Reconnecting

DSC_0091by Attila Zønn

 

 

“Excuse me?”

I turned to the woman.

“Nuno?” she said.

“Yes?”

“Is your last name Garrett?”

I hesitated then nodded.

“Did you go to Secord Avenue Public School?”

I nodded.

“Oh, my God,” she said and covered her mouth.

I squinted at her.

“Don’t you remember me?” she said.

Her name tag read Sherry W.

I didn’t know who she was. I had known no Sherries.

“It’s Darlene,” she said.

The past came rushing at me then—yellow school buses, bullies, teachers with bad breath leaning over me, pedagogue sadists corrupting malleable minds, and Darlene Coogan

I smiled. “How are you? Geez. Small world, eh?”

“It is a small world,” she said.

We stood with smiles on our faces and expressions of amazement at how life had brought us back to the same space. I pointed at her name tag.

“Sherry W?” I said.

“Oh, that’s who I am now. Sherry Wild. New life, new name.”

Darlene looked good. She was a blonde now. I remembered her with a mushroom cut, dark brown hair and green eyes. Her eyes were still green, but they didn’t pop as much with the blonde hair.

“So, do I call you Sherry or Darlene?”

She laughed. “Darlene. You’re part of the past so it’d be silly to ask you to call me Sherry. So,”—she gave me a nudge on the arm—”how’ve you been?”

“Good. Still alive.”

She nodded and kept nodding.

We stood in the hall of a highschool, taking a break from a writers’ workshop.

“How do you like the workshop?” she said.

“It’s good.”

“You want to write Romance?”

“No, I just saw the ad in the paper and wanted to see what a workshop was all about.”

“And?”

“It pretty much expresses what I already knew.”

“Yeah, they’re pretty much all the same. If I had the credentials, I’d probably run one. You make more money teaching how to write than you do writing. This is my tenth one. It promises you great things, but in the end, you end up discovering how it is on your own. It’s all about…forging ahead.”

“So you’re a writer.”

“No—but I like words. And I like being around people who like words. I don’t know if I’m really a storyteller.” She shook her head. “That’s too much work for what it’s worth. I like being surrounded by creativity though. It helps with my songwriting. You know, the creative vibes? They’re catchy.”

“You’re a musician?”

“No—but I’m becoming one.”

Darlene, now Sherry Wild: this hearkened me back to grade three. She was my first girlfriend. I didn’t know she was my girlfriend until we went on a field trip to Old MacDonald’s Farm. I was sitting on the bus with my best friend Stanley. She came down the aisle, grabbed his arm, yanked him from beside me onto the floor and took his place.

“Why’d you do that?” I said.

“Because you’re my boyfriend, and boyfriends and girlfriends always sit together.” Stanley stood up and wanted to wallop her, but the teacher was coming down the aisle counting heads.

Old MacDonald’s Farm—that’s what the teacher called it, but I knew she was lying because when the bus drove up the gravel road towards the silo, I saw the mailbox and the name on it was The Smythe’s. This was really Old Smythe’s Farm. But Farmer Smythe wasn’t old.

His wife came out to greet us. She cradled a baby girl, and there was a  snotty nosed blond boy holding onto her dress.

Farmer Smythe didn’t wear a farmer’s straw hat. He had on a Toronto Maple Leafs baseball cap and wore fluorescent orange rubber boots.

An icy wind blew that morning, and everything was wet. We saw some pigs and chickens, then the cows in the barn, and when a cow shit a big cake, all the girls went, “Ewe!”

Farmer Smythe’s snotty nosed son followed us around, laughing. He acted like he’d never seen kids before.  I felt sorry for him. It must have been lonely living on a big farm with only animals and your parents to talk to.

At the end of the excursion, the teacher—I can’t remember if it was Miss Arrow or Miss Roberts; the teachers all blend together from back then—wanted us to go into Old MacDonald Had a Farm. Darlene ee-i-ee-i–o-ed with the other kids but I wasn’t interested. I felt silly singing this silly song in front of the farmer who looked like he couldn’t wait for us to leave. As Darlene sang, she kept wanting to hold my hand.

Farmer Smythe’s wife had baked some bread, and before we left, we all got a slice of fresh bread with fresh butter. It was so good I devoured the slice in three bites.  Darlene nibbled at it, turning the square slice into a circle and all the way back to school the circle got smaller—it annoyed me. When it got down to nickel size,  she put it on the tip of her finger and offered it to me.

“I left the best part for you,” she said.

“I don’t want it,” I said. She sat back in a huff and put on a pout, and held her finger in the air with that piece of bread on it.

I had known Darlene until the end of grade five. Then we moved to Don Mills, and I didn’t see her again till a few months later, just before Christmas, when we were back in the neighbourhood to visit my aunt. I went for a stroll, back to the schoolyard, and I saw her walking up the street. I called her name. She looked over her shoulder at me and kept walking. I didn’t know it then, but all the women in my life would look over their shoulder and walk away.

After the workshop, we planned to go to a Tim Horton’s on the corner.  It didn’t cross my mind that this reconnecting might lead to more than a few “remember when’s” and ending with “nice to see you again”. We laughed as we reminisced about old teachers and old classmates.

I drove her to her place.

Her apartment was a tight abode on Victoria Pk. She liked nick knacks, I assumed—porcelain, crystalline, wooden—strewn about the place on shelves and end tables, but curiously she had an illuminated curio cabinet with nothing in it. There was an acoustic guitar on a stand in a corner.

“Do you play?” I said, pointing to the guitar.

“I’m learning. I know enough to accompany my singing.”

We sat on the couch and updated each other on our lives since grade five.  I told her of that day in December when I saw her on the sidewalk by the school and called her name. She didn’t remember it.

I told her I’d been married for about six years, but now it was over. She listened and looked genuinely interested, which made me feel good.

“Yeah,” she said. “We’re brainwashed into believing that marriage is more than it really is. Kudos to those people who can stick it out, but I don’t think humans evolved to be with just one person all their lives. It’s a social construct.”

I didn’t agree with that, but it was her turn to talk.

She had been married until last year. Her husband had been a good guy.  “A good guy, but he wasn’t…exciting!” she said. “He felt boring sometimes—too predictable, too reliable, too responsible.”

“That’s what you want in a husband, isn’t it?” I said.

“That’s what I wanted once, but now I want something else. One day I was sorting out some old boxes, and I came across a picture, and that changed me.”

“A picture?”

“Of an old boyfriend.”

I nodded but wondered how a picture of an old boyfriend could change anything.

“Yeah, it made me think of how my life used to be, ten years ago, when I was really happy. I mean, you’re never really happy, not all the time, but the days seemed sunny and carefree back then and seeing that picture made me pine. I got so depressed.  I realized I didn’t want this life with my husband. I wanted to be with Michael again.”

Michael, oh, Michael—how she missed him. She couldn’t understand why she wanted to be with him again after all these years.  He had always been “unreliable”, “selfish”, “condescending”,  but God how she wanted to see him again. “If only to relight the flame.”

“Michael could make the cows come to the fence,” she said. “Once, we were driving back from Wasaga. We stopped by a pasture and he called the cows over. That’s what was in the picture I found—Michael standing by the fence, and cows at the fence and Michael doing a ta-dah!”

He always made her laugh, but he also gave her anguish.

“Sometimes he scolded me like I  was a child. Kind of like my dad used to do when I was a kid. And when he complimented me on something he’d say, ‘Wow, sometimes you’re really smart aren’t you?’ But his most favourite saying of all, when he’d lost an argument was, ‘Shut the fuck up.’ ”

With a wry smile, she said, “That meant  he’d  been defeated.”

I sensed she felt some pride in defeating him. But I thought if the relationship was strife with conflict, why was she pining for it?

“And you know what? I didn’t mind,” she said. “Isn’t that sick? What’s wrong with me? I married a great guy who called me his ‘baby’ when we made love, but now I’m desirous of a guy who treated me like shit and called me a slut when he fucked me.”

She looked at me, perplexed.

“It always had to be his way,” she said. “There were times when I couldn’t reach him for weeks, and then he’d show up, out of the blue, and be the tenderest most caring person in the world, and then we’d fuck, for days.

“For days—I couldn’t get him off me. I’d get so sore. But if I ever said no, I don’t feel like it, he’d pout and ignore me, and then he’d be talking to me like I wasn’t as smart as him, and then he’d be gone for weeks, and then he’d pop up, and it started all over again. He was so…aggravating.

“I once made the mistake of calling him Mike. It was like a cloud came over his face, and he walked right up to me and said, ‘My name’s not Mike. Mike’s my old man’s name, and I hate his fuckin’ guts.’

“I tried finding him. I went to Wasaga—walked up and down and every time I heard a motorcycle I’d look to see if it was him.”

“You don’t expect him to be the same person after all these years?”

She smiled. “Trust me, I know him. A guy like that doesn’t change. That’s why I want to see him again. He’s like a capsule in time.”

“You want to relive a younger time?”

“It seems like that, doesn’t it? Though I’m happy with who I am now. I am.”

“Why would you want someone like that? At this time in your life?”

She shrugged. “I don’t know. I just…want to see him again, that’s all, and if I don’t like it, I’ll let him go and carry on. I want to be excited. I want to be on the back of his motorcycle again.” She laughed. “He terrified me when he popped wheelies. He was good. He could make his big Harley pop a wheely. One time I almost fell off. He laughed and said I was a typical woman—light on the brains and full of emotion.”

“Great guy,” I said.

She nodded.

“Sounds stupid,” she said. “Anybody else would have left him, but it invigorated me. And him calling me stupid sometimes, brought us closer together. Know what I mean?”

I didn’t. “How?” I said.

“It’s like two buddies calling each other asshole or moron, and they laugh it off, ’cause they’re so close words don’t hurt.”

“You like bad boys.”

“No, I liked that bad boy,” she said. “I met him when I was nineteen. He was twenty-five.”

“So now he’d be thirty-five?”

“No, now he’d be closer to forty. I was with him for a few years.” She paused. “I think…that’s funny, isn’t it? Life. All these moments seem like big chunks of life, but really if you break it down, it might have been a year or two, in a whole lifetime, but they stay with you forever.”

“Yeah,” I said.

I looked at my watch. “I should go.” I stood.

She grabbed my arm and said, “Tell you what. You read me your stories, and I’ll play you my songs. We can critique each other.”

I’ve never been good at critiquing. I’m too kind. And if the work doesn’t interest me, my mind wanders, but I said, “Okay.”

“Let’s start now,” she said and got the guitar. I sat down.

“Some people have told me I sound like Joan Baez,” she said.

She made a dry run of some chords then began:

If you were my lover, you could never be my friend.

If I let you love me, that would be the end.

Love turns into boredom, and then we must pretend.

That love is what we live for.

Love is what we give for.

Love is what we die for.

If you were my lover, you could never be my friend.

Her hesitant chord changes were excruciating and her voice—there was neither a Joan nor a Baez in her voice. Instead, it made me think of a lonely cat yowling in the night.

As she sang,  she looked at her chording hand. It wasn’t helping. And the strum was a monotonous down-stroke: down—down—down.

“B7 is a hard one for me right now,” she said. “But eventually I’ll get it. What’d you think?”

“Very distinctive.”

“Really?” That seemed to please her. “Yeah, I’ve got my own sound. It’s a little rough because I don’t want to come off polished.”

There were no worries about that.

“Woody Guthrie wasn’t a great singer, neither is Dylan,” she said. “They had the voice of the people, the everyday guy, telling life like it is. “

Behold! Guthrie. Dylan. And now—Sherry Wild!

“How do you spell Wild?” I said.

“W—I—L—D.”

“You should add an E.”

“No, I don’t want any artsy fartsy connotations. I want it to be WILD! Like WILD animal because that’s how I feel about myself. WILDE is too polished and poetic. I want to be rough and rustic, a creature of the earth, free spirit, running free against the wind of responsibility. You know?”

“Well, you’re on your way,” I said.

“I am. I feel it.” The guitar slid to the floor. I reached to grab it.

And that’s when she grabbed me by the shoulders and pulled me towards her and clamped her mouth onto mine, and that confused the shit right out of me, and then she had a hand on my crotch.

She backed off violently, curled up against the corner of the couch and looked back at me with wide eyes.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m so confused.”

I was about to say that it was alright, I understood, when she was on me again, breathing heavy and trying to rip the lips off my face. Her tongue came at me.

She untucked herself, took my right hand and slid it up her blouse. I held her breast in my hand.

“Caress it. Squeeze it. Suck on it. Do whatever you want,” she said.

I was willing, I was there, but I never had a woman throw herself at me. I needed a moment to catch my breath. I took my hand from inside her blouse and adjusted myself on the couch when she stopped pulling on my lips and sat back. “What’s the matter? Don’t you like me? If you don’t like me just say so.”

I was on a ride, but I wasn’t going to let this opportunity evaporate.

I fucked her on the couch.

She moaned. “Call me a slut.”

I did, but I wasn’t convincing. Insults during sex isn’t my strength.

“Fuck me like you hate me,” she said.

I tried, with my best hateful thrusts, and during the ecstasy and the moaning… she called me Michael.

And that was it—my dick melted out of her…

 

Copyright©Attila Zønn 2018

 

 

Nocturne

pexels-photo-104707.jpegBy Attila Zønn

 

Midnight descends like the blade of a guillotine.

Once those lethargic arms reach the pinnacle and administered the twelve tolls, the night mutates into instant deformity.

I,

Walk the streets at night, ready to play the game,  and ready to kill. Kill I must, and it doesn’t matter who, nor does it matter where, but the moment must be right, and it will always be at night. Easily concealed by the shadows, I skulk in lonely corners or dark alleys filled with the stink of piss and yesterday’s festering refuse.

The streets glisten with anxious sweat. The air hangs stale and thick; the panting respirations of fleeing souls—those that know of me, the smart ones who sense my proximity and find safety behind the locked door of a well-lit place.

From below these streets, the sewers exhale like the foul breath from the simmering underside of a damned society. They make it so easy for me because despite the demons that cavort in men’s minds, nothing can prepare them for me—a creature so starved and so void of the virtues of godliness that I live solely to suckle the breast of murderous opportunity, and devour the body of innocence.

I appear from nothing; from above you or below you, from beside you or—from behind you!

And my shape is inoffensive….at first. I could be anyone. I could be a man, a woman, a child, your loving grandma or dear old granddad, and I reveal myself from the fog, or the raining night, or the blinding sting of wind hurled snow.

The seasons don’t stay my lust for cutting, nor impede my hunger for the hunt.

I’m smiling when you first see me, and I put you at ease because that’s my way. I may ask you for the time of day, or the location of some silly place, or cry like a lost child, but when you are least suspect, when your good sam overpowers your instinctive distrust…I bite!

My blade is clean and sharp, and it gleams a flashing silver as I raise it above me, and with one quick, graceful stroke I sink it deep into the warm tense flesh of my game. I feel it travel unobstructed into the body; through lung, through heart, through liver. The body wants to repell it, and the mouth wants to scream, but my hand holds back the cry.

My blade pulls free and glides across the convulsing throat, opening it and freeing the gasp, and the red of shortened years and unfulfilled dreams, running through my fingers with warmth and substance; thick and sticky, down clothes to splatter on shoes and lay waste among the cracks of a dirty street.

The body succumbs to the relaxing hand of death, and I feel renewed, and my dominance is not questioned, and my frustration is soothed. The killing is effortless, and the game plentiful, and the threat of discovery is extinct because no one cares—out here there is no mercy.

 

Copyright©Attila Zønn 2018

Calls Of Love

wedding-ring-pictures-1By Attila Zønn

 

 

 

“I was married once.”

“You’re kidding?”

“Hey, don’t look at me now. I was a respectable husband once. I went to work in the morning, every other Thursday I brought home my paycheck and handed it to her to do as she saw fit—for us. I was happy. She was happy. Happy wife, happy life. I took my vows seriously. Through sickness, health, for better or worse, till death do us part.  All that stuff. I thought that’s what you did. That’s what my ma and old man did, for fifty-two years. Sure, they argued, but they stayed together.

“When I first got a cell phone there wasn’t less than three or four times a day that I didn’t get a call from my wife, telling me she loved me. What guy wouldn’t want that?—the woman you love, loving you back. Then, it changed overnight. Literally. The day before, she called me five times to tell me she loved me, then the next morning she wanted me out of her life.”

“Strange.”

“Not really. The signs were there. I just ignored them.”

“But you say she called you all the time to tell you she loved you.”

“Yeah.”

“How does that make any sense?”

“In hindsight, it makes perfect sense. I liked it when she called me to tell me she loved me. It made my day. My day wouldn’t run right without her calls of love, but after awhile I got sensible. I thought it was weird. All that love? It’s too much love, but I shrugged the weirdness off because it made me feel good and gave me confidence. Now? I think all those times she called and told me she loved me, was her trying to convince herself she did love me. The more you say it, the more you believe it. Right?”

“That’s fucked up.”

“No. It was fucked up, but it’s all good now. I’m happy it turned out this way.”

 

Copyright©Attila Zønn 2018

 

 

 

 

Afternoons Get Me Down III

Crystal-Ball-Gazing By Attila Zønn

 

 

“And that lady told me you’re already who you are when you’re born. It has nothing to do with your upbringing, it’s about how you deal with your upbringing, and that goes back to who you are when you’re born.”

“How much did it cost to have your fortune told?”

“Thirty dollars, but it was so worth it. Even Freddie was amazed at how accurate she was about me, and he’s never amazed about anything.”

“You believe that stuff?”

“I don’t know. She was pretty right on. It is fun.”

Gin giggled, leaned close and whispered, “She said I was going to meet a man, and he was going to be my soulmate.” Her eyes sparkled.

“Right in front of Freddie,” she said.  “Freddie was so pissed off that she said that. He was so pissed off. I think it made him jealous.”

“You like that?”

“I don’t think jealousy is a good condition to be in, but if you’re the jealoused upon, it sure feels good that your lover feels threatened. I mean, he cares enough about you to get jealous.”

“Or he feels his dominance over you is threatened.”

“I don’t feel dominated. I’m here because this suits me, I can leave whenever I want.”

“But you said you don’t have any money.”

“Money isn’t everything. I can leave if I want to, but I don’t want to. I don’t want to be out on the street,  pushing my shit around in a shopping cart, smelling like cheese and dirty bum hole.”

“I don’t think that’ll ever happen to you.”

“Life is unpredictable. One minute you’re at the top of the mountain, next minute you’re trying to stay afloat in a sewer.”

She crossed her arms and sighed.

“Anyways, I asked about my mother—if she was anywhere in the room, watching us,” she said. “The lady said my mom’s in Heaven and she’s fine.”

Gin frowned.  “You know, I always wonder about if all these people go to Heaven, what do they do up there? Are they floating around with smiles on their faces? I know in Hell they get burned, and tortured and get fucked up the bum a lot, but what’s there to do in Heaven? And it’s forever.”

“There probably isn’t a Heaven or a Hell.”

“That would be better, wouldn’t it? Instead of having nothing to do for eternity, or being abused for eternity. Lights out. Nothing.”

I took my third sip of an empty cup.

“Do you want another cup?” she said.

I smiled.

“It’s no problem to make another,” she said.

We went into the kitchen. She filled the kettle and plugged it in.

“I hope I have a good summer,” she said. “I’m going to be alone.”

“Why?”

“Freddie’s going to Italy for three weeks. Yeah, with the wife, the kids, all putting on the grand façade for the relatives. It’ll be depressing. I’ll have nothing to look forward to. Just me, myself and I. Shitty afternoons and shitty nights.”

“What about your family? You see them?”

“I do, but not every day. There’s some bad memories there—a person I want to stay away from.”

She fell silent and focused on the kettle, appeared to have gone into memory, then came out of it with a shudder.

“Are you okay?” I said.

She smiled and nodded.

“Just thinking,” she said. “My kid life was pretty good until my dad remarried. His wife was nice at first, but then she had a baby and became a bitch. Then she had another one and became bitchier. I’ll never forgive all that bitchiness. Sometimes she’d put me in the backyard, like a dog, and left me there all day. I guess me sitting on the couch watching cartoons was taking up her time looking after a baby. I wanted to help her—I could play with the baby while she did stuff, but she always shoved me away. I’ve never liked babies. They change people. I hope I never have one.”

The kettle whistled. Gin unplugged it, took two bags from a Red Rose tea box and dropped them into fresh cups. As she poured, she said, “I never felt part of that family. I’ve always wished I had a brother or sister, whole ones, like from the same mother and father. That way I wouldn’t have to be alone in this world when my father and Abuela died. I love my half-sisters. I see them, but when we’re all together, and they’re talking to each other, I feel left out and lonely.”

Gin took a teaspoon from the drawer and squeezed the teabags in the cups. She was very aggressive with the teabag in her cup—squeezing the life out of it.

“I hated living there,” she said. “That bitch would hit me all the time, but my father never knew because I never told him. She was so fucked up. Once, she was standing on a stool changing the bulb in the kitchen, got a shock and fell off the stool, and she blamed me! I ran into the basement and hid behind the furnace.

“Another time, Stephanie was crawling on the floor, and she must have put something in her mouth because she started gagging, and the bitch came running in and picked up the baby. She yelled at me, ‘What did you do?’ I didn’t do anything. I was sitting on the couch like I did all the time all day. She held the baby in one arm and slapped me over and over with her other hand, yelling, ‘What did you do? What did you do?’

“I cried. I told her, ‘I didn’t do anything.’ But she kept slapping me. Then she grabbed me by one arm and shoved me out the back door. It was a freezing cold day, and I was out there without a coat and in my socks, then the back door opened, and my coat came flying at me. My tears froze to my face, and my nose was runny, and snot froze on my upper lip. I never cried so hard as that day because—I didn’t do anything.

“I don’t know how long I was out there. I slapped on the door for her to let me in—I begged her, ‘Please! Please!’,  but she wouldn’t open. Then I saw the lady next door come out of her house. She looked at me there all shivering outside, then she went into the house. I thought, that lady is going to call the police on the bitch, and they’ll take her to jail, and Dad and me and the babies will be so happy without her—but nothing happened. Finally, the bitch let me back in. She made me hot chocolate, and she cried, and she said she was sorry, and she became nice again. She did that all the time—treated me like shit, then cry about it. Strange, huh?”

I reached out and touched her shoulder. She shuddered.

“I hate thinking about those times. That fucking bitch—all smiles when my dad was around. Every time she touched me I felt the evil inside her. She’s never apologised. She acts like she was never bad to me. Do they forget? Do they block it out? Bad people. Do they forget they were ever bad?”

“Bad people don’t know they’re bad. Every action is justified.”

We took our cups back to the Persian rug and sat down.

“One day, I came home from school,” Gin said. “I was hanging up my jacket at the front door. The bitch came up behind me and slapped me on the back of the head. I turned around. She said, ‘ That’ll teach you.’ Teach me what? What did I do?

“When you’re a kid, all adults are big, but in reality, this evil woman was just a tiny thing. I was about eleven then, and now I was bigger than her. I grabbed her, and I yelled in her face, ‘Stop hitting me!’ and I slammed her against the wall. Then I grabbed her and threw her across the floor. I wanted to stomp on her so bad. She whimpered, like all bullies do when they get a taste of their own medicine,  and ran and locked herself in the bathroom. I went out on the verandah and waited for my dad to get home. I was going to tell my dad I didn’t want to live there anymore. I wanted to live with my abuela. The more I thought about it, the more I convinced myself he would be okay with it. But he wasn’t—he cried. He kept asking me ‘why?’  So I told him about her.

“Oh, the look on his face. I thought he was angry with me but no. He flung open the screen door and went into the house. Then I heard him yelling, and then the bitch was yelling, and then the babies were crying—it was terrible. I covered my ears so I didn’t have to hear. I was happy though. I thought that for sure my dad was going to kick her out. That we would keep the babies and I could look after them. But when my dad came out, he looked defeated. He got on his knees and hugged me, and said, ‘I’m sorry.’  Then we went up to my room and packed my clothes, and he drove me to my abuela’s.”

“That’s sad.”

“I’ve never thought of it that way. My thinking was: I was free from her. That’s like breathing for the first time. Relief.” She paused and thought. “What was he supposed to do? He was trapped. You can’t win against a crazy bitch. She would’ve taken the babies with her. What was he supposed to do? I was happy. I was free from her, and my abuela just lived one street over. He saw me every day.”

The phone rang.

Gin got up and answered it. “Okay,” she said and hung up. “They’re here.” She opened the door and stood in the corridor. After a few minutes, she waved an arm and said, “Down here.”

Two black guys in beige coveralls appeared at the door—one rolled a stainless steel refrigerator through the doorway and into the kitchen.

“It has an ice maker!” Gin said, laughed and clapped her hands.

The guys came back in a few minutes with a matching stove, then a matching dishwasher.

The couch followed—brown leather, then the matching loveseat as well as a recliner. A two-tier, glass top coffee table, end tables, lamps. Then a round oak pedestal table for the dining area. The chairs were oak as well, spindle legs and spindle-backed.

“I don’t like these chairs,” Gin said. “My dad had these. They get rickety after awhile.”

Finally, the bed. A king size.

“Oh, my,” Gin said after the bed was assembled and the delivery guys had left. “That’s the highest bed I’ve ever seen. I’m going to be like the princess and the pea.” She laughed, threw herself on it and stretched. “It’s so comfortable. Come.” She patted the space beside her. “Try it.”

I got on the bed.

“Don’t you think it’s so comfortable?” she said.

I laid on my back, clasped my hands across my chest and stared at the ceiling.

Something Freddie had said to me once, about Gin, popped into my head. He said, “A smart woman is no good in the sack.  They think. This one lies there and takes it, and when you’re done, she doesn’t mind if she’s not fulfilled because all the men in her life have used her as a pin cushion and she’s probably never had an orgasm. In and out is what I do, then hand her a lollypop and she’s okay with that. A smart woman will lie there thinking: I need more than this. When they start thinking like that,  you got a whole world of headache.”

“I think you should get a job,” I said. “Get a job, get some money, and free yourself.”

She rolled on her side to face me.

“Freddie won’t let me,” she said. “I have to be here in case he comes over.”

Fuck Freddie, I thought.

“I asked him for twenty dollars once,” she said, “and he got pissed off. ‘What do you want it for?’ he said.  ‘What do you want? I have accounts in all kinds of stores. I’ll just phone them, and they’ll bring you whatever you want.’ So that’s how it is.”

She walked her fingers on my shirt buttons.

“I know having a man pay for everything is not the right way to live,” she said, “but work has never worked for me. Every place I ever  worked at, the people didn’t like me. They called me names behind my back—mostly tramp or slut.”

“You heard them?”

“I don’t have to hear it to know they’re calling me that. I know how people are. But I’m not a slut. I’ve only ever had one boyfriend at a time. Even if I was, what’s the crime? Men fuck around more than women.

“At this one place, my boss called me into his office and told me that my ‘skimpy’ clothes were a distraction. I wasn’t wearing skimpy clothes. My clothes were tight, yes, but they weren’t skimpy. I told him if his workers would mind their own business and stopped judging me, and actually did some work, he would be better off. That was the only time I ever talked back at work. It felt good. I felt empowered. It was like the dawn of a new day. He fired me. I should have kept my mouth shut because that was a great job.

“I’m never trying to attract anyone. It just happens. I know that look though—that a guy wants to fuck me.”

“Do I have that look?”

She propped herself on her elbow and studied my face. She sighed. “No, you don’t.” She sounded disappointed.

“I like how I feel when I wear what I wear. I never did anything bad to anyone, but still, they didn’t like me. Then I found this one job,  and I thought all the people liked me. They all helped me when I didn’t know something. Everyone was so kind. Finally, here was a place where I fit in. I was so happy.

“The place had a recreational room where we took our breaks and lunches and in the middle of it was a ping-pong table. I was feeling so good that day. I jumped up, picked up a paddle and said, ‘Who wants to play?’ They all smiled, but nobody was in the mood, so I went back to my cubicle, and you know what? A couple of minutes later I heard the ping-pong ball bouncing off the table. That really hurt me. That really, really hurt. It was the same old shit all over again. I knew I couldn’t work there anymore.  I quit. I just got up and left.

“I was driving home, feeling so depressed, thinking about what I was going to do and I wasn’t paying attention when I changed lanes. Somebody blasted their horn at me. A guy pulled up beside me and yelled, ‘Who’d you blow to get your license, bitch!’, and drove off. That was Freddie. That’s how we met. At the next light, he looked at me. Then at the next light, he looked at me again. Then he kept driving beside me, looking over at me, then he smiled and yelled, ‘What’s your name?’ He scared me, ’cause usually when I cut somebody off, they just give me a look or give me the finger and drive away, and I never see them again, but this guy wasn’t letting me go. I got on the highway, and he followed me. Then he drove along beside me. I’d speed up. He’d speed up. I’d slow down. He’d slow down. He kept mouthing, ‘What’s your name?’

“I couldn’t go home now. I didn’t want this guy following me home. I kept looking over, then he gestured if I wanted to go for a drink and I thought, I better do something so I figured a bar would be a safe place—there’d be lots of people and if he tried anything I could scream. People always come running when a woman screams, right? So I nodded.  He gestured for me to follow him and we got off at the next exit.

“He was a decent looking guy, and he had a nice car, and I guess he liked me if he wanted to take me out for a drink. That was September 15 at 2 o’clock in the afternoon. It’ll be four years now coming up. After a few months, he put me here. I felt we had something—something I’d never felt for any other man.

“One time I thought I’d surprise him with a home cooked dinner. I really worked hard on it—all day. I had the table all set, and everything was ready when he came in. He looked at it, then picked up the phone and ordered pizza. He said if he wanted a home-cooked meal he’d go to his mother’s. She’s the only woman who knows how to cook what he likes. I was really upset. I said, ‘Then go and find your mama when you have a hard-on.’ I shouldn’t have said that. He slapped me.”

“He slapped you?”

“Yeah, I deserved it.”

“No one deserves that.”

“Yeah, I did.  You should never say stuff like that about a guy’s mom. I was just upset at all the work I did for his dinner, and he didn’t want it.”

A chill came over me, and I was dumbfounded. The more I heard about Freddie, the more he pissed me off. I really liked the guy but now—my temples throbbed. I regretted coming here.

I liked Gin’s simplicity and her uninhibited manner, but she was fucking up my perception of Freddie. He sounded like a needy little bully. I knew he was a control freak.  I knew he could be a dick—I’d seen it—how he talked down to people, but I just thought that was part of being the boss. Now I  questioned whether it was him or his wife that caused the friction in the marriage. Maybe he’d slapped her around a few times. My attention turned to Ginesta. Stupid Ginesta. That’s all I could think of. Stupid Ginesta. She deserves everything she gets. But strangely, my disdain for her predicament, and lying there beside her, smelling her freshness and green apples,  her hand on my stomach was giving me an erection.

“I don’t want you to feel bad for me,” she said, rubbing my stomach. “That was a long time ago. He’s never hit me since.”

“I got to go,” I said, and got off the bed.

She followed me to the door.

“I shouldn’t have told you about this stuff.”

“Too late now,” I said and put on my shoes.

“It was only that one time. He’s never slapped me since. He was real sorry that he slapped me. He cried after. He kept saying it was a reflex.”

I grabbed the doorknob.

“You’re not going to tell him I told you? Please don’t.” She grabbed me and hugged me, pressing her body hard against me.  “Don’t leave me. I like you.”

The erection came back, full-fledged. She let me go and looked down at the bulge. “Oh, my,” she said and cupped her hand on my crotch.

She put her mouth against my ear and whispered, “Do you want me to help you with that?”

 

 

Copyright©Attila Zønn 2018

 

 

 

Afternoons Get Me Down II

collection of gray scale photos

By Attila Zønn

 

“Afternoons get me down. The morning’s different; you get up, stretch and look forward to the wonderful things that might happen that day, but then if nothing wonderful happens it depresses me and by that time it’s the afternoon and you wish the afternoon would go quick.”

“You could always nap,” I said.

“No, then I wouldn’t sleep at night. I just live with my shitty afternoons and hope something wonderful happens when Freddie shows up.”

“Does it?”

“Sometimes we go out and have fun but sometimes we stay in and that’s good too. It depends on how he feels.

“When Freddie comes over it’s not just to fuck but to let off steam. He calls this his ‘oasis’, but mostly he’s here to fuck.” She made a circular motion above her head. “There isn’t a spot in this apartment where we haven’t fucked. We’ve fucked in all the corners. He likes corners for some strange reason. He likes walls. He likes to put me up against the wall. We hardly ever use the bed. He comes in, all pissed off, doesn’t say ‘hi’, grabs me, pulls off my panties and then I’m up against the wall. He doesn’t allow me any time to get in the mood. After he fucks me he’s happy. He’s relaxed. Then he talks about his day. I know everything about everybody he’s ever dealt with. Typically it’s: Ludy’s an asshole,  Lorenzo’s got an attitude but Freddie can’t do without him, the only perfect woman is his ma, and David is a ‘good guy’. He really, really likes you. And of course, his wife’s a bitch. He’s always talking about his wife. He says he doesn’t give a shit about her but he’s still hung up on her. A couple of times when he had me up against the wall he said her name. ‘Oh, Connie! Connie!’ and then he came. Yeah, he’s still hung up on her no matter what he says.”

“He says his wife’s name when he’s making love to you?”

“Sometimes.”

“How does that make you feel?”

“Like a blow up doll. But—I’m used to feeling like that. That’s the story of my life—Ginesta, the blow up doll. But it’s all my fault. I could have done better I guess but I was lazy—always looking for the easy way. I never liked school. Kids were cruel to me. I was chubby you see and they’d call me ‘fat cheeks, tubby toes’, and because I had red hair some kids called me ‘stepchild’ and slapped me for no reason.

“I was restless in school too. I had this habit of not sitting in my chair and the teacher would always say,  ‘Sit down Ginesta.’ A couple minutes later I’d be standing again, leaning on my desk, one knee on the seat and my bum out in the aisle. She’d have to say it again, ‘Sit down Ginesta,’ and then one day all the kids started chanting,  ‘Sit down Ginesta. Sit down Ginesta.’  I looked at the teacher and she was laughing. That hurt me because teachers aren’t supposed to laugh at you. I wanted to cry because teachers aren’t supposed to take sides and at that moment I felt so alone in the world that I wanted to get away. So at recess I just went home. The first years of highschool weren’t so peachy either, but by then I got a lot of sympathy from my girl friends, so it wasn’t so bad. The boys still called me names but my girlfriends defended me.

“Then one summer a miraculous thing happened—my boobs got big and I lost a lot of weight, and my abuela—”

“Abuela?”

“Grandmother. She allowed me to pick my own clothes and when I went back to school the boys who used to call me names—they all wanted to be my friend. They invited me to sit with them in the cafeteria, all the time,  so I started sitting with the boys. I liked that they liked me. But my girlfriends didn’t want to know me anymore. I guess when I was chubby I wasn’t a threat, now they said bad things behind my back. But that was okay. I felt more comfortable among the boys now. They’d buy me lunch and pop and I started thinking, Hey, this is easy.”

“It would be.”

“I know what you’re thinking,” she said. “They liked me because they wanted to fuck me. I know that but I never let them. I just made them think they could.  They probably told each other they had, and it was fun using them that way. I didn’t feel guilty. Why? Did they feel guilty after they used to call me ‘fat cheeks, tubby toes’ and ‘stepchild’? None of them ever said they were sorry. So it was kind of my pay back. When you’re in with them, you really get to know boys. They had a lot of fun with each other. I was never interested in sex with those boys. They were too much like children, even though we were the same age. Sex would have felt silly with them.

“My first time having sex was years later with an older man. We worked in the same place.  His wife just died. I felt sorry for him so I let him fuck me. It was nothing special and afterwards he cried. I don’t know why he cried. Maybe he was thinking he just cheated on his dead wife but I don’t know. Come to think of it, a lot of men are always crying around me. Even Freddie, sometimes.”

She sipped her tea and looked towards the window. “If there is such a thing as reincarnation,” she said. “I’d want to come back as a boy. Girls are complainers. They’re always judging other girls. Guys don’t do that. Even if guys have a problem and have to fight it out, it’s all in the punch and that’s that—just surface stuff. Girls aim for the heart and the brain and it doesn’t end. It keeps coming back.”

“Men can hold resentment pretty good,” I said.

“You mean like Freddie resents Ludy?”

“I wasn’t thinking of them, but that’s a good example.”

“You know why that is, right?” she said.

“Freddie’s carrying the weight of the company and Ludy just fucks around.”

“Sort of. Freddie used to install windows in high-rises. That’s what he did. Then Ludy’s father crashed into a guardrail while adjusting the volume on the radio. Ludy was in the car with him. There was a camera  on that shelf by the rear window. It came flying forward and hit Ludy’s dad in the head. Killed him right there. His dad left Ludy two hundred thousand dollars. Fred and Ludy were very close. Really they were, and Freddie kept harping on about how he wasn’t happy installing windows, breaking his back for his boss who didn’t give a shit about him, how manual labour just sucked, how if Ludy would come in with him they could buy their uncle’s import business ’cause the uncle wanted to go back to Italy and was willing to be bought out—cash along with a percentage for the next ten years. Ludy wanted a 60/40 split until he got his money back then it would be 50/50, but in the meantime, Freddie had to pay the uncle’s percentage from his share, and that’s where the problems started. Freddie agreed to the terms, he took business classes after work. Ludy did nothing. But right from the get go, the agreement was, Ludy supplied the money, and wanted no responsibilities. And Freddie agreed. That’s how much he wanted to be his own man.”

“I didn’t know that. If there’s an agreement, you have to honor the agreement.”

“Yeah, but it’s Fred’s hard work that makes the place a million dollar enterprise. Freddie diversified, not just importing Italian stuff, but all ethnicities. The good stuff, the real stuff, original, not some domestic rip-off.”

“You know a lot.”

“Freddie’s a talker after sex.”

She smiled. “You don’t have to leave after the delivery guys bring the furniture, do you?”

“I’ve got nothing to do later,” I said.

She reached out and touched my hand. “Stay then. Stay,” she said. “I like talking to you.”

“Sure,” I said. “We can go grab a coffee on the corner.” Her smile faded.

“I don’t have any money,” she said.

“It’s okay. I’ll treat.”

“But I don’t have any money,” she said. “I’ll never be able to buy you a coffee.”

“I don’t expect you to reciprocate. It’ll be like a gift. No big deal.”

“That’s not how I was brought up,” she said. “You buy me a coffee today, I have to buy you one another time. But I’ll never be able to because I don’t have any money.”

I didn’t understand. “You literally have no funds, anywhere?”

She nodded. “No bank account—nothing.”

“How do you buy food and stuff.”

“Freddie gets it for me. Whatever I need, I tell him and he gets it. I haven’t worked in two years. I used up all that money and now I have nothing.” She averted her eyes from my disbelief.

“How do you live like that?” I said.

She smiled and touched me again. “It’s not so bad. It’s not so bad. He never denies me anything.”

“Just your independence,” I said. She averted her eyes again. She shrugged. “That’s how it is,” she said. “I don’t mind.”

“What happens if you break up one day? Where will you be then?”

“Why? You think Freddie might have another girlfriend?”

“No, I’m just say—”

She reached out and put a hand on my mouth. “If you know something, I don’t want to know. I’d rather not know if he does as long as it doesn’t affect my life here. I don’t care. He’s probably been with other women while he’s been with me but I don’t want it to be true. That’s just how I feel. Why do we have to know everything? Why can’t things be left alone—unseen, unheard, unsaid?

“But that’s like putting your head in the sand.”

“What’s wrong with putting your head in the sand? When you don’t know you sleep better at night and everybody needs a good night’s sleep. That’s what I hear all the time on the commercials during the dead girl shows. Get a really good mattress, put your head in the sand and sleep like a baby.” She frowned. “I don’t know why they say that. All the babies I’ve ever seen don’t sleep for too long and they’re always crying about something. You can’t be at peace when you’re always crying about something.”

“But—”

I don’t suspect him—not lately. Not because I think Freddie loves me or anything. I don’t think he loves me. It’s just that a woman knows that if her man isn’t giving her the dick, he’s getting it somewhere else. Especially if he’s gone a lot. I wouldn’t call what we do  making love because I don’t think Freddie loves me. I know he doesn’t love me actually. He told me. ‘We have an arrangement,’ he said, ‘and to bring love into it would fuck things up.’

“There was a time when I wanted to immerse myself in his life. I was going to learn some Italian. It’s close to Spanish, sort of, and I know that.”

“You speak Spanish?”

“I’ve been speaking it all my life. My last name is Rodriguez.”

“I didn’t know,” I said. “I thought you were Irish, or someone from those parts.”

“You thought I was Irish? With a name like Ginesta? That’s a very Spanish name. My dad said he named me after a freedom fighter woman who fought against Franco.”

Actually—no. I researched Gin’s name after that night we met. She had it wrong, or her father did. The Ginesta she was named after was French—Marina Ginestà i Coloma— and she wasn’t a fighter but a reporter. Her claim to fame was a picture taken of her on a roof top in Barcelona, dressed as a rebel,  a rifle slung over her shoulder—but I wasn’t going to tell Gin that.

“So, I was trying to learn Italian,” Gin said. “And I tried out some words on Freddie. He’d come in and I’d greet him with, ‘Buon Giorno.’ He’d say, ‘Huh?’ But I kept trying until he noticed. He said, ‘Why do you want to learn the lingo?’ I told him so one day I could speak to his mother. He told me straight to my face that I was never going to meet his mother.  ‘This thing,’ he said, meaning our relationship, ‘doesn’t exist. I made a solemn vow, before God, that I was only going to fuck the woman I married, for the rest of my life, and as far as my mother knows, that’s what I’m doing.'”

Gin laughed. “Before God,” she said, and rolled her eyes.

“My father’s Spanish. He came to Canada when he was a little boy. My mother was born here but her family came from somewhere in Holland. I don’t know much about them. She died when I was real little—a car accident. I don’t remember her at all. Well, there is a thing I remember about her or maybe it’s just a dream: I’m holding my mom’s hand, walking down the sidewalk, there’s a scream, then I’m pushed, real hard onto the ground. I have that dream a lot sometimes, and I don’t like that feeling— of being pushed. It doesn’t have to be a physical push either, even just somebody trying to hurry me along. I hate it. I don’t get angry much, but that feeling really makes me see red.

“My dad has a big plastic bag full of old pictures, and when I was growing up, about once a month my dad would pull out these old pictures. They were pictures of his time in Spain, and my abuela when she was young, and her husband,  and there were pictures of my mom—she had red hair like me. Seeing the pictures of my mom always made my dad cry. He would cry and say, ‘Beautiful. Beautiful.’ There’s pictures of her holding me. He’d show me a picture and ask, ‘Do you remember?’ I didn’t but I always said I did, because it stopped his crying and made him smile. Memories, you know, are they real?”

“The more times you recall a memory, the more you alter it.”

“Yeah, I agree with that.”

 

Copyright©Attila Zønn 2018

Room R

1280px-Photo_of_Billy_the_Kid_(left)By Attila Zønn

 

 

1971

 

Miss Athlon, our teacher, had a nose that curved down at the point. If someone was casting for a movie about witches, she could easily have gotten the part. Her hair was a dirty blonde with grey strands, very straight and very long, halfway down her back.

Before she became my teacher, I had seen her lots of times, walking down the halls, her nose in a book, her long hair flowing behind her and it amazed me, with her being so focused on her book, how she didn’t bump into anyone.

We had to say present when she called our name and roll call went smoothly until she got to, “Heinz-Harald?”

A big kid with very blond, almost white short hair, sitting by the window, raised his hand and said, “Present.”

Miss Athlon stared at her list. “Is it Free-oond?” she said and looked up. “How do you pronounce your last name?”

His voice trembled when he said, “It’s Freund. But you can say it any way you want. I don’t care.”

“He doesn’t care what you call him,” the boy behind me said. “Just don’t call him late for dinner.”

We all laughed, but Heinz-Harald started to cry.

We chanted, “I don’t care. I don’t care.”

“Stop that,” Miss Athlon said.

Heinz-Harald lowered his head onto the desk, covered his face and laid down some pretty big sobs.

 

I was supposed to be in Grade 6, but Genni was in my class, and that made me wonder because he didn’t know what two plus two was. Me and Mike Webster, my best friend, used to corner him during recess and ask, “Genni, what’s two plus two?” And he’d always put on his thinking face but never knew the answer.

“It’s four,” I’d say. He’d nod. Then Mike would say, “So, what’s two plus two?” And Genni would think, but he didn’t know the answer.  Finally, one day I guess he got tired of us bugging him. Mike said, “Genni, what’s two plus two?” And Genni, without hesitating said, “I don’t got to know that outside the school. I only got to know it inside the school.”

Also, this was Room R. Everyone knew that the R in Room R stood for Retards. Everyone knew it. Ever since I could remember, since I’ve been coming to this school, Room R had this history. It scared me when I was younger. I’d quickly walk past the door because I didn’t want any of the retards jumping out of the room and ‘duhing’ in my face. And now I was in it.

 

The friends I’d had the previous school year didn’t want to know me anymore. Not even Mike Webster who had been my friend since kindergarten. No matter where I was in the schoolyard, they were always at the farthest end, and I’d call and wave to them, but they just stared at me and talked among themselves. When I ran towards them, they’d run away.

At this point, I have to explain something. During the summer I did a bad thing—I burned my house down with my parents in it. The how and why isn’t important right now. I just did it, and I guess nobody wanted to know me now that I was a killer.

And in the schoolyard, I was alone.

It’s no fun when there’s no one to play with. I won’t say I was lonely, I just had nothing to do so I spent my time watching what everybody else was doing.

There was Heinz-Harald, crying. I saw him again by the baseball diamond, crying. He was crying by the hill. Kids poked him and called him a big fat cry-baby. His sobs were  intense—hiccupy, runny nose sobs and waterfall tears.

One morning, I walked up to him before the bell rang to end recess. He was leaning against the brick wall near the doors,  talking to himself.

“Hey,” I said.  He flinched and pressed himself against the wall. He stared at me.

“Hello,” he said.

“My name’s James,” I said and stuck out my hand. He looked at my hand, then looked at me but kept his body pressed against the wall.

“What do you want?” he said.

“Nobody wants to be my friend, so I thought I’d ask you if you want to be my friend.”

He moved a little from the wall. “Nobody wants to be my friend either.”

“Maybe it’s because you’re crying all the time. Why are you crying all the time? Don’t you like school?”

He stared at the ground and said, “My mom wants my dad  to leave our house, and he can’t afford another house so he’ll have to live in a basement apartment, and he showed me where he’s going to live, and there’s a big dog there that guards the house and it’s not gonna let me see my dad, and I’ll never see my dad again.” He sobbed. “I’ll never see my dad again.”

“I know something about dogs,” I said.

He pushed away from the wall. “Really?” he said and wiped his eyes.

“Yeah. If you be my friend, I promise you’ll be able to see your dad whenever you want. Dogs are easy to control. You just have to show them who’s boss. I’ll have that dog licking your hand like that—.” And snapped my fingers.

“Really?” he kept saying, “Really?”

And that was it. From then on Heinz-Harald was glued to me.

After school, we’d walk home together, and over many walks, he told me about his family—about his mother and how she was always yelling at his dad, and after all the yelling, his dad went in the basement and punched the walls.

“I don’t know what happened,” he said, “because before, we were always happy.”

Heinz-Harald used to have a baby brother, but he got sick and died.

“His name was Hansi. He had a bad cough, and he was throwing up everything, even water, so they took him to the hospital, but he never came back home.  And for a long time, the house was quiet—I remember that—like there was nobody in the house except me, and sometimes when I’d wake up in the morning I’d go wake up Hansi so we could play, because I always used to take him out of his crib in the mornings. As soon as I walked in, he’d be waiting for me. He’d have his hands on the railing, and his legs would be jumping, and he’d call my name—well, he couldn’t talk good yet, but he called me ‘Hi’, and I used to take him out and take him to my room where I made funny faces for him, and he’d laugh so hard he couldn’t stop, and then my mom and dad would come in, and they’d start laughing. Sometimes I have dreams, and we’re all in my dreams laughing. Then I wake up and run to his room but he’s not there, and it makes me sad. Now his room is a place where we keep boxes of things we don’t need. I can still see him, but I don’t remember what he looked like.”

He said his auntie came to live with them, and she took care of Heinz-Harald for a long time because he hardly ever saw his mom.

“She was always in her room sleeping.”

For a time his dad hardly ever went to work, but when he did, he didn’t work all day anymore. He’d come home early and go into the basement where he sat all the time in a chair, and sometimes when Heinz-Harald wanted to ask him something his dad grabbed him and hugged him so strong, and they’d sit like that in the chair for a long time.

“I love my dad,” Heinz-Harald said.

 

Colton sat in the back corner of the class by the window. He had long brown hair that covered his eyes and he never said anything. He just sat there tapping a pencil, sometimes hiding his head behind the curtains. Miss Athlon asked him questions all the time, but he’d act like she wasn’t there so Miss Athlon would give up on him and go to someone else.

Miss Athlon’s favourite person in all of history was a guy named Dylan Thomas. She read us a lot of the poems Mr Thomas wrote. I didn’t understand them, but the words sounded good.

She wanted us to use our memory—”because when your memory is good, you learn more,” she said—and she told us, “The easiest way to remember something is to put it in a rhyme.”

“I’m a  poet,” she said, “and I’m going to teach you how to rhyme.” She said people who like poetry are gentle and will never get in trouble. And to write poetry, you don’t need to be very smart, just observant. And people who write poetry are lovers, not fighters so they will always be happy.

So she told us we had to write a poem, about anything we wanted, and she gave us a week to do it. I went to the library, and Sue helped me find a book on poetry, and as I read, I realized Miss Athlon was a liar because a poem doesn’t have to rhyme, which made me feel better. I read that book all the way through, and I learned some new words, and one night as I lay in my room in the dark, words came to me.

Drip…drip…drip…

Encased in echo,

Contained in darkness

Splashing, something slithers

Slithering, something surfaces

—what is it?!

A rat shrieks!

Surprise!!

Something submerges….satisfied

So when the day came, I was ready. Miss Athlon asked, “Who wants to start?”

I raised my hand—but she picked Colton.

We all looked back at him.

He looked at all of us looking at him and slid lower in his seat.

“Come to the front, Colton,” she said.

Colton stared at his pencil and tapped the rubber end on the desk.

“I’m waiting,” she said.

“I don’t have one,” he said. That was that I thought, and raised my hand again because I had one. But Miss Athlon kept looking at him.

“I’m not going to be your babysitter,” she said. “You’re going to learn something in this class young man.”

“Rhyming is stupid,” he said. “It isn’t real talk. Poets are stupid.”

“Get up here,” she said.

Colton didn’t move.

“Colton?”

Then, like someone  lit a fire under his seat, he sat up and yelled, “Why are you bothering me?”

“You’re going  to participate in this class.”

“Why?  I don’t want to. I just want to sit here. Leave me alone! I didn’t do anything to you! Leave me alone. You’re such a—such a fuckin’ bitch!”

Miss Athlon seemed to fly down the aisle towards Colton and slapped his face, hard—I felt it—and made him cry, then grabbed him by the back of his shirt and pulled him out from behind the desk, out the door and into the hall. As the door slowly closed, we heard Colton’s voice echo in the hall, crying out, “Bitch! Bitch! Bitch!” And then it was quiet.

We stared at each other.

They were gone a long time, and when Miss Athlon came back, Colton wasn’t with her. She told us to sit quietly and do whatever we wanted. Then she sat behind her desk for the rest of the afternoon, arms folded and looked out the window.

The next day Colton was back, sitting at his desk, tapping his pencil and hiding his face behind the curtains, but we had a new teacher—Sue, the Chinese girl, who helped me find that poetry book in the library.

“Due to extenuating circumstances,” she said. “Miss Athlon will no longer be your teacher. I’m going to supervise for a couple of days. What do you want to do?”

No one offered any suggestions.

“I’ve just finished reading this really neat book,” she said.  “Do you want me to tell you about it?”

All the girls nodded.

Sue said the book was about a twelve-year-old girl and her mother, and they were living in a rented house where the girl finds an Ouija board in the basement and starts playing with it.

“And you know what happens?” Sue said, with her eyes wide and a big smile.

We all shook our heads.

“She gets possessed by the devil!”

She told us there was this innocent girl named Regan—she was about our age—and how with the Ouija board she called up the devil, who took hold of her body, and the devil twisted and changed her body and made her swear and do disgusting things to her mother. How she killed her mother’s friend by pushing him out a window—Sue was very good at describing stuff.

When Sue finished, Agnes, who had a face like she was always worried about something,  raised her hand and stood up.

In a trembling voice, she said, “Can that really happen? ‘Cause my sister and me have a Ouija board, and we play it all the time.” Agnes cried that she hadn’t wanted to play with it, that it was all her big sister’s fault—her sister made her do it.

Sue rushed towards her and held Agnes.  “It’s just a made up story, it’s not real, but it can be fun to read if you like that stuff,” Sue said.

“Don’t be scared. I didn’t mean to scare you. At the end of the story, God wins. God wins.” Telling Agnes that God won didn’t stop Agnes from wailing, which made me feel sick a little bit.

“Okay,” Sue said and addressed all of us. “There’s no need to be afraid because there’s no such a thing as the devil. It’s just a fantasy story.”

 

 

On the third day, we came into class, and there was a young woman standing behind Miss Athlon’s desk. She was smaller than Miss Athlon, with sandy coloured hair and wore sunglasses. I don’t know why she wore sunglasses because it wasn’t all that bright in the classroom.

She stood so still, but her head moved as if she was looking at every kid as we walked in. When I saw her name on the blackboard, I thought that our new teacher didn’t know how to spell. She’d misspelt the word, Miss.

After we’d sat down, she said, “Good morning. My name,”— she pointed to the blackboard—“is Ms Goldring.” She had the same last name as our principal.

 

We went to find Heinz-Harald’s dad on Saturday. He didn’t live too far from Heinz-Harald, in a house on Sweeney Drive, and just as Heinz-Harald had said there was a big tan German Shepherd tied up on the driveway.  It was crouched when we first saw it, but when we got closer, it stood up and stared at us. I don’t blame Heinz-Harald for being scared— this dog looked like it would bite our heads off.

We stopped just before the driveway.

“What are you going to do?”  Heinz-Harald said.

It stood so still—watching us. I’d read about that. Some predators freeze on the spot, till their prey moves, and then they attack,  quick as lightning. I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I had to do something in front of Heinz-Harald, or after all  I’d said,  I’d look like a phoney.

I took a step onto the driveway, expecting it to bark and get all crazy at us but it just lowered its head and wagged its tail. A woman came out the front door.

“It’s okay boys,” she called out. “He doesn’t bite.” She came down some steps.

She was a pretty woman, blonde haired, who didn’t look too young or too old.

“King’s just a big pussy cat,” she said when we got closer. “I keep him tied up so he doesn’t run off. He’ll go with anybody. You want to pet him? He’d like that.”

I touched King on the shoulder. His coat felt bristly. Heinz-Harald stroked King on the head then laughed and looked at me when King licked his hand. He laughed so hard like he couldn’t control himself.

“I’m Janice,” the woman said. “Are you here to see Karl?”

I nodded.

“Then you must be Heinz-Harald,” she said looking at me.

“No, that’s Heinz-Harald,” I said pointing to Heinz-Harald.

“Well, Karl’s out back. Just go through the gate, down the steps and knock on the door.”

Heinz-Harald’s father wasn’t big, and that surprised me because I was expecting somebody big and chunky like Heinz-Harald only older.  His dad was thin, and his eyes looked tired but he was happy to see Heinz-Harald, and he seemed to like me. There were boxes all over the place but he cleared some away, and we sat at a table. He poured us each a glass of milk and put a package of Dad’s oatmeal cookies at the centre of the table.

After we ate the cookies, he showed Heinz-Harald where his room was. Heinz-Harald bounced his bum on the bed and clapped his hands. The mattress creaked. His Dad told him he could come over any time he wanted, and he could bring as many friends as he wanted.

“James is my only friend right now,” Heinz-Harald said. His dad smiled at me.

 

Our library was annexed from the main part of the school, which was two storey. The library roof was lower, maybe fourteen feet from the ground. During recess, Colton spent all his time charging the library wall, run up a few steps then flip backwards onto his feet. He was very good at it. Every time he got a little bit higher.

“What’s he trying to do?” Heinz-Harald said.

I shrugged.

One recess,   Heinz-Harald pointed up and said, “Look.”  I looked at where he pointed and saw Colton on top of the library roof. As soon as we saw him, other kids saw him, then Sue, who was the yard monitor sometimes,  saw him. She ran into the school. A few minutes later Mr. Goldring came rushing out with Mr. Wu the janitor, with Sue running behind them.

“Oh, my God,”  Mr. Goldring said.

“Wha’ a hell?”  Mr. Wu said, and ran back into the school.

Mr. Goldring pointed at Colton. “You,” he said. “Don’t move. Stay back.”

Mr. Wu returned with an extension ladder. Mr. Goldring helped him extend it and prop it beyond the top of the roof.  Mr. Wu climbed this very wobbly ladder while Mr. Goldring held it steady at the bottom. I looked up again, but I didn’t see Colton anymore. Mr. Wu kept climbing, and the ladder kept flexing. Then the next thing I knew, Colton was standing beside us.

“Wha’ a hell?”  Mr. Wu said when he got to the top. He looked down at Mr.Goldring, then looked in our direction.

Mr. Goldring’s face turned red when he saw Colton back on the ground. After Mr. Wu got back to the ground, Mr. Goldring came over and grabbed Colton by the back of the shirt and marched him into the school.

“You!”  Mr. Wu called after Colton. “No more go up on roof!”

 

That day after school, we saw Colton on the sidewalk ahead of us.

I said to Heinz-Harald, “Do you want Colton to be our friend?”

“I don’t know,” Heinz-Harald said. “He called Miss Athlon that bad name, and now she’s gone.” Colton walked like he was trying to step on all the cracks in the sidewalk. We came up behind him, and I said, “Colton!” He jumped and stepped off the sidewalk.

“I’m James,” I said.  “This is Heinz-Harald. We’d like to be your friends.”  Colton looked back and forth from me to Heinz-Harald but didn’t say anything. He walked away from us down the hill.

In school the next day, I saw him looking at us, and then after school, he stood by the exit, and when we walked up, he stepped forward and said, “Okay.” And that was that. Now there was three of us.

 

Listening to Colton talk, you knew right away he didn’t like girls. I don’t remember how we ever got on the topic, but it started with him saying, “I’m surrounded by bitches.”

He had an older sister, and she was a “rotten bitch”. His mother was a “crazy bitch”, and his Nana, at whose house they all lived, was the “biggest bitch” of them all because she kept all the money in her purse.

Colton’s mother didn’t work. She hurt her back years ago, and every month the mailman brought her a cheque in a beige envelope. But sometimes she had no money when on Friday evenings she changed her face and her hair and wore her mini-skirt and pointy shoes with skinny high heels. Then she’d stand in the kitchen waiting for his Nana to give her money, and his Nana always gave her ten dollars, and his mom always smiled at that because it wasn’t enough money, and his Nana always shook her head and said, “I can’t keep doing this,” but she always reached into her purse and gave his mom more money. And it used to be that after his mom got the money, she’d come over to Colton and plant a big red lip kiss on his cheek, then the taxi would come, his mom got in the back seat, and she’d be gone. Colton didn’t like the feel of lipstick on his cheek, so he never stood in the kitchen anymore on Friday evenings.

Late on those Friday nights, Colton would wake up because the light was on in the hall, and he’d go into the bathroom to find his mom on her knees bent over the toilette, throwing up, while his Nana stood over her in her nightgown,  saying, “What’s wrong with you?” She had two growing children and was setting a bad example, and when was she going to grow up and take responsibility? Colton’s Nana would say, “I don’t know how much longer I’m going to put up with this!” Sometimes his mom would respond with words that didn’t make sense like, “The woman at 5, wants more coffee and homefries.” Then his Nana would notice Colton at the door and tell him not to worry, to go back to bed. Sometimes his mom would lift her head out from the toilette and look at him, and her eyes were like the eyes of a monster.

He hated his sister, who had a different father. When she came home on Sunday night on those weekends when she went with her dad, she’d always come find Colton even though Colton didn’t want to see her, and show off the things her dad had bought for her and she’d tell him, “My dad really loves me.”

Colton’s Nana had a restaurant where they served breakfast and lunch and one Saturday morning Colton took us there. At the back of the building, there was a steel door without a handle, but Colton slid his fingers down at the bottom and pulled the door open. We walked through a storage room and into the kitchen. There was a big woman in a purple dress with her back to us at a dish washing machine. Colton walked up to her and tugged on her dress. She turned, and her face lit up.

“Colton!” she said and picked him up off the floor in a big hug and made fart noises on his neck. Then she kissed him twice on the cheek and put him down.

“Nana, I brought my friends,” he said and pointed to us.

“Friends?” She looked surprised, and stared at us for a few seconds then said, “Your friends! Of course. Your friends. Hello, Colton’s friends. Are you boys hungry?” Heinz-Harald nodded. “Then let’s get you fed.”

A door to our right swung open, and a pretty young woman with a pony-tail walked in carrying a small pad.

“Look, Tina,”  Colton’s Nana said. “Colton’s’s brought his friends. And they’re hungry.”

The young woman came over and put her arm around Colton and gave him a little shake. “We know how to take care of Colton’s friends don’t we Nana?” she said. She ripped a sheet off the pad and handed it to Colton’s Nana.

“Follow me guys,” she said.

We followed her to a table in the corner of the kitchen while Colton’s Nana went to talk to a man dressed in white by the grill. There were four chairs at the table, and I sat with Heinz-Harald while Colton sat across from us with the young woman.

“How’s your mom this morning?” she asked Colton. He shrugged. She looked over at us and smiled. “Are you guys all in the same class?” Heinz-Harald nodded.  “Aren’t you going to introduce us?” she said to Colton.

“This is James,” he said pointing to me, “and Heinz-Harald.”

“I’m Tina,” she said. “I’m Colton’s favourite aunt.” She laughed and ruffled Colton’s hair.

 

I really liked Colton’s aunt.  When she left to get our food, I said to Colton, “You’re aunt’s really pretty.” He looked at me and frowned. “Yeah, she’s nice.”

He said Tina was his mom’s younger sister. If anything ever happened to his Nana, Tina would get the restaurant on account of Colton’s mom didn’t have her head screwed on right.

“Where’s your dad?” Heinz-Harald said.

“He’s dead,” Colton said. “He died in the war.”

“Which war?”

“The big one.”

“World War II?”

Colton gave us a blank look. “Yeah, that one.”

“My Opa was in that war,” Heinz-Harald said. “My dad said when he got home my Opa was a hero, but over here he would have been the enemy.”

“Maybe your Opa killed Colton’s dad,” I said.

Heinz-Harald looked at me. His eyes widened.

“How can that be?” he said, turning back to Colton who stared down at the table.

“If your dad died in World War II, how could he have been alive to kiss your mom and have you?”

“Here you go guys,” Tina said, setting three heaping plates on the table. “Burgers all around.”

It was the best burger I’d ever had. Heinz-Harald was done before I was halfway through mine. Colton didn’t eat much.

 

“I was wrong which war my dad died in,”  Colton said later when we were walking to Mitch’s to get gum and candy. “It wasn’t World War II. It was Vietnam. Yeah, my dad died in Vietnam.”

“That’s going on now,” Heinz-Harald said. “Me and my dad watch the news, and there’s a lot of Vietnam on the news. I asked my dad why he never went to Vietnam? He said it’s an American war. Canada isn’t in it. So your dad must have been American.”

Colton gave us a blank look. “Yeah, that’s what he was. From Hollywood. He used to be a drummer. He played the drums for Sonny and Cher.”

 

We walked into class and found Ms Goldring sitting at her desk reading a book. When we were all seated, she flipped the book closed, sighed and stood up.

“Well, none of you are going to college,” she said. “But you can still learn something, or you can all be stupid the rest of your lives and let smarter people take advantage of you.”

I didn’t want to be stupid the rest of my life, so I listened real hard to what she was going to say.

“In your lives,” she said, “there’ll be people who won’t like you. They won’t like you for many reasons—because of how you look, how you talk, what you do, what you have, what you don’t have and—she paused and breathed in—because of your ancestry. They’ll call you names, and depending on where your family comes from in the world, there’s a bad name that goes with it. For example: if you come from England, you’re a limey, Irish, you’re a mick, Italian, you’re a wop, German, kraut, Spanish, spic, Jewish, kike. I’ve been called a kike many times, but I’ve never let it bother me.”

She went to the blackboard and wrote all these bad names down: limey, frog, kraut, spic, wop, mick, paki, chink, nip, towelhead and nigger. She circled nigger twice then stood back to look at it.

“This one,” she said tapping the word with her chalk. “This one can have many bad meanings. It can be about how you look, how you work, what you’re worth, and how you’ve been stepped on and enslaved.”

From the back of the class Colton said, “Woman is the nigger of the world.”

Ms Goldring turned from the blackboard. “Pardon?”

“That’s a song,” Colton said,” by John Lennon. He’s a Beatle.”

“I know who John Lennon is,” she said and stared at Colton for a few seconds.

“Anyways, they’re only words, they’re not sticks or stones, or bullets, and it’s up to you whether you get upset. If somebody doesn’t like you, you shouldn’t be upset because it’s not your fault. You can’t make people like you if they don’t want to. Just turn around and walk away. That’s the best thing, because if you get upset, then they win. That’s what people who hate other people want. They want you to fight back so they can hit you harder and that makes them feel justified to hate you.”

 

Copyright©Attila Zønn 2018

Tomatoes

 

 

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By Attila Zønn

 

I went to work for Saverio, in his grocery store. It was a small place, very tight, on Danforth. He had bread and a deli and a butcher counter, fruits, vegetables and other product familiar to the Italian taste. I work hard there. I make sure everything is kept fresh and in order.

One day after many months of working there, Saverio come to me. He say, “Lorenzo, the customers is complaining.”

Oh, Oh, I think. I’m in big trouble.

“They say the tomatoes is too soft.”

“It’s impossible,” I say. “When I put them out they are  fresh and firm.”

“I know, I know,” he say. “I’m not questioning your work. I think…some of the customers is squeeze the tomatoes. Do me a favour. Keep you eyes open. If you see the customers squeeze the tomatoes, you go to them, and in a nice voice say, ‘Please—do not squeeze the tomatoes.’  Can you do this for me?”

Of course, I will do it.

English was still new to me, but I know what each word of that sentence mean. Now, I must deliver it effectively and I think: Where should I put the emphasis?

Should it be please, do not squeeze the tomatoes?

Or please, do not squeeze the tomatoes?

Or please, do not squeeze the tomatoes?

I decide to put the emphasis on squeeze. Oh! I was so proud of this sentence!

Saverio have a son. A teenage boy name of Jimmy. He try to help me with my English, and also make me familiar to the Canadian culture, which to me,  was a cold culture but one I must embrace to make a future in this country.

Jimmy sit with me while I have my lunch in the basement of the store and we talk. He tell me about how I should always look people in the eyes and let them know that just because I am a foreigner, they cannot step on me.

Okay, good advise.

He say to me, “If anybody ever give you a hard time, tell them to fuck off.”

“But Jimmy,” I say, ” is not fuck off  like va fa’ in culo? I don’t think that’s nice to say.”

“No. No,” he say. “It’s not as bad. Everybody in Canada use this expression.  It’s…how you win an argument.”

I like this kid because he want to help me all the time.

In the afternoon, I put out the apples. I try to be artistic with the display— make sure all the stems of the apple face the same way. I did not need to do this, but that is who I am.

There is a heavy woman standing by the tomatoes. She pick up one tomato, squeeze, put to her nose then put back on the pile, pick up another one, squeeze, put to her nose and put back on the pile.

I must stop this! I quickly go to her and I say, “Please, do not squeeze the tomatoes.”

“Yappa, yappa, yappa,” she talk to me. She talk so fast I don’t understand too much. I hear the word fresh a lot.

“Please,” I say. “Do not squeeze the tomatoes.”

“Yappa, yappa.”

I don’t have time for this.  I have potatoes to bring up from the basement. I lean in to her and in her face I say as nice as I can, “Please fuck off.”

It was as if the words push her back. Her face turn red, her eyes bulge from her head, she gasp, “Well!” And fly from the store like the wind.

Saverio quickly come from behind the butcher counter.

“Lorenzo,” he say. “What’s a matter? You cannot swear at the customers!” At that moment I feel like an idiot because over his shoulder I see Jimmy standing in the doorway, laughing and pointing at me.

A few days later, I come up behind Jimmy and grab him by the collar.

“You want to fool me?” I say. I put my hand in my pocket and push my finger out. “You see this?” I say. “If you fool me again, I will cut you a new mouth.”

From that day, I never see Jimmy again at the store.

Since I start working for Saverio, I think his wife don’t like me. She never smile and she’s always looking at me. Sometimes I am working and I feel a burn on my neck. I turn around and from across the store I see her eyes on me. I smile and nod,  always try to make a good impression but she never respond. I work hard and quick, but she never talk to me—not even “good morning”. Finally, I start to think: don’t worry about her. As long as Saverio like my work, I do not need his wife’s approval.

Every Thursday afternoon, Saverio go to his bookkeeper, and when he come back he pay everybody. One Thursday afternoon I am in the basement sorting the sacks of potatoes and onions. I am concentrating on my task, bent over working. Somebody touch my ass! I jump, look behind me—there is Saverio’s wife, a big smile on her face.

“Signora, what are you doing?” I say.

“You are a beautiful boy,” she say, and stretch out her arms. “I want to hold you against my breasts.”

She try to grab me. I back away. “Please come to me,” she say. She tell me I can have all of her. I can put my cock in her ass if I want.

She make a lunge for me.

My heart is racing as I  jump all over the sacks of potatoes and onions trying to get away from her.  I reach the steps and take them two at a time, up and out of the store.

Saverio drive up in his car. He call my name but I keep going.

Now I am ruined, I think. I cannot go back. How do I explain to Saverio why I leave the store? I cannot tell him that his wife want me in her bed. That is not a thing one man tells to another man.

 

Copyright©Attila Zønn 2018