Drama, Vol. 3.4, Dec. 2009 CHARACTERS Megan: Early twenties. Jasper: Megan’s older brother. Late twenties. Setting: Megan’s front lawn. Present time. AT RISE: MEGAN is positioning a pair of life-sized art mannequins. She is recreating the scenes from a photo album and including herself in […]
Month: December 2009
Fiction, Vol. 3.4, Dec. 2009 WALLY B. – THE EVENING OF WARNER BROTHERS’ HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE’S USA MIDNIGHT RELEASE Cleveland, 8:44 p.m. – A bespectacled fatso in a trench coat gives me one of those heavy looks, dripping with deep and likely […]
Fiction, Vol. 3.4, Dec. 2009
After his sister moved out, Boy decided to move into her room, which was bigger and had windows (Boy’s room was actually the old den, which was in the center of the house with no out-facing walls for windows). But mostly, he decided to switch rooms because of the mouse. It rustled and chewed all night, from just after dark till just before dawn. He could hear it, over by the door of the closet in which it lived. It wasn’t that he minded the thing pursuing whatever comfort it could find, but Boy had a weak bladder which necessitated many trips to the bathroom if he made the mistake of drinking anything even two hours before bedtime. But Boy was terrified of stepping on the floor, whether he might step on the mouse and crush it, or whether it might try to eat him from the toes up. Many nights, he lay awake shivering in bed with the need to urinate, listening to the silence broken only by the mouse, which forever nibbled at the shoes of its betters.
The closet in Boy’s bedroom wasn’t his. It was his father’s. Boy used the closet in the hall for his clothes. The two closets in his father’s bedroom stood cluttered with some of his mother’s old clothes. This was another reason for taking his sister’s room, as it came with a closet.
Boy was wary of moving out of his room for fear that his father would discover the mouse nesting in his old clothes that had fallen in the back of the closet. But then one night Boy had to pee so badly that he woke disoriented in the dark and got up on the wrong side of his bed and was trapped between the bed and wall, where his bladder released itself. As soon as it was over and he realized what had happened, he had made up his mind.
It was a moot point, anyway, because his father had already smelled the mouse’s ammonia stink and made plans to trap it. That day, Boy moved his things into his sister’s room. It was strange, having all that open space and light, and he sat through less than an hour of being watched by birds and trees before tacking dark sheets over the windows. That evening, his father came home with mouse traps and baited them with peanut butter.
“Last time I did this, I woke up and all the traps were empty. I thought we had some crafty mice until I saw you had purple fingers,” he said.
“Ha ha,” Boy said. “I thought we only kill what we eat. That’s what you told me when we went hunting and you made me eat that blackbird.”
His father didn’t answer. He laid traps out all over the house, and Boy waited till he went to bed to set them all off with a pencil.
The next morning, Boy met his father in the kitchen for breakfast just after dawn.
“Boy,” he said, “did you mess with these traps?”
Boy shook his head and held up his decidedly un-purple fingers. “Must be defective,” he said.
“I’m going to set these again,” his father said, “and don’t mess with them this time.”
“All right,” Boy said. “But it wasn’t me.”
His father reset the traps and Boy waited till he left. This time, he found a picture of his sister that she’d scratched up years ago when she went through a phase of defacing her own pictures. He wrote on the back:
Give us Feta or the Girl Gets It
And drew X’s over the eyes and left this in one of the traps. In another one, he put a baby doll, in another, a cigarette. He went through the house and set them all off, leaving strange things in each.
When his father came home, he was furious.
“It wasn’t me,” Boy said, holding up his fingers again, “see? They’re not purple.”
This time, his father set out poison before he went to bed. But he didn’t really go to bed. He waited in his room for several minutes, listening, and then came out and checked all the poison. Boy heard him do this and waited. His father went back into his room and waited a while longer and then came out again. Again, the poison was fine. This time, he lay down and Boy waited until he heard his father snoring before he went through the house, emptying the poison. He left a note in one that read:
Thanks! This was some good shit! Got any weed?
Then he refilled them with cereal.
The next morning, his father slammed Boy’s door open and thrust the note out to him. Boy held his fingers up.
“Still not purple,” he said.
“What the shit?” his father said. “What’s the matter with you?”
“I don’t understand the question,” Boy said. “But now that you mention it, the cereal tastes funny.”
His father stared at him for a long moment and fear rose in Boy as he saw the desire in the man to beat him. But it passed and he walked away, leaving the door hanging open.
His father didn’t speak to him that night, but he doggedly set the traps and went directly to bed. It made Boy feel bad and he spent the night in front of the closet door, trying to explain the situation to the mouse in hopes of finding some common understanding. But the mouse didn’t emerge, and Boy dozed on the floor. He woke in the dead hours of deep night to a loud snap. He already knew, and he looked down to see the thing struggling its last spurts out. He touched its side to try to calm it, and it wriggled and stopped. He spent a long night with it, stroking its cooling fur. It was almost as bad as the blackbird. His father had made it into a stew and drank beer after beer while he made Boy eat each bite in his bowl. This had been just after mom died. After his father passed out, Boy had taken what was left to the woods and had a funeral for it.
His father was ecstatic in the morning when he discovered the body. He took the trap to the trash and emptied it, whistling the whole time. Boy waited for him to leave and dug the body out. He thought about having a funeral for it, but decided against it. He left it in the sink for a long while and went and lay on the bed in his new room and stared at the creases that looked like faces in the flag his sister had left hanging on the ceiling, but they were mute, as always.
When Boy’s father came home, he was surprised at the smell of stew. Boy ladled out a bowlful and set it in front of him. His father breathed it in deeply and took a tentative bite. He smacked his lips loudly, making Boy shudder.
“It’s good,” he said. “What is it?”
“Squirrel,” Boy said.
“Where’d you get squirrel?”
“Found it in the deepfreeze,” Boy said.
“Well it’s good,” his father said, taking another bite.
Boy nodded. “We eat what we kill,” he said.
Fiction, Vol. 3.4, Dec. 2009 Elijah woke to the sound of eggshells cracking. Blinking and wiping the corners of his mouth, he stumbled out of bed and made his way slowly in the direction of the kitchen. Pale morning light filtered into the yellow room […]
Fiction, Vol. 3.4, Dec. 2009
Gaston Tardif was the handyman and jack-of-all-trades at Carmelo’s Lodge in this northeastern corner of Quebec. He did everything Josephine Carmelo asked him to do. He made sure the Evinrudes were running each morning before the guests started their fishing day. He would feed the chickens in the chicken coop and pick out the wounded ones from the night before. He was always disgusted at the violence of the pecking order. The pheasants were more civilized and the Hungarians lorded it over the ringnecks in the pheasant coop. He emptied the traps of the mink and skunk that tried to hunt the birds. When the guests left for fishing after breakfast, and with their lunch baskets full of sandwiches and thermoses, Gaston had many other chores.
He and his beloved wife Marie-Hélène worked at the Lodge for years. They met there as teenagers, fell in love, married in the adjacent town of Guerin, and lived at the Lodge. During the tourist season they stayed in a small cabin not too far from the chicken coop. In the fall, after all the guests left, and at the invitation of Mrs. Carmelo, they would pack their meager belongings and move to the larger of the guest houses overlooking the lake. In return for this favour, and all the eggs they could eat, Gaston would take care of the complex while Mrs. Carmelo vacationed in Palm Springs, California, from mid-October to the end of April. He regularly flushed the toilets, repaired the door and window screens, and most importantly, he filled the ice barn with blocks of ice that he cut out of the frozen lake. The blocks of ice were used in the coming season to cool the iceboxes of the guests. Most of the guests travelled from Youngstown or Columbus, Ohio. Carmelo Lodge was the destination of choice of the blue collar families from that hard-working area.
After leaving the Lodge and cabins in the fall, when the leaves of the maple trees splashed their colours around the lake, Josephine Carmelo would not think too much about Gaston and his wife. From her spacious, airy home in the desert, she would send him a twenty dollar bill every month as she had done throughout each winter. When the money arrived, Gaston and Marie-Hélène would attend the Guerin auction held on Wednesday nights. They would sit patiently on the old pine church pews and wait as the auctioneer, a Mr. Bouthellier, sold his way through the lots. In those days pine was the rage among the gentry in Montreal, and antique buyers would easily pick up an armoire at the Guerin auction for five dollars and sell it in Montreal for five hundred. The Guerin auction did not sell only antiques gleaned from the surrounding area, but it also sold livestock during a lively exchange following the sell-off of the furniture, after all the dealers left with their treasures. Gaston made certain that sometime during the course of the four auctions held in a month, he would bid for and buy an old, bony horse with the twenty dollars he received in the mail from Mrs. Carmelo. She expected him to do that and over the years he unfailingly did his duty.
During the cold winter months, when Guerin and the Lodge were surrounded in swirling snow, the lake would freeze. By Christmas the water was as solid as concrete. That was when the real work started for Gaston. He would hitch a horse to the wood sled used just for that purpose. With catgut snowshoes, Gaston would walk across the frozen lake to an opening in the ice. He used a pick and saw to cut blocks of blue ice, load the sled, and trek back to the Lodge complex. At the end of the day when he came home during the dark hours of four in the afternoon, Marie-Hélène made dinner for the two of them. After dinner they would watch the old news broadcasts on the television set because the town of Guerin and the surrounding environs as yet had only the promise of receiving live television.
Once a month, during the four or five months in which the lake was frozen solid, Gaston had the duty of cutting ice holes in a variety of locations on the lake. These locations were determined by Mrs. Carmelo before she left for Palm Springs.
“Let’s see,” she would start during their end of the season talk. The conversation was unilateral. Gaston stood in the doorway, his cap in hand, and agreed to the spots on the wall map to which Mrs. Carmelo was pointing. “I think that next year our guests would enjoy Buck Point, the Sand Bar, Windy Bay, the Ohio Island spot and Granite Bank. What do you think?”
“I think it would be fine, madame,” answered Gaston.
“Very well, then,” continued Mrs. Carmelo. “I’ll send the money as always and you do the right thing, my boy.”
Josephine Carmelo was a sly one. She learned some time ago that the northern pike and muskellunge inhabiting her vast lake had a taste for horse flesh. Long before Gaston, and long before Emil, his predecessor who drowned years ago when the ice broke unexpectedly during an early March thaw, she was using horse meat to attract the fish. It was Gaston’s cross to bear to work with these animals, hauling ice from the lake to the ice barn. At month’s end he led the horse out onto the lake where the ice hole glowed azurely in the sun. Marie-Hélène watched sadly as her husband walked away, rifle in hand, leading the animal by a rope tied around its neck.
Gaston was sad as well. He did not like doing this. But given the state of affairs in his life, where he had a job, a roof over his head and steady wages in the summer, Gaston and Marie-Hélène did not have much choice. When Gaston was working on the ice with pick and shovel and saw, loading and hauling the blocks to the barn, Josephine Carmelo was lounging in a deck chair, enjoying the desert air and the hot, warming sunshine. It was the way of the world and an ancient separation of the haves and the have-nots. Although Gaston was aware of it, he did not covet anything. Mrs. Carmelo was what she was and he was respectful as was most of the town of Guerin. What really bothered Gaston, and it started the previous year, was the Guerin auction and its consequences to him and his Marie-Hélène.
As derelict as the horses were, they worked with him, and even after he shot them and winched the carcass into the ice hole, they continued to serve the Lodge in the cold waters of the lake. This winter Gaston had enough. The barn was almost three quarters full of ice blocks. The blocks were well separated and covered by sawdust. The lodge and cabins were in excellent shape, Marie-Hélène and her husband were warm and cozy in their surroundings. There was a problem and it gnawed on them both. There were four horses in the barn along with the ice. The summer hay that was saved to feed one animal at a time, as past practice permitted, was almost gone. The twenty dollar bills that regularly arrived from Palm Springs were used to buy oats, and bales of Timothy hay.
Josephine Carmelo did not live in the sunshine and the expansive residence by being naïve. Although she enjoyed the accoutrements of the desert life, and the fact that she was protected from the blasts of Canadian winters, she kept in touch with what was going on in the small town of Guerin. A short time earlier she received a call from Robert Bouthellier, the owner of the Guerin Auction House.
“We have not seen Gaston for some time now,” he said to her during the course of the conversation. “He bought four animals for a very good price as you know, Josephine. There weren’t any other bidders. We let them go for the one dollar minimum. But no, we haven’t seen Gaston at the last auction.”
Josephine was irritated. What is it with these people, she thought. The last one, Emil Fortin, was the same. The struggle on the ice that day was not her fault. Emil was much smaller so she wrestled the rifle from him quite easily. After she dispatched the horse there was another struggle with ‘Petite’ Emil as he was known in the town. The police from the city of Rouen were satisfied after their investigation but she didn’t enjoy the look in Emil’s eyes when he broke through the ice and as the heavy raccoon coat pulled him under. There was nothing she could have done.
She had to tend to her business interest and set things right. There was still time and Josephine Carmelo decided to fly to Montreal on the next available flight. She would stop there and pick up some winter clothing and furs from her apartment on Atwater Street in that city. The following day she would fly to Rouen. From there she would make ground arrangements. There was no time to waste and she found herself quite irritated.
At the same time that Mrs. Carmelo was landing at Montreal’s Dorval airport, Gaston was enjoying a cup of dark tea Marie-Hélène made for him. With a wooden spoon he stirred in some honey and gently rubbed his fingers along the smooth pine dining room table. He thought that he should rub another coat of Johnson’s wax into it before the season and the guests arrive. His thoughts drifted over to the barn. The horses were well taken care of for the night. In the morning he would take one of them back out on the ice and make two trips to finish off the last layer of ice at the back of the barn. There would only be room for a couple of dozen loads to have enough for the season. The idea of sinking the horses, let alone killing them as he had done for years, was now remote. He would deal with the issue when he plead his case with Mrs. Carmelo in the months ahead.
“You should tell her now, Gaston dear,” said Marie-Hélène. “You should tell her so that it is you who speaks the truth and it is you that is not afraid to do so. We have no idea what she would do. For sure the worst is that she will force you to do it. If you talk to her or send her a letter, she will understand.”
“You know she’s as cold as the ice, Marie,” answered Gaston. “She will not take no if I disobey. Even now Windy Bay and the Sand Bar are too thin to go out and sink the horses.”
“There are many other spots,” suggested Marie-Hélène.
“Yes, but they are not her spots. But you are right, I will muster the courage to tell her before it gets very bad. I am not sure if I fell in love with the animals this winter or if I fell out of love with what I am doing here every year,” said Gaston.
“Gaston, you can do anything you want. You can log or repair machines or even work over at Lac Chevreuil with Monsieur Carbonneau at his lodge. You know he always wants you when we see him in church. They don’t shoot horses there.”
They talked some more before retiring to bed and the bravado and confidence of the discussion masked the underlying dread of the consequences of Gaston’s inaction. Filling the barn with ice was one thing, an important one, but creating the sizzle for the experience of catching trophy fish is why Josephine Carmelo’s guests returned year after year. Both Mrs. Carmelo and Gaston knew this, and what made it worse was the shrinking ice on the lake.
The next morning, when Robert Bouthellier’s Fargo truck pulled into the compound, the crunch of the large snow tires startled Gaston and Marie-Hélène . They looked out of the small paned kitchen window just in time to see Mrs. Carmelo get out of the passenger side and walk directly to the barn. They were finishing putting on their clothes when Mrs. Carmelo stormed into the spacious one-room guest house. She did not bother to knock.
“So, Gaston, I see that you have decided to strike out on your own,” said Mrs. Carmelo. She turned and shouted to the auctioneer, “Thank you Robert, you can go. I’ll be here for a few days.” She wheeled and stared at Gaston, waiting for an answer.
“No, madame, that is not so. I am having a very difficult time this year with that job.”
“We all have a difficult time with that part of the job. But that part, my friend, is what pays the bills and pays your wages. The least you could have done is let me know that you contracted a new conscience. Get one of those animals ready immediately and let’s you and I go out and finish what you didn’t start. And you, Marie, I expected more from you. You should be the one to steer this man on to the correct road. Now both of you get rid of the winter’s comfortable life and do your job.”
“But Madame,” said Marie-Hélène, “the barn is almost full with beautiful blocks of ice. The Lodge is clean and dry and the birds are surviving well.”
“Yes, and that is what I expect at the least. Why do you think I pay you and take care of you. Gaston,” she addressed the man. “You are still here when I told you to bring the horse? And my rifle, where is my rifle?”
Mrs. Carmelo and Gaston and one of the horses walked on the well worn path in the snow toward the lake. At the edge of the lake Mrs. Carmelo experienced a momentary hesitation and then stepped out on the ice. Gaston and the horse followed. The woman led this trio, walking along the sled tracks toward Ohio Isle. She was tough and the easy life in the desert did not round off any hard edges of her character. With rifle in hand, she was as determined as the coming of spring. They reached the ice hole in an hour.
Marie-Hélène watched them go and waited. An hour or so later, when she heard the echo of the gunshot she winced and thought the worst. At the distant sound, two crows flew from their perch by the barn. Somewhere in the distance a white-tailed deer lifted its head and then returned to nuzzling the snow searching for food. On the lake by Ohio Isle, the weight of the falling horse broke the ice and the woman and Gaston were in the deadly water.
Josephine Carmelo felt the gun drift out of her hand as she tried to keep herself afloat. The weight of her boots and clothing dragged her under. For a few seconds Gaston too was gone. When they surfaced, almost simultaneously, the cold constricted their lungs instantly and both Mrs. Carmelo and Gaston could not breathe. The horse was gone. The man and the woman looked at each other. They saw crystals already forming around the eyes and on to the eyelashes. With mouths open in a frozen smile they couldn’t talk. Josephine’s struggle slowed as she watched Gaston stroke away from her towards the ice’s edge. She saw his bare hands grab at the jagged blue edge. He turned to see the woman staring at him. Slowly, Josephine sank out of sight.
Without knowing why, when Marie-Hélène heard the gunshot she wanted to go out to calm her fears and her curiosity. With trepidation she ventured onto the ice, following the tracks of Gaston and Mrs. Carmelo. Occasionally she had accompanied Gaston during his ice work. With him alongside she didn’t mind the cracking sounds and the pools of melting water when the temperatures changed. Today however, like a stickleback fish, Marie-Hélène anxiety increased with every step she took away from her home. Thirty minutes later she stopped walking and her fears froze her immobile. With tears making it difficult, she scanned the white horizon. A lone figure, far along the tracks in the snow, emerged in the fading purple light of the winter afternoon.
The chill in Gaston was dissipating as he sat by the fire. The hot, sweet morning tea felt good.
“There’s enough in the hot water tank for another bath, Gaston dear,” said Marie-Hélène. Everything that needed to be said was done so during the night. She was ecstatic that she had her Gaston off the ice.
“I will call everyone today and inform them of what happened,” said Gaston.
“Yes, of course,” said Marie-Hélène. “Tell me, is Lake Chevreuil full of pike and muskies or do Mr. Carbonneau’s guests fish for lake trout?”
Fiction, Vol. 3.4, Dec. 2009 At first, the absence of her body mattered little in the face of her relief. She could remember images and feelings, every detail intact and effortlessly revived. After all, Margo had always chided her friends that people paid too much […]
Fiction, Vol. 3.4, Dec. 2009
Diane couldn’t shake her compunction. Though eight and a half months had passed, nothing felt right anymore. Their conversation played out in her dreams, and stilled her during everyday errands.
“Do you want me to go or not?” Vince had asked, stuffing a forkful of warm cabbage roll into his mouth.
Could you at least taste the food I spent all day making?
Diane calmed herself before continuing; she didn’t want this to turn into another fight. Not in front of Jonathan.
“It’s not that I want you to go,” she said. “I’m okay with it. I’m letting you.” She knew that she didn’t really have a choice. He was going to Eastern Europe whether she liked it or not.
“My parents will help you out with Jonathan and I’ll only be two weeks,” he said.
For years, Vince had been talking about this trip, but when he started looking up flight information, Diane lost hope that it was just a fantasy.
Her sauerkraut tasted bitter and she made a face. “I’m not helpless you know. I think I can handle being home alone with our son for a couple weeks.”
“Exactly,” he said, smirking, as if he was proving something.
It would be nice to have some time apart.
Jonathan was six at the time; he knew that his dad was going on a trip someday for all he talked about it. Diane worried that his father’s actual departure would send Jonathan into a depression. He was a very sensitive child who waited patiently for his dad to come home from work so they could play hockey in the basement.
“Who will play hockey with me?” he asked.
“If I play hockey with you, then who is going to make dinner for us?” she answered, smugly.
Diane didn’t roughhouse like Vince did.
“I never said you were helpless,” Vince said. “But if you need a hand, you know that my parents will jump in.”
“So it doesn’t need to be said then.” She tried to hide how upset she was over him leaving, but there it was. He always gets his way!
The phone rang late at night. Vince’s connecting flight in Bucharest had burst into flames during take-off. Smoke inhalation due to faulty oxygen masks. He and twelve other passengers died inside.
Not a day went by that she didn’t loathe herself. She could have claimed that she couldn’t handle being alone, or that she thought Jonathan would suffer. Her stomach twisted in knots when she tried to sleep.
I should have kept him home.
She spent the first three days in bed, drugged on Valium. Her in-laws came over daily to help out. They handled the news more gracefully than she would have, had her son died in the plane.
Eventually, as the need for Valium wore off, she had a shower. Sweat and tears washed down the drain. She used scented shampoos, conditioners, and body wash for herself while Vince had only used Ivory bar soap and dandruff shampoo. The soap sat in the holder, as Vince had left it. Its smell overpowered her floral products until it filled the room. It was like being in his arms.
“I miss you so much,” she whispered, reaching out to the soap.
Jonathan had his own holder for his clear glycerin soaps. Neither of them would touch the Ivory.
In time, the bar diminished. She knew that it would disappear, one day. She wasn’t sure if either of them would be ready for that.
“The bathroom smells like Dad.”
“Yes, it does,” she said, smiling at Vince’s carbon copy.
Jonathan took to sleeping next to Diane most nights when the dreams of his father were too difficult to bear, and she relaxed slightly, having someone on his side of the bed.
One day in the shower, she missed the scent of the Ivory soap. The bar was reduced to mush in the holder. While toweling off, she went into the cupboard and opened a replacement. The smell of Vince filled the room. Diane smiled, glassy-eyed.
That was two months ago.
Diane marveled at how long a bar of unused soap could last in the shower. She and Jonathan never spoke of it again, but she was sure that the smell also affected him. No fresh bars remained, so she put it on her grocery list.
That weekend, in the soap aisle, another woman was standing directly in front of the Ivory soap and the generic store brand.
“Excuse me,” Diane said. “I just need some soap.”
“Here you go,” the woman said, handing her a generic bar.
“Thanks, but I need the Ivory.”
“This is cheaper, and you’re only paying for the smell of that stuff.”