Archive for April, 2010

The Least Favourite Child

An excerpt from the first draft of my short story, The Supermarket. It got lost on the cutting room floor, so to speak, but it helped me characterize one of the three main characters in the short story, Ella. By the way, the skin condition in question is psoriasis.

The Least Favourite Child

Ella-May was her children’s confidante. They told her about everything: the fighting, the drinking, and the drugs. She knew by the way they told her so frankly that they must not be leaving anything out. No doubt they understood that she could keep her mouth shut. Ella always thought that she would have made a good moll – like in one of those mobster movies. She kept her lip buttoned and she was a good listener. She was tough, too, and none of those guys that came in with her boys had ever scared her. Now that she was in her sixties, she did the same for her grandchildren as she had for their parents.  Listened. Didn’t judge.

One of those grandchildren, a bank robber, kept a room at her house. He was a good grandson, always visiting, even as a kid. He didn’t mind rubbing shoulders with the rummies that she used to let stay over when they were down on their luck – old friends of her children, or people she met at the Blue Angel when it was still around. She didn’t go into that room now except to clean and to feed his pet alligators. He often slipped her some money for doing so, and she never asked where it came from. The alligators would soon outgrow their tanks – she could tell. He would have to do something about them then.

None of this was at the forefront of her mind on this day. No – she was busy being honest with herself. She had been looking through her pictures that morning, and there she had been, her third youngest daughter. It was one of the first times she had stopped to think about this particular daughter as separate from her siblings. Ella was admitting a truth to herself: she had a least favourite child, and it was this one.

With one or two kids, maybe it was easier to say you loved all your kids equally, even if for different reasons. But eight? Ella had discovered the truth about that. The Least Favourite Child visited regularly. She never borrowed money. She wasn’t a drinker, nor was she into any of the hard stuff that you put up your nose or into your veins. She didn’t fight with her husband. In short, she didn’t need her mother.

But that wasn’t where it started. The Least Favourite Child had been premature. Ella-May’s mother-in-law had kept the child in a basket in the sun. Ella remembered thinking it was like a primitive incubator, like for an egg. That had been just the beginning. Ella had sent her to live with her barren sister in the States, but like a bad penny, she had come back. Even her childless and desperate relatives had not wanted this child.

The Least Favourite also had a skin condition. She often had to get treatments at the hospital, and would be in there for weeks at a time, expecting Ella’s attention. Ella obliged by coming by on Thursdays and Fridays before she headed out to the Blue Angel, or another place. She was also unpopular with the other children in the neighbourhood, who called her “scabby witch” and made fun. Ella had hoped to avoid that by having the girl wear long sleeves all year round, even in high summer, but the children just found her the weirder for it. (The LFC never told her that her condition would have been helped immensely by exposure to the sun that her long sleeves and pants blocked out.)

Aside from that, the Least Favourite Child was unremarkable. Shortly after this revelation, Ella-May looked into the fridge to discover that it was Thursday…

The 2nd person

The prompt comes from Sina Queyras, a writer whom you can find out all about on the internet, and my teacher for 226. Also kind of inspired by George Saunders’ question-statement style. Here it is:

You are some kind of slimy, pea-shootin’, brain-snatchin’, selfsame same-old, thumb-cracking chucklehead. You might think that doesn’t change much, but at least you know now what I really think. You stand there in your distressed clothing like you expect help? Or my brains? You smell! There’s blood on your button-down! You can’t have my guts – they’re mine. You have no idea – well, just don’t have any ideas at all! Gosh – you gosh darned zombies. Brains? Brains? You don’t know the first thing about that kind of delicacy. Get a job! Learn a trade! Then we’ll talk about brains!

Racecar

This is a piece written for our end-of-year reading, which, by the way, went very well. So, this piece is meant to be heard out loud. Ask a stranger to read it out to you! Or, y’know…read it yourself.

Racecar

When Mark told me that we were building a soapbox racer, I named six hills that we could ride it on.

“Sure,” he said. “Only we need to build it first. Let’s go to the junkyard.”

What I knew about junkyards was that they had junkyard dogs, and that I didn’t want to meet one. Also, that my dad said ours was run by impractical hippies. What I knew about Mark was that it wouldn’t help to tell him any of this. We took my red wagon out to the road leading to the junkyard. Mark brought his transistor radio. I was afraid to wake the junkyard dog, but Mark listened to the baseball game the whole way there.

“Will they have soapboxes here?” I was curious. I only had a vague idea that a soapbox was something you stood on.

“Soapbox racers aren’t actually made out of soapboxes anymore, moron. Soap doesn’t even really come in crates anymore.” Moron was his new word.

“Well, they ought to change the name, then,” I said.

I was happy to find that the animal-in-residence was actually a junkyard cat. Her name was “Chicken Dinner” because that was the only thing she answered to. That’s how we met Joan and Dylan, the owners of the junkyard – my father’s impractical hippies. When we got there, they were out in front of their one-story house. Dylan was reading last week’s newspaper, sitting on an overturned washbasin padded by Care Bear pelts and petting the long tabby cat. Joan was tending the marigolds that she grew to keep away bugs, planted in piled-up tires filled with dirt. She watered them using a Javex bottle with holes in it.

“You save a lot of money by recycling,” said Dylan, noting our puzzlement. “We recycle everything.”

The pair knew their piles of junk well, but told us that looking for ourselves would be half the fun. Joan handed us garbage bag ponchos to wear over our clothes, and sent us out, promising to have lunch ready when we wanted a break. Mark made it out the door first, but we saw the piles at the same time: three big ones, with satellite piles around them, mostly kitchen appliances piled five feet high. We went to the closest pile.

Mark pulled out a motorcycle helmet with a cracked visor, and I lifted it to try it on.

“A brain bucket,” said Mark with grim satisfaction. “Got to protect your brain.”

But it smelled like Chicken Dinner had maybe disagreed with that sentiment. Disagreed all over the inside of the helmet. I didn’t try it on after all. Mark punted it and hurt his foot. It hit a Springbok motorboat. What was a Springbok anyway? I thought it was some sort of deer, but Mark said that deer didn’t have much to do with water, so how would that make any sense? Unless the company was moronic, he said.

While we were working, Mark switched his radio over to WDIA, all the way from Memphis, and we listened to B.B. King while we sorted through all sorts of things that I couldn’t name.  I nearly cut my hand once on a Veg-O-Matic blender blade, still full of crusted yellow cheese. Mark wanted to keep it but I made him throw it away. Mom wouldn’t have let it into the house anyway, and by now she was in the habit of turning out our pockets before we came inside. Right after that, I found a bone that I was sure was a finger bone – a human one. Mark thought it was a barbecue rib picked over by Chicken Dinner, but I couldn’t believe how spotless it was. In the first pile, we found exactly nothing for our car. But by then, we were having fun, and we were getting the hang of not making things fall over onto us. We ended up with a set of training wheels for a bike, two cans of white paint, an old steering wheel, and an old seat cushion.

After an hour or two, Joan came over and joined us at a patch of earth next door. She was carrying a small pail and a spade, wearing great black belly boots. She reminded me of the time that Mark and I went clam-digging with our grandmother. She dug through the decomposing newspaper and muck. I watched.

“Ah, there’s a nice juicy morsel,” she said at last, dropping a long fat worm into her pail. There was something about the way she said the word “morsel” that didn’t make me think of fishing. I must have given her a look.

“Oh, for the garden, hon! We compost.”

I believed her.  But still, I wondered what was for lunch.

Accident Insurance

Here’s a short story about one of my favourite characters, created for collaborative work with my best buddy Gabriel (Brie). This is an early scene in Judecca’s history as a character, but was written looking back from a much more enlightened perspective. Poor guy has a lot in his future.

Accident Insurance

Public bathrooms are not the worst place to get into a fight, but they’re pretty fucking close. Think bathrooms – think any bathroom. Before you even get in there, there’s the fact that usually there’s only one exit. For anybody who has never tried to get out through one of those little grilled metal windows: don’t. That sink that looks so solid, built to withstand a thousand drunken nights, and then a thousand more? Shatters. Same for anything else porcelain, especially urinals. Think metal taps and underneath that metal pipes. Think sharp corners in an enclosed area. You might begin to see why you shouldn’t get into a fight in one of these places. Think panel mirrors where some guy last wiped his snot. You might not see the streak under the sick lights, but you just know. If the architect was being utilitarian, think cement floor. The kind that made it easy to mop up your face. With a little water, the place turns into one giant “CAUTION: WET FLOOR” sandwich sign with you as the little cartoon guy with no face. Don’t even start to think about the germs.

Judecca Matterhorn was only vaguely aware that he had considered such things about public rest areas, but his subconscious had, especially walking into this dump. Judecca’s job title was innocuous. Cleaner was a euphemism for “the guy with the body bags”, and that was Judecca.  He was in charge of his department – the Head Cleaner – so he was first on the scene. He stood under the whining fluorescent lights, in front of the one unbroken mirror, staring into it and reconstructing the scene from what lay before him.

There was something about his face. Judecca had had plastic surgery on his nose. Some people thought him vain for that, but he had a reputation as a guy who knew how to take care of things, and nobody ranked on him too much about his nose-job. Who would dare? The truth was, looking too conspicuous or ugly in this business was a liability. As with all the Underground’s professionals, Judecca was expected to do what was necessary to keep his job as low-risk as possible. So he got his broken nose fixed. J. C. Penney models tended not to cart off bodies.

Bloody public bathroom, he thought to himself, and smiled but barely because it was literal. He had been called to this job by a Mr. Sanrevelle, someone who knew his reputation and worked at the school. When he got there, the bathroom was quite flooded, the water coloured with the sick pink tinge of diluted blood. If one walked a little further in, the dead boy’s body lay loudly silent. His feet stuck out from the stall in which he had fallen. The face was unrecognizable – had been stomped through the ceramic toilet bowl, which was not a bowl any longer. Judecca already knew his name though. It was Innocent Bystander. Surveying the current damage, he marveled at how spread-out the carnage of one body could be. The dead guy deserved a proper burial. His body would get cremated and buried with some other body. Judecca could arrange for it at the nicer funeral home he frequented. There was his first decision made. Now, how hard would it be to match the make and model of the toilet on short notice?

Judecca knew the guy responsible for the dead boy in the bathroom. The chain of events Judecca had put together probably wasn’t even close to what Laurent Cecosta had actually done – what he was capable of doing. This kid had probably just been walking by, thinking he might take a piss before his next class. Cecosta would have dragged him in. People like Cecosta didn’t need any weapons but the ones some twisted evolution had given them: claws rather than hands and feet, unyielding bone and muscle instead of limbs, teeth in place of lips. He was part of their little Underground family, though, and that made him immune to a lot of things. It was nepotism at its finest.  Cecosta would have grinded him against the nearest surface available. He might have raged at the guy for existing. At any rate, something hadn’t gone his way. This wasn’t the first time Judecca had to deal with one of Cecosta’s messes.

Judecca inventoried the equipment they would need to remove the traces of the cadaver that were rubbed into the tiled floor. Ammonia would ruin any blood samples, and it was not uncommon to find in the cleaning supplies of most janitors. Vodka was an excellent cleaning agent as well, especially for fabrics, but this place had no carpet. Despite his plans for cremation, a bone saw would still be necessary to sneak out the remains, along with a sturdy, waterproof bag, preferably black. Oozing, spreading stains were sort of tell-tale. As for the rest of the damage, he would have an Underground plumber there in five. The rest of his regular crew were in transit.

No sense in staying strangers, Judecca thought, and checked the corpse’s wallet while he waited. Maybe Cecosta didn’t like it when other people watched him take his sedatives. Had this Tobias gotten into Cecosta’s face, or something trivial like that? Judecca kept picturing a version of events where Tobias didn’t fight back. Sure – nobody learned to throw a punch anymore, since society was so peaceful. In his mind, Cecosta’s fists tore into Tobias’ face with wet crunches. And that was where the toilet stall came in.

Cecosta shoved him in, then kicked his head into the bowl. Tobias would have been stunned from the earlier battery and just laid there while Laurent Cecosta dropped his foot once, twice, three times, twelve, loosening the moorings. Or maybe there had been no preamble: Cecosta just saw the kid come in, threw him in the toilet stall, and stomped him into the ground regardless of the bowl in the way, or more likely because the delightful obstacle. Maybe that was the whole story, and no provocation needed. Cecosta could have done the rest of the damage without someone to throw around. Maybe he had done it out of sheer spite.

Tobias Redding’s personal belongings would be found in his gym locker, where he would last be seen by Several Reliable Witnesses. His disappearance would not come as a surprise to his teacher and confidant, Mr. Joao Sanrevelle, who would later say in an interview that Tobias had been considering running away from home in the last few days before his disappearance. The teacher would express his sincere hope that the boy be found alive, well, and soon. His parents would grieve, but at least they could still hope for his return.

The knock at the door came soon enough for Judecca to feel a flare of pride in how well-organized his team was. They weren’t many. They were just effective. He moved to the door and unlocked it, opening it slightly to the face of a stranger who had no doubt seen his outline in the window.

“Hey, I really need to go. You the janitor? My teeth are floating.”

Judecca shook his head, and for a minute wished that he could deal with this as unthinkingly as Cecosta had. “Flooded.” He finally said, and indicated the water on the green and white tiles behind him. The young man at the door peered in with a “holy shit.”

“You don’t want to see this.”

“I’ll bet,” said the stranger, neck twisted in his strain. His sincere sheep’s face was hard to hate, but Judecca managed. He had to get this chucklehead to leave.

“This is a construction zone as of now. Repairs. You’re not insured,” said Judecca. He flashed one of his many badges, and shoved the door shut in Baa Ram Ewe’s face. He locked the green door and peered through the frosted panels just once before turning back to his work. It would be ironic if this was the dead kid’s favourite stall – did any of the back wall doggerel belong to Tobias? If so, it was now his epitaph.

I Am a Camera

Pure, unadulterated description. First thing I wrote for Fiction 226, and of course the prompt is courtesy of Alice LaPlante’s Method & Madness:

The halls of Central Station on rue de la Gauchetiere in Montreal. All around is the loud, incomprehensible babble of diners. A cashier leans over to a train passenger and repeats his order. A businessman talks on his cell phone as he pays at another cash register. A Maki roller at The Sushi Shop leans over the counter, squishy avocado pasted between her gloved fingers. She reaches for the tempura flakes. A stack of recipes falls behind the ingredient fridge. Wafting down the hall is the smell of coriander and curry from the Thai Express. The air tastes like Chinese food.  Pasta and pizza from the trattoria. A small, genderless child holds a genderless blue teddy bear, rubbing the soft fur against face, neck, arms, pushed by a haggard mother in pink sweatpants. A plump, not-quite-elderly black lady in a VIA uniform with a yellow neckerchief asks for Sriracha chili sauce, dear – the one with the rooster on the bottle. It costs fifty-seven cents. A cash register dings and shoots open. Raw throats tell customer after customer to enjoy their meal and have a good day, but first would they like a bag with that?

The Indexical Exercise

The prompt is from Alice LaPlante’s Method & Madness:

The Indexical Exercise.

(Look at Harper’s Index. Write down ten things about yourself that are quantifiable.)

(As of October 7th 2009)

Percentage likelihood that I will say something I regret within a 5-minute conversation: 50%

Maximum number of hamsters I have fostered at one time: 24

Number of pairs of shoes I currently own (excluding sandals): 1

My total accumulated bottom time (while scuba-diving): 12 hours 34 minutes

Approximate net worth of sushi I have eaten for free in the past year: $1740 (CAD)

Number of songs in my Winamp library: 5043

Number of songs I have paid for in the same library: 28

Ratio of time spent writing vs. time spent thinking I ought to be writing: 1:5

Number of times I have found dried toast hidden in my bed by my dog in the last year: 7

Number of times I have eaten said toast: … Zero.

Describing through negation.

Written in response to a prompt from Method & Madness by Alice LaPlante:

It was not fated. It wasn’t even ever planned. It didn’t stop time. It didn’t stop my heart. He wasn’t cuter than James Dean, and certainly Paul Newman he ain’t either. It was not the fact that he was riding a tricycle on the balcony…No, definitely not.

He wasn’t ugly either (don’t get me wrong, etc.) I didn’t walk my dog down his street two days later just to maybe see him. It wasn’t fated. I didn’t blink when later he told me he never hangs around outside like that. It was just two Pointe kids, meeting for the first time when they should have met everywhere else before.