Alex. part five

By Attila Zønn


The back door was open.

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

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

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

Mama jumped when she saw Alex.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mama frowned. “What does that mean?”

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

“Did you tell him this?”

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

“What do you mean Tata?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mama shook her head.

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

“He has two heads,” Mama said.

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


©Attila Zønn 2017

Alex. part four

By Attila Zønn


Her name was Jennifer. She was a plump woman,  blonde haired, younger than Mama and Tata. She was tonight’s guest speaker. She was what everyone was calling an ab-duct-ee. They were saying she had experienced multiple encounters of the third kind. Alex didn’t know what this all meant, but it was part of Tata’s new beginning—his attempt for the family to shed abstract transparencies.

Alex had looked up those two words because he wanted to use them, and Tata had always told him if he didn’t know what a word meant he should not use it until he knew.

Tata said, “If you use the wrong word you end up looking like a fool.”

So Alex looked up abstract, but it had several definitions, which confused Alex more, and transparencies, which came from transparent and that meant see through. So Tata had said we should stop believing in the many things that we can see through? Maybe one day Alex would understand what this all meant.

Tonight was the second meeting Alex and Mama and Tata had been too. The first Saturday night nothing much happened. People were just standing around talking, getting to know some new faces. Little groups of three or four people formed about the room. There was a lot of nodding and drinking coffee and eating cookies and cakes that had been laid out on a table at the side of the room. The only other kid there was Jonah, and he kept looking over at Alex.

That first night Mama didn’t bring any food—she didn’t know—but tonight she brought her delicious meatballs, and everyone was eating them—poking toothpicks in them and going on like it was the greatest food they’d ever had, and they wanted the recipe. And this made Mama smile.

They called themselves the Starlight Society. Alex counted nineteen people—men and women. They met every Saturday night in the back room of a vacant store not far from the Busy Bee where Mama and Alex bought groceries. The store had a paper sign on its glass door—Unit 51, and it was in-between Farzhad’s Discount Shoe Emporium and a take out place called Hot Wings & Other Hot Things. The inside of Unit 51 smelled like roasted chicken.

Tonight  Jennifer was going to speak about her encounters.

The people sat down and Jennifer began:

“Ever since I was nine years old I’ve felt special. Now that may sound egotistical, even arrogant, but I realized later, in my twenties, why I had these feelings. I had been chosen. I don’t know why they picked me. That doesn’t matter. It’s beyond me to understand. In my twenties I suffered from severe migraines. It was so bad that I’d be immobilized for days. I just couldn’t function. I lost my job, lost all my friends. I lost my will to want to live. You could say I hit rock bottom in my life and it’s a cold hard place down there I’ll tell you. I found solace in food. That’s why I look the way I do today. But don’t pity me. I’m comfortable now. This is who I really am. I enjoy everything about my life and have no regrets.” She paused. “Back then I went to see a doctor who referred me to another doctor—a great man, who hypnotized me. There he is.” She pointed to the back of the room.  “Stand up Dad. Let them see you.” An old man wearing a gray hat stood up and waved.

“I don’t know where I’d be without him. He’s become my second dad. He saved me,” Jennifer said, her voice wavering. “I found out there was nothing wrong with me. I was perfectly, physically fine. They had made me this way.”

The lights went out and a slideshow began: The first shot was of the front of a house. “This is the house I grew up in,” Jennifer said. The house she still lived in, that had been left to her when her parents suddenly died many years ago while on vacation.

“You go away to relax and have fun,” she said. “And you end up dying. How useless is that?” She stood there silent for a few minutes, her silhouette black against the pictures of her house.

“Dad and I had an argument before they left. He wanted me to go with them. He said it would help me. He couldn’t understand why I couldn’t snap out of what was troubling my life. He wanted me to get over it. He’d say to me many times you’re a big girl now, move on. He didn’t know how hard it was. He didn’t know what it was all about. I didn’t know what it was all about.”

She clicked to the next picture—a smiling man standing by a BBQ. “This was my father.” Another click—a woman standing by the side of a blue car.

“My mother.”

One more click and it was a picture of a young girl in pigtails, missing her front teeth, smiling big into the camera.

“That’s me,” she said. “Before it all began.”

Now there was a shot of the back of the house.

“The window on the left,” she said, “that’s my room. One night when I was nine years old, a green, but not unpleasant ray of light, came into my room through that window. And just as soon as I saw the light I was aware of three figures standing beside my bed. They weren’t very tall, and they were wearing these suits that sparkled different colors one after another, and that’s when I felt as if someone was sitting on my chest and I was losing my breath and I wanted to scream but only squeaks came out, and then I was floating out of my bed, going through the window and I was going up, up into a large disk of green light.”

Jennifer’s silhouette reached  towards the ceiling. People murmured. Alex looked over at Tata who was sitting on the edge of his seat, his eyes wide and looking straight ahead. Mama was sitting back in her chair, looking down at the floor.

“I suddenly found myself lying on a table in an operating theater. I was aware of movement around me but I couldn’t see anyone because a powerful overhead white light was blinding me. I was paralyzed but I could feel things being inserted in my ears, my mouth and other parts that I won’t mention because I notice there are children here tonight. And from one of these places that I can’t mention they took something from me. I know what they took because I can never have children.”

A collective gasp came from the people sitting in the dark.

“Then suddenly, like when your ears pop clear after an airplane ride, I could understand what they were saying, and it struck me with a terrible fear.  They were finished with me and I was of no use. They wanted to stop my heart.  A voice said, ‘That is the protocol. Proceed.'” Jennifer paused again. “I thought I was going to die. Have you ever felt like you were going to die?  I kept praying God please help me, God please help me. The overhead light dimmed and now I could see that the room was full of these figures in changing color suits. Then from my left hand side, the figures parted and a smaller figure appeared. His suit didn’t change colors. It was a solid, brilliant white. He came closer. Then he seemed to grow till his face was right in front of mine and I could see my reflection in his big shiny black eyes. I wasn’t afraid anymore. My mind was filled with the word peace. Then he deflated back to his previous size and came around behind me, put his hands gently at my temples, and that’s all I remember.”

The lights came on.

“Of course, as you can see, I’m still alive. That small creature in the bright white suit? He saved me.” Jennifer started to cry.  She had her head down and the old man came from the back of the room and put his hand on her shoulder.

“It’s okay. I’m all right,” she told him as he patted her back. Then he returned to his spot at the back of the room and the lights went out again. A picture came on the screen. There were lots of stars in this picture—two were very bright, and Jennifer moved towards the screen and pointed to the star on the right hand side.

“This is where my savior is from. There it is. See how it shines brighter than all the stars around it? Agena, but they don’t call it that. They have their own name for it. In their language.”

Alex wanted to hear that name.  The picture of the stars and space looked so peaceful. This woman had been visited by people from another world? Alex had never heard of such a thing. He thought those were just stories made up for Sunday afternoon movies. Once, he watched a movie called Forbidden Planet with Tata who fell asleep through it.

“My savior has been visiting me ever since that night, but I never knew it until I was hypnotized. We talk for hours. That night on the ship when they wanted to end my life, he sacrificed a piece of himself so that I could live. And he’s told me so many things—important things that can help all of us. They have the answer for everything.”

The lights came on and people were talking to each other.

Jennifer said, “When Lenny visits”—she laughed—“that’s what I call him. His real name is too complex for our minds and unpronounceable.  He tells me that they are always there, watching us but they’re hidden,  and when we make a wrong move they can make things better—if we want, otherwise they won’t interfere.” She smiled and took a deep breath and opened her arms. “You just have to believe and they will be there for you. I know I feel better knowing they’re out there.”

Mama leaned towards Tata who leaned towards Mama, and Alex leaned towards both of them.

She said, “I don’t know how much longer I can sit here and listen to this Milan.”

Tata whispered, “Why? What is wrong?”

Mama stared at him then sat back and folded her arms.

Alex was excited. He didn’t know that people lived in other worlds for real, and when Jennifer asked if there were any questions, Alex jumped up and said, “Do you have a picture of Lenny?”

Jennifer smiled and said, “No, they don’t want us to take their picture. It’s a secret that they exist. They’re afraid of our government who might take their knowledge and use it against people on the other side of the world.”

Alex sat down and thought, if it’s such a secret, then why is she telling everyone in this room, and if they knew everything and knew how to make everything better, why would they be afraid of the people on Earth? They were obviously more powerful than the people on Earth.

A man stood up and said, “Has Lenny told you anything about Roswell?” And the people sitting around him nodded their heads.

“Roswell never happened. It’s fake,” Jennifer said and laughed. “Imagine, with their advanced technology, they have safeguards for malfunctions. They would never crash. That’s just the government seizing on an opportunity they created and all the secrecy is them fanning  fake flames to hide their nefarious activities. Don’t trust the government. They’re liars.”

It was time for a break.

People stood and stretched their legs. Jennifer had gone out the back door. Alex wanted to know more about Lenny. He wanted to know what his voice sounded like. Was it a normal man voice or, like he’s seen in those movies, was it a buzzing voice or a robot voice? He pushed open the back door. Jennifer was leaning against the dumpster, smoking a cigarette. The old man was there too. They were facing each other and the old man had his hand on Jennifer’s bum and rubbing it. Alex stepped back and closed the door.

Afterwards, Ray, the organizer, thanked Jennifer and everyone clapped, then Ray said Jennifer was on a mission to spread the word but she needed help. The old man walked around holding open a wooden box and people put money in it.


©Attila Zønn 2017



Alex. part three

By Attila Zønn


During dinner Tata said, “I have never been more insulted in my life. Do you know what he said to me?”

“Who?” Mama asked.

“That fucking wop Angelo.”

Alex knew Angelo. He was Tata’s foreman at work. Sometimes after work Angelo would come over and he and Tata would drink some beers in the kitchen.

“He said what is going on with you Milan? You are too slow, you are not producing, and you better hurry up if you know what is good for you.”

“Angelo said that?”

“Well…those weren’t his exact words. If you want me to quote him literally he said, ‘How are you Milan?’—no one talks to me like that!  I know what he meant. I can read the body language. He gave me a pat on the back and walked away. No one does that to me! Yes, I know it is taking me longer to do the setup, but I haven’t been working. I’m rusty.”

Mama smiled and went back to eating.

After a few seconds Tata dropped his fork on the plate, and sat back in his chair.

“Oh…” He sighed and slumped in the chair.

“It waits for me,” he said. “A machine cannot have a mind, but this one must be cursed. I still can see the blood on the blade. I can hear the sound of my bone being crunched. It wants me to engage it so it can take all my fingers.”

Mama smiled. “You are exaggerating Milan, a machine cannot think.”

Alex wondered what Tata would look like without all his fingers. He wouldn’t be able to point at Alex anymore when he did something wrong.

“Is that what you want?” Tata said. “Do you want me to lose all my fingers, possibly to lose a hand? Do you know what that would feel like to you?”

Tata formed a fist and touched Mama’s arm with it. Then he touched her shoulder. Then he touched her arm again.

“That is my stump. How dose it feel? How would you like to be touched this way for the rest of you life?”

“Stop Milan, please. We are eating.”

“How is it that you cannot see my position? I cannot face my duties efficiently if I have a conflict with this machine.” He pounded the table. “I hate that machine! It has ruined me! And it wants more!—do you want me to end up like Miklos?”

Alex liked Uncle Miklos. He was Mama’s cousin. But he was strange because he always kept his right hand in his pocket. Even when he was sitting down his hand was always in his pocket. One time they went to Holiday Gardens as a family and Uncle Miklos wore black swim trunks with pockets and he swam with his right hand in his pocket. Alex  tried to imitate him but it wasn’t easy swimming with one arm. He had heard Tata talk about the “mystery of Miklos”. No one knew what kind of damage had been done to Uncle Miklos’s hand. No one wanted to ask. They assumed he was missing some fingers. Mama said that when she knew him as a boy he was fine, but then she didn’t see him for many years and when she saw him again he had his hand in his pocket.

Tata said, “I have spoken to Ray. Alexandru, you know his son, Jonah?”

Alex knew Jonah. He was the weird kid who always played by himself because no one liked him because he was a liar. He once told the class that a UFO had landed in his backyard and stolen his bicycle.

“Ray is with the school board. He says he can find me a position in maintenance.”

“Maintenance?” Mama said. “To repair machinery?”

“No, in housekeeping.”

Mama thought a moment, then slammed her fork on the table.

Alex jumped in his seat.

“A janitor? You are giving up your skills to become a janitor?”

Tata raised his hand, puffed his chest out and said in a proud voice, “My title will be Custodian.”

“You are being ridiculous Milan. Why? Why are you doing this? What about the money? What about our situation?”

“Nothing can change the situation,” Tata said. “We will have to budget ourselves. No more mindless spending, like hair cuts and skirts.”

Mama looked like she was going to cry.

“Are you accusing me of wasting money?” she said. “I have always kept within our budget.”

Tata turned his face and said, “There are changes beyond our control coming and from now on we must consider the future.”

“What are you doing to us Milan?” Mama said.

“Why is this complicated for you? People make changes every day. I have decided this is the best change for us.”

Mama wasn’t happy. Her eyes kept moving around. One second she was looking at Tata, then she was looking at Alex, then she was looking through the archway into the kitchen. She looked like someone who was lost and didn’t know which way to go. And Tata was looking at her without blinking, like he was expecting something. Finally Mama lowered her head and let out a big sigh.

“Where is this janitor’s position?” she asked.

Tata sat up and smiled and picked up his fork.

“It will be at the school. Someone is retiring soon and Ray will install me there, if I wish. I will work only days. Finally! There will be no more lonely nights for you.  And with our impending situation that will be better.” Tata turned to Alex.  “And I can be close to Alexandru.”

Alex’s heart sank. Tata was going to be the janitor at his school? How did things suddenly get so bad for him? Not only was he Booboo-cunt, but he was going to be the janitor’s son, and what situation were they talking about?


Sometimes when Tata was with people, talking like big people do sometimes, about things Alex didn’t understand, someone would ask Tata where he was from.  Tata didn’t like that question. He never answered it truthfully. He always used the same words as if he’d had them memorized for years, and Alex knew the story word for word.

Tata told people, “Where I come from is not a nice place. It is too painful for me to mention it.” Then he would go into the story. He’d say, “My father was not an intelligent man. He was not disciplined. He lived for the here and the now. His priorities were centered on him and only him regardless of his family—the wife and the six children.”

Tata never had brothers or sisters.

“He loved to play, but sometimes you play with the wrong people. Tough, uncompromising people who do not care about your hard luck story, the shack, the wife and the six kids, and these people, because they were cowards, unleashed other people upon him, and this is what I saw, my father kicked and beaten to the ground by ugly men with hairy faces and permanent scowls who could not have been born from a woman, much less been babies in a cradle or children that giggled and squealed in the bright sunshine. These were hard men that seemed to teeter between human and beast, and with every kick against my father, the balance shifted towards animal. I saw this. I cannot forget it.”

Alex also knew that Tata had never known his father. Tata’s father had been an electrician, and months before Tata was born his father had died from an electrocution. All growing up Tata had been told that his father was a hard worker, very fast in his duties because he never turned  off the power so only worked with live wires. He was  a man who liked to be challenged.


©Attila Zønn 2017

Alex. part two

By Attila Zønn


Tata came home very angry and when Mama asked him what was wrong he said, “You.”

Alex felt the air getting nervous and knew there was going to be a fight. He went upstairs because that was the  place to be when Mama and Tata fought. He knew that Mama would be safe from Tata because Tata only fought with words and Mama knew how to fight back sometimes.

From his room Alex heard their shouts. Mama was just as loud as Tata, then he heard thumping footsteps and felt the back door open. He looked out his window and saw Tata going to the shed in the backyard. He came out holding a hatchet and talking to himself. He came back into the house. Mama shouted louder. Alex’s heart was thumping so hard he could hear it in his ears. He heard hard sounds and breaking sounds. He ran downstairs because something bad was happening.

Tata was standing over Mama’s holy table. The candles and the glass crucifix and the pictures of Nagymama and Nagyapa were on the floor.  Tata had the hatchet and he was chopping  pieces off the holy table, saying, “No more kneeling, no more crossing, no more mumbling. No more kneeling, no more crossing, no more mumbling.”

Mama was sitting on the sofa clutching a pillow, crying her eyes out, calling Tata, “Murderer!”

Alex felt sick.  He didn’t want his mama to cry. Why was she calling Tata a murderer? Who did he kill? Finally Tata smashed the hatchet deep into the center of the holy table and turned to Mama.

“I am a murderer? It is you who is killing me. You have assassinated our new life.  Do you know what the word archaic means? It means something of the past. That is what you are. I have made an effort to grasp this new world, but you—you are still that pathetic little orphan from that village in the woods. This is no longer acceptable.” He went back to chopping Mama’s holy table.

Alex cried out, “Mama!”

“My son,” Tata said without turning to look at him. “This is not for you to understand. Go to your room now.”

Alex automatically obeyed, and as he climbed the stairs a great worry took hold of him, and he was getting that empty feeling in his stomach. Whenever Mama and Tata yelled at each other, he felt alone. But it had never been as bad as this. Tata had never chopped up a table before.

He sat on the edge of his bed wondering why Tata would kill anyone, and could Tata kill? And he started to worry even more when he remembered the incident with the mouse on the driveway.

One day coming home from the park Alex found some kids huddled at the bottom of his driveway. They were looking down at something. Some of the kids were laughing, and when Alex saw what they were laughing at he started to laugh too. A mouse was running in circles. There was obviously something wrong with the mouse. Why would it run in circles if it was alright?  Wouldn’t it run away? Alex decided that he was going to keep this mouse. It was on his driveway. It was his mouse. He’ll get a shoe box, and fill it with grass and put the mouse in it and he’ll feed it and make it feel better, and when the mouse was healed, he’ll set it free.

That’s what he was going to do but from above the children’s giggling and shouting, Alex heard Tata’s voice. “Watch out!” And saw a shovel come crashing down and squash the mouse. The children screamed and jumped back.

“There. One less mouse to shit in my cupboards,” Tata said and scooped up the smashed mouse, saying to Alex, “Come inside and wash your hands, my son, your mother has cooked us a nice dinner,” and off he went carrying the squashed mouse into the backyard.

The children looked at Alex, like it was his fault the mouse had been squashed. Alex looked down at the red splatter on the driveway and didn’t know what to say so he said nothing and followed Tata into the backyard where he watched him flick the dead mouse into the neighbor’s yard.

So Tata could kill, and now this made Alex think of the police, and how they were going to come and take Tata away. And then he thought that maybe it wouldn’t be a bad thing if the police took Tata away. Then maybe Mama wouldn’t cry anymore.

Tata was calling him from the stairwell.

“Alexandru, my son. Come down please, we must have a discussion.”

Alex jumped off his bed and hurried down the stairs. Mama wasn’t crying anymore. Tata was sitting beside her on the sofa. He had her hand between both his hands. The hatchet was stuck in the middle of the holy table.

“Come sit with us my son. Today is a new beginning.” Tata was saying that from this day on, the family must “embrace” new ideas. That they must live their lives with proof, not with “abstract transparencies.”

Alex didn’t know what that meant but he listened hard anyway.

They were going to meet new people. Become open minded, and change the way they looked at things. Tata had met some people—good people, with “fresh perspectives”, and Saturday evenings they were going to a place where they would get together with these people.

The next morning Mama took Alex to Mrs. Hunyadi’s house. She was an old lady who lived a few houses down. She spoke the same language as Mama did. Alex thought she didn’t like him because every time Mama left him there Mrs. Hunyadi never spoke to him. Mostly he sat in a chair while Mrs. Hunyadi sat on her sofa, knitting, with her fluffy brown cat Boosha lying beside her, and if sometimes Alex was thirsty he would ask her for a glass of water, and she would stop knitting and without looking at him point towards the kitchen.

She had a cross of Jesu hanging above the the archway to the living room, and she had another hanging in the kitchen, and when Alex had to go to the washroom, she had one hanging in there too.

Everything about Mrs. Hunyadi’s house was old—old striped yellow wallpaper behind old black and white pictures of old people—except one—of a young man in a soldier’s uniform. The only good thing about Mrs. Hunyadi’s house was that sometimes Boosha jumped off the sofa and came to lie on Alex’s feet, and his feet got very warm.

The woman who came in the front door and called Alex’s name was not his mama. This woman had short black hair cut at the shoulders. She was wearing lipstick, and her face was glowing, and her eyes had paint around them. She was wearing the clothes Mama had on when she dropped him off but that wasn’t Mama’s head, and it made Alex nervous, like something bad was going to happen.

“Do you like how I look, my Booboola?” the woman said. “Come and see me. Don’t you like my new face? Come,” she said, reaching out her hand. “Let’s go home. I brought you something.”

While they were walking home, Alex felt like he was walking with a stranger. He’d take little peeks at his new mama, and got that empty feeling in his stomach. Suddenly feeling alone, his eyes began watering and he started to cry.

Mama knelt in front of him. “Why are you crying Alexandru? Did something happen at Mrs. Hunyadi’s house?” Alex couldn’t look at her. He wiped his eyes and cried, “You’re different.” Mama smiled and hugged him. “I am still your mama. You don’t like my new look? I like it. I picked it from a book. You will get used to it. It will be good. I have something at home that will make you happy.”

Alex missed his mama. He wanted her back. He wanted to see her brushing her long hair at night, and he liked the scarf she sometimes wore around her head. How could he love this woman whose face looked like some of the teenage girls at the high-school? But he could see Mama was happy. She hadn’t stopped smiling since she picked him up, and she wasn’t walking looking down at the sidewalk like she used to and this made her look taller, and it looked like she was taking deep breaths, like she was breathing for the first time.

Mama had bought Alex a Corvette car. The same one he’d seen in the Savette catalogue. It was red, and connected to a long clear plastic tube that was connected to a pistol-like controller, and depending on how Alex squeezed the trigger, the car would move forwards, backwards, to the left, to the right, go fast, go slow. He followed the red car though the hallway, into the kitchen but when he tried going into the living room it kept stopping at the edge of the rug. The car was what Alex had wanted for a long time—the times he spent looking at it in the catalogue and wishing he had it, and here it was. He felt happy, and Mama was happy to see he was happy, and she said to him, “I love you my Booboola,” which sounded funny  because neither Mama nor Tata had ever said they loved him. And Alex thought, this new beginning Tata had talked about was fun, and he thought how lucky he was, chasing his little red car up and down the hallway.


Mama was going to the window, and then sitting on the sofa, and then a few minutes later she was going to the window again and sitting down again.

And then Tata came home.

When Tata walked in Mama was standing at the top of the landing. She had a big smile on her face, and was making little adjustments to her skirt.

Tata stood there and stared at her—his face had no expression, and then he said, “What have you done to yourself?” The smile fell from Mama’s face, and the air became nervous, and Alex was nervous. Mama’s voice trembled when she said, “I have made a change, like we talked about.”

“What have you done?” Tata said  and started walking slowly up the steps. Now Mama was backing away, and Alex could see her face was not glowing anymore. She looked frightened, and suddenly he felt frightened.

Mama explained, “But you said—”

“Now I understand,” Tata said, nodding his head. “It is so clear. How could I have been such a fool?—I do not satisfy you.”  Mama looked at Alex. She took his hand and lead him upstairs.

“Do you hear it?” Tata said.

Alex and Mama turned around to look at him.

Tata had a hand cupped behind one ear, and he was leaning towards the front door.

“The parade is coming,” he said. “Are you ready Eva? You are all painted. Are you ready to join the clowns? Are you ready to show the world that your husband does not please you? Where is your whore’s sign, declaring that you are ready for another cock.”

Mama yelled, like Alex had never heard her yell before, “Milan! Our son is here!”

“Is it because I have one less finger?” Tata said. “Does it disgust you? Am I less a man because I have only nine fingers?”

Mama turned to Alex and told him not to worry, to go to his room and close the door. And Alex did so, but before he closed the door he saw Mama leaning forward on the stairs, yelling at Tata, “You are being so ridiculous! I do not want to listen to you.” She ran up the stairs and into her room. Tata followed, calling her ungrateful, that he had sacrificed so much for his family and now she was stepping all over his manhood.

Mama was crying, saying, “I just made a change, like you said!”

“I did not tell you to mutilate yourself—to paint yourself like a woman who craves attention, who shows the world that her husband is no more useful than a broom handle. Is it not big enough for you Eva?” And then, all of the sudden it sounded like Tata was crying. In his crying voice he said, “Who is he? What can he give you that I do not have?” And then Alex heard Mama yelling, “Milan, stop acting like a child!”

“But I am not a child. Look!” And then everything went quiet. Alex waited behind his door, cracking it open just enough to catch his parent’s bedroom door slowly closing.

Quiet was good.

When it was quiet there was no fighting, but Alex was a little worried, because he knew Tata was a killer, so he crept out into the hall, approached his parent’s door and put his ear to it. He heard them whispering.


Mama was humming by the sink, making a salad for their dinner. Alex saw she was safe, even though Tata and her had the big fight. He didn’t understand what it was all about, but he was happy it was over. Seeing Mama happy made him think that nothing bad could ever happen.

“Are you enjoying your red car?” Mama asked. Alex had forgotten about the Corvette, and now thinking about it made him smile. He was a lucky boy.

“Thank you Mama, I really like it,” he said, and that sounded strange because he’d never thanked his mama before for anything. And then Tata came in. He had a big smile on his face, and he winked at Alex, then went over to Mama at the sink and gave her a little smack on the bum but his hand stayed there, like it was stuck, and he put his nose into Mama’s neck, and Mama giggled, and Tata started playing with Mama’s hair, flicking it, and Mama was looking at Alex, and Alex felt embarrassed,  suddenly feeling angry that Tata had his hand on Mama’s bum and he was playing with her like she was a toy.

Mama was a different woman now. She walked with her head up, smiled and laughed a lot, and looked much younger with her new head. She walked everywhere and it looked like she was getting skinnier, and Tata grabbed her more than he used to and he sucked on her earlobes and it made Mama giggle but embarrassed Alex so much that when Tata and Mama were in the same room Alex would leave because he didn’t want to see Tata’s hands all over his mama.

One day Mama came to the school while on one of her walks. The schoolyard had become part of her daily route. She walked with quick strides, and her skirt swayed.  From his first floor classroom window Alex had seen her walk by every day, but today the window was open and Mama saw him. She came to the window and said, “Hello, my Booboola. Are you having a wonderful day?”

Alex shrank in his seat as the kids in the class laughed.

He was barely out the door for afternoon recess when three boys barred his way and said in unison, “Hello, Booboo,” and ran off into the schoolyard laughing there heads off. As Alex stood there he thought he could see this disease Mama had brought spread across the yard and change his schooldays forever.

Alex was gone now. He was no longer Alex the brainer, no longer Alex the brown noser, which he didn’t know what that meant but it didn’t sound so bad, but now he was Booboo, and where was Yogi? And where was his pick-e-nic basket? Or he was little booboo boy, or mommy’s booboo, or the many other permutations spanning the next few weeks, until the older boys got into it and he finally became—Booboo-cunt.

How unfair had Mama been to call him her love name in front of people, outside the house?

Tata was right—Mama was weak, and stupid, and she ruined everything for him. What could he do to ruin the rest of her days? He’ll ignore her, like Tata did sometimes. She’ll ask him things and he’ll act like she wasn’t there, and she’ll keep asking until she got angry and then she’ll probably cry like when Tata did that to her. But Alex didn’t want his mama to cry. He loved his mama. She was always smiling at him and hugged him when he came home, and she made his favorite foods and she got him that car. Alex knew where that car had come from; that store was far away and Mama went all that way on a bus, just for him. He couldn’t hate his mama. She wasn’t trying to hurt him when she called him Booboola. She was just happy to see him.

He’ll have to live with what Mama had done and he decided every time they call him Booboo-cunt, he’ll laugh. If he got upset they would just keep calling him that. From now on he would laugh with them and maybe the fun they got from calling him that name would run out, and then Alex could come back.

It worked. When the boys laughed, Alex laughed even harder. Sometimes he referred to himself as Booboo-cunt. He didn’t like doing it, but he knew it would stop eventually, and it did.

But there was one kid—even when it had all died down, even when Jimmy Coles, who was older and was friends with everybody, had said in front of all the boys, “You’re alright, Alex.” This kid—Dean—kept insisting with Booboo-cunt, looking for a laugh from the other boys, but nobody laughed anymore because the name had worn itself out. Dean acted tough but he followed Jimmy Coles around like a little dog. Jimmy wasn’t tough. He didn’t have to be. Everybody was his friend.

Sometimes when Dean called Alex Booboo-cunt, Alex gave him a hate look and Dean would walk up to his face and say, “Wanna fight?” Then he’d look back at his friends and say, “Join the army.” He’d laugh a stupid squeaky  laugh, kind of like Muttley, but nobody laughed with him. One day Alex was so enraged, that as Dean looked away Alex swung at him and hit him in the jaw and in the next instant they were on the ground punching and kicking each other.

When Tata found out Alex was fighting at school, he had a discussion with him.

“So you are a fighter?” Tata said.

“I don’t like this boy. I want to punch his face so hard.”

“And what will that accomplish?”

“He’ll stop bothering me.”

“Will he?”

“I think so.”

“But you don’t know so.”

Alex shrugged.

Tata sighed.

“My son, the real reason you want to punch him is you want to satisfy yourself. You want to satisfy your ego. But my son, we must always consider the consequences of our actions. To you it is a punch and a healing of your bruised ego but consider: you punch this kid, and it is a good punch, right in the teeth, and his teeth fly from his mouth and there is much blood dripping from his face and he goes running to his mama. There he is with his dripping mouth—blood all over the kitchen floor. His mama panics, because women always panic at the sight of blood. She must rush him to the hospital so he can stop bleeding on the kitchen floor. They race in the car to the hospital. She keeps looking at him. He is getting blood on himself and the seat. She is wondering how will she ever get this blood off the seat?—because women  always concern themselves with the cleanliness of things—and on one of these moments of looking, she runs through a red light. At that same moment, an innocent father is taking his little girl to get an ice cream. He smashes into the car that has run a red light, the mother and the bleeding boy  fly from the car and are killed instantly. He and his daughter fly against the windshield. The little girl dies a few days later and the father will regret the rest of his life the urge he had to treat his child to an ice cream. When she hears the news, the bleeding boy’s grandmother has a stroke. She will not die but remain in a vegetative state for years, and her family will suffer the burden of watching over her bed. The wife of the ice cream father will blame him for the death of their child, and that marriage will dissolve. These are just the immediate results of your selfishness, my son, not to mention the other lives that these dead people may have touched in their lives to possibly make the world a better place, and you have caused all of this tragedy because of your little ego. Do you think that is right? Do you think your ego is more important than the lives of all these people? Do you? Is a punch all that important in the face of all this death?”

Alex didn’t want anyone to die because of his ego, whatever that is, so he’ll have to live with being called Booboo-cunt.


©Attila Zønn 2017



Alex. part one


By Attila Zønn


On a  late September afternoon in the ninth year of his life, Alexandru Fierbinteanu ran home from school with the wonderful news he wanted to share with his father. He found Tata sitting in a lawn chair on the back porch smoking one of those skinny handmade cigarettes that Tata often rolled on Friday nights. Sometimes Alex sat at the table and watched Tata pull pinch-full’s of green tobacco from a clear plastic bag and sprinkle it on very thin papers, then Tata would roll a little, hold out the papers for Alex to lick and then would finish rolling them.

Alex liked it when he could help his tata.

Tata greeted him with a smile and said, “My son.”

Without catching his breath, Alex said, “Tata—I think— it’d be—a wonderful—thing—if I died—so—I can go to Heaven and—become an angel.”

The smile disappeared from Tata’s face, and the look of disappointment took its place. Alex was familiar with this look. It would soon be followed by Tata telling him what he had done wrong.

“And how is it you are discussing angels at your school?” Tata said.

“Well, Tommy—he’s in my class—he wasn’t at school today because he died. Miss Sharps told us. She said it was a sad thing what happened to Tommy but Tommy’s in Heaven now, and God will make him an angel. That’s what God does. She said when little boys and girls die, God turns them into angels and they live forever in Heaven, where nothing bad ever happens. That’s where I want to live—where nothing bad ever happens.”

Now Tata had a sad face. It looked like Tata was sorry about something. Then it looked like he was thinking. Tata was a thinker, and when his eyes stared straight ahead, and they had that tired look, Tata was thinking, and that’s what Tata was doing, but then his eyes narrowed slightly, and they were looking back on Alex, who suddenly felt like he was going to get into trouble.

“There is no God,” Tata said. “Therefore, there are no angels. If you die, you will not become an angel. Worms will eat your flesh and you will become dust.”

“But Miss Sharps told us there is, and she says she’s a Christian.”

Tata frowned. “I am telling you there is no God and I have never lied to you.”

Alex knew he shouldn’t talk against Tata anymore because it sounded like Tata was getting angry. Then Tata smiled and opened his arms, and Alex knew that now Tata was going to give him the hug of understanding, and after the hug, Tata will tell him an important thing that he must remember for the rest of his life.

Tata hugged him tight then held Alex out by the shoulders and said, “My son. God is for weak people.  You are my son—Alexandru Radu Iliescu Fierbinteanu. And you will not be weak.”

As Tata said these words, Alex thought about  Mama and her holy table, where she kept a big glass crucifix and pictures of Nagymama and Nagyapa, and how every morning the first thing Mama did was light a candle for each of them, and the candles burned until they burned out. Then Mama would light other ones.

Alex said, “But Mama—”

“Mama is weak,” Tata said. “You will see this as you grow to become a man. You will see—your mama is weak.”

Alex didn’t like it when Tata said bad things about Mama. He loved his mama.

“Go now,” Tata said. “Forget these angels. Angels are for people who want to live in a fairyland. Go inside and wash your hands.”

With that, Tata took a good suck from his cigarette and went back to thinking.

Alex found Mama washing lettuce at the kitchen sink. He hugged her tight around the waist, and this surprised her and made her laugh.

“How was your day in school my Booboola?” she said.

“Okay,” he said, and as Mama gently hugged him and kissed him on the top of his head, Alex wished that as he grew to become a man, he would never see that Mama was weak.

“I’m going to go to my room now,” he said, releasing her, suddenly burdened with great worry.

“Wash your hands,” Mama said.

Tata was always right. He knew everything, so why did Miss Sharps lie to him about angels? He played back in his mind the events of the afternoon, how Miss Sharps had talked so happily about Heaven and God, and angels.  Stacey had put her hand up and said, “Some angels can make people fall in love by shooting arrows at them.”

“Those are cherubs,” Miss Sharps said. “And they are just made up creatures for Valentine’s Day.” She shook her head. “You can’t make someone fall in love with you by shooting an arrow at them.”

Stacey didn’t look happy about that.

Miss Sharps said that angels weren’t men or women, they just were.

Then Miss Sharps  passed around a book with lots of pictures of an olden time, and there were angels in this book, flying up in the sky, pointing fingers at people on the ground—old ancient people, with long beards, who lived in a time before pants were invented, and all these people had scared looks on their faces, and arms across their foreheads like they were blocking their eyes from a bright light.

He turned a page, and there was a picture of a tall angel with dark hair and big wings, and it was holding a baby, and it was walking away from a man and a woman who were kneeling at a crib,  crying. The baby was smiling at the angel, but the angel had no expression—it just was. And though he felt happy about the existence of angels, the picture scared Alex. He also noticed that the angel looked a little bit like Miss Sharps because she was also very tall with short brown hair.

Alex raised his hand and asked, “If angels are good why do the people look scared of them?”

“The people look scared because they don’t know angels are good,” Miss Sharps said. “Nobody  told them, and since angels only work for God, to be a little afraid of them is a good thing, that way the people will always do what God wants.”

She said, “If you’re scared for the right reason, that’s a good thing. It makes you stay on the right path”, and Alex had thought, what path was that? So he asked Miss Sharps but it looked like Miss Sharps didn’t feel like answering his question because next she was talking about how magical it was, and Alex had looked back on the book and agreed that everything looked  magical and how happy he had felt, knowing that such a world existed, and thinking that it would be much more fun to live in a world with angels than in an ordinary world. Anything was possible in a world with angels.  Miss Sharps said there was an angel for each one of them, and how it was probably standing right beside them. And Alex said, “Why can’t we see these angels, Miss Sharps? Why aren’t there any angels flying around now?”

“We live in a different time,”  Miss Sharps said. “We’re too smart for our own good.”

And Alex had thought what was so different?, and what does being smart have to do with it and he was about to ask her what was so different and why so smart but then the bell rang and it was time to go home.

Now, sitting on his bed, with a lot of thinking done, Alex realized that angels were a lot like Santa Claus.

Alex had never known there was a Santa Claus until he started going to school. When Christmas time came all the kids were talking about Santa Claus, but Mama had told Alex that Christmas was the birthday of Jesu (Yesoo) and on that day Mama cooked a big dinner and Uncle Laszlo and Aunt Magda came over, and Uncle Laszlo brought Alex a present. It was usually a car or a truck or an aeroplane. So Alex asked Tata one day, “Who is a Santa Claus?”

Tata chuckled and said, “He is a big fat waste of time.”

Alex hoped that Tata would tell him this great secret that he had only learned when he started going to school, that, now because he believed, there would be many gifts for him on Christmas morning.

Tata looked at him. “I am sorry to disappoint you my son, but the truth sometimes disagrees with what we want, and we must get used to it. Santa Claus is the first false hope a parent gives their child. I could have adopted this silliness—elves and flying reindeer, but one day, when you are able to think for yourself, you will wonder and ask me, ‘Tata, is there really a Santa Claus?’ At that point, in good conscience, I will no longer be able to perpetuate this falsehood. I will tell you,  ‘No, Santa Claus is an adult creation that allows people to recreate their infancy through their children, that he is no more real than the Tooth Fairy or the Easter Bunny, that it is a way for the candy companies and retail stores to profit from the masses, and how will you ever be able to believe me again when I tell you these things? You will always wonder how I had deceived you for many years—that a big, fat, cookie eating, milk drinking thing is able to cover the whole world with presents in one night. What would that do to my credibility with you, my son? What would that do?”

Alex liked it when Tata talked to him like he was grown up, even though he didn’t understand what Tata’s words meant most of the time. One day though, he’ll know what Tata was talking about.

Usually in the evenings, after dinner, Alex sat with his notebook open at the dining room table with Tata and copied words from the big thick leather dictionary that Tata keeps saying he bought for fifty dollars many years ago.

“Words are power, my son,” Tata told him, but sometimes because Alex was tired or because he was thinking of playing outside with his friends he might copy a word wrong, and Tata would say, “This is incorrect.  You are not paying attention. Look at it. It is right in front of you. How can you not copy it correctly? It is right in front of you. Even so, you know that the i comes before the e except after c .”

“I know,” Alex said.

“Well?” Tata pointed to the word in the notebook. “If you know it, why didn’t you do it?”

Alex didn’t have an answer. There were lots of times when Tata asked him a question about his mistakes and Alex didn’t know the answer, and then Tata would give him a sideways look and shake his finger at him and say in an angry voice, “You must work like a Trojan! This is not acceptable! Fix it and remember it!” And Alex would quickly rub out the bad letters, all the while wondering what a Trojan was, why he had to be like one and why did they work so hard? And Tata would say, like he sometimes did as if he was talking to himself, “You will not be lazy and average, my son. You will reach high. That is why I am here. To make certain it happens.”

Tata sometimes worked during the day and sometimes during the night. And he didn’t work far away. Alex could see Tata’s workplace from his bedroom window, beyond the backyard and the road that ran behind the house, in a great grey building where they made metal things with “strict tolerances”, Tata had said—things that fit together perfectly. It was a building where whistles blew and buzzers buzzed, that had a gigantic door that was always open, except in the winter when it was too cold. And sometimes Alex could see Tata walking home, carrying his grey plastic lunch box, and Alex could have anything that was left over from Tata’s lunch, and sometimes Tata would bring home a piece of steel he’d created and Alex would examine it, and Tata would say, “Look at how perfect I have made this.” Alex never knew what these pieces were used for, but they were heavy, shiny, and they did feel perfect in his hands.

Tata was going to take Alex to a carnival. The carnival had been set up on a plot of land where a great lumberyard had once been. Alex remembered going to this place once with Tata to buy a sheet of plywood and a 2×4, and Tata had argued with the stock boy that he did not need a full length of 2×4 but only four feet and why did they not have four foot 2×4 for sale? Why should he have to pay for what he did not need? It was wasteful. The stock boy had shrugged and walked away.

“Shrug, shrug,” Tata said. “Everybody in this country just shrugs. No one wants responsibility. Like a joke. No one cares. They do the hours and then fuck you.”

Tata looked down at Alex then.

“I am sorry my son, but you have heard this word?”

Alex nodded.

“It means many things to these people. On the mind and on the tongue. It is a way of life. To some, it is a part of them like, an extra anus. It is why there is no respect for wisdom. It is why it is hard for them to grasp new ideas. It is their shackle to an ancient time. Some people think it, but don’t want to hear it. It is no different in sound than truck, duck, luck, but say it, and people get excited or punch you in the teeth. Remember this, my son. Never be afraid of a word.”

As they headed home along the sidewalk, Tata carrying the sheet of plywood over his head, shading Alex who walked in front of him carrying the eight-foot piece of 2×4, Alex heard Tata talking to himself, and once he heard a chuckle.

“Stop,” Tata said, setting the sheet of plywood down on its short side. “You are almost a man now, so we can discuss these things. That word I said before—Fuck. It is funny how it can change the mood of a simple sentence. For example, if I say to you, ‘What are you doing?’ There is no harm.  I am happy, you are happy, you tell me what you are doing and everything is fine. But, if I say to you, ‘What the fuck are you doing?’ Now it is a sentence with an attitude. It is antagonistic. You will feel insulted. You will become angry, and of course, you will tell me to ‘fuck off!’   So, we can deduce that one fuck is answered by another. On the mind and on the tongue.” And with that Tata hoisted the sheet of plywood over his head and on they went.

This great lumber yard had burned down last summer. Alex remembered hearing sirens and running home from the park, finding Mama standing at the bottom of the driveway looking up at the sky. He remembers how afraid she looked, and at how the sky was filled with flying bits of black paper, and when he reached her she hugged him and said, “A bad thing is happening.” Then a fire truck came down the street and some firemen got out and started walking up the street, looking at the tops of the houses. Alex and Mama went into the house where Mama poured him some milk and made him a ham sandwich, and then she went to kneel in front of the holy table, made the sign of the cross, and talked in a low voice.

Now there was a carnival on this piece of land, and as they entered, it was like a magical place, full of lights and loud music with powerful beats that hit Alex’s body and passed through him, and wonderful smells—sweet smells and cooking meat smells. And everything was moving so fast that it made Alex laugh. What a fun place!  He and Tata stopped at every stall, and the carnival men invited Tata to win a toy for the boy, and Alex looked up at Tata with hopeful eyes, but Tata moved on.

“Not this one,” he said.

Onto the next one but not that one either. They stopped at a stand and Tata bought Alex some cotton candy, then off they went in search of the perfect game, and while they walked Tata explained how some games were rigged, that no matter how good you are you will never win because you are not supposed to win.

“If it looks easy then it isn’t,” Tata said. “If everybody won these people would not make money and if they don’t make money they will do something else where they can make money. That is how it is. That is how the world works. Like any endeavour that appears easy there is always a catch because no one will give you anything easily. Don’t be caught by the catch, my son.”

Finally, after having gone through the entire carnival and close to where they had come in, they came upon a standing roulette wheel, and Tata said, “This is good.” Tata plopped some money onto the counter, and Alex jumped towards the wheel and pulled it with all his might. The wheel spun  and spun and spun and clicked and clicked and clicked—it stopped, and the man said, “You’re a winner!”

The carnie handed him a statue of a sitting white poodle. It was the most beautiful thing Alex had ever seen, and he handed it proudly to Tata who weighed it in his hands.

“It is made of plaster,” Tata said, handed it back to Alex and walked away.

Alex didn’t care what it was made of. He had won something, never having won anything before. It was a great feeling, and he hugged the dog against his chest and thought, it wasn’t a real dog, but he could pretend it’s real, and he’ll give it a name, and he’ll get a blanket, and some little pillows, like the kind Mama has on the sofa in the front room, and make a bed for it, beside his bed, and he could pretend like when he pretended he lived on a farm, and how every night he made sure the gates to the back yard were closed so the animals wouldn’t get out.

“Now you have a place to save your allowance,” Tata said.

“What, Tata?”

“The thing you are holding. It is a piggy bank.”

Now Alex saw the slot cut into the dog’s back, and he searched the statue all over but couldn’t find another hole. “But how do I get the money out when I want it?” he asked.

Tata took the dog into his hands and examined it.

“I suppose that will be a great tragedy then. You will have to destroy this beautiful thing to get your money out.” He handed the dog back to Alex. “Like I told you, there is always a catch.”

Alex was never going to break his pet. He will never use this dog as a piggy bank. And so he had decided.

Alex had always wanted a dog, and once he asked Tata if they could get a puppy but Tata had said no because “they shit everywhere and when they get sick it cost a fortune to treat them.”

Now Alex had a dog—sort of—and when he got home he prepared a bed on the floor, and he took the lid from an empty peanut butter jar that Mama was going to throw out, washed it and filled it with water, and as he was puffing things up to make the dog’s bed more comfy he heard a clink and turned around to see Mama holding the dog.

She said, smiling a big smile, “I start you with a quarter.” And now every time he picked up the dog, the quarter knocked around inside, and it bothered Alex that his pet was now a piggy bank.


Alex came home from school one day and found Tata crying in the kitchen.  His left hand was wrapped in a huge bandage, and Mama stood behind him, her hands on Tata’s shoulders, and she was crying too.

Once Tata saw Alex he cried out in a terrible voice, “Oh, my son. Today is a black day. A great tragedy has fallen upon us. Today you have lost your father. I am no longer the same. My soul has been ruptured.”

And that’s when Mama told Alex that an accident had happened at Tata’s work, and Tata’s finger had been cut off.

“Come see me, my son,” Tata cried. “I want to hold you.”

But Alex stayed where he was. He couldn’t move. All he could think of was when Tata used to say how he had the cleanest hands in the machine shop and how all the other men had filthy hands, “like pigs,” he’d said, and how could they “touch their wives with those hands, like pigs.”

“Oh, it is so much pain,” Tata cried, and Mama left his shoulders and went to the sink to pour a glass of water, and when she came back to the table, she opened a little pill bottle and took out a pill and put it in Tata’s good hand.

“Give me more,” Tata said.

“It says only one every—”

“Give me more!” Tata shouted, and it made Mama jump. She put two more in his hand. Tata threw the pills in his mouth, then got up and went into the front room. Mama looked at Alex. “Go upstairs,” she said. “I will make you something to eat and call you.”

Alex didn’t know how long he’d been upstairs, but the sun was going down. Alex loved watching the setting sun. It had a different colour every time, but this time it was just something to focus on, while he heard Tata crying downstairs.

When Mama finally came up, she was wiping her eyes. She hugged him and said, “Come down, Alexandru, your tata needs you.” But Alex was afraid. He had never seen Tata cry before. Walking down the stairs, Alex took Mama’s hand and squeezed it tighter the closer they got to the bottom.

Tata was asleep on the sofa.

As he ate dinner, Alex kept looking at Tata through the archway and hoped he would never wake up.

Over the next few days, Tata slept a lot. Some men came to see Tata, but Mama told them Tata was asleep. When Alex came home from school, he went straight to his room and only came downstairs when Mama called him, and Tata would be asleep.

After a week Tata went to the hospital and came home with a smaller bandage on his hand, but he just sat in his chair and looked down at the table, then he went to bed.

One evening when Alex was playing softball in the park—while he was on deck and practising his swing—he looked around him and saw Tata standing beside the diamond fence. Tata had never come to see him play before, and it made Alex nervous, and he made a lot of mistakes, and his team was angry with him.

All that week whenever Alex played in the park, Tata was there too. If Alex was goofing around on the tennis court, there was Tata watching him. If Alex played soccer with his friends Barry and John and Frankie, and his new friend Peter, there was Tata sitting on the park bench.

And then a week later at the softball game, someone came up to Tata while he stood watching.  It was Frankie’s dad, and as they talked, Alex saw Tata pointing over at him, and it made Frankie’s dad smile. Then Frankie’s dad—Ray was his name—looked at Tata’s bandaged hand and said something. Tata smiled and gestured like he was biting the tip of his finger, and Ray’s face went sad, but Tata smiled and shrugged. Ray  gestured for Tata to follow him and he took Tata to where a bunch of parents sat on bleachers. Ray said something to the people and pointed to Alex, and the people smiled and made room for Tata. The next week Tata brought a lawn chair and sat with the other parents. He made them laugh, and Alex could hear them calling Tata by his name—Milan.  Tata looked so happy. It looked like Tata had made some friends, but Tata had once said friends were not a good thing. That was why Mama had no friends.

After a month, Tata’s bandage was now a small hood that slipped over the finger. Alex saw that Tata had not cut off his entire finger, only half, between the first and second knuckle of his middle finger on his left hand. It wasn’t so bad to look at with its hood bandage, but when Tata was finally healed, and skin had grown over the wound, it looked unnatural, and Alex dreaded the sight of it though his eyes always looked for it.

One night while Alex was copying words from the dictionary, Tata said, “My son. How many people do you think there are in the world who are missing a part of their body?”

Alex stopped writing and put on his thinking face for Tata.

“Of course,” Tata said. “ it is impossible for us to effectively calculate this question, but we can safely say, in all probability, that there are more people in the world who are intact, than who are missing a member. Therefore, since I make part of this lesser group, because of my disfigurement you know. Because there are less of us, because we could be a rarity, we could say that I am a,” and Tata thought for a moment, “ …unique. I am unique. Of course.”


Alex had heard this word before, but he didn’t know its true definition, and as sometimes happened with new words, Alex had trouble remembering how to pronounce it. So he practised hard to remember this word. He could look up its meaning in the dictionary, but Alex liked it better when someone explained it to him. He would ask Miss Sharps tomorrow. So just before afternoon recess, having remembered this conversation with Tata, he tugged on Miss Sharps’ sweater and said, “Miss Sharps? My father said that because he’s missing a part of his body, that he is u—eunuch. What is that exactly and why are there so few of them?”

Alex felt a sharp tug on his collar, which made him look up and he saw Miss Sharps’ face; all twisted and red and her eyes looked like they were going to pop out of her head.

“Why you filthy mouthed little boy,” she said and pulled him by the collar into the hall. Alex didn’t know what he’d done wrong. He started to cry because Miss Sharps told him he was going to the Principal’s office where his father would be called because they were going to get to the bottom of this. But what was this? Why was he in trouble?

Tata arrived—what was the emergency? What was so urgent that he had to be summoned? Alexandru is not hurt. There he is. What is the problem? That’s when Miss Sharps told Tata and the Principal what Alex had said, and Alex looked at Tata—looking for a sign that it was all a mistake and he wasn’t going to get in trouble. After she stopped talking, Tata stared at Miss Sharps, who was one head taller than him, and smiled.

“That is so silly,” he said. “You cannot be serious.” The Principal smiled.

“We were talking about being unique,” Tata said. “Unique! He is only a little boy. He does not know of such things. And let me assure you, in case you believed him, that I am well intact in that department.”

It seemed like a long time that Tata and Miss Sharps stared at each other, and Miss Sharps’s face got redder and redder. Then she said, “Alex, you can go home with your father. You can go home early.”

While they walked home, Tata said, “Alexandru, my son, it would be wise if you did not share our discussions with anyone no matter how friendly you think you are with them. This teacher? I know her kind. She cannot live outside of herself. She will hold this misunderstanding against you, mark my words. You have lost her as a friend.” And it happened as Tata said because from the next day on Miss Sharps didn’t say good morning to him anymore and she never picked him again when he knew the answer.


Copyright©2017 Attila Zønn

Along The Shore


By Attila Zønn


We walked around all day looking for something to shoot. William wanted to try his new shotgun. There was no game. Years of unregulated hunting had depleted all the wildfowl and ground game. Like ghosts from the abundant past, two ducks settled on the marshy delta. William  shot at them, but they flew off untouched.

He handed me the gun and said, “Give it a try.”

I shot at a rock.

The jolt knocked me in the jaw.

I handed the gun back to him and we walked.

The sun was going down and William wasn’t happy.  He wanted to kill something. We went to the shoreline and watched sand plovers run along the water’s edge. William shot at one, but even with all his buckshot he only nicked it. The bird leaned into its broken wing and pivoted in a circle. William picked it up, held it and watched it’s blinking eyes and heaving chest while it tried to flap a wing.

He twisted it’s neck.

It’s legs spasmed and kicked,  then the bird went limp. William saw my disgust and said, “Leaving it alive would have been far worse for it.”

I said, “Not shooting it would have been better for it.”

©2017 Attila Zønn


pexels-photo-121663.jpegBy Attila Zønn




If Tommy had not gotten piss drunk in the middle of the week at Luigi’s Irish Pub wing night, he would have been at work on Thursday morning and his boss Larry, of The Fine Furniture Folks, wouldn’t have yelled at his wife Ilyse when she refused to drive the delivery truck.

“Why can’t Terry and Les,”—the delivery boys—“ drive the truck?” she asked.

“ ‘Cause they’re low-life knuckleheads. You’re the only one I can trust. Jesus Christ! Can’t you just do this one thing without bustin’ my balls about it?”

Ilyse wanted to get Larry an I Love Jesus sticker for his bumper because Jesus Christ was always shooting out of his mouth.

Any other day she’d have no problem driving the truck, but she had made plans for today—she was going to meet Marty.

Ilyse used to drive the delivery van back when the company was small. It was her and Tommy and any kid Larry could hire off the street for eight bucks an hour. Back then the shop was in their garage—Larry had knocked the back wall out and added an extra twenty feet—and the cops used to show up because Larry worked into the night. It was always the same cops—Paul and Dan—and Ilyse made coffee for them while Larry showed them the finer points of joinery.

“Deep inside,” Larry told her after they’d left, “everybody wants to be a woodworker.”

Finally, a deal was struck with their neighbours—Larry would insulate the garage to muffle the saws and planer, and also repair whatever wooden woes the neighbours might have.

The cops never came by again.

She’d learned to drive trucks in her teens during summer break when she accompanied her father on the long hauls, and sometimes she’d take the wheel so Dad could nap in the back. Dad told her to stay within the speed limit and watch out for cops. She thought watching out for cops was pointless because as soon as you see them, they’ve already seen you.

That was a good time in her life. There she was, with Dad’s cap and sunglasses on, feeling so accomplished manoeuvring all that weight. What other seventeen-year-old girls could handle an eighteen-wheeler? She felt safe clutching the wheel because her dad told her, “In a wreck, unless you hit another transport, this rig comes out on top.”

Those were the good old days.

She and Larry had had good old days. Back then she called him ‘Honey’, back when she had respect for him, looked forward to being with him. Then—when carefree was a condition they took for granted. Now he was just Larry or when her ire was up—Fuckin’ Larry.

Larry has lost his enthusiasm for things over the years. He used to make her laugh—so hard sometimes she’d piss herself. The laughter died down as Larry plunged deep into his ambitions and focused solely on his work, and his desire to succeed. They’d bumped into a lot of setbacks, and if it were up to her, she’d have given up and found something else to do, something less stressful than being self-employed.

They’d met that morning when the school bus she drove conked out and left her stranded on the gravel along Hwy 7. A rusty pickup truck coming the other way made a U-turn, pulled up in front of her and Larry jumped out. Other cars slowed down, but Larry waved them away.

“What seems to be the trouble?” he said.

“It just died.”

He looked here and there under the hood as she watched him, hopeful he could flip a switch to get her going again. He wiggled some wires, pulled some belts, tapped on some square things.

“Hmm,” he said, stroking the stubble on his chin. “If this was made of wood, I could probably help you, but as it stands, I haven’t got a clue what’s wrong. I failed auto mechanics.”

She looked at him, wondering, then why did you pull over?

She used his cell phone and called the yard to send somebody.

Later in their relationship, he told her he liked how she’d climbed on the bumper and hoisted down the hood—like a man. She wasn’t a damsel in distress—that was attractive. And the way her ass looked in those jeans was another deciding factor. And when he saw her face it was the icing on the cake.

Being his own boss was what Larry had always wanted.  She was swept up in his excitement as they ventured into the self-employed realm. They were naïve. Selling a few tables and chairs at a flea market was not indicative of a viable market. Giving up a bi-weekly paycheck because he didn’t want to be subjected to ‘some asshole’ looking over his shoulder was reckless.

The money was there for the taking he told her. “People want real wood not veneered particle board.”

At the flea market, he had her dress as ravishing as she could to lure men to the booth. She didn’t like being the focal point. She didn’t like the hairy eyeball she got from the men’s wives as Larry explained the woods and techniques.

But it started off with a bang—six jobs. She finally got a dishwasher and Larry put money down on a new F-150, but then it petered out to just an order a month—if they were lucky. He had to diversify. How?

He got his eureka moment one Sunday afternoon drinking a beer in the kitchen. He was looking at the cupboards, then jumped up proclaiming, “Kitchens! Real wood kitchens! That’s what people want.”

Larry and his real wood. Sometimes at the shop, Ilyse felt like grabbing a piece of real wood and clobbering him over the head with it.

He’d always told her, “If you’re going to run a business you’ve got to know more than the people working for you.”

Prophetic words.

Larry should have followed his own advice. What did Larry know about kitchens? He needed help.

Along came the partner—Orazio.

Larry never told her under what rock he had found this guy.  He was an ugly little man with bad teeth, bad breath and big hands. He was nothing to look at, but he sure thought highly of himself.

When Larry wasn’t within earshot, Orazio would say, “My Darling, why you want to be with this guy? Orazio can give you much pleasure.”

She wanted to tell Larry. Larry would have knocked his rotten teeth out of his rotten mouth but that would have been the end of the business, which started doing well.

Orazio had connections. He knew how to get the jobs.

Machinery was bought.

Skilled people were employed.

A large truck was leased.

So she toughed it out.

Then one day Orazio skipped back to Portugal taking all the capital and left Larry with a debt so large the depths from which he could only surface through bankruptcy. The Fine Furniture Man became The Fine Furniture Folks.

Back inside the garage.

A trip to the bank.

Now everything had to be in her name, and it would take two lifetimes to pay off the mortgage.

Larry tried to assure her that, “Starting from zero was better than starting in the minuses.”

Good years followed though, but then the recession came and the phone calls started—creditors calling at dinnertime.

To this day she dreads the sound of a ringing phone.

Larry keeps telling her to get a cell phone, but she won’t have one. She doesn’t want to be that available. She loves her secret moments. Even from Marty.

Though life wasn’t bliss with Larry, she wasn’t looking to have an affair with Marty. She sometimes wondered why she wanted to throw eighteen years of marriage away? She’s lived longer with Larry than she’d lived with her parents.

After Daddy died. After he’d hit that other transport, her mother’s depression had been unbearable. Mum’s life became blurred by booze, and when she was in that state, she’d target her anger at Ilyse.

Ilyse never knew what hell she’d find when she got home, as she nervously slipped the key in the lock, quietly pushed and peered around the door. She’d let out a sigh whenever she saw Mum passed out on the couch. Mum wasn’t the nicest woman even in the best of times, but she was a monster when she got drunk.

She had to admit that Larry’s hard work and perseverance had paid off. They had money now.  The company had a reputation. Larry could take it easy, but he still came home late, wolfed down his warmed dinner and fell asleep in front of the TV with a beer in his hand.

But the damage was done—she was bored of him.



It was hot in the cab. Les and Terry were sitting beside her and the B.O. coming off them after an afternoon of deliveries was suffocating. She didn’t blame them for stinking. They were men after all—proficient at grunts and sweat stink. She kept turning her head towards the open window and taking deep breaths.

The last delivery was in a new subdivision.

“Lots of money there,” Larry said. “New houses. New furniture.” They were nice houses, large and ornamented. “One day we’ll have a house like that,” Larry told her.  But Ilyse didn’t want a house like that. She was happy with her bungalow and her neighbours.

She sighed. Why did she have to be here?

Fuckin’ Larry.

She was ready to leave him—soon. She was running away with Marty. It was just a matter of time. Marty had to straighten out a few things, then they’d be together forever, and she would have her happily ever after.

Till death do us part, in sickness, in health—all that idealistic shit she believed before marriage kicked her in the teeth and knocked her to her knees. She’d intended on keeping her vows but now…

She had met Marty at the supermarket.

She was comparing weight to price when another shopping cart slammed into hers. There was plenty of room in the aisle for both carts so she couldn’t understand how two carts could collide like that.

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” the crasher said. “Are you alright?” Then stuck out his hand. “My name’s Martin.”

“No harm done,” she said, and continued down the aisle.

He came after her.

“Excuse me,” he said. “I don’t usually do this, but I must say, you are the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.”

She wasn’t falling for that, but it made her blush.

When their carts crossed in the laundry aisle, he said, “I’m sorry to keep bothering you,  but I’m new at this. What cleans better, Gain or Sunlight?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “I use Tide.”

When they crossed again in the next aisle, he had a large jug of Tide in his cart. This made her smile. And when she reached the checkout, he was right behind her. And for many weeks after she’d run into him.

She thought it was just coincidence in a neighbourhood with one shopping plaza.

He called it kismet.

One day she went around the corner and he came around the corner, threw up his hands and said, “Are you following me?”

She laughed.

They went for coffee.

She had so much in common with Marty. She loved movies, and he had been in the movies. He was in The Bone Collector. Larry called it a stupid movie. He was getting impatient watching it. He said, “Jesus Christ! If that camera focuses on Angelina’s lips one more time…” And gestured as if he’d throw his beer at the TV.

Larry refuses to be insulted by bad movies and turns them off or walks out. He wanted to turn the movie off. “Give it a chance,” she told him. She wanted to wait for the scene with Marty, and there he was! He was standing behind the police tape and out of focus, but she could see him as clear as day.

On her pros and cons checklist, which she keeps beneath her things in the underwear drawer, Marty got more pros checks, and Larry got most of the cons checks. Marty did have some cons though—he was married and had two kids.

She and Larry never had time for kids. Larry said it would drain them financially. It would distract them from building the business. She agreed at first, but now at thirty-seven, she feels an emptiness that maybe the love for a child could fill, and she wouldn’t be alone…but she had Marty.

She did have Marty.

But she also had doubts. Her perspective wasn’t as clear as it used to be.

Last Friday Larry had come home early, which was strange. He’d brought a bottle of wine, which was stranger. A nicely chilled bottle of Liebfraumilch—her favourite. That he had remembered something she liked made her wonder what the hell was going on. He poured them each a glass, tinked his glass to hers, then sat across from her with a big smile on his face.

“Are you alright?” she asked.

“Great,” he said.

She wondered if he’d found something out.

Then he jumped up, grabbed her and lifted her in his arms, carried her down the hall and dropped her on the bed. Before she could react, he was all over her.

She didn’t resist.

It felt like rape more than lovemaking, but that’s how she had always liked it—spontaneous, rough, animal.  Being overpowered had always turned her on. The moment was reminiscent of the vigour Larry once had.

She had missed having her nipples twisted, and ass slapped.

And for that moment her love for Larry flowed back in warm waves. Why couldn’t it always have been like this? Why did he have to focus on work more than he focused on her? Why couldn’t they have had a life together, instead of he always being on the other side of his dream and she alone with no one to talk too?

Afterwards, lying in bed, they talked.

Larry had gotten a new contract—it was big!

“Worth thousands—the race track, where the Queen sits her royal ass to watch the horses—all has to be redone.” He’d put out a tender and they gave him the job. Cabinets, tables, chairs—everything. It was going to take five months.

She was excited by his excitement, and she’d snuggled against him and twirled the hair on his chest as he talked.

Then she heard the honk.

Whenever Marty drives by her house, he honks his horn.

She suddenly felt cold, pulled away from Larry and covered herself with a robe and told him she had to go to the bathroom. She sat on the toilette and wondered why she had let Larry make love to her. Her future was with Marty. It was all planned. She was just waiting on Marty. How could she slip up like that?

Now she felt guilty that she had just cheated on Marty with her husband.

What was going to happen now, when she went back to the bedroom? She couldn’t ignore Larry, after all that.

Larry wasn’t a bad guy, really. They had just grown apart. He was reliable. When he said something, he meant it. Sure, he got uptight when his schedule was upended. Who wouldn’t?

He wasn’t very abusive. He yelled. She yelled back in his face too so she wasn’t innocent in that regard. She’d even told him to fuck off lots of times and that usually ended the argument. That was normal between husband and wife. She reasoned if you couldn’t tell the one you love to fuck off then it wasn’t a close relationship.

He’d never called her names.

Marty had once called her a ‘ninny’, but he said he was only joking.

Marty—was cheating on his wife. His dishonesty had crossed her mind…but…that’s only because Marty wasn’t happy in his marriage…but…what if he cheated on her one day? She wasn’t a saint but even though she wasn’t happy with Larry, she had never thought to look for love elsewhere—until Marty crashed into her.

She’s pictured herself as stepmother to Marty’s kids. How would that work out? Would they want her as a step-mom or would they blame her for tearing their family apart? But it wasn’t her fault. It was their dad’s doing.

Larry never listens.  She tries to tell him what’s bothering her but all he ever gives her is solutions. She doesn’t want solutions. She wants him to listen.

Marty is a good listener. He’s very attentive, though sometimes when she’s talking, his eyes poke elsewhere. There was that one time, when they met downtown, and were sitting outside on a patio. He kept looking past her shoulder. She finally looked back and there was a pretty young girl sitting at a table behind them. It was the only time she was really upset with him. She wanted to break it off right then.

Marty explained that he wasn’t looking at the girl but the fancy drink she was sucking on. He’d never seen anything like it before. She looked back then and didn’t see anything special about it—a tall green glass with a stupid paper umbrella stuck in it. What’s so unique about that?

Larry never looks at other women.

Marty was a pothead. He said he needed it to take off the edge.

Larry drank beer but he never got drunk.

She doesn’t like talking to Marty when he’s stoned. And that’s the only time she feels isolated from him—when he’s stoned. You can’t have a serious conversation with someone who’s stoned. They laugh at everything you say.

She thinks Marty’s successful—in something.  She doesn’t know what he does. She asked him once, but he changed the subject so she never asked again. He acts and looks like someone who is in command. She thinks sometimes that it’s funny, that she really doesn’t know much about the man she wants to spend the rest of her life with—but that’ll change once they start living together.

Larry is very readable. She knows what he thinks. He doesn’t hold back. He’ll tell her like he sees it.

She wondered how she was going to live with a pothead. At Marty’s age—she never asked him how old he was. Probably in his forties—smoking that stuff at forty, it’s probably going to be a lifelong thing.

Sometimes when they’re together, Marty can’t get an erection, and it upsets him so she has to reassure him that it happens to every man once in a while. Sometimes she feels like Marty’s mother.

Sometimes in the past Larry has had that problem, but he didn’t get frustrated, he’d kiss her and say, “Doesn’t look like it’s going to happen, babe.” Then he’d get up and go to the kitchen to grab a beer.

Her life lately has been confusion but also bouts of optimism, all blending together to give her the weirdest highs and lows she’s ever experienced, and she wonders why she had made her life so complicated.

Now, driving the truck, she approached an intersection. Suddenly there was a kid on a bike in front of the truck.

“Oh shit!—”

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

Down one lot they had already started pouring concrete into the footings.

The spotter became distracted by the drama and forgot he was guiding a reversing cement truck, edging precariously to the edge of an eight-foot drop. It wasn’t the reverse beeps that finally brought the spotter to the present but the crashing groan of a fully laden cement truck sliding down the embankment on it’s side…



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

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

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

Ah, the blessed country.


The solitude.


The serenity of mornings.


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

He can understand the allure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They went around him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suddenly, a man stands beside him. He’s missing his front teeth when the man says, “That’s a nasty accident,” then falls to the ground.

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

He leans over the man and takes his outstretched hand.

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




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

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

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

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

Jenn unhooks the noose and steps down from the stool beneath the light fixture in the foyer and unvelcroes the ankle weights. She has on the blue dress she wants to be viewed in and wears a pair of Depends, because she’s read that when people hang themselves their sphincter releases and she doesn’t want her body hanging undignified in death.

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

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

Her neighbours come out of their houses too, cross the road and some hold cell phones in the air—and that’s when her husband drives onto the driveway.

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

Probably relief.

Her husband is a nice man. She wishes she could love him. He deserves that at least after putting up with her sullen life.

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


Copyright©Attila Zønn 2017