly from
the milieu of Versterbro, the poor area of Copenhagen where she grew
Danny Feeney lives and writes in Kitchener, Ontario. He is eighteen
years old.
Mark Frutkin has appeared in such magazines as The Fiddlehead and
Canadian Forum. One book of poems, Opening Passages, appeared in
1977. Mark is from Wolf Lake, Quebec.
Paul Edmond Gotro, 26, attends the University of B.C. where he is
taking his degree in English and Creative Writing. His work has been
published in New: West Coast, event and The CBC Hornby Collection,
and his first book, Spider in the Sumac (Fiddlehead), will appear in
Sean Patrick Hearty was born in 1956 in Luanshya, Zambia. He is a
landed immigrant who received his education at Langara College and
the University of B.C. A resident of Vancouver, he writes poetry, music,
plays, and paints.
Kevin Irie was born and lives in Toronto, Ontario. He attended the University of Toronto where his first poetry acceptance was by a campus
periodical. This is his first national appearance.
Leslie Krueger studied political science at the University of B.C. and
edited The Ubyssey, 1974-75. She worked as a reporter for the Vancouver Sun, and later as a short story producer for CBC's As It Happens. She's been writing fiction for five years, has a novel finished, and
a story accepted by The Tamarack Review.
A. Labriola teaches drama in Toronto, but lives in Oshawa, Ontario
with his wife and two children. Poems have appeared in Canadian
Forum and Amazing Grace. He is working on a novel and a collection
of short stories.
Nicholas Mason-Browne is a Vancouver, B.C. poet.
Erin Moure, 23, will have her first book of poetry, Mechanisms of the
Lost Heart, published by House of Anansi in 1979. Other poems
have appeared in magazines like Canadian Forum, Waves, Branching
Out, and in the anthologies Storm Warning 2 and A Government Job
at Last. She lives in Vancouver.
178 Beth Powning, 29, lives in Sussex, N.B., and has had short stories published in The Antigonish Review, The Canadian Fiction Magazine,
Quarry, The Fiddlehead, Wascana Review, The Atlantic Advocate,
Anthology of N.B. Women Writers, and C.B.C. Anthology.
Barbara Rendall writes and lives in Lumsden, Saskatchewan.
Martin Reyto was born in Budapest in 1949 and emigrated to Canada
in 1956. He has since lived in Toronto, Halifax, Austria, Israel, and is
now back in Toronto again. His poems have appeared in The Fiddle-
head, Matrix, and Quarry.
Dave Richards has had three books published by Oberon Press: The
Coming of Winter (1974), Blood Ties (1976), and Dancers at Night
(1979). This excerpt is from his novel-in-progress. Dave is 27 years old
and lives in Newcastle, N.B.
David Sharpe is originally from Penticton, B.C., and was educated at
the University of B.C. and the University of Alberta. He has an M.A.
in English. Poems and stories have been accepted by event, Quarry,
Boreal, Waves, Green River Review, and The Canadian Fiction Magazine. David currently writes and gives readings in Toronto.
Robert Sherrin is currently completing his second novel on a Canada
Council grant and putting together a collection of short fiction. One
novel has already been published. Stories and poems have appeared in
Canadian Fiction Magazine, The Capilano Review, Quarry, and The
Canadian Short Fiction Anthology (Intermedia).
Donna E. Smyth has published short stories internationally and in
Canada. One of her plays, Susanna Moodie, is in the repertoire of Mermaid Theatre, Nova Scotia's touring theatre company. She is co-ordinating editor of Atlantis: A Woman's Studies Journal, and teaches English
and Creative Writing at Acadia University, Wolfville, N.S.
Betsy Struthers lives in the country near Peterborough, Ontario. She is
27 and has been writing seriously for just over a year. Her first two published poems have appeared in The Fiddlehead.
Joel Yanofsky was born in Montreal on September 26, 1955. His
B.A. in English Literature is from McGill University, 1977, and he is
currently studying for his M.A. in Creative Writing there with Bharati
Quotes from the books were selected for descriptive purposes.
Bowering, Marilyn; One Who Became Lost; Fiddlehead Poetry Books,
igy6; 72 pages. Other books include The Liberation of Newfoundland
(1973, out of print) and The Killing Room (Sono Nis). Three of these
poems have appeared in The Malahat Review, All Alone Stone, and
Branching Out. Marilyn Bowering was born in Winnipeg in 1949, but
she has lived most of her life in British Columbia, where she received
her B.A. and M.A. degrees from the University of Victoria. "Most of
the poems in this book reflect her residence in Greece and in the Queen
Charlotte Islands."
Di Cicco, Pier Giorgio, editor; Roman Candles; Hounslow Press, ig?8;
85 po-ges: An Anthology of Poems by Seventeen Italo-Canadian Poets.
Those under thirty included are: Saro d'Agostino, Alexandre L. Am-
primoz, Antonio Iacovino, Antonino Mazza, Mary di Michele, Mary
Melfi, Tony Pignataro, Ed Prato, Filippo Salvatore, Mike Zizis, Vin-
cenzo Albanese, and Pier himself. "... a collection of poems by Canadian poets of Italian birth or background. Their sixty-five poems are
expressive of the Italo-Canadian experience." The editor, Di Cicco, was
born in Arezzo, Italy in 1949, has published five collections of poetry,
and since 1976, has been Associate Editor of Books in Canada.
Parkas, Andre, and Ken Norris, editors; Montreal English Poetry of
the Seventies; Vehicule Press; 150 pages. Anthology of poems by 22
Montreal English poets, eight of whom are under thirty: Guy Birchard,
Andre Farkas, Laurence Hutchman, Bob McGee, Anne McLean,
Stephen Morrissey, Ken Norris, Marc Plourde. Three or more poems
from each author, comprehensive bibliographies and biographies. "However, through this anthology, it is hoped that something is made clear:
that there is a sacred geography of Montreal ... in this anthology its
contours, rhythms, invocations, and spirit are celebrated."
180 Gaysek, Fred; First Scratches No Blood Eye Down; Fiddlehead Poetry
Books, igjy; 40 pages. His first collection. Born in Canada in 1953, and
a student at York University in Toronto, "Fred Gaysek feels that the
poems written after the works of established writers are not mere imitations but contain his own statements and are his own poems."
Kishkan, Theresa; Arranging the Gallery; Fiddlehead Poetry Books,
igj6; 35 pages. Her first collection. Some of these poems appeared in
The Fiddlehead, Introductions from an Island, and Quarry. Currently
attending the University of Victoria on Vancouver Island, Theresa's
desire is "to write a truly West-coast poetry ... like Emily Carr, the
West coast has something very special that I would like to be able to
Leckner, Carol H.; Daisies on a Whale's Back; Fiddlehead Poetry
Books, igy6; 60 pages. Some of these poems appeared in Montreal Free
Poet, Salt, Intercourse, and Booster and Blaster. Selections from her
novel Rosie, have appeared in Canadian Fiction Magazine. Carol, 30,
studied Creative Writing at Sir George Williams University, and is
involved in various literary activities around the Montreal area. This
book consists of works between 1969 and 1973, and was originally
printed in 1974. "Carol H. Leckner's poems ... are personal statements
made by what may be termed a star witness (albeit a young star) possessing a vision of rock-core nature and human nature." {John Richmond, The Montreal Star)
Mcllwain, Sandy; And Between Us the Night; Fiddlehead Poetry
Books, 27 pages. Sandy Mcllwain is currently getting his M.F.A. in
Creative Writing in Vancouver, B.C.
Melfi, Mary; The Dance, The Cage, and the Horse; D Press, ig"j6; go
pages. Born in Italy, in 1951, Mary Melfi graduated from Loyola College and McGill University. Poems have appeared in Waves, Antigonish
Review, and other magazines. She was awarded Ontario Arts Council
Grants in 1974 and 1976.
West, David S.; Poems and Elegies igy2-igyy; Fiddlehead Poetry Books,
igy8; 72 pages. Also author of Franklin and McClintock (Intermedia,
1977). Some of these poems have appeared in Canadian Forum, CVII,
The Fiddlehead, and the University of Windsor Review.
is pleased to announce the fall publication
of a special issue on Quebec Women Writers.
It includes translated selections from "the
most important literary event of recent times
...LA BARRE DE JOUR,   nos  56/57,  entirety devoted to the writings of women."
- Emergency Librarian
Authors featured are Monique Bosco, Cecile
Cloutier, Nicole Brossard, Louky Bersianik,
France Theoret, Madelaine Gagnon, Genevieve
Amyot, and others.
Interview with Michele Lalonde.
An informative historical survey article of
women writers in Quebec, "Voices of Discovery
and Commitment."
Reviews.  And more.
Order now for this double issue:$4.00. Bulk
rates are available on request.
Available from:
Room of One's Own
1918 Waterloo St
Vancouver DC
V6R   3G6N
Interviews, Articles, Fiction, Poetry, Graphics, Reviews.
WAVES, Room 128, Founders College,
York University, 4700 Keele Street,
Downsview, Ontario, Canada,
M3J 1P3.
Cheque enclosed for (please check)
I—I  Nonsubscription: Please supply.
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. copies @ $2.00 per copy.
 years @ $5.00 per year.
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Back Issues — Vol. 1-5 — $30.00 a set.   Back Issues
Prism 2:4, Summer 1961
This issue features poetry of Alden Nowlan, David McFadden, Lionel
Kearns, Phyllis Webb and the then high school student, Roy Mac-
Skimming. Fiction includes work by Jacob Zilber, Henry Kreisel,
Alden Nowlan, Avis Worthington and Wayson S. Choy, whose story
later was selected for publication in The Best American Short Stories
of 1962. $4.50
Prism international 7:2, Autumn 1967
A mix of North American writers and Europeans. Fiction by Alden
Nowlan, Jack Matthews and Georg Britting. Poetry by Germans
Gunter Grass, Karl Krolow and Gottfried Benn, and Canadians Irving
Layton, Ralph Gustafson, Robert Kroetsch and Elizabeth Gourlay.
Paul Valery also appeared. $3.50
Prism international 10:3, Spring 1971
An issue featuring translations of many of Europe's leading writers.
Poetry by Bertolt Brecht, Theo Florin, Vincenzo Cardarelli, Pierre
Soupault, Stanislaw Jerzy Lee and Henrikas Nagys. Fiction by Gidtav
Meyrink and two Americans, Henry H. Roth and Kenneth Bernard.
Cover and graphics by Canadian poet and artist Pat Lane. $3.00
Prism international 14:2, Summer 1975
Poetry by George Bowering, John Ditsky, Robert Bringhurst, Rienzi
Crusz, Ian Slater and David Bissonette. Fiction by American Walter
Rimler, Jack Hodgins and John Carroll. $2.00
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ISSN 0032-8790


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