John and Jospeh live in the corner house and run an internet porn site.
They’re easy to get along with, sucking back beers and sharing joints when we close the street off for our annual summer party.
Though when one of the neighbour’s kids dented their green BMW with his wagon they threatened to have his legs broken.
Next to them, live this retired couple, Jay and Kat Baxter. Kat’s a large woman, with a cuss mouth, Jay’s afraid of her and will only put up resistance to her when he’s drunk. She’s got a bad left leg which she swings out, sometimes using a cane.
But she likes her girlie-girl makeup and to frizz out her blondish hair which is really a wig. In short, Divine, that drag queen who used to star in John Waters’s movies like Polyester etc.
John and Joseph are fattening Kat, there’s no other way to put it. They buy her ice cream cones from the truck that comes around every day at four and boxes of Krispy Kreme donuts and Laura Secord chocolates.
“Thank-you,” Kat says, her sausage fingers already opening the package to get at the food or scarfing down the cone sucking it back deep into her throat.
Joe and John exchange these sly grins.
The other night, they brought the camera over, nothing elaborate, a couple of lights, and Kat sitting out on her porch, while they fed her stuff and recorded it.
They’ve sold her on the idea that they will make her a DVD to leave to her grandchildren once she’s had her final meal.
Now Jay and Kat, probably don’t know about John and Joe’s little business on the side. They know about the gay part, it mimics their own relationship, someone has to wear the pants (Kat’s black panties left out to dry on the clothes line look like an air sock at an airport).
John’s kind of tough looking with a permanent five o’clock shadow until he speaks with a high pitched lispy voice. Joseph’s softer looking with juicy, womanly lips. He likes to dress up as a construction worker when he gardens and has this great Bogart voice from years of cigarette smoking.
The dwarf that they brought around was introduced to Kat as Joe’s little brother. He rubbed against Kat every chance he got, until his black leather shorts bulged with an erection.
A week later, twin sisters pretending to be Christian evangelicals brought their bibles and a picnic lunch. Close to 400 lbs now, her skin gone a permanent bluish grey, Kat disappeared inside her small bungalow with the two women.
The next day, three men with good-sized mustaches and wearing leather chaps and peaked motorcycle caps showed up to remodel her home. Joe and John were going to foot the bill.
The camera crew went in first, the men followed. A few hours later, Kat came out feet first on a stretcher, the amubulance didn’t flash its light or sirens when it pulled away. I heard she was vital signs absent when she showed up at the hospital. Jay said they had to break her jaw to get the corndog out of her mouth.
I watch her now a good year after her death, playing this “Divine”-like creature ready to “blow up” at any moment while gay guys prance around her in costume. Really something over the top, and Jay uses his percentage of the downloads to buy his lottery tickets and boxes of snuff.
On the way to the funeral, I wanted them to stop so I could have a cigarette or at least, I attempted to phrase that desire with my cold lips.
My two chief mourners sat in front of my casket in the hearse.
I heard perfectly well, in fact too clearly, and it stung me how my two oldest friends, Herbert and Ethel were talking about me.
Herbert: I told Tom to give up the cigarettes. You heard me tell him, how many times?
Ethel: Too many.
Herbert: He was a stubborn SOB.
Ethel: Oh well, who did he hurt in the end besides himself?
Herbert: When it comes right down to it, his two ex-wives, his children, me, by making a pass at you.
Ethel: I shouldn’t have told you.
Herbert: Don’t matter anymore. The dead are better dead, like my mother used to say. Good riddance.
God, I wish I could move from this paralysis, this terrible coldness I feel. I’m dressed in my best suit, my shoes freshly polished and my veins pumped full of preservative.
I have an itch I need to scratch under my nose but my hands won’t move.
I try to shut my ears and focus on the purpose of my journey but I can’t.
I can imagine Herbert sitting there scratching his big bulbous nose thickened from years of untreated acne rosacea, and a fondness for beer and spicy chicken.
I had years ago fancied Ethel, made a play for her, when Herbert was driving his rig through the southern states, had removed her bra and was kissing her nipples, when their daughter returned home early from a date and that was the end of that, Ethel never allowing herself to be alone with me again.
Herbert: Bert’s still driving his car though he can’t see out of one of his eyes.
Ethel: Why? Cataracts?
Herbert: Yeah, his left eye’s turned milky white. He went to the doctor and he said it was too late to do anything about it.
Ethel: What’s going to happen when the other eye goes, he shouldn’t be driving at all. He falls asleep at the wheel too.
Herbert: Tell me about it; we were driving back from Welland and he was nodding off, I told him to pull over and ever since, I do the driving. Except the last time I backed his car out of the garage, I scratched it on the side. I didn’t think he’d notice but he did, then he spent one hour showing me how to zig zag in and out that damn garage. You can’t back out straight, see.
Ethel: So why not back up into the garage and drive out seeing where you have to bend.
Herbert: No…he wants it done a certain way.
Ethel: He wasn’t there for the funeral.
Herbert: No, him and Tom had a falling out.
Ethel: Didn’t Tom visit him in the hospital?
Herbert: That was part of the problem, he didn’t.
Ethel: Oh well.
Herbert: But he didn’t visit me either when I had my bypass.
Ethel: That’s right.
Herbert: He could be real selfish that way.
I tried to answer that, I really did, and just for a moment I swear my lips moved. Then like a drier that’s running on a busted bearing, it all screeched to a halt again inside my parched throat.
Ethel: Well when everything is said and done, he wasn’t a bad sort.
Good for you Ethel.
Herbert: Cheap though. I used to always bump up the price on everything cause I knew he’d never tip me for all the running around I did for him.
That bastard. If I could unclasp my hands folded so neatly on my chest, I’d throttle his fat gizzard of a neck.
Ethel: So are we going back to the house?
Herbert: Oh sure, his sister will put on a fine spread.
Ethel: Do you think he left us anything?
Herbert: Not bloody likely.
Ethel: Did you make that doctor’s appointment like I asked you to?
Herbert: Oh sure.
Ethel: For the morning?
Herbert: No, for the afternoon.
Ethel: See that’s no good, we’ll waste the entire afternoon sitting there.
Herbert: It’s for 2:00 p.m.
Ethel: We’ll be lucky to leave the place before 3:30
Herbert: I know. I could still cancel.
Ethel: Besides, he can’t do any blood work. You won’t have fasted.
Herbert: He did it last time.
Ethel: Did he give you a repeat on the prescription?
Herbert: No he said to call in. But they’ll charge for that. One time it cost me $20.
Ethel: Doesn’t matter to him.
Herbert: No, it’s his girls working the phones that do that.
Ethel: See we should have shopped in the morning.
Herbert: I thought about that.
Ethel: Now we’ll be into rush hour.
Herbert: I know. We need eggs, bread and butter. We can get that at the No Frills, then go to the Loblaws for our fish.
Ethel: I want to get some of that fancy bread too. Maybe a fresh baked pie for desert.
The talk about food made me hungry; though I knew they had removed most of my guts. I just couldn’t understand what had gone wrong, because to be honest I felt a little too healthy to be dead.
She squeals, I slap, stinging the flesh. She opens up and I stick my fingers in.
Oh boy, she says, as if she was sucking down something not quite of this earth.
I pull out, take a whiff. Simply of the earth. Slightly rotting but with the possibilities of April growth.
She cleans up with scented Vaseline then zips up.
I smell of poo and love’s goo. I smell from the touchings and the insertions; my face next to this god I crave with my fingers.
This mucking about, trying to dial a phone number.
This mucking about trying to bend from the knees and lift the wooden box with a straight back.
By running, you’re trying to avoid the inevitable; by not running, you try not to think too much about it.
This mucking about.
Howard rose to the rank of controller at the Hamilton-Abbot Welding Co. In his spare time, he cultivated roses, naming a regional prizewinner, Ella Rosacea Arnold, after his mother. He was a founding member of the Peter, Paul and Joseph Presbyterian Church, serving at one time as its choir master. Though he accomplished much, he leaves even more unfinished.
This piece of clay. This tablet. This aspirin I stick under my tongue. I suffer the peevishness of perfect strangers while I look around the Apothecary Shop.
This mucking about, smelling of earth.
I prune roses by doing scissors with my fingers, smelling of earth and mud, and yesterday’s children.
In this room, I imagine the woman who sells me fish; complete with roots and stem and dripping black earth that she allows to spill down the front of her red dress.
She picks up a piece with her long-nailed fingers and flattens it against my cheek, creating an instant mole.
The old priest slit open the bubble-wrapped box with his boyhood jack knife. He spilled the contents out onto the surface of the wooden table.
A collection of bones. Bird, most likely, some human. A few photos, illustrations. The son of the Alcatraz man with the high-starched collar. The image of Daedulus and his father, the older man showing fear, the boy restless with the glory that he felt sprouting out of his back.
The old priest swept the bones off the table, drank from his tea cup. What he missed most was the unleavened bread and unconsecrated wine that he could snack on between masses and communion.
Now bread tasted bitter like ketchup and the wine too sweet.
It was the red sports car that caused the most trouble for him and the fact that he invited young girls to visit the Indian Reserve where they could gamble with him.
It was not the money he wanted but the trinkets in the gift shop, some of them authentic arrow heads, and the bones of the first white settlers. If they allowed him to join the Bones of a Feather club, he’d be able to indulge completely his passion, complete with peyote buttons and a steamy photo of the once-famous Diana Dors.
The old priest went over to the sink, ran the water on the day-old dishes until it got cold, placed a glass under it and drank slowly. His throat cleared and he hummed a few words from the song in his head, an old top forty song they played over and over again in the chicken factory where he worked as a student slitting the throats of young birds.
His first girlfriend had been of native ancestry, a beautiful girl far too intelligent for him and when they had met years later, she made a clumsy pass at him because she probably believed he was still a virgin.
He had called her Marie. But the world knew her as something else—a bit of a saint and a sinner, numerous high profile marriages and boy friends but it was her stint in the former Yugoslavia documenting war crimes that made him see how much in common they really had.
She shook the box, heard something rattling inside. No return address or the label had been scraped off. Even her address was scribbled on top of another address that had been partially erased. The box was not cardboard but plastic, could chip her painted nails, so she tapped at it, looking for an opening.
It was like how he used to annoy her tapping his fingernails at the dinner table or even worse while watching TV. It didn’t doom their marriage, just condemned it to a slow dissolve.
Funny, that they never tell you to find somebody with the same annoying habits, so that if one stopped the other would have to as well. No, they talk about love, lust, sexual energy and looks, attitudes towards money, property, and wage slavery, that’s the partial list and then come the really big ones such as religion and a desire for children.
She chewed her nails and he tapped his. Doomed right from the start.
She placed the box down on the coffee table, poked at it again with her fingers, whatever was inside it, seemed calmer, more relaxed.
He was back, happier, certainly than when he left. She forgave him the infidelities and the lying; he could perhaps finally tolerate her bisexuality.
She apologized again, accepted at least some of the blame. Maybe, just maybe that’s all it was. His wedding ring and maybe the key to his Jaquar that he had continued to store in the garage after he had moved out. Now that was two years ago, and the car was dirty, but once cleaned up, she’d look forward to driving it.
She found the hammer downstairs, brought it back upstairs placed the box on the kitchen table and swung at it with all her strength. It shattered, sending the bones every which way.
That was enough to make her feel guilty. Small chunks, like chicken bones that a cat or raccoon would steal from a garbage bag and leave to whiten in the sun. These were gray like that ash, like how his hair had turned.
When she watches the video, and the people begin to jump out of the towers, she stills the picture, takes a magnifying glass over to the screen, and believes it’s him waving goodbye to her before he tumbles out in a graceful arc, his Hugo Boss suit jacket functioning as ineffectual wings.
Guilt yeah. Not split up. He’d have watched it on TV with her. UG
Philip Quinn lives in Toronto and online at www.philipquinn.ca.
Dis Location, Stories After the Flood (Gutter Press 2000)
The Double, a novel. (Gutter Press 2003)
The SubWay (BookThug 2008)
The Skeleton Dance, a novel (Anvil Press 2009)