The Bottom of the Sky

Hi everyone!

I have a new story.

It is a prequel to the story that first appeared in Rhubarb Magazine, “A Fisherman’s Story”. This piece becomes a Part 1 to that original tale of a family on the shores of the Pacific Ocean.

Part 1 is in 1955, in Acapulco and tells of one of the original characters, when he was a younger man, captaining a fishing charter boat. The original piece is Part 2 and is told primarily through the experience of the wife; the mujere.

I have re-named it, “The Bottom of the Sky” , comprising Part 1 Acapulco 1955 and Part 2 Puerta Vallarta 1975.

Here are a few excerpts:

Avelino walked the tourist beaches. His officina, as he liked to joke with the Americans who lay like white cordwood in neat rows, toes pointing at the sun. He had a photo album with pictures of the azul boat; fish strung on the scale at the Acapulco dock; smiling American faces, sun-tanned with movie-star sunglasses and drinks in hand. He was charming and good looking and he hooked many gringo fish.

[Snip]

After a quiet half-hour of trolling they came to a feeding fish. In the split second before it happened, Jose could feel the strike. Then the rod bucked in the holder and the line peeled out in a persistent zazzzzz sound like fingernails on nylon. The pinche yelled and the woman named Angel clapped her hands, her red fingernails looking like spattered blood against the bright horizon.

[Snip]

“Senor Bart! Por favor,” Jose strode rearward with the rod harness, its buckles jingling, passing it to the large man. Then he hurried to the transom where the fishing line danced and swung like a kite tail above the bubbles in the wake of the boat.

[Snip]

The boat rocked in silence at the wharf, next to the scales. Jose sat on the dock staring down into the dirty water. The American had shouted something, cursing as he climbed into a taxi with the women. Doris stared at Jose from the car, her eyes dark and hateful – not the fairy blue they were when she reached over and touched his arm with hers.

[Snip]

YOU KNOW HOW IT IS, RIGHT? You create something that you feel good about – it’s honest, or you believe it to be so. You love it. Shitface drunk love. Then you slowly get to know it – you see it age like a child – and you recognize flaws that you were earlier willing to ignore. You work on it over and over until it is the best you can do; things become stale and the edits you make just become a false shuffle of the deck – nothing really changes.

Then a month goes by (or six) and you read it again. You see things and maybe after a sleep – waking up at three A.M. – you figure out what to do.

And then you love it again the same way it was when it was born, except maybe it’s a more mature love – maybe you accept it in a way you could not before, including the things that you could still change, but, you don’t. The story, like the characters in it, is partly good and partly bad – flawed but capable of splendor.

Blah-blah-blah. 🙂

I am a proud father today and maybe this will find a publication home. I’ll send it to a few “early readers” in the meantime and will report it here if it does get picked up.

Another day in the life — I better get down to the beach before my wife becomes certain that I have lost my mind.

allfornow – mitch

Copyright Mitchell Toews ©2017

 

 

 

 

And When I Dream of Death

 

Hi all,

Here are a few excerpts from a new short fiction that I wrote. I will be submitting for publication with journals that feature flash fiction. I flashed the sign for curveball on this one.

1,129 words

And When I Dream of Death

By Mitchell Toews

WHEN I DREAM of death, I dream always of baseball. Oh, how unaligned these two things are! One threatens absence in the lurking dark while the other reaffirms presence and joy at the bottom of the boundless, lighted sky; the bluest thing in all the world, put there so we could, “Play ball!”
 [SNIP]
Remember?
I do: the rasping of rakes on the basepaths and the tink-tink-tink of rusty spikes at 60’6″. And the Gatling-gun, syncopated smacking as the warmup tosses go back and forth. And bantering, “Howza kids, howza job, howza arm?” to settle nerves and shed workaday worries.
 [SNIP]
I see our boys on the bench, leaning forward, chattering as the first batter digs in. Then I am up and I see the red stitches spinning as the soft liner clears short and settles in front of the galloping fielder, one-hopping into his glove.
[SNIP]
I can see the catcher’s eyes through his mask as he gauges my lead. Too much chaw, I think. He looks drunk. As if he heard me, he tilts up his mask and a thin brown stream re-wets a dark spot on the sand. The Mexican pitcher, shoulders like a pit bull, rubs the ball with leathery hands as he looks towards home.
“Never know,” says Kornelsen as I take my lead.
[SNIP]
And then a funny thing happens and the air goes still and so do the crickets and frogs in the ditch. A purple black cloud is edging towards us out of the west and I hear a woman in the stands say, “He flew too close to the sun,” which is a damn strange thing to hear at a ballgame.
[SNIP]

Copyright Mitchell Toews ©2017

The Beefeater and the Donnybrook

 

Update: 4.11.17 – Hi, from a sunny day in April, beside the lake,

Janice and I have been travelling and have both been down with a cold lately. My blog activity has been limited, though I have been able to keep up with daily writing. Today I heard from editor and literary paragon, Charlie Fish, that another of my stories has been accepted for his award-winning site, Fiction on the Web.

Feedspot has named FotW a TOP 20 short story site on the internet!

Short-story_20_transparent_216pxHere’s what Charlie says about FICTION on the WEB: “It is a labour of love. Every single story on here is hand-picked and carefully edited by me. I don’t have a staff, and I don’t make any money. I do this because I want to give authors a chance to get their work out there, and I love sharing great stories with the world.

FICTION on the WEB has been online since 1996, which makes it the oldest short stories website on the Internet.”

Here are a few snippets from my latest story:

The Beefeater and the Donnybrook

By Mitchell Toews

Copyright Mitchell Toews ©2017

MICAH JAMES WAS shorter than average and had an interesting kind of face. His eyes were recessed and penetrating and his complexion had the weathered texture and ruddy colour of a mountain climber or a big game hunter. He was neither. Micah James was a quiet, middle-aged family man – an engineer working for the City of Halifax in Canada.

The Jameses were leaving together soon on a long-awaited trip to London. His wife, Marion, had planned the trip from the packing process through tipping and all conceivable forms of disaster planning.

[SNIP]

“Ok, I’m on it! Walk will do me good.” Micah said, giving Marion an assuring glance and summoning up some energy for the trip. It was fine – the kind of little blip he had been secretly hoping for.

[SNIP]

Twisting in his crouch, Micah was eyeball to kneecap with a pair of creased black pants, gold piping on the sides. His eyes followed the stripes up to a white satin tunic and topping that, a dapper red fez. Then the voice again, but softer, “Are you alright, mate?”

[SNIP]

He waited in line at the reception desk, listening to an instrumental version of a Bob Dylan song. It was piping out of a speaker in the tile ceiling above him and he laid his head back to peer at it. Thinking of his own rapid descent into hell, he picked detritus from his oily beard; bits of styrofoam and other rancid urban spod. His thinning hair hung in limp disarray and the belt of the raincoat had come loose and was dragging on the ground behind him like an obedient, filthy snake.

[SNIP]

See it on FotW on May 19: an ever-worsening yarn that plays out on the streets of central London. 

Other stories that have appeared on Fiction on the Web:

Nothing to Lose

July 8, 2016. A baker and former hockey player reminisces on his colourful history as he delivers buns in the dusty Manitoba sun.

Heavy Artillery

Oct. 30, 2016. The story of young Matty and his characterful neighbour encountering a travelling salesman in the sleepy Manitoba town of Hartplatz.

The Preacher and His Wife

 Jan. 23, 2017. In Hartplatz, rural Canada, a neighbourhood scandal brews when young Sarah reports that her grandmother’s engagement ring has gone missing.

Am I a Writer?

FRIENDS, THAT IS NOT my butt in the image above. It is one more famous than mine will ever be. It belongs to a writer who, like me, prefers to write standing up.

He is a writer – no dispute there.

In my case – it is more fudgy. See…when people ask what I do, I SOMETIMES say *it*. That is, I reply, “I’m a writer.” But I tend to say it quietly. With dissonant caveats – “Not making a damn cent doin’ it tho’, har-har…”. You know. Kinda sneakin’ up on it. Like when someone says, “Are you quitting smoking?” and you answer, “Trying to!” It’s a yes, with built-in wiggle room.

So, let’s go to the Tale of the Tape as Cossell used to say before a big fight:

Writing for how long?  

Well, now. Let’s define that a bit more: writing to a deadline + writing for public consumption. In those bounds, since 1997. Mostly damnable propaganda for my Mennonite employers along the way:

“Why close your jacket with BUTTONS when HOOKS are so much better? See us today for Hiebert’s Handy Hooks!”

I have been writing FICTION on the other hand – for about the last four years. Early in 2016, I achieved a kind of orbital altitude — since that time I have managed to write every day, several hours a day — between two and six hours. Mostly in the morning.

Training? 

The weak link for me. Besides a relentless English prof at the University of Victoria – complete with a proper, tweedy London accent – I have little formal training. My BA in Sociology and a certificate in Marketing from Schulich do not qualify me. I live at the far end of the wild woods and so I have neither a nearby course to take or a group to join. Otters and pine grosbeaks do what they can for me, but I am a Googling fool, on the shores of Jessica Lake, where modifiers dangle and MCs are MCs.

How much have you produced?

Again, some definition – like Papa’s shapely calf muscle. Without adding bulge via photoshop or any other form of exaggeration, I have written 100,000 words in 2016.

Blog: Core page content plus around 50 posts. The posts run from 200 to 1000 words apiece. Maybe 10,000 words in total.

Short Fiction: 30,700 words unpublished…36,000 published. Many – oh so many – rewrites and editing scans.

Novella: 16,000 words.

Paid Content: Propaganda and “the truth with attitude” for employers – 5000 words or so.

Milestones?

Using Duotrope and Submittable, I reckon I have submitted about 120 times or so. I have had 16 stories accepted and have had two other stories find success in contests.

I submit to big, well-known print journals – mostly Canadian. They have so far (almost) uniformly rejected my work. I also send stories to smaller print/online reviews; to online-only literary ezines and literary sites; and to writers’ groups and publishers that produce journals or contests. I have 18 unpublished short stories that I am sending out as slush pile fodder as well as my sci-fi thriller novella, “Tafelberg”, which will receive a rigorous adverb-ectomy this winter. Three new stories near completion.

I am actively seeking chapbook and anthology collections for my published works.

A few of the bigger journals to whom I have submitted my shabby shorts have offered sympathetic replies of the, “don’t give up” variety. Sometimes these are genuine. Other times they are intended to cajole me into shelling out another $15 for their next “opportunity for new Canadian voices”. Yeah, right. More like, “so I can buy another jar of beard wax, you hopeless bottom-feeder!”

Either way, I usually do shell out, so next time see you see a youngish MFA with a fine, shiny beard or a new plaid shirt — think of me, brethren. (To be accurate, my observation is that there seems to be far more female readers and editors, than male. Furthermore, literary journals do not appear to be a get rich quick scheme. So, respect; I’m happy to shell out a little, here and there.)

Anyway, to answer the question, after adding it all up, I`m gonna say yes. I`m a writer.

Now who wants to fight me?

allfornow – Mitch

IMAGE — Hemingway: “Damn fine legs for a dead guy.”

Swingin’ the Can

DURING MY SIXTEENTH YEAR I jumped in my mom’s new AMC Gremlin and drove from Steinbach, MB to Ladner, BC. I went to work on my dad’s cousin’s farm where potatoes and strawberries were grown for McCain to flash freeze.

I learned how to drive a tractor and load a flatbed trailer with skidboxes of potatoes. On the way there, in the mountains, a grizzly bear taught me a little about the writing business. Of course, I did not know it then, but I have come to realize the similarities now that I write fiction every day.

On the first day of my westward trip I had driven non-stop, as a sixteen-year old would, and ended up in a wayside rest stop near Golden. I was too tired to carry on to the next town and so I just reclined the plastic seat and fell asleep.

Around dawn, I was awakened by a strange noise. It was the creak-creak-creak of metal followed by some rough noises like gritty sandpaper rubbed across the grain of a plank. I lay with my head just below the bottom of the car window. Feeling for the lever, I raised the seat up a few inches. There, about thirty feet from me was a full grown male grizzly bear. He stood on his hind legs and with his gigantic front paws, swung a 45-gallon steel drum that hung on two chains. The drum – a garbage can – was “bear-proof”; suspended in this manner from a horizontal cedar beam that stood on two sturdy posts buried in the ground.

I watched him for a while. The creaking sound was the rusty chain, complaining as it stressed its steel moorings in the wooden spar above. The bear, heeding the call of an aromatic potpourri of watermelon rinds and half-eaten chicken salad sandwiches, was grunting and half-growling in his exertions to defeat the uncooperative swinging drum. His gruff exhalations were the sawing wood sounds.

After a time, he dropped down – heavily – onto all four legs and stood resting, sniffing the air. He whined with irritation like my daughter’s canine buddy Rude Dog does when you are busy with your double-double and interrupt the game of fetch at the park. It was the bear equivalent of, “for shit’s sake!”

The drum swung silently, slowly ebbing, losing the energy the giant omnivore had put into it. As the drum went back and forth the grizzly’s attention was on one of the cedar posts. On each pass, as the drum bobbed from upward amplitude – to apogee – and then was pulled back down by gravity, the post shifted.

The bear and I watched together as the post pivoted in the sandy ground on each swing of the heavy drum. A little pile of fresh, damp sand had built up at the base. Ambling towards the pole, his expressive face looking as human as his ursine features would allow, the brute stopped and sniffed deeply at the wet sand. Staring, he stood for a long moment without moving. Then so abruptly that I twitched in surprise and was instantly aware of my puny defenses, the giant bear stood and began enthusiastically rocking the post.

Luckily, Smokey was so engrossed in his new tactic that he did not notice me sitting up in my seat and only put his beady gaze on me as I tore out of the lot, spitting gravel behind the car as I left.

I stopped on the deserted early morning highway a few hundred yards down the road. Opening my window, I could hear the clacking reverberations of the drum chains as the bear gained purchase and I could imagine the can gyrating wildly as 700 pounds of hungry, determined bear attacked the support with cycloidal ferocity.

He pushed the crap out of it until it broke.

#

So, you, me and the impassive bear in the image above are all wondering – what’s the message in the metaphor?

Good question and here goes: the bear’s strength was never in question; it was more a matter of how he applied it.

There’s little doubt – according to the abundance of meme wisdom on my tres writerly twitter feed – that the more I read and the more (fearlessly, honestly, blahblahblah-ly) I write; the greater my chances of success. (What the eff is success? That’s another blog, by someone smarter than me.)

Maybe this is the message of the bear in the forest near Golden:

Swing the drum and trust your strength.

However; what the bear might tell me, as he picks Skittles and KFC residue off of his chest fur, is to swing smarter.

But that is the tough bit. I suspect ‘swing smarter’ here might mean to write great blog posts; enter contests; tweet with pith; suck up to editors and influential literati; and otherwise do everything except WRITE. 

Does the bear look skeptical? He looks skeptical to me. 

If I think about it some more (remember the bear staring at that loose post?) I conclude that I don’t know what I don’t know. Less cutely written – I don’t know shite. So, for me to figure out the “angles” that will  give me success (and I am an impatient fool; not a little) seems like I would be depending on a lot of luck.

So, swing smarter? Sure – but just because it is FUN; it provides a change of pace; it cleanses the palette (like Skittles). Not as a strategic ploy, but because writers-editors-publishers are smart, self-deprecating, funny as hell and well – and I should know – garrulous and outspoken.

So, I’m gonna go swing the drum now — I have three short stories on the go and I have a fantastic passage to write for one of them about a wolf frozen solid in a trap. (I saw this, when I was twelve. I don’t think it was done for McCain.)

allfornow – m

Copyright Mitchell Toews ©2016

Confessions of a Serial Describer

It is November on the 50th parallel. The scrub White Spruce is still a vibrant green while the surrounding ferns have turned a rusty mocha. Bright lichen florets make the rocks stand out in bold contrast.
.
It is late November. Where the hell is the snow? I can only truly enjoy Mexico if my friends at home are completely miserable.

Man, that was descriptive. Phew! Chills. Need a tissue?

Except the last part.

Let me reverse digress.

Setting, tone, pace, narrative arc, word choice, description, dialogue, exposition, themes and plot — all of these and more are at play in the creation of fiction.

It’s a lot for a small-brained lad to keep track of and yet I must! I have to admit that after twenty years of having product imagery, branding, price and audience as my guiding lights, I need to do some relearning.

Many writers, editors and readers today prefer a “leaner” kind of writing. This includes several key style considerations. One important factor is the interdiction of adverbs. Shoot them out of the air before they can land and defile your verbs with those filthy ly-suffixed words!

Adverb avoidance makes sense — no argument here. Let the verbs do the work.

Exposition or summarization is seen today in literary fiction as unnecessary and dated. A knowledgeable editor I know stresses the need to “show not tell”. At the same time, I’ve often read that many classic pieces of literature are filled with exposition and they are still loved today. Would those classics succeed if written now? Probably, but contemporary conventions can be powerful and I believe a writer needs to be both skilled and confident in their approach if they choose to buck these trends.

Note to self: don’t buck around with trends unless you have a good reason to do so.

SIDEBAR: I think there are some outliers here – the editor I referred to states that she personally is less inclined to enforce a hard “no exposition” rule. Additionally, my personal experience may indicate that not all regions are on the same wavelength when it comes to exposition. London literati may take a different view than their Vancouver cousins, for instance. Certainly, literature is more global than ever and regional idiosyncrasies are hard to prove, but my own anecdotal experience suggests some commonalities based on geography.

Furthermore, my editor friend highlights the fact that, “exposition is very much alive in genre fiction (romance, sci fi, fantasy, suspense thrillers). However, there’s no doubt that too much telling stops the pace of the story and causes the readers (who we are told these days have very short attention spans) to become less interested in reading on.”

Description is a story-telling tool that I use a lot. It is not a favoured structure by all. There are those who see it as simply “copyism” — the tree is green and the surrounding plants are brown. Big deal.

I get the point. Description stops the action and is a close relative of exposition in terms of not sufficiently trusting the reader to figure things out.

But. Yes, I have a but – a small one (God willing, it will continue so). I love to describe things that may be out of the experience of the reader. Or it may be that description can help to support a feeling or mood or to otherwise move the story along. The examples that follow are personal favourites: “Big Two-hearted River” and “Islands in the Stream” by Hemingway, and “Robinson Crusoe” and “Moby-Dick”, as well.

In the Nick Adams short story “Big Two-hearted River”, we are told exactly what the man eats; the types of trees in the forest and swamp; and the temperature of the water as Nick wades into the current to cast. Hemingway describes the way the grasshopper – used as bait – spits “tobacco juice” on the hook. All of these minute, intimate details put the reader in the place and time with the Nick Adams character and condition us to be curious to understand and empathize with him. “Why is he so sad?” is the thing that occurs to readers even as the detailed description continues to push us away from this central question.

In “Islands in the Stream” our dread is raised by the calm, clinical depiction of the sea, the waves, the colours of the water, the sky, and the sea bottom while the giant hammerhead shark bears down on a young boy who is oblivious; “goggle fishing” in the shallows. Thomas Hudson, the father, fumbles as he loads his rifle and sights on the shark’s fin, firing and missing — and each miss is described in excruciating detail. It raises the hair on my neck just writing about it!

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the ocean, Defoe’s numerous, lengthy, arcane descriptions of Crusoe’s fortifications and the architecture of his island home are famous examples of description. I loved every six-penny nail!

Last, I remember lying in bed at home, recuperating after a nose operation at about age thirteen. (As an air passage, it made a pretty good coat hook.) I had ordered Moby-Dick from the University of Manitoba Extension Library. The book arrived, wrapped in brown kraft paper and bound with butcher’s twine. A white sticker on the front read: “1.) Melville – Moby-Dick 2.) Young – A Boy at Leafs’ Camp”. Home early from work, my dad delivered it, coming into the warm bedroom, snow dusting his winter parka. He tossed the bundle on my bed. “Your books came in the mail,” he said. “How’s the schnase?”

See what I mean?

See three of my descriptive short stories on the outstanding Canadian e-zine, CommuterLit, edited by Nancy Kay Clark — one of the top five Nancy Clarks in all the land!

allfornow – Mitch

 

Copyright Mitchell Toews ©2016

Chicken Fingers, Fritos and Frankensteins

NEXT TO A LAKE ON A SUNNY DAY IN NOVEMBER, I just want to say, with reverence, that writing short stories is hard as hell.

Do tell – or whine on – you might say. I will, but only the former – I promise. Plus, there is the opportunity to learn about the fascinating world of pencil grooves and ink wells.

It is non-fiction to say that there are many people writing fiction. They comprise a lot of young writers and a teeming, grey pool of boomers, unshackled from their jobs. With the barriers to entry not seemingly insurmountable, there are a lot of contestants in the race. Especially now that self-publishing has made so many Frankenstein monsters — and some beautiful strangers.

Nonetheless, a large pool of skilled writers are active. So many stories are wonderful – the kind that make you want another one right away. Like chicken fingers.

To even out the score, there are literally thousands of places where a writer may submit a story, both print and online. That is a good thing for aspiring writers, but the competitiveness of the literary journal segment makes those publishers exceedingly tough on new voices. The vast majority of lit journals make it their business to deliver new authors to the scene, but they must be, and are, ruthlessly diligent in finding the best of the new writers.

There are a lot of journals, but so many are new that the available financial income – not abundant in the first place – is spread thin. As a result, there are a lot of dedicated volunteers, working late and dusting Frito crumbs off their keyboards as they toil on the slush pile. Sometimes, response times can be too long and, well, I’m not getting any younger. 

In addition, the aging white man narrative is one that is not at the top of editors’ short lists these days. My stories have to soar because they are not supported by a mandate or precondition. Women, LGBTQ, People of Colour, Feminists, People with Disabilities and many other cohorts have specific themes – or whole journals – available to spotlight their particular segment. This offers them an enhanced opportunity to be seen. To be discovered.

Now before you push back and say, “here we go,” hear this: I have no qualms with that approach. It is, in many cases, overdue and given the need to bring in fresh, first-person experience, necessary. A single mom, working two jobs and supporting three kids does not have the time to write. Offering her a forum with an inherent fast-track makes sense.

So it’s just a fact and I deal with it. Besides, if I tough it out, without any fast-tracks, I could benefit as a writer by being borne solely by the popularity of my stories; by the quality of my writing. I can’t forget that.

So too, is it of value that most editors are younger than me. That may create obstacles because of dissociation – they might not know what my references mean (see the “Featured Image” above). But once again, it forces me to write better. If I am lazy and rely on an old, fuzzy-edged meme to support my point, I will fail with an editor who does not intuitively understand the embedded inference.

My objective must be to give readers experiences like this:

“Crystal clear details of a world that I do not know. A journey to another place.”

And the little town slept.

I will battle on. I’m not exceptionally patient and wish I was more so – that would help. I tend to press a little and maybe get a little too self-promotional. It is part of the old white guy songbook – when your life occasionally feels like the last few bars of Stairway to Heaven (pardon any dissociation) you tend to want to get shit done.

allfornow – m

See LINKS to the scribblings of mine that made it past the Frito crumbs of the slush pile, HERE.

 

Copyright Mitchell Toews ©2016

The Business of Saving Souls

11.8.16 – Here is an excerpt from a new satirical piece I am working on, “The Business of Saving Souls”. I previously had it posted here in full to gather some feedback from ‘early readers’. Once I have collected all of their notes, I’m gonna shine’er up and submit for consideration to a literary journal!

Let me know if you would like to enlist as an ‘early reader’ for this story. I’ll send you a full draft — just put a note in the comment section below. And, thanks!

My complete collection of published stories, with links to the online pieces, is here: Publications 

#

11.26.16 – OK, I have received some wonderful edit notes and I am shutting the story down for early readers. (That was that unease you sensed in the force just a few minutes ago.) Thanks to early readers and editors!

Here, below, is the new intro excerpt. I hope to submit this to a few literary journals in the next little while. The rewrite is around 3,200 words.

 

The Business of Saving Souls

By Mitchell Toews

THE SMALL HYUNDAI COUPE circled the church parking lot slowly. The car’s driver peered anxiously to ensure there were no homeless people around the dumpster or congregated near the large hot air outlets on the rear of the building.

Pastor Penn Benner hated to see homeless people on the property.

“We pay to support four separate homeless shelters here in Tribune and I’ll be damned if I have them people piling up on our spotless yard. This is The Lord’s home and I aim to keep it neat and tidy,” he had said covertly to Jason on more than one occasion.

Jason found it pleasurable to hear Benner say, “I’ll be damned,” and he felt guilty for it. Benner was, after all, the Head Pastor of the Southern North Tribune Church of Christian Fellowship and was also his boss.

“We’re in the business of saving souls not picking up old blankets and all the other crip-crap they leave behind,” Penn Benner would say in the empty church as Jason Halpnuscht listened. The words would echo in the immense chamber, bouncing off the acres of white drywall, the glimmery pot lights and the inlaid glass diamonds that formed a sixty foot cross in the ceiling, stretching from nave to second balcony.

“God loves them, but they are messy. You are the Youth Pastor, Halpnuscht, why don’t you organize the youth into an outreach group for when they – the homeless – congregate on the yard? Have the church youth interact with them. There should be a paucity of homeless on our property.”

Jason Halpnuscht hated Penn Benner’s Word of the Day desk calendar.

Halpnuscht patrolled the yard with particular care today. It was Senior Council day — the second Saturday of each month, the SNTCCF’s senior group met to review church business. The meeting consisted of Jason; Head Pastor Benner; the Chairman of the Senior Deacon Council, Ronald Himmelstrup; and the church Secretary, Jedidiah Davidson. If there were issues concerning specific church functions that were managed by one of the three Associate Pastors (APs), or their assistants (the Sub-Associate Pastors) then they would also be required to attend.

Jason often wondered about his presence at these meetings. Interested and eager to contribute though he was, he was seldom called upon to participate. Furthermore, when issues became controversial, he was routinely asked to leave. “Give us the room please, Jason,” Benner would say. The Pastor started using this expression after he heard it on an episode of “24”.

As he made the last of his inspection rounds, Jason noticed a few pansies, growing yellow and purple in the weak November sun. The flowers were huddled in a sheltered spot near the clothing drop off bins.

“They neither labor nor spin,” he said quietly to the Hyundai’s Camel interior with Burl Oak accents.

#

As he unlocked the council chamber and began to make sure all was in readiness for the meeting, Jason thought back to his patrol of the yard.

If there had been homeless people there, so what? Some churches – even some businesses – take a more direct approach and set up small structures or distribute clothes and blankets. Sending them to the downtown homeless shelters seemed a little cold. Did Jesus point to the nearest Long John Silver’s and yell, “All you can eat, maximum two sides…it’s on me, multitudes!”

*SNIP*

allfornow – m

Copyright Mitchell Toews ©2016

To the Crocus Born

My wife and I are home in Manitoba for the first winter in nine years. We spent the last damn-near-decade in Chilliwack, BC – where every Manitoba Mennonite has a relative and where the view is better but the pews are just as hard.

Not that I would know about the pews, but maybe I’ll start my own Mennonite Conference – ACC or Pac 10, if they don’t mind sharing the name – and become an expert.

Anyway.

Incidentally, “anyway” is a word that I need to use frequently when I blog. (OK, Fussy Frances – when I write in my blog.) I need it so much that as the self-decreed prose laureate of Jessica Lake (including the islands) I also decree that “Anyway.” is a proper sentence. Grammatically correct, for all prose written at Jessica Lake (and the islands).

It’s like dirty sex talk — the rules of grammar may be suspended, by mutual consent, for proper effect. Not that I would know about such, but for the sake of argument.

Anyway. (SEE!? I was totally down a descriptive rabbit hole there, and AbraCadabraIjustWannaGrabYa, I write an ‘Anyway.’ sentence and I am OUT.)

Back to the topic. Jan and I are facing the prospect of a Manitoba-length winter, REASONABLY truncated by a term in Mexico, but still long and cold. But what I have noticed is that even after a stretch on the coast, in Canada’s best weather/insect/insufferable loud-mouth schnook combination climate (two outta three), we are still Manitoba stock. We are grizzled. We are hardy – and I don’t mean the familiar for Hartmund, although some of the nicest people I know are Hartmunds. (“Robusto” in Spanish. Now there’s a freakin’ name!) I mean tough, dude.

Here’s my Top Ten ‘TOBA TUFF TELL-TALES. (Out-alliterate that, you Ontario pantywaistes!)

Note: There may not be ten, as counting is made ‘toba Tuff because I may have lopped off a digit or two working construction in the summers, and/or I am slightly blind from a youth filled with Uncle Ben’s Beer/Anti-Freeze.

1 – I have frozen my ears often enough to have a doctor tell my parents that if I freeze them, ONCE MORE, they will fall off. My Mom still tells me I should wear a toque (rusty or otherwise) and I am bloody sixty!

2 – I think it’s OK to have cyclists pedal on the 2-5/8″ wide yellow stripe on the edge of the pavement, next to the gravel shoulder. The only paved shoulder in the province is still that commemorative stretch out by Portage where the Queen pulled the motorcade over to spit, right? Hasn’t changed?

3 – I would waterski in the Red River. I would waterski in the Red River, fall and then squirt a mini-geyser of river water out through the tiny gap between my two front teeth until (deep breath) …until it plugged.

4 – I could identify Nick Hill by voice alone on an episode of CSI Miami (the one out by Portage) before the DNA could come back from the lab.

5 – I have played Fris-beer in winter; in the snow; by headlight. Bonus points – I did it while stoned on Rosemary from Ben Friesen’s Mom’s spice rack. “Nice rack, Mrs. F.,” I said, and then we all laughed for a really long time.

Anyway.

That’s about it. These blog things should be kept short so that my devotees are not delayed from also playing Words With Friends. As long as they don’t send me a thousand of those stupid Candy Crush requests. Oh but ignorant.

#

If you want more reading punishment of a similar nature, please visit this awesomer than average site where more of my real stories — ones where the “Anyway.” bylaw is not in effect — may be found. It is a UK site and everyone knows they are terrible smrt, so be sure to mention that at coffee tomorrow: https://literallystories2014.com/authors-k-z/t-u/toews-mitchell/

The website is Literally Stories and the tagline is Short story fiction from around the world and especially Manitoba”

SKILL-TESTING QUESTION: What do the English call the two items in the picture?

Hint: The one on the left is a glass of water from the Red River.

 

Copyright Mitchell Toews ©2016