Category: Short Stories

Too Late…

I sat on the sofa, feeling like a lump of overcooked pasta, listening to the soft phlumps of my sister, Tabitha, pacing the floor behind me. The sky had grown increasingly ominous over the past hour and we both knew that time was running short. Then it was gone as one oily drop of rain hit the window.

Tabitha stopped pacing and we both just stared at the drop as it was joined by others, soon the glass would be coated with the rusty toxic liquid that fell from the sky.

“Why aren’t they here?” Tabitha’s voice rose shrill, warbling in a way I’d never heard from my sister. I opened my mouth to speak, but I had nothing to say. We stared at the gooey slick coating all the windows of the house, till I realized my mouth was still open and closed it.

“Jessica is crying again.”

We jumped. Drake, Tabitha’s son, was standing two feet away, but rather than being mesmerized by the phenomenon, he was examining the hardwood floors, as if not seeing it would mean it wasn’t real.

“Thanks, honey, I’ll go and check on her.” I said. I peeled myself off the soft leather sofa, feeling more like a ninety-year old grandmother than a thirty year old mother, and slowly began making my way to the back bedroom, even though I had no idea how to comfort my child. I could barely stand to look at her, and everything I did seemed only to hurt her more.

The house was large, much bigger than anything my sister or I had ever owned. We’d stolen the house. Paul, Tabitha’s husband, had plucked a large stone from the driveway and smashed in through the garage, which didn’t do us much good since we still had to break through a door to get into the house from the garage. It was something we should have known, and we joked about our awkward foray into a life of crime. It felt good. For a moment we almost resembled normal for the first time since the news broke. When we got inside, we saw portraits of the family who must have owned the house. I plucked a frame from a slate hall table and looked into four beautiful caramel-coloured faces, grinning obliviously, just as we all once were. A lovely little girl, a bit younger than my daughter, smiled up at me and I wondered if she, too, was already sick, despite only a few pink wisps in the sky and no sign of rain so far. But Steve snatched the photo and turned it over on the table. Soon Paul joined him, removing family photos, and turning over frames. It gave them something to do, and they were right; these people weren’t coming back and even if they did, we weren’t leaving. My seven year old daughter, Jessica, lay in one of the back bedrooms.

I’d taken only a few reluctant paces towards the rooms, when the sound of keys jingling at the front door stopped me in my tracks. My sister and I locked eyes, then raced for the door. It wasn’t until we both smashed into it, that I realized we had the same intention.

“No!” I shouted.

“I know.” Said Tabitha. She slid the chain lock into place, held the bolt shut, and gave me a resolute nod.

“Go to your room and keep Dakota in there with you!” I yelled at Drake.

“Is that dad?” He asked. His hair stood in a spiky mess and his eyebrows raised quizzically, he looked like a kid who’d woken up in blender.

“Drake; room; NOW!” His mother bellowed. His brow fell and he headed towards his room. “Paul, we can’t let you in.” She half-sobbed through the door.

“Tabitha, open the door!”

“No, Paul.” It was almost a whisper and I was sure Paul didn’t hear her.

“You guys are too late. We agreed! If you come in here, we’ll all…” I couldn’t say die. I pressed my feet into the hardwood, and my back against the cold door. In front of me was a spectacular view of Georgian Bay, and an even more spectacular view of a blood-red, cloudy sky. The rain had come. The front wall of the great room just beyond the foyer was entirely large panel glass, with an almost-invisible sliding door in the centre. If Paul and my husband, Steve, were as determined to get in as they were to get out and go for supplies, despite our pleas for them to just stay and wait, all they needed was a large stone from the garden. Beyond bolting the door, we had no fight. We were going to die anyways, what did it matter if it was now, or three days from now?

I had been in Toronto when reports first came in of clouds turning pink, then thickening to an almost black bloody red before bursting with toxic rust-coloured rain, decimating Nepal and parts of India and China. We were excused from work for the rest of the day, although most of us would have left regardless, and a few people stayed, regardless. I went straight to my daughter, Jessica, craftily avoiding my dimwitted co-worker, Nancy, who was crying hysterically and giving everybody hugs. I drove numb to my daughter’s school, walked past ashen parents, ashen teachers, and curious and concerned children. Every voice I heard had a hollow and distant quality. There was an eerie calm daze as the world simultaneously digested the new reality. We holed up in our home and spent the evening studying media sites and social media for any new details or insights, sharing the insightful hits with each other, and keeping the graphic ones to ourselves. At midnight, my husband Steve and I packed a bag, woke Jessica, and drove out of the city. We weren’t the only ones, but we managed to get north of the city just as the calm was erupting into chaos, the facade of civility crumbling to utter anarchy. Within forty-eight hours there were reports of widespread looting and killing, ironically, mostly in the name of providing for and protecting loved ones. We knew the rain was spreading fast. We knew it killed anything it touched, from human beings right down the chain, and that the fumes alone were deadly. We knew it was heading our way and that nobody knew what it was, or what caused it, let alone how to stop it.

“We’re all going to die anyways,” screamed Steve, “Let us in!”

Tabby was sobbing, but I felt like an automaton.

“We’ve got food, and we’ve got water!” Paul screamed. His voice was choked and gruff. I pushed my body harder against the door.

“It’s no good,” she hissed at me, “We can’t even touch it.”

“I know,” I reassured her.

Tabitha’s hand didn’t falter on the bolt, which reassured me. She had been married almost ten years longer than me, it was something that I envied, not just the length of time, but the connection they had. They were best friends and, even though I was considered the pretty one, Steve wouldn’t think twice about locking me out if the tables were turned. Steve would probably lock me out if I gained twenty pounds. It wasn’t exactly difficult for me to leave him out there, but for my sister, I was watching her sell her soul to buy her children maybe two or three more days of life.

Eventually, the men stopped their pleas. We crumpled together at the base of the door, our bodies weak, our heads together.

“Why?” Tabitha breathed. “Why is this happening?”

“I’m actually surprised it didn’t happen sooner.” I replied, and was instantly very sorry. True or no, it was the wrong thing to say with my sister on the verge of hysterics. I remembered needing to check on Jessica and I left my sister sitting with her back against the door. It had stopped raining.

“Don’t open the door.” I warned, as I left. Then I turned and added, “I know that was really hard for you.”

I entered my daughter’s room. It was darker than usual for the middle of the afternoon, eerie mauve light shone in around the drawn curtains and my daughter lay quiet and still on the bed.

“Mom, everything hurts.” She moaned.

I crossed the room and sat gingerly on the edge of the bed, even the slight movement of me sitting caused her to moan in pain, then apologize for making me uncomfortable. I instinctively went to take her hand and tell her she didn’t need to apologize, then realized I couldn’t even do that and pulled back. I wanted to look and see how much worse she’d gotten in the last few hours, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it anymore.

“Please don’t touch me, mom. It really hurts bad.” My daughter had started growing shaky and pale the day before. Within hours she developed spontaneous bruises all over her body, and by afternoon she was confined to her bed because she said her feet hurt too much to stand up anymore.

“Can I turn on the light?”

“Ugh, please no,” said Jessica. “Can you just sit and talk to me?”

“Of course I can, honey.” I wanted to get more comfortable, but at the same time, I didn’t want any shift on my part to agonize my daughter. So I just sat, stiff and uncomfortable, breathing in the silence, not knowing what to say, and hoping for Jessica to say anything.

“Mom, everything is going to die, isn’t it?” I felt heat rising behind my eyes and tried to blink back the flow. I didn’t care so much that everything was dying, it was my daughter’s voice. It didn’t sound like my daughter anymore and I realized that her authentic voice was a sound I’d already heard for the last time.

“Yeah, honey, we were all going to die at some point either way, it just looks like it’s going to be a lot sooner than we expected.”

“I don’t want to die.”

“Shh, don’t say that.” I had no idea how to fill the silence, but I had to say something, so I said, “Nobody really knows what happens after we die, for all we know, it could be really wonderful. Remember when you learned to ride your bike? It was really scary, and painful at first, but once you got it, a whole new world opened up.” I felt like an ass for comparing death to riding a bike, and tried to change course, “I think that maybe even caterpillars might be scared to lock themselves up in that tiny cocoon, but that usually turns out pretty sweet for them. Let’s just think of ourselves as caterpillars, what do you think?” Instinctively I reached again, Jessica winced, I remembered, and pulled back.

“It hurts to talk. I’m going to sleep a bit.”

“Okay, Jessie Bessie.” I hadn’t called her that since she was five; my Jessie Bessie Bear with the Big Hugs. I started to softly sing Summertime, just like I did when she was a baby, and I kept on singing until the slowed rhythm of her breathing was keeping the rhythm of the melody. Then I slowly inched off the bed and joined Tabby in the other room.

“My kids aren’t feeling well.” Tabby said, and the automaton who’d been protecting me crumbled into dust at my feet. I was no longer just making decisions based on the most logical assessment of the problem. It was like stepping from a dark and quiet room, into the middle of a live Iron Maiden concert of sweaty and frantic emotions. One instant unlocked every sensation that had been shut down for my own protection and my knees felt like jelly and I dropped to the floor. I felt myself being half-lifted, and half-dragged to the sofa. The lights seemed blinding, and the odours violent, my tongue tasted and felt like a slab of rubber in my mouth.

“You must really love my kids.” Tabitha quipped. I tried to smile but my sister’s expression told me that I hadn’t quite managed.

I pulled my knees up to my chest and felt a little better as I grabbed both the cuffs of my jeans in my fingers, and began rubbing the material. I noticed a small red stain on my left cuff and instantly looked away. My sister sat quietly beside me and I focused on a cream coloured leather chair by the fireplace. It had a small wrought iron table beside it and I forced myself to consider who’s chair it might be. Perhaps the woman in the photograph loved to curl up in that chair and knit on windy days, perhaps with a small cup of tea by her side. I imagined her sitting there, and filled in every imaginary detail till I was ready to face my cuff again. Slowly I willed myself to look at it. There was no logical way I could have gotten it on me. Then I remembered the ketchup I’d shattered while feeding Jessica dinner what seemed like a million years ago. Our last half-night in our own home. I stared at the stain, feeling both foolish and relieved.

“I’m fine,” I said. “I just… I don’t think I’ve been awake and digesting this properly. It all kinda flooded in at once and I was just… drowning in it, I guess.”

“It’s okay if you’re sick,” My sister said. “We’re all going to get it. It’s over for every living species on this planet, and I really don’t think it was aliens getting their period on us, or any of that other nonsense people are spouting. I think this is all our own fault. My guess is some toxic-spewing dumpster company somewhere really fucked up and now we’re all going to die. There’s no two ways about it. I think from here on out, we should just try to go together.”

“Yeah, maybe you’re right. I’m not sure of anything anymore. I’m all out of ideas.” Sweat pricked up on my neck.

“I know,” Said Tabitha, “Me too.” Then she tried to smile and didn’t quite manage. “Listen, I think we should all say our goodbyes tonight.”

“Look, Tabby, Let’s just rest. I can’t talk about this now.”

“I just killed my husband and my kids still got sick within minutes, and you can’t talk about this?”

I’d never felt so selfish, and so queasy, both at the same time in my life. I felt everything and everything felt like garbage. I longed for my automaton, but I was abandoned; it’s mission complete, it was time for me to resume command, but I didn’t feel ready, and I didn’t feel strong. I just wanted sleep.

“Maybe he’s not dead.”

“I hope to God he’s dead!” She snapped. “The thought that he might be still alive out there doesn’t bring me any comfort!”

“I know, I’m so sorry. I’m an idiot. Of course they are. It happened so fast. Who knows if we did the right thing? It was just instinct, wasn’t it? I mean, we both instinctively did the exact same thing.”

“Well, who the hell instinctively wiped out the entire planet? That’s what I wanna know!” My sister’s leg began to thrum up and down, like it always did when she was agitated.

“Maybe it was God, I mean, can you blame Him?”

“I’ve been praying.” Her leg stilled.

“Me too.”

“It’s good to have God to believe in at a time like this.” She took my hand and squeezed.

“Yup. Those atheists are really missing out.” I squeezed back. My sister giggled and I smiled.

“I bet they’re all trying to convert now.”

We both giggled at this, then sat quietly, each praying silent prayers and watching the last sliver of rusted orange sun dip beneath a bruised purple sky. I wondered whether I would meet my maker, and whether he was more like the bible God we read about in church, or more like the Friend who answers my prayers. I had my fingers crossed for Prayer God.

We woke at dawn, crumpled together on the couch, both with headaches raging. We didn’t have to speak. We knew it was time.

“How?” My sister spoke one word to me and it tore through my stomach worse than the contractions that breathed my daughter into the world. It was a blinding and physical pain, and I couldn’t be sure if the cause was physical illness from yesterdays shower, or emotional trauma taking a physical toll, maybe it was both, but one thing I was sure of, was that I couldn’t move. I was physically frozen, and I wasn’t sure if I’d ever be able to move again.

“I can’t.”

I was relieved to find that my sister could move, and as she turned to face me, she pulled away from the weight of my back, and I simply rolled backwards to fill up the space. I tried to pull myself out of the tight little coil I found myself in, but it was no use. I could feel myself trying to rock out of the fetal position, but I couldn’t shake it. I could see my sister, and register her panic, and her exhaustion, with her own trauma written all over her face, but I still couldn’t lift myself out. She got a blanket, tossed it over me, and plopped down beside me. She rubbed my hair absentmindedly and it soothed me. I could smell her lotion, and sense the moisture of her palm by the way my hair smoothed under it.

“You’re usually the one with all the balls,” she said. “It’s so fucked up to see you like this.”

I know, I thought. I’ve got to get myself out of this state. I may not be the best mom, but I’ve got to at least show up… to murder my daughter.

I felt myself coil in tighter and I tried to relax and calm my mind. My sister was talking about her husband, but I had to tune her out. I thought of my grandmother, and how she always told me to think of all the good and happy times when I’m trying to fall asleep, and so that’s what I did. I thought about my daughter’s first birthday. Pink balloons, and Sprinkles, the female clown. Why are clowns usually male? This whole thing was all our fault, my sister was right. I mean, we all knew what we were doing to this planet. It was really only a matter of time.

Then I was watching the YouTube video of the shopkeeper who was shooting anyone who tried to get into his store. A woman in a red dress had approached, I’m guessing the men had urged her to go forward, thinking the shopkeeper would let an unarmed woman in the shop. She held money out in front of her as she slowly approached his shop, and for a moment, I thought he was going to let her in. Then he shot her in the face right in front of her child, who looked to be about six or seven years old. He had on flip-flops and dirty green shorts. His face contorted wretchedly, as her head pinged back and a stream of hair attached to a red, white, and wet chunk flew off of her as she dropped to the ground. All hell broke loose immediately after that, and what I’m sure was the corpse of the shopkeeper was dragged out and beaten till I turned off the video. I tried to think of something else to fill the space, I tried to focus on my breathing, but I needed something else, something just as vivid to counter that image, I tried floating in space, then I tried winning five million dollars, then I tried riding wild horses, and then I started to feel again, a warm sadness, knowing that I’d never do any of those things. Nobody would. I slipped into the darkness for a few moments, then I started to breathe, and slowly come back to what my sister was saying. Only she was silent.

“Tabs?” I grumbled. Silence. I kept breathing, and trying to soothe my body into cooperating with me. It took about ten minutes to get off of the couch, and everything remained silent the entire time. I looked at the clock and it was 11:20 am. I slowly made my way to Jessica’s room, then I stopped. My sister was outside with Drake and Dakota. They were hugging. I raced to Jessica’s room and found her, barely alive, on her bed. The room smelled awful, human waste combined with the chemical odour that had permeated everything since the rain. I realized that the chemical odour wasn’t just coming from the rain, it was also coming from my daughter. I wasn’t sure how to do what I needed to, and I couldn’t ask my sister, my legs were too shaky and weak to manage. I tried not to think about what my sister was doing out there. I tried not to think about what I was doing in here.

“Jessica?” I whispered.

Silence. I marched to the bathroom and grabbed a washcloth and shoved it over my daughter’s mouth and nose before I had time to think. Despite my solid resolution, I still winced at the thought of the pain it must cause her, but I had to finish. This might be the last strength I have. I expected her to thrash and buck, but she only shuddered a few times. I held on tight for several minutes after the shuddering stopped, dry heaving as her tender and bruised flesh gave way under the washcloth like a crushed peach.

I cried and talked to my daughter for a while, hating every perfect word that came out of my mouth, now that it was too late. Then, I slowly crawled back to the window. My sister was gone. So was the boat. I looked closer and saw two dead otters on the shore, locked in an eternal embrace. I knew my sister was gone. I thought we had more time, but pink clouds were once again looming in the sky. My head was pounding, and my body ached. The bruises would come soon. I understood my daughter’s pain, and that I was a coward for making her hurt for so long. It was my sister who was brave. I sat on the couch, and thought about what to do next. I didn’t want to wait for the rain. I saw the boat appearing in the distance, and wondered if they were alive or dead on it, until I saw an oar moving. They were coming back.

I checked the medicine cabinets in our new luxury stolen house and found some sleep medication. I set it on the coffee table. Tabby and the kids crossed the massive patio towards the glass doors. They looked almost peaceful.

As soon as Tabby looked at me she knew, and she understood. “The kids said their goodbyes this morning. You did the right thing.”

“I know.” My voice was thick and I was all cried out.

“Are you ready?”

“Yeah, you?”

“I think so, I mean. What are we waiting for, right? This is only going to get worse. Maybe we should have just done it with Steve and Paul, I mean, we didn’t get too far without them.”

“I know. We killed them for nothing.” I regretted saying this, but my sister giggled.

“Don’t you remember me saying that? Ha, you were so out of it, it was crazy, you were rocking back and forth like a mental patient and I was laughing maniacally about how awkward it’s going to be when we see Steve and Paul on the other side, and how we’re going to have to apologize for murdering them.” She began to laugh and almost look like herself again. It was comforting to see, and I felt more like myself simply for basking in her beautiful laughter. Her batshit insane, lunatic laughter, over the death of her husband. I started to laugh at the absurdity of it all. Then we sat down with Drake and Dakota, ten and fifteen, respectively, and had the most absurd conversation of all. Ways to kill ourselves. It wasn’t a matter of if, it was only a matter of how. We wondered how many families were having the exact same conversation around the world. We talked about the pills, how we could split them and whether there would be enough. We talked about what we could have done differently and where we, as a species, went wrong, and what might have caused this global fumigation, and whether or not the cockroaches would survive this apocalypse, and even what that might look like. We talked and procrastinated, and procrastinated, and talked some more, until it was finally too late, and when we tried to stand, we found that we couldn’t. The solution to our problem sat in a pill bottle on the coffee table, clearly visible, but reaching this solution had silently passed through the realm of difficult and into the desolate fortress of impossible. We could only watch helplessly and desperately as each second slowly ticked away. And so we continued to do what we’d always done; talk. We stayed alive a long time that way, slowly and more slowly breathing in the thickening acrid atmosphere, feeling our flesh rot as we breathed, feeling our bones turn to gravy inside of us, and wishing we’d acted before it was too late.

The End

This story was based on a dream I had that has stuck with me. I love the story, but the writing could be better. I feel that my imagery falls flat, and my character development is lacking. I also wonder if it would have been more dramatic in present tense. I don’t know that I’m entirely finished with this story, but I’m going to shelve it for now, and maybe come back to it when I have more wisdom and experience under my belt. I hope it was still an enjoyable read.

Nothing’s Free

In the early nineties I worked in a sandwich shop. It was my first real job. I hated it. I didn’t even get to serve people the soup or sandwiches. I cleaned tables, washed dishes, and mopped floors. Apparently serving people their lunch was a privilege I had to earn. My boss was an asshole. Of course he was, he worked in customer-service. All that shit he had to smile and eat every day from the customers, he couldn’t spit it back out in their faces, so he spit it at me. We worked in the lobby of an office building at Bay and Bloor. The building was so tall it could intimidate giants. Mirrored glass and a stone exterior made it strong and beautiful. All day heels clacked importantly across the champagne coloured marble floors in the foyer. Shiny-shoed and finely suited men, and well dressed, hair-slicked, and lipsticked women would come into the shop for lunch. We braced for the noontime onslaught of customers. Nobody cared about me. I was invisible. None of those customers ever asked me how my day was, and in the off-chance that they did speak to me, it was only to prove some point to their minions about how graciously they could suffer the plebs. For some reason, however, I wanted to talk to them; for them to know I was a person. I felt compelled to tell them that I saw them and ask them if they saw me. I wanted to explain what I was doing working in this shitty sandwich shop, and what a complete jerk the owner was. How he made me take the napkins from their discarded trays and, if they didn’t look dirty or used, return them to the dispenser in order to save money. How he let dirty dishwater splash into the big pots of soup when he impatiently snatched dishes from my wet hands to show me how to wash them faster, forget about clean, it was all about speed. It sickened me. I’m sure any of these people would be happy to wait a few extra minutes for a properly washed plate, or a soup less likely to be laced with bacteria in traces of their coworkers’ minestrone backwash.

Every day I wished for some excitement. I’d look out the window, up to the top of the towering grey skyscraper next door and imagine the man of my dreams confessing his undying love for me and plunging to his death, my name still on his lips, shattering his body the way I shattered his heart with my sad and fearful rejection, terrified of angering my big-daddy who kept me locked in a tower, and entirely weak and dependent. Then these people would know my name.

But alas, my suicidal Prince Invisible never came. I kept mopping floors. I kept dealing with my asshole boss, his asshole wife, and the biggest asshole of all, their kid. I was kid myself, an outsider, not from wherever the hell they were from so of course they gave me all the shit jobs, of course they made me get there early and stay late after every shift so I could finish doing an actual good job of mopping their floors, for free, of course. They said if I was faster, I wouldn’t have to stay late, but if I was faster, then it wouldn’t be done properly. I don’t even know why I gave shit. Fuck their floors and fuck their dirty dishes. If they went a little slower, if they cared a little more, then maybe they’d be serving good food instead of dirty shit soup.

I didn’t even last two weeks. I was at the phone-bank in the foyer of the office building, telling my big-daddy that I had quit. He was thrilled. He was against it from the start. The last thing he wanted was for me to find a way to wriggle out of his hooks.

“You were right.” I said. “I can’t do this. They’re always making me stay late. I can never just leave when it’s supposed to be over… Yeah, I’m leaving now – finally! I’ll see you at home.” I hung up the phone and their son, who wasn’t much older than me, had snuck up behind me.

“I don’t ever want to hear you complaining about this job to anybody,” he hissed at me. “If you can’t do the work then don’t bother coming back.”

Fuck you! Is what I wanted to say. This job ended half an hour ago when you STOPPED FUCKING PAYING ME! But I just stood there, saying nothing, until he stormed off with a disgusted snort.

Something about the furrow of his brow, the curl of his lip, the way he squared his shoulders; he was thrilled to finally have someone beneath him the way that he was beneath his parents. He knew his father would be proud of him, telling me off. I knew it too. He revelled in his moment of tyranny, obviously not hearing the part about how I’d already quit. I’m sure he felt really big, but to me he looked so small and so trapped inside himself. If he’d just gotten to know me, maybe he’d see that we weren’t that different. I wonder how he took the news when he walked back into the shop and his father told him that he was being demoted back to table-clearing, dish-washing, floor-mopping bitch until another sucker came along in response to their perpetual ‘Help Wanted’ sign in the window.

The End

This short story started as a writing exercise from my textbook. I already read an edition of the textbook, cover-to-cover, but I am now reading the newest edition and working through a selection of the exercises. This assignment was to think of a past job that I held, and then write a fiction based on it. I won’t say how much of this is true, or how much is fiction, but I will say this, the sandwich shop was at Bloor, but not at Bay & Bloor, and I wound up describing a different building because I could’t remember what the actual building looked like. I’m sure that sandwich shop is long gone, though. My focus, for this story, was significant detail, as well as painting the scene so the reader can actually picture it in their mind. Point of view and theme flowed naturally – although I worry the theme and meaning of the story might be a bit too subtle. Please let me know what you think! I tried to pay attention to pacing as well so I think the story flows nicely and has an appropriate balance of long, meandering sentences, and short punchy ones. Again, comments and feedback welcome!

The Seizure

Today kinda sucked. I almost died. I know what happened today could have killed me, and near-death experiences have a weird effect. On me, since I can’t speak for anyone else.

So, my son and I have been battling pink-eye. I say battling because the antibiotics haven’t been working. Somehow I got re-infected in the opposite eye than the one that had it in the first place and the bottle of drops they give you is so tiny that there isn’t enough to go through another treatment without going back to the clinic for more drops.

I knew I was infected but my son, Bob, wasn’t showing any symptoms. I decided to keep him home and bring him with me to the doctor, in case there was an early warning sign the doc could pick up before his eyes literally turned pink and starting oozing with nasty.

So, he was there and being good for a little while, then, as it goes with five year olds, he got bored and started getting loud and rambunctious. I tried to calm him down and when he refused to listen, I put him in a time out. He tried to run from the time out and I reached out to grab him. That’s when it happened. I broke a nail. I broke that bastard right down to the quick. There was blood. Blood and I are not on good terms. Then there was the pain, also not on good terms. I managed to get a bandage on, but within seconds I knew what was coming. They’ve been happening since I was a kid.

My family called them fainting spells. They happened very rarely, years apart, but whenever something too unpleasant or painful happens, it’s like a part of me just checks out and the rest of me is left in a jumbled, writhing heap on the floor. The term epileptic seizure had been tossed around, but I clung to fainting spells. They sound more pleasant and romantic, less severe. There was nothing pleasant or romantic about what happened to me in the clinic.

I did what I knew to do. Sometimes I can stop it. I steadied my breathing and got low to the ground. I tried to save face by sitting on the floor, but soon I was on all fours trying to steady my body from swaying. The room grew very hot.

“Hey, are you okay?” A man’s voice reaches me

“I’m not good with blood,” I pant. My sweaty palms press into rough grey carpet as I use my last strength to try and crawl to my son. He has stopped trying to run from me and is standing still, his eyes are wide and white.

“Hey, I think this lady needs-“

Brilliant blue sky and pristine white clouds envelop me. I am vapour floating high above the earth. I am a small part of a vast universe. I am only my soul. I am invisible, and weightless. I feel no pain, I feel no sorrow, I feel no joy, no hope, no pressure, no need. I feel only space and freedom. Before my surroundings fully emerge into focus, I am lying on the rough grey carpet and worried faces are peering down at me.

“Do you know where you are?” A man who wasn’t in the waiting room before is kneeling over me. He looks calm and assured.

“Where is my son?” I croak.

“He is okay.” A female voice. The man tries to repeat his question but I break in.

“Where is my son?” I demand.

“He’s fine. We took him in the other room so he wouldn’t have to see this. He’s playing with toys.”

With that a tentative calm washes over me, but I still need to see him. I know things are bad. I am very confused. I relax into the carpet, trying to regain my wits. The man is a doctor. The ladies are nurses or secretaries.

He repeats his question. I answer. He asks the other people in the waiting room what happened. Then he turns to me, “So, seeing the blood is what triggered this?” He asks.

“Yeah,” I mumble. “I’d really make a terrible doctor, huh?”

He smiles, “Well, your sense of humour is back.”

It’s usually my first defence in embarrassing situations.

It takes a few minutes, but soon I am ready to try standing up. They’d like to move me into a room. The doctor and the secretary &/or nurse, a large, well-groomed, and attractive black woman, help me up. That’s when I look down.

“Oh my God!”

“It’s okay, don’t worry about it,” they are quick to reassure me, but I’m mortified. I’ve peed my pants. It’s quite too soon to find anything funny about this. I start to cry, humiliated.

The black woman comforts me.

Soon I am being helped onto the examining table in the doctors office. I’ve seen my son and I know he’s alright, but he looks a little shaken up.

“I need to take these pants off,” I protest. But I realize I have nothing else to put on. I have no choice but to lie down in my wet pants. They bring me ice packs, I am burning up. The doctor tells me I have had a seizure.

They are very composed and caring. It hasn’t dawned on me yet how lucky I am, that this has happened in the best possible place, and how much worse this could have turned out for me, and for my son.

The doctor comes in and checks on me a few times, the ladies freshen my ice packs and care for my child. My baby comes and holds my hand… for a few seconds before running off to cause trouble. He keeps trying to lock them out of the room. He will be the death of me, but I don’t think death is really all that bad.

The doctor returns to the room and is looking me over and asking questions.

“This actually isn’t even why I’m here,” I say. “I’m here because of the pink eye. We took the antibiotics but it came back. I point to my infected eye and he leans in to take a look. I can smell my pee wafting up, I’m so fucking embarrassed.

“I don’t think that is pink eye,” he says, apprehensively. “It looks like a ruptured blood vessel in your eye.”

“No,” I insist. “It is pink eye, we’ve had it before and I used the antibiotics, but it came back. I’ve been using the leftover antibiotics so it might look a little better than it did yesterday, but it’s for sure pink eye.”

“No, it’s a ruptured blood vessel.”

I’m confused. It feels like we are not talking about the same thing. “Um, do you have a mirror?” I ask.

He starts to say no, then turns and digs one out. He hands it to me. I start to get dizzy again.

“Take it!” I cry, and he’s quick to slip it out of my hands before I drop it to the floor. I writhe around on the table, trying to prevent my body from feeling all fuzzy and disconnected. The last thing I needed to see was more blood right now, and here my eye is full of it. I try to get the image out of my mind. It takes effort.

“It didn’t look like that before,” I groan. “Oh my god, my friggin eye!”

“It may have been associated with the seizure. You say it wasn’t like that when you came in?”

“No, not at all. It was just like normal pink eye. It was a little bit pink and goopy.” The white of my eye now has a dark red splotch of blood that gets worse above my eyelid. I don’t have the stomach to find out how much worse. I feel nauseous and they bring me some cold water, and a bowl to vomit into. The doctor agrees to write a script for the pink eye and my son is uncharacteristically well-behaved for the moment. I am grateful for both.

It takes some time but soon I am well enough to try standing. I do my best to clean up the pissy table, I remove the wet paper and the paper gown they laid down and dispose of it. The doctor has given me another paper gown which I wrap around my waist, and for the first time on this sweltering spring day, I’m glad I brought my rain jacket, which I wrap around my waist over the paper gown.

I stumble out, legs weak and shaky, and face the people in the waiting room again. I’m beyond humiliated now. The pity in these faces cuts like knives.

“I forgot my prescription,” I mumble. The secretary tells me to sit and that she’ll go back for it, but I don’t listen. I’m happy to get away from all the probing eyes. I still have to face the pharmacist, who got a front-seat view of me pissing myself. He wordlessly fills the prescription, and I’m glad that he doesn’t explain things. He knows we’ve been dealing with this for a while now.

The doctor has insisted I see the neurologist and that is a great idea. The secretary gives me an appointment card and calls me a taxi. My son and I wait outside in the fresh air. I feel like a wrung out sponge and just need to get home to my bed.

I thought I was pretty cool with death. We’re all given a life, we all owe a death, and we don’t get to decide where, when, or how we pay up. But I still felt sad and I cried a bit when I got home – mostly for my son. I don’t want to die and leave him. He needs me. I need at least another twenty years and I haven’t been promised so much as the next minute. You just never know.

My sister called, which is unusual for the time of day it was. Then the first thing she asked me was how I was feeling, also unusual. We aren’t even twins and we have that telepathy. Of course I broke down and told her. The only thing that stopped me from calling her first is that I didn’t know what she was up to and didn’t want to worry her if she needed her focus to be elsewhere. I am okay and it was unnecessary.

A friend, who couldn’t pick us up from the clinic, brought us Mc.Donald’s, along with a finger splint for my poor hand, and washed our dishes since I didn’t want to get my torn up nail wet just yet. I’m so grateful for the few good friends and family I have. I don’t want to die, but if it has to happen, I can honestly say, I’m satisfied with how I lived. I don’t want anyone to stop living just because I do, and that crazy funeral idea I had, with the Michael Jackson? Yeah, that is totally happening!

Two Old Men…

They leaned against a cold brick wall, years of hard living written in the lines on both their faces. Inside was the off-track wagering den where they’d place their bets and take their losses. Right now they smoked cheap cigarettes in the biting cold, closer to the entrance than they should be but who the hell cared? Long ago, or not long ago, depending on who you ask, there was an actual racetrack where these two men stood. Now they were surrounded by boutique storefronts, condos, and townhouses. Starter homes for young yuppie families.

These two derelict men used to visit that racetrack. There was a time when they belonged in this neighbourhood, when times were good, before layoffs happened, before wives left, before they sold their spot in the housing bubble but moments too soon, before they found solace in the bottom of a bottle, or pinned all their hopes on A Fleeting Chance, who came in dead last, by the way. Nowadays they were being given the bum’s rush. The Greenwood Teletheatre had become the Greenwood hole in the wall and not in a charming way. Seedy-looking hobos scared away most would-be customers, and many of the new and old homeowners in the area considered it a blight. The land had been bought out from under these unfortunates, and many others, and this was the last backyard where they were being politely tolerated until something could be done. Something that wouldn’t shine too much light on that glittering Liberal facade that many put on with their morning makeup or their shaving cologne.

Sal watched a sparse smattering of people passing him by. Toby studied his racing forms until Sal nudged him.

“You see that?” He said. Toby followed his gaze to a young mother. Her child, who looked to be a boy of about four years old, had been unsteadily hitching up his warm winter coat so he could adjust his clothing. When Toby looked up the mother had stopped and knelt down. She was reaching under the child’s coat to make adjustments to his clothing. His whole body jerked as she brusquely tugged and jerked around under the coat.

“Huh,” was all Toby said then tried to return to his forms, but Sal had a point to make.

“A woman can do that,” he said. “But if I tried to do that people would look at me funny.”

“That’s because that’s not your kid,” said Toby. “You trying to get yourself arrested?” Sal only glared at him. Toby looked back down at his racing forms and for a brief, glorious moment thought that Sal was actually going to let this go. No such luck.

“Don’t be a smartass,” said Sal, “you know I’m not talking about diddling someone else’s kid. I’m not a pervert. I’m talking about how women can get away with everything while us men have to live under a microscope. Every little move we make just gets blown all out of proportion.”

Toby knew better than to engage when Sal got into one of his tirades. Sal was already half in the bottle and Toby was headed in the same direction but, tipsy or not, he was still well aware that the ice had grown precariously thin and best to watch his step.

The woman straightened up and carried on with her son, oblivious that she was the topic of their conversation.

“I hear ya,” Toby replied.

“Yeah, but unless you’ve been married, you just don’t get it. Women are evil creatures, all of them.” Toby tried hard not to roll his eyes, and mostly succeeded. Luckily, Sal missed the slight gesture.

The men tossed their cigarettes and went back inside.

Sal’s wife had left him and took the children when Sal got laid off in the early nineties. It wasn’t because he got laid off that she left, it was actually about eight months later when he cracked two of her ribs and about three months after he graduated, with honours, to the level of full-blown alcoholic.

Toby had been a drifter for the last twenty years. He drank everyday and, yeah, sometimes things got out of hand, but he was functional, for the most part. He held jobs when he could, he relied on assistance when he couldn’t, and as long as he had a roof over his head and food in his tummy, with a few knocks of whiskey to warm it up, he was a happy camper. Of course he aspired to bigger and better things – what gambler doesn’t? – But for the most part he was content to just float along with the wind happily, drunkenly, accepting whatever lot life handed him.

Inside the parlour Toby followed Sal to their usual corner. A grape shaped waitress with curly hair was making her rounds.

“You boys need anything?” She asked.

“Coffee, tea, or you!” quipped Sal, offering a salacious wink.

“Okay, well let me know when you’re ready.” She said, unperturbed.

“Wait!” Called Toby. “Two Bud’s please.”

“You got it.” The waitress called back over her shoulder as she rolled on over to the bar.

“That fucking bitch,” Sal muttered.

“Did you really expect that to work?”

“Nothing works on these uptight bitches.” Sal snapped. “They act like they got pussies made of solid gold. Like we’re supposed to beg for it like dogs!”

“I hear ya,” lamented Toby.

“No, I don’t think you do. You think I’m crazy, or maybe just foolish, but you haven’t seen what I’ve seen. Julie was the reason why I drank so much. She didn’t do anything clear, like, that I could put a finger on, but it’s just the way she was. It was all the little things and sometimes just the stupid look on her face. She would practically force me to lay into her, then act like it was me who was the bad guy. I’m telling you, these cunts like to act like they’re angels but they’re really all the devils in disguise.”

The waitress was approaching and was well within earshot when Sal made this last remark.

“That’ll be seven dollars,” she said, dryly, still quite unfazed. Toby handed her a ten.

“Keep eight.”

“Thank you, sir.” She handed him his change.

Toby tried to remember why he hung out with Sal in the first place. He was actually an okay guy when he wasn’t ruminating on his ex-wife, or life in general, or a myriad of other things, but once his tongue got flapping, his fists usually weren’t far behind. Toby could sense that this was going to be a bad night for Sal. A lot of nights were bad nights for Sal.

Toby had no idea how they’d met, probably because they were both fall-down drunk, but he knew that if he went to the Greenwood off-track and Sal was there, they were going to hang out together. They knew each other, somehow, and they were in the same bar – one of the only off-tracks that Toby was still welcome at in the city, so it was just par for the course.

Both men slugged their beers.

“She used to say little things to me, on purpose, just to get under my skin.” Sal said after he’d clunked his beer back down on the table.

“Like what?” Toby said.

“Just stupid stuff,” Sal replied. “Like, she’d bring up bills at the worst possible time, and she’d play with her hair in a way, like, trying to be cute about it. One time she even said she wouldn’t be interested in sex until I got interested in looking for a job. That’s exactly what the bitch said! Like, how was I supposed to take that?”

“Do you think maybe she was just stressed out?”

She was stressed out?! I’m the one that lost my goddamn job! During a recession! Then she was gonna try to use the only thing I had left to try and motivate me? You can’t motivate me with what’s already mine, bitch.”

She’s not yours anymore, thought Toby. They slugged their beers in silence.

“Another time she woke up early, brought me breakfast in bed, two eggs, bacon, toast, all the trimmings. I should have known it was a setup. She watches me eat, then takes the tray and says to me, smiling, ‘I wanted you to have a nice full tummy so maybe you can go look for a job today?’ Something like that. I forget how she worded it, but it was the constant nagging that did me in. Always pestering me about the job thing. Money. It’s like that’s all women want these days. Greedy fucking cows, they are.” Sal took a quick nip and set in again with a mimicry of Julie. His mouth turned into a caricature of a duckface and out chirped a psuedo-lady voice. “The kids need shoes… We have no food… Get a job… We’re going to lose the house… It was like I never heard the fucking end of it.”

Toby finally lost it. Sal’s rendition of his ex-wife’s nagging sent Toby into a maniacal eruption of laughter. The more he tried to stop, the more he just kept right on laughing, keenly aware of Sal’s growing rage. Toby imagined Sal with steam shooting out of the top of his head and his ears and laughed even harder. He laughed right up until he felt Sal’s fist explode into his belly. He was still hitching with giggles but, with all the oxygen forced out of his lungs, the only sound was wheezy huffing.

As he caught his breath his laughter melted away exposing a furious rage hidden beneath the surface. A few guys were still watching the screens and their racing forms, but most we’re nervously surveying the fighting couple. Management whispered among themselves, probably hoping that the fight would peter out without any intervention on their part, and a few of the scruffy-looking men in the parlour yelled, some egging them on, some telling them to take their shite elsewhere.

Toby struggled to his feet, squaring with the raging Sal, who looked about ready to go on for a round.

“You know what, fuck you.”

“Oh, fuck me, right? Look at you, pussy, siding with the women. I bet you never had a pussy in your life because you are one, that’s why.”

“I wouldn’t tell you about it because you’re a piece of shit who doesn’t deserve to know what I had!” Toby’s voice had grown to a thunderous roar by the last part of his sentence. Sal was momentarily dumbfounded. He’d heard Toby yell a few times, but not like this. Toby lowered his voice and continued. “But I’ll tell you. I had a mother, used to lock me in a cage and beat me and my brother with an extension cord for no good reason. My brother died, and she said it was an accident, but I know it wasn’t because I was there. I had a woman, not a bitch, and not a pussy or a cunt or whatever you call them, but a beautiful woman, she was beautiful to me. The only woman in the world who ever really loved me, and who ever really knew me, and man, I just loved her with all my life.” Toby paused. Most of the eyes in the establishment were on him and he wished he’d just walked away, but it was too late now. “She died,” his voice cracked and he glanced down at the racing form, which he was wringing ragged in his hands. “She died and I-“ He didn’t know how to go on.

“Hey, look man, I’m sorry. Maybe your lady was… maybe she was-“

Different is what Sal was going to say, but Toby wasn’t finished yet.

“You’re an idiot, Sal. I’m done hanging around with you because you’re an idiot and I just can’t take it anymore. Neither could your wife and that’s why she’s gone. It’s not because of the devil, or because of money, or because all women are bad, it’s because you’re bad. You drove her away. You had it all, and you fucking blew it, and you blame everybody else because you just can’t accept that it’s all your own fucking fault!

Sal’s fists balled up, but something in Toby’s face deflated him like a slashed tire. He plumped down into his chair, looking quite slapped.

“Fuck you,” he said, weakly.

“No, fuck you,” Toby shot back, “You had a wife, who’s still alive, you fucking broke her ribs, and her heart, instead of being a man and here you are, drinking with the sots like you got problems! You asshole! The only problem you got is you! You’re going to either fix that problem, or you’re going to live with it till the day you die, asshole, because all the people you are blaming for your shit are too busy moving on with their own lives to toss you even a hint of a thought.”

The next moment Toby was flinging open the glass door and stepping out into the frosty air. Then he was running.

He finally dropped, panting, on a park bench near the Martin Goodman Trail at the beach. He searched his pockets for his little mickey of whiskey that he’d snuck into the off-track, but he couldn’t find it.

Must have lost it in the scuffle, he thought.

Then he put his face into his hands and cried.

It was a long walk to the nearest liquor store that wasn’t right across the street from the off-track. Toby made the walk because he didn’t want to run into Sal, but also because he needed to think.

His mother, left alone to raise two boys and a girl by herself had become a lot like Sal. She hated men, and she hated the world. She hurt people.

His own Sophia, gone forever. How unfair life could be and how cruel. His long-awaited chance at happiness, snuffed out in the blink of an eye because someone just happened to have a brain aneurysm while behind the wheel and the chain-reaction created a short list of casualties and a long list of ripples in a tragic pond.

Why build a castle when the tide can turn at any time and just wash it all out?

He thought that maybe he needed to take his own advice. What angers us in others is what we often sense but fail to see in ourselves.

He saw the glowing lights of the LCBO in the distance.

I’m going to give AA another go, he thought, as a flutter of anticipation whispered through his belly. His pace quickened, although not to his knowledge.


The End

Author’s Note:

This story was inspired by true events – one true event, I should say. I was walking my son home through the brisk cold and I did stop to adjust his clothing close to the off-track wagering place. There are always men smoking outside, and I imagined the beginning of the dialogue as something two of these men might say to each other.

Then I wondered what would happen next and the rest is history, but that really makes it seem so simple, doesn’t it? No, it really wasn’t that simple. I’ve started a lot of these stories, but I’ve finished very few. Usually I get stuck on some point and, being unable to think through it, I decide to give it a rest and maybe it’ll come to me, or maybe I don’t have time to think through it because life is happening and I have stuff I need to do, and a lot of the times nothing comes to me, or I forget about it, or I get another idea and decide to start working on that instead. There’s always an excuse not to finish things, but with the short-story section of my blog still sitting empty two weeks after its inception, I was determined to finish something.

I was actually in bed knitting when I thought back to that particular moment of the day and I realized that idea would be perfect and simple enough to sculpt into a tidy little story for my blog. I tossed my knitting aside and spent a few hours on it before I reached that inevitable point. I’m stuck. I don’t know where to go next and there are too many options. I really needed to go to bed. I have to get my son ready and get him to school in the morning.

So it’s the next day, and my son is at school, and I head straight to my story. I read through it with a fresh head and the direction seemed to be pretty clear. I’ll keep my own personal experiences to myself, but I used my knowledge to build my imaginary characters and then it was just a matter of how they would behave, being who they are. I wanted them to be authentic and natural and I hope I achieved that. As it unfolded Toby emerged as my favourite, Sal as my not-so favourite, but Sal’s story doesn’t really get told. We are left to wonder what shaped Sal’s personality, and whether or not he can overcome it. I say ‘we’ because I wonder and I hope you do too.

I didn’t write this story to condemn anyone, or to glorify anyone. I suppose my beliefs can’t help but bleed through into my writing, but when I read over this story I sense the recurring theme that there is more depth to people than what’s on the surface. For my part, I simply tried to be authentic. Everyone is free to form their own take on it, though. It’s art, after all.

Thank you for taking the time to read my little story. If you are reading this now, know that it means a lot to me and that I’m grateful for you. It’s a lot more motivating to write knowing that someone, other than me, will be enjoying my work. Feel free to share, by linking directly to my site, if you think that others would enjoy also!