Thursday, June 9, 2011


Beef Ravioli. It’s quite possibly the most perfect food for today’s world. It’s all there. The beef provides the protein, the tomato sauce is there with the citric acid and fibre then the pasta brings the carbohydrates to the party, all packaged non-perishable in an aluminum can, ready to be warmed up in a quick minute and a half in the microwave. I cannot begin to tell you how well this fits into my life. I think I’ve eaten a canful for supper every night this week. Take a look in our battered old blue box, it’s full of those cans. See my skinny physique? It’s from portion controlled meal choices. See my boyish good looks? My baby-fine hair? There’s something to be said about all those preservatives in there. It’s perfect. Just perfect.

I love to eat my supper outside, on the front lawn of the house I rent with a couple other guys. There’s something about being this close to the ground, breathing the moist heat of transpiration with my plate on the grass in front of me as I sit crosslegged, shooing away ants and flies that would just love a bit of my meal. I can sit here proud and confident in the fact that no one else is doing this; having their supper on their front lawn. Everyone else in the neighbourhood looks at me and wonders before turning away, hoping their curiosity isn’t as conspicuous as it is. Some times, while I sit here by myself, I play a game I used to play with my sister, sounding out people’s license plates as they drove by. Like this Ford Escort wagon going by right now: 606 SQK. Sex, oh sex! Squeak! The funniest one I ever saw was OU812, that is until I found out it was the title of a Van Halen album. How very original. I was so let down from hanging around.

From this vantage point on my front lawn, i have a great view of the suburban neighbourhood I live in. You would think that nothing ever happens and you would be right, but it’s just a voyeuristic thrill to watch people trudge through the mundanity of their lives, in and out of their English Tudor backsplits, in and out of their Pontiac Montanas and Chevy Cavaliers. Besides, I’m taking a course in social work at Niagara and this gives me a lot of practical examples.
There, across the street, lives an older couple, not long ago having retired after fifty odd years of focus only to work just as feverishly on improving their property; that being their house, garden- whatnot. Everyday, even before I wake up, the man; still strong and fluid in his movement, will be working on something; a deck, a muskoka chair, a skylight, a fence, always adding on, always keeping on like a wasp at his nest. The woman too, is always out there, on her hands and knees picking weeds out of the lawn or garden, primming flowers, always keeping up the organic appearance of the house, always in the midst of some endless cycle of activity. I always feel guilty when I look out the window in the morning and find them on their self-imposed duty while I am here contemplating whether or not I should go back to sleep. What would happen to them if they should stop? Maybe they’ll die. Maybe they’ll fade away like Yoda after their life’s work is done.

Now there’s the scrape and ring of training wheels coming from down the sidewalk. It’s a little four year old accidental conception, waif thin and shaved head, riding his bike with a wagonful of toys tied to the back. I know he’s an ‘oops’ baby because although I see him everyday, I have no idea who his parents are. He’s out to see if his friends will come out to play with him. He darts headlong onto the street, oblivious to the possibility of oncoming traffic. There are no cars on the road this time, so his fate is still open but I’ll tell you right now, it’s only a matter of time before the screech, the thud and the hysterical wails for God, all too late. Seconds, months, years too late. But for now, precariously alive, he’s riding down the sidewalk looking for his friends. If they do come out, he will only allow his toys to be admired and not touched. He will then, after some delicious coaxing from the other kids, noisily delegate who will play with what and how the toy should be played with. If any kid transgresses, he will then snatch the toy away and return it to the wagon. Today however, his wheels scrape and ring along the sidewalk unanswered. I always think of an empty carton of milk in the fridge whenever I see him.
A thrumming intervention of noise; a lemon yellow Honda CRX with disco booming from a box somewhere deep inside it drives by. “SYKO” says its license plate (Sicko? Psycho?). From behind me, the front door of our house explodes open and Brandon, one of my housemates runs out into the street clad in nothing but a towel and soaking wet as a drowning victim. Jesus Christ. He is whistling and waving wildly for the CRX to stop, which it does, dramatically with screeching tires. Hollering over the disco music, Brandon gesticulates with one hand and holds the towel with another. Brandon looks like he may have been physically fit at one point, but now has grown a fratboy pudginess earned from too much beer and fast food. I wish I could throw a large rock at Brandon’s occipital lobe. I get up and take my dishes inside.

I put the dishes atop the mound of dishes that are already in the sink. I guess I’m going to have to wash them myself again. I’ll just do it, like Nike says. It’s not worth it to tell anyone off over. It’s not as if it would make any difference. I just don’t want to do it now. I take my ravioli can and bring it out to the blue box. I notice that it looks like a victim of domestic violence; a gaping crack along an entire side that makes the whole box sag open, barely able to hold all its contents. I have to remind the landlord to get us a new recycling box.
In the living room, there is John sitting on the couch a la Al Bundy, butt half off the brow of the cushion and legs open in wide crotch display. I sit next to him and see that he is watching baseball. A player I’ve never seen before on a team I’ve never heard of before is at bat. The bar at the bottom of the screen tells me that his average is .340.
“That’s pretty good!” I say.
Saying nothing, John flips the channel to a football game. I always have a caricature of John in my mind; of bloodshot, cathode-fatigued eyes clouded with cataracts staring into that spectrum and terminal whine that always comes to the tv screen after the station signs off. John flips the channel to a fabric softener commercial and stays there. I wonder if channel flipping is even a cortical reflex for John anymore.
I’m just starting my first semester at Niagara College, taking a psychology course that’s dominated my thinking lately. Like the start of any introductory course, they give you the nuts and bolts of whatever they are trying to teach you and with psychology, that’s “The Physiology of the Brain”. They feed me the parietal lobe, the motor cortex, the central fissure and I’m supposed to know where all these things are mapped out in your gourd. I know that the frontal lobe is “the seat of consciousness” and the hemispheres deal with different opposing yet interacting things, like a yin and yang in your head. The most fascinating things are the stories that the textbook tells me. Phineas Gage, for example, had his head impaled by a steel rod in an accident yet was still able to talk and walk, though his personality went from kind and gentle to mean and ornery from that moment on. This case introduced the study of the brain and how it effects behaviour and is basically the impetus of neurology. This is the kind of thing that attracted me to psychology in the first place. I sit in my room and crack the textbook open but there will be no schoolwork right now since Brandon’s disco express has once again started detonating against my walls. The neighbours always complain about the noise, but I’ve rationalized that he never plays it before 11 pm or before 7 am, though he certainly plays it LOUDLY at all hours in between. There’s not a thing anyone can do about it and the little shit knows it.
I wonder what my fish think of all this, being in the sound conductive universe of water that they live in. I get up from my desk to drop a few flakes into the aquarium and everyone stops what they are doing to go after the vittles. No one fights over it; everyone is pretty oblivious of each other, thrashing away at whatever they can get before it’s gone. When there’s no more food to be found, they all go back to their lives as they had been living them, whether it’s nipping at the bastard that swam too close to your eggs or hiding behind a rock to get away from that big angel that’s been tearing bits from your tail ever since you got dumped into this cesspool. That’s fish culture for you.
It’s an art setting up a fish tank. You have to have the right combination of fish; not too many bullies, nothing that makes too much of a mess. Some have to be algae eaters, chlorine has to be eliminated, water has to be the right temperature; all these variables have to be considered and dealt with. If you have the right balance, you can have the perfect little fish society. It’s taken a lot of work, but I think I’ve achieved something close to that. I often sit and watch them, all their colours, all their personalities, all their conflicts and interactions, for hours and hours.
Every fish, everyone plays a role, whether they choose that role or not, and they spend their whole day playing that role. Some of the living in there is great, like if you’re the biggest fish of them all, getting first dibs on the feeders without challenge, swooping them up in your maw in one singular suck while the smallfries look on in amazement. I might think that a slothful existence though. The fear everyone has for you is like a cushion of isolation and oblivion. You could become complacent, soft-headed even and still no one would challenge you, for fear. You could rot from within, die of too good a lifestyle. Not that I’d want to be one of those nerdy little fish that are always getting picked on, literally. I’ve put fish in there that I’ve found floating belly-up in the surface tension a day later, dead from nothing else but the pure stress of living in a competitive environment. Either that, or they end up simply torn to bits, dying in the terminal shock of pain, all because of their misfortunate size. In one way of looking at it, I might think that death would be better than living your life forever violating someone’s invisible boundaries and being chased into some cold corner inhabited only by some other territorial paranoiac. I think that must have been the reason why some of their kind once long ago decided to linger past the ebbing tide and risk life on land. No, I would not like to be a fish.

The street is infested with cars. They cluster together like a collection of locusts in every driveway and curbside. Everywhere is their exhaust, their sound. The world is mapped out for the convenience of automobiles. I walk down the street and remark this to myself. Everywhere i look, there are cars or things made for cars. I often take walks at night when the air is calm and kind, but this one has a dual purpose. I’ve just brought the garbage and our pitiful blue box to the curb to be emptied tomorrow and I have to get a bag of milk from the Avondale. I’ll just take my time and make it worth my while. All around, there is noise; the hiss of the highway, the thrum of a boom car, the clatter of a skateboard and occasionally the scuff of my shoes when my tired gait misjudges the improperties of the sidewalk. I walk quickly, too quickly and remind myself to slow down though I always subconsciously pickup the pace again a few steps later. A boom car (MLE XO- Emily Kiss and Hug?) flashes and hurriedly turns the corner with its tires yelping in pain, but it doesn’t see my admonishing stare at is blurs by too fast to stop should a baby wander out of its crib, onto the street and into its path. Houses I pass are half shrouded by trees and half illuminated by the glare of their porchlights. The wind is picking up, teasing the motion detectors and setting them off with swirling debris and swaying tree branches. Through the windows of some of the houses, I can see the blue flicker of television sets; cathode homefires. It doesn’t surprise me though, when I look a little deeper, that there’s usually no-one watching those sputtering lightshows. Look at me, what a creep I am, looking into other people’s houses and making sociological judgements. I really do deserve to be alone.
One house i see as i walk by has four blue recycling boxes full of throwaways, crowding the curb. Empty pop cans, especially. I stop and look the box over and find that there’s two bottles of Crown Royal in it, along with two bottles of Maria Christina. Cheese and macaroni, splitrun SI magazines, chicken nuggets, mayonnaise jars, Gatorade bottles, tied up bottles of the St. Catharines Standard... I pick up a couple crayon kindergarten pictures that had been blown astray by the wind and jam them safely back in the box. A paranoid motion detector lights up once again and I leave, not wanting to be seen going through someone else’s garbage.

I wake up the next morning and immediately crave coffee. This is a daily thing for me, is usually the first thing I think of in the morning- I don’t know why. I’m addicted. I know I am. So I dress, go pee, then head to the kitchen counter to do the four heaping scoops, 5 shakes of salt and 10 cold cups of water. It’s not all for me- everyone else will have a cup from this pot. It’s my responsibility that I gladly take on because I get something out of it. I get my fix. It’s another way that I take care of everybody here and by everybody, I include myself. When the percolator sighs to me that it is done, I take my first sip of the say and immediately my synapses fire up. My equilibrium makes the transfer from horizontal to vertical. I’m online. My day begins.

At the window, I see that last night’s wind has escalated to a gale force, bullying trees and toying with debris, of which there is a lot due to this morning being garbage pickup. The truck had gone by a while ago, but not before the wind had already upset tome cans and played straw hockey with their contents all over the street. The occasional car that drives by has to swerve to miss the cans that lunge at them from the curb. I love to watch the chaos a wind can create, but I notice that there is no one out there chasing them around, bringing them back. Doesn’t anyone notice? Maybe they don’t care. I go outside to collect ours and find clustered in the shrubs in our front lawn what seemed like all the empty blue boxes of every house on the street, clinging to the evergreen branches like refugees on a leaky barge. Our own junky blue box is not with them however and I look up and down the street to find nothing. I imagine that the wind had dealt it a final, merciful fatal blow and obliterated it to atoms. More than likely though, the garbage guy had taken it with all the other pieces of crap. I gather up all the boxes, except for one that I keep for myself and stack them to stand together against the harsh wind. Coming back in, I’m met by a barely awakened and dishevelled John, who had been watching me fromt he window.

“Where’d you get the blue box?” he asks.
“A whole lot of them were blown onto our yard so I just picked one of them up.”
“That’s stealin’, man.”
“As if anyone would miss one.”
I abandon breakfast to avoid this simple challenge to my own attempt at oblivion and retreat to my room.

Two weeks later, it’s recycling day again and no one has come to reclaim the blue box I’d procured. It’s sitting right there one my curb this morning full of pop cans and ravioli tins, ad flyers and macaroni boxes. I’m sitting waiting for my coffee to brew and suddenly there’s a knock at the door. A violent, repetitive bashing. Doesn’t anyone use the doorbell anymore or is the doorbell broken? Call the landlord.
When i answer the door there’s a man behind it, middle aged and slightly obese with a walrus moustache grown disproportionately on his face. I smile transparently and say hi.
“That’s my blue box.” He says flatly, pointing at the curb.
“Uh, no.” I laugh nervously. “I just bought it.”
“Fuckin’ liar. D’you think I’m stupid?”
I look at the man and hold my answer to his question to myself. I don’t know what to feel. He’s threatening me. He certainly looks ready to resort to violence over a recycling box. Do I feel threatened? Angry? Afraid? Why was he not this concerned two weeks ago when the wind plucked it off his curb and left it on mine. It doesn’t matter that I put the others back, and it wouldn’t matter to him if I told him that mine had been taken away. I should have kept them all. I should have smashed them all for trespassing in my bushes. I could have. I should have.
There is an ounce of sadness though, for this ignorant man that was too stupid to care until his possession went missing. His precious fucking recycling box. It didn’t matter where it was so long as he and everyone else knew that it was unquestionably his.
Poor stupid, lazy, angry man.
Nowhere did I feel apologetic, though. If anything, it was his own fault. For being so stupid, so lazy. Sad as he was, he evoked no sorrow in me. I felt like bouncing him out as if he were a bad drunk in a bar, sending him out tot eh street to forget what got him there and to wander eventually homeward.
“Take it.” I finally say, sounding eternally tired. “Fill it with shit for all I care.”
Before I realize what I had just said, the man goes to the box and dumps its contents onto the city grass. I let him do it, then turn away back into the house knowing full well that no one is going to clean up that mess but yours truly.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Coffee Salt

I wake up the next morning and immediately crave coffee. This is a daily thing for me, is usually the first thing I think of in the morning. It's actually the only thing that really gets me out of bed. I’m addicted. I know I am. So I dress, go pee, then head to the kitchen counter to do the four heaping scoops, 5 shakes of salt and 10 cold cups of water. It’s not all for me- everyone else will have a cup from this pot. It’s my responsibility that I gladly take on because I get something out of it. I get my fix. It’s another way that I take care of everybody here and by everybody, I include myself. When the percolator sighs to me that it is done, I take my first sip of the day and immediately my synapses fire up. My equilibrium makes the transfer from horizontal to vertical. I’m online. My day begins.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Geddy Behind Home Plate

The laundry basket and a glass of beer are in front of me. This is my Saturday routine. I’ve tossed the phone bill off the couch to the coffee table and the Blue Jays home opener is on the tv. There, Geddy Lee sits in the stands behind home plate, three rows up from ground level, a face in the crowd but prominent to me with his long bum-parted hair, schnozz and John Lennon sunglasses. I marvel at the fact that, rather than feeding the thousands, he’s one of the multitude, completely out of context.

I abandon watching the game, in audience of his audience within an audience.

Here is my rock god, watching a baseball game, eyeing the box for strikes and balls, talking to his neighbour, jolting to an incoming foul ball that really only sails harmlessly into a safety net. He eats a hot dog, his jaw chewing in great movements. With uncontrollable glee, I laugh when he eats an ice cream cone, dabbing his lips after each bite. He likes to sit with his left arm crossed over his lap while his right hand; his road weary, calloused hand, holds his chin and the side of his face. I phone my brother to tell him where Geddy is right now, live on television in real time. My brother isn’t interested. He hates baseball.

I wait for the producer to give the television audience a close up of Geddy, but it doesn’t happen. Even though he’s in plain view; an icon in their midsts, he remains just another face in the crowd. I want an in-stand interview. I want to hear his soft nasal tone predicting the prospect of the new season, just to solidify his context, justify his place in this crowd of baseball fans. It never comes. The entire game passes like most Blue Jays games do; uneventfully. Three hours later when the last strike is thrown, Geddy picks up his jacket, slides it over his shoulders and moves with the crowd for the exit. I don’t know who’s won or by what margin. As the end credits roll across the tv screen, I’m left with nothing to do but fold my cold, wrinkled laundry.
I know there’s another load waiting downstairs for me too. The day is late now and there’s supper to be made. I don’t want to do any more folding. So much time has passed me by.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Keeping House

Here is the satisfaction of clean things: crisp lines and sharp corners, the contrast of light and shadow, the soft filters of sheer curtains and the uniform flatness of newly laid carpet; the harmony of organized belongings. Dust might return, reclaiming the freshly polished surfaces, but for now the apartment is gleaming. Ruth sighs deeply with the fresh fatigue of completion. She’s satisfied that she’s brought the illusion of life back to the room, to the chrome and glass coffee table, the cream corduroy couch, the papas an chair, to the art deco lamps and the framed posters of pop photography. As she replaces the last of the candles to the black laminate entertainment center, there is the fragrance of wildflower in the lungful of air that she inhales to sigh out again. She stands and admires the tasteful arrangement of furniture and knick knacks, until a sudden explosion of profanity from a schizophrenic down on the street outside startles her. It sounds close by, as if on the balcony. She then sees that the patio door is open and the sounds of the street are coming in unfiltered. Realizing this, she ignores the shouting.

THUNK! Thunk! THUNK thunk!
A sudden percussive sound resonates through the plumbing and pulls her out of her thoughts.
Louis; Ruth’s husband of 22 years, is fixing the p-trap in the bathroom sink of the apartment, venting on the errant piping that stubbornly holds an angle that won’t allow the trap to hold a seal. Effluvial smells from the city sewer enter the bathroom whenever the tap would run.
“How is it?” Ruth asks Louis, who she finds laying hidden shoulders-up in the vanity cupboard. Louis stops suddenly, braking at the question. His body goes limp.
“Wish I’d never started.”
She could take that as an insult, and in a way that was how it was meant. It was Ruth, herself after all that had asked to have it fixed on behalf of the absent tenant. Even though the girl had not been in the apartment for months now; a missing person in the eyes of the law and media, she still deserves to have a drain pipe that works properly. Louis was superintendent of the apartment building and Ruth reminded him that the rent was still being paid and the woman could still come back one day. She knew that Louis would gripe and procrastinate, but the logic, the morality of it was too strong. He had no real choice, being the good man that he is. So there is he, sawing at the offending piece of plastic PVC piping, sawteeth grating upon the plumbing system, their sounds resonating throughout.

Ruth inspects the bedroom. There are living pictures on the wall, photos of someone’s family and friends, an old hawk winged Forgotten Rebels poster and a paint-by-numbers picture warping in its ill-matched frame. Teddy bears populate the quilted bedcover. The dresser and headboard are painted with a satin crib white. Ruth tries to open the dresser, but in doing so upsets the arsenal of makeup sitting on top. Numerous small glass bottles fall with an alarming clatter. Ruth tuts and huffs at herself as she sets the bottles upright again. She notices that there are colours in these tiny bottles that she would never have chosen for herself; gun metal grey, black, army green, although there is still the usual red, blush and rouge. It seems like an impossible amount of makeup for just one person, Ruth thinks, too wide a spectrum of personalities to adopt. She inspects the clothes in the dresser and can tell they need a good washing, getting musky from their extended disuse. It will have to be done later, without Louis’ daunting presence in the room. Her involvement with this missing person’s room seems to upset him, so these and other things like replacing spoiled food in the fridge, paying the festering bills, changing the sheets on the bed, have all been done behind Louis’ back. All to make sure that the girl who lives here can come home and pick up right where she left off, with as little to reacquaint herself as possible. Ruth closes the drawer, more carefully now. She slides open the closet, looking in and finding more strangers, black clothes that would never have fit Ruth even in her slim and trim days long past. Lace and leopard, silk and spandex. They bear boldness that Ruth is embarrassed to behold; blaspheming and swearing, purring and sleeping. There is a shoebox atop the suitcase on the closet floor. She lifts it up and finds it heavy. Although she realizes it’s not her place to look, her curiosity pushes through. She takes the box to the bed and opens it, finding it full of pictures without frames or envelopes, collected naked over time. There are photos of the missing tenant as a young schoolgirl in stiff, compliant poses, baring fake Sunday smiles. Another is of a group of young friends joined arm and arm amidst a backdrop of trees. The girl is not immediately to be found in this picture but she is there, blending into the group seamlessly. The picture was taken at the very second mirth was bursting from this young group, and the girl is there, full of animation, in the moment and participating in it.

When the girl moved into the apartment, just a year or so ago, her face looked older- obviously because of years, but it seemed as if those years had stolen more than youth from her face. Louis would sometimes call her “the druggie in room 304” to stand her out from the ones in 110 and 509 and all the others. Ruth was never convinced of any such thing. The girl would always pay her rent, however late at times, and there was never any complaint of nor by her. She used to pass Ruth in the hallways, just a whisper of a person, a ghost even then, with eyes downcast and arms closed tight over her breast. Sometimes she would meet Ruth at the door to pay the rent, with a timidity that would always make each of those minute encounters too painfully long though uncomfortably brief. Shy to a fault herself, Ruth could never bring herself to engage the girl and would let her quietly pay and leave, although every time, Ruth felt there were things left unsaid. At least that is what Ruth feels now in the girl’s extended and mysterious absence.

In the shoebox, Ruth finds a medal for the Niagara South Girl’s Soccer League, patches for rowing and orienteering, birthday cards from friends and family. There is a section of newspaper folded at the bottom of the box. Feb. 10th, 2004, The Niagara Falls Review, the Local News section. Ruth opens the paper and reads, curious of stories from afar, obsolete and irrelevant or not. The lead article is about a boy that survived cancer by prayer, love and pluckiness. The boy was offered a trip to Disneyland, as terminally ill children often would be, yet he refused it, insisting on keeping it in waiting for his return to health. When the cancer finally crept beaten into remission, he went to California and enjoyed the trip as any other child would.

In the washroom, Louis has finally righted the angle of the pipes and applies a noxious glue to seal the junctions shut. Soon that glue will dry and Ruth will be happy to know that sewer smells will no longer invade the room.
“There!” he declares. Ruth comes into the room to investigate.
“Can we try it yet?” she asks.
“No, no. Let the glue dry first.”
He notices that she sees pieces of pipe on the floor; he will have to take them out before he leaves.
“Is it the glue that smells so much?”
“Awful stuff.”
“Well, it works and if that’s what it takes...” Louis stops talking when he discovers that Ruth has already disappeared back into the bedroom. Gawking at those god-damn pictures on the wall again. Ever since the new carpets had been laid, she’d been coming here, more and more often, becoming more and more bold. She had been caring for the missing girl’s affairs, saving mail, dusting the furniture. Deadweight expenses were thrown out, like internet and cable. She’d succeeded in holding off the corporation from evicting her for truant rent, somehow getting the women’s shelter to foot the bill, so the suits are quiet now receiving their pound of flesh alive or dead. How would you evict a ghost anyway? He’d told Ruth a few times already she would never be thanked. The girl was a crackhead, maybe even a whore. Ruth would only sigh with that tired look of resignation. There is the deeper constitution of human dignity to abide by. He’d never been able to argue because of this. He knows that Ruth is infinitely right and her strength lies therein.

Louis tests the water in the bathroom sink. From the gush there comes only the fresh scent of chlorinated water. Clean air. He checks beneath for leaks. None. He knows he’s done well. He is satisfied and knows he can leave. Another job done, on to the next.
“Well it’s alright now.” he says loudly, hoping to jolt Ruth out of her reverie.
“It works?” she asks, nearly running into Louis at the door.
“Yep. Good seal. I’ll try it again tomorrow to make sure it holds.”
“Good.” says Ruth as Louis sweeps up the plastic rinds from his sawing and throws them into the trash basket. He takes up the garbage bag and Ruth touches his shoulder lovingly as he passes by.
“I’ll go down and make lunch.” Louis says. “Ham alright?”
“That’ll be fine.”
As Louis opens the door, Ruth catches sight of a pubescent boy with peroxide hair and baggy pants passing by into the hallway. Louis double-takes as he recognizes the boy as a neighbourhood vandal that he’d banished from the building. Someone keeps leaving the security door open.
“How did you get in here? I told you to stay the hell out!”
“I’m just visiting my friend.” The boy tries to sound convincing and brave but accomplishes neither.
“”I don’t care if you’re selling life insurance, you ain’t allowed here no more so get lost!”
“Holy shit, old man!”
“That’s right! Get!”

Ruth goes back to her reading in the bedroom. In the folds of the newspaper, there is a story of an incest that happened years before the paper’s report. The details were coming to light in a criminal court case, ringing from throughout the victim’s puberty and adolescence, a long sad history of violations, oppression and perversions of power. It had set the victim on a tangent of chemical consolation and struggles with addiction. There was petty theft, assault and battery, weapons charges, prostitution pimped by heroin. The father was found guilty and sent to jail, though the damage had already been done. She sees the name of the victim and her find leaves her breathless. She sees the name and looks around the room, wishing someone could be there. She feels emotion start to well up in her and she starts to cry. A wretched, self- loathing cry. She decides hastily that she must put everything back. Papers go back in their box and the box goes back in its closet, where it belongs, closet door shut tight. All the while, she apologizes...

The phone is ringing. The phone in the apartment is ringing. Two rings, three, four, then five...

From outside, through the patio door screen, comes the sound of a man trying to cough, barking like a Pekingese with throat cancer. A truck’s engine is whining, clutches changing gears. The voice mail is now likely picking up a message in some faraway computer in a Bell Canada office. Does this message radiate to the police, indicating a location? A conspicuous voice? Will they sweep in again with their legal license, their dust and their gloves to try to excavate her memory for information once again? Are there alarms going off anywhere in the world? Who was it that called? Another telephone solicitor pitching another charity into this void? The mother? A boyfriend? The girl herself?
Ruth could not have picked up that phone. She knew it would have been wrong. It would have meant knowing. Knowing could have completed the circle and started the cold process of closure. She would then have to surrender the beautiful life of this apartment to all those finally concerned, watch it spread out and dissipate. The family would cast her belongings into lots, the police would write down their numbers and the corporation would finally be able to rent out their empty one-bedroom apartment to a steadier host. The room would become white and empty, tightly echoing the noises from outside with nothing to stop them.

The wind is picking up and cooling the room off quickly. Ruth goes to the balcony door and slides it shut to try and preserve the warmth. She then leaves the apartment in a hurry, forgetting to lock the door as she does.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


I knew something was happening when my smartphone started chirping like crazy. About five million people were messaging me: “Marty! Did you hear about Kerry? Did you hear about Kerry?”. I followed a link to a news article someone posted and when I read what it said, I laughed. He was dead. They’d found his body at the bottom of the Falls, trapped in the rocks. I read the article and laughed. Not because I didn’t think it was sad. Everyone around me was freaking out, but I had to laugh. A week ago, he had disappeared after he’d gone nightfishing with his dad. The boat capsized but only his dad managed to swim to shore. At least that’s the official story. The truth is he had been smuggling cigarettes over the border from New York with his dad that night. He told us the day before that he’d be doing this and was all proud at how much money he would be making. His father did this all the time and made a wad of cash from it. His dad was smart that way. Tax free money, don’t have to do much more than you normally would if you were gone fishing. So when I found out that he was missing, I thought, oh man, something happened. You should have heard Kerry’s mom screaming at his dad that day. Christ, if you were down the street and in your basement, you would have heard her. You can’t even look at him now; Kerry’s dad. He looks like death himself and now he has to bury the son that he, himself had lost, in the most complete, profound and real way.

For Kerry though, I had to laugh. I always looked up to him. He was 17; two years older than me, but he always seemed a thousand years ahead. I just marvelled at some of the things he would do. He would throw himself into any situation without any fear and just DO IT! I never saw anyone skateboard like him; he was completely reckless in his endless search for the most air, the greatest revolutions, the craziest stunt. Needless to say he’d broken more bones than anyone else I had ever seen too. 2 or 3 times a year he would be in one form of cast or traction or both. It was a comical routine to ride up to the bridge where we’d hang out to swim and see him in bandages. So now he is dead. And I laugh. Is this hubris? Am I feeling schadenfreude? I know these words. I know what they mean. Yeah, I think he tempted fate and yeah, I’m laughing at it. I guess I’m congratulating him. He beat the odds for so long, and now he’s gone to the place where fate is manufactured, his body held in state where so many daredevils have kept their wake. That’s why I laugh. Hubris goes with Schadenfreude and queues the next round of pride. I think about his body trapped in the rocks at the bottom of the Falls. The word always was that if a body goes over the Falls, the worst place he could end up was in the rocks. You can’t get close to it, with water the weight of a pickup truck falling down on you every second, the rocks so sharp and jagged. It’s like the Niagara is holding on to him like he’s a prize or something, like a dog that will nip at your hand if you reach for its food bowl. You can slap a dog’s nose but you can’t fight Niagara Falls.

My room is stifling hot. We’re piss poor and can’t afford air conditioning. I turn on the fan in my room and open up my laptop to check on Kerry's FB wall. Already the online tributes are adding up. “You were the best, Kerry, man. We’re gonna miss you!” It's weird because they speak to him like he could read them from where he was, sitting at some ethereal portal, checking up on his Mafia Wars. But again, maybe this is the afterlife. Maybe this is Kerry's immortality. I imagine everyone's thoughts about him becoming the new ‘him’, like we’re keeping him alive this way. Maybe that’s all we really are. No one notices us unless we do something, no one see us unless we move or make a sound. That`s it. We’re nothing but our impressions. I’m not talking about the body being a vehicle for the soul and all that crap. I don’t believe in the soul. All I’m saying is that the sum of our lives comes from what we do with them and how people take notice of what we do. If you don’t do nothing, you are nothing. So you should live out loud like Kerry did. Leave a mark, leave a bruise, carve a niche or your life is all for naught. Leave them something to talk about. Pretty high thinking, eh? If I were to tell the others something like this, they would think I’m insane. Hmm. Maybe I should say something then. That would really fuck them up. Hmm.

I come out of my room, and I see my stepdad Ralph asleep on the couch, in the oblivious, toxic sleep of the drunkard, snoring at a greater rest than any man so ornery and angry should ever deserve. How does he rest so deeply when he does nothing to tire himself? The Drink robs him of his ambition. A year ago, he was laid off from his job at the steel mill and has been living on assistance ever since, claiming that he makes more money that way than getting one of the piddly low end jobs that exist in the city. And it’s true. What else is out there? We live on the outskirts of a tourist town. Can I see Ralph bussing tables at the Sheraton Fallsview? Sweeping deer droppings off the walkway at Marineland? I can’t see him doing anything else but what he is doing right now; moulding his ass into the sofa. It’s all he ever does. I hate him. I jump down from the top of the stairs, landing on the floor with a delicious tympanic boom. Ralph wakes with such a loud snort that you could swear to god he exaggerated it for optimum effect.
“Fuck!” he screams, too stupid and senseless to even find out what had awakened him.
“Time to go to work now, Ralphie.” I say. “Recess is over.”
“Little faggot! Why don’t you just fuck off!” he says, zeroing in on my voice.
“Why don’t you get a job first, fat ass?” I say, taking the pillow from under his greasy head and throwing it across the room before I leave the house. Outside, up above and behind me, out of the corner of my eye, I can see Sarah from next door looking down at me from her bedroom window to see what all the noise was. I flip her a bird and ride away, smiling from ear to ear.

You can always see the Niagara River behind the houses while I ride into town. It’s like an expanse of ocean, like the stars, like the edge of the world. I always think about that current, know about it, was warned about it by my parents. They told me how it carried people away like a lecherous monster, held you in a reptilian death roll and drowned you while ripping you to shreds. Every Friday night in the summer, fireworks would go off over the Falls further down river. Their concussion beats on your windows all the time. We make it a ritual to go out and watch it from Kingsbridge Park, me and my friends. That’s all we have to do. Then when the show is over, we sit and watch the tourists drive by, looking as lazy and malevolent as possible, like lions contemplating the hunt. They pass by and never notice us, but our thoughts still damage them somehow. That’s what I like to believe anyway.
I head out to the bridge, the one going over Chippawa Creek, where I knew I would find everyone. All the kids in town swim off this bridge, even though the city has tried to get us not to. Generations of us have swum here and they think they’re going to stop us? We will always be here, as long as the bridge is here and as long as the Creek is here. You would think the Creek would flow into the Niagara River; small river into big river, but no. The Creek actually gets sucked into a service canal to feed the turbines at the power station a few miles away, drawing water from the Niagara rather than flowing into it; opposite to what nature and the laws of physics would dictate. It’s easy to do with this river apparently. It’s so slow and sluggish. Someone actually once called it the world’s longest pond. It’s just when the canal has to shut down for maintenance that things get crazy. No longer feeding the canal, the flow turns back to its natural direction, as if given the chance to exhale after months of holding its breath. A zealous rush of gravity takes the water down to its primordial mouth and pushes a great plume of silt out into the larger, faster moving Niagara. It’s pretty interesting to watch and I‘ve been lucky enough to see it happen a few times The mood of the river changes almost right before your eyes; its flow more aggressive. Then you notice it; that the direction of the water has changed. This is when you have to avoid swimming in it because the current is so weird and strong. I’ve seen Kerry jump into that briny rush, though. He was a strong swimmer. He was able to tread it for a good while, but at that time, it was like he didn’t move at all, swimming in place, swimming still. Finally, he got tired have to let himself drift off, swimming back to shore but coming out a good distance away. I gauged how close to the merge with the river he was as he drifted ever closer to it. He wasn’t dangerously close but when he finally climbed out, I looked at the Niagara in the distance, looking empty and waiting, so grey and far away. You could hear its constant hiss; its rapids sounding like breath.

I ride up to the bridge and it does look like there was an empty space there without Kerry. Braydon is here. Jason is here, Amanda and Kendra. The girls look so sexy in that delicious wet gloss when they climb out of the water, the way their bathing suits cling to their bodies. One day I will do one of them, or maybe even both of them. Everyone looks down and depressed. You could say it’s so quiet without Kerry, but it’s more that nobody wants to talk about him, even though we’re all thinking about him. I look at their long faces and they piss me off. I want to dash them out.
“Did you guys hear about Kerry? They found his body at the bottom off the Falls, eh?”
Amanda looks up, looking like a dog that’s about to bite. I laugh at that look.
“What the hell are you laughing about?” she asks.
“I’m laughing at how weird it is that you’re all sitting here sulking. He’s gone. Deal with it.”
“You’re an asshole. That’s no way to talk about him.”
“What’s wrong with how I’m talking? He was a great guy!”
I climb up on the railing of the bridge and stand up with my back to the water, the open expanse of space, my ass to the world. I stand up straight and don’t move for a good long while. Then I jump. I go so high and push so hard that I flip backwards, like I plan to do, though I do it too hard and I hit the water halfway into another revolution, slapping my back as I go in. It hurts like hell and I yell into the murky water where no one can hear me. I use up my air down there and when I come up to the surface, I gasp and sputter like an idiot. Then I hear the laughter and the applause. I look up at everyone and they’re all laughing and clapping as if Kerry had never died.


There’s a hat that I like hanging behind the counter at the corner store. I don’t have any money but that doesn’t meant I can’t have it. It doesn’t take money. I don’t know why I like it so much. Maybe it’s the design of it. But every time I go into the store buying a popsicle or whatever, it’s there, calling to me.
I think it belongs to me. I can see it on my bedpost, taking its rightful place as my hat. It definitely does not belong sitting in a store, threatened by the precarious possibility of being bought by someone less deserving. That should not and will not happen. I ask Braydon to come with me to the store. He has no idea what I have in mind because I didn’t even let on, but he is a good follower and he would love to help me pull something like this off. I tell him to ask where the pencils were and then pretend he can’t see them so he can get the clerk to go out to the aisle. Bray smiles as I tell him this. He knows exactly what’s up and I know he’ll totally go along with it. We walk in and he does what I ask him to do in total faith, looking confused and lost to perfection. When the clerk; a little Chinese man, takes the bait and goes over to the aisle to show Bray where the lost pencils are, I scoop up a chocolate bar to reward Bray, then creep up behind the counter and snatch my prize as fluidly and soundlessly as I can. I’m beelining it for the door when I hear the shout:
When I hear that, I laugh out loud- possibly the loudest laugh I’ve ever made in my life; almost a scream and break into a run. I throw open the doors with a crash and run like crazy. I jump over obstacles like garbage bags and fire hydrants, then run into the co-op where the houses are all within feet of each other. I look back and see Braydon trying to keep up with me, and there’s no little chinaman running with him. We’re in the clear, we’ve gotten away. That’s when I go all parkour. I climb over fences as fast as I can and before I even think of it, I’m swinging on the bars of swingsets in people’s backyards, leaping over fishponds, somersaulting over lawns, popping up and scaling another fence, frightening another renter with my acrobatic trespassing. I’ve got the hat in my hand and the biggest smile on my face. I then run between two houses that are just four feet apart and make like I seen once in a video online. I jump up and my foot catches the brick on one side and use that to step up even higher. My other foot does the same and before I know it, I’m halfway up the building. The eavestrough is even within reach, the sky looks closer than ever and I am amazed at what I’ve been able to accomplish. I make one last push and get some beautiful air, but while I’m up there, I forget what I’m doing. I can’t really explain it. I guess I’m so involved in experiencing the high that I totally disown the next step. I float, lose momentum, fall, and when I hit the pavement, it’s with a sickening crush on my feet and then a sharp crack of my skull. That’s the last thing I know; that crack of my skull hitting the pavement when I land on the hard, unforgiving ground.

When I wake up, I’m surrounded by paramedics and Braydon is standing over me telling me how amazing I was before I fell. I smile, but I’m bleeding something fierce from my head, which hurts like nothing I’d ever felt before, just like my foot; throbbing and angry. I’m gurneyed into an ambulance and brought to Greater Niagara General where they x-ray me and stitch me up. I’m told I was lucky not to brain myself, but I was going home with a concussion and a broken right foot. Nothing is said about my shoplifting. My mom came after a few hours and stayed with me, but left me overnight so they could watch me. A nurse wakes me up every half hour through the night and the next day I feel like hell. Mom picks me up and as we’re just leaving the parking lot, I notice a weird street sign; Temperance Avenue. What a funny name to be near a hospital, I think. I wonder why it all of a sudden jumps out at me and makes me notice. It means restraining yourself; Temperance. I don’t think so. The hat is in my hand. I can’t wear it ‘cause I’m wrapped in bandages but it’s going to go proudly on my bedpost so it can remind me of the crazy way I came to make it mine.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


The headlights of Derek’s Toyota Tercel violate the darkness outside, illuminating a curving road and harvested cornfields. The trees that we can see are skeletal, stripped of mystery with our tungsten bleach. I’m sitting in the backseat, searching for anonymous things beyond the reach of our light, though these things don’t want disclosure. Guilty secrets, they retreat into deeper sanctuaries of night.

Marie came up with the idea of going to the site of a recent murder. A goth slum exercise. There is Dark Wave music coming off soundtrack from the car radio: Heathen (A Thousand Thoughts) by Android Lust. We aren’t Goth. The contents of this car, Marie, Derek, Hab and I aren’t Goth. There are no covens and foggy heaths, no wampyre jewellery, no pagan dabblings. We’re real, normal with a touch of skater skid and a smattering of art student or whatever. It’s 11:53. Derek is driving and Marie is steering verbally. Hab and I are in the backseat, asking Marie questions. Her blue moon face turns to us occasionally, lit up aquamarine by the dashboard lights. I can see Derek’s fibrous goatee and sideburns. In the rearview mirror, there’s Hab’s sculpted coif and my own shaven scalp, just silhouettes against a lesser black. The red star of Marie’s joint glows as she takes a drag and exhales little wisps of ghost into the air. I’ve just finished mine, its pungent smoke still lingers in the air. I envision Marie’s breath and mine stirring into each other like consummation.

Marie explains the fresh legend as we go along. She’s read up on this. It had just happened days ago, countable hours ago. Apparently it was a murder/suicide. The murder was a girl that had gone to school with Marie’s older sister. The suicide was a male friend of the murder through their work with a courier company in the city. Suicide lived where the incident happened, in a house in the rural shorthills that had been converted into apartments.
"Rural apartments?" interjects Hab.
Marie stops talking for a few prolific seconds before she answers.
"Just shut up and I can tell you- fuck, are you going to pick this story apart for bad grammar too or something? Yes, rural apartments! Fucking leave that Lit U. shit in your cranium for once! Fuck! Life is not fiction! Drop your fucking illusions! Jeezis!"
There’s something about Marie’s way of swearing that makes me want to laugh in applause. She really does put the ‘ing’ articulately at the end of it. F stop. F with a sudden stop (burp excuse me). Her sweet female voice streams off her tongue at colloquial speed with the same rhythm as her poetry, like weather, like tidal surge, like planetary spin.
"Okay, okay sorry! Go ahead."
"You’re such a dick sometimes, man!"
Derek laughs on reflex at this (burp tee hee). He loves stuff like this.
"I’m sorry, okay!? Fuck! Tell the story and I’ll shut up!" says Hab.
"Yeah, can we hear the rest of the story, please?" I say, though I feel as though my request is muddled in the heat of their exchange.

Apparently, Suicide had made friends with Murder at work, though everything seemed entirely platonic. They just got along well in a crowd of employees that all got along. There was a social that night and they were going to go. No one knew of any plan that they were going together, nothing was ever known of any connection between the two through anything other than work. Neither ended up going to the social that night. This is what the other employees were saying to the papers.
"I remember that." I say. "It happened last week, right?"
Neither came to work the following day, nor any after that. The concerned were alerted and eventually the police were sent to Suicide’s apartment. They had both been shot. There was no naked rape victim, but there was a suicide note saying that he had killed her and willed his own death, though the media is barred from the actual gist of the letter. There was an admission of guilt and that’s all we know. We talk about our theories of what may have happened. Hab thinks they were having a relationship and were keeping it a secret from everyone else. Something had brought Murder to Suicide’s house. She hadn’t been forced as far as we know. There had to be a connection, she had died in his house to his hands. There had been emotion, there had been violence. Something had happened that was large enough to have death as a result. Marie imagined a rejection. Murder had gone to Suicide’s house, considering maybe, then deciding not to carry through. Maybe there had been a collision of expectations. I wonder what the last minutes of Murder’s life was like. Was there that piss-your-pants kind of fear, facing down the gun of someone she thought she could trust? Was there any moment of surrender or valiant defiance? For Suicide, was there an unrequited love happening? Was there a deep seated psychosis manifested in deluded connections to the victim?
There were so many canyons between the facts. It’s titillating to fill the blanks with innuendo. The nun’s pantylines.

So this is the foundation of this night. Everthing is set up, this mood, this contemplation of ‘Death as Spectacle’. This is the premise of David Cronenberg’s ‘Crash’ and America’s Greatest Snuff Films. Forehead to scythe. Derek’s radio is playing some strange hebephrenic Yoko-clone wailing to percussive brick rhythms on reverb. We’re getting good and weirded out as he steers the car into such deep centrifugal curves that we can’t settle into our seats. The terrain is getting hilly too, and he can’t get the odometer over 70 k no matter how he pushes it, provoking occasional yelps of mortality from the tires. We can see more trees out the window and the hollows now are deeper. Marie is perfectly quiet and I want to insult her just to hear her voice again.
"Why do I feel like we should have brought a Great Dane along?"
Derek laughs a dopey horse laugh.
"Zoinks!" he says. Marie stays quiet, looking so intensely out the window she can’t be disturbed. The sooner we find her haunted house, the sooner we can have a beer and some wings.

"Here it is! Here it is!" Marie is saying, slapping Derek’s arm. We slow down and watch the headlights illuminate a building with faded barnboard siding. It looks like a shack from Little House on the Prairie. Lights are on inside. Someone is alive in the house of Death. I look at the dark windows and wonder, which was Suicide’s, though nothing indicates anything. Everything is left to the imagination. Nothing indicates anything. As slow as Derek goes, the house still eventually disappears as our lights move on in accordance to the road. I’m disappointed, but Marie is in the midsts of some kind of reverential silence. I want to say ‘is that it?’ just to snap her out of it, but don’t. She feels some kind of connection. Pornography and the rube is all I see.
"Weird." declares Derek.
The goth music seems overplayed and inappropriate now.
"Can we change the station at all?" I know I’m ruining Marie’s mood. I sound annoyed. Derek changes the station and Aerosmith’s crotch rock comes in, as generic as fluorescent lighting. We ascend out of the hollow and up an escarpment. Now this road could be anywhere, one of the thousands I’ve driven on in my lifetime. The road is now straighter and flatter and we are now passing houses lit up with Christmas lights flickering with each other to form a luminous neighbourhood. Of course, it’s the middle of November, so these lights aren’t unusual. Almost all of them are devoid of colour, obliging the trend of the day rather than celebrating. Did we see any of these kinds of lights on the way here? We must have missed them. Derek celebrates the passing of hindrance by opening the throttle like a champagne bottle. Over the horizon, I can see wasted light from the city, caught in the vapour of a cloudy sky. Between that glow, and myself there is only blackness, the dark expanse of the country. This expanse surrounds every city, like a sea around an archipelago. I shuffle lower in my seat and put my knees up against the back of Marie’s, jostling her. She doesn’t protest, just looks out into that same space I’d been looking into. That’s good enough for me. I drift into an ecstatic half-sleep until I’m startled into wakefulness by Marie’s scream and I am suddenly thrown against the door. Derek is swerving to miss a possum that we’ve caught crossing the road. I can see it screaming at us with its jaws agape, then it disappears underneath us; I can hear the thud and feel the bump displacing our tires. Those tires then squeal in obeisance to gravity as the car descends to the gods of momentum. There is a flash of light and suddenly the entire world is an Armageddon between the immovable and unstoppable.
I don’t know how I got outside, but here I am, walking in a grassy field. Lights are spinning around me like sandflies. My equilibrium is chaotic and I don’t know where I’m going. Just fall down and get your shit together- just right here, the grass is soft enough.
There are voices and there are lights and there is someone touching me.
What is he saying? Why is he shouting?
Yeah, I‘m fine. Can’t you see? Oh shit, I’m leaving you now.
Let go of me. Just let go.

The doctors at the hospital told me that Derek and Marie died almost instantly when we hit that truck head on. Hab had his seatbelt on and went for the ride when the Tercel rolled and bounced five times. They had to use the Jaws of Life, but he got out- he got out of it- with bruises and a concussion. Myself, I was thrown a good twenty feet from the car. The grassy field I landed in had cushioned me. I passed out seconds later from shock, never noticing that I had broken my hand (my fucking right hand, my pencil- pushing, mouse-clicking, chicken-choking right hand). I had no idea of the violence of the accident. I feel so outside of it all. It still boggles my mind that it killed two people. Were those two actually friends of mine? Was I involved? I survived? What had I survived? Hab and I don’t even talk about it. In fact, we don’t talk at all. After the hospital and after the funerals, it was as if we never even knew each other at all.
He means nothing to me.

I’ve decided that I was in love with Marie. I still think of her, I still hear her voice. I sometimes think of her using my bedroom when she stayed over at my family’s house. I imagine how she felt waking up in unfamiliar surroundings, waiting to hear a familiar voice in the hallway outside. I should have gone to see her. I sometimes fantasize about her in compromising positions when I masturbate, feeling shame only after the act. I then think of her sitting in the corner of my room, watching my sadly sinister spirit, laughing sympathetically at me.

I’m convalescing in my family’s house right now, December the 27th, two days post-Christmas. I’m not going back to school for the time being. I’ve already missed too much school, so I figure my year is already washed up. I want to go down to St. Catharines to get my things, but Mum wants me to get better first. Whatever ‘better’ is. Maybe better is when I get out of this stupid, cumbersome cast I wear over my wrist. The only people who have signed it are my sister Ellie and her pubescent friends. One of them wrote "Boys Rock!" in red greasy marker on it, contaminating any possibility of saving this cast as a memento. Oh well, if that’s all there is, then fuck it. I don’t have anyone else to sign it anyway. It’s attached to me yet I feel it no longer belongs to me anymore. It means nothing to me now. Fuck it. I spend all my time sitting here downstairs in my recroom, watching satellite images of music videos because I can’t decide which book I want to start reading. Kerouac or Jarman? I’m getting sick of these sugary dance videos. I want to hear some Headstones. I want to hear some old Genesis, maybe Stagnation or something. It would make me all moony and ponderous. I want to hear that new Vain Avengers cd I’d heard about. I’d love a copy of Exclaim magazine here with me but Wilberforce, flung far to the north of everything I need, has never even heard of Exclaim, nor does it have any stores that would even consider carrying it. I wish Matthew Firth hadn’t stopped publishing Black Cat 115, with its visceral morsels of fiction. I want to rent a movie like Eraserhead or Taxi Driver or something. Anything my sister would hate would be just what I need. Is Low Self Esteem Girl on DVD at all? Gawd, that’s a stretch.

My mother is upstairs now. I can hear the clanking of pots and the creak of floorboards above my head. She has the radio on loud. It’s Chantal Krevaziuk. She used to listen to singers like Neil Diamond or Gordon Lightfoot, but now it’s the new bohemian sound. She’s become part of the cast of Friends. I can hear Mom cooking upstairs to Gen X coffeehouse blues, I can hear the television showing me Destiny’s Child in front of me, but I’m more aware of the silence between these sounds. I’m aware of the fact that there is a silence beneath them. I listen for that silence like I’m hunting for it, because it’s elusive and it feels good to notice it.

The wood stove is starting to fail from lack of fuel and the room is getting colder. Its fan is shut off already. I could take a chance and try to light up another log but I’ve never been able to get a fire lit before. I look at that stove in the corner of the room and think of all the times I spent laying on this same couch, listening to the wood pop and break inside that stove. When the fire would take and the heat was enough, the fan would turn on and billow warmth across the room to me. I would then sleep deeper than I’ve ever slept before or since. It was my late father’s job to boss the fire to life. He seemed to have the knack for provoking flames from the wood, sparking the relationship between the two elements. As he became sicker, he became tired of being the one to cut the wood into digestible sizes for the stove, being the one to truck the wood into heavy bushels. Quickly, the whole chore of keeping the house warm lost its meaning to him. After my father died, my mother, who took it as an added inconvenience and would only do it if the cold was serious outside, inherited the chore. Ellie was too little to do it and, like I said before, I just can’t get it right. My older sister Giselle had already moved out of the house and started university. So after my father’s death, the house went cold more often than not. Keeping the house warm no longer meant anything to us either.

This Christmas was a disaster. I hate Christmas, really. Its syrup gets into everything. There’s the expectation to go out and buy, as obliged, the thought that counts. I didn’t buy anything for anyone though. What thought could I have given that could be held in hand? A wreath of thorns? There is no Christ in Christmas anymore. I kept thinking of a wreath of thorns. Giselle brought over her boyfriend Ted for Christmas Eve. They came loaded with baggage and boxes and overtures of a potential wedding engagement, I suppose. We may never know. As soon as they walked in, I knew it was not going to be good; the way Giselle grabbed Ted’s arm as she introduced him, in my mother’s unhappy polite greeting. So when Giselle left Ted alone with me in the living room to put her things in the kitchen with Mom, I knew exactly what to do. I walked out of the room. In the hallway, I passed Giselle, who met me with a look of wounded anger in her eyes. She rushed into the living room to sit with Ted until my Mum would come in to entertain.

At supper, it was Ted and Giselle carrying the weight of conversation, mostly with each other. Occasionally, my mother would remind Ellie to sit up and El would whine in protest, but mostly the rest of us quietly ignored the happy couple. When the main course was out of the way, Giselle brought out the apple pie she had baked as a favour for the meal. She began serving, with pieces of cooked apple oozing off the spatula back home to the plate. Mother tried to coach her, but neither could hide their agitation, neither would relent. Giselle raised her voice, telling Mum she had it under control while Mum ignored her, telling her she could show her how to do it. Mum then stood up and took hold of the spatula, trying to wrest it from Giselle’s grip while Giselle pulled back.
"God damn it, Mom, will you just let me do it?"
"Can you do it without destroying it?"
As they shouted these things, I looked across the table at Ted, watching the waves of fear on his face as he beheld the wild look in my mother’s eyes. He even jumped when Giselle shouted. I then began to feel a wave of nausea seize me, the room shifting and spinning. My sister let the spatula go, throwing her arms in the air. The pie no longer mattered. The clank of the spatula hitting the pan was what echoed in my head just before I passed out. That was my Christmas holiday.

It’s awfully cold in this room right now. I pull the blanket covering the couch over my shoulders. I notice the basement window aglow with daylight, so I get up and take a look through it. The snow on the ground outside is fresh and white in the bright midday sun. The sky is blue. The sparse trees around my family’s wooded lot are dark and young against that brightness. I think I’ll go outside. I go up the stairs, put on my jacket and my father’s boots and am soon out in the full winter light. White, blue and black. The air is cold, but there is no breeze, so I can feel the softness of the sun. I walk into the woods and see some golden leaves clinging to a young sapling. White blue, black and gold. I notice then that my footprints are the only ones in the wood. The snow is flat and smooth, uninterrupted except for my own footprints. This snow is my own.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Behind the Wall

Kayleigh, my seven year old daughter cracks open a book. The splitting covers make an actual audible crackle and the pages between fall open for her upon her lap. With her pinky finger, she flips through the pages to the beginning and starts to read the words aloud. Her words come to me like divination, as evidence of the ingot of intelligence and personality growing in her little body. I look at my wife Rheia to share a smile. I love to see my daughter this way. Through moments like this, I can see the eternity of time and life, the fixture of the present and the future. My daughter is reading and her words float into the world like weather balloons; silver vehicles of thought lighter than air.
Rheia leans over to her side in her chair, twisted in ecstasy and she moans sweetly. She gets up from the chair and kisses Kayleigh on the head. She comes over to me at the computer desk.
“She’s getting so big.” She says and she moans again. “I want another baby.” I look at her with alarm before I can edit it, and she catches it with its full meaning. At the age of thirty and feeling her reproductive career dwindling within her, we had had this discussion before. She had come to me one night after Kayleigh had fallen asleep and told me what she wanted. As a high school teacher at the age of 43, I enjoyed seeing Kayleigh come upon milestones that my students had already passed. I felt like she, and me with her were accomplishing something, right on the schedule that prescribed our lives. Having another baby would tack on another 20 years of dependency and I couldn’t see myself at the age of 60, seeing my son or daughter off to whatever plane in life he/she would be departing on. I’d already had a vasectomy as well, so we had agreed long ago that it was an impossible thing she was asking for; something we both wanted yet could not have.

I walked away from the argument by simply getting up and walking away, busying myself with the dishes in the kitchen, leaving the issue with a huge sense of potential elastic energy. I don’t know what Rheia did in response to my avoidance, but she was suddenly quiet with a profound and poignant silence.
I went to bed that night feeling low, staring into the darkness, apologizing to the silence while my wife slept with her back to me, wrapped in our bed sheet and lost to me. I laid there for a faceless amount of time until finally I descended into my own oblivious solitude of sleep.

One day, a few days after, I woke up to my alarm at 6:00 and began my normal morning routine. I was not feeling rested but I made my coffee while the rest of the family slept, eating my toast with jam, browsing the internet for the news. Although I appreciated the unchallenged quiet of the morning as I always did, I was feeling as if something was fighting my every move; the air, the world. I dressed slowly to not wake anyone up, putting on my business casual clothes; my compromise to the higher powers, then leaned across the bed to kiss Rheia goodbye. She didn’t respond at all, so I let her sleep on.
At work, I was feeling as if I was speaking into a void. My first period students were listless and inattentive, talking under me, but I did nothing to quiet them. I really just wanted to stretch out on my bed at home and sleep. The entire class and the next following went by blankly and I was glad when the bell rang and I could break for lunch. As usual, I called Rheia at home and she picked up the phone, breathless. There was a sound coming from behind the wall at home; something squawking and scratching, something alive. I asked how something could have gotten behind our wall and she said she didn’t know but there was a definite noise, there was a definite living thing that seemed to be trapped behind our wall. She sounded like she wanted me to come home, but the drive home and back would have consumed more than my lunch hour and I would have been late for my next class. I looked at the clock and saw that I had already waited too long to call, even though of course there was no way of knowing that this duty was waiting for me, just as there was no way for me to make it home in time. I now wanted to be home, rescuing my wife, or at least rescuing this poor thing that had trapped itself between the walls of my home.

When I finally did come home, Rheia pulled me to the kitchen, grabbing my arm so tight her strength surprised me. I laughed at her urgency, but she shushed me to be quiet, waving her hands severely to pipe down. There was nothing at first, but after a minute, it happened. There was something trapped behind the wall. Some little creature was scratching against some impenetrable barrier, squawking in rage and fear. I felt my hairs on the back of my neck standing on end as I looked at Rheia who was transfixed, and Kayleigh, who had come into the room and froze. The look in Kayleigh’s eyes was wild with a feral kind of intensity, the creature's fear translating to her. As soon as it began, it ceased, leaving everything quiet though charged with the certainty of its presence. It had made itself known. Then again, I heard it but only for a brief moment before it was silent again. I thought of the creature, exhausted into silence, depleted of energy and without hope, resting then jumping to life with some kind of implausible drive, an almost innate inacceptance of the circumstance, wanting to obliterate reality and be free.
The sound seemed to be coming from the part of the house where the chimney was, so I went downstairs to the cleanout hatch to see whether or not I could see anything. I slid the door out of the way and looked in, but saw nothing. The basement light was poor and afforded no view into what was in that little chamber at the bottom of my chimney. I went and got a flashlight, lifted the hatch and looked in to see two beady eyes looking back at me. Frightened, I dropped the hatch quickly before it could escape. It was a bird, a young bird by the look of it. My muscles felt like gelatine, I’d gotten such a fright from just realizing that there actually is something alive in there. I'd viewed the other side of the wall, and there was life. I called Rheia to help me by holding hold the light so I could use both my hands. She protested, not willing to participate, hoping I would carry through with this on my own, but Kayleigh wanted to see , asking in such earnest insistence that she agreed. I knelt down by the grate under my wife’s lifted light, slid open the hatch and reached in with my gloved hand. I felt it and it did not protest and when I closed my fingers around it, it let me embrace it without any struggle at all. Somehow it knew my clutch was not captivity but freedom. I picked it up and brought it out to show Rheia and Kayleigh. It looked like a juvenile, but I wasn’t sure what kind of bird it was. It looked like a robin but it was all black with white speckles on its breast and wings, with iridescent orange sheen in its black plumage. Even in the light and the awed audience of my wife and daughter, it didn’t struggle though it looked around wildly, probably wondering what was going to become of it.
“Is he okay?” asked Kayleigh. “He’s not hurt is he?”
“I don’t know, K.” I said. “Let’s take it outside and let it go and we’ll see.” We, the family, brought the bird outside and set it down by the shrubs where it could hide if it were hurt in any way, but to our surprise, it scuttled away, under our car. We followed it and it emerged out the back and flew away into a tree. “There, it must be healthy if it can do that.” I said.
“Thank God,” said Rheia. I turned to look at Kayleigh and she looked extremely relieved.