Pickles

[This is called Pickles, which you might already have noticed. I still fucking loathe the way this site forces me to format paragraphs. I mean, it kills me. I may look into changing to another site. I also don't like the footer that hovers sometimes, telling who designed the pagey bits. On another note, it was September 4 when I last posted something. Huh. That seems long ago, but to be honest that will probably be the more regular schedule for things, every 20 or 30 days. Maybe I'll just post funny pictures to fill in the time; squirrels, for example, do funny things. Last, I think I might use commas too much; maybe semi-colons, too.]

Pickles

As a child, whether outdoors or in the quiet of her basement, Gail would play alone. It didn’t matter if it was a rambunctious game meant for a yardful of kids or a game best enjoyed beside a single friend—Red Light-Green Light, Truth or Dare, she was by herself. She would call out Bingo numbers pretending there was a captivated crowd of younger children sitting in front of her. She’d pace up and down the imaginary rows as she imagined an adult might, checking the legitimacy of Bingos and encouraging the kids who were having difficulty keeping up. Regardless of the game, she treasured having neither to explain the rules nor negotiate any. She would kick out the cheaters and troublemakers—and there were always troublemakers.

Gail’s mother would listen from the top of the stairs with her arms clutched across her chest, each elbow cupped in the palm of the opposite hand, and in due course either tears would well or she would turn and walk away before the crying was kindled. She was usually fine until the point at which Gail grew angry and kicked out the smart alecks. Gail’s voice became an unusually high-pitched shriek when she was upset and her excitement would often grow quickly into wildness, into threats and flying fists, even when the antagonists were imaginary. It was the shrill voice in particular that forced Gail’s mother to the realization that a black, volatile temperament would be among the traits Gail would take with her into adulthood, and so probably into a bleak, protracted loneliness, as well. She would cry for the person she saw her daughter becoming, and for her own inability to do anything about it.

In the next bits Gail turns into an adult … click this line to find that I’m telling the truth …

Watching Nisker

[This is a story that discovered itself in the last couple of weeks. I don't know why it exists. I do know that I almost didn't put it up because this maddening site forces you to format sentences and paragraphs in really restrictive ways. Jerks.]

Watching Nisker

November 4, 2001:  Most of the leaves have turned and fallen and been raked into piles. Ed Nisker is dousing one with lighter fluid now, squirting a can over the pile nearest the barn, extending his arm repeatedly but without hurry, like he’s taking in tickets at a theatre. Blind, he had felt for and found the pile with his foot. Nisker’s ears and cheeks are the red of an apple almost ripened and are likewise mottled. His sweater has holes and the day is cool so he’s wearing gloves. Nisker is bent a little, tired. He has dressed Marie warmly and as far as I can tell she is not suffering from cold, she’s not shivering. All this I can see with my binoculars.

Nisker lights and throws a match in a single motion, releasing it with a slight and careful arc just as soon as he’s pushed it across the raspy strip on the box. Each time the match landed dead centre on a pile and all six piles have caught quickly. There is more smoke than flame now, black and thick and billowing, bending with the breeze. The breeze has turned toward me and in a minute I’ll smell it, the cloying heaviness of smouldering leaves. Nisker moves to Marie, taking potato from a grease-spotted brown bag and putting pieces of it in her mouth. Marie spits them out. Three days like this have resulted in his having had to tighten the knots; another day and I fear that under her coat her ribs will start to show. Marie! he screams, You’ll starve you stupid child! I can hear the echo of the words, his mouth moving, the sound following. She spits a bolus of potato at him that he’s tried to stuff between her clenched lips. I smile weakly with pride. It’s a decision, the smile, something perceptible I’ve pulled from my pitiful deliberation.

With my binoculars—I won’t use the scope for fear of mistake—I can make out the red rope burns circling her wrists and the dried fans of tears spread on her cheeks. Bound with rope to the corner of the pig barn, it is impossible for her to run from him. On the morning of the second day Nisker tied her legs to keep her from kicking him; before that it was just her arms but he couldn’t get close. Clearly, he is vexed; I can see the exhaustion in his twitching lips, his shaking head. I’ve also noticed an unsettling, awkward devotion in his gestures, such rude love that would bring him to bruise her cheeks in trying to feed her. Marie looks tired but determined. At night Nisker brings her inside the house, ties her elsewhere I assume.

One thing has brought me here. I’m awaiting a moment at which a clear view of Nisker will coincide with the calmness necessary for squeezing a trigger. Twice in the past eight hours I have come so close. Nerves though. Directing a bullet into a head is not easy; that Nisker deserves it makes it no less difficult. Over the past three days it has occurred to me—embarrassingly, it never did before—just how big a thing death is, how impossible to measure once it lands in your hands and requires it. I picture, for instance, a strand of hair in an ocean; then I imagine that the hair signifies a life, the sum of despairs and every delight, your dreams, the blood in your veins, your eyes:  and now I place above it a pilot as he spans the ocean in his plane. Whatever consciousness he has of this strand of hair is what remains to the world of your choices and your will and your desires when you die. Whatever notion he has of the existence of that hair, this is you after death. You are a vaporous impossibility, utterly unimaginable; and whether or not even this microscopic idea of you is palpable is a question of extravagance, because no one—not ever again—will think of you as a person with skin who once blinked and got wet in rain. The memory of a person is no more that person than it is a ball of cotton. Don’t for an instant think that this doesn’t enter my mind each time I raise my rifle in the ready. For this reason I am writing. I am conditioning an ease within which Nisker might become less himself and more a single strand of hair loosed in the wind. The ease is slow in coming. But it will get here. Three days ago I tossed a coin. Heads I would shoot to kill.

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My Report by Jarryd Meyer

My Report

I’m the Transoms newest employee, Jarryd Meyer is my name. I’m 47, single, I’m 6 foot to the inch like my father and brother too. But I don’t know if these details matter, so I’ll continue. It seemed usual to list them as information. I have taken the place of a fellow called Gerald Spicer who was recently discharged due to the ungodly fuss about the birds, but that’s something you know already and I’ll get to that. Mrs. Transom (Brenda) tells me her husband arranged for a re-straining order so that Gerald would stop causing everyone such terrible aggrivation. Now I draw the line when it comes to plain bad news but I confess I can see Gerald’s half of it clear as day. Mrs. Transom has one of those figures you picture Eve was given: pure glory front and back. But of course that’s neither here nor there as I’m writing just about Gerald. You put it this way constable: you mentioned that Gerald shouldn’t be on the streets, and said that he hasn’t got the part of brain that lets a person know he’s making a mistake. Well the birds are proof enough of that. No doubt. They were a god awful mess to clean, there’s no escaping it. That was my first task after being hired: cleaning up. I’m guessing that’s what this is, a witness account even though I never met Gerald. Anyway:

I don’t know where I should start. It seems smartest that I should explain a bit, for information. Before the birds Gerald was employed by the Transoms as groundskeeper. By this the Transoms understand you to cut the grass and wash the sculptures and statues. The gardener himself is somebody completely different who takes care of the more delicate lawnwork with the flowers and gardens etc. Pruning and that. Whereas Gerald was strictly mowing and sculpture duty. This I know without a doubt because I’m the one who took Gerald’s job after he was fired and that is what I do now: I drive the John Deere and hose down the sculptures. My wife thinks it must be a dead boring job except that the Transom property stretches for such a long way in every direction that dawn happens at different times depending on where you’re standing (of course just to describe it). But the job does keep me very busy. It is such a property that the tractor requires gassing twice every day and carting the hose around slows me down a good bit but at least it keeps my muscles going. These jobs alone are quite enough for a day’s work. Nevermind adding the polishing of all the Mrs. Transoms on the compound. It’s good I’m so busy though. I get paid better than the majority of the staff because I am never idle. Cubit is the name of the gardener, which is a nickname.

The Transom house is something a boy would have in his head for where kings live and rich people. It’s castle big, but long more than tall. It’s a “busy” house is the word for it. There’s columns everywhere but it’s still a low house, and two big porches are on either side (one leads off from the sun room on one side and the other leads to the pool). Both porches are dotted all over with pots and ironwork and nonsense, so cluttered but also clean that it reminds you of those trails at big nurseries, like mazes inbetween all the flowers and shrubbery. I remember those from as a youngster. A strong-smelling and very large flower garden gives on to the back for evening strolls, and there’s lawn space and a treed over laneway on either end of the mansion, zipping back from the porches. One space is used for games (there is a main one I don’t know how to spell) and for parties, and the other one is for Mrs. Transom’s sittings. The property is all very organized, a mirror image, right down to the colour of the flowers—red, yellow, white, blue and then the house, and then blue, white, yellow and red down the other side. Large flags of sandstone are cemented into the outside walls of the house and moss like carpet covers the flagstones in blotches. It’s like out of a movie: pewter doorknobs. The driveway is curved and made of grass and it’s edged by magnolia trees. You also know all this already, about the house I mean. I figure it’s part of everything though.

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Harry Dean Stanton’s Face (Part 1)

[This is a long story, and I haven't written much of Part 2 yet. But I wanted to put this here now so I'd stop fiddling with it and get on with new bits. Most of this is new in the last month; and I'm hoping the rest can be done over the next month. I hate the spaces between paragraphs this blog seems to inflict on me. Hate them. Please imagine them normal, with no space and indented. I also hate that you can't left justify a picture without the text automatically wrapping around it ... hence all the centred pics. Life is tough.]

Harry Dean Stanton as Travis Henderson (from Paris, Texas, dir. Wim Wenders)

Harry Dean Stanton’s Face

Part 1

It’s Monday, June 4th. Today was my last day at school. During class last Monday, on May 28th, I read to the kids from one of my favourite novels. The passage is only a few paragraphs long but I sunk in and sort of lost myself and when I got to the end of it I began to cry. Not in earnest, but it was enough that I had to take a sleeve and pad the wetness from my eyes. Christ almighty. I took some deep breaths and gathered myself, laughed it off. My students sat much as they had before which, in light of the circumstances, was commendable. But then they’d seen it before—not since the beginning of term, mind you, but still, it had happened enough in those first couple of months that they were past the point of mocking me, and yet they were now familiar enough that it wasn’t cause for questions even though it hadn’t happened in quite some time.

I cried once more on Friday (June 1st), but before these two it hadn’t happened since mid-November … so almost seven months. I don’t know when they first began, these sudden sadnesses. They’ve been a part of most of my adult life. A series of unremarkable things pile up, by themselves nothing significant, but I guess they linger in my unconscious and stack up and inevitably the lumbering tower totters and falls. All of a sudden the depth of a high sky takes on the configuration of a well I’ve fallen into; the dull thump of a hood-hit bird stays with me, ricocheting through the car, the death thudding against my cheek, my chest. I once had to pull over after I’d driven past a convenience store; the man was nailing a huge sheet of plywood to a broken window but was outmatched by both the breeze and his own clumsiness. I remember I cried in a dollar store when I noticed a mound of thin colouring books in someone’s shopping cart; I had to secret myself in a corner and concentrate on thoughts and things that had no direction—puddles, ball-bearings, to-do lists, peaches.

There were times when I was quick to react to the spells, and as soon as I became aware of myself crying I would as quickly dry up. It would last only seconds, or not even. A few convulsive twitches in my lips might be the only outward sign. And there were times when I would absolutely bawl.

—But this is all just one of those things, I don’t mean to make a big deal out of it. It’s all, I don’t know, kind of boring. When I arrived at school today Principal Tucker called me to his office and informed me that he, the board superintendent, and the vice-president of the teachers’ union had all been in conversation over the weekend and decided that I should not come into work anymore. I’m not entirely surprised; Amanda texted me last night and explained what had been happening over the weekend, which I’ll get to later. The letter of dismissal Tucker gave me is more direct than our conversation, more serious. Its legalese almost gives me the sensation that I and the person referred to are two different beings. I told Tucker that, Yes, I agreed with him, No, definitely, I most definitely need to go, I’ve done wrong. But there is a coinciding thought that surely I, that I myself should be allowed to continue? That’s what it feels like, the idea I’ve somehow formed about myself:  Keep that man away and the rest of us will be better off.

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Nancy and my finances

A number of weeks ago I talked with a woman at a local bank, Nancy. She was maybe around fifty, fifty-five, and she was provocatively dressed in a tight dress skirt, high heels, and a low-cut blouse. She was short and squat. Her cleavage was heavily sunned, her breasts branny and loose and tremorous, and the whole effect put me in the mind of snowbirds, of cupreous men and women who live permanently under the sun, who are always offering people things, a cold drink, a seat. I imagined Nancy’s husband as a local businessman, the owner of a Wicker Emporium, a lighting store. I imagined that she had a one-piece bathing suit laid out on her bed at home, something simple and navy, pilled on the ass and under the arms, and that every afternoon she would get home from work and change into it first thing, then make herself an easy cocktail with cranberry in it and drift outside to her backyard patio and lie with the sun until her husband got home.

Nancy was kind. I was visiting her to get some details about a mortgage, to see if it was viable for me to transfer my finances to her bank because it was a handier location for me. If there’s an area of life where my true idiocy shows itself it’s in the moments I’m inside a bank or simply thinking about the things that happen there. It’s not for lack of capacity, it’s lack of interest. The whole world bores me.

Nancy talked about the penalties I’d incur by transferring a mortgage from another institution and, strangely, although it occurred to me, I didn’t ask her straight out why her bank wouldn’t pay those penalties for me considering how much net profit they’d make from such a switch. Instead, I focused on her computer screen and the script she was required to follow in answering my questions. I’m sure the lack of sophistication of my profile almost stumped the software. It must have thought I was an eleven-year-old opening his first account. Nancy was following it point by point, and I considered that cult leaders could benefit from a tailored form of CRM. It’s grotesque. I wouldn’t have felt different if she’d read to me verbatim from the last 25 spam messages she’d received. Right down to the end Nancy followed script. “Okay. Alright. Today we talked about your mortgage, about how you could benefit from multiple services…,” and she checked the boxes on a printed page as she went and tucked it into the paper portfolio that had been “prepared” for me.

Nancy was a good person, I should make that clear, so nice, so polite–naturally so, not just a banker-nice. It was because of this, actually, that I was so very close to calling attention to the coldness of her warmth. But I didn’t. She would’ve taken it the wrong way, I’m sure.

Before this wrap-up and the handing over of my portfolio, though, Nancy informed me of a credit card offer I qualified for, an RBC Avion Platinum Visa. I didn’t qualify because of richness; I qualified because I was a potentially new customer. The $120 annual fee for the first year would be waived, she told me, and I would get 15,000 points that I could immediately redeem for what amounted to $125 in gift cards at Home Depot and Canadian Tire. I tilted my head like a confused dog and asked her what would happen if I took her up on the offer but never once used the card, in fact cancelled it after the first year. Nothing. Nothing would happen. “So, they’re essentially giving me $125 with the hope that I forget to cancel in a year’s time?” I asked. She became almost human, and although she never really left her script, she left me to understand that that was pretty much it. No mark on my credit. Truly, nothing. So I got the card. It arrived yesterday and I cut it up and threw it out. I’ve ordered the gift cards already and that went cleanly.

Here I am tonight, not writing. Instead I’m thinking about Nancy’s tits and leotards (without arousal) and about the credit card:  It would have been smart if I kept the card and used it and only it throughout the next year, because the rewards are substantially better than my two other cards that lack annual fees. I’m not a big spender, but I bet the net result could still be another $100 at Canadian Tire. Put it toward a generator maybe.

And yes, I do see it. This thought I’ve had, it’s a planned thought, a planted thought, a thought that was plainly predicted. And that I have thought it, that it is in my mind and that I am nonetheless considering calling to ask for a replacement card–this is one of the reasons I hate the world.

That is what I did tonight. I didn’t write, I hated the world.

Porter’s Lake

Lindsay was an awful paddler. Even for a seven-year-old he showed little promise—but I should give him his due:  he neither aspired to be a fine canoeist, nor did he feel shame in not ever wanting to become one. He was content to sit in the bow taking silent pleasure in the lapping of the cool current, reaching into the water with his soft, white fingers and tracking with languorous pleasure secluded movements in the thick woods.

Lindsay’s preoccupation with bird-watching and deer-spotting was fine with me; it wasn’t my job to convert. If anything it was a welcome change to find in Lindsay a little of the tenderness and introspection, even feebleness, that for the all of the other campers were traits unparalleled in their despicability. It isn’t difficult to understand that he forged few reliable friendships at camp and, as a result—not of his own exclusiveness, but of his fellow campers’ chiding—he came to spend more and more time with me, the camp’s canoe instructor.

We operate a common, modest camp, and days here are full of the typical camp activities. We offer archery and riflery, there is an overabundance of boring and impractical craft-making classes with Popsicle sticks and coloured pipe cleaners, and we have sailing, horseback riding, trampolining, swimming and, most prominently, canoe camping trips. There are ten counselors of whom I am the senior, and we each head a cabin of campers ranging in age from seven to sixteen years’ old. For many seasons now I have looked after the youngest boys. The camp owner, Mr. Harned, argues that my experience puts me in a better position than the others to handle the needs of the wee ones. Mr. Harned is, indubitably, a Mister. His leadership is what helps our camp transcend the commonplaces of its activities, and what lends it its reputation as one of Ontario’s finest. He is eighty-one years’ old and although he is as cantankerous as a kicked badger, he is immovably true to his word, as equally free with praise when it is deserved as he is with disdain—and hale, I might add, as a five-foot wall of bricks. Mrs. Harned, too, commands a similar presence, if however slightly more stooped, and I have heard others joke that even the Harneds’ parents, when alive, must have addressed both of them with the same hallowed ceremony we all do. The Harneds themselves have never insisted on formality, but I sense it’s the only way they have ever been addressed; I do not know of anyone who uses their given names. It is Mr. and Mrs. Harned’s spirit—austere yet magnanimous, exacting yet principled—that infuses the day-to-day running of the camp, and to which we all pay homage, campers and counselors alike. I’ve never felt more shamed, more inadequate, than when I caused them grief.

Lindsay and the narrator slay a dragon and drink potions, right over here…

Cue Cards

To my mind, one of the hardest things about writing is organizing the writing. I’m the sort of person who can last only a short time before an overwhelming need to tidy overtakes me, and that mindset is not a good one for bulling your way into large writing projects. And any large project, surprise surprise, requires some unmitigated bulling eventually. For me, that feels something akin to shattering a dinner plate before assessing how best to put it in a cupboard. I know this is wrong. Or, I know at any rate that it’s not the most productive way to initiate a large project; and being productive, of course–(read closely, an astonishing nugget of wisdom is coming)–is the only way to produce.

To this end there is a stack of lined cue cards to my left, six sorts:  pink, yellow, green, lavender, and cornflower cards that measure 3″x5″, and white cards that are 4″x6″. I don’t know why they’re there. (Right: so that is a lie.) I know why they’re there but I don’t know why I bother. I had imagined building something like a storyboard for this project I’m going on about, one card denoting one scene, the scene cards coloured to delineate characters and plotlines, narrators. I bought them probably a decade ago … a declaration that should give anyone reading–which is to say, my own Regret, a constant evaluator of my progress that sprouts out of me like a mutant from a shoulder–a good indication of the time scale on which this project is moving. They’ve accompanied me to four different apartments and are now beside me in my first house.

I was reminded of the cards and dug them out them again because I recently hung throughout my home four representations of “organizational” watercolours painted by Heinrich Böll. Quickly, here’s one he made for a short story; it reads right to left but I won’t describe it here because I want to go on to another one….

"Ende eine Diensfahrt"

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