Afternoons Get Me Down

by Attila Zønn

 

Gin lived on the top floor of a ten-story building on Ellesmere. When Freddie asked me to do him a favour and supervise a delivery at her apartment, I was eager to help because I wanted to see her sober.

But I had another motive for “helping Freddie”—her dumb act turned me on. There was a sexiness to her juvenile, simple mind. When she looked into my eyes and asked if I wanted a picture of her ass, it aroused me, and at that moment I wished she wasn’t Freddie’s girlfriend.

I didn’t buzz up but followed a woman on her way in. The woman looked nervous with just her and me in the elevator. I leaned against the opposite side of the car and affected disinterest just to give her comfort.

1005. I knocked.

Gin wore red plaid pyjama bottoms and a yellow T-shirt. For a second I thought I had the wrong apartment because she didn’t look anything like the girl I’d met at the shop. She looked pleasantly simplified— her red hair was damp and darker now, no makeup and without the ridiculous high heels, in bare feet she stood just below eye level.

“What are you doing here?” she said. She smiled but her eyes narrowed as they focused  on me.

“Didn’t Freddie tell you I was coming over?”

She shook her head.

“Freddie wanted me to come over. He said you don’t want to be here alone with the delivery guys.”

She laughed. “Oh, did he? And you agreed to come here and protect me? That’s so sweet.”

She hugged me. Her damp hair pressed against my cheek and I smelled green apples.

She kissed me on the lips.

“I’m not worried about the delivery guys,” she said. “Freddie is. He’s like that. He’s pretty jealous. I don’t know what he thinks I’m going to do with them here. Maybe have an orgy all over the new furniture or something. But that’s Freddie.”

She pressed her body against mine and gave me a sly look. “I don’t know if it’s the delivery guys he should be worried about.”  She giggled.

“Do you want a drink?” she said, releasing me. “I’ve got whisky.”

I closed the door and pried off my shoes.

“It’s only eight o’clock,” I said.

“So?”

“It’s too early for drinks.”

“Oh? I always wondered who made up that rule how you can’t drink alcohol till the afternoon. You should be able to drink whenever you feel like it.”

“It’s not a rule, I guess it’s propriety.”

She smiled. “Oh, I like the sound of that word. Prop—what’s it mean?”

“It means accepted behaviour, like manners.”

“Is that like you should behave a certain way because a lot of people think that’s the way to behave?”

I nodded.

“I don’t like that word then. There’s no freedom in that word. As long as it’s not hurting anybody, people should do whatever. What do you think?”

“I’ve never thought about it.”

She smiled, came over and hugged me.

“I was hoping I’d see you again,” she said.

I hugged her back.

“Oh, my,” she said. “I don’t think I’ve ever been hugged like that before. You really mean it, don’t you?” She put her head on my shoulder. “Hugs are nice. It makes you feel wanted. Freddie never hugs. ”

She pulled away, swept her arm in the air and said, “As you can see all the furniture is gone.  We’ll have to sit on the floor.”

The living area was bare except for a narrow bookshelf, and a big screen TV in the corner. A red Persian rug covered the centre of the room over a blonde parquet floor.

“I don’t know why we need new furniture,” she said. “I liked the old furniture. It was comfy. I was used to it, you know? But Freddie said the bed felt worn, and it’s time to get a new one. I don’t know why he cares. He never sleeps here.  And while we’re at it, he said we should replace all the furniture. But I’m used to waking up to that furniture. Now tomorrow morning, it’s going to feel strange like I’m living in somebody else’s place. I’ll have to relearn everything. That’s a pain.” She frowned.

“Change can be good,” I said. “It freshens things up.”

“I guess, but I don’t even know what the stuff looks like. Freddie picked everything. I hope there’s some yellow. I love yellow. Yellow is wonderful. It reminds me of lemons. Lemons are wonderful.”

I followed her into a galley kitchen. There was an electric kettle and a half-filled bottle of Jameson’s on the counter.

“I don’t have any ice, because, as you can see, I don’t have a fridge. I hope the new fridge has an ice maker. It’s so much easier getting ice if it has one. You just put your glass against the thingy, and you get ice.” She grabbed the bottle and said, “Will you have it neat?”

“It’s okay. I don’t want a drink.”

“No?” she said and put the bottle back on the counter. “How about I make you a cup of tea then?”

“Don’t trouble yourself. I’m good.”

“But it’s no trouble. I still have a kettle. There’s nothing troubling about making a cup of tea. Please—when I was growing up I was told  that a guest should always be offered something.”

I smiled. “Okay, I’ll have one.”

She clapped her hands and said, “Oh, wonderful!”

She poured water into the kettle. I walked to the bookshelf.

“What happened to the old furniture?” I said.

“He gave it to his mother. It wasn’t really that old, maybe a couple of years.”

She had two shelves of assorted paperbacks and hardcovers, and below that, figurines of wild animals that reminded me of the figurines my Nonna used to get in Red Rose tea boxes. In the hardcovers, she had Poe and Conrad, Dickens, Hemingway, Joyce, C.S. Lewis—all collected works.

“You like to read the classics?” I said.

“Excuse me?” she said, and came up behind me.

“Your books—these are all iconic writers.”

She looked at me like she didn’t know what I was talking about.

“I guess,” she said, still with that perplexed look.

“You’ve read all these books?”

“I tried, but it’s hard for me to focus on one thing for a long time. And most of the time I had to run get the dictionary ‘cause every other sentence had a word I didn’t know. It was annoying. I just wanted to read, but the writer kept stopping me with his big words. I wonder sometimes if those guys use big words just to show how smart they are.”

“The writer writes using the language he knows.”

“Yeah, but I think the writer should write for the reader.”

“Why would you have all these books?”

“I thought”—she sighed and slapped her arms to her sides—”if I read the best I couldn’t go wrong. So I went to the library, and a nice lady helped me there. We made a list, I gave it to Freddie, and a couple days later a big box came with all these books. And here they are, still brand new. I like the smell of the books. I guess it’s the paper, the ink. I don’t know. I enjoyed the smell but I didn’t enjoy the words. I read a little bit of each one looking for the one that would jump out at me and make me feel good but—”

“Have you tried Romance?”

“I tried but I couldn’t stomach it. That stuff is silly. It’s not real.”

“All fiction isn’t real. Even these books aren’t real.”

“Yeah, but Romance is really not real, and it’s the same old stuff: There’s a girl, and there’s a guy. At the beginning, they don’t like each other. Then something happens. They click, they’re in love but then there’s a misunderstanding. They break up. Then the truth is discovered, and they make up and live happily ever after. It’s silly.  I can’t read that stuff no matter how simple it’s written. No, I’m not really a reader. I realize that now. I just thought if I had these books around me that it would make me smarter, but reading them made me feel stupider.”

“Oh, no,” I said. “Don’t call yourself stupid.”

“Well, I know what stupid means, and sometimes I am stupid, but that doesn’t bother me in life, just when I’m reading.”

I saw a paperback copy of The Good Earth and pulled it out.

“Have you tried reading this one?” I showed her the cover.

“No, I gave up before I got to that one.”

“You won’t need a dictionary to read this one.”

“No? What’s it about?”

“It’s about a Chinese peasant farmer who becomes a rich man.”

She stared at me. I laughed.

“No, it’s really good,” I said. She took it from me and looked at the cover.

“It’s one of my favourites,” I said. “I read it every so often.”

“You read books a second time?”

“Sure, and I discover new things every time.”

She looked at the cover again. “Is there a movie about this book?”

“Yeah, it’s an old movie from the thirties.”

“I think I’d rather watch the movie.”

“The movie’s good, but the book is better.”

“Yeah, but in the movie, I get to see the people’s faces. When I read a book, no matter how they’re described, I always see the same faces, and they’re people I’ve known. And some of them aren’t nice people.”

“This is a good book. You’ll like it.” She smiled.

“All right.  I’ll read it and then maybe we can discuss it.”

The kettle whistled. She laid the book down in a space among the figurines.

I followed her to the kitchen, saying, “If after you read the book, you might want to see the movie—” She turned abruptly and hugged me tight.

“You’re such a nice guy,” she said. “I don’t meet nice guys.”

 

She made tea then we took our cups and sat cross-legged on the Persian rug.

“What time are these guys supposed to be here?” I said.

“Any time,” she said. “They gave me a three-hour window starting from eight o’clock.”

Something had changed in her mood now that we were face to face on the floor. She wasn’t looking at me.

“Good tea,” I said and raised my cup to her.

She smiled, but she was pensive.

“It’s too bad,” she said, “that I’ve never had nice guys in my life. I mean, my dad is a nice guy, but he’s my dad. Maybe my life would have turned out different if I’d been attracted to nice guys.”

“Why? You’re not happy with your life?”

She shrugged. “It’s a life. I’m almost thirty, you know. I thought I’d be settled down by now, but here I am.”

I didn’t know what to say. I sipped my tea.

“That’s a nice TV,” I said.

“I don’t watch it. Only when Freddie’s here. He likes crime shows—you know, they’re supposed to be real, but they’re all the same thing too. That’s all he ever watches.”

“It’s a formula.”

“Yeah, and it’s a predictable formula after a few shows. Like, there’s a dead girl—it’s always a dead girl—a beautiful dead girl. Why is it never a dead guy?”

“They’ve got dead guy shows.”

“Yeah? Well, Freddie doesn’t watch those. He likes dead girls. So, first they investigate the husband or the boyfriend, and the evidence points to him but—it’s not him. Then there’s like some sexual predator who lives in the neighbourhood and the evidence points to him, and it’s got to be him,  the cops say it’s him but—it’s not him. Finally, it turns out the killer’s this guy nobody ever thought of.  Who just happened to be driving by as she’s jogging down the road. It’s boring, it’s the same shit every show, but Freddie is hooked.”

“Isn’t it funny though? When the killer’s the spouse? That they think they’re going to get away with it? That they think they’re smarter than the cops?”

“Well, I guess you have to live with someone and hate them so much that you lose your common sense.”

We sat silent for a while and sipped our teas.

“Yeah, that night after we left you at the shop,” she said. “We were downtown at The President’s Club, with a bunch of old guys in suits. Walking through the crowd I never had so many hands grab my bum. I don’t mind the pats so much, it’s when they pinch—that really bugs me.”

“You must get a lot of that hanging around with Freddie’s crowd,” I said.

“Yeah, old rich men. Plenty. But what am I going to do about it? It’s the life I’ve chosen. Men just want to grab my bum.”

“Don’t lump us all into one clump,” I said. “We all may be interested in sex, but we don’t all act like dicks.”

She reached out and touched me. “I’m sorry,” she said. “But I don’t know anything else. I just suck it up and carry on because complaining won’t do anything.  It’s too big. And if you complain too much and all the time, people will stop listening anyways.”

 

Copyright©Attila Zønn 2017

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Holes 2

By Attila Zønn

Continued from HOLES:

She swerved to miss the kid on the bike and drove straight into the man  selling golf balls, sitting under an umbrella by the side of the road. He and the golf balls flew into the air, over the knoll and down onto Albino, Manuel and Jose who were framing footings for a new house in that subdivision. The golf ball man managed to break Jose’s neck with his dead body while dimpled projectiles pelted Albino and Manuel  as they ran for their lives screaming, “Fodas!”

Down one lot they had already started pouring concrete into the footings. The spotter turned towards the drama and forgot he was guiding a reversing cement truck, edging precariously to the edge of an eight-foot drop. It wasn’t the reverse beeps that finally brought the spotter to the present but the crashing groan of a fully laden cement truck sliding down the embankment on its side…

 

George:

George Cheese had once lived in the country, but now the country is gone, and he feels choked in the grasp of urban sprawl.

“They’ll never get this far north,” the realtor said thirty years ago when George wanted to disappear from the rat race. Now the rats are all around him.

As he sits on the verandah in the mornings,  coffee in hand,  he watches the rats come out of their all brick nests, hop in their cars and swarm out, bumper to bumper, all the way down to the Big City. And bumper to bumper they all come back before sunset.

Ah, the blessed country.

Gone.

The solitude.

Gone.

The  serenity of mornings.

Gone.

George once lived in the Big City. He’d slogged his working days amid the glass and steel, the drafts, the lights, the honks,  the people crossing on the green in herds, dazed by the thoughts of their lives.

He can understand the allure.

Downtown—the gleam, the bustle, the happenings, but also its parts of sexy decrepitude.

Downtown—the paradox; inhabited by the wealthy or the homeless.

He had been dazzled by the allure. He had been a suit and a bullshit artist.

Bullshit: if you’re good at it you’ll make lots of money. He believes from 1980 on, it’s all been bullshit. The 1970’s was the last decade with substance. When it ended the world became artificial. With the disposable razor came the disposable relationship. Everything is disposable now, and everything is bullshit.

He looks around him at the million dollar homes made of sticks and plastic and clay.

One day, it’s all going to crash—it has to,  it’s unsustainable— and these houses won’t be worth the sticks they’re made of.

The developer had offered him a fortune back when George saw rooftops on the horizon, but stubborness and stupidity prevailed, thinking he could stop them with his powerless ‘no’.

They went around him.

Now his white siding house on this large lot is an anachronism alongside these tight lots loaded in brick.

He should have taken the dough and moved another thirty years away.

In the distance sirens surge from either that new hospital or the new fire station, and there is a helicopter overhead. He looks up and says, “Those news guys are quick. Jesus! They’re quick. Like Johnny On The Spot.” He looks down at his  black lab Mojito and says, “Like Johnny On The Spot, eh, Mo?”

Mojito gazes up at him, licks his snout then lies down.

As the sirens intensify, he sees they’re from a fire truck with an ambulance in tow, then right behind, the cops.

“What the hell’s going on down there?” he says and steps off his verandah. Mojito follows him to the edge of the property. George sees the intersection blocked and flashing lights.

“Stay,” he says. The dog sits, and George crosses the road to get a better view of the commotion.

George enjoys his simple life but isn’t adverse to the excitement of human tragedy unfolding. As long as there aren’t bodies strewn across the road or pools of blood—the sight of blood gives George a sharp twinge in his groin and wrists—he likes the sight of a good smash’ em up to give him another reason to shake his head.

 

George has shunned society since that day he sat across from the old lady who handed him her life savings to invest.  The woman wanted to grow her money so she could leave it to her grandsons when she went to see God. They lived far away and had only seen her a handful of times, but she loved them and wanted them to remember her.

A loving warmth suddenly came over George at that moment, and he wanted to hold her sweet face in his hands.

He leaned across the desk and whispered, “Then don’t give your money to me or anyone else in this building.” He touched her hand and stood, walked out of the office, out of the building, and went home where he told his wife he was leaving the profession. She had a fit, but that was okay, he was done with his wife as well, and his sons, who only noticed him when they asked for money, and his disingenuous neighbours, and the human race and all that other…bullshit.

Back when they started digging holes around him, they wanted to connect him to the grid, but he refused. He didn’t want to be found because as soon as they find you, they’ll want to sell you something. He’s proud of his self-sufficiency. He’s got an excellent greenhouse. He has a lemon tree.  A diesel generator powers everything—during the ice storm, he sat cosy in his self-sufficiency while the rats were scrambling to find a place to keep warm.

Whenever he requires meat, he heads over to Marta’s place. It used to be a farm, but now the rats are creeping along the fringes. He’s known Marta a long time and was great friends with her hubby Slatko, but one day the big C took the big Slav, and that ended those wonderful evenings around a bottle of Courvoisier, engaged in discussions of politics, religion, and all that was wrong with humanity.

Marta’s a lonely woman with a young son. She has chickens. Sometimes while her boy Robbie—he’s a bit slow—runs down a chicken, George is permitted a quicky in the kitchen, and for this, he always pays much more than what the chicken is worth.

She’ll sell out soon, and George wonders where he’ll  get a chicken and a quicky.

He’s entertained the idea of having Marta live with him, but he’s lived too many years in solitude that the idea of having another body sharing his space would feel like a nuisance. And she’s got a slow boy. Nothing against the kid—he’s eager, and he’s amenable, but George would have no patience with stupidity.

He approaches the intersection and sees there’s a truck with the words The Fine furniture Folks on the side. It’s ploughed into a pile of earth, and there are golf balls everywhere on the road. The paramedics are lowering a dark-haired woman from the driver’s side. Her face is bloody. She’s limp, and it doesn’t look good.

There’s a long-haired young guy with a bloody forehead walking around.

Suddenly there’s a man standing beside him. George notices he’s missing his front teeth when the man says, “That’s a nasty accident,” then falls to the ground.

“Hey!” George yells to the paramedics and points to the man on the ground.

He leans over the man and takes his outstretched hand.

“You’ll be okay buddy,” he says. The man looks up at George, and sputtering blood from his mouth says, “Will you call my sister and tell her I’ll be late for dinner?”

 

Jen:

 

Jen tightened the finely crafted linen noose around her neck but heard the commotion outside and wanted to be curious one last time in her life.

The methods for ending a life were many—she’d researched. Slitting your wrists in the bath is one, but that’s messy. She’s always prided herself in a sparkling bathroom. An overdose of sleeping pills? Pills of any kind make her gag. Jumping off a bridge? She doesn’t want to feel the impact even though she knows it will only last a millisecond.  She’d jumped off a low roof once, and that moment in the air had felt so liberating. She tried to land on her head, but her body decided to land on its feet, breaking an ankle. While she convalesced she’d read that not all falls from heights were lethal, so she never tried again because it could leave her paralyzed and she didn’t want that— confined to a wheelchair and never be able to kill herself again.

At twelve, vacationing in the Kawartha’s, she tried to kill herself for the first time. Immediately after a meal of hotdogs and potato salad she rushed into the lake and waited to drown but she wouldn’t drown, so she tried to inhale underwater but that caused her body to fight for air and the panic frightened her off suicide for a few years, but the urge came back in her teens, spurred on by her sense of worthlessness.  Though she doesn’t mind the idea of a painful death, presentation is important. Running head long into a subway train was once a thought but that wouldn’t be practical since she wants an open casket funeral.

Since her school days, she’s loved the words O happy dagger! This is my sheath. There rust, and let me die. She repeats these words for comfort as she goes about the house tidying and cleaning. Sometimes she puts a tune to the words and it makes her smile.

She unhooked the noose and came down from her stool beneath the light fixture in the foyer and unvelcroed the ankle weights. She had on the blue dress she wanted to be viewed in and wore a pair of Depends, because she’d read that when people hang themselves their sphincter releases and she didn’t want her hanging body to be undignified in death.

She opened the front door and walked to the bottom of the driveway. It was all happening across the street, past the square pits where houses will one day stand, that will block her view of the trees beyond—those same trees that she hurries to whenever there’s a lightning storm.

There was a cement truck with its wheels in the air, and two men with tool pouches, pacing around like they didn’t know in which direction to go and across the way was a large truck with The Fine Furniture Folks written on its side. It looked like it was stuck on a pile of earth and on the driver’s side there was a woman hanging out the window. She wasn’t moving.

Her neighbours had come out of their houses too, crossed the road and some were holding cell phones in the air.

And that’s when her husband drove onto the driveway. She sighed, knowing now she’ll have to kill herself tomorrow. He’s brought take out for dinner, and she cringes at the thought that she’ll have to endure another excruciating night of his love and devotion. She wonders what he’ll feel tomorrow when he opens the front door and sees her hanging in the foyer.

Probably relief.

Her husband was a nice man. She wished she could love him. He deserved that at least after putting up with her sullen life.

“That’s nasty,” he says as they both look out at the happening across the way. He puts his arm around her, looks at her and smiles and says, “That’s a new dress. What’s the occasion?”

 

Copyright©Attila Zønn 2017

 

 

Alex. part eight

 

By Attila Zønn

 

The next evening Tata didn’t come home from work. Mama called Ray at home, but he said he didn’t know where Tata was.  Mama went outside to the bottom of the driveway and looked up and down the street. She came back in and said, “What do I do?” She sat on the sofa and said,” What do I do?”

When Alex woke up the next morning Tata still wasn’t home. Mama sat in the chair by the big front window in the living room. Her eyes were tired. Alex went to stand beside her but as soon as he reached her she stood and said, “I will call the police.”

A policeman came to the house later in the morning. He had a black writing pad and a holster. He asked Mama questions about what Tata looked like and where he worked and if they had been fighting. Mama tried to speak but she was too excited, and it was like she had forgotten how to speak English, and she couldn’t get any words out, and she started to cry. Then a funny thing happened—the policeman spoke to Mama in her language.

He was a nice policeman. His name was Officer Petracek. He sat down, and he and Mama were having a good conversation. Then Mama stood and went to make coffee. And as she made coffee she kept talking, and the policeman nodded and wrote what she said in his black pad.  Cristina cried out from upstairs, and Mama asked Alex if he would go get Cristina from her crib, and Alex ran to get Cristina, and when he pulled her out of the crib he hugged her warm body close and she put her face against his neck and every time she breathed into his neck it made him happy.

Officer Petracek told Mama that everything would be fine. That maybe Tata had gone somewhere to think. Some people do that. And you can’t go on what people used to be like because things change in someone’s life and they change too. That’s what Mama told Alex after Officer Petracek had left. Mama went and sat by the front window. Alex played with Cristina on the floor.

The next day Officer Petracek came by again, and he told Mama that he had checked all the hospitals and Tata wasn’t in any one of them, which was good, and no crimes had been reported that had a man like Tata in it, and that was good, and don’t worry, Officer Petracek will find Tata.

That night, Alex helped Mama give Cristina a bath.

The next Saturday, Officer Petracek came by,  but he wasn’t wearing his policeman clothes. He wore jeans and a green plaid shirt. He didn’t look like a policeman. He had a sad face. He looked at Alex, then said something to Mama. Mama slumped into a chair and started to cry. Officer Petracek touched her shoulder, then he left.

“What is it, Mama?” Alex asked.

“They found your tata,” Mama said. “He is well. He is living in another city. He is not coming back. He does not want this life anymore. You will not see your Tata again.”

Tata was gone forever? Alex didn’t feel anything when he heard this. He wasn’t sad. He thought a life without Tata telling him what he was doing wrong was going to be a good life.

 

Officer Petracek’s name was Mike, and Mike drove by in his yellow police car and stopped in a lot over the next few weeks. Sometimes they spoke English, sometimes they spoke Mama’s language, and one time when Alex came home from school, Mike was standing in the kitchen holding Cristina.

Then one day Mike came by in the morning, and Alex and Cristina sat in the back seat of his Malibu when he drove Mama to find a lawyer where she signed some papers. Then they went to a bank. Then they went to the grocery store.

Aunt Magda came by a lot, and she and Mama talked and talked and Aunt Magda would say, “Good riddance!” a lot. Uncle Laszlo would come by to pick up Aunt Magda, and he talked with them, and he said, “Good riddance!” a lot.

Mama sighed as she stood by the front window, and when she saw Mike drive up in his police car, she smiled and hurried to put the coffee on, and when Mike knocked she hurried to open the door. Some days when Mike came by, they all got in his Malibu, and he’d drive to an empty parking lot and teach Mama how to drive a car. Though Alex didn’t like it when Mike held Cristina, he did like how he helped Mama. He thought policemen were very helpful.

 

One Saturday, Aunt Magda and Uncle Laszlo came to visit. Mike showed up a little bit later and brought steaks. While Aunt Magda and Mama made a salad in the kitchen, Uncle Laszlo stood at the BBQ with a beer in his hand while Mike cooked the steaks. It was easy to see by the smile on Uncle Laszlo’s face that he liked Mike very much. And as he sat on the porch steps and viewed all this—Uncle Laszlo and Mike, and Cristina puttering along the grass, Alex thought briefly about Tata, but then Cristina started pulling the heads off Mama’s flowers, so he went to stop her.

Alex had never thought of how old Mama was. He had never thought of her as old or young, she was just  Mama. Now after they had eaten the delicious steaks Mike had cooked,  and they sat in the kitchen with their beers and wine, everyone talked about their lives, and  he heard that Mama was thirty-one. Mike was thirty-three, and he had been a policeman for eight years. No, he had never shot anyone but some bad people had shot at him one night when they were running away from stealing some televisions. His police car saved him.

As the evening wore on, Alex watched television in the living room while Mama and Mike and Uncle Laszlo and Aunt Magda laughed in the kitchen. He fell asleep on the sofa and had a dream—in the dream, Mike was carrying him to his bed.

Alex woke in his bed the next morning, and as he walked down the steps to the kitchen, he looked out the window at the top of the landing and saw Mike’s  Malibu parked in the driveway.

 

Copyright © Attila Zønn 2017

 

 

Alex. part seven

By Attila Zønn

 

Sometimes Mama and Tata talked about Uncle Laszlo, and Tata spoke of Uncle Laszlo’s simple mind and his wishes.

“What would you expect from an artist?” Tata would say.

Uncle Laszlo had made a painting of Mama and brought it on her birthday.  With a hammer and nail, he hung it on the wall behind the sofa, then stood some feet away from it with Tata.

Tata put his hand on his chin and squinted. “It does not look like Eva,” he said. Alex thought it looked a little like Mama.

“It isn’t a photograph,” Uncle Laszlo said. “It’s a rendering.”

“It does not look like Eva,” Tata said.

“I’ve captured the spirit of Eva.”

“According to you, but this is not Eva. Why does she wear these large loopy earrings? She does not possess these earrings. It is whoreish. And why did you make her dark?”

“I captured her in the spirit of our Romani ancestors.”

Tata laughed. “Ah, you made her a gypsy. I see,” he said, nodding.

“Our Romani ancestors.”

“Laszlo,” Tata said, shaking his head. “You are not a gypsy.”

Uncle Laszlo straightened up, puffed his chest out and said, “Our line goes back to Obrador.”

“Obrador? Are you kidding? I would not be proud to share my bloodline with him. He came from Bohemia, yes,  but he was a thief and a rascal, not a gypsy.”

 

Mama liked the painting. She said it wasn’t her, but whoever the woman was, she was very mysterious.

“Why didn’t you say that to him?” Tata said. “Now we have to display this…this…”

“I did not want to hurt his feelings. He is very sensitive.”

“Feelings. Feelings. Poor Laszlo and his fucking feelings.”

 

One evening after dinner, Tata took Alex to the coffee shop on Danforth and bought him a chocolate dip doughnut. At the coffee shop they ran into Ray who wanted to buy Tata a coffee and Tata let him. They sat at a table and Alex listened to them talk their smart words while he ate his doughnut.

“But if the speed of light is so quick and you say it cannot be bridged where are these aliens coming from?” Tata said.

“They’re not aliens,” Ray said. “Sadly, that’s a bunch of baloney.” He looked around him then leaned forward and whispered, “They’re coming from the future. It’s us visiting ourselves.”

Tata frowned.

Alex stopped chewing his doughnut. He remembered a discussion Tata had with Uncle Laszlo one Christmas. Uncle Laszlo said it would be nice to travel into the future to see how everything turns out. Tata shook his head and said, “The future does not exist.”

“Of course there’s a future,”  Uncle Laszlo said.

“Yes, the future as an imagined creation, as a metaphor, but in reality, it is blank until we travel into it. The only way you can visit the future, as you think it is, is if you are in the past and, with the aid of a device, can visit any time up to this present time. You cannot go beyond this time because nothing has happened beyond this time for you to visit.”

“But what if we, at this time, are living in a past time, then there is a future?”

“No. This is the true time.”

“How do you know that?”

“Because physics does not allow us to pretend and no one has come from the future to tell us that we are living in the past.”

“Would they?”

“There is always someone who wants to show the world how brilliant he is. Trust me, we would know. And if such an occurrence has been suppressed, there would still be rumours. Besides, the concept of a time machine has been studied by the most brilliant of minds, and no one has come up with one yet.”

“Maybe they invented one in the future.”

“Laszlo, why do you insist?” Tata said. “Think. For a future to exist that means that everything we do, everything we say, everything we will do or will say has already been determined. That our lives have already been plotted out, and nothing can be changed, then, if you are a critical thinker, you must ask yourself, how can this be? And then we have to ask ourselves by what mechanism is this possible? Is it natural? Is it supernatural? In the end, we realise it is bullshit and another example of human arrogance—that the universe revolves around and is considerate to us.”

Uncle Laszlo shook his head and said, “There are many mysteries we’ve yet to explain.”

“Do you agree at least that for the future to exist it must be immutable?”

“I suppose.”

“If there is an immutable future, taking away that a supernatural force has caused creation to be thus, because I cannot accept anything that is not a natural physical occurrence, we must conclude how terribly unfair such a notion is. Why do some people excel in life but others struggle? How can someone live a long life, yet some die on the day they are born? Why misery? For what cruel purpose has such a thing been designed? My uncle survived the great war, all his comrades shot dead or blown to pieces, yet he lived, unscathed. Then one day many years later he tripped over his own feet, fell down the stairs and broke his neck. How do we reconcile such things with a purpose to life? The answer? There is nothing purposeful about life. It is all chance, and ninety-nine percent of the time, life is unremarkable, it is actually mundane and dull. We create wishes and distractions and myths to make life more interesting, without which  our human life is no different than that of a monkey in the jungle—breeding, eating, shitting.”

“But I believe things happen for a reason.”

“Yes, things happen for a reason, but only as a result of cause and effect.”

“Cause and effect?”

“If I hit my finger with a hammer, the cause is that I am careless, the effect is the injury and the pain. But if you are suggesting that the reason I hit my finger at this moment is because there is a power in the universe that has determined long ago that on this day in my life I will hit my finger with a hammer, that by inflicting such an injury there is a cosmic purpose,  and there is no way to change this occurrence, then you are a silly man who believes in silly things.”

Uncle Laszlo jerked his body back in his chair and stared at Tata, then stood and called out, “Mags!” Aunt Magda appeared from the kitchen. “We’re leaving!” He turned to Tata. “I refuse to be insulted on this holy day!”

Aunt Magda asked, “What happened?”

Mama came from the kitchen and asked, “What happened?”

Uncle Laszlo pointed at Tata.

“Let’s go!” he said.

Aunt Magda said sorry to Mama then frowned at Tata. They grabbed their coats from the closet.  Alex automatically went to stand by the front door because Uncle Laszlo always tousled his hair before they left, but not this time—they rushed past him,  and when the door opened a cold wind brushed his face.

Mama stood in the archway to the kitchen and looked at Tata sitting on the sofa. Tata  shrugged, put up his hands and said, “It was only my opinion.”

 

 

Now, talking to Ray,  Tata closed one eye and said, “How is this possible?”

“They’ve obviously discovered a portal of some kind and can go back and forth,” Ray said. Tata still stared at Ray with one eye closed. Alex knew this face—it was the face Tata put on when he thought someone was deceiving him.

“Or,” Ray said, “They could be coming from a parallel universe.”

“A para-llel universe?” Tata said. “What are you talking about?”

“A parallel universe.  Along with this universe, there are eleven others. They are superimposed. For example, in these universes, there may be eleven other Milans.”

“Eleven Milans?”

“Or maybe none at all. It depends.”

“How do you know this?”

“It’s a new science. It’s called quantum physics.”

“And where are these universes?”

“All around us. There’s one a millimetre from your elbow.”

Tata looked at his elbow.

“It all happens at the same time, or they could be different from each other by a few, or many years. There might be a Milan who still lives in Romania.”

“A Milan who still has his finger?”

“That’s a possibility,” Ray said.

Tata sat back and looked astonished. He said, “With eleven other possibilities, why should one settle for the least likeable scenario.”

“We don’t know how to travel across universes,” Ray said. “So you’re pretty much stuck with where you are.”

Tata nodded and said, “Hmm.” He sipped his coffee and Alex finished the doughnut.

“So how do you like the custodian position?” Ray said.

“It is fine—except for that woman.”

“Who?”

“That Amazon teacher in room 104.”

“Miss Sharps?”

Tata nodded. “She is an asshole.”

Ray laughed.

“No, Milan,” he said. “You’ve got that cock-eyed. A woman can never be an asshole.  If you want to regard her pejoratively, you call her a bitch.”

“But she is not a bitch as I know bitch to mean. She is an asshole.”

“No, a woman is either a cunt or a bitch. Men are assholes—dicks or assholes. But I can understand you’re confusion.”

“Confusion? What are you talking about?”

“Well, English is your second language. You haven’t yet grasped the idioms and nuances that come with mastering a language. I guess it’s hard to flow the words when you have an accent.”

“What are you talking about? I do not have an accent.”

“You do.  Can’t you hear it?”

“My English is impeccable.”

“I’ll give you that. You know lots of words. More than I’d care to know, but that’s probably because you’re trying to overcompensate—you want to sound educated in your new culture. I understand. I’m just making an observation.”

Tata was silent, staring at Ray, then he said, “Well, allow me to make an observation.” He stood and looked down on Ray. “You are a fucking peon. Do you know that? You are a sad slave to your need for reassurances. Fuck you, Ray! Who are you to analyse me? You are a confused soul looking for salvation from fairy-tales and space travellers.”

Ray raised his hands and said, “Whoa! You’re taking this way out of context buddy. I wasn’t insulting you.” But Tata walked away from him, and Alex followed.

 

Walking home, Tata said, “It is important to be happy, my son. Otherwise, life is not worth living.”  Tata came down on one knee and hugged Alex—hugged him long and strong, which was strange because Tata had never hugged Alex  so long before, and when Tata stood he wiped his eyes. “Remember that in your life.”

It was dark when Alex and Tata got home. Tata went to the drawer in the kitchen where he kept literature Ray had given him on Extraterrestrials—sheets of photocopies and some paperbacks with grey men on the covers. Tata gathered them and dumped them into a metal garbage can in the backyard. He squirted barbecue fluid and dropped a match in it. Alex stood with him, staring at the flames, then Tata looked up at the dark sky and the few stars Alex could see and said, “Bullshit.”

Mama came out to the porch. She held Cristina. Mama said, “What are you burning?”

Tata stared at the flames and didn’t answer.

Mama told Alex to come inside and get ready for bed. He followed her in, and up the stairs to the bathroom where he washed his face while Mama ran water for Cristina’s bath then went to his room and waited for his turn for the bath. He sat on the edge of the bed and listened to Mama hum while Cristina splashed. He went to the window to see if the fire in the garbage can still burned.

Tata lay on his back on the grass and kicked his feet, as if he were swimming backwards, and at the same time, he rocked his body from side to side. Alex slid the window open a slit.

Tata in a crying voice kept saying, “Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit…”

 

Copyright©Attila Zønn 2017

Ludy

By Attila Zønn

 

Out of the blue, Ludy said, “There are no virgins left anymore above the age of twelve. And I’d even question that age.”

We were driving along Highway 7 approaching Markham Road.

I felt good this morning because it was Friday and a half day, and I’d only have to endure his bullshit for four hours instead of eight.

It was the end of June, and there was a hint of heat in the air, so the wind coming in the window felt good. Ludy had been quiet since I picked him up on his driveway. He grunted a greeting and off we went. Only now, as we started seeing people on the sidewalks was he getting aroused.

“Holy Jesus!” he said jerking up in the seat. “Look at that ass! That’s a fucking 11!”

As we passed a bus stop, he stuck his head out the window and yelled, “Yeah, baby! You got it!”

“For fuck’s sake,” I said.

“What?”

I shook my head.

“What?”

“We’ve risen above catcalls and whistles,” I said.

“You think so?”

“Yeah. Acting like that—”

“Bullshit. I was paying her a compliment.”

“You’re judging her.”

“So? I have that right, as a free-thinking individual, to think what I want.”

“To think. Not to say.”

“Holy shit!” he said, shifting in his seat to face me. “What’s this world coming to? That—he pointed back with his thumb—that was innocent.  You want to know what bad is? My cousin Orietta told me this. She used to be a good looking broad before she had all her kids. She was walking downtown one time, and some fat-ass construction worker yelled at her from a scaffold, ‘Hey, baby. Bring that ass over here. I want to shit on your tits!’ And all his buddies laughed.  What I did just now was feathers compared to that.”

I shook my head.

“Yeah, you know,” he said and fell silent.

We drove for a while longer, then—

“Okay,” he said. “That ass can make a big deal out of it, but it’s just for show. Are you telling me that I didn’t put a bounce in her step and made her feel good because some guy in a car thought she was attractive? Is that what you’re telling me? What? We can’t appreciate beauty anymore?”

More time passed, then—

“I feel sorry for your generation, David. You’re all a bunch of pussies. In the annals of history you’re going to be known as the Gray Generation:  afraid of your own shadows, afraid of what people will think and what they’ll say, unable to deal with offense. Transposing snowflake ideals on a pile of shit. Wake up! Have you watched the news? The world is full of offense. The world doesn’t care about anybody’s feelings. It wants bread and circuses. You want to live in a world where we have to look around us before we open our mouths? So we sit around and be silent? Like dummies?”He turned away and stared out the window. “Yeah, that’s a great future: a society of pussies and dummies.”

I really didn’t want to get into a discussion because there was no logic I could impart on him to dislodge his skewed observations.

“And here’s another thing your gray society does—white shaming,” he said. “I see it all the time on TV. Comedians make jokes about evil white people like that’s all there is in the world—evil white people. And that I’m supposed to feel guilty because hundreds of years ago white people colonized or owned slaves? It’s like an original sin we’ve got to carry around. That’s why the world doesn’t move forward—because we’re too busy laying blame. The thing is, it isn’t the brown folks, or the black folks or the yellow folks, it’s white folks bitching about the unfairness of society, trying to make up for past injustices. Pansy fucking indignant whites who find offense in every subtext, self-loathing leftists who haven’t got a clue how to live their lives but are eager to tell you how to live yours. There!”

He was panting like he’d just run a marathon.

“I’ll say it like I see it,” he said, “and if nobody likes it, they can fuck off.”

After he’d calmed down, putting on his I’m going to explain the key points of my argument voice, he said, “It’s actions, David. Actions that harm, not words. Sticks and stones—you remember that saying? Probably not. You candy asses don’t give a shit  about the past ’cause you can’t pull your faces away from your phones.”

“Alright! Alright!” I said holding up my hand.

“Yeah!” Ludy said.

“It’s how you did it that’s the problem. Like she’s a sex object.”

“And what’s it to you? Do you know her?”

I turned away.

“Who are you kidding?” he said. “Women are sex objects. There’s seven billion people on this planet. How did that happen? They popped up out of the ground? Men aren’t interested in coitus with women?  And if fucking is sex then that makes women sex objects. To a man, the objective is sex. Always has been, always will be. Don’t let political correctness blind the truth little buddy. The minute a woman enters a room, a guy thinks, is she fuckable? A man can’t help themselves. It’s second nature. It’s in their biology. As she’s walking away, tell me they’re not looking at her ass. Tell me the truth, if there wasn’t that promise of sex would you put up with a woman? Day in, day out, from morning till night and all the holidays?”

“Now you’re a misogynist.”

“No, I love women. My mother is a woman, but she drove my little old man crazy.”

We stopped at a drive-thru for coffee—he paid.

“David.” He pulled the tab on the coffee lid. “I’m gonna let you in on a well-known secret—remember this—all women are sluts.”

“What?”

“Yeah,” he said, nodding, “but the poor things, it’s not their fault. It’s in their biology. You’ve heard the expression: he who brings home the meat gets all the pussy? Where do you think that got started? Well, it goes back to the caveman days.”

He sipped his coffee. “Oh, that’s a good cup,” he said, then, “Picture this: the Great Hunter, arrives at the cave. He’s got a big deer buck around his shoulders. He tosses the deer on the floor of the cave, the women come from all corners, pick it up, and carry it away. Then, he goes and takes a nap on his fur bed, and when he wakes up, dinner’s ready. That guy…had it good. But he risked his life to put meat on the spit, and he had to be smart. He had to know how to spread the lovin’ around. Maybe he had a favorite among the women in the cave—probably he had a favorite— but he couldn’t show it because the one thing more important than pussy, is peace in the cave. And another thing. Women have men to thank for the way they look. The classic woman shape—ample tits, shapely legs, prominent ass. It was primitive man who shaped how a modern woman looks.”

“How’s that?”

“Okay, transpose yourself from this car to an earlier time. You’re a primitive man on the African savanna, and you’re chasing down a woman. What are you looking at?”

I shrugged.

“Her ass! And those boys always targeted the ones with the bigger ass because they ran slower. They were easy to catch. After a hard day of hunting the last thing the boys wanted was a difficult road to their pleasure. “

“How do you know all this?”

“It’s logic. And some of those savanna ladies even wanted to be caught, just like now, playing hard to get but when you get close, they give up. For some fuckin’ reason, women got it in their heads that a man’s always gotta earn his pussy treat.”

I kept my eyes on the road, hoping he’d stop talking.

“He’s most likely the Chief.”

“Who?”

“That Great Hunter, because he knows how to find the game, so he’s respected and gets his pick of the females.”

Jesus Christ! Deliver me.

“I guess you’d be the Great Hunter?” I said.

“No. Definitely not. I’ve got a realistic view of myself. I know my physical limitations when it comes to what a woman finds attractive. No, I wouldn’t be that Great Hunter, more like the guy who holds his spears, standing outside the mouth of the cave, happy to snag a reject. What gets me laid is this.” He rubbed his thumb and index finger together. “A fat wad in your pocket will always get you laid.”

 

Copyright© Attila Zønn 2017

Alex. part six

By Attila Zønn

 

 

Alex was helping Tata tidy up the shed when Tata grabbed a rusty hammer, smashed it against his workbench and shouted, “Because we are men! And when men are alone they can let themselves be men. There is no need to be soft, to hush hush like when there is a woman in the room, as if she has the sensitive ears, that if she hears a profanity she will melt into the carpet. We should let a few fucks fly. Why not? It is a profane world, why bother hiding it?”

Lately Tata talked to himself more than he normally did. Usually Tata talked about what he should do and how he should do it, but now he talked to invisible people, in an angry voice, then he would calm down and say, “I understand. I understand,” as if he was arguing with someone. He also said, “Fuck!” a lot. And he said, “I am tired,” a lot and he said—many more times than anything else— “I am not happy.”

They had stopped going to the Saturday nights at Unit 51 because when it was time to go, Mama said she didn’t feel well, and Tata didn’t want to go without her. Alex  wanted  Mama to always feel well but as the time approached to go to Unit 51 he hoped Mama would not feel well because he didn’t want to go either. Nothing ever happened in Unit 51—people talked and talked, and nothing ever happened, and he didn’t like it that Jonah always stared at him.

Mama was sick a lot these days. Sometimes smells made her run to the washroom where she threw up. And Mama didn’t go for her walks anymore which caused her to get fat. She was getting a big tummy.

One Sunday, Aunt Magda came by to see how Mama was feeling. She and Mama sat in the kitchen and they laughed a lot. When Alex walked in Aunt Magda asked him, “So what will it be, a brother or a sister?” Alex didn’t know what she was talking about. He looked at Mama who was smiling.

“Would you rather have a brother or a sister?” Aunt Magda asked.

Alex kept hearing this question a lot in the next few months—so much that he started to believe that it was his choice. It became a question that Alex was tired of being asked.

One day Tata asked him, “What do you prefer, my son? A brother or a sister?”

“I don’t know, Tata. Either is good.”

“A brother is better,” Tata said. “It is better to be a man than a woman. A man is always in control of his life. A man stands on the mountaintop and sees all the possibilities. A woman will always be  subjugated to the man. But how can we argue with that? It is nature, and unfortunately for them, nature has made women inferior to men. Yes a brother is better, then if anything should happen to me, you can teach him everything I have taught you. You are very lucky, my son, that one day you will be a man.”

Alex had never considered if boys were stronger or luckier than girls. Now being aware of such a   thing he thought that Tata was a little bit wrong because he once got into a fight with Nannerl, a big fat girl at school, over?—he doesn’t remember what. He  didn’t want to fight her but Nannerl came at him, swinging her arms wild. He tried to get away but he was unlucky—she caught him, and held him, and punched him. And this caused Alex to always be nice to fat girls because fat girls punch hard.

The more Alex thought about having a brother or sister, the sadder he got.  All his friends had brothers or sisters and the ones that had brothers were always fighting with their brothers. He thought that fighting was a part of having siblings because they competed for their parents’ attention all the time. Alex never had to compete for Tata’s attention. Sometimes he wished he didn’t have Tata’s attention so much, so it would be good to have a brother or sister to distract Tata, and he promised, whoever his brother or sister was, he would never fight with them.

 

Cristina was born on a very cold night in January. Uncle Laszlo and Aunt Magda had come to the house to watch Alex while Tata took Mama to the hospital. Alex  was lying on the sofa when Tata drove up in a Taxi. Aunt Magda looked out the front window. She said, “He walks like he’s not happy. Something’s  happened.”

They stood at the top of the landing and waited for Tata to come in.  When Tata opened the door he had a long face. He looked up at them, shrugged and said, “It is a vagina.” Uncle Laszlo and Aunt Magda looked at each other.

“Is Eva okay?” asked Aunt Magda.

“It was difficult,” Tata said taking off his coat, “But she is fine. Everybody is fine.”

He hung his coat then walked into the living room and sat on the sofa, put his hands together and sighed.

“Come to me my son,” he said.  He held Alex by the shoulders and said, “When you grow to be a man you must be the hope for our name my son, because there will be no more male Fierbinteanus coming from your Mama. If you do not have boys then our name will disappear into oblivion.”

 

Cristina was a wonderful pink baby with full cheeks that Alex wanted to pinch. When she lay in her crib sleeping her baby sleep, Alex watched her and waited for the day when he could hold her.

Alex wanted to help Mama with Cristina, so every time she cried he went to pick her up but Mama stopped him. She said, “Watch!”, moved him aside then took the baby and walked away. Sometimes Mama put a blanket on the floor and laid Cristina on her tummy, and Cristina was quiet for a while, but then she got fidgety and started to cry, and Alex rushed towards her to pick her up, but Mama was there before him, and moved him away and said, “Watch!” So it now happened that Alex let Cristina cry, though he didn’t want her to cry, because he knew that Mama would never let him hold her.

As time went on—as Cristina learned to roll over, then learned to crawl, then learned to pull herself up to where she could stand while holding onto things, Alex yearned for the day when he could hold her. Sometimes in the playpen, Cristina grunted her little baby grunts, and held out her arms to him because she wanted to be taken out of the playpen, but Alex never touched her, and it made her cry and it made Alex sad.

Tata let Cristina cry all the time.

Sometimes when Tata sat on the sofa and read his paper, Cristina crawled up to him and pulled herself up on his leg and she’d grunt her baby grunts but Tata ignored her, and that made Cristina cry and Tata would call out, “Eva!”, and Mama would hurry in and take Cristina.

 

Copyright © Attila Zønn 2017

 

 

 

Alex. part five

By Attila Zønn

 

The back door was open.

Alex called, “Mama?”  But there was no answer.

He climbed the steps to his room and heard a noise coming from Mama’s room. Her door wasn’t closed all the way so he pushed it open and called, “Mama?”

Mama was kneeling on the floor in front of the bureau with the big mirror. Her head was covered with a  scarf that had red flowers and her hands were clasped together. There was a lit candle on the bureau in front of pictures of Nagymama and Nagyapa and a bronze crucifix.

Mama jumped when she saw Alex.

She came towards him saying, “No, no, no,  Alexandru. No, no.”

She knelt in front of him and held him at the shoulders and said in a crying voice, “You must not tell Tata you saw me like this. Please. Never tell Tata you saw these things. Never.”

Mama stood and took off the scarf. She blew out the candle and put it with Nagymama and Nagyapa and the crucifix in a shoe box, then opened the closet and put the box deep inside, covering it with shoe boxes. She came back to him smiling, wiping her eyes.

“What can I make you? Anything you want I will make it.”

She led him out of the room, and going down the stairs she said, “Is there a new toy you want?”

Mama looked nervous when Tata came home. She kept staring at Alex. Tata was not in a good mood. Usually when Tata was this way, Mama asked him what was wrong, but today she stood silent.

Tata went to the fridge, took out a beer and opened it. He looked at Mama and said, “Some people are so stupid.” He took a long drink.

“That Ray—he is such a character. Do you know what he said?”

Mama stood still, silent, stiff. Tata looked at her and asked, “Are you all right?”

Mama nodded. She said, “What did he say?”

“He said, he and I are in the same boat.”

Mama frowned. “What does that mean?”

“He is missing a toe. Frostbite from when he was a child. But how can he say we are in the same boat? He is missing a toe while I am missing a finger, from the hand, the hand that has lifted humanity and taken us from the jungle to rule the world. The same boat? Yes, he has a slight limp, but his affliction is hidden. Mine is here.” He lifted his hand. “It is the first thing people see when they meet me. And they will always ask what happened. And I am sick of explaining it. In the same boat? Hardly, my UF—fucking—O friend.  If it wasn’t for these hands humans would still be swinging from tree to tree fighting over bloody coconuts.”

“Did you tell him this?”

“I should have, but, you know, I do not want to create a conflict with the man who gave me my job.” Tata came to the table and sat down. He turned to Alex, and said, “My son, is there anything you want to tell me?” Alex looked at Mama who looked back at him with wide eyes.

“What do you mean Tata?”

“I mean, I am at this new job at your school for two weeks now, and I have never seen you once.”

There was a reason why Tata hadn’t seen Alex at school. Alex was trying all manner of stealth to avoid Tata. Before he left the classroom he looked both ways down the hall to make sure Tata wasn’t doing one of his janitor things, and if Tata was that way, Alex went the other way, very quickly. And while he fast-walked away,  a cold sweat overcame him as he hoped Tata wouldn’t call out to him. That would be a terrible thing—if Tata called out to him in front of all his classmates.

Already the word had gotten around about the mean new janitor who had made Stacey cry that day when she had to go to the washroom. She had come back quickly, very upset, and Miss Sharps asked her what was wrong, and Stacey had cried out that the new janitor had stopped her from crossing the floor he was mopping because it was wet and he wasn’t finished, and don’t come back until it has dried.

Miss Sharps left the class saying, “Well, I’ll get to the bottom of this!”, but she also came back quickly and her face was so red, and she looked a little confused, but then she walked over to Alex at his desk and stared down at him for a long time.  Alex had turned away and focused on his hands.

Now he said, “I don’t know why, Tata. It just happens that way. Do you want me to come and find you sometimes?” Tata looked at Alex in that suspicious way that Tata’s face went when he wondered if Alex was telling a lie.

“That won’t be necessary,” Tata said, and reached into his shirt pocket. He pulled out a folded piece of paper and opened it. He turned to Mama. “Do you know who this is?”

Mama came to the table and looked down at the paper. From where Alex sat, it looked like a picture of one of those ancient kinds of statues that had their arms cut off.

Mama shook her head.

“His name is Janos,” Tata said. “In English they call him JAN-US.”

“He has two heads,” Mama said.

“No, he has two faces—one looking forwards, the other looking behind him. He is the keeper of the gates.  His name is where the word janitor comes from. My position was named after a Roman god!”  Tata laughed, took another drink of beer, then sat smiling.

 

Alex wanted to tell Mama right away that he would never tell Tata that she was still mumbling in front of a crucifix but Mama was doing so many nice things for him that it was fun being the boss of Mama.

 

It was the last day that Alex would have Miss Sharps as his teacher, and he was glad. Next year he’ll have a new teacher and Alex hoped that teacher will like him. And he looked forward to the wonderful summer coming up when he can run free with his friends and not have to show Tata his homework.

Miss Sharps brought her cat to school. He was a big white cat with black patches and his name was Oscar. Miss Sharps said Oscar wasn’t feeling well. That’s why she didn’t want to leave him home today. Oscar looked scared. He was hiding under everything because the girls wanted to hold him.  He hid under the bookshelf and the girls wanted to pull him out but Miss Sharps said we shouldn’t force him out because it would scare him more.

Nancy said, “My mom works in a pet shop and she says cats feel better when they are high up. We should put him on top of the bookshelf.”

“No,” Miss Sharps said. “Let’s just move the desks against the walls to give him more room.” After they had pushed the desks to the edge of the class Miss Sharps went to the fridge at the back of the class and got some milk and a small dish.

“Alex,” she said. “Would you  like to give Oscar some milk?”

This surprised Alex and made him so happy because after all these months Miss Sharps had finally talked to him.  He took the milk and put it just in front of the bookshelf. Soon Oscar stuck his nose out and then his whole body and he started licking the milk. The girls giggled. Oscar didn’t finish all the milk. He stopped licking and froze, and then he moved out to the middle of the class, walked in a circle, then stopped and pooped all over the floor.  It wasn’t a hard poop. His poop came out like when Mama made pancakes on Sundays sometimes and poured the batter onto the griddle, and the girls went,“Ewe!”, and the boys laughed and Alex saw Miss Sharps hurrying to the intercom with a big smile on her face, and she pushed the button and asked for the custodian to come to room 104. She said there was a slight spill.

Tata arrived with a mop and a metal pail on wheels, and when he saw what he had to clean up his face turned red. He didn’t look at Alex or anyone else but went about cleaning the cat’s poop. He tried soaking it up with the mop and made swirls on the floor and all the kids laughed, and Tata’s face was got redder and redder. But he cleaned it, and poured something on the floor that smelled nice and out he went.

Alex felt Tata’s embarrassment, and he looked at Miss Sharps who was looking at him with a big smile on her face.

That afternoon it was party time. Stacey wanted to show everybody how good a singer she was. She sang a song that was playing on the radio. It was about a dead skunk in the middle of the road stinkin’ to high heaven. Miss Sharps came from behind her desk and slapped Stacey in the face. She had her terrible face on when she said, “We must never make fun of God’s creatures!”

Alex felt the slap and thought Stacey wanted to cry but she didn’t. She held her cheek, and as Miss Sharps walked back to her desk, Alex put his hand on Stacey’s back.

 

©Attila Zønn 2017