Article Category Archives: Fiction

Love Handles

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It wasn’t until the pistol end of the revolver was about to enter my vagina that I finally took pause for thought. It wasn’t until the scene was set for them to make intimate acquaintance that I found cause to reflect. I’d have gone ahead and done the scene, were it not for the assistant director on the set who, just before the cameras were about to roll, leaned in and said, “Would you like a condom with that?”

Don’t get me wrong. There was no facetiousness intended. They were a genuinely kind and concerned crew, right down to the coffee girl. It was the context that gave me pause. Because it occurred to me: if a condom is in order, then have others, possibly in this position, with this very revolver, gone this road before me? What road do I travel, surely not the less travelled?

A friend of mine once said, “Grace, I have hit my nadir.” And I she thought she’d had a fight and smacked her Arab boyfriend. It was that kind of pause. Very long, resulting in the discomfort of cameramen and crew who, hitherto for, had been the very model of patience.

I removed the lusty revolver from between my legs and sent it on its way to props. Closing my legs I said, “Thank you, but I will not be needing a condom.” A cameraman was at hand to help me to my feet in my stilettos, avec dignity, sans pants. And I headed to the dressing room to get them.

But when I got there, I removed my false eyelashes and the gold spangled pasties and I sat. I sat and looked in the mirror at who I was without them.

You see, I was the girl who had it all, the pink bedroom, the parties, the pony rides. Even a year in Lucerne at a Swiss private school that mother said was the absolute end in finishing. This was before daddy left, and mother spent her winters in a spa in Biarritz. Anyway, there I was, all alone in my pigtails and my slippers, standing at the pay phone in the hall dorm, wailing, “I want to come home!”

“Is that what you really want?” Mother asked. “To come home in ignominy?”

“No,” I said. “But there is a flight on Lufthansa.”

Oh I know, I don’t look like much under the lights nowadays, sitting out here in my rocker on the porch all day. Wouldn’t mother have something to say about letting myself go. But I had my heyday, back when theatre school was just a log cabin in the woods. Kidding.

I started out as part of a travelling troop, school tours, the classics. Then I joined a raging lesbian collective called “Broadaxe.” It cut a swath so deep it left my career in tatters. From there I went on to have multiple affairs with my directors. Including two twins who were in the closet, followed by several years in a relationship with an abusive actor. He was meant to be my comrade in arms, he wasn’t meant to be an alcoholic. But he was. I’d like to say it was him who drove me to drink, but I’d be lying. He didn’t even own a car.

After that, I headed out west. By the time I reached the coast, I was at low tide, and washed up, too. And that was when I got this part in a play in North Vancouver about an exceptionally dysfunctional family. Nobody was getting laid, nobody was getting paid, but … I had this scene, only the one scene. I was a woman who comes out of nowhere and vanishes again without a trace and … she seemed to speak to me somehow.

I didn’t pay much attention to anyone throughout rehearsal, kept to myself more than usual. I think I was cautiously circling my “nadir,” wondering if it was going to hit me back. And then it was tech night. And there was this man, this slow, deliberate, very considered man, moving about in the shadows of that tiny theatre. It was Lloyd. He both designed the lighting and hung the lights. Slow as a possum, I think he even played dead every once in a while and just hung there, suspended in that darkened room.

And when it came to my scene, I could feel him standing there in the dark, looking at me. He didn’t move, and then, it hit me. The light. It was my light, it was perfect, no tinkering, dead on. Illuminating who I was.

I did my scene in my light as I looked for him in the darkness. He came down to the edge of the stage wearing this little, sly smileit comes out of the corner of his mouth when he’s about to feed you your laugh line.

“You found your light alright?” Lloyd asks.

“Yes,” I say. “It was easy. Your lights are very well hung.”

It was later, not very much later I’m afraid, when Lloyd and I were in bed together, that I asked him about this little silver pendant he wore around his neck.

“It’s a scarab beetle. From Egypt,” he says. “I always wear it when I’m in the theatre.”

“What is it?” I ask. “A kind of talisman?”

“No,” he says. “The scarab is also called the dung beetle because what she does her entire life is roll a ball of shit uphill. And as the ball rolls back down on her, she rolls it back up, again and again. It’s a metaphor for a life in the theatre.”

Well I laughed at that but Lloyd, he was dead serious.

“She does it because what’s inside that ball are her eggs,” he said. “She’s incubating the future, the next generation, the minds and hearts that will be played out on the stage of life. To the untrained mind, it’s just shit, but to us, it’s theatre.”

When we got married, Lloyd put this little beetle round my neck on a silver chain instead of a ring. It’s the only piece of jewelry I ever let him give me.

When he got sick, he got so thin, he hardly made a ripple in the sheets, just lying there, still as a lake with a loon. That last day, I changed the sheets and made the bed up fresh. I lifted him out of the chair, and he was light as a feather. It seemed to me that if I’d tossed him in the air he’d fly, he was that light. Fly away and disappear, right before my eyes.

“I’m losing my love handles,” he says to me. “And if I lose my love handles, you won’t be able to hold onto me. And I’ll die.”

Lloyd was the one who let go. I told him about the revolver and he laughed, and he was gone.

I went out on the porch and I sat in this rocker and I sat here quite some time. Lloyd shone a light on me, on all the layers of my life. And it became mine. So when he died, I didn’t disappear into the dark. Because I know he loved me.

Smog Can Be Thick, kittens can be cruel

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Author’s Note: I sneakily wrote SMOG CAN BE THICK, kittens can be cruel onstage as audience members were filing into the theatre during the pre-show of a new Canadian play by Elena Eli Belyea called Smoke (Downstage Theatre in Calgary, February 13-23, 2019). Smoke is about the aftermath of a sexual assault that may (or may not) have taken place between an otherwise loving couple. The victim and perpetrator have completely divergent recollections of that night and, in the play, confront each other for the first time in two years since the incident.

*RECORD SCRATCH*

What you are about to read has almost nothing to do with that. My character in Smoke, Aiden, is a fiction writer and I used to type out my first monologue over and over again to drill memorization and quell my jittery, top-of-show nerves. After some comfort set in, I used that opening monologue as a writing prompt to create something completely different. Zero resemblance. About as much shared DNA as foster siblings. It’s perverse, really. A total bastardization of its brilliant source material. This story is a peek into my zany mind, never intended to be read by anyone but those intimately involved in the production. It served as both a fun exercise and a love letter/farewell to this powerful and touching play.

*

Once upon a time, there was a town, unremarkable and not without its problems, but the people who lived there were happy to call it home, I guess. The town’s citizens and illegal immigrants spent their days buying groceries, walking their dogs, trying to walk their cats, getting deported, paying their phone bills, fucking their partners and, generally speaking, life wasn’t perfect, but it was good.

One day, a giant fire burned the entire town to the ground.

Historians will argue about its origins. If this was a different story, I would tell you possible theories include: an unattended stovetop, a badly extinguished campfire, amateur fireworks, lightning, that thing those stupid Jackass dudes do where they take a lighter to their buttholes when they fart, maybe arson. However, this isn’t a story about what started the fire. Not even close. In fact, this is the last time you will read the word “fire.” FIRE!

As plumes of smoke blossomed overhead, sirens sounded and firefighters were dispatched. While the professionals worked, the townspeople went to get their kittens from the basement for safe-keeping but it was too late, the kittens had already formed a rebellion. They named it JUSTICE: Right Fukkin Meow. All of a sudden, the fire was the least of their worries. (How long had sweet Fluffy been plotting?) Tha Kittenz sharpened their claws, inspired by the character Wolverine from the X-Men movies. Side note: pets are sponges, do NOT let them absorb any information you do not want coming back to you (i.e. mutants with powers) or you WILL regret it. The poor Mayor, Mr. Roboto, had his arms severely scratched by his newest rescue, Waffles. Immediately, he regretted not buying from a breeder. Shop, do NOT adopt, he reminded himself. When his assistant, Todd, called the SPCA, he said they had to wait two weeks to euthanize undeclared cats. The bastards. How dare they? KILL THEM MEOW!!

This made Todd wonder: what about the bitches? (The dogs, of course). If the cats were wreaking this much havoc, what about the canines? What about ALL the animals? Jesus … did all the pets learn how to use BBQ lighters? (Todd knew legalizing marijuana, which he still lovingly calls “ganja-juana,” was a HUGE mistake.)

With the War on Terror over, childhood obesity obliterated, racism completely solved, the cure for adult acne found and, for the first time ever, Peace in the Middle East, apparently all that remained was to wage interspecies wars. Bring it on, thought Todd. He hadn’t spent every tax return from the past seven years on illegal Canadian paintball equipment for nothin’! When he was four, the neighbour’s cat, Sugarfina, gave him a mean thrash across the temple, a scar he still carries today (sad-ass Harry Potter wannabe). Needless to say, he had scores on scores to settle.

That much was easy. The challenge truly laid in Todd’s deep love and affection for dogs. Growing up, he was a sour patch kid, which is to say he sucked—hard. Kids hated him. ADULTS hated him! (Seriously, his parents weren’t very fond of him; it’s actually kind of a sad story for another time.) Anyway, the real tragedy was that he was a foster fur daddy hosting seven pups at the moment. It would crush him to know Donny, Malone, Contigo, Fifi, Denton, Imelda, and Ines were actually little shits waiting to de-thyroid him. Between the “Threat Level MAMMAL” code called at the municipal building, it wasn’t hard to avoid going back home to his basement suite located beneath his long-time senior citizen roommates (his parents, aaaand they still hate him, by the way).

As the assistant to the mayor, Todd’s nebulous responsibilities included fielding calls from the mayor’s husband and mistresses. (Some backstory here: Mr. Roboto’s publicist thought it would be a good idea for him to marry a man to curry political favour even though the thought of making out with someone with stubble ironically gave him stress-induced alopecia. As a consolation prize, he is allowed to have up to three mistresses, no more.) When he called Darla, the mayor’s most recent acquisition after Chenise got too power-hungry and stole all the red envelope giveaways at a Lunar New Year’s gala, she said that her cats hadn’t come home from their nightly 8pm peepee breaks. Trying not to cause panic or incite a blackmail situation, and in addition to reminding her about the notarized NDA she’d signed, Todd told her all cats found outdoors after 8pm were now subject to mandatory spay/neutering and will be released after 3-5 business days. Whew.

After an arduous sixteen-hour shift, Todd was allowed to leave City Hall for a quick shower while Mayor Roboto had one of his “visits.” Dreading what he might find in the basement, he took the opportunity to gas up, squeegee his windshield, and put air in his tires before going home. When he finally worked his way down to his suite and jimmied the door open, the atmosphere in his foyer was eerily quiet. He checked on the kennels and found all seven sweet puppers asleep, like fluffy little wingless angels. Relief flooded all over his body but just as quickly, doubt seeped in like a silent fart. Were the puppies simply putting on puppy airs? Had they formed their own version of a rebellion, possibly entitled: No Puppy Love? Now Puppies Will Shove! (I know it’s terrible; it’s a working title).

That evening, Todd’s shower had very Psycho-like vibes. He imagined that each screech of the shower curtain rings was the squeak of the kennel doors. Shampooing with your eyes open is a dangerous game. It stings like a motherfucker. When he changed back into biz-caszh, he went to check on the litter again. Not a creature was stirring not even a…. Anyway, yeah, you get it. The kennels were empty and the doors carefully clasped shut again. Any creature sans opposable thumbs would not have been able to pull that off without great trouble.

Todd retrieved his spare key to the main floor from his old Betty and Veronica lunchbox. When he turned the corner into the living room, the familiar dull glow of his parents’ boob tube was reassuring until he saw that his father’s eyes had been pawed out and the Werther’s butterscotch candies from his pockets had been scattered all over the coffee table, half-eaten. Perhaps he was the star of a Hitchcock film, but instead of The Birds it was The Dogs? That was stupid but a horror film is not far off what Todd’s life had become. He himself had always wanted to be in office. In fact, Mr. Roboto was his old roommate in college. Once a shy Japanese law student, Mr. Roboto found himself a peer in Todd. After hearing Todd’s designs to go from “geek-to-chic” (a turn of phrase he stole from a rerun of Maury about high school losers who grew up to become hot), Kirk Roboto was touched, sincerely inspired, and found his exceptional bar exam results and extensive volunteer work just the thing to make him the perfect candidate for the highest municipal rank. Not only was he highly intelligent, he was also a “gay” man of colour! Todd didn’t stand a chance, his pansy-ass knew, and he threw in the towel early and settled for being his Number 2 (gross, always reminds me of doodoo). Born a straight white male, he did not take well to being second fiddle/not the center of the Universe. In fact, he took it very personally but the presence of his crippling anxiety had always prevented him from sabotaging the Mayor and he actually overcompensated by being an excellent, world-class assistant and professional secret-keeper. It did cross his mind, while fantasizing, that maybe he could come out as somewhat of a hero in this mammalian crisis.

Not having seen his mother or the puppies yet, Todd went upstairs to the second floor. Noticing adorable, albeit bloody little paw prints on the carpet of his parents’ master bedroom, he braced himself for the worst. Before opening the door he paused and realized that if these canine killers were still in there, mauling his mama, he would be completely defenseless. All his paintball gear was in the shed outside! Grabbing the first thing he could think to wallop them without too much damage, he went for the plunger from his childhood bathroom. He wondered how much ancient shit was on that thing before snapping back to reality: cute little doggies were KILLING PEOPLE!

In paintball, as in life, sometimes it was better to take the enemy by surprise. Violently whipping the door open, he found … nothing. All that remained was his parents ancient California King bed (space needed for all the sex they were no longer having), with its immaculate bedding and eleven decorative throw pillows. Where the eff was his mom and the dogs? How had the puppies escaped and his dad been murdered all in the time he took a paranoid, six-minute shower?

Just then a text came through from the City. “Get your ass down here, STAT!” Let me tell you, nothing irked Todd more than when non-medical professionals used medical jargon like STAT in non-medical situations, but at the same time he knew it meant Roboto was serious. He was at once panicked and relieved to leave his house (honestly, he didn’t really care what happened to his mom, he had grown quite attached to the puppies, though).

It is worth noting that although Todd seems like kind of nerdy, incel dickhead with only dogs for friends (facts!), he was very effective at his job. Kirk Roboto would never admit this but he secretly admired Todd’s drive, attention to detail, discretion, and especially fashion sense! In this way and this way alone do we find something redeeming about this textbook Loser. He was a motherfuckin’ workhorse. Snap to the Oblong Office, Roboto relays the news that ALL domesticated animals and pets have essentially gone on a violent, anarchistic strike, claiming they have had it performing tricks with the promise of treats and then maybe or maybe not receiving the aforementioned treats. IT WAS BULLSHIT!

Parenthèses

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Ceci pourrait avoir l’air d’un mauvais film. C’est pourtant la pâte de la vie, de ma vie et sans doute de celle de bien d’autres. Dans des sursauts de ce qui me reste d’indépendance ou de volonté, je veux, de temps en temps, me prouver que je peux me préserver un peu d’espace à moi. Un peu de clairvoyance. Alors, à force d’être suivie ou surveillée sans raison, je m’offre de toutes petites escapades, sans but précis sinon celui d’être seule avec moi-même, pour respirer la forêt ou le rivage, et je rentre noter mes idées, la tête rafraîchie.

Il existe des lieux isolés où je pourrais écrire tranquille. Mais il faudrait que je sois certaine de ne pas y être dérangée. Que le flot de mes pensées ne soit pas interrompu. Nous avons un petit chalet au bord de la mer, adossé à la forêt, face à un grand cap morcelé qui change de couleur avec chaque instant du jour et du soir. De blanc ou rose, il vire au bleu, au gris, au noir. Parfois, la brume l’efface totalement du paysage.

De ma table d’écriture face à la fenêtre, je peux observer les chalutiers passer, les bancs de baleine sauter, laissant derrière elles des remous que les goélands explorent. En sirotant une tasse de thé, le dos au poêle à bois ronflant, je peux voir les marées monter et descendre dans un rythme aussi régulier que celui des femmes. En hiver, les oiseaux picorent une dernière pomme suspendue à sa branche dénudée; une biche broute des herbes rares qui émergent de la première neige ou boit au ruisseau avant que les glaces ne le figent et ne taisent sa chanson. Les lupins et les pois de senteur, qui apparaissent près de la grève de galets en mai, illuminent le paysage en noir et blanc du rivage jonché de bois flotté. Les roses sauvages couvertes de rosée surgissent des bancs de brume, notes vives dans le flou du décor. À la recherche du nectar, les colibris de la belle saison plongent leur long bec fin dans les corolles des lys orange, à quelques centimètres de moi qui rêve immobile sur la terrasse. Puis les fleurs de feu, les verges d’or et les asters mauves viennent ajouter les dernières touches de couleur avant que la boue puis la neige ne recommencent leur manège ravageur et ne défassent tout. La scène n’est jamais la même; les habitants, qu’ils soient papillons, porcs-épics ou ratons laveurs, sont toujours fidèles aux rendez-vous.

Cependant, je n’ose même plus aller dans ce lieu qui offrait tant de repos et de baume à l’âme. La dernière fois que j’y ai passé un moment, à rêver et rassembler des idées, à jeter des mots sur une feuille, à m’y sentir renaître, j’ai fait l’erreur d’en parler en rentrant à la maison. J’ai été foudroyée du regard par l’homme qui gouverne ma vie. Comme si j’avais commis un crime. Je lui demande pourtant souvent d’aller y faire un tour en fin de semaine, mais il semble sourd à mes appels. Le lendemain de ma fugue poétique, il y est retourné, seul, pour tenter de comprendre ce que j’y avais fait. Pour analyser les empreintes de mon délit. Comme si les mots qui traversent une tête laissaient des traces. Il m’a semblé, ce jour-là, que mon refuge avait perdu sa magie. Que je ne pourrais pas y retourner sans me sentir coupable d’une faute que je n’avais pourtant pas commise : rechercher la sérénité dans un cadre enchanteur afin que les mots se mettent en place d’eux-mêmes dans ma tête et sur le papier.

Pourtant, je ressens régulièrement un grand besoin de respirer un bol d’air pur, d’être dans un espace où puiser un peu d’encre, de recouvrer l’exigence de l’isolement nécessaire à la création. Et peut-être, un besoin de narguer la bêtise.… Alors, je pars sans rien dire et surtout, je ne vais nulle part. Je parcours des paysages que je redécouvre sans cesse, qu’ils soient vallées enneigées, collines verdoyantes ou rivages venteux. Je me fonds dans leur tranquillité, je deviens caméléon. Et j’ai le sentiment éphémère d’avoir coupé, pour un instant, tous les fils qui permettaient au marionnettiste de me manipuler. Être dans un endroit indéterminé, pour un instant hors du temps. Ne plus faire partie de la civilisation.… S’exclure de soi-même pour se préserver. Luxe qui pourrait paraître ridicule, mais dont les bienfaits sont incommensurables.

Je me demande à quoi ressemblent les parenthèses des autres. Je me souviens que pour une femme du bout de la route, il n’y a eu que l’ouverture de la parenthèse. Elle n’a pas su la refermer. Elle est restée suspendue au bout de sa corde, ses rêves interrompus.… Pourtant, les escapades sont faites pour couper les ficelles, pour déployer les ailes. Pour trouver d’autres mots à écrire. Mais son journal, ce jour-là, n’avait offert qu’une page définitivement blanche. Encre séchée. Je regarde mon cahier et me demande si je dois retourner dans la forêt, aujourd’hui festonnée de vert et de blanc, ou m’acharner à démêler des mots qui n’existent peut-être pas pour exprimer un besoin de paix sans limites.

Badass Orla

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“Hope Acres has unfurnished suites so you can bring your own furniture. It’s like a small hotel with a therapeutic pool and a roof garden.” Moira’s still hell-bent on shunting Orla into a biddy villa.

“Never mind all that.” Orla waves a sheaf of papers. “Dr. Moffatt came through with my referral. I’m to be a guinea pig!”

To Ms. Orla McWhinney from Health Canada: In fall 2018, St Michael’s Hospital Medical Research Program will conduct a double-blind study to evaluate the impact of Vitamin D injections on geriatric depression. As a participant in Phase 1 Trial: High-Dose Vitamin D, you will be entitled to the following benefits at no cost: study-related clinic visits, lab tests, study medication, travel expenses. Compensation: $800.

“But Orla,” Moira sighs, “what about your diabetes?”

“Oh huff and puff,” Orla says, “Dr. Moffatt explained about cutting back on boiled sweets. Hopefully I won’t sprout three heads, haha.”

“They want your informed consent,” Moira shrills. “Have you even read these forms?”

Orla rummages through her drawer full of bingo daubers and mint humbugs for a pen then signs on for six outpatient visits and three nights at the research facility in Mississauga. For overnights, Orla packs her track suit and Nivea cream in a sponge bag reeking of Sloan’s Liniment.

“Don’t be afraid to use the shower,” Moira nags.

 


Bedazzled by Lisa-Maj Roos

 

Ten women and ten men separated into fluorescent dormitories with single beds, private lockers and flat-screen TVs. Orla’s new roommates are Melva, a sallow blonde in a blue onesie, and Dory, a glassy-eyed woman with heavily veined arms. With the exception of one ruddy-faced, bearded man in a fedora, the whole group falls into a pecking order: a secretive coffee klatch by the vending machine, a knit-and-bitch circle, and several nutters who won’t stop pacing. They all line up for their injections alphabetically. Orla is Number 6.

Lucas the venipuncturist has a coaxing manner. “Alrightee, Number 6 show me your bingo wing. That’s it. One, two, three….” Orla quickly loses count of all the needles and syringes.

Armed with vending-machine cocoa and a stack of Woman’s Day, Orla makes a beeline for the glassed-in patient lounge. Melva barges in nattering about her grandson: “During diaper changes, he calls out: ‘I’ll be right back!’ Isn’t that too cute for words?” Orla wrestles the wingback chair into a corner and takes cover behind Ikea birch-tree curtains.

In the dormitory that evening, the nightlight casts shadows on the upper bunk. The heat vent makes a tick-tick, pock-pock sound. Melva and Dory are both out for the count by ten. Even with her failing eyesight, Orla can conjure up shapes in the dark like a magic lantern show. Cormorants wheeling over the Irish Sea, a pooka in the guise of a white hare. By some miracle, she doesn’t have to pee all night.

*

The man in the fedora and beard pretend-knocks on Orla’s cubicle then pushes the curtain aside. “Howdy. My name’s Orie. This your first clinical trial? Go easy on the bacon burgers or your cholesterol’ll go through the roof. They load us up with heavy foods cause blood draws can be enervating.” Orie withdraws then parts the curtain again with one meaty hand, a saggy-jowled Green Man peering through faux-verdant leaves. “You don’t look depressed. Keep your distance from the cuckoo clocks in here and you’ll be alright.”

”Orie? Now there’s a coincidence for you. My name’s Orla. If you don’t mind me askin, howd’ya pass the screening for geriatric depression?”

“I told my doctor my Labrador retriever died last month and I’m still not over it.”

“Oh you’re terrible!” Orla titters. “Depression’s no laughing matter. S’pose I’m just as bad though. I told my GP I could feel a kind of fog closin’ in on me. ‘Dr. Moffatt,’ I said, ‘did you know Ireland ranks second on the list of most depressed people in the western world just behind Iceland?’”

“Well, well. You’re quite the little schemer aren’t you?” Orie says, his eyes shining.

*

Orla watches from her hidey-hole by the window as five male lab rats hurl snowballs into the ravine then piggyback-joust till one of the heftier geezers topples onto his back and limps inside. Rather than head downtown on a day pass, they’ve hung about the research station’s ugly, treeless preserve, their brain receptors awash in Vitamin D.

“Look at the state o’ them!” Orla marvels. She wanders back to the dorm for a quick nap before the next cattle call. In that drowsy, half-oblivious state where you’re not asleep yet you’re dreaming, Orla witnesses a fireball of unknown origin obliterating every nursing home sign for miles: “Caution, Senior Moment in Progress” … “In Dog Years, I’m Dead” … “Retirement Living at Its Best.”

After the final blood draw, Orie appears in the patient lounge. He points to his fancy rubber-soled slippers. “Columbia. Top of the line. Next month I’m off to Northwest Territories to test thermal underwear. I’m their moisture-wicking, anti-crotch rot guy. You should sign on, Orla. You don’t need a doctor’s letter, the money’s good and there’s no needles. Columbia Sportswear used to be a bunch of twerps in snowboard pants but now they’re targeting the fifty-plus market. My new motto is: ‘The future is age-neutral. Get used to it punks.’”

*

Hectic blotches appear on Orla’s cheeks. Her hair sticks up like she’s been sleeping in a hedge. She waves Moira aside and lurches to the car with a rolling sailor’s gait.

“Jaysus and the wee donkey but I feel grand. Like a few kinks in my brain got ironed out. They treat you like something in a glass case in there! Not stingy with the grub either. Steak, mushrooms and spuds.”

Just then, Orie pulls up in a Jeep Wrangler and rolls down his window. “Call you next week, Orla?” he hollers.

“Who is that?” Moira asks but Orla is already long gone.

Insurgency

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I’m looking at a photo in a magazine. It’s part of a four-page photo essay called “How We Were.” The kid in the photo could be me in 1963. The clothes this kid is wearing are the clothes I had: the striped t-shirt, the baggy pants, the Keds shoes. And her short brown hair is pinned on one side with a hair clip, exactly how I used to pin my hair back.

All the kids in this photo—there are nine of us—are standing in a circle in a parking lot; we’re all holding bikes. We are about seven years old. The circle is perfect and we are looking at a tall teenager standing in the middle of it. She’s in shorts, a white shirt, white knee socks and white running shoes. She looks like a camp counsellor.

My first thought on seeing this photo is strange. It’s not, Oh look, I remember that bike, or, I loved that t-shirt, or, Plastic streamers on the handle bars, I remember those—and playing cards pegged to the wheel spokes. No. My first thought is this: Why am I standing there in that circle like a trained circus pony, waiting to be told what to do?

But now that I think of it, I spent a lot of time as a kid going round in circles, or waiting to be told to go round in circles. Either it was circles in gym class when we were running or swimming, or it was horseback riding in circles. Campfire circles or singing circles or reading circles or drama circles or circles at birthday parties. Sitting in circles, standing in circles, perched on a fat pony going round in circles. I was always going round in circles, or waiting to be told to go round in circles, now that I think of it.

If my mind could go back in time and inhabit the body of my seven-year-old self, I would get on my bike, get out of that circle and ride the wrong way down a six-lane highway or straight into a wall, jumping off at the last second. Or maybe, I would set fire to the bike, and the plastic streamers and playing cards would spew out a dense, black storm of smoke.

It occurs to me now that everything I did as a kid was an act of radical obedience in some way or other, whether I was playing with other kids or learning how to print in class, reciting the Lord’s Prayer or watching Lassie on TV in living colour, eating Lucky Charms or just sitting alone, thinking. Somebody always told me what to do and what to think, and I always did it, I always thought it. I never knew any other option. It never occurred to me not to comply. I always found my place in the circle and stayed there, waiting to follow the instructions of whomever was standing in the middle of it.

And as I got older, it was no different. The circles got bigger and looked a little ragged and lopsided sometimes, but they were all concentric, and the person at the centre was never me. All those years, it was really just the same circle, the circle I never stepped out of.

 


Dancing in Barcelona by Heather Drysdale

 

Now here I am, I have a job as a legal secretary, I have a husband and a two-storey house and a small blue car, and I am still in this circle. Instead of looking at the camp counsellor waiting to be told what to do, I am looking at my husband, waiting, or the cashier, waiting, or the yoga instructor, waiting, or my boss, who is always ready to tell me what I should be doing, and sometimes I look at the cat in that same way, waiting.

In this moment, as I look at this photo, I see it all—all my life as one single prolonged act of obedience, as deep-rooted as prayer—and I want like blazes to go back and change everything. And the first step would not be riding the bike down a six-lane highway. No, I would just wheel it over to the camp counsellor and say to her:

“Here. Take this junk heap. I don’t need it.”

And I would drop it, just let go of it, and it would clatter to the ground in a satisfying way. Then I would stand right in front of her and look straight at her and say:

“Who do you think you are, telling me what to do? Go fuck off and take all of these poor suckers with you. I’m moving to Barcelona or maybe Berlin. And if you so much as breathe a word of this to my parents, you’ll be swimming with the fishes with a cement block tied to your neck. I know someone who can take care of that, so keep your trap shut. Understand?”

Then I would march off towards the train station. At which point, someone would probably find me and grab me and put me in some kind of detention centre or boot camp for delinquents where I would trash and smash everything—all the furniture, television sets, pastel pictures on the walls, magazines with photo essays in them, and even those stupid books like Nancy Drew and the Famous Five—until maybe I’d end up in solitary confinement, and I’d trash the walls in there too, with anything I could get my hands on, a plastic spoon or fork, or even my own blood if I had to use that. There would be no end to speaking my indignation for as long as I lived, even if I had to slam my head against walls to do it. Then and only then would I know that every moment was mine—in living anger—every moment my own blood-red insurgency.

There I am in that circle, just standing there waiting. And here I am, years later, in the same circle, sitting here waiting. But now it’s different. It might look like I’m waiting for my husband to come home. But I’m not. I’m waiting for the right moment.