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C O N T E N TS
issue 48 3
subTerrain A LITERARY MAGAZINE EDITOR Brian Kaufman
MANAGING EDITOR Jenn Farrell
EDITORIAL COLLECTIVE Peter Babiak, Nadine Boyd, Sharon Bradley, Jenn Farrell, Hilary Green, Karen Green, Day Helesic, Brian Kaufman, Kate Lancaster, Jim Oaten, Paul Pitre, Robert Strandquist
ﬁction 4 9 12 16 22 26 38 43
Covered BY JOE DAVIES Cake BY KIM DOUGLAS Standing Eight BY KEVIN BROWN Victor Davis, Who Got Your Heart? BY ROSS BRAGG The Last Word BY GRANT BUDAY Hockey Night in the Canadas BY BRETTON LONEY Rigor Mortis BY NICHOLAS RUDDOCK Off BY TONY BURGESS
DESIGN Rayola Graphic Design
L AYO U T HeimatHouse
mill town BY SUSAN STEUDEL
ADVERTISING Brian Kaufman, Karen Green
COVER Derek von Essen
creative non-ﬁction 18 Confessions of an Underground Wrestler BY TONY CORREIA 34 Ernie Bates Goes Golfing BY BRUCE MCDOUGALL
I L L U S T R ATO R S / P H OTO G R A P H E R S Michelle Furlong, Karen Justl, Louis Netter, George Omorean, Derek von Essen
B OOK REVIEW EDITOR Karen Green
A S S I S TA N T / E N A B L E R
commentary 52 Hunkamooga: The Books that Shaped and Destroyed Me BY STUART ROSS
Christine Leclerc subTerrain Magazine P.O. Box 3008, MPO, Vancouver, B.C. V6B 3X5 Canada Tel: (604) 876-8710 Fax: (604) 879-2667 e-mail: email@example.com website: www.subterrain.ca p r i n t e d i n C a n a d a by H e m l o c k P r i n t e r s
visual art 30 The Strange & Wonderful Imagery of MICHELLE FURLONG
IMAGE: “FISTS” BY GEORGE OMOREAN
33 Sports Book Round-up 46 Christine Rowlands on Richard Poplak’s Ja, No, Man: Growing Up White
in Apartheid Era South Africa; Jen Currin on Robin Blaser’s The Holy Forest; Meg Walker on Sharon McCartney’s The Love Song of Laura Ingalls Wilder; Patrick MacKenzie on Angie Abdou’s The Bone Cage; Day Helesic on Anne Stone’s Delible; Patrick MacKenzie on Heath McCoy’s Pain and Passion: The History of Stampede Wrestling; Heidi Greco on Marusya Bociurkiw’s Comfort Food for Breakups; Jim Oaten on Lorna Jackson’s Cold-cocked: On Hockey
Contributors subTerrain FAC T U M
GENERAL GUIDELINES Fiction: max. 5,000 words Creative Non-Fiction & Commentary: max. 4,000 words Photography, line art and illustrations welcome: hard copy or electronic submissions to the address below; Poetry: no unsolicited poetry submissions
LETTERS ARE WELCOME We encourage your comments about what you find between our covers. Letters become the property of subTerrain Magazine and may be edited for brevity and clarity.
B O O K S TO R E S & R E TA I L O U T L E T S subTerrain is available in Canada from Magazines Canada (416) 504-0274 and in the U.S. from International Periodical Distributors (IPD) 1-800-999-1170.
WWW.SUBTERRAIN.CA Sniff the ether
ISSN: 0840-7533 Volume 5 no. 48 • publishing since 1988 We gratefully acknowledge the support of the B.C. Arts Council and The Canada Council for the Arts. We acknowledge the assistance of the Government of Canada, through the Publications Assistance Program toward our mailing costs, and the Canada Magazine Fund for marketing and promotional initiatives.
IMAGE: GEORGE OMOREAN
subTerrain is published 3 times a year (Spring, Summer, Fall/Winter) by the sub-TERRAIN Literary Collective Society. All material is copyright of subTerrain, the authors, 2007. SUBSCRIPTION RATES: INDIVIDUALS: Canada/U.S.: One year $15.; Two years $25.; Lifetime: $150; Elsewhere: One year $25.; Two years $38. INSTITUTIONS: One year $18; Two years $36. MANUSCRIPTS AND ARTWORK are submitted at the author’s or artist’s own risk and will not be returned or responded to unless accompanied by a self-addressed stamped envelope bearing sufficient postage for the submission’s return. Those submitting material from outside Canada must include sufficient International Reply Coupons to cover the material’s return. Please allow 4 – 6 months for a response. Indexed in the Canadian Literary Periodicals Index and the Humanities International Complete. Canadian Publications Mail Products Sales Agreement No. 0361453. PAP Registration No. 9322. Postage paid at MPO, Vancouver, B.C. Date of issue: Winter 2007. All correspondence to: subTerrain Magazine, P.O. Box 3008 Main Post Office, Vancouver, B.C. V6B 3X5 CANADA TEL: (604) 876-8710 FAX: 879-2667 email: firstname.lastname@example.org. No e-mail submissions—queries only, please.
Ro s s B r ag g is a writer living in Vancouver where he’s a part-time producer with CBC Radio. His work has appeared in Geist, The Tyee, and Lies With The Occasional Truth. He is working on Drunken E-mails, a collection of short stories.
her creepy dreams. She was born in Winnipeg, Mb . where it all started. B r e t to n Lo n ey lives in Halifax and is the former editor and sports editor of The Daily News. His previous work has been published in the Alberta literary journal Toward the Light.
K ev i n B r ow n won the Permafrost Literary Journal’s Midnight Sun Fiction Contest. He was nominated for the 2007 Best American Short Stories, and has published in Alligator Juniper, Rosebud, New Delta Review, and Touchstone. G r a n t B u d ay 's new novel, Dragonflies, was shortlisted for the Metcalf-Rooke Award and is due out with Biblioasis in Fall 2008.
To ny B u r g e s s writes fiction in both long and short forms. He lives in Stayner, near Georgian Bay, in Ontario. His most recent book is a collection of short stories titled Fiction For Lovers. To ny C o r r e i a writes “Queen’s Logic” for Xtra!West magazine in Vancouver, B.C. He is at work on his first book, a memoir about his experiences at Doll & Penny’s Café.
J o e Dav i e s ’s fiction has appeared in magazines across Canada. He lives in Peterborough, Ontario with his wife and three kids, and for a short, welcome spell enjoyed full dental coverage.
K i m D o u g l a s is a Seattle native who suspects she is really Canadian in her heart. “Cake” is her first published story, and is for Erika, twenty years later.
M i c h e l l e Fu r lo n g is a visual artist and a recent graduate from Concordia University. She is currently enjoying her retreat in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where she is continuing her practice and continuously being inspired. K a r e n J u st l is a designer and illustrator residing in Toronto . Justl draws from memory the characters she sees in
B r u c e M c D o u g a l l has written short stories, novels, and plays and contributes to business and financial publications. He has written a humorous biography of Ted Rogers and plays golf left-handed.
Lo u i s N e t t e r is an illustrator, graphic designer and budding animator. He teaches at Parsons School of Design and Westchester Community College. He exhibits regularly with the New York Society of Etchers and in private galleries in the New York area. His work is heavily inspired by the European tradition of fearless draftsmanship and blatant mockery of the ruling class. Among the many photographic genres G eo r g e O m o r e a n works in, he especially enjoys the challenging aspects of capturing motion in sports events. More of his photos are at www.georgomorean.blogspot.com .
N i c h o l a s R u d d o c k has a story in this year’s Journey Prize Anthology (2007). He has also won prizes in poetry and/or fiction from The Antigonish Review, The Fiddlehead, Grain, and Prism International. He practices medicine in Guelph, Ontario.
S u sa n St e u d e l lives in Vancouver with her husband and their two boys. Her poems have appeared in existere. This is her second publication.
D e r e k vo n E s s e n is a multi-disciplinary, self-starting, DIY type who recycles everything from objects to conversations within his creative fields of painting, photography and graphic arts.
E D I TO R I A L
Uptight, Sportshating Nerds It probably comes as no big surprise that most of the folks hanging around the subTerrain office aren’t what you might call “natural athletes” (occasional yoga classes and beer leagues notwithstanding.) Still, most of us have at one time enjoyed a passing interest in matters of sport, even if only for these brief early weeks of the NHL playoffs before the Canucks shit the bed once again. So a sports-themed issue didn’t seem like too outrageous a possibility. Editorial talk around the office initially centred on compiling lists: the wackiest, the stupidest, the highest-paid, the most dangerous, the most vitriolic condemnation of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics . . . then we got bored. For all its initial fun, too much arm’s-length disparagement was making us look like a bunch of uptight, sports-hating nerds who couldn’t touch our toes. Luckily, our fine readers picked up the slack and sent heaps of material our way. We discovered a serious boxing obsession among you (something a mere readership survey might never reveal), and a taste for what ABC’s Wide World of Sports referred to as “the agony of defeat.” (And what 1970s youngster, sports-minded or not, didn’t sit through the opening credits of that program just to watch that doomed skier pinwheeling through the air?) Yes, it’s life losers that make the best fiction; whether they lose it all at the track (Grant Buday’s The Last Word), or at the swim meet (Victor Davis,Who Got Your Heart?), or in the ring (Standing Eight). But there are winners here too: witness the comedic cleverness of two campers with a corpse to transport (Rigor Mortis), or the victors of a sad and beautiful hockey game (Hockey Night in the Canadas). The result is a “sports section” that’s a little different from what we had originally envisioned, but is, in many ways, better than we could have hoped for. Even the confirmed sports hater (we know you’re out there—go ahead, send us a letter, dammit) will find something to enjoy here. Kick off your shin pads and sit a spell. —Jenn Farrell, Managing Editor
Covered JOE DAVIES
i. Simon Browne had been invited somewhere. For Simon this was no common occurrence, and though he’d not driven a car for years (did not own one), he said yes. The place he’d been invited was north of the city, a cottage on an island in Georgian Bay, a place (when he imagined it) so secluded and beautiful it would not only take his breath away, but give him back some of the humanity he’d misplaced over the years. An elixir (this was the word he came up with), an elixir for the ordeals of leaning over a counter and forever smiling until he even fooled himself once in a while. If it had been years since he’d driven a car, it had been longer still since he had driven on a 400-series highway. Simon soon found himself motoring through breathlessly beautiful country in utter terror, scarcely daring to remove his eyes from the road in front of him. The traffic was horrific. Unbelievable how many cars there were. Simon was sure the moment he blinked he and his rented car would end up in the ditch, or worse. At the first service centre he pulled off. Sitting at his table by the window, watching the traffic coast harmlessly past in the near distance, Simon stuffed a French fry in his mouth and felt a pang. Just what he needed: a cavity. He prodded the offended tooth a few times, trying to get it to budge. It seemed firm enough. But the next time he took a bite there it was again, a shooting pain. Great, thought Simon. I can just imagine how I’ll be spending my time. Thinking about this. Minutes later he was on his way again. He sent the remains of his tray down a chute and plodded towards the exit, and was nearly out the door when he considered the men’s room and decided to stop there first. Washing up after, he glanced in the mirror and saw two men standing at the urinals behind him. One reached over and squeezed the other man’s butt. Oh, come on, thought Simon. Did I have to see that? The next stretch of his drive was as harrowing as the first, but gradually the traffic thinned, the roads became narrower, began to
wind through blasted rock, deciduous trees gave way almost completely to a ceaseless backdrop of evergreens. The sun began to slip behind a row of these as Simon pulled the car into the marina. As instructed, he phoned straight away. It would be a while, he was told. The boat was out. They’d expected him earlier and when he hadn’t shown . . . Well, could he wait an hour? Yes, he said. He was sorry. He didn’t realize he was late. And this was true, he couldn’t remember them mentioning a time. There was a little store next to the dock, perched atop a large, gradually sloping dome of a rock streaked with grey and white and rusty pink. Out front was a small terrace with a couple of Muskoka chairs painted orange, and below the terrace, a rock garden. Simon climbed the steps to the store and went inside. Inside were jars of gum and candy. One wall was covered with cheap summer toys, another with sweatshirts with geese and raccoons on them. Off in the corner, a freezer filled mostly with ice cream sandwiches and other tooth-rotting delights. Next to that, some magazines, a few comics; beside them a book rack (the kind that spins), nearly empty except for six or eight trashy-looking novels. Along one wall a large window overlooked the marina. A small counter with a couple of stools ran the length of it; at one end stood a coffee pot. I’ll have a coffee, thought Simon. I’ll have a coffee and sit here by the window and wait.
But the coffee pot was practically empty. Simon stepped over to the counter and waited for the girl on the other side to stop reading her magazine. She looked up after a moment, saw he’d brought nothing to the counter and so looked back at her magazine. I’m sorry, said Simon. I was wondering if you could make us another pot of coffee. Us? thought Simon. He wasn’t exactly sure why he’d phrased it that way. There was no one else in the store. Without a word, without so much as a glance in Simon’s direction, the girl slid her magazine to the counter, then slipped out from behind the till and made her way to the coffee maker. While she was starting another pot Simon looked through the magazines. Without realizing Simon pulled a copy of Teen Beat and started flipping through the pages. At first it didn’t register what he was seeing. He looked over at the girl making the coffee and smiled. She countered with a blank look. He smiled harder, friendlier. When Simon returned to the magazine it was to pages filled with young girls in back-to-school clothes and a banner which read, Roomies: How to Survive. Simon quietly slid the magazine back onto the rack. The girl slipped by and took her place behind the counter. Simon poured his coffee, paid his dollar, said thank you and stepped outside. It would be just as nice. The sun was lower. The calm water curled out beyond the large rock on the other side of the inlet and reflected the sky, smooth as glass. He could hear voices coming from far away, the air still. Wonderful, thought Simon. Just wonderful; and he sat in one of the orange chairs and rubbed his eyes. He was beat and knew in his bones he would sleep well that night. And in the instant before he brought his coffee to his lips, in that first lull, a shadow walked through him, a ghost carrying notices of all the things that needed thinking about: friendships gone stale, years frittered away in college, an ex-girlfriend still taking up an untidy corner in his heart, a brother who never called unless he needed to complain about something; and swimming along underneath all this, more subtle things, a whole world of dissatisfaction Simon could never quite put his finger on. Finally, thought Simon, I’ll catch up with it all. And this tooth. Miserable tooth, though Simon, god-awful tooth. Then, as he raised the coffee to his lips, one of the legs of the orange chair gave way beneath him. The chair crumpled forward sending both of them four and a half feet to the rock garden below, the impact hard enough that Simon was knocked into semi-consciousness, the chair on top of him. Despite the large window the girl inside the shop could never have seen this happen. The view from the counter looked out at the sky. Besides, she was reading her magazine. What follows is what Simon is sure he heard from his vantage in the flower bed beneath the shop, can swear he remembers word for word:
The sound of shoes on wooden steps. Voices, a man and a woman:
You want coffee? Mmm. No. Thanks. Okay. I’ll be right out. Anything? Gum? No. That’s okay. The sound of shoes on pavement. Door opens, closes. A minute later the door opens and closes again. Where was I? Jack. Right. Jack. Just a sec. How much did he say he say he wanted for the, uh . . . ? Who? Miller? For the motor? Yeah. A thousand I think. Somewhere in that neighbourhood. What do you think? Well, we should think about it. We can do better. Really? There’s someone else I can talk to. Okay. Talk to them. We need to get on the water. All right, enough of that. Back to Jack. Right. Back to Jack. So, yeah, there were six of them there. Colin and Ed. Right? Jeremy and that woman he was seeing back then, that one with the big hair. And Philip and Jack. Six of them. How long ago? I don’t know. About this time last year? Last year. Early fall maybe. I know the NFL had started already. Right. Why we probably weren’t there. Probably. Junky. I’m a good boy all summer. I know. So, and again, this is what Jeremy said, apparently they got on the topic of benefits. It came up that Colin had just recently come under Ed’s coverage, since the new ruling. You knew about that? Yes. Long overdue. Long overdue. So Jack said: Must be nice, getting covered, just like that. Because of course Jack doesn’t get anything doing retail. Then Colin pointed out that the gay community fought for a long time to have things turned around, and yes, it was nice, but it was only fair and the courts upheld it. He and Ed were as much a couple as anyone else, and I don’t have to say any more. You get the idea. Then Jack says: Wait a minute, hold on, it’s only about having sex. This was Jeremy you heard all this from? Yes. Jeremy. Mention sex and he remembers everything. Don’t be bitter. Shut up. Listen. This is where it gets interesting. Jack argues that if samesex couples are going to start receiving benefits it’s only because they’re sleeping together. That’s the difference. If it was two straight men living together . . . A pretty cold interpretation, don’t you think? Well, listen, and apparently this is how Jack argued it: Suppose you have two roommates, say Jack and Philip. Two men who’ve lived together in the same apartment for four years. Sure,
sometimes they have girlfriends, sometimes they don’t, but they share the same living space, they share the same interests, and in terms of family, as much as you can choose your own family, they are family. They’ve known each other for years. No, they don’t share the same bed, but then, neither do some married couples. And if you want to step outside the macho male model that all us manly men like to use to define ourselves, Jack and Phil probably love each other as much as any two people. If one of them wound up in the hospital the other would be there in a second. If one of them died, the other would walk around in a daze for years. So what’s that? Ummm. I don’t know. Jack says it’s sex. Colin and Ed sleep together, Colin gets benefits. Jack and Philip don’t, Jack gets nothing. And Ed says: Well, guess you guys better start sleeping together then. Ha! And something occurred to me. What’s that? Well, if you turned it just a little, had it as two older women living together, one with benefits, one without, you’d be more sympathetic, wouldn’t you? I don’t know. Well anyway, that was last year. Last fall. But of course I only heard it from Jeremy just recently. When he got back from California. Yes. So. Want to hear what’s happened now? What? What? Well, this afternoon, just as I was heading out the door to come up here . . . What? Jeremy called and he thinks they tried to do it. Tried to do what? Pretend they were gay. To get Jack the benefits. And how does Jeremy know that? Jack told him, well, hinted at it. I think he spoke to Philip as well. Told him . . . ? But Jeremy thinks they got caught. He said they were in trouble, but no one was being . . . Specific. Specific. Yes. He asked if Jeremy remembered the dinner party, what they talked about. Get out! That’s what he said. And I asked him how, what they did exactly, who they had to fool; did they have to file their income tax together? Move into the same bedroom? What? But Jeremy didn’t know anything like that. So I don’t know. Get out! I know. Get out! If it wasn’t so sad it’d be funny. Maybe they are gay. Maybe. If they are that’d be saddest of all, wouldn’t it? No kidding. No kidding. Know what else Jeremy said? What? Jack hinted it might have been Ed who got in the way. Maybe blew the whistle. Why?
I don’t know. Why would he do a thing like that? I don’t know. Jeremy was just guessing all over the place and now I’m trying to make sense of it. Bit of broken telephone. But maybe . . . Maybe what? No. Come on. I don’t know. Maybe Ed didn’t want to see anyone abusing his hard-won rights. If that’s what Jack and Philip were doing, pretending to be gay, it’s kind of like making a mockery of Ed’s life and riding his coattails at the same time. You know? I don’t know. It’s too complicated for me. Why don’t we just fix everyone’s teeth for free and be done with it. Good idea. I’m hungry. You? Uh-hmm. I think we still have a couple of those chicken things in the fridge. Ate ’em for lunch. Both? I was hungry. Oh. (Pause.) Think the boat’s back in the water yet? Can’t see from here. Should we go look? Okay. The sound of feet moving away. At this moment, Simon Browne, still trapped in the rock garden beneath the orange chair, finally lost consciousness altogether.
Over the following six hours Simon went many places. He was unconscious but a string of visions and memories weaved in and out through the blackness. At first he saw himself at the cottage, the cottage he never made it to. Sitting alone on the front veranda in a large orange chair. Nearly dusk and foggy, a fog so thick he could just barely make out the trunks of the tall pine trees all around. It was cold and the water was somewhere near but couldn’t be seen. There were voices coming from a long way off across the water; the stillness of the air carried them. It sounded like several people were on a dock trying to fish a watch out of the lake, a Rolex; beyond them, other voices echoing, playful, inexplicably close at hand: White? said a voice. No one ever tell you you’re not supposed to wear white after Labour Day? Beg your pardon? Goodness! I’m sorry. Thought you were someone else entirely. And still other voices: One gets so attached to things. I do. Yes, said another. Don’t know what to do with it all.
And fading away, shimmering and resounding as if down a long hall. And yet again someone else; and this time with a stern voice standing just outside a door, saying: Conflict. Any kind of conflict. Just walk away. Walk away, repeated a different voice, sounding soft and distant, concerned by things altogether different. Then images came looming from the fog. A massive billboard all lit up, the one he passed on the streetcar every day, the one he looked at even though he wanted to resist the impulse, knowing the advertising men promised he would, and not wanting to, but looking anyway, some woman in sunglasses and a white T-shirt with pronounced nipples, saying: Here I am. Ain’t I something? Leaning against this wall over here. But seeing her and feeling somehow disappointed and glancing at the seat beside him on the streetcar and it’s not a seat, it’s the foot path going up the Don Valley and crossing beneath the footbridge and seeing a tricycle suspended from the branches of a tree just next to it and wondering how such a thing could happen. And people standing there, looking at him. And it’s not a tricycle. It’s washing drying on a line between two tall pine trees, it’s getting dark, the dew beginning to settle and he is unsure what he feels at all. In the big orange chair, running his tongue along the inside of his mouth, along his teeth. Mouth so dry, the pain in his tooth part of some monumental invasion, some universal headache. On the wall beside him, the portrait of some young man pausing for this one moment before heading off to war, another body to be counted, fittingly solemn about the life he is about to give up. And it’s war. It is war. The blankets on his legs too heavy and unable to use his hands to push them off. He tries with his legs and keeps pushing and pushing. They’ve nowhere to go. For days it seems they’ve nowhere to go.
Simon made up a story. Car accident, he said. Huh, said the dentist, have to be careful these days, he said, shaking his head and repeated there was nothing wrong with Simon’s teeth but pointed out his gums were receding, a symptom of grinding teeth. Wasn’t so bad yet though. On the way out the doctor reminded Simon that it would be good if he made an appointment to get his teeth cleaned. Yes, said Simon. You are covered? said the dentist. Yes, said Simon, and he nodded. Then there’s no need to be a stranger, said the dentist. Is there? No, said Simon. There isn’t. Well, then goodbye for now and we’ll see you soon. Goodbye, said Simon, and he stepped into the reception and booked his appointment for cleaning, and leaving the dentist’s office stepped out into a warm October afternoon wondering why he’d lied. He wasn’t covered. There was also this faint and troubling sensation of having been cheated, wretched tooth, acting up like that, not that he needed any more misery, but it would be nice if things began to make some kind of sense, if one single sign would come along that actually meant something. If, when a tooth ached, it was rotten, that would be nice. And no, he’d never been covered. It would be a million years before he ever was. If, in two weeks, he actually showed up to get his teeth cleaned, he would have to pay, two weeks falling considerably this side shy of a million years. ■
More than a month after coming home from the hospital in Parry Sound, Simon Browne finally made an appointment with a dentist. The waiting room filled with cold fluorescent light, he sat and flipped though a magazine and turned the page and stopped. There, in full colour, a full-page version of the billboard he passed every day on the streetcar, the woman, her breasts . . . There was a twinkling sensation, of knowing, of things falling into place. Simon swam with the possibility, flipped the page quickly, closed the magazine and looked up, his eyes scanning the room, looking for something, anything, a sign. But there was nothing, not that he could see. No young men off to war, no tricycles dangling from trees, no cottages nestled in fog. And no one else in the room. Mr. Browne? said a voice behind him. It was the receptionist, the glass door sliding open. Dr. Alphonso will see you now. Thanks, said Simon and he put down his magazine and went in to see the dentist. It turned out there was nothing wrong with his tooth. The dentist could see nothing, took X-rays and still saw nothing. He commented on the scars on Simon’s cheeks and forehead and
contest winner Va n c o u v e r W r i t e r s F e s t i va l —poetry—
mill town SUSAN STEUDEL
these bodies lustrous and sleek slumped down back porch railings swim in a confluence of rivers twist in their glassy silk folds there’s trouble on the dime-smooth estuary looking down the wheat to the white blaze I see the error there: a nick in the star-net of my retina
~ a comet touched my body in the tailing pond and burned its graft the black hard task of a sparrow in reverse the kill inside the grain cars’ steel artillery red pines rising after dark visit me I want to take you to the train yard show you this incision in the chain-link fence let you cross the metal filament before I enter you you might dig a hole in the pine earth reach down inside its cold shelf and tell me how it feels
contest winner Va n c o u v e r W r i t e r s F e s t i va l —fiction—
Cake KIM DOUGLAS
“Come with me to get the cake,” Helen says. Gabe is lying parallel to the bed, on the floor behind it. At the sound of his mother’s voice, he almost raises his head, then thinks better of it. Helen does not usually enter her children’s rooms without knocking, but he has left his door partway open, and she stands in the doorway now. He can see her in the mirror above the dresser, one hand on the jamb, the other on the edge of the door, seeming to float in the wedge of open space. She stares across the bed in Gabe’s general direction, although he is pretty sure that he is in fact out of her line of sight, flat on the blue carpet. “Is Dad home?” he asks. He hasn’t spoken all day and it comes out hoarse and foggy, but she hears him. “He’s with her now. Come on, Gabe,” she says. Gabe plucks at the hem of his brown and blue plaid bedspread with his right hand. He wants to scootch sideways on the rug and slide right underneath, the way he often hid from dishes or garbage duty when he was younger, a little kid. Lately, he’s grown much too large to fit, unable to cram the enormous bones of his elbows, knees, and ankles under the low frame. “Mom,” he says. He wants it to come out firm, a warning, refusal, but his voice betrays him, breaking the word into a resigned sigh with an edge of a whine. “You can hold the cake while I drive,” Helen insists. “Just put it on the seat, Mom.” “I need you to hold it, Gabe,” his mother says. Gabe lifts his head, straining his neck so he can look at her directly. In the three weeks since Christmas, his mother’s face has changed utterly, her skin drawing down tight over the unexpected bones of her face. Her grey eyes look black and glittery, as if from a slight fever. Gabe thinks he can see her hair turning grey; every day it seems new pale streaks and patches appear in the dark coppery red. Today it’s staticky from the cold weather; little wisps and locks stand up on the top of her head, wafting in an invisible breeze. She looks like the one who ought to be dying, Gabe thinks. But need gets him up off the floor, the word and the desperate glint in her eyes, the knowledge that she will still be his mother after everything . . . after. He stands and clomps down the stairs after her, not bothering with a jacket, letting the screen door slap
shut behind him. Helen does not comment on either of these things. In the driveway she stops, eyes down, and shakes her head briskly twice, as if correcting herself: No, no, it’s all wrong. Walking around the passenger side of the car, she tosses the keys to Gabe across the hood. “You drive,” she says. “Practice.”
The keychain is a tiny leather sandal with a pink-dyed leather daisy stapled to the toe and speared through with a large green bead on a pin. The daisy is loose on its wire, and Gabe twirls it idly with his thumb as he follows his mother into Albertson’s, the air inside the store only a few degrees warmer than outside. He hunches his shoulders forward around his ribcage as Helen makes for the bakery case, where the anonymous sheet cakes tilt up in rows behind the glass. One has Snoopy’s head on it, two white gobs of frosting; one has been sprayed to look like a beach scene, with plastic palm trees, surfers, and a hula girl planted at odd angles in the surface. The rest are plain white, with flowers in dull pastel shades. “Which one do you think she’d like, Gabe?” his mother asks. To Gabe, all the cakes look like the plaster-of-Paris cake from kindergarten with holes for six candles drilled in the top. Between classmates’ birthdays, it sat on a high shelf in the back of the room, greying with dust and age. Cement cake. He knows what kind of cake his sister would want. For previous birthdays, Helen had baked cakes, let Gabe and Julia go wild with chocolate fudge frosting, sprinkles, gumdrops, little tooth-cracking silver balls like shot. It was a joke, their making each cake a glorious monstrosity. For Julia’s thirteenth birthday, Gabe remembered, Helen had frosted a cake to resemble a giant hamburger, sprinkling real sesame seeds on top. “What about pink? Would Julia like pink?” his mother murmurs
to no one in particular. Julia’s dying is making her into a total stranger to their parents, and their parents into strangers to Gabe. Have you ever met Julia? he wants to shout. Don’t you remember anything at all? For that is all he can seem to do, lately—remember things about Julia, about being little with her, older with her, driving and camping and going to movies with her. In recent days, he has found it difficult to be in the same room with her at the hospital, her cancer a distraction from his remembering her. “Who cares, Mom? She won’t be able to eat the cake, anyway,” Gabe blurts, the words thickly passing his lips before he thinks to stop them. Helen snaps her head around and gives him a look of such empty loss, it frightens him much more than simple anger
girl is poking at the cake with a toothpick, trying to smear the thin ribbon of frosting into something that might be an “a.” “IT ISN’T OKAY!” his mother blares. The staring crowd jumps in unison, then looks shocked and pleased. They’re ringed by carts now, everyone pressing in. Gabe sees that the bakery girl has begun to cry without making any noise, tears running down her cheeks and collecting under her chin as she flaps her hands lamely over the cake. “That’s fine. We’ll take it,” Gabe says. He pushes hard against his mother, crowding her up against the glass. “Mom, pay.” “Julia,” Helen whispers, in a despairing tone. She’s crying, too, now in the same way that the girl is; they stare into each other’s
Gabe thinks the top of his head might come off, unscrewing like a lid, sending a blast of white light like a 200,000-watt bulb out of his skull, incinerating everyone in the store, in the world, himself included.
would have. Without a word, she turns back to the counter and signals the bakery clerk, pointing to a cake with roses and “Happy Birthday” in pink frosting. “We’d like that personalized,” she tells the girl behind the counter, a pale pimply blonde not much older than Gabe himself. The girl wipes her hands nervously down her smudged apron. “The decorator isn’t here,” she says apologetically. “I’m new.” Helen frowns. “Couldn’t you, please?” she says. “It’s kind of an emergency.” A cake emergency, Gabe thinks. Yes, we’re here buying a crappy cake at the last minute, because it’s Julia’s eighteenth birthday and nobody thought she’d live this long. Birthday cake, stat. He bites the inside of his cheek until he tastes blood: copper and salt. “I’ll try,” the unhappy girl behind the counter says. After some rummaging around in plastic bins, she produces a tube of red frosting, not pink. “I can’t find anything else,” she says. Gabe can see she’s trying to get out of it. “Please,” Helen says again. The girl scowls miserably, and under Helen’s direction begins scrawling shakily across the cake, J-UL….Her handwriting is cramped and jerky, completely different from the smooth pink script above it. Gabe leans closer as she turns the cake around, towards them. She’s written “Julie.” His mother stiffens. “Julia,” she says, her voice getting deeper and louder. “Her name is Julia.” The fluorescent lights in the store are terribly bright. Gabe touches his mother’s sleeve, and she twitches it out of his fingertips so fast the fabric makes a sound like a rubber band being snapped. The girl gapes at Helen openly, panic blooming in her face. “Fix that!” Helen says. “Julia!” Other shoppers are looking, drifting nearer with their carts and blue plastic baskets. Gabe gets his mother by the shoulder this time, hangs on; when she tries to pull away, he digs in with his fingers until they hurt. “It’s okay,” he says, or tries to: the words come out in a reedy whisper that he can barely hear himself. Behind the counter, the
eyes across the counter, sniffling and panting. Gabe thinks the top of his head might come off, unscrewing like a lid, sending a blast of white light like a 200,000-watt bulb out of his skull, incinerating everyone in the store, in the world, himself included. “Pay,” he gasps again, and Helen rifles wildly through her purse, flips a twenty onto the counter. The girl swipes a wrist across her eyes and jams the cake into a pink box. Her hands are shaking so badly that she scrapes most of the frosting off against the cardboard on one side. Gabe reaches for the box, which weighs around a thousand pounds. “Keep the change,” he says. The crowd parts for them with a rattle of carts, one mass of eyeballs and metal and teeth glinting. Gabe shifts the cake box into the crook of one elbow and straight-arms his mother out the automatic door like she’s on a hand truck. The door whooshing shut behind them swallows sound like a vacuum. At the car, his mother looks at him. “Wait. Do you have your learner’s permit with you?” “I don’t know. No.” “Better give me the keys, then. You hold the box so it doesn’t slide around.” Wiping her face on the sleeve of her sweater, she gets behind the wheel. Gabe sets the box on the roof of the car so he can open the passenger door. He imagines leaving it there, the cake flying off as they speed away, shattering on the road in a burst of pink and white and red, like a brain in a horror movie. He picks up the box and gets in. Helen drives too fast all the way to the hospital; the neighbourhood whips silently past outside the windows, a cheap film cast on a screen. Gabe balances the cake box on his lap, gripping the corners tightly. The top of the box has a cellophane window that crackles as they swing fishtailing around corners or jerk up to stoplights. Through the clear film, he can see his sister’s name, the thick red frosting already beginning to bleed into the white surface of the cake. The sugar roses look brittle and sharp, as if, when you bit into them, they might hurt you. ■
F E AT U R E F O L I O
((sports)) ( s p o r t s ) (sports) sports
“Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence. In other words, it is war minus the shooting.” — George Orwell issue 48
Standing Eight KEVIN BROWN I L L U S T R AT I O N BY LO U I S N E T T E R
After commission approval, my right hand is out flat and Sam is wrapping twelve yards of two-inch-wide bandage through my fingers in a standard figure eight. After this, he tapes it up with twelve feet of inchwide surgeon’s tape, and, with a commission representative watching, makes sure to stay an inch from the knuckles. He says to make a fist, then sticks a tube of nasal spray in each of my nostrils, squeezes, and tells me to breathe. He smears a wad of Vaseline over my cheekbones and around my eyes to keep punches from twisting skin and cutting. With me this is necessary, since I’ve become what fight analysts call a “bleeder.” Three fights ago, I’m 38-0 with thirty-one knockouts. I’m IBF/WBA World Champion in three different weight classes, then I catch a head butt in the third round against Napoleon Forrest and score a draw on the cards. In the next two fights, I’m knocked out in under nine rounds by fighters I’d usually forget. I go from what the newspapers called the “best pound-for-pound fighter in the world” to what they now call “diminished.” Before she moved out, my wife told me, “Those papers don’t know how right they are.” The representative initials my taped fists and Sam slides on my ten-ounce gloves. I start to shadow box in front of the mirror, and after a few minutes, the Vaseline heats up and gets slimy. Sam walks up, his palms held out in front of him mime style, an arm’s length away. “Jab, jab,” he says. I throw two left taps at his right hand, jab, jab. How I feel tonight is how I felt three fights ago. I’ve shed the fifteen pounds I’d gained to fight in the Light Heavyweight division, back to 160 to qualify for the Middleweight class. Where my career started.
“Jab, right,” Sam says. “Jab, right.” My wife Michelle, she left me six months ago, the day I signed for this fight with DeCorey Sims to get my title back. She took a few bags, the Navigator, and our daughter, Asia, to the cabin in North Carolina. Why she left, it’s what we’ve been fighting about since the first loss. The standing eight-count of my career. “I had to tell our daughter her daddy wasn’t going to die,” she told me, after my last defeat. “Though, to be honest,” she said, “the way your head bounced off the mat, I wasn’t so sure myself.” And since the scar tissue began forming around my eye sockets, since I’ve started to open up every time a glove grazes my face, she told me, I’m not so handsome anymore. “Your face,” she said at dinner one night, “is starting to look rough.” I smiled and winked at Asia, her eyes barely reaching over the plate, and said, “That’s okay, real beauty’s on the inside.” “Deep as those cuts are,” Michelle said, getting up, “they’re hitting inner beauty, too.” Sam, starting to sweat, he says, “Jab, jab, right,” and I tap, tap, hook. Sam says, “Duck, duck.”
Since training started, I’ve heard from Michelle twice. The first time was a response to a letter I’d written her from the gym. What I said, I reminded her I was a Golden Gloves winner in ’86. A silver medallist in the ’88 Olympics. That, according to the HBO boxing commentators, I had the best right to the body in the last twenty years. I told her I came in at the bottom. I didn’t want to go out that way. One afternoon during a sparring session, her reply came in the mail. On it was a crayon picture of our cabin with the lake stretched silver behind it. On the porch steps, three stick figures were smiling and holding stick figure hands. At the top were three questions: What about what the doctor told us? What about Post-Concussion Syndrome and brain damage? What about going out a father and a husband? The second time I heard from her was this morning, when her lawyer handed me a manila envelope at the front door and walked away. Snap-jabbing Sam’s hand, I stop and bounce, rolling my neck left to right. Outside the dressing room, the FedEx Forum grumbles deep and Sam grabs my gloves and says, “Are you ready?” I’m ready. “Are you ready?” The papers, they said: Irreconcilable differences. They said: Seeking custody of our daughter. “Are you ready?” Sam is saying, and the dressing room door cracks open, the noise of the crowd rushing in. The cut man sticks his head through, looks at Sam, and says, “It’s time.” Coming through the entrance tunnel, the booming roar swells around the black arena. The puddle of spotlight catches me and pulls me along, excited but scared shitless. Childbirth from the baby’s point of view. I bounce down the aisle and the faces in the spotlight are screaming and cursing at me. White spit webbing off their lips. Sam once said you can tell your career’s on the ropes when your fans scream at you instead of for you. What used to be cheers, now I hear “Paper champion!” Now I hear, “Go home!” Glass jaw. Has been. Washed up. Anymore, people don’t want heart; they want perfection. Climbing the ring steps, I hear George Foreman telling the world I seem to be intimidated by the crowd’s response. Larry Merchant, he says, “Coming off two devastating knockouts, I’d be intimidated, too.” In the ring, I bounce around to stay warm. Throw a few jabs. Roll my neck. DeCorey Sims’s music keys up and flashbulbs turn the Forum white. He won the title from the nobody that caught me with a left hook. Coming out of the tunnel, he’s dancing around the aisle and Sam nods toward him and says, “Looks good tonight.” He leans over and says, “Whatcha think?” I slip my robe off and ask Sam, “Exactly what is ‘irreconcilable differences?’ In a dictionary sense, I mean.” Sims ducks into the ring, staring me down, and over the noise I yell in Sam’s ear, “Really, is it something I have a chance of working out?” The ring announcer slides through the ropes with his note cards and catches the microphone spidering down from above. He yells something about the Middleweight Championship of the World
and the walls vibrate around the roar. He introduces me as the former IBF/WBA champion etc., adding my record of thirty-eight wins, one draw, and two defeats. “He just had,” I tell Sam, “to bring that up.” Sims is introduced and his manager slips my old belt from around his waist and holds it above his head. I look up at the JumboTron above the ring and, on the angled screen, I can see the Vaseline streaking down my chest. We’re called to the centre. Sims and I are face to face, our eyes locked, with the ref between us giving us the rundown. Standing like this, it reminds me of the wedding ceremony. The priest between us. Michelle and me standing the exact same way, each looking deep into the other. Everything around us barricaded out. Just two people, sick with nerves and excitement, stepping into a bond no one else can be a part of. We touch gloves and then we’re the only two in the ring, our trainers yelling out last-second instructions from outside the ropes. Sam says to not go headhunting. He tells me to keep digging down low. “Kill the body,” he says, “the head’ll die.” He squeezes my shoulders. “Tonight, you get back what’s yours,” he yells. “You ready, baby?” “I’m ready,” I tell him, and with the bell ringing I ask, “But you think Michelle will at least catch the fight on TV?” In the centre of the ring with the glove-on-glove hissing sounds of the first punches, the last six months of sparring, the video clips, the fight strategies, all fade away, leaving a combination of mechanics and instinct. I once told Michelle there’s no way to describe this feeling. This elevation. “How can something that feels this good possibly be a bad thing?” Without looking at me, she said to check alcoholicsanonymous.com. She said to call 1-800-SEX-HELP. “I’m sure they can tell you.”
I met Michelle on JAL Flight 1031 to Kyoto, Japan for a string of appearances that would take me to Tokyo. She was a flight attendant. I was 25-0. It’s that simple. She gives me my in-flight meal and three months later we’re married. I knew I loved her when, on the plane, I told her I was a boxing champion. “I’m kind of a celebrity,” I said, and she smiled and said, “But that doesn’t tell me if you want the club sandwich or baked chicken.”
In the ring, the first few jabs that snap my head back are already giving me a headache. After two concussions and several physical exams, these headaches became Post-Concussion Syndrome. A slight brain injury. Symptom(s) include: headache, dizziness, and poor memory. Tinnitus, arguing, and double vision. Also included (but not limited to) are: photophobia, a worried wife, and sensitivity to noise. There’s fatigue and divorce. Regret. In the dark exam room, the doctor told me and Michelle that PCS may eventually lead to brain damage. Looking at the X-rays of my skull glowing on the wall, Michelle said, “Great, Asia just learned to eat by herself, and now you’re gonna forget.” I tried telling her I’m a fighter. “You knew that when you married me.”
And she said, “My father was a factory worker. But when his back went out, he knew the gig was up.”
The crowd rises like a dark wave and in the centre of the ring, Sims is on one knee. His head down, his mouthpiece half out. I look up at the JumboTron and in slow motion, I’m knocking him down with a right to the solar plexus. From another angle, I do it again. A close-up of his face, twisting and knotting, his eyes clenched before he drops down. Humiliation in High Definition. After a few more slo-mos, Sims is on his feet, taking a standing eight count. Ten seconds later, the round’s over. Slipping my mouthpiece out, Sam says, “See how easy it is when your heart’s in it?” He squeezes a sponge of water over my head and I tell him, “Surely Michelle caught one of those replays.” The bell sounds and I shuffle back into the ring. The pump inside me is through the roof, like the day Asia was born. Michelle’s hair black and wet and matted to the side of her face after six hours of labour. I picture them wrapped in blankets at the cabin, a large bowl of popcorn balanced on their laps. With the cameraman on the outside apron, I let Sims work me back in that direction. Dancing around, I turn my right shoulder toward the lens and imagine, over the crunch of popcorn, my Michelle & Asia tattoo filling the TV screen. In the corner, I look at the ring-girl circling the ring, all smiles and legs. According to her round card, we’re in the sixth. “I really can’t remember the last couple rounds,” I tell Sam, “but I’d like to think he’s in trouble.” Sam wipes my face with a towel, pulls it back red, and says, “I do remember the last couple rounds.” He says, “Only thing he’s in trouble of is breaking his hand on your head.” The assistant trainer squeezes up under my ribcage to help me breathe. The cut man’s packing a cotton swab soaked in adrenaline chloride above my left eye and I know I’m cut again. The cut man, he says, “If this gets any worse, we may have to stop the fight.” Sam gives me water and I slosh it around in my mouth and spit red into the bucket. He presses a mouse under my right eye with a stop-swell and says, “With defense this bad, that might be something to think about.” The cameraman hovers above us, filming into the huddle where the cut man’s jamming more coagulant into the cut. Pointing at the camera, I tell him to clean it good. “My little girl might be watching.” Outside the ring, George Foreman says, “He’s gonna have heartburn with all the jabs he’s eating.” Sam says, “Stay busy, now. Throw punches in bunches, baby. Drop this guy.” The bell rings and my legs are jelly. I step toward the centre and Sims fires a combination that backs me up, pinning me against the ropes. Looking up at the JumboTron, my hands are blocking my head and he’s ripping off shots in flurries. By the look on my face, they must be hurting. Sims throws a bomb and I see my wife driving away. A left uppercut and Asia’s waving goodbye over her mother’s shoulder.
Trapped in the corner, Sims wails on my sides and shoulders, and I’m grunting with each pop. The ropes burn lines in my back. The crowd is deafening, on their feet, and at the HBO table, I hear George Foreman screaming, “He’s hurt! He’s hurt!” He’s yelling, “Ladies and gentlemen, you are witnessing the end of an era!” I brace myself against the turnbuckle and I’m suddenly holding Asia for the first time. I’m walking her to kindergarten. The blows rock me back and forth, but behind my gloves I’m with Michelle, making love to her on our honeymoon. I’m proposing to her all over again. On the JumboTron, Sims feigns right, then unleashes another barrage of body shots. And on the screen, my hands are slowly dropping. Behind each shot, I’m losing my titles again, feeling the emptiness of having everything you’ve worked so hard for being taken from you before you ever wake up on the canvas. I’m hearing Michelle kiss my swollen eye after the first loss, saying, “Part of being a king is the fall.” The crowd and referee, together they’re counting, “Six!” I know how this works. It’s really a science. A fighter takes a shot on the point of the chin that causes the brain, floating in cerebral fluid, to smash against the skull wall. The cerebellum and medulla oblongata systems at the base of the skull catch the impact. This is called putting a fighter to sleep. It’s starting to be a regular thing for me. The crowd and ref count “Nine!” and sound as if they’re two rooms away. Then, with a muffled bell ringing somewhere, I’m on a muddy road cut open by deep wheel ruts. Tall leafy oaks are bowed over the road, latching in the centre. My own unconscious entrance tunnel. The road winds and circles, then I see the end starting to open out. Suddenly, a bright light hits my right eye, and all the arena noise rushes inside my head. The light is from the ring doctor squatting over me. Other faces hover beside him—DeCorey Sims, the cut man. Sam. They all float in a circle around me, talking in echoes. The medic asks if I can hear him, and Sims says, “He’s gonna be alright. My man’s alright.” “Can you hear me?” the medic asks, and then I’m fading again. Sam, he shakes his head and says, “It’s over, son. We’re done.” My eyes roll back and my tongue is thick and meaty on the top of my mouth. The voices are far off, and slipping out, I try to tell Sam it’s not over yet. I didn’t sign the papers. Then, I’m back on the road, at the end of my tunnel, and it opens to a clearing with our cabin. The lake is flat and silver in the back, and the sunlight snaps off its surface like a flashbulb. On the porch step, Michelle and Asia are holding hands and smiling. I reach out and climb the steps. I take their hands and say, “I lost,” then I’m back in the ring again, on my back under the huddle of floating faces. Sam snaps his fingers and, outside the ring, George Foreman is talking to me through the camera. He says, “Please, listen to me. It’s time to call it quits. Every great fighter has this fight.” The medic sits me up and the applause rattles my mind. “Do you know where you are?” he says, and I think of a small muddy road in North Carolina. I think of Interstate 40 East and tall leafy oaks. “Do you know where you’re at?” he says. “No,” I tell him, “but I think I know where I’m going.” ■
Victor Davis, Who Got Your Heart? ROSS BRAGG
Knifing through pool water I am propelled solely by hate. I am so far behind I am watching their feet and being hit by their bubbles. It’s humiliating. If I were one lane over I’d be whip-kicked in the teeth. From your vantage point it might look like I have a chance. But trust me on this one: you can’t make up for this kind of lost time. Metres are seconds and too many seconds separate them from me. It’s a bridge too far. Three good breast strokes ago they slipped by me: gold, silver, then bronze. There are no points for presentation. There is only one judge: a Swiss clock that’s gulping up nanoseconds while I breathe so hard it feels like my lungs are bleeding. It’s then I wish I had his heart. Victor Davis’s heart. My focus should be on winning but I am thinking about it all. Who got his heart? It could have been me. We were alive then, when he died in 1989. He was twenty-five. I remember Fine Young Cannibals were climbing the charts. “She Drives Me Crazy.” I remember practicing at the Waterloo Y. Our wiry bodies shivering on the pool deck in itsy-bitsy green Speedos, spitting into our goggles to prevent the fog. It was a hit and run outside a Montreal bar. Stupid Montreal drivers, separatists, chain smokers. They kept him alive with ventilators. They preserved that perfect Olympic body with that buggered brain long enough to harvest his organs. And so really, who got his heart? For that matter, his kidneys, his eyes? I am still in the race. Still trying to at least not be last but I can’t stop thinking about him. I am singing to myself “She’s Got Victor Davis Eyes.” This happens in practice all the time. You have a song stuck in your head and it lives inside you like an earworm. It comes from spending three hours in a pool with a hard-as-
nails coach day after day for four bloody years. I wish I could clear my mind. There are fifty metres to go as I make the last turn. It’s all about a good flip turn, really. That’s the part of this that’s not about brute strength. It’s the part I like, coming off the wall in particular. Form the perfect position. Shape your hands into an arrowhead. Think porpoise, or a swordfish being yanked by the nose with fishing line. Wiggle your ass and make waves behind you. I can’t see Coach but I know exactly what he looks like. He has his hand over his mouth now. He’s sucking air through his fingers, nervous nibbles on his wedding ring, stroking his moustache. Man, he looks stressed. This is what I despise about this sport, I am thinking. You are the ninth best swimmer in the world and you are a loser. Focus, focus, focus, he’s been saying, employing sport psychologists to drive the point home. Coach knows me all too well. All that time together, hotel rooms in Zurich, change rooms in Cleveland. You’re too distracted. What are you thinking about? he would ask as I stared off into space half-listening, half-thinking up an answer. Fluid dynamics? Christ, he says, find the finish line and think of nothing else. Point your body at it like a laser. Go straight for it. Damn the torpedoes. Think of nothing else. I am thinking about the summer of 1994 and skinny-dipping with Cara Adams in Lake Temagami. Goddamn that was great. At the time I knew it would be a perfect moment. Prophetic
nostalgia, I call it and it’s a skill like anything else. Knowing in the moment that this will be something you will look back on. Knowing it will end so better suck it up while it lasts. Know you will never get that feeling back. It was night, of course, and our Adidas shorts and t-shirts were abandoned in a heap on a Precambrian slab. It gets real deep quick in those lakes. There is no shallow end. You can dive right off rocks into bottomless black water. The moon might have been out but I have to admit I can’t remember. I just remember tan-lines and oyster-white skin flashing near the surface. We were treading water and trying to kiss. Our legs were doing the egg-beater, making like frogs’ legs. Our hands were sculling. It was all about balance, about being suspended. Tread too lightly and you start to sink. Tread too hard and you get tired and rats it’s all over. (What’s the world record for treading water? Eighty-four hours, I heard.) God almighty that was great. I swear I’ve spent my whole life trying to recreate that moment. That feeling of lake water and Cara’s random body parts sliding across mine. And rivulets of water rushing out from between us as we would move in closer. Feeling those tiny swirls of water on our skins like minnows trapped between us.
I can’t get sidetracked. I am not going to win but I am not going to look like a fool either. Keep your eyes on the prize. I watched his interview from ’83. I won’t settle for second or third, he said. If I am not the victor I am not satisfied. You are the Victor! I am screaming underwater so nobody can hear. You stood on that
podium in Los Angeles centimetres above your rivals, the Australians, the Swiss. Did they hate you? How could they hate your heart of gold? Two hundred metres after it all began, they all touch the end of the pool before me. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. Then 1.7 seconds later, me. Somebody has to be last. Then we all do that thing, rubber-necking to see who is punching the air in victory. So who is it? Who will be the one on the pool deck slapping our backs feeding us that patronizing line about it being close? And we all do that thing too, where we keep one hand on the side of the pool. Make damn sure they know you touched it. Like baseball, it only counts if you touch the base. Like hide and seek, you gotta touch home. But then that moment comes when it’s okay to let go. Ollie, ollie all come free. It’s all right fellas. Lift your hand from that little cement lip on the side of the pool. It’s over. There is nothing more your body can do. Your shoulders, your hairless thighs have done what they can. Your pectorals worked in perfect unison, believe me. Let your heart rate return. Let blood flow calmly through your chambers and ventricles. Our moment has passed when we can change history. Times have been checked, double-checked, photo-finished, scribed and digitized. So let go of that ledge now, that flat line. Prepare to be liberated; you are absolved. Slip away into the pool and allow yourself to be enveloped by liquid. Touch only water. ■
C R E AT I V E
Confessions of an Underground Wrestler TONY CORREIA I L L U S T R AT I O N BY LO U I S N E T T E R
“Your legs are seven times stronger than your arms,” said the announcer, in a voice both nasal and authoritative. “Can you imagine the force and the strength being used to squeeze the air out of Tom Zenk right now?” Zenk’s white boots kicked the ring apron, pain gnarling his GQ looks, as he tried to extricate himself from between Nick Bockwinkle’s thighs. Bockwinkle was hubris personified. He sat back on his hands, his black trunks pressed against the small of Zenk’s back, not a hair on his blonde head or chest out of place. I was lying on my stomach, as close to the TV as I could get. My erection was practically levitating me off the floor, getting harder each time the other man took the upper hand. Instinctively, I rocked on it, pressing it harder into the carpet. After some choking and hair pulling by Bockwinkle, Zenk came back on the offensive. Whipping Bockwinkle into the ropes, Zenk’s red trunks and white boots launched into the air for a drop kick. Veteran that he was, Bockwinkle anticipated the move and hung onto the top rope. “No target there! No target there!” said the announcer, caught by surprise. Bockwinkle picked the prone Zenk up by the hair, draped him over the bottom rope and dropped a knee across his back. Then he dragged Zenk back to the middle of the ring, and finished him off by pile-driving his head into the canvas. As the referee’s hand slapped three, my dick felt like it had broken in two. I rolled over onto my back, panting, panicking, wondering how I was going to explain this to my geriatric parents—or to a doctor. “How did this happen?” my mother would ask in broken English. “I was watching wrestling,” I would stammer. “And it just exploded!”
I was afraid to look down; sure there was a pool of blood spreading through my pants. I prepared myself for the bright light that would come take my soul into the afterlife. It was another five minutes before I convinced myself I would see another tomorrow. Had I pissed myself? I didn’t smell urine. I stuck a hand down my pants to see. The yolky substance was neither piss nor blood. I smelled it, tasted it. Then every dirty word that I had ever heard at recess came back to me: Fuck, Cock, Cunt, Cum. “Oh my God,” I thought. “I was masturbating and I didn’t even know it.” There’s a Catholic education for you.
From that Saturday on I was glued to the television between the hours of twelve and three. I would wait it out for a Rougeau, a Putski, or a Bravo, cheering them on with each stroke of my cock. I wasn’t fazed by the fact that I was getting off to men; I had concluded it was the action I was getting off on, not the wrestlers. I was thirteen years old—this too would pass. If my family noticed anything strange about me, they didn’t mention it. Then again, wrestling and hockey were staple viewing in our household; my parents didn’t need to speak English to understand what was going on. I always felt I missed my calling as a professional wrestler. While my classmates were touring university campuses, I was looking up the number of pro wrestling schools in the yellow pages or dreaming of running away and training with Gene Kiniski in Vancouver.
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The only thing stopping me was my family; what would they think? This dream will fade, I tried to console myself, just like my homosexuality. Otherwise, both were my little secrets. Missed opportunities or not, those years of watching wrestling and masturbating defined me sexually. Eighteen years later I discovered I was not alone, and that dreams, like myths, never die.
“This is not what I imagined when you said you had a ring,” I said, my voice echoing in the cold and mildew. Yellow nylon ropes were stretched across the width of a storage room in a Tenderloin basement. Gym mats covered the cement floor in clumps; posters for wrestling cards in small American towns decorated the walls. For all I knew, there were people buried under here. I met Trout in a wrestling chat room on AOL. Every day, as soon as I logged onto my computer, an Instant Message would pop up from him. “So when are we going to wrestle stud?” he would ask. You could practically hear him panting on the other end. Trout was in his fifties and had been doing some kind of fighting in private for over twenty years. In his photo he was wiry and
hairy—Gollum-like. Despite evidence to the contrary, he insisted on describing himself as “Muscular.” I finally took him up on his offer, not just to get him off my back, but also to get the wrestling thing out of my system and be done with it. “I’m a good teacher,” he insisted. He seemed sincere enough. And he had a ring. “So, do you get many matches?” I asked, pulling my Speedos and wrestling shoes out of my gym bag. “It’s hit or miss,” he said in a cigar-stained voice. “I do a lot of travelling. AOL has made it a whole lot easier. You used to have to subscribe to Joe Gillespie.” “What’s that?” “A wrestling newsletter that came out of the New York Wrestling Club once a month. Sometimes there was a pic with an ad, but guys mostly just described themselves and how to reach them.” Trout struggled with the laces of his professional wrestling boots, missing a hole, and having to go back and start again. “It was a pain in the ass. You had to exchange photos by mail—no JPEGS, no instant messages. It took weeks to hear back from someone, and you were lucky if you got a pic in gear.”
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“What about the phone?” “Long-distance rates weren’t what they are now,” he grunted, tightening his bootlaces. “But people weren’t so picky; they were desperate to wrestle and there were so few of us. Not like now.” There were goose bumps on my legs as I stretched on the cold mats. I found myself caught up in the romance of Joe Gillespie and the Herculean efforts of his disciples as they wrestled their way across North America and around the world. It was reassuring to know that the realm I was entering was no mere fetish, but the stuff of legend. I stood up in the middle of the ring, shivering. Trout danced from toe to toe in his corner. “Ready?” he asked. “Ready as I’ll ever be.” We locked up. Trout put me in a headlock and hip-tossed me onto the mat. What followed was a succession of scissors, punches, chokes, and arm bars. With each new hold I kept expecting Trout to stop and explain what it was he was doing. When he hung onto a chokehold after I submitted, it was time to go home. “I thought you were going to show me some moves,” I said, throwing my sweaty Speedo into my bag. “I showed them on you. You learn by doing.” Trout was waiting for me online when I got home. “That was a great match stud,” he said. “When can we do it again?” I indulged him for a few weeks more, making excuses, sparing his feelings until he called me a “Pretty Boy Fascist” and told me to fuck myself. With Trout behind me, so was the physical manifestation of my heart’s desires.
In San Francisco there is practically a civic holiday for every fetish except wrestling. You can piss on a guy, fist-fuck him, but tell him you want to wrestle and he thinks you’re weird. Like other fetishes, there are sub-categories in wrestling. Some guys are only into submission with stakes. Others are solely into gut-punching. I always steered clear of guys who wanted to get knocked unconscious. Even with a set of criteria, you had to weed out the fakes. My first real breakthrough came when Cujo responded to my personal ad on Rec Pro Wrestling. “Into long submission matches in Speedos and bare feet. LTR,” his email read, followed by his stats: 5’ 8”, 180 lbs. Included in the email was a picture of him posing in a pair of square-cut trunks on a wrestling mat. Wrestlers are never quite as intimidating at your front door as they are in the pictures they email and post all over the Internet. Cujo looked small and bookish compared to the snarling brute in his photo. Both of us were wearing our glasses; we greeted each other like visiting dignitaries. The bed frame was already leaning against the wall, the mattress and box spring side by side on the floor, when I showed him into the apartment. “Welcome to the Wrestletorium,” I said. “Wrestletorium,” he snorted. “I like that.” He dropped his gym bag on the floor and bent down to unzip it. “So how long have you been wrestling?” he asked. “A couple of months. You’re my fifth match.” “A newbie. I promise not to go gentle on you. Liking it so far?” “Put it this way: my first match was with Trout.” “Ugh! Trout,” Cujo said. “I’ll never make that mistake again.” “I ended my second match because my opponent tried to piledrive me. I have a ‘No Pile-driver’ rule. The guy after that screamed
like a girl when I put him in a headlock. My last opponent left after I stripped down to my boxer shorts.” “I’ve had that happen.” “Now I have to look at him at the gym and wonder if he’s told everyone he knows.” “I would think that would work to your advantage.” “What about you? How long have you been wrestling?” “On and off, about ten years. I go through phases. Back in the day of Joe Gillespie, you took any match you could get, but now with the Internet, you can pick and chose. It’s nice.” “What does your boyfriend think?” “He gets into it sometimes. He likes to watch. He wanted to come tonight.” “Yeah, so you said in your last email. This is hard enough as it is without a cheering section.” Cujo rolled his neck and faced me, kneeling on the mattress. “Ready?” “As I’ll ever be…” It was the first in many collar and elbow lock-ups. Cujo had the upper hand in sheer strength but was not an endurance wrestler because he smoked. He would take the first couple of rounds and then the real wrestling would begin. I would just wait for him to get tired to launch my offensive, using the sweat of my body as lubricant to manoeuvre out of a hold. He was a hard man to make submit; I did it only a handful of times. We wrestled on average about once a month. Before every match we caught up on our lives, conventional and wrestling. There were matches where we talked more than we wrestled, lying there in our Speedos, our sweaty chests and stomachs heaving from our efforts, his calf across my shin, trying to solve the world’s problems and our own. “Wrestle for stakes? Best two out of three?” he asked out of the blue. “Sure,” I said. In the six months that we had been wrestling partners, we had never so much as kissed. “What about your boyfriend?” “Don’t worry about my boyfriend.” Cujo was more aggressive than usual. He took me in two quick falls. He rolled me over onto my stomach, ripped my Speedos off me, and shoved his cock up my ass as soon as he could get a condom around it. It was my best fuck ever. Cujo collapsed on my back, panting in my ear. The panting became whimpering. “Dude . . . what are you crying for? You won!” “My boyfriend left me for another man,” he said, wiping his tears on the back of my neck.
As the name suggested, The Badlands was barren and empty; I kept myself busy polishing bottles until Happy Hour started. To pass the time, I reread the license plates screwed into the wall. There were hundreds of them, each an anagram for sex. Where there wasn’t a license plate, there were horns, portraits of Indian Chiefs, spurs, saddles, and lots of wood to sit and lean on. It was a bar born out of childhood fantasies of John Wayne, Bonanza, and Gunsmoke; the kind of place you kept expecting tumbleweed to blow through. The sunlight coming in through the swinging doors was blinding. I tried not to look too anxious as I watched a silhouette
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enter the bar and take a stool. “I’ll ’ave a pint-O-Bud,” said a thick British accent. Suddenly, I was on Coronation Street. “Are you Fullnelsn?” he asked as I poured him his beer. I blushed. “That’s a name I don’t normally answer to outside of the Internet.” “They said I would find you here.” “Who’s they?” “Some blokes I’ve been chatting with online. Nice pic.” “And who are you?” “Pro/SubUK.” “Doesn’t ring any bells.” “I’m not on AOL, but I’m listed on Vangar and Takedown.” We sized each other up, approximating weight and strength, both of us telling ourselves, “I can take him.” There was a pause in the conversation similar to the kind in a match, where you’re just kind of resting and breathing, waiting to see what your opponent is going to do next. “I hear you’ve a mat.” “Yeah, I got sick of having to stop a match to push the mattress and box spring together.” The mat was eight by eight and a couple of inches thick. There were small thumb-sized gouges in the blue rubber, and it kind of smelled, but it was sturdier than any mattress. I found it refurbished online from a place in Richmond, B.C. It had been turned back at the border once before it arrived on my doorstep. A procession of neighbours helped me carry it into my apartment without batting an eye. “You wanna wrestle?” It was as if Pro/SubUK had crossed the ocean and the continent specifically to issue the challenge, like a character out of a spaghetti western. Throw a poncho on him, shove a toothpick into the side of his mouth, and as long as he didn’t talk, he was Clint Eastwood. How could I refuse? “You’re on. Tomorrow. Noon. My place,” I said. “So how long have you been in the States?” “Three weeks. I was in Boston ’til a week ago. Came to San Fran with the money I made for doing a BG video.” “You did a wrestling video? Pro or sub?” “Bit of both. Made a fool of myself, I’m sure.” “You’re probably being too hard on yourself.” “I wish I could burn the negative.” “But you’re famous now. In these circles you’re a wrestle god. When you least expect it, someone will stop and tell you how they got off watching you wrestle.” “Or someone could play it at a party.” “There’s that too.” There was no convincing him otherwise; he was doomed to live down his wrestling video like a bad tattoo. “So . . . wrestling anyone else while you’re here?” “Bloke named Trout. Says he has a ring. Heard of him?”
Jocko couldn’t have been more all-American if he walked around in a letterman sweater eating apple pie. He was straight, married, and really into pro wrestling. When we crossed paths, he was unemployed and I was working three days a week. The topic of his wife and family were strictly taboo. Wrestling was the only thing we had in common. “The ring has a great bounce to it,” Jocko said. “There are tires under the ring apron. It’s like wrestling on a springboard.”
“Those aren’t on, are they?” I asked, pointing at the video cameras aimed at the ring. The ring belonged to a friend of Jocko’s who was taking a stab at the wrestling video industry, a venture financed with dotcom money. It was stored in a warehouse under the Bay Bridge. The ring was brand new, the grey mats shining in the spotlight. “No. But I’ll double check anyway.” My hands were shaking as I changed into my gear. I climbed up the apron, and pulled hard on the ropes. The ring posts didn’t budge. I stepped through and took a deep breath. Jocko turned off all the lights except for the spotlight above the ring. I felt like I was in Madison Square Garden, the crowd invisible to me in the dark. I grabbed a handful of Jocko’s hair as he was climbing through the ropes, helping him into the ring. I rammed his head into the turnbuckle a couple of times until he blocked it, spun me around and whipped me across the ring into the opposite corner. It was like falling off a cliff and landing in a snow bank. We wrestled like that for about an hour, back and forth, give and take, going for the pin, and kicking out on the two-count. Jocko was sitting on my chest, pretending to choke me. I kicked the mat with my boots, shaking my head back and forth, my hands on his wrists. Jocko’s head and shoulders eclipsed the spotlight, his blonde hair a halo around his head. There, in the umbra of Jocko’s face, emanated Nick Bockwinkle’s Roman nose, bushy brow, and arrogant smile. “What’s wrong?” Jocko asked, loosening his grip. “Don’t talk and keep choking me,” I gasped, keeping up the charade. “I want you to give me a pile-driver and pin me.” “What happened to no pile-drivers?” “Don’t talk, just do.” Jocko picked me up by the hair and threw me against the ropes, meeting me with a boot to the stomach. He pushed my head between his thighs and sat down hard on the mat, taking me with him. My skull came nowhere near the mat, but I rolled over on my back, annihilated. I beamed back up at the spotlight as Jocko covered me and hooked my leg for the count of three. At long last, I had come home.
I fulfilled my dream of going to a pro wrestling school when I moved back to Vancouver. It was compensation for moving to a city with a small wrestling population; and it looks good on my profile. I learned how to run the ropes, take bumps and the structure of a match. “Remember,” the coach would yell, “You’re telling a story!” But the wrestling I knew and loved was nothing like the wrestling my colleagues had grown up watching. Where there were once suplexes, there were now moonsaults; matches didn’t end with a pin or submission, but devastation and humiliation. This was a dream whose time had come. To this day, nothing turns me on more than a man in pro wrestling gear. Every morning before work, I’ll log onto the wrestling websites looking for photos of men in pro trunks and boots, mimicking stances from old wrestling magazines, condos and basements standing in for arenas and TV studios. Like me, they’re clinging to the memories of an innocent time when wrestling was a carnival, not a corporation—preserving those memories just as Joe Gillespie before us. ■
The Last Word G R A N T B U DAY I L L U S T R AT I O N S BY K A R E N J U S T L
End of the first race and punters were already trudging home from Hastings Park, having blown their entire stakes on bad tips, tea leaves, numerology, last-second inspirations. Slumped shoulders and fists sunk deep into pockets said it all. One guy threw down a handful of losing tickets, stomped them, and glared at Horst Nunn who was on his way in.
Horst pushed through the turnstile and bought the Daily Racing Form. Then he headed down the concrete ramp into the all-toofamiliar smell of burnt grease. Recent attempts at going upmarket with bagels and cappuccino could not mask the fumes from decades of deep-frying. Indifferent to dignity, stoopers gathered discarded tickets from the floor hoping for a winner tossed by mistake. Willie the Gull had his arm in a bin searching for a form so as to save $3.50, because it only took a deuce to hit the Big One, a toonie to win the race that could vault you from the back of the bus to the wheel of a Mercedes. It had happened, too. Lenny Sloane’s brother Eugene hit the Pick 6 in ‘88 and rode home in a limo with a cheque in his pocket for twenty-nine thousand five hundred and four dollars—all off a two-dollar ticket. The fact that Eugene was now in jail for welfare fraud was not the point. Horst passed Suleiman-the-Iraqi who smoked Turkish cigarettes and believed in the wisdom of bloodlines. There was Winston Gould who insisted it all depended upon the sea, for a high tide raised the water table and slowed the track, favouring mud runners even on a dry day. Over the years, Horst had tried every method of determining winners with equal failure. He was now forty years old, the youth of old age, or the old age of youth. Ray Bunce and Boyle Rupp were in their usual spot in the grandstand amid the old Chinese women.
Bunce didn’t look up from his form. “I thought you quit.” Horst shrugged. The cement floor was strewn with spilled popcorn an alarming tint of orange. At the end of the day the gulls would descend like locusts and eat up the garbage in a spectacle that verged on the Biblical. Beyond the track the inlet lay calm and blue in the August afternoon, seemingly untouched by its diet of sewage and oil, while the North Shore Mountains stood lofty and green and indifferent to the mange of housing developments creeping scab-like up their sides. “Look at this.” Rupp pulled a pink plastic Virgin Mary from the pocket of his windbreaker. She was five inches high and wore a beatific expression. “Glows in the dark.” Horst dutifully admired it. Virgins, Madonnas, saints, angels, and nuns had turned Rupp’s apartment into a shrine. He had them in plastic, wood, glass, soapstone, and macaroni as well as rubber ones that squeaked. Twenty-five years ago Rupp had endured a brief career as a jockey. At five-foot-five and prone to fat, he’d spent all his time in the sweatbox. Eventually no stable wanted him and he was reduced to hot-walking the horses. But for many years he was privy to the stable gossip: which jock was on coke, who was going through a nasty divorce, which stable was doping their horses. Those old connections were gone.
Horst once taught school, had a wife, owned RRSPs; now he cut lawns. When people learned he’d blown his teaching career they shook their heads. Claudine had suggested psychotherapy. Then she’d divorced him. That was five years ago. He’d grown leaner since then, his hair had thinned, the contours of his skull were now visible, and his eyes had taken on the expression of a distance runner who has begun to doubt the value of the contest. “What do you like?” he asked Bunce. Bunce circled Harry Houdini in the Fifth. “That goat never wins,” said Horst. “Neither do you,” said Bunce smiling his smile, a smile that would have been engaging were it not for yellowed teeth and receding gums. Bunce was fifty-two, clean-shaven, with a head of thick fair hair that he paid young women in chic salons to fondle and clip. He was dapper in a cinnamon shirt with grey pinstripes, black slacks, and polished loafers. As usual he sported a mint-flavoured toothpick and carried a briefcase containing pornography and racing forms. “You don’t win because you don’t notice details.” Bunce rapped the page with his pen. “Harry Houdini got claimed last race. New stable, new trainer, and here: blinkers on. He’s also jumping from four thousand to ten thousand. That’s a sign. That’s confidence. Bet him. Then take your winnings and move. Start a new life. Go to Paris.” “Just like that?” “Just like that.” Bunce, cavalier concerning the lives of others, conservative regarding his own, returned to the sacred text that was his racing form. Horst desperately wanted to start a new life. But he couldn’t admit this to Ray Bunce. “Man, I know where you are every minute of the day, seven days a week. I could leave the country and come back in ten years and know exactly where to find you. Right here.” “Ah, Horst, but you forget. I love the track. Whereas you—you hate it. You hate it and you blame it.” Horst began to argue while Bunce, with supreme indifference, with majestic calm, counted out nine new one-hundred-dollar bills. “All for Harry Houdini in the Fifth.” Bunce bookied, played penny stocks, and collected welfare. He had two lectures rationalizing his collecting welfare, the abbreviated fifteen-minute version and the full two-hour.
Rupp whistled at the sight of all that crisp cash. “At 40 to 1 that’s thirty-five thousand bucks,” he said. Bunce grinned his grin and enjoyed the view. “They say only Rio de Janeiro has as splendid a setting as Vancouver.” “You putting it all on the nose?” asked Rupp. “Only cowards bet to place.” This was a jab. Horst specialized in place bets. Rupp counted the mangled fives and tens in his sweatrotted wallet. “Two-eighty.” Rupp’s oily beard was engulfing his face, encroaching upon his eyes, spreading down his neck into his collar, covering him over the way moss overwhelms the roof of an abandoned house. He drove for Mad Mouse Messenger Service. He loved to drive almost as much as he loved to gamble; when he drove, Boyle Rupp became a halfback hitting those holes and going for green. “How much you got, Horst?” Horst didn’t need to count. “Two-twenty.” “That will return you eight thousand dollars,” observed Bunce. “Then you can go to Paris and start your new life. Everyone should see Paris.” Eight grand. Hit Paree and see the sights? Run his cash out then slink back here to the grandstand? Or—and here he scratched his chin and got sly—bone up on his French and go to the track in Paris and win? Victoire! But how could he win there if he couldn’t win at home? “Have you seen Paris?” Bunce barked at the absurdity. Him range even a mile from the track? On non-racing days he could be found strolling the vicinity of Hastings Park, hands clasped behind him like Immanuel Kant speculating on the a priori.
When the morning line for the Fifth fanned across the board Horst’s belly burned. Here it was, the race they were waiting for, the one they were going to bet; the one they were going to win. Bunce was calm. He drew a deep breath and smiled his smile, smug and all knowing. He went down to the rail and strolled along admiring the summer weather. Horst and Rupp stayed where they were. “What’re you gonna do, Horst?” He looked at his form, then out at the tote board, then down at his form again. “Put it all on Houdini.”
“He’s up to 43 to 1 now,” said Rupp. “You know how often a 43 to 1 shot comes in?” Horst knew many things, one of which was that knowing things didn’t help, and might even hinder you. He sighed and shook his head. Another thing he knew was that he was living on hope, waiting for God to show his face in the miracle of the long shot. The jockeys came by on the parade to the post. Toy men in silk. The muscles of the horses rolled like waves beneath the sleek surface of their suede hides. Horst and Rupp went down to the rail where they could smell the sweat and dung of the animals. The satyr-like faces of the jockeys always surprised and disturbed Horst: from a distance they looked like children, up close they looked like evil elves. “I shoulda kept my weight down,” said Rupp. “Coulda made some real money. I woulda, too, I was just comin’ into form.” Shoulda, coulda, woulda, the loser’s mantra. There was Harry Houdini. “He’s got front bandages.” “Merely for show,” said Bunce, joining them. Rupp said, “Is he snorting? Snorting’s a good sign.” “Or a bad one,” said Bunce. Then Houdini lifted its tail and dumped. “Oh God!” Bunce laughed. “That’s good.” “He’s nervous,” said Horst. “That’s bad.” “No,” said Bunce, “he’s excited, that’s excellent.” They joined the betting lines. The announcer called three minutes. Everyone shoved forward. When the announcer called two minutes, people got frantic. Horst reached the wicket with the weight of thirty gamblers pressing his back. He looked into the bored eyes of the cashier and envied his indifference. Did he have a wife waiting at home? Would they have a drink? A late supper? Would they lounge on the couch and watch an old movie and then make love? Horst thought of Paris and a new life. He’d learn the language, explore the narrow streets, sit in cafés, meet a woman, perhaps get a job trimming the shrubs in the Jardin Luxembourg. Was it possible? Could he do it? Or should he play it safe and bet to place? He laid his entire two hundred and twenty dollars on Harry Houdini to win.
The horses swept into the final turn five abreast. The crowd howled from atop the benches, five thousand voices begging the gods for victory. A man sprinted along the rail punching the air and shouting YES! YES! Others shook the chain link fence like rioting cons. The horses hit the home stretch. Harry Houdini held ground in the middle of the pack. Horst rode him. He’d ride him all the way to a new life and look back upon this existence as a Dark Age, sad and quaint, if formative. He’d send Bunce and Rupp postcards. Du café, monsieur Horst? Certainement! Then the centre of the five-wide phalanx began giving way. The other horses flowed past and Horst fell into a hollow of silence, as if the sound of the universe had been shut off while the picture proceeded in slow motion. Harry Houdini began to falter, he lost a step while the other animals bore down, dug in. He ended up crossing the line in fourth place. Just as the other horses had
rushed past Harry Houdini, so the world seemed to rush past Horst. He was left with a view of people’s backsides, of the fading taillights of cars, the cabooses of swiftly vanishing trains leaving only the sound of their whistles waning in the night. Then the soundtrack of the world burst back on all. All around him people punched their palms, flung down tickets then kicked them to confetti, while one or two raised their arms and turned to the audience in triumph because the fatesblind, whimsical, indifferenthad said yes! Bunce showed his ticket. He’d done what he’d said he’d do: nine to win on Harry Houdini. He’d just lost nine hundred dollars. But he wasn’t upset. After all, what was money but a means, a wrench, a hammer, nothing more than a tool of the trade. Opening his form, he began studying the next race and humming “Barbara Allen.” Sometimes Horst suspected that Bunce preferred losing, that deep down losing was better, that it satisfied some masochistic urge, and that when Bunce was finally reduced to picking pop cans from the trash and stooping for tickets, he’d cut his wrists in a hot bath and be discovered smiling in his own blood. Rupp yawned and announced he didn’t even care. This was too much. “You just lost all your money,” said Horst. “Yeah, well, Friday I drove a heart.” Bunce laughed. “It was probably a stool sample.” “Hey, fuck you. It was an organ. It’s right there on the waybill.” Mad Mouse Messenger Service had the contract to courier organs, blood, and tissue samples between hospitals. Rupp took pride in this. It gave his life meaning beyond wins and losses at the track. Or so he maintained, so he insisted. He was nodding now with fierce dignity of the falsely accused, trembling with rage, and daring Bunce or Horst to disagree. “What I do matters. I’m a vital link. I don’t get there on time people die. You ask. You call Mahoney. He’ll tell you—organs. I’m the go-to guy. Me. I’m proud of my job. Proud.” And Horst saw Rupp was speaking the truth. He was a proud man, said Horst to himself, reciting Boyle Rupp’s eulogy. Composing eulogies was a habit of Horst’s, although he was careful never to write his own. “I’ve had it with this place.” Bunce and Rupp didn’t hear, or didn’t care, because they’d heard it before, and more importantly because the numbers were up for the Sixth. “See you guys.” Horst waited another few seconds then, nothing more to be said, turned and headed off. Once outside he tossed down his losing ticket and stepped on it. Latecomers were hurrying toward the turnstiles, some eyeing him but most minding their own business as they passed. He’d made it to the Fifth race. He didn’t sink his hands into his pockets and he didn’t stare at the ground, no, he looked up at the sky and discovered gulls gliding with the patience of vultures. Nearing the liquor store on Hastings Street he reached into his pocket for change and was rewarded with seven bucks in silver. By the door a panhandler tipped his head back and reached out his hand with perfected despair. Horst went on in and stood before the single bottles of imported beer. La Choullette. He picked one up and studied the label: Cet or liquide ne pouvait etre brasse ailleurs en Paris. He didn’t know what it said, but he did recognize the last word. ■
Hockey Night in the Canadas BRET TON LONEY I L L U S T R AT I O N S BY D E R E K V O N E S S E N
Befor The Crumbling, befor the Furst Sikness and the Blak Sikness there was always Hockey Night in the Canadas. The grey ones, the ones with 30 or more sumers, tell us so. Saturday nite was the sacrud time for Hockey Night in the Canadas. Familees gathurd round magical plastik boxes called Tee Vees to wach hockey games. To yung bucks like me it is hard to understand the grey ones when they talk about Tee Vees. How a hockey game could be playd one place and be playd on the Tee Vee at the same time, but they say it is so. Who can no. They tawk about waching hockey while eating popcorn and drinking beer from a botel in a warm howse without a fire. Then they cry. The grey ones always cry when they tawk about times befor The Crumbling. I have seen only 12 sumers and didn’t liv befor The Crumbling. But as apprentis to Britannica the Scribe, the grey ones tell me many storeys about the time befor and I rite them down. Not many books survive. Tuday is speshal becuz our vilage, called Canadian Tires, plays a hockey game against the nearest vilage of Timhortons this after noon. The game is the hilite of the Festival of the Wintur Soulstis. We play in the after noon even tho “NHL rools” says it should be played at night. How can this be? No one can see at night. No vilage has enuf lanterns to lite their vilage at night let a lone a dark pond. The grey ones say it was the way, but who can no. Our vilage will do wel in the game. We hav 2 Gretskis on our team. Playurs can only yooz the sacrud name if they have been
chosen as furst star many times in vilage against vilage games or hav ten gol notches on ther hockey stik. Gretskis get to whar the magic number 99 on ther coat. If you are almost a Gretski, sometimes you are called a Mar-e-o. You are given the numbur 66 to whar. Once you are good enuf to be a Gretski, they turn the numbur rite side up. Both vilages wil gathur on Sweet Watur Pond to wach the game. We wil find out who has survived the wintur so far in Timhortons and if the Blak Sikness is bak. I wil see Heathur of Timhortons again. She makes me feel a wonderful qwivering. When she looks at me, I am happy and sad and ankshus all at once. She and I are almost man and wuman and neerly old enuf to be mates. But only if my clan leadur and hers agree. You cannot mary within your vilage. It is Otawas ways. Bonfires wil be lit by the pond so the grey ones can stay warm. The zebras wil cleer the sno from the pond to maak a rink. Then they wil stain the ice with blubery paynt to maak the blu lines. Befor the game, the zebras sacrifice a smal animal to make the holy red line in between the blu lines even tho no one nos what the red line is for. “NHL rools” say nothing of a red line but the
grey ones say it must be so. Who can no. Yester day as I peed outside our clans hut, I saw Neelyung, one of our vilages Gretskis, out looking for a nu stik. He was in the trees just beyond the vilage serching for the exposd root of an alder or yelow birch. It is called a hockey root. He cut a large root and gave it to the old ones in his clan to witel it into a hockey stik. They dreyed it over a cooking fire, sanded it with a sanding rok and coated the blade with duck grees until it shone. Neelyungs old stik broke in the furst game of the wintur against the vilag of Suburbs. It had 15 notches and that nite many in our vilage cried. Even me. He had to wait til the last minut to find a nu stik. The wethur has been bad and it was enuf to stay alive let a lone find a hockey root. During the cold snap, Neelyung yoozd his powurful legs to wade thru the waist hi sno to keep our vilages water hole open. Neelyung is only 14 sumers but every one in our vilage is proud of how tall and strong he is. I wish won day I cud wake up and be like Neelyung. He and Trudo will help our team win The Cup against Timhortons. Not the reel Stanleys Cup. It was lost with Tarana during The Crumbling altho some say it is in the West in a place cald Edmuntun. Who can no. But every game must have The Cup for the winners. Today, Canadian Tires and Timhortons wil play for our vilages glass Eso Cup. Few vilages stil have a glas mug with no cracks and so The Cup is truly speshal. Britannica the Scribe has givn me the awnor of scribing the wintur soulstis game. My clan leadur says he is very prowd of me and that he always nu my 1 good hand wood be useful. His kind words fil me to bersting.
It is hi noon. Both vilages gather around the rink. A few of the grey ones whar the ancient Hockey Night in the Canadas simbols on ragged touks and jackets. A big B in blak, white and yelo. A flaming C. The spokt wheel of the Red and Wite Wings.
We stand behind sno banks made when the ice was cleard. The peeples from Canadian Tires are on one side of the rink, peeples from the vilage of Timhortons on the other. There are no bords around the rink like in the old days. How could they save so much wood from ther cooking fires? The nets are posts with a cross bar but no neting. Neting that was left after The Crumbling was yoozd long ago for fishing. A zebra stands behind each gol with a hand bel which he rings for a gol. The cheef zebra calls the game from the ice. Our vilages 6 hockey playurs—1 in evry 3 of our grown and abel men—line up on 1 blu line, Timhortons team on the other, before we all sing O Canadas. Sum of the words are in Canadas, sum in another langwage only sum old ones no. We also sing God Save the Qween. No yung ones no what a Qween is, but the grey ones say she was a wise grey one who lived acros the pond. The cheef zebra calls each teams Gretskis to the holy red line to flip the Loonie to see which team will be called the Leafs and which team the Habs. Our vilage likes it when we are called the Leafs. No one nos why. He drops the wooden puck and the game begins. Neelyung grabs the puck rite away and skeights fast towards ther net and scores on the first shot!! Everyone from Canadian Tires goes wild. Peeples take off ther head rappings and throw them in the air. Some tees the peeples from Timhortons by startin’ to sing the “Na Na Na Na, Hey, Hey, Hey, Good By” song, but the grey ones ssshush them. It is bad luk to sing the vic’try song so soon. Only a bit latur, Timhortons teyes the game 1 to 1. Maybe they scored becuz we sang the vic’try song rite away or maybe becuz we won the tos and are called the Leafs. Who can no. The game stops for a minut when 1 of our playurs loses his shin bone skeight. The leathur ties that keep it on his boot fel off. The head zebra cals a time out.
I luk over and see Heathur. Her face and nose are red from the cold and not wite like sno as usual. She stands besides 2 grey ones and her only litel brothur to surviv the last few winturs which have been cold. She is luky. I have no familee othur than my clan. My mothur deyed of the Blak Siknes. My fathur was kild by a faling tree whil bilding our clans hut 4 sumers ago. The game begins agin and evry won smiles. The blakn’d granys smile who bend over the cooking fires al day and beet hungry yung boys who try to steal food. The granpas smile who have bad nees and can not work any more but gathur twigs for the fires with the yung ones. Parunts who bary as many childrun as live beyond bein babys, grin and forget their familees for a time. Even the clan leadurs smile. They decide when to throw people out of the vilage who have the Blak Sikness. Befor the Our Glas runs out to mark the end of the furst half, Trudo scores for Canadian Tires and we ar ahead 2 to 1. Between the 2 periuds, both vilages gathur tugethur around the bigest bonfire to sing the hockey songs. We sing “We Wil Rok U”, clap in rhithem and stomp our feet. It makes us happy and helps keep the cold away. We sing Stompin Toms “The Good Old Hockey Game.” The men pass around a jug ful of birch beer that the peeples of Timhortons bring. Our vilage gives the wumen peeces of hot potatos that are pulled from the bonfire. It is a rar thing as the blite killed most of our crop agin this yar. Childrun hang on ther mothurs coats, hoping for a peece of potato. The grey ones who have bleeding gums and no teeth like potatos. The head zebra rings his bell and the game begins agin. It stops many times when the puck gos off the ice. Litel boys dig in the sno banks and find it agin and thro it back on the rink. The wind is howling and it is terrible cold but no one cairs. Doncheri scores to teye the game for Timhortons. “Ther is litel time,” says the grey one who watchs the Our Glas as only a few grains of sand are left in the game. Men from both vilages stair over his hunched shouldurs to see this is so. Just befor the game ends, Neelyung grabs the puck and skeights rite thru the midel of all the playurs, rite to the othur end. He fakes to go left and brings the puck to his backhand and flips the puck past their goley. We win. Our hero Neelyung has scored. Wer numbur one, Wer numbur one. Our playurs throw their stiks and mits in the air and pile on top of Neelyung who has falen onto the ice. They shout and screem and hug each othur. The peeples of Canadian Tires sing “Na, Na, Na, Na, Hey, Hey Hey Good By.” We laugh and cheer and hit each othur on the back. The cold is banishd. The darknes is lite. Our belees are ful. The Canadian Tires Leafs have won. The teams line up and shak hands. There are teers in the eyes of the winurs and the losurs.
After the cheering calms down, the prime ministurs of both vilages step on the slipury ice. They carefuly carry the Eso Cup onto the rink. Each one makes a litel speech like prime ministurs always do.
Then they hand The Cup to Neelyung who holds it up hi over his head and shakes it at the sky to honour the wintur soulstis and to shake the sun from the grip of the night. Teers fall down his cheeks as he kisses The Cup. The othur 5 playurs gathur behind Neelyung and as they skeight around the rink everyone from both vilages claps. Neelyung passes The Cup to Trudo who holds it above his head and shakes it at the sun. Al the Leafs playurs take terns holding The Cup above ther heads, big grins on ther faces. This has always been the sacrud way of the peeples of the Canadas, say the grey ones. Who can no. Only 2 playurs have parents left alive to see this day. They look into the crowd and wave The Cup at them. And ther grey ones cry. At last the winning playurs bunch together in a group. Some stand, some sit and others lie down on the ice behind The Cup. All face towards the dying sun and hold perfuctly still as if to frame the moment in time. This is as it shud be say the grey ones with a nod even tho no one nos why. Evenshuly, the crowd wants to go home. It is geting dark. The peeples of Timhortons must gathur and walk home befor the packs of wolfs come out that rool the night. I gathur up my notes about the game that I wil scribe down toonight onto the sacrud papers befor my lamp burns out. I look for Heathur. I want to say something to her but I never no what. I am a scribe not a tawkur. I just want to stand close to her. See the last of the sun on her lips. See the long strands of hair that eskape from her head dress. Watch her eyes lite like a candul just befor she smiles. The othur day I went to Neelyung and asked him for words so I cud tawk to a wuman. He nos every thing about wumen. He grinnd and askd who the words were for but I was to shy to say. As I walk towards Heathur and her clan, I see her fathur wispering in our prime ministurs ear. Our prime ministur nods and rings a zebras bell. “I have an anounsment for every one from the vilages of Canadian Tires and Timhortons. Gathur round befor you go,” he says, as peeples walk back to the big bonfire. “Our vilages are naybors. Often our yung peeple take each othur as mates. Some would rathur that our yung keep to our own vilages, but we all no that this is not Otawas ways,” our prime ministur says. Some grey ones in the crowd mutur about why we keep Otawas ways when we do not even no if ther is still an Otawa. “And so in the ways of the peeples of the Canadas, I am anounsing the reeding of the wedding bands. Next spring, the Greight Sun willing, will see todays hockey hero, Neelyung of Canadian Tires, becum the mate of Heathur of Timhortons.” Every one cheers and smiles. Every one hugs the sweating hero Neelyung and the beautiful, beautiful Heathur who has a red face and shiny blak hair like a raven. Every one says what a wondurful way to end a day of Hockey Night in the Canadas. Every one xcept me. Neelyung sees me at the edge of the crowd and grins at his litel frend. I turn away. It is like he slashed me in the face with his hockey stik. I grab my scribes papers with my good hand and limp bak over the sno banks to my clans hut, dragging my bad leg like always. My heart is as cold as the ice on Sweet Watur Pond. ■
VI S UAL
The Strange and Wonderful Imagery of MICHELLE FURLONG â€œMy practice is strongly influenced by relational experiences between the self, others, and everyday structures. Through the means of drawing and detached narratives I perceive to evaluate, in a visual language, the process of a struggle between entering and exiting spaces of control within our environment.â€?
VI S UAL
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Ernie Bates Goes Golﬁng BRUCE MCDOUGALL I L L U S T R AT I O N S BY K A R E N J U S T L
Before he died, my dad would take me down to the foot of Roncesvalles Avenue to watch the trains that chugged along the railroad tracks beside the lake, where he later drowned. We lived a few blocks north on Roncesvalles Avenue above a store. My dad would leave me on the footbridge to look at the tracks through the railing, while he went to the cab stand to talk to Ernie Bates. Ernie Bates drove a cab for the Sunnyside Cab Company, although I never actually saw him drive. Usually he just sat in the driver’s seat of the black cab with the engine off, talking to my dad. While dad talked to Ernie in the front seat of the cab, I watched steam engines pulling freight trains into the city. As they approached from the west, the steam engines belched white smoke into the blue sky. They came closer and closer until they passed like thunder under my feet. Then I’d run across the bridge to watch the engine emerge from the other side, my face washed in a cloud of soot. One day, we drove to the cabstand in our black Ford, and my dad parked the car beside Ernie Bates’ cab. My dad wore a heavy, dark brown suit and a grey fedora with a little feather in the black-ribbon hatband. I got out and ran to the bridge. My dad stayed behind and got into the cab to talk to Ernie. Five trains passed before my dad came to get me. “Let’s go,” he said. My dad never said much to me. Mostly he just took me places: to the cigar store up the street where Max, the owner, unwrapped the wax paper from a Rollo chocolate ice-cream cylinder, stuck it into a cone and handed it to me, then went over to the cash register to talk to my dad while I looked at the movie magazines; to the barber shop at Dundas and Ossington, where a big green plant with leaves like wings of leather collected dust in the window, and the barber, Mister Whibbs, let me sit in the big chair with the leather cushion and the chrome handles while he talked to my dad; to the restaurant on College Street, where the bald-headed guy named Louie, who always wore a white shirt, gave me a chocolate éclair on a thick white plate with a black stripe around the rim.
As I said, my dad didn’t say much, and this was just like all those other times, until my dad and I drove home and walked up the stairs to our apartment where my mother was sitting in the kitchen at the enamel-topped table, doing something with a knife and some green vegetables. My dad said, “He didn’t have the goddamn money.” He dropped his hat on the table and sat down. My mother stood up and went over to the stove. Those were the days when married women didn’t work. If they were teachers, like my mother, or nurses, they weren’t allowed to work. They had to quit their jobs when they got married. Then they stayed home and ironed the sheets. If they had the money, they could set up the ironing board in the living room in front of the Philco television and watch As The World Turns and The Edge of Night. We didn’t have a TV, so my mother just talked to herself while she did her housework. My mother took the lid off a pot on the stove and looked inside. “Try not to swear around the children, Gord,” she said. My mother called my dad Gord. His friends called him Mac. “They’ll hear it sooner or later,” said my dad. “Not from me, they won’t,” said Mom. My dad looked around the kitchen. A chunk of linoleum the size of a small animal had broken away from the floor beside the door, so you could see slats of grimy black wood. The door opened onto the back porch, where a flight of stairs led down to the alley. I was never allowed to go down there. In the kitchen, the enamel sink was chipped and stained like a
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decayed tooth, and the faucets dripped incessantly. The cupboard doors were so warped that you could look between the door and the frame at the cereal bowls and dinner plates piled up inside. A light fixture hung from the ceiling, but it didn’t work unless my dad tapped it once or twice with a rolled-up newspaper, but not too hard or the whole thing would come crashing down to the floor. “Am I the only one who feels like swearing?” said my dad. “You can swear at me, Gord,” said my mom, “but not at the children.” “I wouldn’t swear at all if I had some goddamn money.” My dad stood up and walked over to my mother. He put his arms around her. My mother stood rigid as a pillar. “You’re drunk,” she said. My dad tried again to hug her, more roughly this time. “Are you finished?” said my mother. She started to move around the kitchen, setting the table for dinner, placing the linen napkins in their silver napkin rings in a row on the table, then opening the drawer of the table to pull out the cutlery. My mother’s mother had given her this stuff when my parents got married. My dad walked over to the table, picked up his hat and walked out the front door. My sister and I ate dinner that night with my mother at the kitchen table. My sister was a picky eater. She didn’t like the broccoli that my mother served us. My mother tried at first to coax her to eat it. Then she said, “Just eat it.” She yanked the fork from my sister’s hand and tried to force the broccoli into her mouth. My sister held her mouth clamped shut and began to blubber like a crybaby. As she did, her mouth fell open, and my mother stuffed a forkful of wadded green mush between her teeth. My sister spat the broccoli onto her plate. “I don’t want it,” she cried. She rushed away from the table and ran into our bedroom. “That’s all right,” my mother said to me. “Just let her go.” I stayed at the table and ate my vegetables like a good little hero. Later that night, after my sister and I had gone to bed, we heard our father return, and then the sound of fighting.
My father had been dead for six years, and almost seven years had passed since I had last seen him. Since then, I’d come to believe that he was a villain—a wife-beater, a cad, and a coward—who would stop at nothing to get money for his own indulgences in alcohol and gambling. He would mortgage houses he didn’t own, collect bets from two-bit, small-time grifters who drove cabs and ran cigar stores and barber shops and, in a pinch, take my mother’s inheritance until she had no money left. Under his influence, I might have become a hood in a leather jacket, a slouching dropout, an idler or an unemployed drunk without a future. I thought about him once in a while. When I did, I usually wished he hadn’t squandered our mother’s money. We could have used it. As a single parent working as a teacher at the school down the street from our home in the early 1960s, our mother managed to
pay for our house, to raise my sister and me without disease, malnutrition, or bugs, and to make it clear to both of us that we were lucky to be here. If we disagreed, we kept our feelings to ourselves. We both smiled a lot and made the best of everything. As a cheerful eunuch, I strove for everyone’s approval and threatened no one. Punctual, tidy, polite, clean, cold and boring, I easily landed part-time, low-wage jobs in shoe stores, ice factories and, once, at a summer resort north of Toronto called Bangor Lodge. That was where, after twelve years, I met Ernie Bates again. My best friend at Bangor Lodge was named Bill. We worked together in the pro shop of the ragged nine-hole golf course where the guests of Bangor Lodge spent one or two weeks a year pretending they knew how to play the game. A few of them actually did. Bill and I spent most of our spare time drinking stale beer in the woods at the far end of the golf course, smoking cigarettes, lounging in the coffee shop and trying to stay out of trouble while keeping the guests happy so they’d share their leftover booze with us when they went home at the end of the week. When we weren’t playing pranks on our guests, Bill shagged soda-fountain waitresses under cabin porches and bonked chamber maids in linen closets. I passed the time reading books, wondering what Bill had that I didn’t and trying not to care. Into our pro shop one Sunday evening walked a man the size of an upright piano, dressed all in black. He wore black sunglasses and a black straw fedora that sat on top of his head like a drain plug on a soccer ball. He carried a little plaid golf bag over his shoulder with about seven club heads poking out the top. A short blonde floozy clung to his arm. As far as Bill and I knew, she stayed at the big man’s side for the rest of the week. On that first Sunday night, the man signed the register while Bill and I took his clubs and leaned them against the wall. We asked if he had a pair of golf shoes, since one of our jobs was to polish the shoes of all the golfers at the lodge every evening before we closed the pro shop. He said no, he’d just wear his street shoes. His name, we saw after he walked out of the pro shop, was Ernie Bates. The other golfers wore plaid pants, yellow polo shirts and twotoned golf shoes. They moved around the course in gangs of four, laughing heartily and taking vigorous practice swings in the morning sunshine while waiting for their mates to hit their shots. There were a few confirmed misfits, like Floyd Theilheimer, who wore nylon dress socks under his open-toed sandals, swung his club while standing on one foot and hit nothing but eleven-foot worm-burners that skidded over the tips of the fairway grass, no matter what club he used. In the midst of all these people, Ernie Bates stood out like a biker at the ballet. He looked as if he’d spent most of his waking hours under a rock. His week at Bangor Lodge playing golf was probably the only time all year that sunlight had touched his skin, although he played with his hat on, and he wore long-sleeved black shirts buttoned at the collar, so the sun didn’t have much to hit. Ernie usually showed up in the late afternoon, when everyone else had finished playing. He’d walk right through the pro shop, pick up his little plaid bag and, without even taking a
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score card, tee up his ball and whack it down the fairway. Then off he’d go in his street shoes with his black hat on his head and his little bag slung over his shoulder like a quiver of arrows. A few minutes later, Bill and I would watch him on the first green, preparing to putt, while his girl stood by the hole in a print dress, dangling glass earrings and high heels, holding the pin. Ernie was friendly enough with Bill and me, and I think he liked the attention we paid him. I liked him, too, because he seemed sure of himself, and he didn’t seem to care what anyone else thought about him. The other guests hesitated to declare themselves, preferring instead to blend with the crowd. They depended on their group for their identity. There was a gang of dentists from Baltimore, for example, a bunch of appliance salesmen from Eaton’s department store in Toronto, and a herd of about twenty car salesmen from Ohio. Ernie belonged to no group, nor did he seem to care. He seemed perfectly happy once a day to smack a ball down the fairway then stroll around the golf course with his girlfriend, holding his golf club like a toothpick in one meaty hand as he walked through the grass in his black lace-up oxfords. When he talked to Bill and me at all, he asked about the price of three Dunlop Maxfly golf balls and how late in the evening the golf course stayed open. Toward the end of the week, though, he told us that he worked at the Sapphire Tavern in Toronto. Before he left, he invited us to come and visit him when we went home. “I’ll buy you a drink,” he said, as if we were two regular guys and not a couple of eighteen-year-old kids with acne and cowlicks. Naturally, one of the first things that Bill and I did when we went home at the end of the summer was go to the Sapphire Tavern to
find Ernie Bates and get ourselves that drink. I never told Ernie that I’d met him fourteen years earlier. He might have known that Gord McDougall had drowned in Lake Ontario one day in October, 1959, and had been found floating in his overcoat at the mouth of the Humber River. But he didn’t know that Gord McDougall was my dad, and I didn’t tell him. Ernie Bates probably wouldn’t have remembered much about my dad anyway. It wasn’t as if they’d been bosom buddies or anything. All they’d ever done was sit in the front seat of Ernie’s cab exchanging cash and betting slips and a few words about the weather or a hockey game. Ernie wouldn’t have known that my dad tried in his own way to live a straight life: that he’d started a market garden one year in a vacant lot at Jane and Annette, selling pansies and geraniums in pots to people who lived in the big houses around the corner in Baby Point, while I played in a corner of the lot with a toy steam shovel that burned real wood; or that he had worked in a bank for a while at Yonge and St. Clair, about six miles from our house, to where I’d ridden my new two-wheeler bicycle one day along Bloor Street past Christie Pits to visit him and paid the price for riding my bike on a busy street when my mother locked up the bike in the basement for two years; or that my dad had taken me when I was five years old to my first big-league hockey game at Maple Leaf Gardens to watch the Leafs play the Montreal Canadiens, and the game hadn’t ended till ten o’clock at night. The Sapphire Tavern, near the intersection of Queen and Yonge, was a dark, windowless hang-out for tough guys in shiny suits. A sign above the front door displayed pink neon champagne glasses and large-breasted green dancing girls. Inside, a few solitary, mid-
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dle-aged men sat drinking in the shadows that hid their double chins, the wrinkles on their skin and the bellies that hung over their belt buckles. Bill and I both wondered later how you could sit by yourself in a gloomy bar like the Sapphire when there were so many other things to do on a sunny afternoon in September. If we had to ask the question, we’d probably never know the answer. The Sapphire had a reputation as a tough bar. In fact, every bar in the city had that reputation. Even in the mid-sixties, respectable people didn’t drink in public. They all drank at home with the curtains drawn and the doors locked. For Bill and me, going to the Sapphire was an adventure, as well as a chance to drink before the law allowed us to. For Ernie, any sense of adventure had long since passed; he had a tough job in a tough bar, and eventually it killed him. One night, maybe as he was trying to throw one of those shiny-suited, double-chinned tough guys out the front door, he got stabbed with a knife and died in a pool of blood on the sidewalk while people gawked at him out the window of a passing streetcar. But as I’ve learned after all these years, it doesn’t really matter where you die or how or even when. All that really matters is how you live, and Ernie Bates, I suppose, lived as honestly as he knew how. He died before I ever had a chance to ask him about my dad. At the time when Bill and I met him, such questions didn’t occur to me and I didn’t think the answers would matter. Bill had a father, and I was happy to be with him, and we were both happy to feel like one of the crowd at Ernie’s bar, as if we’d gained admission to some secret society. We felt privileged to have the bouncer at the Sapphire Tavern buy us a drink and stand with us for a while in his
black shirt and black trousers, talking about golf, while a scowling bartender in a white shirt stood in front of a monumental display of illuminated liquor bottles and wiped highball glasses with a towel. Ernie must have known that we didn’t belong there and that we’d not likely return. He asked us how the rest of our summer went, and we asked him if he’d had a chance to play golf again after he came back to the city. Once we’d exhausted these issues, there really wasn’t much left to talk about. And by the time, years later, when I realised that Ernie might have given me answers to more important questions about my dad, Ernie was dead too.
I like to think now that Ernie would have talked fondly of my dad and remembered him as a character with dignity and presence and humanity, even though he may not have known him well. I like to think that Ernie saw in my dad a spirit of which I caught only a glimpse and that I can now hardly remember. Maybe, if my dad had survived, instead of dying a violent death like Ernie’s, the two of them might have emerged from the shadows long enough to play a game of golf together, Ernie in his black straw fedora and longsleeved shirt, buttoned at the collar, and my dad in his grey Biltmore fedora and brown three-piece suit with chalk-coloured pinstripes. It would have been a reassuring sight to see these two old codgers from the underworld, pasty white, overweight and dressed like hoodlums, striding down the fairway together on a sunny afternoon, enjoying a holiday from the brutal world that eventually killed them both, without remorse, eliminating once and for all any chance they might have had to practise their game ’til they got it right. ■
Rigor Mortis NICHOLAS RUDDOCK
“He’s dead.” “He’s what?” “He’s dead. He’s out there lying by the fire.” “Dead? Ralph?” “Get up. Come see, double-check. Bring the mirror.” “The mirror?” “Bring the shaving kit, it’s got the mirror.” They both crawled out of the tent. The sun was just up. The air was fresh outside and there was Ralph stretched out by the ashes of the fire, still in the clothes he had on when he went to bed last night. He had brought his own little pup tent to sleep in, separate from theirs. “Oh, look at him; I think you’re right.” “Give me the mirror.” “Here.” “Check.” “Check what?” “For the spark of life. Hold it over the lips, real close like this.” “He’s alive! There’s a smudge on the glass!” “That’s your fingerprint.” “You think?” “Give me that hankie.” They rubbed the mirror carefully with one corner of the handkerchief until the mirror was perfect. The rising sun reflected off it, and the light flickered on Ralph’s face and then along the ground, and then it disappeared into the bushes. Ralph’s eyes were stuck open. “Eyes look dry.” “That’s the stare of death.” “Ralph!” “Ralph!” “Push him a bit, on the shoulder. See what happens.” “Like this?” “Like that but a little bit more.”
“There. Oh jeez.” Ralph toppled right over onto the flat of his back. They were camped, the three of them, by the side of a big river that flowed smooth and silent for a river of its size. There were mountains in the distance and there were trees, lots of evergreen trees growing up close to the campsite.
“Hey, go blow on the embers.” “Blow on the embers?” “Coffee time.” “Coffee? Now?” “Regardless.” “Okay. Back off, I’ll blow on the embers. There we go.” “Good.” “There, how’s that? Makes me dizzy.” “Now fire, that’s the real spark of life.” “Here’s the mirror, try again.” “Okay.” “Closer now. Maybe he’s breathing wispy.” “Wispy?” “Real low.”
“There.” “You touched the lips.” “I did not touch the lips.” “There, there’s nothing there. Nothing.” “He’s gone. Gone for good.” “You’re right. The mirror doesn’t lie.” Birds flew about the campsite every morning. They were mostly grey jays and they flew real close, trying to pick up little crumbs with their beaks. There was some kind of sparrow too, jumping in the low bushes. You could tell it was going to be a fine day, but it was still cool. “You know, this is now some pickle we’re in.” “Just the two of us.” “That’s right. Just us.” “Long way to go.” “Three hundred miles, from the map.” “Portages?” “Three.” “Big ones, little ones?” “Big ones.” “Uphill? “Uphill.” “Jeez.” Then there was one of those silences you sometimes get in nature. The river spun against the rocks on the shoreline, but for some reason it didn’t make a sound. “Better check him out for bites.” “Bites?” “Well, maybe he didn’t die, maybe he got killed.” “Killed? How could that happen?” “A bear, a cougar, one of those grizzly bears.” “The ones we saw upriver? They were eating fish.” “At that time they were eating fish.” “I guess they eat a lot.” “They eat berries; they eat meat.” Ralph’s pack, the grey one, was right there by the closed flap of his pup-tent. Everything looked in perfect order. The stones around the fire formed a circle. “They got soft pads on their feet, grizzlies.” “I heard nothing, not a peep.” “They walk on twigs, soundless.” “Big cats, they bite in the back of the neck.” “Bears, they knock you down with their paws. Then they chew your head.” There was a red canoe pulled up on the rocks by the river and there were three paddles leaning on a tree. There was no sign of a violent struggle. The forest floor was smooth with pine needles. “Look for blood.” “You mean inside the clothes?” “First close the eyes.” “My eyes?” “No, his eyes, Ralph’s eyes.” “Touch them?” “The eyelids, that’s all. Use your fingertips.” “I blew on the fire. You close the eyes.” “No blood there, under his head.” “Can’t turn him over, his eyes like that. Staring.” “Okay okay, then like this, I’ll do it.”
“Fingertips.” “There. Oh jeez.” “Good for you. Good. Push him over. Away from the fire.” “1-2-3 go.” “Heavy.” “Heavier dead than alive. That’s why they say dead weight.” When they pushed him over, there was no sign of damage to the back of Ralph’s head. All he had on his neck were a few red welts from mosquito bites, and deer flies. They all had lots of those. “Well, that’s a relief.” “I’ll say.” “Killer bear, that’s the last thing we need on this trip.” “This trip, I thought we planned it real well.” Seven months before the trip had started, they each had a checklist to go over. They checked off all the clothes they needed, the pills they might need. They were careful in every way, right down to the salt and pepper. “Hey, what about CPR?” “CPR?” “You know, mouth-to-mouth resuscitation?” “With Ralph?” “He’s the one that needs it.” “I’m not skilled in that, CPR.” “Hold their nose, breathe into their mouth.” “Try it, you try it.” “He’s got a cold sore.” “Where?” “There on the upper lip.” “This?” “That’s it.” “They’re catching aren’t they, cold sores?” “Damn right.” “Then there’s no CPR for Ralph. Besides, he’s not fresh enough.” “What do you mean?” “Dead too long. Look, whatever killed Ralph, it happened in the night. His fingers are stiff.” “That’s normal.” “That’s normal, but not if you’re freshly dead. It means that CPR is hopeless for Ralph.” “Hopeless.” “That’s the word.” “No CPR then.” “Then what are we going to say to Phyllis? He died, we did nothing for him?” Ralph had been married for forty years. He was a retired pharmacist with grown-up children. They’d known his wife forever. “Maybe we can make up this part.” “How we did CPR.” “That’s right.” “Two hours non-stop, for Ralph.” “We took turns.” “We pushed on his chest.” “Slapped his face.” “Shouted out Ralph, Ralph.” “We actually did that.” “That’s right. It’s not all made up.” “No, we did that all right.”
“That’s good. That’s the story.” “That’s what friends do.” “Even with the cold sore.” “How many hours?” “Two hours, I’d say it was. It felt like six.” Already they’d been on the canoe trip for twelve days, and they had another three days to go. They left Ralph where he was and made some coffee. They fried up back bacon, too, and the smoke from the frying pan curled around the clearing. As yet, there was no wind. “I guess we don’t have to scrimp and save quite so much now.” “How do you mean?” “On the bacon.” “Oh, that’s right. Have another slice. That’s Ralph’s. It used to be his, now it’s ours.” “Thanks Ralph.” “That was good.” “It was. Filling.” “Now what are we going to do?” “With Ralph?” “That’s the question.” “I say bury him. Bury him right here like they would in the old days.” “We only got spoons. That’s no good for digging.” There was sand and pebbles on the ground but it was packed tight. Digging through that would not be easy. There’d be roots from trees. “This is where he’d like to be, I bet.” “Oh, I don’t think so.” “He loved the North.” “He loved the easy chair, the La-Z-Boy.” “Well that’s true, I grant you that.” “Besides, it’s against the law. We can’t dispose of Ralph right off, bury him without some sort of official check.” “You know we could be charged with murder.” “Murder?” “They could say we banged him on the head with paddles, then we smothered him with a lifejacket, then we buried him. We’d be old men by the time we get out.” “We didn’t kill Ralph.” “Prove it, with Ralph buried here.” “I see what you mean.” “He comes with us, that’s all there is to it.” “The grizzlies, they’d dig him up, we left him here.” “That’s right. He’s got to come with the two of us. All the way home.” You had to have resources to travel in the North. You had to adjust. You needed a compass, a watch, skills with rope, strong legs for the portages, and courage for the wild animals you saw along the way. You couldn’t let yourself get knocked down by bad luck; you had to overcome everything thrown your way. “Well, how do we pack him up?” “He goes in the canoe with all the rest.” “With the baggage.” “That’s it, baggage. That’s what Ralph is now.” “He’s getting stiffer.” “In the fingers.”
“He’s really not that freshly dead.” “No. That’s what we said before. Soon he’ll be stiff as a board.” “That’s what nature does. Rigor mortis, that’s what it’s called.” “Rigor mortis.” “That’s right. That means we got some thinking to do. Quick thinking.” “I don’t see the rush.” Up till now, all three of them had paddled the same canoe at the same time, with Ralph in the middle. Compared to the others though, he was inexperienced, and he did not have the same stamina for long hours on the river. He made up for this by singing songs. “Look. I’ll tell you what’s the rush. There’s Ralph by the fire. Straight out the way he is, he’ll soon be like that forever. Frozen up stiff as a board. Next portage, straight uphill five miles, what are we going to do with Ralph like that? Carry him, the two of us, like he’s a plank? No thanks, that’s what I say.” “Drag him on saplings. Tie him on, drag him like the Indians.” “They knew how to do that.” “We could try.” “Sure, we could try. There goes Ralph slipping down the cliff a mile. Tumbling through the air, I can see it plain as day. Then he’s at the bottom, food for the weasels and wolves and then the Mounties say, ‘Well fellows, where’s your friend Ralph, the one you beat over the head with paddles, where’s he now?’” “That doesn’t sound good.” “We need another plan. Before the rigor mortis sets in, we put Ralph into a better shape.” “A better shape?” “Better for carrying on the portages. Forget him stiff as a board, that’s impossible.” “What then?” “Turn him into a backpack. He’s got some give left in him still. We can twist him this way, that way, anyway we like, but not for long.” They went over to where Ralph was lying. First they bent him at the waist, so he sat up at ninety degrees, and then they took his arms and raised them up to the height of his shoulders. Then they bent his elbows, and they pushed and pulled at his wrists and his fingers till they turned into claw shapes. “Look. He’s got talons, like an eagle.” Then they hiked up Ralph’s hips and bent them outwards, and they held Ralph in that position for a half hour or more while the grey jays flew by and the sun rose ever higher in the sky. “There. We can let him go now.” “You think?” “Try it. There.” “That’s good.” “Perfect. That’s perfect. The rigor mortis set right in; he’s fixed like that forever. Put him on.” “Put him on?” “Like a backpack.” “A backpack?” “That’s the whole point. Next portage, it’s the canoe and the rifle for me, and there’s Ralph for you. Up on your back, easy as pie, one-man job now for Ralph. Then, there’s no getting around it, we both make a second trip for all the rest of the gear.” “For me, that’s no good.”
“Why’s that?” “Well first off, there’s Ralph breathing down my neck on the portage, plus the fact he weighs a hundred and eighty pounds.” “He’s balanced; he’s easy to move along with. Try him on. And there’s no way he’s breathing down your neck. He’s dead.” “The canoe weighs fifty-two pounds.” “Okay, we’ll take turns with Ralph, how’s that, that’s fair.” “Okay, that’s a deal.” “You do the first Ralph, I’ll do the second.” “Okay. Boost him up; I’ll give him a try.” “There.” “Hey that’s not too bad. What about the hands?” “Tie them over your chest. Like this. How’s that?” “Well, he’s no featherweight.” “But you can do it.” “I think I can. How far off my neck is that cold sore?” “Lots of room there. Funny thing, from behind, I can’t see your head at all. Just his.” “Take him off, that’s enough for now.” They broke camp. All the camping gear was carefully stowed away in the middle of the canoe, and they placed Ralph’s body, firmly tied, onto the very top, placed there on his back, with his legs and arms sticking up skyward. He looked like the rack of a deer, so stiff he was, with the rigor mortis set in solid. Nothing could move those arms and legs. They grabbed their paddles and they pushed off into the current. “Tally-ho!” It felt good to be back on the river. Cleansing. They danced through the easy small rapids and they made good time. “Hold on tight there, Ralph!” Now and then they rubbed the canoe on a low boulder, but they slid on by, harmlessly. “Don’t shift your weight like that Ralph!” they laughed. “That’s a good boy!”
The next portage was twelve miles ahead. On that portage, three miles up a steep brambled path, sunning itself on a rock, was a large male cougar. This cougar was four years old, and in those four years, there was nothing this cougar had not killed, dragged and swallowed whole, he was so big and powerful. Now, he felt a pang of hunger, and he yawned, and moved his massive limbs into a more comfortable position. There was still time to wait, he thought, for what might come by. Indeed, four hours later, the cougar heard a racket. He drew back from his sunny rock. There was a big canoe coming up the hill, and now and then it would sway and bang into trees. There were human legs underneath that red shell, promising enough for a meal, but maybe a bit too much work? Yawn some more, that’s what the big cougar did, and he shifted his weight. What’s that coming next? My, my, look at that! This had to be the biggest, thickest human ever. He could hear the man breathing hard, and even though the man smelled a bit funny, so what? It was time. The hiker walked on by, slowly, staggering up the steep rise of the hill, and then it was, with padded feet and teeth like spikes, that the big cougar slipped down from the sunny rock onto the path, and silently gained speed until he hit poor Ralph so hard on the
back of the neck that he snapped Ralph’s spine in four places. Down went the hiker, pine needles in the face. The funny thing was, the cougar thought, this piece of meat kept on shouting and shouting no matter how many times he shook the neck, no matter how many times he broke the spine, no matter how he twisted his victim’s head around and around again until he could see the whole face. What’s that? Bang-bang, two bullets whipped by the cougar’s ears, so he gave up and ran from the spectre of that man, the man who stared up at him with his eyes all now open, the scab on the upper lip; the smell of death already on him like old blood. Ten days later, to his chagrin, the big cougar developed a nasty sore on his right upper lip, just above the incisor. Every time he snarled, it hurt. That painful sore, that little ulcer seemed to come back forever, over and over for the next five years. It served as a cruel reminder, to the cougar, of that big mistake he made, back there by the sunny rock. After that, he left human beings alone and stuck to elk.
When they finally got home, Ralph’s two canoeing buddies told the whole story to everybody they met. In their excitement, they almost forgot about the hours of CPR they performed down by the river. Then they remembered it, and they got a plaque from the Red Cross. They told everyone how lucky they were, how Ralph had saved their lives when the cougar struck, how he’d stepped in when he was needed, even though he was dead. Their friend was buried soon after, like the hero he was. Unfortunately, he was unfit for the open casket desired by his wife, Phyllis. The funeral director said there was no way, despite the skills he’d learned at school and his years of experience, that he could fix up that face. He could not make Ralph acceptable before the eyes of man, woman, or child. Before God, however, he was quick to point out, Ralph was like the driven snow. How the spectators all cried, during the funeral, at that comment. Because of the rigor mortis, Ralph’s coffin had to be squared like a packing-box, into which he was pushed and jimmied until he fit. Then, because he could not be thrust through the usual narrow slot for the fiery furnace, cremation had to be done outside, in front of a hundred well wishers, on a bonfire built within a perfect circle of rocks. His two best friends constructed that stone circle as though it were a campsite. As the flames licked higher and higher, they all gathered close and sang “Abide with Me.” It was a tearful, yet joyful, celebration of Ralph’s finest hour, of the sacrifice he made for his friends, on the very last portage he ever made. ■
p h o t o s : t h i s pa g e & f o l i o c ov e r by george omorean
Off TONY BURGE SS
She’s making an action with her hands. Old blue fingers make beak shapes and stab, biting at something imagined. “There was none of this stuff.” Under cottony brows her eyes cross to the centre. She adds a ticking sound. “This! This! What is this?”
Sam watches, thinks, “This is what makes old people so frightening, they come from outer space.” Mrs. Stanley’s body seizes, then abruptly loosens. She is making wide sweeps with her arms, hands tilted in an olden way of conveying elegance. “But that was not Faye. No. Faye Wray. When the monkey saw her. Oh! Oh! He was taken, well we all were, weren’t we? Faye Wray, all he had to do was, with one finger go, not dancing like this.” Mrs. Stanley does a deliberately undignified jig, bouncing her shoulders and turning her head. “And juggling.” Her son, a large man of forty, in a brand-new brown T-shirt, has his back turned. Mrs Stanley slaps the desk, startling Sam. “Why do all that? She’s nothing. Not a thing.” Mrs. Stanley glares violently at Sam. An evil owl defiance. He gestures to the monitor in the corner of the store. Dinosaurs and an ape fighting in vines. “Didn’t have this.” Mrs. Stanley leans back, choking, clutching a thin lacey breast. “Had it all! Had all that. This was in it.” Sam is aware that a man standing in the horror section has stopped browsing and is still. “I guess you’re right.” Her son lays a DVD box on the counter. Hostel. He speaks in a monotone without looking up. “She lives in the past. Everything was better.” Mrs. Stanley backs away from the desk and seems to relax. She looks slyly from side to side as if hoping to catch someone watching. The son stands Hostel on its edge so the cover faces Sam. Sam smiles in a corner of his cheek, and taps his bald head, thinking of what to say. “Just so you know, the first half of this is sex and the second half is torture.” He widens his face; wideness is innocence. Mrs. Stanley pulls the DVD case away, hurting her son’s hand. “Perfect. I’ll sleep through the sex and he’ll sleep through the torture.” She jabs the case to her chest, chasing her breasts away.
The intersection is backed up with black trucks. Traffic lights change from yellow to red without making a difference. Mother and son in a white space-age van make a left-hand turn. Sun and wind are single, blind and dry. Sprinklers toss party rice across lawns and bent crosses like plague graves hold yellow leaves and hot tomato sacs. Mrs. Stanley sits in the passenger seat with the window down. She looks for scalded children in the shadows. Little new people succumbing in the dark corners. DDT and purple foam and millions of burning pebbles. What made us live forever she thinks, fills their pointless little ears with cancer. Her son tries to close her window. “Hey!” “The AC’s on.” “I can’t breathe with that thing on.” “It’s a smog day.” You expect his voice to be whiny, but it’s not. It’s flat. “Not a fuckin’ smog day. It’s a goddamn summer day.” She closes her paper eyelids and pushes her face out. As they approach the driveway and slow to turn, two children teasing a tethered dog see her in the window of the van. A death’s head. A skull and crossbones on the wide body of a bleach bottle. The van rolls up the driveway, tires snapping dry stones. One of the children has stepped inside the dog’s reach and is bitten on the hand. Mrs. Stanley enters the house first, backwards up grey steps, like a crab blind in tall grass. The son swings open the van’s side door. He threads seven plastic bags onto his forearm. He stops for a moment and listens to the dog crying as it is struck. Mrs. Stanley sits, disappears really, into a massive green couch. She falls asleep with a remote in her hand pointed at a silent dark television. Cupboards can be heard, softly opening and carefully closing. The sound of weight on linoleum. A small cough that needed to be much bigger. Then silence. The son has slipped to another part of the house while the mother sleeps. Sunlight on
teacups for about an hour and a half, then as butter on the old face of an old, old clock. It thins eventually; its thinning gains some momentum near the end. Who knows what produces these effects in this ancient house? The lowering sun and ascending earth, the back of a spoon in a stand on the sill and the empty snowball tree rolling to the edge of the yard. Who knows? Late afternoons that grow later and later then, near the end, too distant to see. She stirs when the light has gone. For a moment she thinks her husband is alive, that she has left something on the stove. She drops the remote, not seeing it and tries to remember what she had in her hand. Far away, up in the house, footsteps. Someone big. Her husband is a small man. Light-footed. A monkey. Someone bigger is coming down. The boy? She can feel her heart start to bang. Something’s wrong. He just turned eight last week. A yellow cake in the shape of a tire. The floor in the kitchen squawks. A man’s cough. Mrs. Stanley calls out: “Let’s watch that fuckin’ movie.” The son stands for a moment in the doorway, then swipes a light switch. The resulting light, a dull orange dome, makes his mad face look tired. “What about dinner?” “I’m not hungry.” “I mean me. For me.” Mrs. Stanley raises a hip then softly returns it. The thought of food has made her release liquid into the back of her underwear. She leans to smell herself, then clutches the couch to keep put. The son sighs and opens the plastic DVD case. The film begins with women baiting tourist boys by undressing. The movie is direct with its nudity, European, and the mother and the son both watch to see how much vagina will show. One woman stares squarely into the camera, walking, unselfconscious of her large brown hair. The tiny upside-down shoulders of her vulva roll in and out of view, and, if they are at all hidden, it is because they point down, not because she hides them. Mrs. Stanley enjoys watching the girl’s slim young sex organ rolling like dough between the twin pins of her thighs. The son is frustrated that more is not shown. It is more than usual, most films only show women’s bums and tits, and even then they are so briefly seen that they add nothing. This film shows things that are normally found in dirty movies. This overrides all else that might go on or be seen in the movie. The son wants these easy girls to lift their legs up, to pull apart their labia, to draw out into the light that final wet aperture. The son has lost interest in the movie. Wealthy men paying large sums to vivisect tourists in a filthy warehouse. It is something that doesn’t happen in the real world, not like this, our fantasy, of women with cocks as big as a gorilla’s and vaginas opening on her, ahead of us, on her arm just before we touch it, and then, like a red stone exposed by a retreating wave, it shows on her face. Of the cocks we keep on our chest, a number spring up like planks and she uses the softer longer cocks on my hips as strings to draw me closer. Soon she is under me, her body waffled by cock dents and our mouths touch like the big balls that sway and meet between the knees of all our cock heroes. I can see them on the pillow as she surrenders: Phallic Boy with his hard orange grin, Asia Tube, Nuts Monster, and Glue Tip are warring with a witch, knocking her down with cock clubs, then crushing her warty face under the unimaginable weight of ancient ball matter. The old woman lies on the couch while her horny son masturbates in the easy chair beside her. She knows but says nothing, doesn’t look over. She grabs at her shawl as if to protect
herself. This slows him for a moment, but not for long. As he orgasms, he accidentally kicks the coffee table leg and spills a glass of apple juice. His mother sits up, shrieks at him as he squeezes small tabs of semen out onto the back of his hand. “You spilled my juice all over!” The son has folded his hands over his penis and his thumbs are trying to drag the bottom of his shirt down. “Don’t worry! Don’t worry! I’ll clean it.” He sits up, his manatee body swallowing his cock. “You wanna pause the movie?” “No. It’s stupid as shit. I’m gonna clean this up and go to bed.” The son has paused the movie and is sitting forward on his long belly. “Watch it!” The haughty son martyrs. “I can wait.” In the kitchen, Mrs. Stanley is suffused with rage. “He spills my drink, then pauses the movie I don’t want to watch. I hate this about him. Now he’ll sit in there and wait for me. That shitty movie paused and he’ll sit up as if it hurts to wait.” Mrs. Stanley holds a folded linen cloth over the spill. Her son doesn’t watch, but she was right, the way he sits conveys both discomfort and grand patience. “I don’t like this movie.” Mrs. Stanley’s tone is softer. In spite of intensely disliking her son’s pretenses, she wants to at least get along now. He picks up on this. Weakness. “Well, you know, you were there when we rented it.” “I guess I thought you wanted to see it.” She is dabbing the cloth ineffectively. Lifting liquid, then dropping it back. “Well, I did. But I’m not, am I?” Mrs. Stanley looks at the screen. A man in a suit standing by a red drain. “I’m sorry, you go ahead, I’ll be quiet.” He waits before releasing the pause button, knowing that this will increase his mother’s anxiety. He’s right, and as the film resumes, Mrs. Stanley rattles the glass as she rights it. The noise is enough for the son to pause the movie again.
In the kitchen, Mrs. Stanley stands at the sink. She wonders who he’s making her be. Could be he’s like his father. Could be he’s like her father. But he’s not. Mrs. Stanley standing at the sink is not Mrs. Stanley sitting on the couch, either. She lifts a long thin knife from the block. The son isn’t expecting her. The sharp tip of his cock hidden sorely against his palm. He turns angrily, shaking his wet red chin, and says, “Mom, can I watch my fucking movie?” Mrs. Stanley has tripped, but she is careless of how she might fall, only mindful that the knife go in her son somehow. It does, along his fat arm. So sharp is this knife that the end slips through his soft limb until stopped by bone. The knife stops but she falls past, her own bones weak and endangered. She pushes back up, slapping her flat fingers on the arm of his chair. His eyes are closed and he’s crying, saying, “Ow, ow, ow.” She watches for a moment. Repulsed. Who cries like that when they are stabbed? You have a knife in you and the first thing you think to say is “ow?” Mrs. Stanley finds new strength in his blubbering. She grabs the knife handle. The intensity of her tremors loosens it from bone. He wails and throws himself over, sobbing. She drives the knife into his shoulder and he hoots loudly, straightening like a baby in a crib. His red lips are wet with snot
and tears and his hands are slippery with cum. He cannot see or grab the knife. The blade slips, farting blood through his fingers. Mrs. Stanley splits the grey back of his penis and as a tent pole broadens a tent, the knife broadens the scrotum downward. The scrotum pops open and the imagined contents appear on Mrs. Stanley’s wrist like pink leeches racing to her palm. The son vomits, but remains aware that he should express outrage. “Mom! Stop!” Mrs. Stanley stabs again, this time at the vomit on his stomach. She is offended by it and seeks, in jabbing repeatedly and shallowly, to colanderize his soft belly, so that the vomit might fall back through. As she stabs like this, popping red corn across his torso, her son is shoving his shirt bottom low with both hands. The knife point gets caught between two hard bones on the back of his hand and, in what is probably the most painful moment, lifts a thin white straw of skeleton clear through the flesh. The son is unable to bear this and he simply passes out. The mother is on her knees, breathing heavily, the knife still screwed up into his hand. She watches his breathing for a while, the tiny bloody helicopters on his shirt swooping in closer. He is sleeping now. She wonders if he’s dreaming. Do people who pass out under such circumstance dream? The cloven penis shimmies in her hand and she removes it at the base. The movie is still on. There are probably thirty or so minutes left. It’s hard to say what’s happening, or even sustain interest. There is a mother on the floor, both ankles shattered and her son’s penis in her hand. It’s hard to pick up the film’s threads. Too exhausted or excited for the movie. A movie about torture and sex might seem part of the scene, but it’s not really, not with the mother’s head low and snoring and the cock socket draining the fat body away. The carpet edge. The slipper bent in half, soaking. The “this kind of thing happens all the time” rumble of the sump pump from below. Happens all the time. Lying on your back nearby, a phone cord between your toes and the smell of those two. So many Americans are fucked up. Lost. Hiding in alligators. Pregnant with filler. Moss hangs off them. Yellow teeth and eyes. The curtains here hang heavy, unmoving. Purple. There are lots of people no smarter than dogs. Too stupid to know if they’re licking their own entrails or their children’s faces. The son dead and the mother dying. A fecal Pietá that watches the movie.
At this time of year, late summer, Main Street lines up with the rising sun’s rays. Through the gold air walks ten-year-old Lisa. Her red hair hangs in front of her face. She has Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. She would seem rude if you asked her the time. There is a smile on her small red lips. She turns at a sculpture of a Victorian man and woman. It is the Horticultural Society’s Memorial to Innocent Victims of Abortion. She has a parasol and he, a tall hat. Some of the stones in the base garden have been loosened deliberately and lie on the path. Lisa steps through them and across Elm to Hickory. Hickory has a sidewalk and is shaded at this time of day and she continues along, even though Elm would be more sensible. Russian sunflowers are lawn monsters in late August. None of the crisp lighter green or sharp citrus colours of spring. Gardens and lawns are plant-gory from protracted sexual wars. Lisa comes to the end of the sidewalk and walks along the edge of sodded ditches that foot properties. She sees something out of the corner of her eye. A sleeping
dog on bare ground. A policeman sitting on the steps of a side porch. Lisa slows to look. This is Mrs. Stanley’s house. She cannot resist the impulse to march up the driveway. If her mother hadn’t drank continuously throughout the pregnancy then Lisa could have minded her own business. Instead, she approaches the officer. Officer Shelley turns his rock face to the girl. She is reflected in his mirror shades as an older, thinner woman who bows through the middle. “Hello, young lady.” Lisa stops, puts a hand over her eyes and settles all her weight on her left side. She stares down at Shelley. The officer grows uncomfortable, which is something Lisa intends or is entirely oblivious to—either way, her mother should not have kept drinking. “Something I can help you with?” Lisa balances her weight for a moment, suggesting that she might make a turn, but brings herself down on the right. “Somethin’ smells off. What’s that shitty smell?” Shelley lowers his head and points his heavy boot under a stick. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.” Lisa sees something. A little pattern of retch sinking into the dirt. “What that? That what stinks?” “Nope. That, little lady, is where I just had a puke.” “How come?” “Isn’t there somewhere you need to be?” “How come you sicked up?” “Dead bodies.” Shelley gestures with a thrown thumb. “In there.” Lisa looks at the closed door and makes a thinking sneer. “So. Haven’t you ever smelled dead bodies before? You’re a cop.” “Yes, Miss. I have. But what’s in there is . . .” Shelley stops. His sinuses are filling up. He sniffs hard. “Are you crying?” “No. I’m not crying.” “Shouldn’t you be catching out whoever did this, instead of crying all over?” “I ain’t cryin’. I got . . . my nose is bothered.” “So what’s in there?” Shelley is annoyed now and wants to scare her. He pulls his glasses down his nose so she can see his big honest eyes. “There’s a man in there all cut open by a knife.” “So.” “Yeah, so. And his wiener cut clean off.” “His wiener?” “That’s what I said.” “So. I know somebody who needs to have that done.” “By his own mom?” “His mom cut off his wiener?” “She’s dead, too. Lying right beside him with his dead wiener in her hand. And it’s cut in two right down the middle like a goddamn hotdog.” “Is that what smells?” “Yes, ma’am. That and seeing as to the fact that they shit themselves.” “How come?” “How come what?” “How come they shit themselves?” Shelley runs a pen down the blue piping on the side of his knee. He clicks it, retracting the ballpoint. “Because that is what you do.” ■
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Reviews Ja, No, Man: Growing Up White in Apartheid Era South Africa by Richard Poplak Penguin, 2007; 344 pp.; $18 Richard Poplak’s memoir of childhood in South Africa is bittersweet. On one hand, he is a suburban white boy obsessing over Michael Jackson, Miami Vice, and Mad Max. On the other, his everyday life is shaped in a thousand mundane ways by the official policy of Apartheid (the word is capitalized throughout the book to denote its particular relationship to South Africa). As Poplak puts it, “It is an honest recounting of my early years in a country that was both a very nice place to grow up in, and a horrible place in which to live.” Poplak’s tales concern the universals: school, parents, and teenage rebellion. But Apartheid is always bubbling under the surface. The family maid, a black woman named Bushy, is only permitted to enter white areas with the proper papers. Louis Botha Avenue connects white suburbanites to Johannesburg, but it is also the scene of countless deaths of black people forced to ride broken-down buses to their jobs in white homes and businesses. This book is not about the politics of Apartheid; in fact, Poplak’s references to its history can be maddeningly vague. For example, he describes waiting for the school headmaster to arrive in order to mete out corporal punishment: “A lone child in these empty halls during class time was about as safe as an Afrikaner showing up at an ANC Youth rally wearing a ‘Robben Island Rocks’ T-shirt.” Robben Island? Poplak is fond of footnoting, but this is one place readers could actually use one. Poplak tries to connect with readers through shared nostalgia for 1980’s pop culture. He not only traces his own growth from the kid watching Duran Duran and Cyndi Lauper on afternoon video shows to the teenage hoodlum taking cues from Guns N’Roses, but uses these common references to illustrate censorship by
South African authorities (clumsy, yet chilling attempts) and to show how black entertainers were received in a legally racist country. Poplak writes that one reason The Cosby Show was a hit was because “watching black people act like white people was intrinsically compelling.” It’s a good thing there are some chronological indicators to go by. Told more or less in order, the narrative tends to meander. One chapter might chronicle the whole of Poplak’s experience with something or someone, such as Chomps, the family’s quintessentially South African guard dog. The next could be about a particular event, such as attending Waterval Boven, the militaristic veldskool, where boys learn how to fight Communism and black people. Perhaps if not for the current craze for memoirs, Ja, No, Man could have worked as a collection of interconnected personal essays. Poplak is funny and his sardonic tone works with the material. His perspective is shaped by time and distance from South Africa, and I longed for more immediacy in a memoir. It’s not the white boy growing up that we meet in these pages, but the adult looking back on it all. —CHRISTINE ROWLANDS
The Holy Forest by Robin Blaser University of California Press, 2006, 544 pp., $44.95 This expanded and revised edition of The Holy Forest, originally published by Coach House Books, will be welcomed by diehard fans and Blaser newcomers alike. It contains all of the books from the original, as well as newer work written since 1993. Previously uncollected poems are also included, along with a new afterword by Charles Bernstein. A book of impressive depth and breadth, The Holy Forest affirms Blaser’s position as a major poet in the North American canon. Blaser’s lyric virtuosity is evident even in
his early work. The Boston Poems contain countless gems: “I took a cup of wild courage out of the Charles River” (from “Quitting a Job”), “my hand trembles like a tree/first planted in chaos” (“The Hunger of Sound”), and “Dear Mr. Death,/I am proud to death” (“Letters to Freud”). In places, the imagistic poignancy and playful humour of these early poems are reminiscent of John Ashbery, who was a contemporary of the young Blaser’s. Although Robin Blaser can write a great lyric poem, his distrust of the easy lyric voice later led him to seek alternate ways of conjuring the poem. Starting with the book Pell Mell, Blaser uses quotes from sources as disparate as Jacques Derrida and Octavio Paz to destabilize the “I.” Later poems, such as “Mappa Mundi,” from Exody, are so heavily infiltrated by outside voices that the narrator’s own all but disappears. When the familiar pronouns “I” and “you” do show up, they are often in quotes, as if to question the validity of their usage. In “Image-Nation 24” (“oh, pshaw,” he writes: “I tell ‘you,’ my love, these tales.”) Blaser uses “my love”—a very conventional lyric address—but this supposed intimacy is called into question when coupled with ‘you.’ Who is ‘I’? Who is ‘you’? Such lines can be discomfiting to the reader who is accustomed to first-person, confessional-type poetry, but this is precisely why Blaser’s work is so important to contemporary readers, for these “antilyrics” (to borrow Bernstein’s term) make us consider not only who is speaking, but who is allowed to speak, and to whom. The Holy Forest contains several examples of “the serial poem,” (a term coined by Blaser and Jack Spicer which means, in Blaser’s words, “a continuous song in which the fragmented subject matter is only apparently disconnected”) including “The Truth is Laughter,” which spans twenty years and twenty-one entries. “Image-Nation” is another, first appearing in 1964 with Image-Nations 1-4 and continuing to the year 2000 with the inclusion of “Image-Nation 26 (beingthus)” in Wanders. These serial poems are some of the chief delights in this rich collection. In them, one can trace the threads of a life’s work, and marvel at the varied brilliance: “I have always loved/shadows as long as they were northern/and moved gently west/like the/crack-up of books, their spines/tingling with notes…” —JEN CURRIN
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The Love Song of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Sharon McCartney Nightwood Editions, 2007, 99 pp.; $16.95 The Love Song of Laura Ingalls Wilder, Sharon McCartney’s third book of poetry, explores the elasticity of identity, the gap between desire and duty. McCartney draws out episodes of wildness that a consciousness both craves and tries to “civilize” by writing from the perspective of Laura and other people and objects in the famous frontier Little House books. She handles this beautifully in subtle, strange poems that let a fresh, startling metaphor appear. For example, “Pa’s Penis” seeks beauty (penetration is “Like burying my head in umber”) and knows something about strutting as well as being rebuffed (“To be willing, radiant, fresh and dandy,/ and then, to be stymied, impeded”). With carefully placed doubleentendres, this poem becomes an unusual, sympathetic description of the buffoonery, desire, and blindness that drives colonialism. Elsewhere, a “Prairie Fire” runs amok with heat and mischief and then leads to this confession: “It’s not the rampage/ I dread, the destruction, but what comes/ after, letting go, giving up, the emptiness/ before the world pulls its green blanket of/ shoots over my head.” Like the horse lady running with the antelopes, desire surges, then has to be reined in again. “A brownness like a burr/ appears on the horizon, festering, becomes/ recognizable, my mate and the master” to take her back to “home sweet/ fucking home.” However, the book opens with a prose prologue that should have been an endnote. In the prologue, McCartney describes her attraction to “the contrast between the author’s romantic version of her family’s experiences on the American frontier of the 1880s and the reality.” She wants us to know the Little House books eliminated substantial facts like the death of the infant Freddy, the family’s experience running an inn in Iowa, the way Almanzo Wilder described his life as “mostly disappointments.” She mentions the long-contentious allegation that Wilder wrote the books with help from her daughter Rose Wilder Lane. Because these details aren’t integrated into the poems, they form a distracting
background of expectations. As an introduction, they skew the book’s focus and bring us to the poems from a very specific starting point that is, by her own description, not the direction she wants to take us. History and fiction are separated clearly enough without explanation when it’s “Pa’s Ax” or “Laura’s Needle” or a “Blackbird in the Corn” that speaks. In McCartney’s sophomore collection, Karenin Sings the Blues (Goose Lane Editions, 2003), she imagines psychologically or emotionally possible voices for Anna, Vronsky and others in Tolstoy’s novel. The Love Song’s weakness reveals itself in comparison to this earlier work. Karenin Sings the Blues includes two sections where McCartney writes about her own life: twelve poems around struggles with her brother, and eleven about her parents. The movement between heavily fictionalized and deeply intimate voices brings balance to the emotional tone of the work. Some poems in The Love Song, by contrast, feel like they were added to bulk up the collection to book length. The repe-
tition leaves some of the stunning poems blurred by over-immersion in “the flooding creek that divides what you want or expect from what you are given” (“Churn”). But the stunning poems are there, including the title poem itself, making The Love Song a music worth hearing. —MEG WALKER
The Bone Cage by Angie Abdou Newest Press, 2007; 235 pp.; $22.95 The Bone Cage, Angie Abdou’s first novel, follows the lives of fictitious Olympic hopefuls Sadie Jorgenson and Tom “Digger” Stapleton. The novel focusses primarily on the rigours of their training as the two athletes (Sadie is a speed swimmer and Digger is a wrestler) prepare for the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. Abdou, a competitive swimmer herself, certainly has first-hand knowledge of the privations of training. She captures the physical and mental strain that Sadie and
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new this fall from
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Body Breakdowns: Tales of Illness & Recovery e d i t e d by Janis Harper Body Breakdowns is a collection of true tales about brushes with mortality and the medical establishment. Some are serious, some are funny; all are about illnesses, both minor and major. isbn: 1-895636-86-8 | 144 pages | $18 can / $15 usa
Dirtbags (a novel) by Teresa McWhirter
— PAT R I C K M A C K E N Z I E
Dirtbags deals with the bonds between women, the cycle of poverty, self-destruction, loss of family, the outlaw code, and the fragile beauty of the human condition. This is a novel about reckoning—with one’s past, one’s choices, and one’s expectations for the future. isbn: 1-895636-88-4 | 224 pages | $20 can / $18 usa
Digger must endure with a fair degree of writerly acumen. But as a former competitive athlete, I know that besides being physically and mentally difficult, training for any athletic discipline can be intensely boring. As I worked my way through The Bone Cage, I found Abdou’s descriptions of training and competition, while vivid and accurate, to be lacking in any real drama. But I do not think this is the fault of Abdou’s abilities as a writer; rather, I think it is a general flaw found in most sports writing. The problem being, that sports writing, whether journalism or fiction, in the absence of real drama, artificially tries to create importance out of what is, in the end, unimportant. Perhaps anticipating readers’ disdain at having to plough through another account of yet another gruelling training session, Abdou fills out her story with detours from the main athletic narrative. For example, Sadie’s life in the pool is juxtaposed against that of her family, specifically that of her grandmother who is languishing in a hospital—a victim of adult-onset
chance at a medal, Abdou vaguely delves into her characters’ sex lives. But this only comes across as tacked-on and shallow— an editorial afterthought designed to prevent readers’ attention from fading. Also, seemingly to maintain reader interest, the narration is written exclusively in the present tense. In this case, such a compositional choice only draws attention to itself as “technique”—automatically suggesting, for me at least, that there is something lacking in the story. Sport occupies odd territory in our equally odd cultural epoch. Existing somewhat as a paradox, sport is primarily viewed as entertainment—frivolous or otherwise—but at the same time it has been given an elevated status. In the absence of real drama, however, the attempt to create a story out of what is fundamentally a trivial subject will lead to a boring tale—in real life or in fiction.
diabetes and the ravages of old age. The comparison between the youth and strength of Sadie and the failing health and body of her grandmother will be obvious and superficial to some. But to be fair, it is in the tension between youth and age and the limited time we all live under where Abdou is able to pull her story out of the plodding chronicles of Sadie and Digger and their strict training schedules and give her novel some life. It is not as if Abdou has written carelessly about her two main characters; there is a certain affection for both that seems to be coming from Abdou’s own intimate understanding of sport. However, Digger and Sadie’s lives are so circumscribed by their dedication to their respective athletic pursuits that they are necessarily rendered as dull and uninteresting despite that they are both headed to the Olympics—the pinnacle of all athletic dreams. Perhaps in an attempt to make her characters more human and less the single-minded machines that Olympians must be in order to have the remotest
Delible by Anne Stone Insomniac Press, 2007; 307 pp.; $21.95 Delible is a story of two sisters: a sister who has disappeared, and a sister who remains. Within the suburban landscape of 1980s Streetsville, Anne Stone’s third novel focusses on a family in sustained crisis. Mel, teenaged sister to Lora, has vanished, and over two years have gone by without word, without answers, without hope. Delving into themes of identity and the imprint we leave on others’ lives, Delible is aptly titled. Is an absent identity an identity erased? Or do our identities exist in the traces we leave behind? Stone is a skilled and capable writer. Travelling between the past and present, the novel uses flashbacks to illuminate the main characters of Lora, the sister who is left to pick up the pieces, and Mel, the sister who has disappeared, either gone of her own volition, or taken. Much territory is covered in these pages; there are rebellious teenaged sexcapades, a plethora of highschool woes, pill overdoses, memorable childhood games, tattoos, and pregnancies. Beyond the sisters and their mother, there are also a number of somewhat interesting secondary characters; various boyfriends, schoolmates, small-town journalists and
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Claire, a woman who tries to help locate Mel by analyzing minute elements of her life, as a sort of psychological scientist. Stone ingeniously reveals her characters via flashbacks, an astute reminder that a person’s essence is a collage of their past experiences. The landscape of family tragedy also features strongly. In fact, the overwhelming sense of sustained grief and quiet desperation is so succinctly drawn that it almost becomes a character in itself. Etched in sadness, Mel’s family and close friends live lives of waiting—for closure, for information, for the phone to ring, or a knock on the door to herald the arrival of someone who has an answer. That said, character development ends with this wrench of the heart. The flaw is structural—tiny visual episodes or micro chapters, although well written, are too brief to allow for substantial depth. This sparseness is almost too economical— when the plot is already constrained to snapshots of the past and an unchanging present landscape, characterization is the next treasure to mine. Lora, whose perspective makes up the bulk of the novel, is most fully fleshed out, but Stone’s secondary cast are superficially drawn, almost sketched in pencil. I wanted to dive in, but found the water too shallow. So for two-thirds of the novel, I went for the ride. I embraced the suburban Toronto backdrop, met and empathized with the impressive cast of characters, enjoyed the flashbacks, the rebel teen spirit and the ‘80s rocker-chick attitude. But with dismay, just around climax time, I realized that the novel had run out of steam. The novel ends eventually, as all novels do, and I found the lack of closure troubling. In Delible, there is no getting beyond, getting through, or getting over. There is no ending. Perhaps this is the point. Perhaps the disappearance of a family member is so monumental, and the loss so great, that life as it was, is instantly and forever replaced by a series of endured moments. — DAY H E L E S I C
Pain and Passion: The History of Stampede Wrestling by Heath McCoy ECW Press, 2007; 333 pp.; $22.95 Back in the early ’80s, when I was about eleven or twelve, I remember gathering
Street Stories: 100 Years of Homelessness in Vancouver text by Michael Barnholden & Nancy Newman photographs by Lindsay Mearns Photographer Lindsay Mearns turns a sympathetic lens on the faces of Vancouver’s homeless and reveals them for the everymen and women they are: people with families, past careers, and lives only half-lived because of varying circumstances, most beyond their control. Barnholden and Newman’s text provides an accompanying overview of homelessness in Vancouver from 1907 to the present.
isbn: 1-895636-85-X • 144 pages $20 can / $16 usa available now • www.anvilpress.com
with my pre-adolescent friends on Saturday afternoons in Brad Johnston’s parent’s basement. There in the woodpanelled room hung with cheap oil paintings depicting scenes that looked like they were taken from a Louis L’Amour novel, we would watch Stampede Wrestling. Despite the cheap production values, the action was always over the top and predictably violent. But even at out tender age we suspected that the painful submission holds and body-slams administered by the likes of Bad News Allen and the Cuban Assassin were a fiction. In our vocabulary back then we’d shout at the screen, “Oh that’s sooo fake,” and roll our eyes. In Pain and Passion: The History of Stampede Wrestling, journalist Heath McCoy seems to acknowledge our former youthful suspicions by writing about “professional” wrestling primarily as staged entertainment. At the same time, however, he writes with a sentimental attachment that praises the sheer athleticism and, indeed, pain and suffering that went into creating the gloriously absurd
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spectacle that was Stampede Wrestling. Written mostly in a sensational journalistic style, Pain and Passion comes across more as a series of outrageous anecdotes and less of a historical account. Indeed, the book has a slapdash feel to it, but this seems to be more a reflection of the subject matter than anything else. As anyone who has watched mainstream wrestling will know (well, maybe not everyone), there is a contrived recklessness to the “sport” that is part and parcel of its charm—such as it is. Regardless of its lowbrow status, McCoy has gone to great lengths to put together an intensely detailed history of a genuine Canadian “cultural” institution. But rather than be attracted to Pain and Passion as a historical account by itself, readers may be more drawn to the lurid, and seemingly endless, tales of life on the road and in the ring as a Stampede wrestler. Certainly McCoy writes with serious praise about the athletic requirements of wrestling: “wrestling, for all of its theatrics, should be an athletic exhibition first and
R EVI EWS
foremost, not some circus of depravity.” But it is always the depravity of wrestling to which audiences are drawn; likewise, it is the depraved spectacle of wrestling to which McCoy’s book constantly returns. Whether it is the vague homoeroticism inherent in two men wearing briefs and leather knee-high lace-up boots grappling with one another, or watching a “heel” (bad guy) like Abdullah the Butcher purposely cut himself or his opponent with a hidden razor and bleed all over the ring, wrestling is nothing if not a depraved spectacle. For all of its exaggerated violence and melodrama, professional wrestling can perhaps best be thought of as storytelling, as basic and visceral as it is. As ’70s Stampede Wrestling mainstay “Cowboy” Dan Krofatt says, “Why do soap operas on TV last for years and years?...They’re propelled not through violence but through storytelling.” As we suspected when we were kids, there seems to be more fiction than fact in the ridiculous extravaganza of wrestling. But like anyone who likes a good story, we
stuck around for the blood. And there’s plenty of blood and good storytelling in Pain and Passion. — PAT R I C K M A C K E N Z I E
Comfort Food for Breakups: The Memoir of a Hungry Girl by Marusya Bociurkiw Arsenal Pulp Press, 2007, 176 pp.;$19.95 This is a tricky book to categorize— probably one of the reasons I like it so much. As the title suggests, it serves as a memoir, but it’s much more than that. It’s a travelogue that deals with affairs of the heart, and at the same time is a treatise—both practical and philosophical— on the roles that food plays in our lives. Bociurkiw begins by reminiscing about family. Both of her parents cooked; I am jealous of the breakfasts her father made. Mornings saw mine always running out the door. She cites rituals and lore surrounding food, both formal ones and those that were particular to her circle of relatives. The section called “Food Voyages” is
where her writing really soars. You can hardly help but get caught up in her travels through Turkey. Who could resist the insistence of this description of a bus ride: “You will sleep fitfully, dreaming of ancient caravans, floating in a blur of Slavic and Middle Eastern words and images. There will be frequent, middle-of-the-night shopping stops at roadside emporiums offering Turkish Delight, kebabs, and kylyms that look just like the ones you’ve seen hanging at your great aunt Olena’s house. At each stop, the bus’s exterior will be hosed down, and water will stream across your window like tears.” Such compelling writing makes me want to browse for flights to Ankara. The aspect I least enjoyed was the “breakups” saga; lover’s names grew almost interchangeable. Despite its title, this is not where the heart of the book lies. Still, I will treasure this slim volume and return to it, I am sure—to delight in its thoughtful musings on food, to explore its homey recipes, and to remind myself of the bonds we forge by sharing meals with those we love. —HEIDI GRECO
Not to be missed Cold-cocked: On Hockey by Lorna Jackson Biblioasis, 2007, 206 pp.; $19.95 Lorna Jackson’s Cold-cocked is a small wonder. Tough-minded and lyrical, this is an intensely personal take on fandom, family, and two seasons of Vancouver Canucks hockey. Returning to the sport after a long period of disinterest, the University of Victoria writing teacher employed her considerable literary skills to fashion a new non-fiction narrative of the game, one that transcends hockey’s hoary clichés, creating a story that goes far beyond clean hits, warriors on ice, and winning is everything. This doesn’t mean that hockey’s greatest hits aren’t in the book. After all, the Bertuzzi sucker punch does inspire the book’s title. Don Cherry also appears (mercifully few times). But mostly present are clear-eyed takes on some of the more pernicious hockey myths. One that’ll lift the heart of any true believer west of Calgary is Jackson’s wry demolition of Vancouver’s perceived failure to be a “real” hockey town: We are told that hockey fans grew up playing on
frozen ponds, that hockey as Canadian identity stems from the bitter cold winters, the ice and snow, the flatness of landscape, and the vast horizon of winter. Fuck that noise. Joe Sakic, Brendan Morrison, Paul Kairya, Scott Hannan, Cam Neely, the Courtnalls, not to mention players who found ice elsewhere in this temperate province—Port MacNeill, Kelowna. It’s a little like claiming country music only lives and breathes in Nashville: good for Nashville, but a lie. You want ice? Thirteen thousand years ago, it was 1500 metres deep where downtown Vancouver stands, but the ice age ended. We moved on. By placing hockey’s public acts into her own private sphere, Jackson moves on past the platitudes that have both defined—and degraded—the game for far too long. Her private life, and the lives of those close to her, her father and daughter in particular, become part of the story, and allow us to step outside the monotonous hype that hems in our perspective on the game we claim as our national identity. With Cold-cocked, Jackson hands out a new passport and writes a hockey book that finally includes the rest of us. — J I M O AT E N
HUNKAMOOGA « Musings on the Literary Life from Stuart Ross »
The Books that Shaped and Destroyed Me When I was a teenager, I worked in a library, starting at $1.45 an hour. I was surrounded by books. And after school, or sometimes instead of school, Mark Laba and I headed downtown for the 85-cent lunch at Kwong Chow and then a sweep of the used bookstores on Queen Street; there were a lot of them between University and Spadina, led by the Village Bookstore. Then we headed a couple of blocks south to sprawling Old Favourites, which had a five-cent Coke machine and a lot of musty books we weren’t really interested in. But we loved the mustiness. If we were done early enough, we might head to Harbord Street, where Paul Stuewe ran Nth Hand, definitely the coolest bookstore in the city, and Paul always knew what books to lay on us. It was also the only place in Toronto you could get the latest issue of 3c Pulp, the oftensingle-sheet magazine published by Vancouver’s mythical Pulp Press. Now, three decades later, as I’m on the cusp of living under a bridge and eating dog food (no academic credentials and can’t stomach taking another regular job), I return to some of the books I bought as a teenager: the novels that are to blame for my impending decline. The ones that confirmed my desire to be a writer. It’s the perfect time to talk about the novels of my adolescence, because I recently finished my own first novel. If it gets published, I stand to make a thousand bucks, or maybe two thousand. None of this five-hundred crap you might earn on a poetry book. Novels are the big time. As a little kid, it was the Hardy Boys for me, the Black Stallion, Henry Huggins, and those futuristic books by John Christopher about teens enslaved by alien tripods. Maybe a John Wyndham. But then suddenly I was post-Bar Mitzvah and I made the leap to adult books. One of the first was Dalton Trumbo’s anti-war masterpiece, johnny got his gun, first published in 1939. It blew my mind and it shaped me. Joe, wounded in battle, is lying in a hospital
bed. He has no arms, no legs, no face. And we are stuck inside his head. Which he taps on the pillow in Morse code to try to communicate. I read this book over and over. I couldn’t believe how the simple, declarative sentences of the first 180 pages shifted into nearly punctuationless, run-on rants in the heavy-handed but brilliant last few pages: “He saw a world of armless mothers clasping headless babies to their breasts trying to scream out their grief from throats that were cancerous with gas.” The French writer and artist Roland Topor made me shudder and made me laugh with The Tenant (1966), one of the greatest literary explosions of paranoia, and Joko’s Anniversary (1970), still among the strangest novels I’ve read, and I’ve read some fucked-up specimens. Eager to make a little extra cash, Joko starts carrying people around on his back, a human taxi. Then things go wrong, and one by one his customers become stuck to his back with some mysterious goop. Soon he has seven permanent passengers: “They had fallen asleep, strewn all over the bed like broken skittles. From time to time, in his dream, Sir Barnett let fly with a kick in Joko’s chest. Joko wasn’t asleep. He was thinking of Wanda. She was so close, and practically naked.” Much blood and sawing ensues. I don’t remember much about The Weekend Man, Richard B. Wright’s second novel, from 1970, but I read it, and Mark read it, and we made our friend David Fine read it. And then we all read The Fan Man (1974) — a book as weird as its author’s name: William Kotzwinkle. Actually, I read the whole thing to Dave over the phone. We’d never seen anything like it: Horse Badorties, rancid hippie, seeks out fifteen-year-old girls to join his Love Chorus. The book is one long monologue, punctuated every fifth word with “man.” And there’s one entire chapter that consists of just the word “dorky,” repeated over and over. I was about fifteen when I read this book for the first time, and I
didn’t realize how inappropriate it was for Horse to be bringing girls my age back to his love pad. Options, by the science-fiction writer Robert Sheckley, was a huge influence. A couple of the chapters last only one or two sentences. I loved that that was possible. And then I became obsessed with Mervyn Peake, whose Mr. Pye (1953) was a demented tale of good and evil about a bald, rotund old dude in a derby who attempts to spread good on a tiny island populated by oddballs. Peake, who in addition to writing fiction was also a great artist and extremely strange poet, died slowly and excruciatingly from Parkinson’s and encephalitis as he raced to finish his Gormenghast Trilogy. Among his notes were plans to make an opera of the thing, too. My own novel is tiny, about 140 pages, and perhaps the first tiny novel for grown-ups I read was Cat and Mouse (1963), a dark and grotesque tale of a sordid adolescence, set in Nazi Germany. Our young heroes have wanking contests, spurting their copious splooge off of a rusty bridge onto a passing torpedo boat below. The winner was invariably Mahlkie, who also ate dried pigeon shit he scraped off the bridge: “The stuff tasted of nothing at all or like plaster or like fish meal or like everything imaginable: happiness, girls, God in His heaven.” After these literary freaks, Vonnegut, Brautigan, Salinger, and Kosinski were just a little ways down the road. Now, Mark is the restaurant reviewer for the Vancouver Province, and Dave is an Oscar-winning animator. Me, I’m looking for a comfortable cardboard box to settle down in and nail my second novel over a bowl of Alpo. Stuart Ross is a Toronto writer, editor, and Poetry Boot Camp leader. His recent books include Confessions of a Small Press Racketeer and I Cut My Finger (both from Anvil Press); and in spring 2008, DC Books will publish his poetry collection Dead Cars in Managua. Stuart’s online home is hunkamooga.com. ■
hot new types DAMP: Vancouver Media Arts Edited by Oliver Hockenhull & Alex MacKenzie DAMP: Vancouver Media Arts is a visually exuberant work that is also on the vanguard of theoretical engagement. A full-colour symbiosis of form and content, inclusive of extensive imagery, graphic intrigues and typographical accent, DAMP is a rare and desirable art-infused statement on the city’s media art scene—now. isbn: 1-895636-89-2 11 x 7.5 > 144 pp. > $40 April 2008
Elysium short stories by Pamela Stewart Pamela Stewart spent twenty years as a private investigator, which gave her a special insight into human behaviour: “Because I spent so many years alone in a car watching people, my perspective on people is a bit different. I would watch someone for three or so days in a row, and in that time get a capsule version of their life; but it was skewed because I was part of their life, yet not part. They didn’t know I was in it.” A self-described “literary proctologist,” Stewart’s writing often looks into places that people generally don’t want to look. isbn: 1-895636-91-4 5.5 x 8 > 208 pp. > $18 March 2008
Imagining B.C.: Land, Memory, Place Edited by Daniel Francis The twenty contemporary writers featured in this anthology have one thing in common: a connection to British Columbia, to a specific time, landscape, or community in BC. Some of Canada’s best-known writers, all members of the Federation of BC Writers, are featured in this anthology, including Pauline Holdstock, Harold Rhenisch, George Fetherling, Howie White, Katherine Gordon, and, M.A.C. Farrant. The book features an introduction by editor Daniel Francis, a historian and author of twenty books. isbn: 1-895636-80-9 5.5 x 8.25 > 192 pp. > $20 March 2008
Anvil Press Contemporary Canadian Literature with a Distinctly Urban Twist
3 categories • 3 cash prizes • 1 deadline
fiction • poetry • creative non-fiction
Triumphant Literary Awards Awards Competition Competition Compet maximum 3,000 words POETRY: a suite of 5 related poems (maximum 15 pages) CREATIVE NON-FICTION: (based on fact, adorned w/fiction): maximum 4,000 words
Entry Fee: $25 per entry, includes subTerrain subscription! (You may submit as many entries in as many categories as you like)
Deadline for Entries:
May 15, 2008
$3,,000 in cash prizes $3 The winning entries in each category will receive a $750 cash prize (plus payment for publication) and will be published in our Winter ‘08 issue. First runner-up in each category will receive a $250 cash prize and be published in our Spring 2009 issue. All entries MUST be previously unpublished material and not currently under consideration in any other contest or competition. Entries will NOT be returned (so keep a copy for yourself ). Results of the competition will be announced in the Summer/Fall issue of subTerrain magazine. All entrants receive a complimentary one-year subscription to subTerrain.
SEND ENTRIES TO:
Lush Triumphant, c/o subTerrain Magazine PO Box 3008, MPO, Vancouver, BC V6B 3X5 • email@example.com • www.subterrain.ca