He staggers and he falls. A fanged imp, drawn by fresh hemoglobin and gunsmoke, splatters through the wall, clamoring that men’s blood is less than sweet these days, that molasses taffy has lost its shine. A goldfish of crumpled paper puppet-swims against the grain, laying low to spy beneath the Coronet for MI5. Soon it’ll sense the currents that swept the sheets stage left. Hear the footsteps of the maid who’ll make up that bed and lie. About stealing her sweetheart’s pennant that had once hung the rented wall. Leaving one nail stuck off-key, driving a dead man to distraction.
For other writing inspired by this image, visit Magpie Tales.
Behold the toilet of the future, the Palermo two-piece from St. Thomas Creations. Watch as its patented Quattro Flushing Technology whisks away two-and-a-half pounds of carrots . . .
. . . three-and-half pounds of dog food
. . . eighteen large hot dogs
. . . twenty golf balls!
In fact, I am convinced, given a little patience and the proper tools, there is nothing you cannot flush.
Install one of these marvels at home and you can ride out the next garbage strike in style. Install them throughout the city and, I promise you, we will break that union and forever consign the garbage man to the dustbin of history.
Inspired by the most awesome toilet video on the Internet, and that photo up there, taken by Laurie Leclair in the Ladies loo of the Dover-Calais ferry, August 2011
If language is evolving, then signage in Old Blighty must be the gall bladder of English. Public notices are as good an example of the Use It or Lose It theory as a tailbone or superfluous nipples. An example: Percy from Head Bourne Worthy must “Be sensible and place dog waste into the receptacle provided.” While his Toronto confederate is pleased to “clean up after” his pet. But the Cheboygan pug-lover must simply “Stoop-n-Scoop”. It is as if words leave Portsmouth with the appropriate robustness, start to flag along the St. Lawrence and completely pack it in by Lake Michigan.
Photo by Laurie Leclair, taken in the Ladies loo of the Dover-Calais ferry, August 2011
After the triumph of the référendum septième in 2082, the work of expunging historical humiliations intensified. In taking its sovereign place in the world, la nouvelle nation assumed certain obligations internationales, including its fair (eight percent) share of the defunct oppressor-state’s contributions to the International Space Agency. Le pays will participate in a signature manner, its gouvernement proclaimed. Accordingly, an inspector from the Office de la langue française was dispatched to the launch centre in Bechtelistan to ensure that no further linguistic travesties were inflicted on franco-astronautes. Soon, confusing and humiliating affichages étrangers were consigned to the tas de poussière.
Sara entered solemnly, cupping her front tooth in her velvety change purse. Daddy had said leave it for the Tooth Fairy, but she’d agitated to ride the ferry to Calais again. Where she’d read the secret sign.
Bita found she’d taken the pregnancy test to the ferry wharf. On board, the darlingest little girl, clutching a velvet purse, held the loo door open. Then Bita saw the sign . . . another omen for the queasy five-minute countdown.
Viv’s been waiting her entire five-minute break for the stall. She doesn’t flush the grey hair soon, she’ll fucking set the paper towels on fire.
two years now in Phoenix, but back for a visit,
on the road downtown,
cursing the streetcar tracks pulling at the tires of his SUV,
his sister’s truck really,
but on this morning my ride to work,
door to door for a change.
lost in directions,
the attention paid to pilot this broad beast
through the fitful city traffic,
while I sink back into my soft untroubled trip,
past the crowded streetcar stops without stopping,
dreaming of the day ahead,
my only responsibility now
and for the next twenty minutes
to keep the conversation
The nurses were still talking about it, hours after Sid left Dr. Kerwin’s office. Yesterday’s tests could not find even a trace of the cancer that had ravaged him to a skeleton for the past several months.
This would be a miracle Christmas. He rushed through the door, a scarf for his wife and a toy horse for Baby, both brown paper secrets nestled under his arm.
In their indescribable joy they forgot about Baby. At last when they searched for their child they found only a trail of tiny footprints leading out back and disappearing into the silent snow.
Weeks passed and nobody came for Baby. Sid smiled, hoping nobody would. “It’s like the child came out of thin air!” Jess agreed, secretly believing they’d been given a gift. Looking after Baby let her sometimes forget about Sid’s sickness. Baby never spoke, not even a whisper, but appeared quite content to be around them silently blending in with the rhythms of their day. Sid loved evenings with Baby settled on his boney lap. How after each coughing fit, those black eyes met his and tiny hands so warm they were almost electric would reach up to coddle his neck.
Sid was partial to standing out on the porch, breathing in the crisp November air. It soothed his cancer-ridden throat and he liked to make believe it was healing him in some way. That’s when he saw Baby, then just a tiny lump covered in a thin dusting of early snow. “Jess!” he called to his wife. She threw down the dishtowel and rushed to the back of the yard.
Their’s was a small town and Gary the cop said that it would be fine if Baby stayed with them until they could figure out where the child came from.
I walked past the plot where my great-great-grandfather lies buried, the Masonic plot at Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Toronto, established in 1883 by Brother John Ross Robertson to provide for the internment of indigent Masons . . . my great-great-grandfather, the indigent who in 1894, had arrived in style at the Queen’s Hotel, who’d once sung lead tenor in the “Messiah” at Massey Hall, taught at the College of Music, and seen his brief tenure here end at the Home for the Incurables.
No stone then for Thomas James Burley, so I stomped around long enough to be pretty sure I’d made contact.
They dress me in this fluffy coat, with fake fur trim on cuffs and hood and oversized mittens with three skinny stripes. (Why three?) Then they put me in a siwash toque (so politically-correct!), roll up my chichi OshKoshes, and make me wear shoes even Shirley Temple wouldn’t be caught dead in. How do I attract chicks like this? I mean the ones that dance dirty, not gush and call me cute or adorable. This is not me at all. I’m an individualist. When I escape these people, I’ll get some piercings and a tattoo, and wear nothing but black.
Spring meant cold hands full of violets and the little yellow lilies with leaves dappled like a trout. Summer brought wild blueberries, sneakers, leeches of majestic length. Come fall, trees shed and skies shone through again. But winter? Legs were sausaged into leotards and stockings, cords and skidoo pants. Feet were buckled hopelessly into boots, then snowshoes, to trek the borders of our thirty-three acres of bush. (“Remember how your father was a prisoner of war?” Mama once explained.) Clumps of traitor snow would seek and gnaw my ankles. “If we lived in the city,” I thought, “it’d be different.”
He staggers through the teeming crowd, drunk but thankful to be out in the open. The Cage aux Folles had been a mistake. He had been repulsed by the clichéd floorshow, a can-can performed by look-alike dancers. Boy, girl, it was impossible to tell, but the hungry-eyed tourists ate them up. The real action was at the dimly-lit tables, in the curtained recesses, upstairs. Now, out on the street, hawkers, whores, everyone is selling something. He pauses to look through a brightly illuminated window; inside, a macabre line of fowl, and through a gap, a pair of knowing black eyes.
By 1908, Japan was ensconced in the imaginations of Americans, their bathrooms, their kitchens, their fields. Sears-Roebuck imported “elegant” toothbrushes, “neat and sanitary” woven-grass kitchen matting, and (again with the woven grass) a suit serving hunters as both duck blind and raincoat. 100 Colored Stereoscopic Views extolled a 1904-1905 siege against a Russian port, proof that Japan itself “could never be invaded except by the extermination of every living man.” Other Views showed everyday life – a medley of fox worshippers, geishas, and a humble potato dealer’s stall in “Yakohama”, a misspelled city America would bomb to smithereens, come May 1945.
I sit on the daybed skimming soft pages, tuning out Laverne & Shirley on TV. Like Dagny, the thin studious heroine, I miss Francisco d’Anconia, the childhood friend who’d returned in a smashy-tennis-leads-to-hardcore-sex scene. I’d eaten a roll of Butter Rum Lifesavers rereading it, poking my tongue through each to stroke surreptitiously along the inside of my lower lip. Hank Rearden, Dagny’s second boyfriend, gave her a boring green bracelet. No comparison. Now Dagny’s met John Galt. Whoever he is, he talks a lot. (Oh, Francisco.) At supper, my mother had said she despised Ayn Rand’s politics. Um, there’s politics?
As the nightly passeggiata unfolds, the elderly find a place to rest outside its steady stream. It may be on the piazza, or in an outdoor café or bar, where they nurse an aperitif or glass of wine. There, they gaze with beneficence upon the promenade and shrewdly observe who is strolling with whom, who is besotted of whom, and who is destined to fall in love, discerning before the victims themselves the first glimmer of that fateful condition in a glance, a raised brow, a smile. They sit and gossip endlessly at each portent, to ensure its eventual realization.
Red as wagons
As Nana’s box that Squirrel came in
As fat wax candles and first nail polish
As stripes on ribbons in typing class
As filing folders, print on sugar packets, Persephone’s
three-seed lunch and Diet Coke
As in walks an office fantasy . . .
Red as the east, eight hundred million little books and all
the signs that time in Chinatown
As blood, as an apple, a Gala, Campari, a slapped cheek,
the veins of a Jonathan and recklessness
As eyes at sunrise
And his eyes, years later, from the blood-thinners
As a tea found only in Canada
Plums and cherries hang clotted on the trees, spilling jam onto the lawn, luring wasps from as far away as Mississauga. But the house sticks out its asphalt tongue and pulls its curtains down. Time enough for plums tomorrow. Now is the hour for stars to pierce whitely through the cracks of lawn and sky. For the sea of dreams to pour over roofs and walls, awash with possibilities that a boy still bargaining for his third Tom and Jerry video – a boy who still signs his name with a thick brush – doesn’t yet need to tell from dry reality.
You go to Laywine’s, because that’s where one goes. There’s a brunette behind the counter, because you’ve been reading Raymond Chandler. She offers you “torpedo” shapes, but they’re too Donald Trump. The next pens are ergonomic, with a ribbed grip that regrettably evokes condoms. Then there’s pearwood. Almost. But will it start to smell of fingers and pocket change? In the end, the answer is German: matte aluminum, silicon-gripped, with a happy orange cap. The brunette offers to remove a tiny cardboard ring, which indeed says REMOVE in two tiny languages. But you say no. Because it’s your fountain pen.
“You have reached the ultimate resolution phase”, the Fortran compiler would announce, smacking its virtual lips. Each time it called to mind how she and the other Grade Eight girls whose parents had subjected them to schooling in June had been assigned to clean the classroom. Atop the Arts closet, Lori Rains struck pay dirt: a fly-specked copy of the boys’ Sex Ed pamphlet. Now, the girlish equivalent had featured sperm putzing along the fallopian tubes. The boys’ proclaimed that girls took a long while to get going, longer than any boy. A girl who was ready, though, was unstoppable.
All Mr. King wanted was a break from the wife who didn’t want her daughter arriving at the party with those “little sluts” from the swim team . . . from his daughter who, after promising not to drink and drive, came to him.
“I need your help again, Daddy.”
And so Andromeda will take her mother’s car, past the kitchen window, with Mr. King hiding low in the front seat. He’ll drop her off, drive it back, and park two blocks from home, as instructed.
And even all this, he figures, is a pretty small sacrifice for a little peace and quiet.
As the sun descends, in the pleasant warmth of evening, Italians take a stroll. They dress for the occasion, as Italians do for all life’s finer things. Young people and lovers, widows and widowers, parents with prams and toddling infants – all ages mingle easily. They queue for gelato (children jostling and chattering at near-infinite choice) then amble companionably through the streets to see and be seen. They greet friends, exchange pleasantries and continue on their way, for they know it is the journey that matters, the journey, which they savour like the hint of lemon blossom on a midnight zephyr.
They chose from two closely-printed pages of hernia trusses (Single Elastic, Double Elastic, Hard Rubber, Calf-Leather Covered French Spring, or Infants’ Umbilical). They concealed said trusses under union suits of Grey Merino. They passed their trussed-and-union-suited evenings listening to 18¢ Columbia Talking Machine Records such as Hi! Le! Hi! Lo! Yodle or Darkies’ Jubilee Piccolo Solo.
Yet . . . they had veils of Silk Illusion. Their face powders were not only “perfectly impalpable”, but ambiguously named for Manon Lescaut, an 18th-century demoiselle whose morals were of the loosest. And their graphophones’ Flower Horns came hand-painted in White Roses, Wild Roses, Chrysanthemums, and Pansies.
Illustrated by Margaret Nieradka.
After washing the cobblestones of Paris in blood, France’s Revolutionaries began to passionately rationalize all aspects of daily life. Their metric system soared to popularity over Louis XVI’s dead body. They also prettily and scientifically renamed the months – and even days – of the year. The tail of October and top of November got stuffed into a new month dubbed “Brumaire”, for the autumn fogs. That renaming flumped. Years later, though, North Americans began to give Thanksgiving Day the same cozy, secular nom de plume as the enlightened Revolutionaries had given the 15th of Brumaire. “Dindon”, the first official Turkey Day.
Some people said she was an airhead. But the truth was that Paula merely scrapbooked her way through life, choosing only the prettiest of its ephemera and refusing the ugly or awkward. Because of this predilection, she had no memory of her teen years except for that time she won a Barry Manilow album during a spot dance. The rest remained a hazy pastiche of Clearasil and Slimfast. Any life lessons gathered in the ensuing decades she treated like a fortune tacked Cantonese side up: She had no clue what it all meant, but it was lovely to look at.
As George Westinghouse began promoting his new system for distributing electricity, Thomas Alva Edison took one look at the income he’d been receiving from his original direct-current patents, and mounted an extensive disinformation campaign on the dangers of alternating current, including the public electrocution of live animals. Even as late as 1903, upon hearing of the impending execution of Topsy the Elephant—who had killed her abusive trainer—Edison recommended electrocution and actually sent a crew to Coney Island to film the spectacle . . . for although he’d lost the War of Currents, he had a lot invested in the electric chair.
I suspect she goes
from place to place
and angry faced
These pink-necked ghosts
get pinker still
And she sees through
their Trickster will
But Shogonosh just surfs the net
Conference cake his sole regret
His brunette nymph then calculates
In fifteen-minute billing rates
the price of all
A promise here, a promise there
and treaties, treaties everywhere
but not a drop to drink
empty ears and a token seat
And still she brings a cedar rose
A giveaway as widow’s clothes
a growing tree in a shrinking land
Her baby’s hand