Contents From the Editors The Trip
3 Lucy Cameron
Anya Baker Elegy for Barflies 7 dividend
A Break-up Guide
In the Museum
you in your dark blue dress
Editors-in-Chief Tim Beeler Gavin Thomson General Editors Michael Lee-Murphy Julie Mannell Fiction Editors Karen Huang 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 spring 2013 issue of STEPS. We hope you enjoy what you read.
All Best, Tim and Gavin
The Trip They were drawn in fields and on the roofs of farmhouses graphite on plywood in photos of the sun fringed with their hair on fire hanging limp from a clothesline in a brick townhouse across the tracks Took his momâ€™s car a van like a milkw carton and the whole gang denim limbs, folded in a skeleton bouquet taking the highway out of town taking that long leg off to the east the dashboard slowly melting a chocolate bar Stopped at a field of corn to take pictures Stand over there against the fence yeah like that The corn, soft hair spilling from behind its ears spiraling silk strings the whole country unfolding for a golden minute on a butter wrapper
Creamy, she said. They unloaded silver cans from the trunk that didnâ€™t taste like much In the shadows of clouds, strange insignia telephone poles repeated telephone poles the masts of ships run aground (What was the city like? she asked he didnâ€™t have an answer. I wonder what they are doing, he wondered.) The afternoon continued.
Elegy For Barflies Anya Baker
We met at the Scuttlebutt Pub on Tuesday night to see Mickey. He’d been there all afternoon, only calling me up around five or so. Theresa was starting dinner then, and was giving me hell while she rolled meatballs to go with pasta. “It’s roadkill,” she muttered. “I trust them.” “Don’t care if it only cost a nickel. That place is disgusting.” “They have to pass tests,” I said. “Same as the grocery “Bullshit.” “Quality tests and certification stuff. It’s fine.” She slapped the last meatball together. “If you ever 7
bring meat home from that filthy store again, you’re cooking it on the barbeque and eating it alone. It’s not coming into my kitchen.” The phone rang. “We’re all going to get salmonella.” “Shut it, I gotta hear the phone.” It was Mickey on the other end. “When’s the last time you used a payphone?” his voice was distant. “Where you at that you’re using a payphone, Mick?” “Scuttlebutt’s,” he slurred. Mickey was the sort who slurred whether drunk or sober. “I lost my phone, Dave.” “The one your kids got you? Aw, too bad.” “Yep, lost it somewhere in the house. But answer me this, when’s the last time you used a payphone?” “I couldn’t say.” “I couldn’t either. There was a pause. “How’re your kids then, Davey? Haven’t seen them in a while.” “Yeah, they’re good. Everyone’s good. They’re getting old.” “Teenagers now, both of ’em?” he asked. A racket of pots and pans came from where Theresa was gutting the drawers, searching for the big pot she liked for cooking meatballs. “What’s that? You making dinner, Davey?” Mickey asked. “Nah, Theresa’s cooking up some meatballs,” I said. She waved at me to get my attention and gestured to the table. I got the hint: “You wanna join us?” I asked Mickey. “No, no. I’m not in a fit state to be seeing your family.” I shook my head at Theresa and mouthed, “He’s 8
drunk,” miming drinking. “Barfly,” she muttered, and turned to the stove. “How long you been at Scuttlebutt’s?” I asked Mickey. “Coupl’a hours now. Haven’t been looking at the clock.” “Something going on?” “Maybe. You gotta come out here for a drink, Davey.” “Nah, it’s dinner, man.” “Just for a drink.” “It’s not going to happen.” “The old gang’s all coming.” “What? Gary and all them?” “Yep, they’re all coming for a drink. You gotta come for a drink.” “Gimme a second,” I said, and told Theresa, “How long till dinner?” She gave me a look. I turned back to the phone: “Okay, I’ll be there in a bit. See you.” “Bless you, Davey.” I hung up the phone and turned back to Theresa. She kept her back to me, but slung her wooden spoon around a pot with ferocity. “So that barfly friend means more to you than having dinner with your kids?” she spat. “It’s a beer. I’ll be home by the time everything’s done cooking.” “You’re not driving.” “It’s one beer, I’ll be fine.” “I’ll be fine,” she mimicked, “I’ll be fine.” “I’m going,” I grabbed my coat off the wall hook and barreled past her to the kitchen door to the porch. “You’re not driving. I’ll call the cops if you drive back 9
here stinking drunk.” “I’ll be home for dinner later,” I called and let the door slam behind me. “Bastard,” her voice cut through the doors, windows, walls, everything. It was bitterly cold. Southern Ontario isn’t known for kind winters. I popped the collar of my coat and shuffled into the cab of my pickup with my hands thrust deep into my pockets. Even with the heat blasting, it was a cold drive. Scuttlebutt’s is on the main drag of Stevensville and part of the gang ended up forming an accidental convoy as everyone made his way into town. Our trucks circled the parking lot, the four of us making a halo in the dirt around Mickey’s truck. We met outside the pub, on the part of the porch overlooking the creek, lighting up cigarettes as we converged. Even Phil showed up. “Haven’t seen you in a while there, Philly.” “Cut the crap,” Phil replied. “You know where I been.” Maury had walked over -- the Feds took away his license when he started taking pain meds for a bad back. It took him a minute to catch his breath; he kept pounding on his chest like it would dislodge something. “He tell you? Did he?” he sucked on his cigarette. “You’re gonna pass out, Maury. Take a breather.” “He told me to shut it until he told you. Did he tell you?” “Tell me what? Why’d he tell you?” “We’s buds.” “Then what are we?” “He didn’t tell you?” Maury crowed. “Jesus Christ, either tell us or shut it.” 10
“He’s dying, man.” “Jesus Christ.” “He’s dying.” “We heard you.” We stood and smoked, and looked out over the creek. When we were kids, we might have been down there in the creek smoking stronger stuff, our hockey jackets making the cold impotent. We flicked the butts into the water when Bill started shaking from the cold. Bill wasn’t as thick around the middle as the rest of us; he felt the wind more than us fatasses. We nodded at Kit on our way in. He waved at us from behind the bar, then returned to filling pitchers for a table of rowdy young people in the corner of the room. They all rose and circled around him as he arrived at their table, a pitcher in each hand. “Where is he?” Gary nudged me. “Look around, it’s crowded tonight,” I led the gang towards the bar. Kit turned and gave me a punch on the arm: “Hey Dave, haven’t seen you in a while.” I shrugged: “Theresa’s got me off the booze mostly.” “You drinking tonight?” “Well yeah, I might have a beer or two.” “Good man.” “We’ll see how things go. You seen Mickey? We’re here to have a beer with him.” Kit leaned in to say something but his voice was too low for a barroom. “Speak up!” I said. “Yeah,” Bill nudged his head in between Kit’s and mine, “what’re you saying?” Kit cast a look around before repeating, “I cut him off 11
an hour ago. He doesn’t look good, Dave. You gotta take him home.” “Where is he?” “And the good old gang is back!” came a roar from the washrooms; Mickey stalked across the room with his arms cast out on either side. When he reached us, he gave us each a hug. His body shook. His eyelids were pale enough to blend into the whites of his eyes. His cheeks were caved in. As he enveloped me, I couldn’t muster the power to raise my arms and hug him back. He gave me a playful pat on the side of the neck. The skin of his hand felt cold and slack. “Looking good, man,” I muttered -- it was the customary greeting. Mickey set his hands on his hips and gave my face an appraisal. We all stood in a circle around him, like each of us was waiting to be inspected. “You boys know why you’re here now, don’t you?” He got no response. He stared at us, turning to give us each a long look in the eyes. “Kit, get us some beers!” His sagging skin stretched into a beatific grin, “we’re here for my wake, boys!” “Jesus Christ, Mickey, how many beers you had already?” Bill said and launched right into Mickey, shaking the guy and hollering, “Don’t be saying, that! You don’t say that!” The rest of us broke rank. Maury took ahold of Bill, who was already blubbering without even a drink in him yet, and Gary and I tried to keep Mickey on his feet without falling apart ourselves. He looked ready to keel over, but was still grinning. Phil took a look at the whole scene and decided to plop his arse onto one of the barstools. “Give me a beer. Let’s have this wake.” “They say I shouldn’t be serving you alcohol no more, 12
Phil,” Kit said. “Shut it,” Phil growled, “Gimme a beer.” Mickey found strength in Phil’s support, rocking from our grip and staggering out onto the dance floor. We were the new entertainment for the rest of the room; the table in the corner cheered Mickey on as he circled around trying to find his feet, fending off Gary with an outstretched arm. “I’ve got announcement! I’ve got an announcement!” he crowed. “What do we do?” Bill and Maury crept close. “Why you asking me?” “You’re not crying or chasing or drinking yet,” Maury muttered. “Gimme a minute,” I said. I checked my watch. I was definitely missing dinner. I hadn’t accounted for Mickey going crazy over the bad news. Maybe I wasn’t crying or chasing or filling up on beer, but I kept having to look down at my feet to keep the bar from spinning. Not a drink in me, and I could barely keep my vision focused on Bill and Maury’s faces. And when I looked at Mickey and saw his sharp, shaking movements and watched him suddenly double over, practically hacking a lung out while Gary tried to pound his back, my sight nearly went. “You know what,” I said, “You know what we’re gonna do, you know what gonna do?” I leaned against the counter. “We’re gonna do what Mick wants. Do whatever he wants, and then Bill, you’re gonna take him home. Leave his truck here and we’ll figure it out tomorrow.” “I’ve got an announcement!” Mickey wheezed, holding on to Gary’s shoulders to keep upright. He looked at his audience of rowdy young drunks, the future barflies of 13
Stevensville. I was sure he was trying to regale us all with his health woes, to explain his appearance, to give us some sort of goodbye; he looked like he couldn’t find the words. Then he launched himself away from any support and started braying out some old Irishy song, warbling all over the place and barely keeping on his feet. “Sit your arse down, Mick,” Bill hissed, “Nobody wants to hear you.” But Mickey kept singing, waving his hands to a band only he could see. The young folks in the corner sat down and stopped cheering. They wanted to hear him. And the rest of us gathered without meaning to behind Mickey and started humming when we didn’t know the words and singing when we remembered them from when our grandmothers sang us to sleep as children, or, for those descended from the German rather than the Irish half of the town, from a neighbour’s party or a school concert sometime back in a hazy memory. “The Parting Glass,” a song the rowdy bunch wouldn’t possibly know, but they knew enough to know it meant goodbye, and they hummed along as best they could until they learned the words, and then roared it until their throats were too dry to sing any more. By the time we were singing “a good night, and joy be with you all,” my head was pounding from the din. When it ended in the silent bar, with everyone understanding that there should be no applause, I reached out and put my hand on Mickey’s shoulder. “Time to go,” I said. “We gotta get you home.” “You don’t understand, I have to say goodbye,” he latched on to my shoulder and sobbed against me as Gary, his caretaker by now, immediately tried to pry him off. 14
“No, it’s alright,” I said to Gary, putting my arms around Mickey’s sides and then patting him gently on the back. (My kids used to come up to me, with grazed knees -- or after a smack up the side of the head from their mother-- and I would hold them the same way. After a couple of soft pats on the back and everyone knows they’re loved.) Mickey jerked away after a little while, arms flailing for the counter. I’m told Bill drove him home, like he was told to, Mickey slumped over, asleep, in the passenger side of the truck cab. I drove to the next town over after we all dispersed, and I bought a couple of king cans before the liquor store there closed. Stevensville doesn’t have a liquor store; it doesn’t have a grocery store, and there’s nowhere to drink but the Scuttlebutt. I slapped at the skin of my cheeks, checking in the rearview mirror that my jowls were still there, thinking of Mickey. Then I sat on the rocks out by Lake Erie, working my way methodically through my beer stash until I had three cans to crumple against the pavement and toss into the lake. I always hide my evidence. The kids used to make a game of it, and tattle about my hiding spots to Theresa. Now we all share our best ones. I hit a raccoon on the drive home. He stopped in my lane when I was some distance away, his eyes shining in my headlights. I pressed my foot on the gas. We’re all told from the time we’re kids, never to stop for an animal while driving -- that’s how you get rear-ended. The impact with the raccoon was minimal; the truck rolled over it smoothly.. Theresa was ready to skin me when I came home late -- I crept in the back way and rinsed the smell of beer out 15
of my mouth a couple of times with mouthwash. She still knew. She’s got a nose on her that can pick out a whiff of the bar from across the room, and she growled about the mouthwash not fooling anyone. “You’re gonna kill someone’s kid one of these says,” she snapped, slapping a plate of spaghetti in front of me, “Stinking drunk and still driving.” “No meatballs?” I asked. “The kids ate them,” she said, “You’re lucky I even saved this for you.” I took the spaghetti into the den.
dividend your forehead (creased & creased) unfolded (accordion) to stop short gap breath nose & drumskin lip vibration grey drape purple skirt oblong trapezoid scrunched at the waist unsure of the next wicked wedge black strap dividend hey you â€“ come closer let me shimmy along your family line just this once
Cal To be a wanderer in your own blood; load, trespass, tread. The unwavering chalk line. Donâ€™t be idle, Cal. Take the magnet out of the compass like a polyp, and breathe. This anger is new. Maloneâ€™s feeling bullish this morning, under dawn. The pale and speechless satellite. Drive alone into the desert, carbine asleep with one eye open. Go before the birds begin the day.
Sleek-headed hawks sleep soundly in the blood black of night. It doesn’t come back; the unspooling is finished. It doesn’t turn away, nor should you.
A Break-up Guide Hannah Murphy
Day 1 60-oz Vodka, Sour Cream and Onion Chips It’s Halloween. Dress as a slutty parrot. Come up with phrase, “Polly want a blow job?” Laugh hard to avoid crying. Kiss (and maybe more) anyone. Day 2 Bottle of Cheap Australian White Wine, Cheetos Cry about kissing (and maybe more-ing) anyone. Day 3 1% Milk, Box of Oreos Read poetry. Watch eight episodes of The Simpsons. Con21
vince yourself that you are, in general, happy. Watch YouTube compilations of happy TV couples. Convince yourself again of your happiness. Grind your teeth as you fall asleep. Day 9 Chicken Burrito, Bottle of Wine called “Girl’s Night Out!” See him so he can collect his stuff. You are anxious because you have a (therapist-approved) speech planned. You force it into the end of the conversation and he misunderstands. After being told you are not to blame and that you are different people, nod and say, “cool.” Make a joke, he laughs. Feel satisfied and turn around. Immediately feel unsatisfied. Damn it. Day 13 Four Medium Coffees, Chocolate Donut (The Wrong Donut) Busy day. You get home and fix furniture that has been broken for months. Clean. Redecorate. Reorganize. Move a table. Ah, much better. He sends you a message. Straightforward question. You answer. He starts a conversation. Curiosity makes you respond. You want him to say something tragic and romantic. He asks you what TV show he should watch. Day 14 Hot Chocolate, Chocolate Croissant, 26-oz Spiced Rum Feel good today. You are happy, unbelievably happy, which makes you wary of your happiness. Start to wonder when it’s going to wear off. Ask yourself why you think it’s going to wear off. Mentally make a list of all the reasons to be 22
unhappy, then a list of all the reasons you should stay this happy. Begin to realize that all this fretting about happiness has made you decidedly unhappy. Day 16 Silver Tequila, Coca-Cola, Plain Pizza Slice Pep talk: “You will not kiss him. You will not kiss him.” Dress like you want to kiss somebody. Go to party at his house. Deny come-ons. Feel great pride in your self-control. Drink his Jameson. Start feeling flattered. Deny again, but less convincingly. Give in, but only a little. The kissing is familiar. He falls asleep. Breast cupped, over the shirt. Relief and disappointment. Day 17 Goat Cheese, Pesto, and Prosciutto Sandwich, Coffee, Morning After Pill Huge mistake. Day 18 Artichoke Spinach Hummus, Cheddar Cheese, Whole Wheat Pita Start Googling things frantically. “How many chocolate liqueurs do you have to eat to get six-beer-drunk?” “How long would it take me to learn German, give or take?” “Where can I get the cheapest pizza in Montreal that doesn’t make dipping sauce for crust and also delivers?” “Can I get a list of break-up songs that are actually good?” “Where can I read the suicide notes of famous people?” “Where is the world’s largest trampoline?” Google image search: “sadness.” Gray and blue. And violins. That about sums it up, you think. 23
Day 21 English Muffin, Earl Grey Tea Get on metro. Catch a little girl looking at you. She keeps staring. You look away. You wonder if she is doing what you used to, wishing you had long hair like that older girl. You wonder when you became the older girl with the hair. Feel a great sense of importance for the rest of the day. Day 24 Three Coffees (One Black, Two With Cream) Begin to feel the acceptance settling in. You kind of hope it doesn’t yet. You wish you were more distraught, more miserable and therefore more poetic. How will you ever create anything beautiful if you stifle your suffering with common sense and rationality? Read up on global warming. Maybe that will get you going. Day 26 McDonald’s Fries, Falafel Go for a walk around the city. Pass that bar where your relationship began. Pass that intersection where he told you to stop so he could kiss you. Pass the parking lot where you guys peed together. Pass the restaurant where he told you all the ways you could be “better.” Pass the stoplight his car was stopped at when he said he had to pick up his things. Pass the apartment where you spent 72 hours in bed together. Pass the apartment where he spent 72 hours ignoring you. Try to stop seeing everything and look up. The cross. He loved the mountain. You miss the mountain. Day 27 Cheap Vegan Burrito, Large Coffee 24
You see a couple on your way home. You do not mentally berate them. Realize suddenly that you don’t want that. A burden is lifted. It’s 1 a.m. You write a poem. It’s a really good poem. And it has nothing to do with love. Day 30 Six-Pack of Chocolate Donuts, Salt and Vinegar Chips, Ginger Ale Wake up from anxiety dream about sharks in the fridge of the depanneur. You talk to him and it goes well. And you have closure, you think. Feel good and wonder if it’s too early to have real closure, but enjoy the good feeling anyway. When you get home, your mind wanders, coming back with a million questions for him. Questions neither of you will ever answer. You get angry (at him, mostly), blast Hole, and punch the wall (which hurts more than it helps). Remember that you have a lot of work to do. Day 31 60-oz Vodka, Sour Cream and Onion Chips
In the Museum She becomes fossilized through incessant selfcoaching, embeds herself so deep that prying hands learn gloves, dread fracturesâ€” chip sediment in sweat thin lines. She is rich now, her bones a national treasure, (strings pulled for quick carbon dating) static in strata, settled just behind her reflective glass skin.
you in your dress of dark blue denied me you in your dress of dark blue denied me nothing. still there were pauses more speechless than accurate tongue.
Open yours dream is Caesarian: last chance to bring life in, let life by an edge leave, death behind us in a wake please please life let me in on it, an edge she seeps over sleeps to find that that touch that eases us open and apartâ€”