Room R

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! You’re always picking on me. 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 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 twelve 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 came back 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 between me and 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.

His 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? She’d 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

 

 

tomatoes-vegetables-red-delicious-68133.jpeg

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

In The Beginnin’…

lascaux-2By Attila Zønn

 

 

(It’s a usual Wednesday evening at Old Man Steve More’s house. In his Southwest motif living room, the gathered are:

—Lilah, a heavy middle-aged woman who gets around on a mobility scooter. She’s a brilliant artist who’s sketches and watercolours are displayed in the atrium and halls of the  Community Centre. People want to buy her work but she refuses to sell because the income would interfere with her welfare cheque.

— Doreen, her friend, who accompanies Lilah’s travels and is there in case Lilah gets stuck.

—Erro, a confused 17 year old who’s become  Old Man Steve’s protégé.

— JeFree, a Rastafarian gentleman.

—Bolo, Steve’s short-haired Golden Lab, who lies on a Navajo rug beside Steve’s La-Z-Boy.)

 

Lilah said, “I want to discuss the possibility that space aliens came to planet Earth, had sexual relations with the apes and that’s how humans came to be. How about we discuss that tonight?”

What followed was the usual silence—a moment to digest the topic and decide whether it should be considered or ridiculed.

JeFree turned to Old Man Steve and said, “I no want talk about no monkey.”

“I didn’t say monkey,” Lilah said, “I said apes. I really want to discuss the origins of man. That ape business—that’s just something I saw on TV the other night. I’ve always wondered where we came from. I think the hypothesis that space aliens created us is an interesting concept. Why not? Haven’t you ever wondered? I mean, why are we here? I don’t have a problem knowing  we came from apes.”

“Why spaceman come to Earth?” JeFree said.

“They were looking for gold.”

“Why spaceman need gold?”

“Well, I’m not saying I believe it, but the story goes, there’s this planet, out there somewhere. It has a 3,600-year orbit. That’s why we can’t see it because it only comes around every 3,600 years. Coincidentally—though they were saying it’s not a coincidence—all of man’s greatest achievements have a 3,600-year interval.”

JeFree smiled and shook his head. “Typical. The arrogance of modern man. Them think ancient man too stupid to create a wheel or make a structure of block.”

“They didn’t say anything about wheels,” Lilah said, “but if you’ll let me finish… On their planet, the atmosphere is supposedly decaying. And it happened there was this big battle between two kings and the king that lost, he got banished into outer space where after a while he discovered the planet Earth, where he found gold and for some reason gold is what they needed to save their atmosphere, so now that he’s found the gold he goes back as a hero, because he can save the planet, all is forgiven, and the king of the planet sends him on a mission back to Earth with a few fellows to mine the gold but these other fellows, freed from the clutches of a king that nobody really likes, had a high opinion of themselves, and didn’t want to do all that hard work of digging and mining so they looked around and saw this female ape and…so originally we were created as slaves to mine the gold, but they created us so terribly sexed up that we multiplied so fast they couldn’t control us anymore.”

Doreen stopped knitting. “I saw that show,” she said. “There’s that place in Peru where they used to land.”

“How can gold save an atmosphere?” JeFree said. “They not enough gold to do anything except shine before greedy eyes. When I hear talk of gold, I know, that story?— a human creation.” He turned to Doreen. “And that what you talk about, in Peru? Them called the Nazca line.  But ask yo’ self. If—if, spaceman come, them traverse astronomical distance and find this speck, this Earth. The Earth not even a drop in the vast ocean of the universe, yet them find it. Why, why them need markings on the ground—a runway? So they can land? It laughable. They no proof spaceman ever come to this world. They only pseudo-proof. Why, with they technology them only build monument o’ stone? If they been arrivin’ since ancient time, why them need hide they presence? Think about it. They afraid of 21st-century man? Do a grown man fear a baby? Do a human fear an ant? With all they power, with all they resource? Them navigate round the universe, yet them crash in the desert, them crash in the wood? It laughable.”

He turned to Old Man Steve. “It laughable.”

“In Star Trek they had a non-interference policy,” Doreen said.

JeFree laughed. “Yeah, but them interfere all the time.”

“I’m not saying I believe it,” Lilah said. “What do you think about where we came from? Do you think we go back to Adam and Eve? Do you think we were made from mud? At least this theory sounds scientific. Where do you stand on this topic, or are you here to shoot down everything everybody says, like always?”

“I hold a theory. I not always contrary to ever’thing”

“Let’s hear it, or are you afraid we’ll shoot you down?”

JeFree reached for his bottle of water on the coffee table and took a sip. He set it down and leaned back on the couch. He said, “Human come from one source. Long ago, human come from…ancient hermaphrodite.”

He leaned forward again and took a slow drink from his bottle, watching the reaction on all their faces.

“Where did the hermaphrodite come from?” Erro said.

“What’s a hermaphrodite? Is that like a plant?” Doreen said. “Are you saying humans came from plants?”

“Where hermaphrodite come from, no matter. Only that it exist, matter.”

“Who created the hermaphrodite?” Erro said.

“No one. The hermaphrodite always was.”

“Come on now,” Lilah said. “How can something have always been? It must have had a beginning. Things can’t always have been, unless, they’re supernatural.”

“No, the hermaphrodite natural.”

“I have to disagree,” Doreen said. “Something that’s always been must be magical. There’s no argument against that. How can you say that it was natural? That’s unbelievable. That thing must have been supernatural. That makes more sense.”

“No.”

“What you’re saying makes no sense,” Lilah said. “Everything must have a beginning.”

“Alright… t’was a magical hermaphrodite. No, it was…it was a magical flying hermaphrodite. It fly ’round for aeon. Then, one day it say, ‘I bored, I lonely’. And that day? Human was create.”

“How can one creature create life by itself?” Doreen said.

JeFree put up his hands. “I give the facts. I not here to give you imagination.”

“Sure,” Lilah said nodding her head, “When was this supposed to have happened?”

“Zero time.”

“And when was that?”

“In the beginnin’.”

Doreen said to Lilah, “It must have been after the dinosaurs.” She turned to JeFree and said, “Was it after the time of the dinosaurs?”

“I not know when it was. What ever come before human no matter anyway. Only human time matter. Only human conscious of time.”

Lilah followed the faces around the room. “Steve?” Old Man Steve sat slouched in his La-Z-Boy, holding a bottle of beer. “Anything’s possible,” he said. “Discuss.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Lilah said. “That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. You can’t be serious?”

JeFree smirked.

“I knew it,” she said. “Why do you come here? You’re such a cynic about everything. You take all the fun out of our discussions. Steve, why does he come here?”

“I ridiculous? Spaceman come to earth and fornicate with monkey? That not ridiculous?”

“Why do you keep saying monkey?”

“Cause it all monkey business to me.”

“It’s more plausible than a flying he-she populating the world. Do you think in this vast universe we’re the only intelligent life? At least you can see the similarity between humans and apes. They say the only difference between humans and chimps is like… 2%.”

“Them say, the difference only 1.2%. Ask yo’self: How? What chimp do? Chimp, sit it tree, eat banana. What chimp know? Chimp know: eat, def’cate, fornicate. Do a chimp, know, it a chimp? Do a chimp swing from tree to tree thinkin’ it a happy chimp and life is good?”

“Maybe they do,” Doreen said. “Who can really say?”

JeFree shook his head.

“When it rain, human get out of the rain. Chimp sit in tree and get wet. Human cold? Human create shelter. Chimp cold? Chimp freeze! Chimp die! What great culture chimp got? Human create music, them create paintin’, them write poem, them think deep thought. Human can cure they self. Them take organ from dead body and put in another so that body can live. Sometime,” —he shrugged— “human no like each other—understandable—so them discuss they differences. Chimp no like you?— Chimp throw feces. Chimp tear your face off. Of all the beast in the world only human know it was born and it gone die. All this, the difference only 1.2%?” He shook his head. “It a hoax. I know, science do lotta good for mankind, but sometime science lie. Science manipulate the masses. Why? So human no pollute. So human no devour ever thing and encroach upon ever place them see. It a commendable hoax. I no want knock it. What better way them create compassion for the lower beast than to feign kinship.”

“I think there’s something to it,” Doreen said, nodding her head. “I saw this show and chimpanzees have better memories than humans.”

JeFree rolled his eyes.

“Ask yourself: What great worry cloud chimp mind? Chimp worry about life? Chimp got a mortgage? Chimp fight with the girlfriend? The human mind full of distraction. Chimp only want treat. Anyway, this spaceman shit? It no different than all the other space god shit. It all about modern man create modern god. Ancient god on mountain give way to god in spaceship. It all the same. It no different than believe in the god of Olympus.”

“The gods of Olympus are fake,” Doreen said. “Everybody knows that but those gods are fun aren’t they? Neptune, Mercury, Oedipus, Jupiter, Jason and the Argonauts. Fun stories. I love those old myth stories. My favorite Greek god is Zeus. He was the king of the gods.”

“Zeus?” JeFree said. “You make a favorite of Zeus? No talk about Zeus. Zeus? The most prolific serial rapist in all mythology?  Zeus, the great deceiver? Him change shape many time to put his seed in woman. Zeus a great rascal. Him hide in the bush all the time. Him rape lotta wood nymph.”

“I think you’re confusing Zeus with Pan,” said Lilah. “The fellow that was half goat.”

“I not confusing nothing with no one. Let me tell you how the god thing begin. It begin with the new awareness of primitive man. Envision—after a meal of mammoth, with all that good fat surging in they veins, them feel heavy, lie on the grass, look up and see the stars a twinklin’, and them wonder— what it all about? Them see the big moon shinin’ down and wonder—what it all about? As they lying there, pickin’ they teeth with a sliver of wood, primitive man want to know the answer to the moon and the stars, them want to know why the sun come up, why it rain, why them can’t see the wind but feel it, why they born, why they die, but primitive man hold a primitive mind. So them create they own answer. Them create gods in they own image. Them first gods was nature gods because primitive man surrounded by nature…”

 

ao32

 

Copyright©Attila Zønn 2018

Afternoons Get Me Down

food-lemon.jpgby 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.

When Gin opened the door, 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. She wore red plaid pyjama bottoms and a yellow T-shirt.

“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 is 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 sometimes wonder 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.”

“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 and hugged me tight.

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

 

Gin 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 that I’ve never had nice guys in my life,” she said. “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.”

“You’re not happy with your life?”

She shrugged. “It’s a life. I’m almost thirty. 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 all men together,” 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.  And if you complain too much and all the time, people will stop listening anyways.”

 

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. 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. 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. They found him walking in the downtown. He does not want to come 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 stood 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 carried 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