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POETRY Lingua franca Maryna Polataiko

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you’re in for a rude awakening 15 Joseph Goodman Hand Prints Eliot D’Silva

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Driving All Night

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Caravel Eric Andrew-Gee Eric Andrew-Gee

Another Quiet Morning Bridget Sprouls

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FICTION Procession 7 Anya Baker Bumps Nicholas Cameron Down in the Mouth Elliot Herzig

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AUTUMN 2012


Editors-in-Chief Tim Beeler Gavin Thomson General Editors Michael Lee-Murphy Julie Mannell Fiction Editor Timothy Lem-Smith Poetry Editor Eric Kilpatrick

Design by Vincent Tao STEPS is funded by the Fine Arts Council of the Arts Undergraduate Society of McGill University.


FROM THE EDITORS Hello Readers, Thank you for picking up the autumn 2012 issue of STEPS. As some of you can tell, we have changed the format of the magazine. We have also decided to publish two issues this year instead of four: ‘quality over quantity,’ as they say.

There are talented young writers and poets at McGill. We hope that their pieces here assembled inspire you and bring you joy. All Best, Tim and Gavin


LINGUA FRANCA you—I: a sea of lexis hums between. in darkness we cast kaleidoscope words, hydra-headed isms, and Janus-faced names. around us, always falling a thousand words for snow. seven billion. every one: snō, each monogamous destined to be caught on a single tongue. it was you, Odysseus, who moaned saudade that day when a word haptic though ineffable, arrived disguised, aged and marred by travel. it was for me to understand; to recognize your scars of snō stigmata of saudade but scales diatonic and pentatonic— scales spent weaving shrouds and sailing seas, were foreign to buckling ears. I could not understand your taste of snō, the rhythm of saudade.

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shadows of lingua franca are all that rest: suspended specters, chimera of wavelengths from the underbelly of the Tongue, they’ve climbed to the tip never to die, but to be born and reborn, and reborn in the darkness between yes and no, I kiss Odysseus: he who cannot taste my mouth an echo of a lost man—of ersatz meaning.

MARYNA POLATAIKO

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PROCESSION ANYA BAKER

There was a time when I was devout. In the stone church of my childhood in a village in Lower Austria, with the cold creeping through my clothes--my altar server’s white robe, my Sunday dress or good pants, and even through the long underwear my mother made me wear underneath it all--I found that I could see bright, flickering lights in the darkness above the congregation if I moved my head in a certain way. I wore glasses with translucent, multicoloured frames; after being crumpled against my face a few times from stray basketballs or elbows, they had been bent in a way that caught the light peculiarly from the wall fixtures and reflected it brilliantly into my eyes. Each Sunday, while the deacon gave the first read7


ing, or the priest delivered his homily, or the bread and wine were blessed, I fixed my eyes upon the lights. It kept me very still and quiet. I can remember the deacon taking aside one of my fellow altar servers to chastise her for incessant feet-swinging. My eyes were always forward, albeit slightly elevated, and my face serene. My feet did not swing. I knew every second of Mass by heart, and I knew exactly when I was to rise and fetch whatever was needed at any point during the hour-or-longer service. I was a model altar server. I was devout. I saw lights dancing along the ceiling. I was enthralled. There was one day during the summer when my mother received a phone call from the priest. He needed my brother and me to serve at Mass on an odd day, a Tuesday, or a Thursday. If it had been a Sunday, we would have been at church anyway, seated on plush stools on either side of the priest’s chair. There was to be a baptism, and he needed altar servers for that particular type of service. My mother told him that she was sorry, but we were going to a birthday party that day. The priest knew: the birthday boy was a fellow altar server, and had been phoned first. I do not know what the priest told my mother after that, but when she hung up we went to the church instead of the backyard of my friend’s house, where they apparently tiedyed shirts and played hide-and-seek all morning. I have attended many baptisms since that one in the old, stone church of my childhood. They were all very much alike. All used the same prayers, and the same oil was smeared on each infant’s forehead in the shape of a cross, but in my mind that one child was special. Special, but only because I was there to hold the silver tray for the priest as he poured holy water over the infant’s head. I, martyr of lost birthday parties, was performing a great 8


deed. I felt as though I was the saviour of the ceremony, rather than a mere convenience for the priest, who wanted his baptisms to be properly administered, mainly for the parents’ sake. I was standing for much of the ceremony, away from my usual spot, and did not see my lights. After the baptism, as my brother and I hung up our robes in a room adjoining the church, the priest approached us and thanked us for serving at Mass that day, and for missing our friend’s party for the benefit of the newly baptised child. I think he thanked us on behalf of the parents of the baby, who likely do not remember me or think of me as an integral part of their child’s first sacrament. Perhaps he told us we were wonderful or selfless, or that God smiled upon such children as we, but all I remember is that he then gave us each a 20-schilling note. This was a pittance, barely enough to buy a chocolate bar at the grocery store, but we were elated. We would have missed a dozen birthday parties if this were the reward. We thanked him profusely, said farewell until Sunday, and tramped out into the churchyard to meet our mother, who was taking us to our friend’s house for the end of his party. We emerged, each with an arm outstretched, holding the 20 schilling notes aloft through the yard. “Look what we were given,” we chanted. “You’re giving that back,” my mother said, her mouth puckered in horror. But the priest was already gone, and perhaps my mother was too ashamed of our innocent greed to approach the deacon with evidence of it, even with the intention of giving the notes back. Then that priest retired, or moved on to a different parish, or perhaps someone discovered that his live-in housekeeper was his mistress and he was sacked. There 9


was a new priest: he was quite young, angularly handsome, and blue-eyed. My mother laughed as she told my grandmother about all the young women who suddenly began attending church, who would line up for the Eucharist to receive the body and blood of Christ which had been blessed, in the aisle that he attended. My brother and I remained altar servers for some time after this change, shivering in our white robes and rising at the exactly correct time to fetch and serve. We dutifully sat on either side of the priest on our plush stools, and the lights bobbed and glowed through my glasses through his half-hour masses. The deacon was angry, I remember; he felt that the mass was too hurried, that it was irreverent to rush or curtail prayers. That year, two things happened: my parents began packing up our apartment for our move to Canada, and my brother became sick. Boxes began to pile high in every corner of the house, rooms were slowly emptied of their furnishings and decorative appointments, and my brother grew starved and weak--he gagged visibly when he tried to swallow anything. My mother noticed before I did that he looked like a Victorian consumptive. We were twins; his face was my face, and if his wrists stuck out from the sleeves of his sweatshirts like spindly twigs then I suppose I assumed mine did too. He went into the hospital for two weeks and my mother went with him, leaving my father and I at home. Before the two of us visited him for the first time in hospital, I ordered my father to stop at the church, and to let me light one of the devotional candles in front of the statue of the Virgin Mary. I was Catholic by my mother’s instruction; my father had no strong feelings towards either religion or skepticism and he was in a hurry. He did stop at 10


the church though, keeping the engine running as I went in alone. Inside, I slipped 20 schillings into the donation box beside the statue, lit one of the candles, and then stood silently for a moment, unsure of what to do next. What parting salutation did I dare give the mother of God? I had seen old women perform this action every Sunday, lighting candles for those who needed their prayers. Their piety was so quiet that I only saw them approach the statue, and never witnessed their departure. I decided to nod quickly at her, and then ran out of the church. My father did not take me to church again that Sunday, or the Sunday after. My brother was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes. He was healthy again after he learned to manage his blood sugar with multiple insulin injections per day and a carefully controlled diet. My mother told me, when the two of them returned home from the hospital, that she had caused his illness: she had taken down the small crucifixes that had hung above the doorways of our bedrooms in anticipation of our move. They were all packed away in one of the stacks of boxes that took up so much of our living room. I found each crucifix hung in its usual space a little while later, not to be repacked until absolutely necessary. We did not attend church after my brother’s diagnosis. We were busy, preparing for the imminent move and adjusting to my brother’s new medical needs. The crucifixes stayed up, though, and my brother and I knelt side-by-side every night to recite our prayers, each word blending in with the next to form an incomprehensible chant. “Slow down,” my mother told us, “you’re not even listening to the words anymore.” Late spring was acknowledged in our apartment complex by tidying the two yards and trimming the low hedge that surrounded the entire property. My brother and I 11


helped our neighbours with these chores. We both stood on the sidewalk, sweeping the small branches that were cut off the top of the hedge into waste bags. My mother stood on a balcony overlooking the road, sweeping away dust or washing windows. That spring, the sound of singing from down the road caught our attention. In a flurry of tossed flower petals and communal song my entire congregation was heading towards me, led by the young priest. This was the Corpus Christi procession, a celebration that my brother and I had attended as altar servers for the previous two years. The procession entailed hours of marching about the town and conducting open-air Masses. My face flushed with shame as I watched them approach. I had not only forgotten that it was Sunday, I had forgotten one of the chief public church events of the year; I felt I was a failure, probably a hypocrite, and a bad Catholic. If my life ended in that moment, I knew I was heading straight to Hell. My neighbours had no reason to be in church that day; they were Turkish Muslims, and this spectacle of flower petals and solemn marching was just another street procession in a town where a month was unusual if it did not contain some festival or public event. My brother was excited to see the procession--he even waved at the priest and at one of the altar servers. He did not understand why I immediately and desperately turned to look at my mother on the balcony above. She had gone indoors. She told me later that she did not want the priest to see her and know she was skipping Mass. When I turned back to the road, frantic without the reassurances that I sought, I accidentally caught the eyes of the priest. He regarded me as he passed, the congregation’s hymn filling the street around him a sort of soundtrack 12


to my final judgement. We had all stopped attending to the hedge, caught in this moment of song and colour and conspicuous faith. Perhaps I grinned nervously, or perhaps I clutched at the hedge of one of the broken branches. It is more likely that I stood dutifully still to greet the disapproving, terrible angel who descended upon my street to witness my unconcealed truancy. My brother still waved at everyone in sight. The priest nodded politely at me, finally. My neighbours, my brother, and I watched him and the congregation straggle by, leaving a carpet of smushed and battered petals. “Shouldn’t you be in that?” my neighbour asked. •

Our church lives began again in our new town in Canada, where we were never altar servers, and where the large, modern church was usually warm, even in the winter. My eyes got worse, and I had a succession of new glasses, none with the same motley frames of those peculiarly bent ones that kept my eyes heaven-ward through so many church services. I still attend Mass every week; a church nearby offers a night service, so that I do not have to suffer the inconvenience of rolling out of bed before ten on a Sunday morning. I sit, and I stand, and then I kneel as the priest instructs. As the readings are performed, I judge the readers on tone and style: Are they sonorous? Are they sedate? are they treating their readings as dramatic monologues? I judge their postures and the space between their mouths and the microphone, and I wonder if they are nervous about reading aloud, and if they cringe internally when they mispronounce an unfamiliar word. 13


I sing the hymns now, sometimes loudly. If there are altar servers, if children are up late enough on a Sunday night to attend that service, I watch them swing their feet. Are they cold in their many layers, and have they refused the long underwear thrust upon them by their mothers? I want to join them on the stools behind the altar, and see if my mature, opaque-framed glasses can perform that old trick with the lights. If they are wearing glasses, I wonder if they are seeing the same lights flash and glow above our heads.

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YOU’RE IN FOR A RUDE AWAKENING you’re in for a rude awakening in an equinox sleep outside titans leap Scylla meets eos harmonia opens gaps on banquettes steep you’re in for a rude awakening along jetlightning vast ash zirconia

JOSEPH GOODMAN

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HAND PRINTS The sharpness of each / shift the pleasure, / pain, of particulars -- / All inside gone out --- Robert Creeley, “My New Mexico” Summer 1995 A hand grows whiter; The trafficking of Skies out Side; outPlays the lamp Summer 1996 With the hand-break: Shhhh A tide – unfolding sheet – So Stones slope: Ear To Ear

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Summer 1997 The cicatrizing Ailanthus Altissma; Such patterned eyelids Summer 1998 The Bride is haired to Finesse. The church grown Pyrite. Crepuscule. – Pause Summer 1999 The Cigarras shift The piercings in the Sky Hand gestures up. – Cut

ELIOT D’SILVA

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BUMPS NICHOLAS CAMERON

The call comes clear, defined, and it drowns out whatever May traffic is around me. My girlfriend, Jane, is on the other end. She speaks quickly, to the point but I can hear her moving around the way you would if you were looking for something but had forgotten what. “K, you’ve got to come home. Your mom, I think she hit her head. She doesn’t remember anything and has no idea what is going on. She’s – she’s really scared.” A second goes by, maybe two. These words hover around me ghost-like and complex. But already I feel my mother slipping further into the mental deterioration she’s been undergoing for months. And in the few moments between what Jane says and what I hear, as the traffic light 18


changes and cars begin to swarm around me, my mind spirals more and more towards the determination that this must be beginning of me losing another parent. It’s been five months since my father disappeared. It wasn’t anything that she or I saw coming but, regardless, one day he was simply gone. And while we went through all the motions of fantasy and hypothesis in order to resist what eventually would become apparent, it would take four days for a cop to stand in the lobby of 13th Division and tell my mom, gently the first two times and bluntly the third, that my father hadn’t been kidnapped, that he hadn’t been abducted. That if he had no history of mental illness or any condition that may have caused extreme confusion then in all likelihood he left just because he felt like leaving. And while I reluctantly accepted this, she went and spent the last four and half months living in her bathrobe, sleeping three irregular hours a night and breaking into tears in the middle of our conversations. And by the time she hired a private investigator, then fired him for not turning anything up and hired another and then did the same, it just became embarrassing. I’d lie awake in bed listening to her cry from the floor above, for nobody but herself, until I finally found myself spending five nights a week at Jane’s house. And this is what is going through my head before Jane tells me that she is watching my mom shake uncontrollably on the floor and when I tell her that I’m calling an ambulance. I compress an eleven-minute trip into six and throw my bike and knapsack onto the front lawn. &

&

&

By the time I get to her, this is what I find out. Jane had been sleeping when my mom began to wander in and 19


out my room, calling my name and seeming completely unaware of Jane’s presence. I find out that the shaking fit she had lasted twenty seconds and, while not looking much like a seizure, was very spastic and I can see a large wet spot on her back from sweat. I find out that mom didn’t reply to her name for about three or four minutes and, when she did, it wasn’t apparent how much the words being said to her were sinking in. Jane explains all of this, kisses me on the cheek and says she’s going downstairs to wait for the ambulance. I hear Jane’s words around me, though they fail to register, as if I’m under water. But my attention snaps back because mom, kneeling in front of me, has squeezed the ice pack I’ve given her so hard it explodes. &

&

&

The bump on my mother’s head is swollen and bruising and peaks out her body in the shape of where I first began. Her eyes are bloodshot and, though disoriented, her movement carries a certain nonsensical fluency. I follow her from room-to-room, calling out her name and chasing after her. I still don’t know how serious the injury is. And my mind can only rattle with the never-ending list of potential traumas, until I confuse myself as to what exactly is possible and what is not. &

&

&

My mother’s memory is fractured and every thirty seconds she loops back to the same questions and same anxieties, making her sound not so much like a broken record but a skipping CD. I try to tell her that she probably has a concussion and that an ambulance is on its way. I try to get her to sit down, unsure about whether or not this is what you do in this situation, and sometimes she sits but, 20


more often, she doesn’t. There are three or four questions she keeps repeating and I try to make up the answers to keep her distracted. But then she starts saying, “Where is your father, K? K, I need to see your father.” And after ignoring her the first four times I finally answer, “I don’t know. But you’re going to be OK,” and this seems to calm her down a bit. And she goes back to the old questions and I try to answer them as if they were new. I don’t know how much I’m getting through to her, so I keep myself on repeat and imagine us sounding like the most unentertaining vaudeville performance of head-injuries and bumps and bruises and scrambling. Also, I should have probably explained earlier that, throughout my life, my father referred to me as “kiddo” more than by my actual name. This led to my being nicknamed K. &

&

&

Thirteen minutes since calling the ambulance I realize that the bump on her head has almost completely receded. But then her entire face is starts changing colour and becoming bright blue. Thinking she’s choking, I try to give her the Heimlich but she breaks free and yells at me. She wasn’t choking. But her hands have now turned dark orange and her feet gold. And I call down to Jane but she doesn’t reply. &

&

&

Fifteen minutes in, I finally realize that what is happening with my mom is obviously more than a head injury. Not knowing what to do, I decide to let her lie down on her bed. It’s then that I see that her neck has turned sil21


ver, her arms turquoise and she is speaking quieter, more quickly and much more often. I scream down the stairs for Jane but she still isn’t answering. “Your father, K. Your father.” “Please, Mom, you’ve just got to calm down. I don’t know what’s happening but just take lots of deep breaths and try to relax. The ambulance is on its way. It’ll be here soon. You just had a nasty spill and I think you hit your head. But you’ve got to calm down.” “Coming, coming.” “Mom, I need you to just calm down.” “K, your father-” “Mom, please.” She then looks up, takes four gossip-like gasps and jolts her body like she is being electrocuted and lets out a pitched scream: almost soundless but somehow deafening. I stumble over myself and onto the floor. By the time I find myself on my feet, staring straight ahead, she has begun to radiate light from inside her. It starts off white but begins to beam all the colours of a bruise: yellow, purple, blue, grey, pink. “K? Are you there? K? K? K?” I try to say yes but the words themselves don’t become audible and instead spill out my mouth in a sigh. Still, she seems to hear them and nods. “Okay, okay, okay. K, this is all happening so very quickly and and and – but we were – and, it’s so clear now. It was supposed to happen all this time.” And I watch her as another voice, a man’s voice, my father’s voice comes up around me. “Everything’s fine, kiddo” he says. “We’ll see you soon enough. Don’t worry.” Now, mom begins to turn more colours with greater frequency. The aura around her surges so that the whole 22


room is drawn under her rays. I can hear my pulse beating inside my ears and I have to wince in order to stare straight ahead. “We’ll see you soon,” they both say and I see them next to one another in some unknown place, holding hands and hovering. “Please don’t worry, K,” says my dad. “Everything’s fine.” When my vision refocuses on the room, she has vanished. Her bedroom is as it was before and I wonder what time it is until I hear one of the paramedics calling for me as they climb the stairs. With no place or willingness to move, I simply stand where I am. “So what’s the problem here?” I stare at the bed, where the pillow on which my mother had lain is still indented from her presence. “Sir, can you hear me? Are you OK? I need to know what’s going on.” I keep staring at the pillow. Then, after either five or fifteen seconds, I break to look over at them. “Oh, I’m sorry. I think I just had a nasty spill and I may have hit my head.”

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CARAVEL Rinsed, simply, in water. Shining and white As a tooth. A farther sea. The distance from Maine to Wyoming. When the grass hisses like rising seawater. A caravel on the rising sea, a sleek hull And sea-worthy spine. A Portuguese flag. Rolled and eggy, yellow and smooth. Slipped Into the hold. White, island weather. A history, Barbadoed, Black and Irish as slaves, as tropically, brown, mixed Children of finally painless sex After long caravel rides. An all-white crowd, Grilling bratwurst at Coney Island, except

24


The blacks cleaning brass, like rubber and gold, The little unseen tasks of little black men. Broken and bent, like a tailpipe in a scrap yard In Scranton. Rusted and red. On the thin, watery wind, the words of Gullah Bringing news of blackened reefs of Congo and Carolina, A history suppurating in sugar And lost in the wash of time and in the losing sea.

ERIC ANDREW-GEE

25


DRIVING ALL NIGHT You see cars breaking down in the early morning, as if they had been driving all night. The smell, unaccountably, of popcorn and cologne, emitting from the driver’s side-door of one. The driver, who must have been the one eating, and wearing, annoyed by the company he had become used to not having. The silvery dark of pre-dawn, the nighttime mists that dissipate only when the world wakes up, like magic in a movie, do not hold this guy in their spell. His eyes are daytime eyes – frank, white, almond-shaped, undroswy. He would sleep later in blind-slitted daytime light.

ERIC ANDREW-GEE

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DOWN IN THE MOUTH ELLIOT HERZIG

Yes. I confess. It is I, Norman P. Silverbeatle, who sat nude in the middle of St. Catherine Street sopped in honey, attempting yoga and howling the phrase “Waca Waca Waca.” Even now, as I sit and reflect upon the abstruse path which brought me here, I wonder: Is what I did so unreasonable? Often, what one generation deems indecent the next considers progressive. In fact, I was once a successful orthodontist with a handsomely decorated Westmount office. I donated liberally to the arts and synagogue. Before nasty opinions are formed against me – a welcomed guest at theatre openings, soirees and elite country club, known for his youthful charm and indomitable forehand – let me account for my current condition. 27


I was fixing Mrs. Shnorfberg with Herbst Appliance braces – a gruesome contrivance which, if necessary, can be used to open cans – when I was struck by that wickedly irrepressible question: What is the point of my existence? Please don’t misunderstand; I had an attractive life. My wife was beautiful and I cared deeply for her; I was content with my practice (there are far worse orifices in which to specialize); and I had two winning children in whose lives I was ardently involved. But – and I curse Fate for this – my life seemed meaningless. I installed the braces on poor Mrs. Shnorfberg’s nose. Fortunately, Mrs. Schnorfberg was already incapacitated by a noxious blend of chlorine, bromine and fluoride. Having my assistants correct the blunder, I left work early and sought help. I first visited Rabbi Levy Ben-Levi. A shaman of existential afflictions, Ben-Levi boasted knowledge, intellect and the wisdom of Solomon. At least, that’s what I was told by Yebbi the janitor at Schwartz’s Delicatessen. The point is I was desperate. The Rabbi was a bald portly figure, his head made rounder by a unibrow whose furry curves resembled the McDonalds’ golden arches. I informed the Rabbi of my grievance. I said that without something to believe in life is meaningless, and religion appealed to me for that very reason. Although I didn’t believe in God, I wanted to; but I needed proof of his existence. “I cannot give you evidence of God” said the Rabbi. “Nor can I give you proof of my hunger or thirst or that my favourite food is herring. This is knowledge that is felt, not presented as data. We intuit God; confirmation is attained from within.” He proceeded to devour a herring and horse-radish sandwich. I pressed further. “Sure, some days I feel God but others I don’t. If he exists, why is there so much iniquity? Like 28


the Nazis or my Aunt Ruth’s breath.” The Rabbi had no answer but pushing his plate in my direction, he offered the unsavoury response: “Herring?” At that instant I left his office, disillusioned, depressed and bizarrely regretful that I declined the herring. The evening prompted a worse state of mind. In perfect darkness I lay in bed debating suicide. Why should I go on living? So much tedium, misery, pressure – and that’s just when I’m using the bathroom. Life’s not worthwhile in a Godless world. I should do it. I should kill myself. But how? This house is too low to jump off. I suppose I could plunge from my office window but it’s only nine stories. Is that high enough? How far must one fall to ensure death? I’ll Google it in the morning. Ahh, I can’t jump out buildings; I’m too afraid of heights. I`m also too squeamish for a Roman bath style suicide. Boy, were those Romans tough. My hunting rifle would do the trick . . . but what if I’m wrong? I would hate to shoot myself and then hear on tomorrow`s news that they located God . . . I need purpose. Perhaps the artists were right and self expression is the answer to life`s absence of meaning. What a bunch of nuts those guys were though. Boy it’s hot in here. I wonder if the other side of the pillow has cooled. Of course it hasn`t; you just flipped it over. I’m gonna check. Don’t you dare reverse that pillow, you`ll ruin the cooling process! . . . Where was I? Oh yes, self expression. I will try my hand at the arts. What’s the worst that could happen? If I knew the answer to the aforementioned question I would never have attempted the arts. Oafish in the traditional modes of self-expression, I decided to exhibit artistic merit in orthodontistry, a risk I felt the truly creative mind would esteem. I went to work the following day vivified. No longer would my patients have “teeth” as such. 29


Instead, their mouths would be an oral canvas on which to paint passion, diffidence and everything in between. With the floss pick as my brush, the dental drill as my somewhat larger brush and the oral irrigator another of my brushes still, I would reignite my will to live. My first patient was an elderly man who, I learnt after reviewing his medical history, was critically ill. His bitter countenance and measured paces epitomized a man confronting mortality. Thus, I made his mouth untamed, angry and over-bitten, his teeth spiked outward like a rabid dog, his mouth wired shut signifying man’s inability to comprehend death. My next two subjects were a striking couple. Their mutual adoration inspired me to craft a two-mouth, single brace set, inextricably joined at the incisors. I called this work, “The Kiss.” For my last piece of the day, I called Mrs. Schnorfburg to the office for a second visit and humorously reassembled her braces back onto her nose. I must have been ahead of my time because within a week my license was removed. I was sorely depressed. Sleepless nights had me deep in thought. Why do I consider my life meaningless? Isn’t it enough that my actions affect my friends and family? I tried to make a list of personal actions I felt had purpose, but could not get past: (1) purchased warmer winter jacket. Did anyone I know have a meaningful life? My brother has gone to synagogue every Sabbath for forty years, but that’s only to sit separately from his wife. Filtmore, an orthodontist friend, makes jello as a hobby. Italian Mafioso would kill a man for a plate of spaghetti. No one’s life could actually be called meaningful. Soon I began to have nightmares. I dreamt I was nude 30


except for running shoes and a tie, shoveling an endless pile of manure into a bottomless grave, a grave whose tombstone read, “Here lays Norman P. Silverbeatle, beloved husband and father, who died attempting to remove the last pickle from the jar. He will always be remembered for his friendliness and generosity. Okay, maybe not always, but definitely for a little while.� To avoid the nightmares I began taking evening walks, each night walking further. One night I ventured to the outskirts of town and happened upon a hooded group circling a large blue fire and chanting. They said they needed me, as they were making an offering to the gods, and had run out of sacrificial lambs. I tried to explain that I was on my way home but a combination of convincing arguments and a titanium baseball bat persuaded me to stay. To hell with it, I thought, perhaps Fate has driven me here. Donning a hood, I chanted with the group around the fire. I next recall being force fed organic, local grown foods and being decorated with Henna tattoos. I then witnessed a rite of passage ceremony whereby loin-cloth clad adolescents hop-scotched across a stretch of scorching coals. Finally I was made to swallow opiates and a home-made brew whose contents consisted of, among others, cocaine, fermented cactus and bathtub gin. Further details escape me although my mind was clearly affected. Two days later the incident on Ste. Catherine Street occurred.

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ANOTHER QUIET MORNING You turn the knob slowly, float the door closed with a wince. But your ankles like wicker out-cavil the stairs. Creaking fits of bone-sneeze, you steal down the runner, toilet unflushed, robe in mute scream. We kids strain for noise-plumes of morning cartoons, hypnotized with eyes glued to loud-looking japes. Acme co. backfires with full orchestra guarded low. You whisper, “lower.� We cringe at the ceiling. You heat hard water in a voiceless kettle, sip milky consolation, watch the sun-bathed steam, listening while our patriarch upstairs scours beds of shallow dream.

BRIDGET SPROULS

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STEPS Autumn 2012  

McGill's Undergraduate LIterary Journal.

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