The Good Stuff

028. The Moose. Dave Henson

On a day hot as asphalt, screeching tires and blaring horns grab my attention as I’m rinsing the suds off my car. A bull moose is walking slowly across the highway. I breathe a sigh of relief when it gets safely to the shoulder then realize it’s heading my way.

I see the huge undulate is in trouble. Heat radiating from its bulk quivers the air. It moves stiffly, and the hair ridging its hump glistens. Its antlers are nearly transparent. I’ve heard stories about such transformations, but didn’t believe them. The beast bellows in distress. Easy, big fella, I say, sloshing water toward the moose. This’ll make you feel better. The animal paws the ground and snorts, sparkling dust streaming from its nostrils.

When I turn the hose on the moose, steam hisses from his hot, hardening hide. 

I set up a sprinkler when my arm grows weary. The animal turns so the water splats it from tail to snout.

I leave the sprinkler on all night, hoping to irrigate the moose back to healthy sinew, horn and hair. But by dawn, he’s gleaming in the bright sun. I turn off the water, fearing it might fracture the beast, then break off branches from a tree and push them toward his gaping mouth. The moose lolls out its tongue, which locks in place and prisms a rainbow at my feet. 

I can practically hear the animal’s heavyweight heart punching as he fights the metamorphosis, but it’s hopeless. By afternoon he’s solid glass, his heart like an air bubble in his massive chest. 

As the sun stalks the sky, the sparkling moose begins flashing blinding daggers toward the road. A car skids into the ditch. I go to see if anyone’s hurt and dive out of the way as a second car crashes into the first. No one seems badly hurt. I call for emergency services, but before they arrive, I notice smoke coming from my house. Sunlight through the moose is burning a hole in the siding. I hurry back to the hose, turn the sprinkler on the house to put out the fire and cover the moose with blankets. 

Police and paramedics arrive at the scene of the accident. After a few minutes, two officers approach me. They tell me to get rid of that menace and wait watching as I sledgehammer the moose.  After they’ve left, I slice my hands retrieving the heart, still intact amidst the shards I’ve put in the trash. I place the organ, smeared with my blood, in a closet. Some nights, when 18-wheelers barrel past and shake the house, the vibrating heart of the moose rings like fine crystal.

027. In Transit. Wendy Maxon

Vic was too pedestrian for Helie. Awkward, her roommate Deb insisted. Why was Helie so excited, anyway? Didn’t she notice Vic shoved those stargazer lilies into a cheap old-lady vase?

Deb must be right. Helie hadn’t dated anyone else and couldn’t know what she was doing in relationships; Deb knew better. How could she hang with Deb in Cancun on spring break if she stayed chained to Vic like that? So Helie was on her way to break up with Vic at 3:00 am, driving her silver hatchback, beelining for his crumbling apartment, so she could have a life with far more gold than silver.

Vic wore sweatpants ridged with motor oil and didn’t fit in either. He spent weekends fixing that battered Chevy his dad couldn’t trade in. He and Helie laughed about their shared pasts, penned in like black sheep. They chugged coffee in high-backed diner booths and swapped ideas, dreams, qualms, plans. But Deb swore rags and grease were wrong, and dreams meant nothing if you couldn’t upgrade that Chevy. Helie felt embarrassed she hadn’t realized the truth and thanked Deb for the advice.

Didn’t Helie notice that vase smelled? Pungent, like the glue Vic used to create those mosaics for her, shells and twigs and sea glass in the exact shape of her nose and angled cut of her cheek when she grinned like a madwoman and looked directly into the sun, which she only did near him.

Before Vic, Helie hid her smiles and spent time holed up, nose deep in tales of ocean journeys. Her parents always wondered what was wrong with her. That girl across the street, Deb, didn’t roll her eyes or spiral down into oceans. She wore white jeans and went to parties! Helie could too, if she could just get it right.

Last year in the dorm, the seniors down the hall (Deb too, with her green bikini and permanently arched brow) questioned her looks and instincts. Helie nodded with them, because there was a gold medal ahead that she should be able to see. But Vic held her hair in his paint thinner-stained palms while she sobbed and told her she was the fucking most beautiful thing on earth. And right then, triumphant, wild hair backlit, she was. She should have outgrown that feeling, right? Why wasn’t she brave enough to let him go?

The freeway lights froze into white and red threads, like the stripes on the petals of her stargazer lilies. Helie wove through lane lines, hand trembling on the gearshift. She tried to remember why she was doing this, what the goal was supposed to be. Maybe she didn’t need gold or silver anymore. Maybe just chrome.

She’d pause at the next offramp. Check the GPS. Research a scuba trip. Check Craigslist for ads for new roommates.

Vic lived ten miles up. She’d call him tomorrow to see if he wanted to dive.

026. Pigs Fry. Dona McCormack

“Tubsy want one. Tubsy go flying,” you said and rolled innocent iceberg marbles over my face. They kissed like peeled grapes. Wet smooches. Only we didn’t wade in blue pools and Tubsy wasn’t just a name you called yourself.

“Haven’t you heard? Pigs don’t fly,” I said because I wasn’t about to pick you up and I didn’t understand — even after all the family had done to teach us both — that pigs fry. You stuck your feet into the heated brick BBQ pit and screamed. “Why’d you forget what comes next, Luce?” You scooted further into the ancient stove, deeper into the fire I helped build.

Frying pig just right takes time, but you cooked in a flash. The dinner bell swung and knelled. Because the unctuous roast had belonged to you, all flocked to the table.

You insisted on the Carve and you took the blackened edge of your tibia bone to perfectly cooked meat. Fat crackled and your blood collected on the plates. “Serve, sister,” you said to me. You used your bone to saw your skirts off at the waist, where you ended in iridescent viscera, smoothed over like mother of pearl. With a matching goblet, you toasted the table.

Only Mother enjoyed the meat, surprising no one. She masticated and flicked the nails embedded in Father’s brainpan, making him tick, and twitch, and “ooh,” and finally fall face-first, jaws working, in his plate. A swarm of Tibetan flies beset the Aunts’ portions, so they took up their forks and chased the insects right from the room, trying to pierce tiny black corpses on their tines. Your brother George, I refuse to claim him, took a single bite and then accused you of histrionics and wished to know to whom you’d given your legs. George’s wife cut her share into smaller and smaller bites that she spooned far back on her tongue and swallowed whole. Her twin six-year-old sons stuck their pieces on toothpicks and spoke of making you a doll.

I sat to your right and gazed at the plate you had prepared for me. The blood puddled small and very red. You had cooked well. You had cut yourself into small chunks. Easy to chew. The pieces belonged to me; they spelled my name.

You leaned toward me. Your pearl flashed and lips smiled.

“Pigs fry,” you said, and you looked small. No longer piggy. You’d lost so much.

025. Thresholds. Christopher Woods

The Tuesday evening (seven sharp, please) meetings of the “Fear of Doorways” support group are always sparsely attended.  Few show up. Empty chairs scattered around the room, the coffee urn always full, the untouched ashtrays, the many words of worry never uttered. By anyone.

To be frank, no one ever comes. Except myself. In the beginning, I was smart (selfish?) enough to start the group, aware that many others shared my phobia, sure that very few if any would actually appear in my small apartment. Another, subsidiary fear has always been that many would show up, too many, maybe a hundred fellow fearers. If it happened, where would I put them? How would I manage to smile and greet them? Would some, the truly unfortunate, be trampled by the panicked hordes? Would I die too?

Because of the primary fear of doorways, no one has ever come. Some have sent emails. Others have phoned. Some, I feel sure, wrote letters but were, unfortunately, unable to leave their homes to mail the letters at the post office. These communications, received and not, were a comfort, but only to a point. It is never the real thing – the gathering together, the bodies huddled shoulder to twitchy shoulder in irrational dread. The sweat, the cramped body language, the overused toilet room – none of it has happened.

I watch the door, which is open. No one crosses the threshold. No one will. And I will remain inside, unable to venture forth.

At nine (sharp, please respect the rules), I adjourn. I close down the meeting. I do not move. I would turn off the light but electrical switches are a third-tier fear. I close my eyes, hope to rest. But the terror I associate with my brutal, even vicious dreams keeps me awake, unwilling to risk much needed sleep. So I remain vigilant, consider the meeting now done, begin to think about next week’s meeting (seven sharp, please).

024. Lost in Life. Nigel Bruton

I stand alone, looking into a storefront window on a Toronto downtown street and ask myself, “Who am I? Am I a person?” Most don’t see me as that. I am an obstacle, a speed bump on a time-starved lunch hour. My spot is between the CIBC bank and the Bay Street subway steps. When I’m moved from there, I make my way downhill to Queen and University where at least eight more gather like pigeons in the park.

I see new and old faces, but it’s the familiar ones that get to me. Oh, I put on a brave face and sometimes even let my real face show – the sane one. People give you more if they think you can’t help it, I learned that quickly. Act stupid, mumble and smile, there’s breakfast. It’s as simple and as hard as that.

You see I live in the inner city. I sleep in alleyways and on subway grates. I eat from dumpsters and shower in the rain. My clothes could stand up by themselves and my feet are as worn and leathered as an old shoe. I am a woman, or used to be, now, only a part of this city. I am something to be talked about by travellers returning home. I am a famous stranger with a forgettable face.

My life before is a fractured dream and its presence stings my senses. My voice is soft when listened to for I fear what I might say. I may have to defend my reason for living and I don’t really have one, only what might have been if the world were on my side. I don’t think I would know how to live a normal life, if there is such a thing.

I am thirty-nine years old. I was thirty-five the night baby Charlie was born; the same night my husband Jack drove the old dodge caravan into the Niagara River. Little Sam got stuck in the car seat. Jack showed up at the hospital in an ambulance. Without my little Sam I was nothing. The booze woke me from my hollow world, but that led me here. Where they are now is just something I don’t want to know.

This is as good a hell as any I suppose. My life is as it is and the world moves with or without me. Little would change if I were not here. My spot would still exist. I hope it got the care it deserves, it is a good spot.

The smells of the city hover above, just out of reach. Smell is underrated. It propels me into unforeseen directions. I wander aimlessly towards such fantasies as fried onions and hot chestnuts or popcorn.

“Please sir, just a quarter, only a quarter and I won’t ask again tomorrow.”

But I will, for one day runs into the next, sometimes with no barrier between the two. Spring turns into summer and summer turns into fall.

Winter is coming.