South of Oromocto Depths

I’m happy and grateful to have a reprint of my maple syrup imbued, tres Canadien, playoff beard of a short story, “South of Oromocto Depths”, appear in Toronto’s CommuterLit. Editor Nancy Kay Clark has been generous with her coveted space once again and this will be my eighth appearance in this respected (and entertaining) literary ezine.

The short fiction, which first appeared in Literally Stories, will appear this Thursday, July 6, in CommuterLit. It follows previous publications of:

“Encountered on the Shore”– reprinted by Occulum (previously called Fair Folk)

“A Vile Insinuation”

“Without Reason”

(The three stories above comprise “The Red River Valley Trilogy”)

“Gather by the River” Part One (“Zero to Sixty”)

“Gather by the River” Part Two (“The Margin of the River”) – reprinted in riverbabble

“The Rothmans Job”– reprinted in SickLit

“Winter Eve at Walker Creek”

“South of Oromocto Depths” – first published in Literally StoriesVisit CommuterLit commencing July 6 to see this story in its latest incarnation.

We let the motor warm up. It idled in baritone, gurgling as gray smoke rose up out of bubbles that popped on the surface behind the big white motor. Every half-minute or so it ran slightly faster, then vibrated, shuddering back down to the lower idle speed, sometimes coughing unexpectedly.

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Work

I wrote a short story called, “Fairchild, McGowan and the Detective” . It appears in Work Literary Magazine and it’s a fiction that draws from some of my past BOSSES and my experiences with them.

Like most of what I write – the characters are hybrids of many people, real and imagined.

One of the comments I received from the Niume Reads audience where I placed a link was, “Thanks for honoring work”. This struck me as I had not set out to honour work, nor had I paid particular attention to the work – I thought – as much as the characters who were employed in the imaginary workplaces (Loeb Lumber and Grambles Department Store).

I thought about the comment and it occurred to me that not only should we honour our work, but it is an honour to work. To hold a job; to be able to work; to have skills and so on is a prize. (Too often a surprize – but you know what I mean.)

Work is not a given.

Work can be an example of some of our best behaviour as humans. To get along at work, as we all know, can be trying. And yet, we manage it. An overwhelming number of us don’t swing a hatchet, be it figurative or literal, in response to the many that whiz (virtually) by our naked skulls on a daily basis. We act like grown-ups at work, even though most of us qualify for that distinction more by the pure fact of our age and not of our deeds, day-to-day.

And the little town slept.

That’s my signature segue (“And now for something completely different,”) that leads into…

HERE are a few other stories of mine that concern work and how we get through to the weekend. And by weekend, I unfortunately mean the time when a dismaying number of us do other work – whether that’s laundry, finding that all-important LEGO piece, getting the kids to ball practice, slinging burgers, or fixing the damn eavestrough. Again.

P.S. – We all struggle with bosses, don’t we? I do. I did. Most of us are not graced with great leadership skills. Personally, I finally realized – after 40-odd years – that I did not have good followship skills either. My LinkedIn connections seem to agree as this story is the most-read post on my LinkedIn page in a long time. 

allfornow – Mitch

 

Coming Attractions

Well, as Facebook will attest and remind – should I ever be mercifully allowed to forget – my birthday is coming up.

“Get plastered, you bastard,” was the line in the cover version of the Happy Birthday song we used to sing to celebrate these milestones. Now, my consciousness-indicator (an app I use to show Jan when I am awake and when I am asleep) goes into the semi-awake mode when I crack my third beer, so getting plastered won’t be on the agenda. (I fall asleep before the plastering can take place.)

The one possible exception was when Jan left me alone with my Irish son-in-law and his dad. James and Tom showed me a thing or two about how to drain a St. Catherines craft brew. Several, in deed. Some parget activity did, in fact occur there among Canada’s rich and famous, but the only manifestation that I could observe was that our stories were truly hilarious.

Speaking of draining…back before I was a son-in-law, and also before I had any sons-in-law of my own, my buds and I used to say, “draining”, as in,

Q: “What are you doing on Friday night?”

A: “We’re going draining. You?”

Other fine turns of phrase from them days:

Paving, being paved, on a paver. This is a lyrical conjugation. Paving is when a teenager with too rich an ingested blend of greasy food and alcohol, must expel a portion of it. When the expulsion takes place out of the window of someone’s car, and the expelled material falls beneath the rear wheel of the slowly moving vehicle – that, eager students of higher learning, is paving.  Being paved is when one is inebriated and is likely to do some paving. By logical extension, being on a paver is – usually on a long-weekend – an extended  period of paving and being paved.

Shaker. A shaker is a party. But, more than that, a really good party. Women, inebriants, a few existentialists, a little knuckle justice. If the shaker were to wane, it might spawn a…

Country Tour. Accompanied by John Prine, Emmy Lou, Kristofferson, Leonard Cohen (RIP) or that lad from Hibbing, a group of teenagers drive slowly along gravel mile roads on the prairies. The car, powerless to refuse, is set in Drive or first gear (if a standard) and it idles along while deep discussion ensues. Synonym: Booze cruise. Disambiguation: when a lot of singing takes place, it may become a “drinkalong”. Related Terms: If the driver falls asleep or is busy paving and the car runs off the road, the vehicle becomes a “tree machine”.

As you can see, mine was a rich adolescence, filled with the type of sophisticated experiences that have made The Simpsons a popular show for 28 seasons.

Anyway. Just before my next birthday – this Sunday – I will read aloud my story, “And So Are They All” at the launch of the seventeenth edition of the semi-annual print journal, Voices. It is published by the Lake Winnipeg Writers’ Group and the event is at the McNally Robinson book store on Grant Avenue in Winnipeg @ 2:00 PM. The story has absolutely nothing to do with paving, tree machines, et al. Here is a snippet:

Second only to the Hedy Lamarr beauty of Em Gerbrandt was the beguiling feminine charm of the Gidget-like Ms. Froese, our teacher. Of course, Ms. did not exist then, only Misses and she was one. Around five feet tall, bobbed blonde hair, saddle shoes, cashmere sweaters and rocket bras. I am sure I had no distinct thought then of that conically constrained part of her anatomy, only that it was soft and pleasing when she leaned over to help you with a problem and she happened to make fuzzy impact with your head or shoulder.

Soon after, another story of mine will be released into the wild. On Tuesday, Nov 22 my short story “South Oromocto Depths” will be published on Literally Stories. It is a story with some connection to the aforementioned tomfoolery, although this perspective is a bit more obverse – it looks at some of the negative aspects of drink. Here’s a teaser:

I padded silently across the cold floor, pulling a hooded sweater over my head. Surveying the scene, hands on my hips like a construction supervisor, I shook my head slowly. The glass ashtray on the blue Formica kitchen table was jammed with white cigarette butts, overflowing. “Alpine” was printed in menthol green font and many butts were on the table. Black ash was mixed into spilled beer, the crummy remnants of a bag of Cheezies was in a large mixing bowl and orange bits also joined with the wet beer-ash mixture on the table.
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The place smelled like bum. A single, long Alpine cigarette was planted in a round-edged pound of butter that rested on its unfurled aluminum wrapper. The cigarette stood proudly up from the butter – a lone palm tree on a deserted yellow beach. Evidence of a few taps of ash decorated the foil.

Today, Nov 17, incidentally, is Literally Stories second anniversary. Please remember that those are internet years, so multiply X seven. Happy Fourteenth, LS!

allfornow – mitch

 

Copyright Mitchell Toews ©2016

Hartplatz Sitings

The fictional Mennonite community of Hartplatz, Man., has been seen in print and on the wing at several locations on the WWW.

Tell-tales include red wing blackbirds, killdeers, grackles, budgies and pelicans…icing sugar…the smell of an old baseball glove when you hold it right up to your face…the sound a bible makes when it is dropped – for emphasis – on a large wooden desk…followed perhaps by the sound of Grandma shouting at the TV while watching All-Star Wrestling.

Hey, we all have our guilty pleasures.

Here is a spotter’s guide:

CommuterLit.com has run three of Mitch’s short fictions: “Encountered on the Shore”, “A Vile Insinuation”, and “Without Reason”. Two more of his stories, “Nothing to Lose” and “Heavy Artillery” (Oct 30) appear on Fiction on the Web (UK) and, “A Fisherman’s Story”, was published in Rhubarb Magazine Issue 39 (Available at better book stores – like Sam’s Place, 159 Henderson Hwy – or ORDER  COPIES HERE.)
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Literally Stories (UK) published Mitch’s twisted yarn, “Breezy and the Six-Pack Sneaker” as well as his nostalgic walk down a dangerous alley in 1932 Winnipeg, “The Fifty Dollar Sewing Machine”, and the contemporary tale, “Frozen Tag”(Oct 27).
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“And So Are They All” won second place in the Fiction category in the 2016 “Write on the Lake” writing contest and will be published in the Lake Winnipeg Writers’ Group’s semi-annual journal, Voices, Volume 16, No. 2. Mitch will present the story at the Voices launch at McNally Robinson book sellers in Winnipeg, on November 20 at 2 PM. Voices will be available online HERE and at McNally Robinson after November 20.

THANKS to the editors and publications who have run my stories so far. I am grateful and always nervous when a story goes, “out there”! I wouldn’t want this to get around, but the truth is, I just make this stuff up!

Let’s keep that last bit between us and the mergansers out in the bay.

allfornow – m

P.S. – Click here to think of springtime.

P.P.S. – If you caught the PUN in the title, you’re better than me. I put it there by accident and then realized it and thought, “sitings, that’s pretty good,” and left it in. Ahhh, the creative process, it’s a sacred trust.

 

Copyright Mitchell Toews ©2016

“We’re All Just Here to Fart Around”

Living at the lake and trying to write every day has the combined unintended consequence of making quite a few things seem preposterous.

I mean, really. My existence here is a bit strange in relation to the things we all typically accept as being important. Yesterday I watched a beaver take ten minutes to drag a branch through a culvert under the highway to its lodge in the ditch. It was so absorbed in what it was doing that it did not notice me or maybe just chose to ignore me. I stood close enough to hear it panting. Yes, beavers pant. Why wouldn’t they? In fact, I am almost sure I heard it say, “Holy shit!” when it was finally finished tugging that branch through the tunnel.

So, yes, that experience put things in perspective and suddenly the most recent Trumpism, where he hits a woman with a rolled-up newspaper and yells, “See! It just makes a loud noise but doesn’t REALLY hurt them…”  well, it doesn’t seem any less bizarre but it does increase my relative admiration for beavers.

Anyway, I am determined to have a  good week. Yesterday I transplanted some White Spruce ( Picea Glauca, Manitoba’s Provincial tree) from the neighbour’s yard into ours. At the neighbour’s request — I ain’t no tree pirate. Today I will pretend to be a finishing carpenter and do some baseboards and casing.

On Thursday, a story of mine runs in Literally Stories, a UK-based online short story site. It is my third story on this site so far and I am excited to see the response. I chewed 500 words out of it and made some other major changes and I am quite heavily invested in it! Like my buddy the beaver, I am convinced it is all worth the struggle.

On Friday, I may go and rig up a little pulley system in that blasted culvert.

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Please see my stories on Literally Stories, 

The Fifty Dollar Sewing Machine

and

Breezy and the Six-Pack Sneaker

and look out for Frozen Tag on Thursday, on the @LiterallyStories website. 

 

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.

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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

The Fifty Dollar Sewing Machine

My story, “The Fifty Dollar Sewing Machine” appears today (Sept 19, 2016) on Literally Stories.

The story is an imagined adventure. It takes disparate ingredients like my Toews Grandparents’ personalities and my knowledge of downtown Winnipeg and combines them; setting the elements loose in a stressful situation.

Allowing this hybridization of fact and fiction is why (I think) authors talk about characters taking on a life of their own. The overall direction of the story is plotted but the step-by-step pathway is extemporaneous. Storylines jump off course and pinball through obstacles and perceptions that are themselves fluid and may not have been fully realized when the story began.

At least, for me they do. That could be part of the reason why I have to re-write so much as I collect disintegrated bits that are flying off into space in a most Kryptonian way.

This story, originally titled Complex Pacifism, came into being when I saw a faded yellow sign painted on weather worn bricks. I saw the Crown Zellerbach sign from my comfy chair in Chilliwack. Google Images transported me back to Winnipeg, as I researched a different story online.

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A familiar name

The Zellerbach name leapt out at me – it was familiar from countless cardboard boxes of supplies in Steinbach Bakery, a place in which I grew up and where I had my first job. The bakery is a receptacle for many honey-glazed memories.

Grandpa’s quiet stoicism and subtle humour together with Grandma’s Annie Oakley style of directness came together in the exchange district of Winnipeg. The area was my territory as a “cub reporter” with Dun & Bradstreet in the late Seventies and I spent many hours in my little Datsun, trying to find businesses in the hodge-podge of mossy brick and decrepit alleyways.

Bakery ingredients; the feel of a late fall evening in Winnipeg; how to throw a punch — these are things I experienced but I never imagined that they could be combined to create a story.

 

My Grandma Rose Toews (nee Zilkie) was a Steinbach institution and she lives large in my memories. A favourite story is told by my out-of-town, female cousins who boarded with her while going to school in Steinbach. Grandma, strict and direct, might ask the pretty girls upon their late-night return from a date, “Did you let?”

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Years later, when Grandma remarried in her eighties following Grandpa’s passing a decade before, one of her Grand-daughters pulled her aside at the Sunday after-wedding  faspa, the day following the octogenarian wedding.

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“Grandma,” my cousin – then in her thirties – whispered conspiratorially, did you LET?”

Literally Stories is an outstanding online journal — it is a great site for writer and readers alike. Try it when you want a quick story to read – there are some gems here on this UK-based site! The header image above is from the LS website where the story is posted

I hope you enjoy The Fifty Dollar Sewing Machine and invite you to share your comments below or on the Literally Stories website!

…allfornow – Mitch

 

Copyright Mitchell Toews ©2016