I was born in a laundromat in Paris, Ontario. If you knew Gina you wouldn’t think it was that weird. Gina is my mother. She says she’s a dancer. What that means is she’s a stripper. Sometimes she says exotic dancer if she’s really comfortable with you. Sometimes she goes all the way and there’s another word for that. But I’m not allowed to say it. Not when Gina’s around. Sometimes late at night when Gina’s at work and I can’t sleep and I’m lying in bed in whatever crap-hat motel room we’re in, I whisper it up to the ceiling, whore, hoo-er, hoaaar. And sometimes, I think, that word sounds kind of beautiful.
“Edith,” those four women said, “you’ve been inconsiderate.”
Thoughtless, they continued. Unsympathetic. Less than kind. Etc.
An intervention, no less. Over coffee and cookies, prepared by me, in my apartment.
First on their list: Jocelyn. Rather, poor Jocelyn.
At the victory party for our provincial candidate, who’d lost, I bought a raffle ticket. Number 63, then my age. First prize: from a local “fine foods” shop, a heaping basket of nuts, biscuits, chocolates, cheeses, jars of olives, etc., all wrapped up in crisp starry gold paper and doubtless stale.
Our group, Jocelyn included, awaited the draw. During the campaign she and I had done phone canvassing together, side-by-side in a booth with the awkward scripts before us. Often she’d deviate. “Oh, you’re cooking supper? I’ll call back!” Wasted time drags down the work. She never finished her lists.
Jocelyn’s ticket was Number 64.
On an evening in late May, Martin Bigras and his new friend Carl Barnet arrived at a train station in Munich, disembarked and went straight to the nearest beer hall. After a few lagers each, they started talking with a group of fox hunters who would break conversation every fifteen minutes to snort lines of fine powdered tobacco from the backs of their hands, poured from a discreet red container labelled FC Bayern München.
“We have a custom,” one of them said, “where we smear the b—how do you say it?”
“Das blut,” another said. “The blood.”
“Right, the blood of the fox. We smear the blood on the face of the newest hunter. We have not done that for a long time, not since we were very young.”
Something about that made them all laugh together.
“Tomorrow morning,” the third one said. “You’ll come with us. We’ll shoot you a beautiful new scarf.”
“We want you to come around the corner of the car like you aren’t expecting us.” Melanie smiled. She used a lint roller on my jacket, spinning me in a circle. I was supposed to walk out between these two Tercels looking like I wanted to make a deal.
It was a very hot day. We stood on the pavement of my used-car dealership. I renamed it Noggie’s Used Cars after Dad died last year. He willed it to me. Back when he owned it he made good money off it. Good money in the seventies, when I was younger and everyone drove cars and wanted a good deal on a nice used one. Now, in this particular climate used car dealerships didn’t really bring home the bacon. Melanie and her small crew were waiting for me. I hated everything about cameras. I was going to have a smoke first.
Catherine’s throat was soft and open to the orange light of the salon. Josie held the back of Catherine’s head in one hand, moving the nozzle with the other, rinsing Catherine’s hair with warm water. Catherine felt herself relax into Josie’s hand, give in, let this other, younger woman support her. She had her eyes closed. The water was loud against her skull and against the porcelain sink and Catherine allowed herself to slip away into her body where it was dark and endless and uncommonly quiet, where the hand holding her head was part of her body going on forever.
Then the water stopped.
The phone was ringing.
“He can fuck off,” Josie said.
Jurgen Koch has to be the worst cook in the world. So you wonder why he owns a restaurant, and why he cooks in it. It’s simple; he owns it because it was an easy business for him to buy in Tofino. When he came here on vacation in the '90s and did the West Coast Trail, he fell in love with Vancouver Island and saved up for the next ten years so he could move here from Germany. And he does the cooking because he’s a cheap son-of-a-bitch who won’t pay a real cook. I’d love to tell my impatient customer this, but I can’t. I love living in Tofino, too, and I don’t want to lose this job. Suck it up, sweetheart, I think. You don’t look like you’re starving to me.
When it occurs to me that I might be having a heart attack, my life does not flash before my eyes. My first thoughts are not of my childhood; they are not of my wife or family. I do not think, “I’m only thirty-eight, why now?” Oddly enough, the first thing that comes to mind is that I’m going to miss my mother-in-law’s Thanksgiving turkey on the weekend.
It’s an odd thought, I think, as far as last thoughts go.
I’m on the bus, on my way home from work, and I clutch my chest, sit up straight and look around for help. I can feel the fluttering of my heart in my hand. It’s vibrating right through my flesh. I pull open my coat and notice my phone in my pocket. I’d set it to vibrate during a meeting this morning.
P.O. BOX 1293
1149 Laurier Place
Edmonton, AB T5H 1P7
Dear Mr. Spotted Plume,
I am writing on behalf of Mr. J. Ahkiskiw, author of the Savage Under Heart series (Plains Romances // Big Sky Press MT). I regret to inform you that Mr. Ahkiskiw is rather upset with your latest review of Savage Under Heart Five: Savage Love on Campus. I am a close friend of the author, and, I must say, he is in pieces over what he feels is a naïve and unfairly biting review. I would like to invite you to meet the author. Please, consider my words a peace offering. Mr. Ahkiskiw and I both admire your publication.
Mr. Obadiah Miximoo
P.O. Box 25
79 Township Rd S0M 0E0
Dear Mr. Miximoo,
My next-door neighbours are really bad at fucking. It’s painful; I can hear them every third or fourth night just sort of futilely scrambling around on top of each other. Basically, everything about what they do -- the pacing, the duration, their dismal climaxes -- is wrong. They aren’t even compatible body shapes: she’s a ball and he’s a stick. When I put my ear up to the wall, they seem so furtive and quiet, all I hear is the occasional stifled moan or “Shh, he’ll hear us.” Plus, judging by the creaking, it sounds like they do it on a hide-a-bed; I can clearly picture his gangly marionette limbs flopping off the sides of it, while her back gets jarred against the bar in the middle at infrequent intervals. Sometimes, it’s all I can do to stop myself from busting through the wall and showing them how it’s done. They’re in such sad need of a mentor.
What some call holiness—that hard to measure, out-of-the-blue goodness—can take root in strange places, at unexpected times. Think of that cool Christian miracle of Jesus sashaying over water, the tale of the Good Samaritan, and Mother Theresa’s strenuous dedication to feeding Calcutta’s poor—although in her case, her holiness is rightly contested; she may well have been a Fascist.