If you have an itch," says Guru Jon, "scratch it. Don't sit there trying to ignore it. The itch is real. As long as you have the itch, you're going to be thinking about it, and you won't be able to fully focus on more exalted things. So, scratch the itch."
Guru Jon is caught in a sex scandal. It is his third sex scandal. He can't seem to help himself. The sex scandals erode his credibility in the eyes of many of his followers, and in the eyes of all of his critics, who, collectively, possess thousands if not millions of eyes.
"You know what I have to say about this latest sex scandal?"
He is talking to a reporter from a holistic living magazine.
"I'm glad it happened. You know why? Because it shows that I'm human. Which is all I've ever claimed to be. But some people, you know, my followers, some of them put me on a pedestal. Well, I don't belong on a pedestal. I'm just a man."
Speaking to his followers, Guru Jon is contrite but undaunted: "For those of you who have stuck with me through all of this, I thank you for your support."
He stands in robes on a stage. Tickets have sold out. The event is streamed live to paying members of the Guru Jon Network.
"I know I have lost many friends during this time of personal hardship, but maybe it's for the best. Those people were looking for a saint, a savior. I am not those things. I am just me. I am just a person trying his best to be Genuinely Human."
Guru Jon commissions the ghostwriting of a book, which quickly becomes a bestseller. The book is called Genuinely Human.
"I have been tried and condemned in the court of public opinion. I have been crucified. And I have risen from the dead."
He says this live on the air in studio. In retrospect, it was perhaps not the smartest thing to say live on the air in studio. Accusations fly that Guru Jon has compared himself to Jesus Christ, which he has.
"And yet," says Guru Jon live on the air, in yet another studio, "what was Jesus Christ, in the final analysis, other than Genuinely Human?"
"What are you doing?" says Guru Jon's publicist, who falls on him in the green room. "Are you trying to destroy us both?"
"I don't understand what the big deal is."
"The big deal is that, first, you compared yourself to Jesus Christ, and then, when you should have been apologizing or at least backpedalling, you went ahead and claimed that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was only human."
"Wasn't he? I mean, obviously I'm not saying he was only human."
"What are you saying?"
"I don't know! I'm not a fucking theologician!"
"That you are not."
"Are people tweeting about it?"
"Are people tweeting? Oh my god."
"Well, that's a good thing, right? No publicity is bad publicity. I mean all publicity is good publicity. Wait—how does it go again?"
Guru Jon is asked to appear on the cover of Cigar Aficionado magazine. Why the hell not, right? Guru Jon enjoys a good cigar.
"This is not a smart move," says his publicist.
"Remember how we were going to try to make you appear more likeable?"
"What are you saying?"
"People hate men who smoke cigars."
"What are you talking about?"
Guru Jon fires his publicist. He appears on the cover.
An excerpt from the interview:
My feeling is, if you have a rock in your shoe, take the rock out. And that's what's different about the Guru Jon message. I don't say to people, "leave the rock in." I don't say, "accept the rock." No. Take it out. Unlace your shoe, shake out the rock, continue on your way. You'll be a happier person in the long run.
A new allegation comes forward. Guru Jon meets with his lawyers.
"We never discussed her age!"
He is on his feet, pacing in the law firm's conference room.
"Do you discuss the age of every woman you bed?"
This last he directs to the only male lawyer in the room. There are many other lawyers in the room, sitting around the giant conference table. Guru Jon has given each of them a complimentary copy of the latest issue of Cigar Aficionado, which features him on the cover.
"Do you check for ID?"
"Jon, this is very serious," says one of the other lawyers, not the male lawyer.
"I'm being serious!"
Guru Jon's ex-wife publishes a tell-all called I Was the Rock. This is a clear reference to Guru Jon's parable of the rock in the shoe, and his advice to shake it out.
"Can we sue?"
He is meeting with his lawyers once again, on his feet once again. He meets with his lawyers often these days. He has come to hate them all, yet at the same time they are the only people in the world he feels he can speak honestly to. This feeling isn't quite the same as trust, but it's as close as Guru Jon can get.
"Is any of the material defamatory?" says one of the lawyers.
"She says I have a small dick. Look, here, page fifty-three. Quote, Secretly, in my head, I called him 'String Bean'."
Guru Jon slams his copy of the book onto the conference room table. The book is bristling with sticky notes.
"What the hell is that if not defamation?"
"Well, Jon . . ." says one of the lawyers, not the male lawyer.
A silence ensues. Guru Jon stands there with his mouth open, eyes bulging.
"Jon," says the male lawyer, "is it defamation?"
Guru Jon regards the audience of lawyers. His expression is that of a man defending his life against unfeeling enemies. Animals, perhaps—crocodiles or pythons. Put upon in the extreme.
"It's . . . I mean . . . what exactly is a string bean? How short is it?"
"It's not short," says a lawyer. "String beans are long."
"But," says another lawyer, "very thin."
Guru Jon stands there fuming.
The ex-wife's book becomes an instant bestseller. Meanwhile, the family of the girl who has made serious allegations agrees to settle out of court.
"They had no evidence," says Guru Jon to his personal trainer. "Nothing! Straight-up he said/she said. I still had to pay. Fuck 'em all! Fuck these people! Do they think I'm made of money?"
"Alright," says Guru Jon's trainer. She tosses him a medicine ball. "Time for squats."
He catches the ball and spreads his feet. He looks at his trainer's ass in the floor-to-ceiling mirror in the private gym that Guru Jon has built in his Malibu home.
"Did you read that book?" he asks his trainer.
"Which book?" says the trainer.
"My ex-wife's book."
"Ha." He does a squat. "That's right, I forgot about the other one. I always forget about the other one."
And what of the other ex-wife? She lives quietly in Florida, way down in the Keys, where she works with dolphins. People suffering from various ailments come to her, and she takes them into a tank where the people swim around with the dolphins, and then Guru Jon's other ex-wife tells the people that the dolphins want the people to heal. The people often do heal, right there, dripping on the poolside, sometimes with their hands up in the air. The dolphins have cured cancer. The dolphins have cured PTSD. The dolphins have cured clinical depression and migraines and arthritis. But here is what the dolphins have not cured: they have not cured the broken heart of a woman who loved Guru Jon, who loved him so hard that she knew she would die for him if he asked her to, but he didn't ask her to, instead he lied, he lied and then he let her catch him, and when she forgave him he lied again and let her catch him again, and she realized then that she had to leave him because even though she loved him fiercely, and even though she could keep right on forgiving—she could find it in her heart, forever, to keep on forgiving him and never stop forgiving him—it didn't matter because he didn't love her back, and he never would, because Guru Jon didn't know how.
The dolphins would cure her if they could. They want her to be healed and whole. They have tried everything, they really have.
But the dolphins cannot touch her pain.
Trevor Shikaze's fiction has recently appeared in n+1, Joyland, and The Walrus. He lives in Vancouver. On Twitter he is @trevorshikaze.
My wife gifted me the Sims 4. It was for my birthday. She was a frequent player herself and had all the expansion packs. I didn’t know that you had to pay fifty dollars to get the seasons. Summer, Fall, Winter. Spring was the default.
We went out to dinner. Got dressed up and I said I didn’t want to go anywhere new, so we went to the ramen place. One of the boys said, special night? He let us have a table to ourselves.
I’m tired of cooking, my wife said. The door opened; someone stomped past our table and I got a chill. Not me, I said, folding my scarf. No? She said. No, I said.
I climbed into the backseat of our car, behind the driver’s seat, and closed the door. My wife shook her head. Okay, she said. I’m your Uber. I opened the window a bit. I put my elbow against the panel and my face in my palm. I put my arm back down and leaned my head against the glass. Where to? She asked. I rolled my head back onto the headrest and closed the window.
“The lights in the house are on,” I said. “Did you leave them on?”
“Just in the one room. Just so it looks lived in.”
“For what purpose?”
“What purpose? You’re talking like a professor. How do you feel?”
“I am a professor. I’m fine, good.”
“I want you to feel like you’re coming back to something.”
“Oh no. Don’t say that.”
“Like it’s not just the two of us. Like the house is warm.”
“If it weren’t your birthday today—”
“We’re celebrating something, it doesn’t matter whose birthday it is.”
She shut off the engine and we sat there a while. I leaned forward and rubbed her shoulders. We left the car by the curb, big night. The street was quiet when we stepped out.
The shoulders of my coat were covered in snow. I patted myself down and grabbed a hanger from the closet. One of the bulbs in the bathroom light was broken. My hair was white. I ran my fingers through it and the snow melted. I washed my hands and dried off with a towel. My wife was reading on the couch.
“You’re giving me a time out?”
She looked up from her device. She made a show of cozying up in the blankets. Me-time. Sure. I went into the room with the computer. I switched on the monitor and learned that it was only seven o’clock. It felt much later. The mouse took a few shakes to wake up. I opened the game and the loading screen filled my eyes with light. I got up to fix myself a drink and grab a cardigan. When I returned there was an unnerving face gazing out from my computer. Gazing outwards at nothing. I set my drink on a coaster on the table and sat. I looked at the Sim and at the many buttons for customization. I selected a randomization die and my Sim was made over. I selected the die a few more times before settling with a design that was to me the most human. My wife could design a Sim for hours. Uncanny, how exact her digital replicas were. I had her promise never to make me.
I entered the world. I rolled my shoulders and waved. I stood around, awaiting instruction, then I entered the house. It was a house I found in the gallery, an archive of pre-made buildings and pre-made people. Out of curiosity I entered my wife’s name into the gallery search bar. Nothing came up. I hit backspace and tried the prime minister’s name. I couldn’t think of any celebrities off the top of my head.
The house didn’t have any windows so I demolished it. I found the same house and downloaded the file to my lot. No luck with the windows. There must have been a technical glitch. I decided there was nothing about the house worth keeping so I scoured the archive for another. There were gothic mansions (bats not included), modern complexes with Greek pillars, wide pools…towers of glass…patios with completed(!) sets of wicker furniture…and then there were houses like my own: small but cozy, with a tree out front blocking half the daylight. I decided against my own house and picked a large cement block, then I got to work. It didn’t take long for me to realize that the game didn’t come with too many options for furniture. There weren’t enough windows that met both my measurement and design requirements. The problem was that there were really only two types of windows. Ones with no frame, floor to ceiling big-city panels, or ones with frames, either too chunky, bland, or ornate. It was midnight when I got up from my chair. My wife hadn’t called me at all. I thought she was asleep but when I settled into bed she rolled over and faced me. I was designing, I said. She reached over me and turned off the lamp and we went to bed.
Four days later we went on a grocery run together, my wife and I—we still think it’s funny, I call her my wife and she calls me her wife, we always get a few looks when we do this—usually one of us would just go, but we went together. She was driving, I was looking out the window at the buildings on the street. Well, I said. I didn’t like any of them!
“I don’t like driving with you in the back,” my wife said.
“Do you need me to duck?
“What? Why won’t you be my buddy.”
“I need a buddy.”
“You can speak to me.”
“Yes but only as a driver.”
We turned into the neighbourhood and slowed down. Snow crunched under the tires.
“What about windows?”
“What were you saying before?”
“Nothing. They’re boring. They’re placed wrong.”
“Sit up front with me next time will you? Please?”
“Alright, I don’t mind. Ever since I started playing your game I can’t stop noticing windows. I’ve always liked windows. I like looking through them.”
“That’s all I wanted to hear.”
“That you’ll sit up front.”
A few oranges had fallen out of the bag and had rolled to the back of the trunk. I tucked my gloves under my armpit and reached for them. I placed the oranges in the bag then my wife took the bag from me.
“Go on,” she said.
“You have the keys.”
She shut the trunk and pointed with her chin.
“Go walk. Look at windows.”
I took my hat out of my pocket and brushed back my hair and put it on. I walked on the road because the cars had flattened the snow, so it was easier than trying to walk on the sidewalk. Most of the houses in our neighbourhood had similar if not identical exteriors. Most of them had rectangular windows with white frames, the kind I never picked in the game. They looked so small in my computer but in real life they were just windows. I couldn’t see anyone through the windows but, sometimes, as I passed, I could hear the television going. Snow turned into rain. My toes felt numb in my wool socks. I turned around and headed back home. When I got inside I dropped my wet hat onto the floor. It landed in a puddle of snow and dirt.
There was a pot of water on the burner. My wife was doing the dishes—hot water rushing from the faucet and cold rain tapping outside, already forming icicles beneath the storm drain. What are you making, I asked. I don’t know yet, she answered. I went to the table and pulled out a chair then sat. Look at this room, I said. I waved my arm. Look at the way it’s cut. The pot sat on the burner and said nothing. Look at these walls. Look at the shade. I waved and waved and waved. I’m tired of pretending to be married to you. Then let’s get married, my wife said. We can get married for real. We can get married in a church with a pastor. We can both wear elegant white dresses. What a laugh we’d have. Let’s get married tomorrow. Let’s have children. I’m working, I said. Then I said, what will the windows be like? The windows at the church were custom made, my wife said. How do you know that? I said. I don’t, she said. I just made that up. You and I, I said. We’re made up. No, she said. I’m not. What’s gotten into you lately? What’s on your mind? Be my buddy, alright? I stayed right where I sat in the chair. You got me one lousy present, I said. My wife sat down across from me. Water bubbled in the pot. Steam rose and hit the lights. For a second I imagined that steam filled the entire room, hot, white steam. I could feel it on my skin. My own sweat. Pressing against the window. Seeping past the shutters. My wife got up and turned off the burner and just like that there was no sound.
Lily Wang co-founded Half a Grapefruit Magazine. She's doing her MA at UofT. MA stands for MAsters degree.
I always thought that I couldn’t be a writer for two reasons. The first being that I never have sex. People in fiction are always having sex and that type of behaviour simply does not reflect my reality. The second reason is that I would only want to write about all the times my friends and family hurt my feelings, which I can’t do until they are all dead. I felt for most of my life that I needed to find a niche to set my work apart in a market saturated with girls just like me.
You can imagine my excitement, then, when a group of pirates broke into my home, murdered my entire family, and abducted me from my bed in the dead of night.
“Why are you doing this to me?” I cried in my white lace nightgown.
“Shut up, you stupid bitch” said the ugliest pirate, who slapped me across the face. I could tell I was about to begin a journey to find my voice as a fiction writer.
To fully immerse myself in the experience and produce the best work I could, I knew I had to fall in love with the pirate king. The pirate king was the most treacherous, disgusting, mean pirate there ever was. And I know as well as anyone that no kidnapping is really complete without falling in love with your brutish captor. As a budding author, I consider it irresponsible to be abducted by pirates without falling in love with a pirate king.
I know what you all must be thinking, and trust me, I’ve heard it all a hundred times before. “But Josie! I thought you were a feminist! Falling in love with your pirate captor is not very feminist.” But you forget that I am a woman and so everything I do is inherently feminist. And as a woman writer it would actually be anti-feminist for me to close myself off to an enriching experience like falling in love with a pirate king because of society’s expectations.
To be honest I thought it would be easier to get the pirate king’s attention. After all I was the only woman on the ship except for a girl skeleton. I felt a little bit shy because he was always on the poop deck with friends and I was usually alone below deck chained to a wall in the dungeon. I facebook messaged him a few memes about being a pirate to break the ice but he left me on read for two days. He finally responded “Hahahaha” with no emojis or punctuation.
The next time I tried to catch his eye I wore my wenchiest dress and told him I thought his eye patch looked really cute. I thought he seemed receptive so I asked if he wanted to hang out sometime and he said that he thought I was a really cool girl but he had a girlfriend and he just wanted to be friends.
A few days later I was rescued by a handsome sea captain who slaughtered all the pirates and carried me from the ship in his muscly arms. However, I was still so annoyed at the pirate king that I could hardly focus on his throbbing member while we made passionate love for the first time during a raging thunderstorm.
Me and the sea captain got married and we were together for 60 years. I am 86 now and I have 15 grandchildren and 4 great grandchildren, with two more on the way this fall. My darling husband died in my arms last year at age 90, and with his last breath whispered that I was the only woman he ever loved. I guess I never found my niche as a writer or managed to break into the world of fiction. But sometimes, late at night, I think about how great my life could have been, and how famous and talented at writing I might be right now if that pirate king had been single and I had found my genre.
Josie Teed is a writer from the Niagara Region of Ontario. She currently lives and works in Montreal, and her writing has previously been featured in Bad Nudes and Graphite Publications. She enjoys writing about the realities of dating and love through a fantastical lens.
A three-year-old Corgi named Gertrude shows you her teeth. In her brown eyes you find utter hatred aimed at you, along with a good measure of disgust. You suppose Gertrude can tell exactly what kind of person you’ve become. Dogs always see straight through people. You slide a muzzle over the Corgi's face and accidentally cinch the straps too tight, causing her to whimper.
“Sorry, Gertrude,” you say absently, loosening the muzzle a notch. The Corgi tries to back away, but she’s been leashed to a heavy-duty frame bolted to a stainless-steel examination table. With a trembling hand you pet her head. “It’s alright, girl. This'll only take a few minutes. Maybe after we’re done you won’t think I’m so bad.” You swallow back the taste of bile.
Your schedule was light today. At nine-thirty this morning you put down an ancient German Shepherd named Helmut who’d developed a massive adenocarcinoma far too late in life to make its removal worth the price. Helmut’s owner and her two young children were already discussing the purchase of a replacement puppy. At ten-forty-five, you performed a C-section on a French Bulldog named Olivia who, two months earlier, you’d artificially inseminated with a vial of show dog sperm worth nearly as much as a month’s coverage of your malpractice insurance. Then you declawed an angst-ridden adolescent Maltese named Donatella. You are one of the few veterinarians left in the city who still performs this type of procedure and, while some of your colleagues may look down on you, it’s just a simple fact of life that the wealthier pet owners of the world will pay through the nose to protect their furniture. The remainder of your open afternoon was then spent at your desk, shuffling through files and trying not to think about the previous night.
Jolene called you a few minutes before your four o’clock with Gertrude the Corgi was scheduled to begin. The image of her expressionless face and downturned black eyes, framed on either side by her long blond hair, flashed across your phone. A boisterous peel of laughter strained the speaker the instant you answered.
“No. You aren't understanding what I’m telling you,” she said, breathless between bouts of cackling. "This isn’t right. I can’t stop laughing. I couldn’t even back the car out of the driveway to go to work this morning. I can’t do anything but laugh. Fuck.”
Your hand shook so violently that you nearly dropped the phone. “I don’t know, Jole,” you said, trying to keep your tone of voice calm and even but still cheerful. “I’m not sure what to tell you.” To calm the trembling, you put your phone in the other hand and made as tight a fist as you could manage. “You know, I don’t think I’ve heard you laugh once since the accident. I think it's nice. I've missed it, you know.”
“No, this isn’t right, this isn’t right,” Jolene gasped for air. “This is, this is…” A belly laugh interrupted her train of thought. “This is wrong. I cut myself shaving in the shower and the way the blood dripped down my leg, it was the most hilarious thing I’d ever seen in my whole life. I need to see a doctor or something.”
The bile worked its way back up again into your throat. “Jole, honey, listen to me. I just have this one last case to deal with today and then I’ll come straight home. Anyway, what’s so wrong with laughing? Can’t you just enjoy it? It has to be a nice change of pace, right?”
“I don’t like this.”
“Well, I like is the sound of you being happy.”
Jolene snickered through her nose before hanging up.
You slipped into your long white lab coat and made your way down to see Gertrude in Exam Room 2, the appointment you'd been dreading all day.
Low growls continue to pass through Gertrude’s muzzle as you fill seven syringes with the contents of seven vials taken from a refrigerator standing in the corner. Beads of cold sweat collect across your forehead. After arranging the syringes on a tray near the examination table, you power on the behavioral therapy unit and uncoil its long red, green, and orange leads. While you wait for a cross-sectional image of Gertrude’s frontal lobe to cue up on the monitor, you unbag three sterile contact pads and fix them to the leads. Fear quickly makes its way into Gertrude’s eyes.
Growing up, you’d never really planned on becoming a veterinarian. You’d always had dreams of being an emergency room doctor, imagining yourself covered in blood, straddling some coding trauma patient as you performed CPR as the two of you were rushed down a hospital hallway on a gurney, sacrificing everything and dedicating yourself to the preservation and sanctity of human life. As a pre-med, though, you’d soon discovered that you were incapable of inflicting even the slightest twinge of pain on another person. The thought of setting a bone made your stomach churn. They laughed at you when you couldn’t even draw a blood sample without vomiting. When it comes to medicine, inflicting pain is often a requirement of healing and you simply didn't have the stomach to administer it. With nowhere else to go, you turned to the veterinary sciences. It turned out that you had no problem at all when it came to inflicting pain on a domesticated animal. You never once batted an eye during the horrifying things you did to keep those cuddly and friendly presences a constant in the lives of their owners for as long as possible. Plus, the money was just as good.
When Gertrude's growls shift downward into something more guttural, you place one of the contact pads over a shaved patch of skin just above her left eye, another above her right, and the third directly on top of her head. The Corgi's problem, as described in her chart, is that she is far too aggressive. Gertrude barks constantly at the door, attacks any and all houseguests, and has a tendency to destroy remote controls and other handheld electronic devices. Gertrude's owners, who both lead very busy lives, you’re sure, simply didn’t have the time to train the dog but, because they love Gertrude so dearly and had spent so much money purchasing her from the breeder, couldn’t stand the thought of parting with her. So, they came to you to change Gertrude into the good dog that they knew she truly was, somewhere deep inside. Gertrude jerks when you administer the first injection. You study the monitor, looking for any signs of seizure, and then administer the second and third injection. Gertrude’s growls fade as selected parts of her brain begin to melt away and die. With another mouth full of bile, you push a few buttons on the console to begin the remapping process. Gertrude’s leg kicks as if she’s chasing rabbits in her dreams.
As you move on to the next phase of the procedure, a car horn sounds in the distance. Steadily, it grows in volume. You turn toward the window just as you halfway finish administering the fifth injection. A few seconds later, there’s a deafening crash. Glass shatters and metal collapses. The admin staff screams in unison while every dog locked in the boarding kennels yelps and howls in trapped terror. Exam Room 2 shudders. Instruments rattle and several framed advertisements for a popular brand of pet food that you’ve been paid to hang on the wall fall to the floor.
You rush to the door, leaving the fifth needle inside Gertrude and forgetting to halt the flow of electrical bursts currently remapping the pathways in her small mind. You hear a strange peel of laughter, followed by Jolene’s voice screaming your name. The door bursts open and Jolene is there, a terrible grin on her face. Her chest is heaving and snaking streams of blood flow from a cut along her hairline, down along the bridge of her nose, and across her exposed teeth. Her car has come to a stop halfway inside the clinic’s waiting room, on top of a long row of waiting room furniture. Steam rises from the cracked radiator and the receptionist looks to have lost consciousness. Still overcome with laughter, Jolene bends forward at the waist. The blood drips from her lips and onto the tile. She extends her hand toward your face and opens it. On her palm rests a once-sterile contact pad.
Giggles burst the bubbles of blood, “Is this what I think it is? I found it under the bed just now. I thought it was so funny.”
You say the first words that come to your mind, “I must have brought it home with me. I don’t know how that got there through.”
Jolene locks eyes with you as she crosses the examination room. Her laugh lines are deep and reach all the way into her temples. Above each eye are bright red circles of inflamed skin. She puts the contact pad over one of the marks. Their diameters match perfectly. She nearly doubles over.
“What did you do to me?”
“Jesus Christ, I didn’t do anything. I promise. I don’t know how that got by the bed. I didn’t hurt you. I didn’t do anything.” Then you remember that Jolene just crashed her car into a building. “Are you hurt?”
You vomit inside your mouth and swallow it back. The acid taste moves into your nose and you gag. You can see that Jolene is in intense pain. Saliva foams at the corners of her deranged smile and drips down her chin.
Stumbling, Jolene walks past you toward Gertrude, who is still twitching. The numbers on the monitor have changed from green to red. “Is this what you think of me?” Jolene can barely breathe she’s laughing so hard. “I can’t stand it.” She compares the contact pad in her hand to the one adhered to the Corgi’s skin.
Your mind races as Jolene gasps for air, desperately trying to concoct some sort of story to explain away the marks you left on Jolene, explain away her insane laughter, explain away the blood flowing across her face, explain away the fighting and the last few years of shared misery. But there was nothing you could think of saying.
Jolene showed you again how the circles matched.
“It was the accident. I wanted you to be happy again and I didn’t want to hurt you. I didn’t know what else to do.”
Jolene pulls the needle from the Corgi and throws it down on the floor, followed by the electrodes. She takes off Gertrude’s muzzle and unleashes her from the frame. Cradled in Jolene’s arms, the dog’s eyes pop open and Gertrude looks at Jolene. Her ears lay back and she wags her tail. The dog kisses her, taking some of the blood off her cheek.
“What have you done to me?”
Gertrude seems to be in a daze but when her brown eyes focus on you, she leaps from Jolene’s arms toward your face. The sounds that Gertrude makes now could barely be described as canine. Her teeth sink into your neck and you crash backward into the therapy machine. The tower crashes and you along with it. Gertrude’s teeth pierce your skin and you start screaming. There’s a crack in your spine. Jolene walks over, watching and laughing as you try to tear the little dog off you. The blood flows as your blood pressure drops. The world begins to spin.
“I only needed you to talk to me.”
“I didn’t want to hurt you. I couldn’t hurt you.”
A black curtain falls over your eyes.
“Oh, god, why is this all so funny?”
Craig Calhoun grew up in the rural Arizona desert but now lives in Toronto. His fiction and the one poem he wrote have appeared in several North American publications, including Broken Pencil and Maisonneuve.
In high school, Thorp climbed over my cement balcony. The balcony met the high incline of the cement parking ramp before it steeply burrowed out of sync with ground level and the rest of the building away to Hunter Street. The apartment was an old folks’ home that had recently turned into a normal apartment building but kept its occupants. My Dad and I moved in when the superintendent abandoned the building in the middle of the night, which freed up the master unit. My Dad was an apartment hawk so Picaw! Our move was what initiated the hospice-to-building transition.
My balcony was the only one that could be accessed from ground level because of the way the ground of the ramp at my balcony was exactly the point you could still hoist yourself up onto the sheet of brown metal that formed the balcony wall off its raised-off-ramp cement foundation.
After my balcony, the ramp’s incline flattens to meet with a giant metal door. This giant door led into an enclosed part of the nether realm of the adjacent hill with the church. I never saw in there—the nether realm of the hill beyond my balcony—but I knew it was where the garbage chute led and where the building’s cargo elevator dropped. On the non-nether side of my balcony, the ramp’s downward decline towards the street was too steep for one to be able to hoist oneself onto the brown metal sheet of the next cement balcony over, which was the one attached to me and my Dad’s couch and television area. The other hillside units, like ours, whose windows faced towards Water Street, started two floors above ours and were in line with the church at the hill top, because the nether realm must have been sort of tall, and our suspended ceiling tiles were low.
There were only two units on the ground floor—mostly a windowless lobby—and both touched Hunter Street. These were ours, on the hillside facing the church, and on the bridge side, that of a woman suffering from dementia named Rose who everyone called “Tits” because she wore transparent chiffon blouses without bras on and wafted around Water Street corner, which amounts to the downtown core of our small city called Odenfield.
For us and Rose, the garbage chute was at the end of the hall on the Hunter Street side outside our doors, so, far away from the hill, which means the chute must have run at a slight angle underneath the hall to the nether hill. I knew the garbage went in there because it was collected on Sundays in front of my balcony that had the ramp.
Once a week I felt the excavation of the building's collective garbage rumble out while I slept. In my sleep, I’d hear the garbage men's low, manly voices jutter as they hung off their truck. In my sleep, I felt the cherries on their smokes canoe, flick and triturate, brushing the cement of the ramp whiter with their chalk. I lived with the ramp. And I lived with the slime trail the garbage and its men left, and I knew how it thickened between rains.
Thorp and I drank Steamwhistle beer with my Dad, which was insane because my Dad hated the scraggly boys I hung around with—especially this other guy, Phil, for reasons mysterious to me—while Thorp was a full-throttle crust punk. But for whatever reason, Dad loved him.
After hanging out with Dad and Thorp into the wee hours on our cauliflower-green couch, Thorp and I called up a taxi and went to wait for it outside so he could go home. Thorp and I had that weird romantic tension in which we didn’t want to kiss or anything but realized what a great and unlikely pair we were and left it there.
That taxi never came. We waited on the wall of stone at the foot of the hill of the church beside the cement ramp for a long time. The wall of stone borders the bottom of the hill with Hunter Street until the dirt path of the church breaks it near Water Street corner. There is an archway attached to a white building over a different gravel path between the hill and Water Street that almost joins up with the packed dirt path that goes up the hill to the church. The gravel path functions as a way for cars that live with the white building to park behind it directly in from Water Street. Water Street is Odenfield’s main thoroughfare, and it spans the whole city alongside the Otonabee River until it curls into Gareth & Marleah’s No Frills parking lot. The white building, the church, and our building are wedged between Water Street corner, where it crosses Hunter, and the bridge to Ashburnham over the river, which starts at Bridge Street, which is where the front entrance to our building is. This is strange because Water Street mostly runs directly along the river like an artery against a vein.
Corwin lived in the white building with the gravel path, which was the next building over from where Thorp and I were waiting. Corwin’s building was next to the church we were in front of at the foot of the hill on the wall. The window two up from the archway and three towards the church was Corwin’s, which was directly in line with my balcony. Corwin and I used to shine camp grade flashlights from our windows to meet up in the night for a walk with his Mom’s beautiful scary-eyed husky. I loved Corwin in the same way I loved Thorp and years later I called him when I remembered.
Corwin and I mostly walked on the path of the church, which turns into the path of Victoria Park on the other side of the hill that you have to cross a one-way street to get to. The path of Victoria Park goes downhill to a fountain topped with a cast iron fishing man statuette whose rod points to a new, steeper hill. The new hill culminates at the courthouse behind which they still hanged people in the ’60s.
I once lost my pet shark minnow in this tiered fountain in Victoria Park and called on Corwin to help me find it. I went up on his shoulders to get to the top tray that the water cascades off of, which I tossed her in from below, expecting her to cascade down to the basin such as a slide, but she didn’t. Corwin rolled up his jeans and took off his shoes and I got up there and he walked us around the fountain in this precarious way. I liked feeling his ears on my thighs. There she was, my little shark was suckered onto the pump hole for the cascade across from the fishing man statuette’s rod, which is when I noticed his eyes are sculpted a little too wide open and he also has a top row of teeth which creeped me out. Corwin and I gave my fish a proper burial behind the courthouse.
From the hanging quarters where loads of criminals died, Corwin told me that his Mom’s cop boyfriend who he used to live with told him that on the full moon the conical top of the Quaker Oats silo—which we were looking at—unhinges and the cylinder part shoots out macaroni. We both agreed this was the dumbest fucking thing the boyfriend of a single Mom could tell her teenaged son because what the fuck did that stupid man think that Corwin would think of that, and then say to his Mom.
I fell in love with Corwin the day I met him. Everyone had gotten filthy at our high school initiation and jumped screaming off the footbridge into the river at the locks. I was too scared to do it because I’d heard the river gave infections. I’d lost track of Corwin, who I’d figured jumped too, so walked alone to my bus stop through the Avenues of Ashburnham.
Corwin was hosing himself down in a driveway flanked with carrot and pansy gardens without his shirt on. His wheat blonde hair gathered in viscous bolts cleaving magnet-slow and wet with the rhythm of bananas peeling under the pressurized stream. His eyes were cold and blue like mine are. I’d learn later that it was his Mom’s driveway and they were her gardens before he and his Mom moved out of Bernie’s into the apartment building on the other side of the hill that my Dad and I had moved into. We’d still lived in the suburbs then.
Corwin offered to hose me down too. He looked clean and cool.
I said, “No thank you,” even though I was coated in fish gut and had oiled dog food sludge drying to my skin as the sun blared us.
Corwin said, "Alright, Ed…y," and shook some water out of his ear. I showered in the shower in the suburbs and cursed myself.
Thorp and I were waiting on the stoned wall and we were buzzed from the Steamwhistle because we were 16 or something. I kept looking up at Corwin’s window and hoped the taxi would come because maybe I’d go on a walk with Corwin tonight too. I was envisioning exactly where my flashlight was when Thorp suggested we give up on the taxi and go back to my place. I sized up the dark rectangle that was the window to my own room off my balcony. I was afraid that Thorp wanted to kiss me.
–And call again? No, no, it should be here any minute…
I laughed because it had already been two hours and we’d already tried re-calling twice. Last time we called, the digital clock on the phone read almost 2 a.m. I laughed also because I was afraid that Thorp wanted to kiss me. I looked at Thorp and my gut dropped.
—Okay, okay. We’ll wait 15 more minutes. And if it doesn’t come, then just stay over and we’ll watch that Bermuda Triangle documentary or something.
—Haha, K. Sounds cool.
I sat on my hands and felt the cold stone press the blood of them blue.
My finger bones were too hard against my squish, my sit bones too hard against the cold stone—too cold, too stone. I snatched up and perched on the fronts of my feet on the edge of the wall, sat back down the way I was sitting to start off with. I cross-tucked my hands into my pink cashmere armpits, looked down at the grass between the street and the wall, looked up at Thorp, laughed. I blushed fast at Hunter Street and clapped my hands over my eyes, brought my knees to my chest one by one, fit them under my armpits, balls of feet on the wall again, again perched.
Thorp sat totally still this whole time and I could feel him smile. In the mouth. He was not smiling big and he was not trying to smile small either. His smile was firm and handsome, natural, and very, very whole. I tilted my palms upward but kept my fingers on my forehead and turned my head because I wanted to look at Thorp. Through my translucent right thumb, I saw his top teeth glisten in the moonlight, which meant he must have licked them hard or rubbed them with the sleeve of his faded black death metal hoodie when I was not looking because they had had plaque on them earlier. Thorp lied down on the dewy green grass of the hill behind us with total ease. I could feel how relaxed he was. He could have said, “Relax,” out loud but he didn't. There weren’t even cars out. I looked at Corwin’s window and it was faded black and peaceful. I was going to lie down too. We could not smell the oats tonight so knew it was not going to rain.
Out of the alley that’s tagged DAVE YOU’RE MY DREAM COME TRUE that leads to the Water Street bank parking lot, a violent cloud of drunken frat boys and girls drifted toward the bridge and the river and the oat factory. The frat kids of Odenfield live in the borough of Ashburnham because Odenfield is a college and university town and there is a lot of off-campus housing over there. Ashburnham is across the bridge just past Quaker Oats, which has its own train tracks on the other side of the Otonabee River. It’s where Corwin’s Mom lived with Bernie before they moved.
In the bank parking lot, one of the frat males was trying to fight another one of the frat males but the one that was being pursued got into a car. The car door slammed. Thorp sat up.
A girl—there was only one girl—the girl was in stilettos and a hot pink bodycon tube dress and she tottered ahead of their tempered, slushy nimbus as it went to the bridge, passing Thorp and I on the wall first. I was perched until Thorp touched my shoulder, so that I sat back down with him on the stone wall.
Thorp and I watched the girl chirp out loud chin to chest about how terrible the one who wanted to fight was as she passed. She cried crocodile tears to herself and tossed her straightened duo-tone brown hair like dog’s ears over her naked shoulders, stumbled on the asphalt we call Hunter Street. She stopped before my building in the street at the ramp because a possum was crossing the road and she’d petrified it.
She knelt down to the possum and cooed at it. Her high coos and its low growl were blending in the ramp’s concrete echo chamber when the guy who wanted to kill the guy who got in the car got near fast and dropkicked the possum.
Thorp and I watched the possum shoot up twelve feet in the air and crash to the pavement like a pillow with guts. Killer kicked the possum up again and again while Stilettos watched in horror with us except none of the group seemed to see us there on the wall. We could hear it land, because the ramp amplified it.
We were standing. I started to say—I felt like I had to say something—croaked—when Thorp used the arm that was farthest from me to hold me back and said, “No. Not now. Wait for him to pass.” Thorp started to take off his thin hoodie so slowly that the zipper made no noise.
Killer slapped Stillettos’ ass and she laughed but did not move and it echoed in the ramp. Killer pushed Stilletos forward and said,
—Babe fuck it what was that thing? Let’s go.
She clicked and fell. Killer said “Let’s go” two more times in a reverberating scary voice, pulled the possum up by the tail, glint of a knife. She shrieked.
He gesticulated the knife at her and then at the possum,
—Take a piece, Clarissa, it’ll last longer.
She stayed on the ground. Killer let go of the tail and the dead possum dropped again. He closed his switchblade and spun it on his knuckles and led the group to make their way across the bridge without her. Killer yelled horrible things about her to her without looking at her as his crew walked. She took her shoes off with the dead possum. Her whimpers shuddered in the ramp’s chamber when Thorp was beside her saying, “Are you okay?” Even from where I stood, I could see fear melt from her bare shoulders.
—Clarissa, y’dumb bitch! Come faster, I got trash in three hours!
Clarissa waxed. She collected her strappy stilettos, used Thorp’s extended arm, hissed “No,” while she got to her feet and spat a loogey on his face. She followed the crew on the bridge in a hurry, pulling her taut hemline down as she went.
Thorp wiped Clarissa’s spit off his nose and crouched with the possum. He gently shut its eyes with his thumbs. As he took off his hoodie, he whispered something so close to its crushed body that I could not hear. He looked out to the nimbus of frat, who, out of sight, neared the ball diamond at the other end of the bridge. They heckled, “Ondalay, ondalay, Cinderellie! Leeeessa!” We watched Clarissa start to run and stop as she kept dropping her shoes. From out of the fog their voices carried,“Leeessa! Leeesa!”
Thorp collected the ejected organs, planting them delicately back in the possum, and wrapped its dead body in his thin black hoodie. He passed the bundle to me with his bare cradle arms. It was warm from his body. It was warm from the possum. Fresh bread loaf. I could see his breath in the cold, wet, night air and his goosebumps tickled mine under our arm hairs. He looked directly in my eyes and he said, “I’ll be back. To bury it at the riverbank with you.” Thorp started to run and walk at the same time onto the bridge. The killer’s silhouette 180-ed, Thorp seemed—Clarissa was leaning over the bridge in its middle and she yelled,
—Garlic, I’m puking!
Killer—Garlic—turned again, and his voice lassoed us away,
—Fucking dumb bitch stop fucking puking! Lick it up! Run faster, make those titties bounce!
Thorp was wiping his teeth with his bare arm while he was walking forwards towards them on the other side of the bridge. Thorp was halting, Thorp turned to me. The possum was dead and heavy in my arms. As the Killer—the girl called Clarissa called the Killer Garlic—as Garlic’s voice dissipated, Thorp ran back to where I stood. Thorp put his hands on my forearms, held them loose but firm. On the mist, I could taste his yellow dreadlocks like yarn and scalp. He had hazel eyes and kissed me on my cheekbone. His kiss was whole and natural and handsome. He said, “She needs my help.” His grim face bent into a red smile at me, I bit my lip very hard and nodded as he brought his hands from my forearms, the possum felt less heavy, and he jogged off to follow them from a distance. I stood there until I couldn’t see him anymore and could taste my own blood. My eyes were candles dripping; sparklers against my face fizzled; I felt the grey bulbous masts harden deep inside my nostrils. I licked my blood lip and swallowed. When Thorp was completely out of sight, the sky was still black but less purple cloudy. Still black, so more black.
Ali Pinkney is a writer based on Montréal/Tiohiá:ke where she pursues graduate studies at Concordia University. Roadkill Croque Monsieur Part One can be read in the Bad Nudes Anthology. Roadkill Croque Monsieur Part Two (Part ii) will be in the next issue of Bad Nudes