A final plane and polish, by Sue Tyley

 

Editing: “Nuts and Bolts and Oiling”

January 10, 2018. Here’s a thoughtful article from a skilled editor. Sue Tyley did the editing on the upcoming print anthology, “The Best of Fiction on the Web”, in which my short story, “Nothing to Lose”, appears. The book is in for typesetting now and Senior Editor Charlie Fish is working on a cover and other design and content decisions. A foreword by author Julia Bell and a felicitous contribution from actor-writer Richard E. Grant – of Game of Thrones fame, and more – are two items to be included.

A final plane and polish, by Sue Tyley

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For more information on the “The Best of Fiction on the Web” anthology, follow the following fish:

icon_FOTW fish

And here’s the LATEST from Fiction on the Web, a cool place to hang out, NAWMEAN!? P.S. – My affected London accent has a flat, nasal, Plautdietsch ring to it. Keanu Reeves ain’t got a ‘fing on me.

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A Letter to My Conservative Friends

What do you do the day your sewer pipe freezes? I wrote this.

First of all, am I a ‘snowflake’ because I don’t want the environment to be irrevocably ruined? If so, sign me up! I’m in. Call me names if you must just don’t say I’m irresponsible or negligent.

You see, the environment, last time we checked, ignored political borders. So, yeah – I am inclined to pay attention to what goes on, south of the border, down USA way. Also, whatever disease they have right now – I’m hoping we’re immune. But I doubt it.

Therefore, I believe we need more snowflakes, dude! Banks and drifts and dunes of ’em!

More scientists, too. Scientists, most would agree, are best taught in schools, not in houses of worship. “Why?” So the scientists have the freedom to ask, “Why?” instead of stating, “Because that is our faith.”

Let our faith be that we will have the scientists ask why, over and over, and then, well, let’s go from there.

Can we not let schools be schools and their views–from crop science to medicine–be broad? Broad enough, at least, to see that the earth is not flat, appearances notwithstanding. Even at the corner of the #1 and the #12 – a plain if there ever was one.

Gather by the margin of the river? Of course! Scientists don’t prevent that. They shine a light on that Chartered pledge. Gather by any river you want.

Aliens Need Not Apply

‘Libtard’ – a shameful, ignoble word and I’m positive most of my friends don’t use it except when they are with an extreme crowd. Peer pressure. Anyway – am I a libtard because I don’t want a Canadian version of the WALL around “our” part of the sandbox? (The same sandbox we grabbed when the previous tenants weren’t looking.)

Sure, my weak-ass approach might mean sharing more of Canada with some odd Queeg Quegs who did not RSVP. Just like in 1873, when the Métis, French, the subjects of the British Queen, and all the established patches in the quilt around the Red River of the North had to get used to us. And we were a bunch of dike-building, silk-spinning, plum-growing peaceniks. Aliens? Oh bah, joh! 

We sat in our white-washed (inside and out), gender-segregated churches and argued about our ancestors –  the people who waged word wars about buttons versus hooks. (Like Dee Oolah even cared.) Oh, what a magnificent gaggle of crazed zealots we were!

“Mennonites with hooks and eyes,
are pleasing to the Holy Guise.
But Mennonites with buttons and pockets
are choice trinkets for the Devil’s lockets.”

Günter Gross, via page 503, Mennonite Low German Dictionary, Jack Thiessen

We were bonneted, bearded, stubborn, obscenely productive foreigners who spoke Plautdietsch like we really, really meant it. Deutsch issued from our lips even as Canada fought wars against Deutschland. Hmm…I would have thought that was suspicious. It was! It was, and yet they let us carry on – every Hans and Heinrich and Helen.

But we, of course, and to our ever-lasting credit (union and otherwise) made the struck pay off. “Damn it, how those Mennos can make the Red Fife grow!” happy prairie politicians said, twirling their moustaches with fingers dipped in every pie.

They all got used to us, I guess. The Englanders and colour commentators (“A good Canadian kid!”) can now pronounce our strange, umlauted names as accurately as any church elder. Now they prize our books, buy our autos, elect us to high office; even teach us graft and greed! (We’re fast learners and even offer some tricks of our own – like conflating church, and state and industry – a time-honoured way to make pigshit flow uphill.)

So be it – as we were welcomed, let us welcome others. Bring on the frintschoft, the fast-talkers, the money-changers, the dishwashers, the uber drivers and the undertakers. In fact, invite the whole madman’s rainbow garden, sown with every flavour, stripe and viewpoint and let them brandish their curly daggers and their straight laces alike. They will enrich us, and although that road may not be perfectly smooth, it’ll be worth the trip.

So be it, indeed. Even if that means acquiring some new, elastic personal boundaries, or smelling a little more garlic–or curry–or seeing a tall spire, here and there. Even on ‘your’ side of Sumas Avenue.

Also, we must remember: as the USA turns to a Hispanic majority–estimated to happen in 2044–Canada will become an Asian majority by 2050, or so. I want my children and their kids ready for that sea change, not meeting it with irrational dread and regurgitating old great-bias and great-great-hatred.

Soa doa wie doat nich

Am I a ‘sinner’ because I fear the climate is shifting and we are bringing it about?

“We don’t do it like that – it is not our way,” as author Elizabeth Reimer Bartel wrote* with a full heart.

God commanded his flock a long time ago to not worry about things like climate. “I got this,” He might have said, had He cameoed on a TV sitcom.  (Yes, you can PVR God, just not on more than two channels at once.) “You guys go ahead and sacrifice that lamb, dam that creek, burn that whale oil, domesticate those beasts – let me worry about the deets.” We made the deal and now there are nine billion of us and the creeks are all dammed and we are drowning in the deets, Big Oolah.

I’m guessing that since He has not fixed things, He’s either suffering from some major Saviour’s block or He wants us to use our miraculous brains to fix it ourselves. I expect it’s the latter.

Sunday (Afternoon) Golf

Am I a ‘leftist’, or is that just what you call all those who push back at the hate mongering that passes for leadership?

I imagine a foursome for golf. Let’s call it a politically-mixed group. It comprises the American Steve Bannon (I think he’s American? Could be Russian?), a Syrian refugee who froze off six fingers when walking over North Dakota beet fields to get to Canada, dee aforementioned Oolah, and me. The odiferous and the ornery, the omnipotent and the obstreperous.

We play the game not with clubs and golf balls, but by hurling ideas as far as we can. More like Frisbee golf, come to think of it, especially since three of us have beards and one of us wears sandals. (Not Birkenstocks, alas.)

Bannon strikes first, launching now-commonplace shock and awe as far and as wide as his amplified voice can broadcast. He flings it from a high place and some of what he throws lands in Canada. Sharp Operators observe with interest, “Hey! That could work here, too!” they say, grinding their unblemished knuckles into the eye of reason.

Next up, the four-fingered Syrian. She was an engineer back in her native land, so she has rigged a clever device to take her shots; overcoming her physical infirmity. Her prosthesis is constructed of gold and measures precisely 12 inches. Trim it, she did, with history and law, though these nostalgic indulgences were easily rubbed off. Not knowing the course we played, her powerful drives bounced badly, misbehaving and leaving her with impossible lies.

It was my turn, but Bannon’s caddy pushed me aside and said, “Here’s how we’re going to do it!” He took my shot and I admit it was much stronger than I could have managed. It travelled at least a country mile – from dit seid to yan. In comparison, my effort would have hardly made it off the tee. The gallery gave a rousing cheer and noted his black boots and brown shirt. “Natty attire,” they whispered with admiration. “That’s what we need, a man who buys his shirts and his ideology abroad. Someone to make golf great again here in Canada too!”

“You’re up, Big Hitter,” I said, but the Almighty was busy with a call from the hereafter. “Long distance, gotta take this,” He said, His words rolling like thunder. He gestured to the Syrian engineer. “Take another turn,” He said. “Knock one right down the waterline!”

She waggled, she knitted her brow, she rent her clothes, and she bowed her head. Just as she began, the florid caddy ran up with a fully automatic rulebook. “She can’t play!” he bawled, unlocking the safety on his weapon. “She’s not a member! She doesn’t belong!”

All eyes turned to the attendant elected official, whose ruling was law.

“Sorry, I have a previous engagement in St. Pierre, at the Frog Follies,” the official said and he slipped away in silence, his thousand legs churning in practiced conformity.

“Well, look, she’s with me and I’m the founding member. So slow your role,” God said, eyeing the caddy’s red hat and wondering how it could fit over that albino mink coiled on his scalp.

Who?

And it came to pass in the land of Nod–the land of vigorous, sycophantic, sanguine nod–that the lowly caddy became king. “Kiss his ring? You can’t be serious,” I say.

Really though, who would follow such a man? “Who? I scream up at the six-story bunker? Who?” I whisper to the woman, up early to do some baking – the only way she has time. (Meet Netty at the mall, go straight to work, pick up the kids after school, make dinner, work on my dissertation, get dressed for the Christmas program. Is that tonight?) Who? I demand of the once-outspoken preacher’s kid who sits drinking coffee, spezearen and smirking while his proxies inherit the earth for him. Who? I ask of the slave drivers who strain to shove a shop-worn camel through the eye of a needle, “just one more time.”

Where is the line of dissenters – each in that queue as conscientious and true to themselves and their children as Christ the carpenter? Would that line not be a raging, roaring, rippling, steel chain 7,448 KMs long?

“From Bonavista to Vancouver Island;
the Arctic Circle to the Great Lakes waters?”**

And when he shouts, “Bomb them!” we reply in unison, “Give them bread.” And when he says, “Build the wall!” the congregation sings, “Love thy neighbour!” And when he hisses, “They defile Him.” we shout, “He is in them.”

And would that unflinching line not be led by clear-eyed Mennonitisch people with their DISAVOW pens flowing dark; indelible with the ink of their antecedents? I want to believe it would be so. Unsaved, auf’jefollnah wretch that I am, I want to sign on. I want to link arms and bellow, “Not on my watch!” with the same conviction as that hollow pipsqueak who once spat those words in the face of the 98-pound high school girl in the Council Chambers.

The A-word

But, if it’s all about abortion for you, then let’s talk. Let’s take a deep breath. I respect your passion. Many are driven by their abhorrence for abortion.

So be it, I’m not arguing that issue. There might be a fifteen-year-old living on the street who has an opinion – I’ll leave you two to discuss things. Again, deets.

The US president has made clear promises about abortion. It’s off-putting to you that his lifeboat is filled with a collection of repellent Scaramucciesque characters. The US President himself is unapologetically vile in his behaviour when held to the standards we all (try to) follow–conservatives in particular– in our own lives. This US President, the caddy in the little parable above, is shunworthy by any church standard. He and his chosen crew are those who would take you down with them, but you believe it’s the last boat – the only boat.

I sense that you feel compelled because “he promised to fight against abortion for us.” And, “he’ll change the law in America and then we can vote in a Canadian clone here, right?”

Maybe. He could just as easily bail out on you, leaving you with only your heart and no sleeve upon which to wear it.

I  know that you see right through this bad caddy’s specious fake-fervour – you know what he really is. So, why do you believe he will support you when the time comes? His political needs always come first, isn’t that obvious? He’s likely to abandon you for some new expedient and he’ll do it with a tweet. A message you may not ♥.

Tally

If you hunt or are a target shooter or a collector, fill your boots. Maybe you need a .22 for the farm or at the cottage. (That last one is a stretch.) But other than that, I have reservations. I hope Canada does not copy this frightening American trait. GUNS.

The 12 months of 2017 in the United States:
🔫  61,113 total number of gun incidents
🔫  15,501 gun deaths
🔫  31,065 gun injuries
🔫  345 mass shootings
🔫  2,003 unintentional shootings
🔫  2,018 incidents of defensive gun use
🔫  3,949 children/teenagers shot or killed
Canadian numbers are creeping upwards. Do we really want to join in reckless gun ownership and proliferation? The problem is, if we get a “populist” Canadian version of the current POTUS, it might come part and parcel with Republican style anti-gun control rhetoric and policy. Surely we can leave that to our US neighbours. Do you agree?

The Bully Pulpit

As a kid, I was the owner of a late birthday and a precocious nature. I was a small boy, usually the youngest in the class, and I had shrimp-orange hair, a bumper crop of freckles and ears like London Cab doors. Teasing came my way, not unlike the Steinbach snowstorm of ’66. True to popular gingerology, I possessed the infamous redhead short fuse so black eyes and split lips ensued. (Mostly mine.)

I earned, via the court of knuckle justice, a discerning eye and ear for blow-hards. I could spot a bully who was secretly not willing to back it up in the same way some schnoddanäs pastors claim they can spot a gay congregant. I’d hone in on these posers and challenge them:

Runty me: “Shut up!”
Big bully: “Nay!”
Runty me: “Then let’s fight.”
Big bully” “Nay!”

Doing this repeatedly, I developed a keen sense of Naydar. (Nadir too, in some cases.)

When these self-professed toughs backed down, I won a small measure of street cred there on the Southwood School playground. If I was off in my assessment, I endured a physical pounding – so my iterative process, like editing, painfully discerned the true from the false.

I also learned not to lead with my right hand.

Fast forward to 2016. #45 came on the US scene and I read him as a straight up heehnaschiet. A pair of deuces acting like a flushNo doubt about it – my Naydar screamed its verdict like the in-dash Geiger counter on Bond’s Aston Martin db5.

Evidence? His unfulfilled threats against North Korea and his yellow-bellied bluster against women who accused him of a host (not heavenly) of misogyny. He’s all talk, locker room and otherwise. Vietnam deferments, I’ll remind you, made his true character clear long before he became a seedy pop-culture symbol. An unconscientious objector.

I believe Putin has a similar result on his Nyetdar, so please my friends – don’t lead with your right.

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Fun reading for masochists: Fire & Fury Excerpts

That’s it. We may differ, but I like you, ya know? That’s why I bother with all this nertjeI hope you can still like me. Just maybe not, you know, online. I’ll understand. 🙂

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The Rothmans Job

Dec 30, 2017 – It’s 30 below zero (Celcius) and our sewer line is frozen. Here’s a story to suit. This story appeared on CommuterLit January 30, 2017 and was reprinted on SickLit March 30, 2017.

The Rothmans Job
By Mitchell Toews

A STORM LIKE THIS was rare. Snowflakes blocked out sky and sun and moon and stars. The flakes – as big as baby fists – had been falling for three days. Light and dry, they flew, then settled, then flew again – whipped by a dodgy north wind. At night, the tops of buildings disappeared except for the occasional glimpse of a red tower beacon or a snapping row of flags, like those atop The Bay.

And the people, knowing about these storms, stayed home. In the downtown core, only buses, snow ploughs and police cruisers were out. These motorized vehicles, accustomed to roaring at will, crept along the blanketed streets in peevish silence, their motors and tires muted by the all-enveloping snow.

No humans, no dogs, no birds. It was up to the storefront mannequins – who must have longed to sit – to maintain a watch over the streets. Vigilant, they gazed unblinking through the plastered glass at the frozen lunar streetscape.

Through this otherworld trudged Waxman and Thunderella. The diminutive Waxman led. He wore two snowmobile suits and his knees could not bend more than a few degrees. A bearded Weeble, he waded roly-poly through the drifts ahead of his towering accomplice, Ellen Thundermaker; aka “Thunderella”.

Thunderella towed in her powdery wake a red and yellow child’s sled. It was a Union Flyer and a likeness of flighted Pegasus was screened in reflective paint on both side rails.

Waxman, Thunderella and Pegasus pressed on like arctic explorers. Their goal was the unlocked side door of the Rothmans Cigarette warehouse on Harbour. Waxman had promised fifty bucks to Abie Wiebe – the inside man.

“Hey, Waxman,” Thunderella called from the rear. The wind had died and her voice only had to overcome the snow that coated every surface and baffled the air itself. This snowfall was ultra-absorptive like paper towel brands promised to be.

“WAXY!” she repeated, straining to be heard above the zizza-zazza of his nylon pant legs. He was a heavy man with thick thighs.

“What?” he shouted straight ahead, unable to twist around because of his insulated entombment. He halted, breathing hard, his moustache and scarfed chin hoary with frost. Thunderella bumped into him as she slogged along, head down.

The collision, one of many rear-enders on that street that winter, was enough to push Waxman off-balance. He fell, landing in a puff of white. Cursing and then laughing, he walrused his weight over so that he lay on his rounded backside. He picked a package of Rothmans out of the top pocket of his quilted inner overalls.

“We gonna make it?” she asked, reaching for a smoke.

“No problemo, ‘Rella,” he replied, shooing her hand away. “Two blocks, then through the side door by Perkins Cleaners; then open up the cage. That’s where the expensive stuff is. Abie says that cage lock has been busted for a year.”

#

Roland Barislowski bent forward, touching the freezing cold steering wheel with the absolute least amount of finger skin required to maintain vehicular control.

He peeked through the tiny fan-shaped portal of clear windshield.

“Need a periscope, like Lindbergh,” Roland said aloud. His voice sounded muffled in the anechoic enclosure; six inches of stubborn snow capping the rooftop.

The call had come around two A.M. He had just fallen asleep after pounding Old Viennas with Art, his brother-in-law from Virden. Art was stranded in the city because the highway was shut-down.

“Warehouse alarm went off. Cops’re there,” said his boss, Pozzo.

“Where’re you?” Roland said into the phone, his voice phlegmy.

“Regina airport,” Pozzo said, placing an unenthusiastic Rollie in charge.

Roland’s bottom was warm on the quilt he had tossed into the front seat but the small of his back felt like it was packed in ice. He lit a cigarette and blew smoke rings at the windshield. The rings – twirling in languid slow motion – disintegrated when the blast from the defrost fan hit them.

His brother’s name was Paulos. Everyone called him Poland — Roland and Poland. Very funny, Roland thought. They weren’t even Polish. But nicknames were nothing new in the North End – everybody had one.

Just like Paulos, Roland worked at Rothmans. It was Paulos’ job to take calls like this – the wonky alarm was set off by rats every two weeks or so. But Paulos was out-of-town and so Rollie had been given the key on this cryogenic night.

“Man, there is no one out here!” he said in the coffin quiet of the car interior.

He drove west until he hit a major street that had been cleared. Heading north he came up on the warehouse. An empty police cruiser sat idling at the curb. The trunk was open a crack and a bungee cord, hooked to the underside of the bumper held it shut. He parked beside the police car and went in through the side door of the warehouse, which stood wide open.

“You Poland?” said the cop. There were two of them. This one and a little guy down near the cigar cage. Mutt and Jeff thought Rollie – what his dad, Otto, always said when there was a big guy with a little guy.

“No, I’m his brother, Rollie. I work here too. Paulos is outta town.”

“Eh? Who’s this Paulos guy?” the big cop said, bleary-eyed.

“Paulos is ‘Poland’,” Rollie said, employing the ever-useful air quotes. “His real name is Paulos and he’s my brother. He’s away and I work here too and I got the job of coming out on this mother of a night.”

“Who’s a  mother?” said the little cop. He had walked over from the cage and was holding a few crushed packages of cigars and cigarettes. He saw Rollie studying the packages and said, “Gotta take these. Evidence.”

‘Yeah, fine,” said Rollie. “So, I guess you want me to do an inventory – see what’s been taken?”

“Good idea, Poland,” said the big cop, yawning. He yanked his police hat down low over his face, closed his eyes and leaned back against the forklift. “You guys sure you wanna report this?” he said without opening his eyes. “Seems like a lot of bother, this close to Christmas, for a lousy coupla-hun worth of smokes.”

“We’ll see,” Rollie said, grabbing the clipboard from its spot on the cage door. He used the pencil that was attached by a string to check off the missing items.

“Hey, Officer! Flip the cage light on please – the switch is right behind you,” he yelled. “Close that side door too.”

The little cop stopped stuffing the cigar boxes into his overcoat and did what Rollie asked.

#

Rollie sat in his car, which was now uncomfortably warm. The plastic frost-guards on the windows were broken and while the rest of the window was clear, the section in middle was fogged. He keyed letters into his pager, holding his breath as he concentrated on tapping the tiny buttons. He entered Pozzo’s number and typed the message:

Many CASES RothM King missiong. Cops took stuff but don’t think they were in on it. Call me!! – R

It’s gonna be an insurance jackpot, Rollie thought. His boss was crafty. He’d shut up about the stuff that Officers Mutt and Jeff had swiped – including the loot crammed into the cruiser trunk – in exchange for their listing an inflated tally on the police report. Pozzo would use their complicity as “wiggle room” to alter the report as required. Pozzo would make money on the deal; his Caddy stuffed with pricey goods that were easy to sell to bar owners and smoke shops.

Rollie and Paulos would get a C-note or so to play along.

“Nice work if you can get it,” Roland said to himself. That nugget courtesy of his late father, Otto. Otto Barislowski had run a ramshackle sash and door shop – BARIS GLASS – for thirty years. Honest guy. Never made much but his family was fed and clothed. “You get a roof over your head and there’s coal in the chute,” the old man would say to Rollie and Paulos.

Rollie pointed the old Ford east and took side streets home. He coasted through the stop signs at each intersection, as stealthy as Santa’s sleigh. After a few blocks, he killed the lights and prowled along at idle speed from streetlight to streetlight. Cranking down the window, he could hear the snow compressing under the tires. The air smelled clean like the laundry he would bring in from the winter clothesline for his mother – his t-shirts like stiff slabs of flake cod.

“Otto-Matic Windows,” Rollie announced to the empty park that abutted the road. He wound his window up a few turns and thought of his father’s invention – a house window that cranked open and closed like a car window. A year after Barislowski’s gadget came out, a big window brand from Minnesota launched a similar version – but more refined – and that was that. Otto Barislowski always believed the US outfit had stolen the idea from him. Disillusioned, Otto sold the company a few years later.

#

“Jesus H. Christ!” said Waxman. He panted as he lay on his back in a snowdrift, the heavy case of Rothmans Kings beside him. “It is frickin’ hard work being a criminal mastermind!”

Thunderella watched him. The Pegasus sled rested behind her loaded with its own case of cigarettes and also a 24-pack of Super-Fluft Toilet Paper Rolls. Three-ply.

“What the hell are you doing with that?” Waxman had growled at her when they were in the warehouse.

“They were in the bathroom! We are almost out at home – so, I figured, ‘Why not?’” she had explained, in reply.

“I guess we can get $3, maybe $4 per carton for the smokes,” Waxman said from the snow bank, bringing her back into the now. He held a mittened hand up so the big flakes would not land in his face. “So, we got 96 cartons – that’s three hundred bucks! Kids are gonna get some great presents this year.”

“No way, Waxy. It’s gonna be all imported cheese and fancy wine for you and me. Crab meat. Vienna sausages…” she said, stopping to let him join in.

“Ha-ha. Yeah – uhh, Heineken beer, Dijon ketchup, Swiss chocolate – or, you know, one of those giant bars, ahh,”

“TOBLERONE, TOBLERONE!” she shouted out.

“As if,” Thunderella added, suddenly serious. She pointed a gauntlet at the elfin figure below her, “you know the only two reasons I’m in on this stupid caper, right Einstein?”

“Yeah, and they’re both home sleeping, Ellen,” Waxman said, holding a hand up to her.

“It’s a bent-ass world,” she replied. It was her stock comment to the many philosophers who populated the dingy Nox Beverage Room where she worked slinging draught beer. It seemed to fit the moment.

Thunderella helped Waxman up. “Ready to go?” she asked.

#

Rollie saw them about the same time they saw him.

“No sense in running, ‘Rella,” Waxman said without breaking stride.

“It ain’t a cop anyway,” his wife replied. “Maybe we can get a ride? I’m pooped.”

Waxman stopped. He dropped the case of cigarettes down off his shoulder and held it against his belly, arching his back. “Hell, yeah. My back is killin’ me, eh.”

“Fuckin’ A,” she said, tugging at the sled. “Let me go first.”

“Yeah, show a little cleavage,” he said.

Thunderella stuck her tongue out at him and strode; pushing through the fallen snow with purpose towards the approaching car.

“Jesus H. Christ,” Rollie said to himself. He rolled the window all the way down. It’s them! He recognized the “Rothmans” name and logo on the side of the boxes. He calculated: one case on the sled, one case being carried. “That makes two plus one that the cops had and the two in my trunk,” he said out loud. “Five cases of RM Kings altogether.” This was perfect, seeing as he had told the cops to mark down ten cases as stolen.

“Hi, honey!” Thunderella said to him as she neared the car. He shifted into park. She was a tall woman. It looked like she was about six-months pregnant, but it was hard for Rollie to tell because of the puffy parka she wore.

“Mother of a night, or what?” said the man behind her. Roland was surprised by Waxman’s appearance – short and almost round. He walked like a wind-up toy.

“Listen,” Thunderella said, fanning her face with a mitten. “We live maybe ten blocks that way, at Schultz Street,” she said, pointing east. “Any chance a girl could get a lift?”

“What’s that?” Roland said, feigning ignorance and pointing his chin at the cigarette cases.

“Well,” Waxman said, leaning sideways to speak around Thunderella. “We was shoppin; and then this buddy of mine, he got a deal on smokes. So we went down to his place and scored these smokes and then we had a few pops – well I did, anyway, she’s up-the-stump, eh.” Waxman spat the story out and while he did, Thunderella swivelled around so Rollie couldn’t see her face and gave her husband a cross-eyed look.

“Got a helluva deal on the ass-wipe – I mean toilet tissue,” Waxman said – a bit distracted – in conclusion.

“Yeah, I’ll bet,” Rollie said.

Rollie rubbed a glove against the inside of his foggy windshield, thinking about what to do. The cops had left the warehouse by now. These two lived right on his way home. He peered ahead in the headlights – there were no signs of movement in any direction. Not a creature was stirring. He considered himself, Paulos, Pozzo and also Mutt and Jeff. He considered the little beaver of a man and the beautiful, imposing pregnant woman standing beside the road in the frigid, forsaken night with stolen cigarettes and toilet paper.

A minute later the old Ford crept down Flora Avenue, the snow-crusted roof bearing three cardboard boxes and a flying horse. The red taillights vanished in a flurry of blowing snow.

#

Pozzo walked into his office, tucking in his shirt and adjusting his tie. He sat down at his desk and then dialed the phone, pushing the little buttons with extra vigour. He was in a fuming swivet about something.

“Poland!” he said in a loud voice. “What the hell is wrong with that shit-for-brains brother of yours?” Pozzo listened intently to Paulos’ reply.

“What do mean, ‘What do you mean?’” he said in a sing-song voice. “First I get stranded in the bloody Regina airport then I find out we got ripped off. And then,” he re-gripped the phone and moved it close to his mouth. “And then I go to the can just now for my morning constitutional and guess what?”

“No frickin’ TOILET PAPER, that’s what!”

Our German Relative

Our German Relative

By Mitchell Toews

Whenever our family got together, it was inevitable that we would sit and tell stories. We would gather in my grandparents’ adjoining kitchen and living room, tjinja on the floor to make room on the couches and chairs for our elders. Here at the heart of their warm and crowded house, no one would be out of earshot. Yarns were unravelled and our feelings rose and fell. It was as if we were on a ship and the prairie around us was a rolling ocean – in all that sprawling snowy sea, my grandparents’ house was the safest harbour. And yet the stories often reminded us of the many dangers that exist in what seemed such a placid and familiar world.

At Christmas, Grandma always told the final story. That was our tradition. It was about my great-aunt Rosa when she was a child in Russia.

Enunciating with care in her precise English, Grandma Zehen told the story. Her narration was theatrical and thrilling, but still heartfelt and purely told. She would fill in detail and sentiment, adding dialogue to suit. But most engaging of all, she always told the story as if it was ours. This may not have been strictly so; it may have been cultural lore as much as family history. I never felt that it mattered – I just remember waiting for the story every Christmastime.

Lights were dimmed, candles lit. Out came the platters of Christmas cookies from the warmth of Grandma’s oven. Baked fresh this evening, we had been smelling them since the stories began, all of us waiting for them to arrive. I will never forget the candy taste of the pink icing, the buttery aroma with just a hint of vanilla. I can still see the warm glint of the crystal sugar in the candlelight. Best of all, dee tjinja got first pick from the overflowing trays!

Grandma began her special story once everyone had their cookies and we chewed as quietly as we could to listen.

#

Not too far from Odessa, on the shores of the Black Sea, there was once a place called Molotschna Colony – ‘Milk River’, you know, as Englanders say it. My mother’s sister, my Taunte Rosa, attended grade school in one of the villages there. By Soviet dictate, the lessons were taught in Russian. The teacher, however, was brought in from Germany for the school year. Naturally, she was fluent in Hoch Deutsch – the language the Molotschna Mennonites spoke in church. She spoke Russian too, but best of all, thisLehrerin was also able to get by in her Mennonite students’ native PlautdietschObah, for the tjinja, of course, Plautdietsch was like the difference between day-old rye bread and fresh raisin toast with butter!

After Russia’s Godless Revolution, another state dictate forbade all religions. It was illegal to come together in any kind of gathering, especially for groups with obvious proclivities towards worship. Why even our little get-together today would have been banned under these new laws! Ambitious and diligent, the government officials were particularly strict in overseeing the local Mennonites in everything they did: at work, at home, and in Taunte Rosa’s school.

But there were still some aspects of Christendom that refused to fade in Russia. In a practical sense, this referred to the calendar and the arrangement of holidays, most of which were based on old religious traditions too deeply ingrained in society to go away overnight. Christmas ceased to exist, but a single day of rest near the end of December was permitted in Taunte’s village. Despite this, officially, even the simplest Yuletide symbols were banned.

Can you imagine? We have not experienced oppression like this in Canada, but let me tell you, it was a profound stimulant to Christmas joy back then! There is a kind of enthusiasm for celebrations that only forbidding them can produce. Ha! Bibles came out of secret hiding places. Clandestine late-night services were held in barns and haylofts and carols were sung in whispered voices. Even the auf’jefollna cast aside their backsliding ways and rediscovered their fervour!

Now, kids, I’m sorry for all the big words and grown-up talk! What Grandma is saying to you is that Christmas was taken away. And not just Christmas, but Easter too and even going to Sunday School. It was a mixed-up time, joh? But you little ones shouldn’t worry – the next part of the story is really for you, most of all!

So, now…little Rosa was very excited and too young then to grasp the full extent of the ban. She felt that taking away Christmas was like a game the adults played – the government on one side, trying to catch you; the parents and kids on the other side, trying to be clever and feeling the dangerous exhilaration of outsmarting the apparatchiks and their stuffy No-Christmas rules.

Christmas baking was one of many pieces in this complex game. Most Mennonite families still made Christmas cookies and other festive treats, but these traditions were known to the officials and were part of the ban. Christmas cookies were kept secret and were hidden.

A few days before Christmas Day one year, Rosa joined the game. That day, her mother had baked a batch of these secret Christmas cookies, and young Rosa couldn’t stop herself. She took one of the best, one with pink icing and red and green sugar crystals on top – and snuck away. She wrapped it in oiled paper, then in a folded piece of cardboard and secured it snugly with a thin ribbon she had saved from her birthday. Her coat had an inside pocket and she placed it there, near her heart. This was her Christmas gift for her teacher, Fraulein Rosenfeld. Rosa was so fond of her pretty teacher, you see, and was always broken-hearted in the springtime when Fraulein packed her trunk and left on the train.

Imagine the winter sky, children, as big there and just as blue as it is here. Think of Taunte Rosa as she hummed ‘Stille Nacht’ ever so softly while she walked to the schoolhouse, her boots squeaking in rhythm on the hard-packed snow path. Rosa, you see, felt guilty for not telling her mother about the gift. But, you know just how she felt, joh? She wanted to give this gift so badly and feared if she had asked, the answer would be no.

After lunch at school that day, while the other children dressed to go out and play, Rosa walked shyly to Fraulein’s desk and placed the ribboned gift in front of her. Fraulein tilted her head, not used to gifts from children in her class. Desperately saving for passage to strange, distant destinations like Canada, America, and Mexico, the families of Molotschna had little left over. And, of course, no one in any of the Russian Mennonite Colonies gave gifts for Christmas.

“What’s this?” the teacher asked.

Rosa stood at the edge of the desk, her heavy parka over her arm. At first, she was terrified, sensing that her teacher was angry and that she had done something wrong. “A present, Lehrerin,” was her meek answer.

Fraulein answered with a hum and a slight frown. She was a prim woman, thin and neat and somewhat severe. Her eyebrows raised and her eyes flicked up to see if anyone else was in the room. It was empty; all the children were already on the playground. She picked up the light bundle and unwrapped it with long piano fingers, laying the shiny ribbon on the varnished desktop. She undid the folded oil-paper and looked down at the small Christmas cookie.

“Well, well,” she said, before taking a deep breath and sitting upright in her chair. “How nice, Rosa. But, tell me please: did your mother give you this, for me?” She left her steady gaze on the child but took care not to stare too hard.

Rosa looked down, her cheeks flushing. “Nay, Lehrerin. It was me,” she confessed.

Nicht Mutti?” replied the teacher in more formal High German; her tone firmer, a hint of accusation lingering.

Nein, Fraulein. Mother doesn’t know.”

Fraulein Rosenfeld nodded curtly. She rose and walked swiftly to the doorway, her heels like hammer blows on the oiled wood floor. Looking down the hall and then closing the door, she paused there, her hands clenching as she gathered her thoughts. Rosa waited, feeling ever smaller next to the tall desk. The door locked with a sharp snap.

Nah joh,” Fraulein Rosenfeld began. When she turned back to Rosa she was smiling. “This is so nice.”

Rosa squirmed, basking in the moment.

“It’s just so nice!” Fraulein repeated. “Can we have it now, Rosa?”

The little girl studied her teacher’s face. Then, eyes shining, she said, “Joh!

Fraulein Rosenfeld looked through the window to the playground. Then she returned to the desk and broke the cookie into smaller bits. She ate some of it, passing a small piece to Rosa.

They ate together, chewing busily like church mice, with the teacher standing between little Rosa and the door. Fraulein fretted from door to window and to the large white-faced clock on the wall behind her, above the lined blackboard, keeping watch all the while.

Soon the cookie was gone. The teacher took the wrapper and folded it over and over until it was a small square. She pushed it deep into her pocket, together with the curly ribbon. She moistened her fingertip and dabbed at the few remaining crumbs. Holding one finger upright in front of her pursed lips, she took Rosa’s little hands and squeezed them gently, leaning over to kiss her on the forehead in the silent classroom.

“Our secret, joh?” Fraulein said in a whisper.

Rosa nodded, elated to have a secret with Fraulein – an honour she did not fully grasp. But perhaps it was just what the Fraulein had been lacking in cold and distant Molotschna.

 

molotschna sm
Page 232, “Building on the Past”, Raduga Publications, Rudy P. Friesen

 

You see, Fraulein Rosenfeld was much revered by the officials who ran the school. They saw her presence as a special concession to the Mennonites. On the other hand, the local teachers felt it was a slight to them and they treated her with cool disdain. For Fraulein, from a remote dairy farm in southern Germany, this teaching position was Godsent. It combined her gift for language and her love of children. To her, some minor social distance was a small price to pay. But ask any oma or opa whose children have since begun their own lives and families, and they will tell you, it’s easier to feel lonely at Christmas than at any other time of the year.

Fraulein gazed with fondness at the tiny girl, she saw the brightness in her eyes and touched her braided blonde hair.

Just then, the first of Rosa’s red-cheeked classmates huffed into the cloakroom stomping snow off their boots and unwinding scarfs, their yarn-strung mittens wet and dangling. They looked at the two at the front of the classroom. Rosa’s friend Tina called out that they missed her for the game of fox and geese they had played, running in the fresh snow. Before Rosa could reply, the bell rang and the children returned to their seats.

Now tjinja, you might ask, how dangerous was that one innocent küak? Surely no great peril could come from something so small? But all it would have taken was for the wrong official to find out about the cookie – why what would have happened to them then? Those Russians, obliged by strict orders to find them, might have detained Rosa’s family. Maybe they would have been sent to a distant work camp or suffered some secret cruelty in Moscow, too horrible to name. Who knows?

And all because of a Christmas cookie.

#

Grandma folded her hands in her lap. The house fell still and silent until Grandpa prayed, his voice solemn and thick with emotion. When he finished, after, “Amen,” we sang, giving thanks for our deliverance, rattling the windows, billowing our hearts; “Praise God from whom all blessings flow…”

At last, late on Tjrist’owend, I would lie in my bed and retell myself Great-Aunt Rosa’s story. Fraulein Rosenfeld was like a relative we saw just once a year – a loyal and trusted member of our family there in the tiny house behind the bakery on Barkman Avenue. With this visitor, never distant though she came from far away and long ago, our Christmas was complete.

 

Reprints and re-blogs are welcome. A version of this fiction appeared on Red Fez Christmas, 2016.

Fall from Grace

Facebook asks, “What’s on your mind?” Big mistake, Facebook.

In fact, I am excited to have another of my ‘Hartplatz’ series of stories hit the galactic ether via the internet. This one is called “Fall from Grace” and it launches Dec 18 on the UK-based lit mag, Fiction on the Web. Voracious readers take note — FotW is a smashing site! Brilliant, yeah? And the site’s UK/Irish readers can’t get enough of  Menno characters, places and stories!

This tale is from my childhood and blends two streams of life. The first, a criminal act from my past involving flying fruit. It originally took place in Kyle, SK with my old buddy Craig S. Added to this is something that happened to my dad and some of his older brothers back in an imaginary, snowy Steinbach of the late thirties.

My Toews grandparents make a cameo appearance and ‘Snotty’, a childhood friend o’mine, makes a meaningful, green-hued contribution in this nostalgic piece. My dad, disguised as ‘Hart’ in this series, plays a key, flour-dusted role in, “Fall from Grace”.

*Noh waut woat daut lohte?* (This last bit courtesy my copy of J. Thiessen’s wörterbuch.)

You can support Fiction on the Web via Patreon! https://www.patreon.com/charliefish

In January, editor Charlie Fish will launch a print anthology of stories chosen from the site’s twenty years of publication. Some Toews prose is included; a story called, “Nothing to Lose”.

I Like Long Odds

This started out as a FaceBook reply but then outgrew its welcome.

In the “Fat Chance, Toews” department, I have hired a London editor; a young freelancer named James McKnight. He has a book out, a historical novel called “Letters from Erzurum”, and a degree from Cambridge. That’s likely good enough for this son of the prairie sod. I am not sure, but a sharp Seattle editor referred me to James and he and I have hit it off! So away we go.

James is helping me to edit all of my short stories, old & new, and pull them into a collection to pitch to publishers. Also, based on my editor’s encouragement, I am 29K-  words into a short novel. Irrevocably bound. This new story has some Menno bones but is not solely of that ilk. I toil on my novella almost every day and having a pro editor makes it much easier to keep track of a longer piece like this – most of my short stories are around 3.5K.

Why a UK editor? Of my 40 published works in lit mags, the biggest or best editor/reader response so far continues to come from the UK & Ireland and California, where perhaps 1973 rural Manitoba has a certain ALIEN appeal.

I yearn for Canadian uptake, but I still need to work for that. I remain optimistic, especially with James screening the goalie.

Characters based on the unforgettable Chuck Toews, my grandparents, Pete Vogt, Breezy, and petty crooks in the North End intermingle with various passing Schnooda-Rotz-näs folks. These fictional cast members are fresh and compelling, so I am told. I should have known – having grown up with them, and all.

James also puts me through prose-writing exercises and is a strict, relentless editor. (I am earning my “McFA”.) That’s valuable to me – a would-be author who spent most high school English classes building up an inventory of life experiences in the LaBroquerie bar and other institutions of ‘higher’ learning. NOT – I now sadly realize – availing myself of the teachings of Voth, BoPeep, Gunner and others fonts of literary know-how in the SCI/SRSS. The last 20-years writing ad copy for fenestration companies (bor-ringggg) further skewed and flattened the earth for me, literature-wise. Still, I was, “part of the creative economy,” I would remind myself.

Life is good. I am too young to retire (actuarially and optimistically) so it makes sense to have something hard to chip away at. Am I right? Damn rights I am!

I exercise, build stuff, fix the stuff I have built along with other broken, aged bits & pieces of the 1950 cottage we heat through the winter. I write several hours a day. For a break, I feed the birds and shout at the TV. I shout at Trump, who is like an uncharacteristically vile Pine Grosbeak who has somehow tricked the forest creatures into naming him king. I try to read a bit, too. Oh yeah, and Canucks games, when the lords of SportsNet deem it worthy to broadcast out to the wilds of Manitoba.

 

pine grosbeak
‘I am the King. Long live me. Very, very longly.’

 

Writing gives each day added shape and substance. If James can mould me into a better writer, I will benefit from the effort. If he pulls off a long shot and I am published, then I will greatly benefit. Either way, I’ve made a new friend and one with a younger, non-Canadian, non-Mennonitisch outlook and that’s a win even the King of the Pine Grosbeaks would envy.

allfornow, Mitch

A Good Week

A GOOD WEEK @ Jessica North of Fifty. Two of my stories were accepted and by Canadian print literary mags, yet! Also, the Canucks had two sweet victories, and although I’ll take the former over the latter any day, a simulwin is CANNONADING!

blank spaces cvr sm

*Blank Spaces* will publish “Sweet Caporal at Dawn” in their June magazine. It’s one of my older pieces. The tale started out as a poem, was turned into prose, and finally found a home but only after the main character was transformed from a leger version of younger moi to a francophone girl. Light up a Gauloises and enjoy!

pulp lit cvr sm

In, “Away Game”, I go full-knackzote and I admit that the Plattdeutsch content received life-support from a pair of two-eyed Jacks – one Schellenberg and one Thiessen. It’s old-timey and concerns voyages and long-lost “boddies”. *Pulp Literature* will include this in the next while (TBA).

If you need some enjoyable edification, add these two exemplars of literary discernment to your winter reading! Both are priced to suit Mennonite spending tendencies – or lack of same. These pubs are like the seasons, four per year.

 

The Seven Songs

A new story. Two men in fictitious territory on Fictive Dream.

Fictive Dream

by Mitchell Toews

On our first morning I got up with the dawn. I sat on a stone bench, still cool from the night air, and peeled the store labels off my new boardshorts. The local avifauna kept me company. They chittered and squawked, upset at my intrusion.

An emissary male blackbird – curious, or angry, or mocking; maybe all three – landed close by. Fixing me with an unblinking white sequin of an eye, the bird gave me the full range of its vocal repertoire. Piercing passerine whistles, abrupt diphthongal clicks, feather-puffing, squeaky-door creaks and various complicated combo arrangements; it really “gave me the heck” – or that’s what our daughter would have said. I’d heard of the breed’s bravado, and here was persuasive evidence that all I’d heard was true.

We had similar birds back home. Red Wing Blackbirds – so common in Manitoba that when I pictured…

View original post 2,467 more words

Unholy Union

I am easy to judge. The broad side of a barn, figuratively speaking. Straddling Cormac McCarthy style the bow-legged divide between this-and-that is my speciality. That stance provides ample opportunity for haters to hate.

Observe.

I am a Mennonite. Or am I?

The Affirmative: Jo! He’s a Menno!

My paternal great-great-grandfather was a delegate from the village of Fischau in Southern Russia’s Molotschna region. He visited Manitoba and other places in the world at the behest of governments eager to populate unceded land and thereby lay claim to it. Mennonites, renowned for farming, dike building, and low-land draining were prized acquisitions, particularly in the annually sodden Red River Valley. The payoff to these 1870-vintage inbound Mennos was a get-out-of-jail-free pass for Canadian military service, schooling, religious freedom and all the sunflower seeds they could eat. Opa settled his flock of Kleine Gemeinde congregants on the east side of the Red River.

My maternal ancestors were likewise rooted up out of the black Russian soil and shipped to the frosty northern prairie biome where they grew wheat in varieties tolerant to short growing seasons. They farmed, painted houses, sold cars and were otherwise fruitful in both the East and the West Reserves of land given to their antecedents.

My wife is a baptized Mennonite, as is one of my two daughters. My wife is bilaterally descended from families, the Esaus and the Kaspers, who travelled to Canada in the 1920s from Steinfeld in Molotschna. (Yahtzee! Kanadier and Russlaender mixed together in a Frisian witch’s brew of disparity, for those of refined judginess.)

I grew up in Steinbach, Manitoba which is a sticky spot (spilt schmaundtfat; oh bah nay!) on the edge of the Canadian Shield where the argument over buttons vs. hooks created generational divides.

I played many sports, volleyball being one of them and arguably the most Menno of the pack. Proof? Our volleyball coach would roar,”Toom donna hahn!” – his way of swearing, Mennonite style, without getting tossed from the game. It’s kind of like, “for Pete’s sake!” The literal translation is ‘for thunder chicken’, so it’s not offensive, though it may be fowl.

(Banging of gavel.) Quiet! or I’ll clear the courtroom!

My paternal great-grandfather built a wind-powered grist mill on the shores of the Roseau River in Southern Manitoba. My paternal grandfather, who helped in the windmill construction, was a shoemaker in Steinbach. His occupationally derived nickname was “Shusta“, differentiating him from the many other Cornelius Toews klomping around the sticky clay on both sides (ditseid & yanseid) of the meandering Red River of the North.

My mother is a polyglot of the most wonderous skill; her Plautdietsch is the linguistic equivalent of a Stradivarius – plucky and orotund. How can such sonorous music come out of an instrument so small and light?

My dad was a baker famous for his zweibach and as a hockey player known for his great skill in separating local Red Wings, Saints and Aces from their pregame, coffeeshop bullshit. (A hip-check is worth a thousand words.)

My wife and I took a nine-year pilgrimage to Chilliwack, British Columbia (“Steinbach with a view”) where people could pronounce my surname whether they were hockey fans or literary types or neither.

I have eaten more than my share of Revels (ravel sticks). I have pawed through the deep discount bins at Eaton’s im Tjalla, owned many a pick-up truck, fished with a ‘rad davel’, received a tjutje on Christmas Eve, consulted with relish my signed copy of MENNONITISCH-PLATTDEUTSCHES WöRTERBUCH and I’ve pumped a lotta ‘pane down in New Orleans. (Oops. That last one just seemed to fit, with the cadence of #606.)

I have a close relationship with The Daily Bonnet and consider it my personal blog and satire.

I rest my case (of Uncle Ben’s beer).

The Negative: Neimols not a Menno!

Sure, my g-g-gramps was a delegate, but he was also at the wheel when many of the migrants followed him off-road, down the bumpy path laid by an American named Holdeman. This made him a visionary to some and a regrettable lacky to others. His excursion was the beginning of my paternal family’s travels with a dog named Controversy.

My g-gramps followed and he too bit off more of the same knackwurst. He, likely through his own peccadillos–but who knows for sure?–fell out of favour in his church and was given the boot. His wife Sarah was then summarily informed that her options were to shun husband John or be ousted herself. Being a woman of jrett, stout leather and fortified WonderOil, she held fast (and probably a Rempel or two) and SUED the church, the all-male Deacons, and the all-powerful Pastor.

What kind of Mennonite sues the church? So naysay the naysayers. For shame!

My Plautdietsch (or Plattdeutsche, according to frint Thiessen) is poor. While my mother was a savant, my father’s clan sought to eliminate German. English was the language of the land and they decreed that we should be English speakers. Etj kaun nicht vestohne.

Oh, but! While in Chilliwack, I mostly worshipped at the altar of golf. That and some haulf-moazh pew sitting at the United Church, where incense was waved and women took to the pulpit and may have even driven the family car to church! (Sounds like the behaviour of a ‘Cultural Mennonite’ at best, not?)

I never attended DVBS, I was not a camper at Red Rock Bible Camp, and my sword drill talents were scorned by those who knew there was no such thing as Neuteronomy. A dirty trick question – if you ask me!

My paternal grandma–whom I resemble and revere–was a respected woman in the Steinbach halls of the holy, but her clay feet left suspicious scuff marks on our reputation because she was baptized a Baptist. Devout though she was, she may well have been relegated to Baptist heaven, not up front with the Chortizers and such, in First Cabin, cooled by eternal moist towelletes and Yerba tea.

As a writer, I have ZERO stars on the CanLit scale of proficiency. This is the lowest ranking by a Mennonite, even a lowly Kanadier lacking in urban urbanity, since Corny Wiens wrote his ode to Unjabetje, “Kate, Kate”, on the Kornelson Boys Room wall.

Janice is not my cousin. I married her anyway, but now see the folly – we regularly disagree on what type of soup to make and I really have to hustle to get the crust on the bread. Serves me right.

So there you have it. A sordid past, a spotted present and a dubious future.

I welcome your judgement, I accept your condemnation and won’t suggest that our children play together. Mine are in their thirties, but still – you know what I mean.

Aules haft en Enj:
Bloss de Worscht haft twee Enja.

Everything has an end-
except a sausage. It comes to two ends.

Page 520,
Mennonite Low German Dictionary

allfornow,
Brooda Toews

P.S. – A not-at-all Mennonite story was just published on LingoBites  Connect through your phone to the APP to read it. FREE to Mennonites. Also free to non-Mennonites, but perhaps less satisfyingly so. Send this link to your phone, if you’re not already on it: “The Old Guardsmen”

This story is provided in both English and ¡Spanish!

 

Writing Exercise 1

My new editor is putting me to work. “Drop and give me twenty, maggot!”


Writing Exercise: Dialogue

“Hey, take a picture, it lasts longer!”

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to stare. That’s a lot of aluminium you have there.”

“I am the best can collector on all of Portage Avenue, Mister Skinny-ass Bus Rider.”

“I’ve seen you out here a few times. I remember you.”

“Are ya sure now, pards? There’s a lot what looks like me, ya know. I mean, don’t we all kinda look the same – all the bums, that is?”

“Well, I never said you were a bum.”

“You mighta well as, Bus Rider. Bus riii-iii-iiider, ”

“Pretty good singing. Call me Matt.”

“I’ll call you shit on a stick if I wanna call you shit on a stick. What would you do about it? But never mind that, answer my question if you can. And speaking of can, boot that one over there to me… he shoots, he scores! Thanks, shit stick – I think I’ll call you shit stick. You can call me Cock Blessed, because I was blessed in the rooster department, swear to God-cuss at Moses, pards. Seriously; blue steel. Cat can’t scratch it.”

“Hey, this is my bus. See you tomorrow, Rooster.”

“Ha! Not if I see ya first, SOS!”

***

“Wuzzup.”

“Hey. See that guy there – the one picking the pop cans out of the basket on the street?”

“Yeah, the guy with the grey scarf and the mismatched boots? So? Was he givin’ you a rough time or what?”

“Nah, he’s harmless. He’s noisy and comical, but my guess is he has issues – that’s for sure. Whoa! Hang on! The driver is in a hurry today! Anyway – about that homeless guy, keep watching along this side. Look for one with a red jacket.”

“One what? Like a beggar or what have you? Alright – whatever. But I doubt that I’m gonna see, hey! Son of a gun. Okay, there’s a guy with a red jacket up ahead.”

“Yeah, yeah! That’s him. Now, think of that guy back where I got on. Remember what he looked like.”

“Yeah, right. Long hair, big beard. Short. Looked a little like Charles Manson? Hard to forget that mug.”

“Ha! Exactly! Manson – yeah, that’s perfect. Now take a close look at this guy with the red jacket when the bus pulls over. Look at his face, man.”

“Holy crap!”

“I know! Can you frickin’ believe it?”

“That’s crazy. Are they…?”

(mutual laughter)

“As far as I can tell. I mean, I don’t know them or nothing. I kept seeing the guy on my way to work and then again at five. I saw him a lot, if you know what I mean. It got me thinking.”

“No doubt. Holy crap! I’m gonna check it out on the way home tonight. See ya!”

“See ya.”

***

“Excuse me, young man? That fellow who just got off the bus. Yes, the one you were talking to. May I ask, is he your twin?”

 

The End