Monthly Archives: May 2011

Imaginary Enemy

Mikey was hard on himself. He was never satisfied with anything he did. Mikey was five. Most kids his age had an imaginary friend. Mikey didn’t think he deserved an imaginary friend, so he thought up an imaginary enemy named, Pencils, who dug into him any time he got the chance.

“Come on! You call that finger painting? You’re pathetic!” Pencils hollered at him.

Mikey tried harder, but he simply couldn’t get his five year old finger to draw a recognizable representation of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. It looked closer to a smiley sun than God reaching out to man.

“Good job, Mikey! Good self portrait!” His teacher, Mrs. Eggers, praised, passing by to inspect his benchmate, Jenny’s picture of her family. No one in the family had the same number of fingers according to Jenny. Her dad had eight fingers, while Jenny’s mom had eleven. “Excellent, Jenny!” Mrs. Eggers sang Jenny’s praises.

“See? She even thinks Jenny’s family of mutants looks good, what does she know? Don’t take her praise personally, you dumb bum,” Pencils kept Mikey from getting a big head.

“When I’m older, I’ll be able to paint great, and the paintings will speak for themselves, and I’ll know it and I won’t need you any more,” Mikey told Pencils.

Pencils knew he needed Mikey more than Mikey needed him and hated him for it. For the first time, Pencils saw that Mikey would one day outgrow him, move on and forget all about his imaginary enemy. Pencils knew he was doomed.

“Hey, fatty, why don’t you ask the teacher if you can have your milk and cookies early, so you can get a head start on nap time, cause, you think you belong in the enriched kindergarten.” Pencils thought it wise to branch out the role of imaginary enemy, to include consulting. He realized he would have to revamp his job if he was going to hang on as Mikey’s imaginary enemy.

“I don’t want to nap right now, I want to paint,” Mikey dipped the baby finger of his right hand into the cool blue paint, before dropping it on the paper and drawing swirling trails of blue chasing his baby finger. In his mind, Mikey was looking at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, though, looking over his shoulder, Mrs. Eggers saw the sun in the sky being attacked by giant seagulls.

“You draw clouds very well, Mikey,” complimented Mrs. Eggers, “and those are great birds!”

“Those aren’t birds, they’re angels, can’t you see the halos?” Mikey was insulted.

Mrs. Eggers always tried to be extra positive with this boy, cause he was the most negative kid she had ever met. “Oh, very good! Excellent, Mikey! Good detail!”

“Little good it did me. You thought they were birds.” Mikey turned from his teacher and returned to his painting with his pinky finger.

“Hey, stupid head, why don’t you use your index finger? You’ll have so much more control.” It was Pencils to instruct, not his teacher. Mikey took the instruction, switching from his baby to his pointer finger, and showed improvement immediately. Suddenly, he could detail God’s beard, fine tuning the layers of hair growing out His chin.

“Oh! Is that Niagara Falls?” Mrs. Eggers asked.

“No, it’s God’s beard.” Mikey sulked.

His teacher was afraid of what to say next. She had never had such trouble with a student before. She really wanted to help, but, she feared everything she said was only hurting the child. “Wow!” She started with cause she couldn’t think of anything better to say. “What are you painting, The Sistine Chapel?”

“Yes!” For the first time Mikey felt his teacher could see. He credited it with the new skill that came from switching fingers.

Mrs. Eggers could see she’d said the right thing with the boy. “Oh, wow! The Sistine Chapel! Very nice! Where did you see the Sistine Chapel, in a book?”

“No, in Rome. Well, in the Vatican City, really.” Mikey stopped thinking his teacher was smarting up.

“Oh! Have you been to the Vatican?” Being a devout Catholic, Mrs. Eggers was truly fascinated.

“Just twice,” replied Mikey. He thought of his two summer vacations in Italy with his family. He hoped they could go somewhere new this summer, but, since his mother came from the old country, he expected a repeat of last summer.

“What’s it like?” Mrs. Eggers looked a giant sitting on the little seat next to her pupil.

“It’s ok, I guess. It hurts your neck having to look up all the time. Be better if he’d painted the floor.”

“And did the painting move you? Did you see God touching man and feel inspired?” Mrs. Eggers was leaning forward in the little chair.

“I felt sleepy. We went there the day after we got in Italy; I had jet lag.”

Mrs. Eggers realized she was looking for instruction from a five year old. She felt ridiculous sitting in the too tiny chair for her, and stood, towering over the little boy.

“Keep it up, you’re a budding Da Vinci!” The teacher encouraged.

“Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel,” said Mikey, unimpressed with the woman who called herself his kindergarten teacher.

“Yes, but Da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa, so there you go,” Mrs. Eggers walked away before she could do more damage to both their egos.

Pencils sensed it prime time to assert his place. “Hey, butt-face, what’s worse, being a bad teacher, or, being taught by a bad teacher?”

Mikey knew Pencils hated him, so it made him trust him more. He made a decision to stop listening to his teachers and trust his imaginary enemy who would one day grow to be his imaginary friend.

How To Survive Your Death (page 6)

Dear Em,

Your life means I can’t keep drifting through my eternity without some sort of markers along the way. I still occasionally forget the century, but, not much, not too often any more. It’s just a matter of time. Any calender concept of time seems like such a waste of paper for a vampire, cause it doesn’t matter what year it is, I’m not getting any closer to anything.

What does one year mean to a vampire? A century for that matter? Until you, my heart, I would only think to keep up with time so I didn’t sound like a lunatic calling Lincoln’s assassination, “Shocking news,” and pretending to care.

A vampire is filled with so many nights of experience, they’re near impossible to sort out chronologically. And we’re cursed to remember everything, just not in the order it happened. Except for the significance of time passing since the memory, a 200 year old memory feels no more distant than a two second memory. This means, when the heart breaks, it never heals.

Most memories mix together, so, if I’m not careful, I’m telling you how I escaped Mao’s army, to be rescued by Washington’s. Then later, running from the British, (I’d eaten one of their generals,) to be the lone vampire on the boat that took Chiang Kai-shek’s family to Taiwan. You need to perceive this loss of a depth perception in memories with 20/20 vision to truly see just what it is you would be signing up for, should you become vampire.

You should have at least an idea about it already, from all the times you’ve scoffed at me that I don’t remember anything. How I’ve always asked you how you like your eggs, because they kept changing, I couldn’t keep up. But, I remember everything. I remember you liked your eggs scrambled, over-easy, sunny-side up, without the yoke, without the whites, hard-boiled, soft-boiled, soft-boiled-then-mashed, runny, less runny, blackened yoke, all smothered in ketchup, I remember all of it, sweetheart, I just don’t remember precisely when.

There is only tonight in the focus of a vampire. There is a tomorrow, but staring at the future takes on a greyish blur that the living only see at their most depressed. May you never experience time through such sad eyes, that Monday morning depression that makes a man consider brushing his teeth with his razor. I just quoted your father, from his unpublished book.

For a funny guy, your father could get so depressed. I’ve heard that often goes with artists, high highs and the low lows. I found it so attractive. Really, the more depressed he got, the more I wanted him, which meant he got out of that depression pretty quick. We were good for each other. I loved making him feel better. It made me powerful, soothing him, stroking his hair, stroking behind his ear, telling him everything was alright. I used to relax you the same way.

When I woke up the night after meeting your father, I took two hours turning the body into a manageable goo that I dumped into Lake Ontario. I know that bothers you on an ecological level as well, but, that body of water was dead long before I moved in next door.

After I picked up the phone then put it right down. ‘What am I doing?’ I demanded of myself. ‘I’m going to call him? For what, a movie?’ But a movie didn’t sound that bad. Actually, a movie sounded pretty good. I dialed five numbers before hanging up, then six, same thing. My fingers were restless, my toes were restless. I had to get out of my apartment-cum-slaughterhouse, going back to the same bar, finding Ravi on the same stool I’d found him the night before.

“Hi!” he said, sitting up, happy to see me. “How are you?”

I hate this question, I really do. I was disappointed he opened with such an unoriginal, knee-jerk kind of question. It showed a lack of imagination. If there was to be any chance for us, he had to have a huge imagination.

How to Survive Your Death (page 5)

Dear Em,

I’m not sure how much detail you want. I think I’ll spare you the full on description of how I kill and how I get rid of the body. It’s true, if you leave somebody who’s been bitten, give them twenty-four to forty-eight hours they’ll come back like me, undead. Though, I really hate the term, ‘undead’. I hate being ‘un’ anything. I like, ‘living impaired’, or even, ‘blood junkie’, better. I’ve been called, ‘reflection challenged’, which is another myth. You see I have a perfectly gorgeous reflection, looks just like me.

That was an odd stereotype to spread, vampires cast no reflection. We do, of course we do, we’re made of flesh aren’t we? If you prick us, do we not bleed? Actually, no, probably not. We have no blood in our veins cause it dries to dust almost as soon as we get it down our throats.

But, the body and the head. I wrapped them up in plastic, and shoved them under my waterbed, covered by my down duvet. It was pink, you know I’m a sucker for pink. Your old mother can be such a girl.

I finished my night, applied my Nivea, brushed my fangs, checked the thick woolen curtains I use to keep out the bane of my existence, set my alarm for eight p.m. and drifted off into a dreamless sleep. One of the worst things about being a vampire, after the sun part, is the death of your dreams. I haven’t dreamed since I said good night to the sun. Dreams allow you a free movie ticket through the night, an escape and you can become someone else in your dream, some one better. Me? I wake up feeling exactly the same as when I closed my eyes.

Like the feeling of changing paragraphs. Feel any different going paragraph to paragraph like that? Imagine waking up every night that exact same way. I know moving so much has been hard on you, making you turn inward, developing emotional callouses. Stoic. I try talking to you and you answer in monosyllables, rarely smiling.

I love you, Em and I want to help, but, you never tell me what’s wrong. I know a lot of it is how you feel about what I do, and that you feel you can never talk about it with anyone, but, you can with me, sweetheart. I am your mother and I will love you no matter what you say to me.

I think it would be helpful for you to one night just open your mouth and scream at me everything that’s on your mind and tell me how much you hate that I eat people and you just want to scream at me to stop, but, you know I can’t stop or I really will die and you don’t want that because I’m your mother and you love me. Am I anywhere close here, Em? If this does any good, I want it to get us talking, even if that talking is you screaming at me. I think that would be great for you to really let loose and get out everything that’s been choking you up for so long, all your life, really, but, you’ve really grown into it the last year or so, though, I don’t remember the exact day you grew into the bright, fiercely guarded young Stoic I now have as my daughter. Your love is my only lifeline to life itself. I need you to give it to me, or, I will really be dead.

How To Survive Your Death (page 4)

Dear Em,

Who is your father? I feel like I’ve got to write in euphemism now to soften this for you, but, that’s not fair to you or this life-affirming story of death. If your second question is something you seriously want to do, become vampire, you should know truly just what it is you’re asking. I know you and respect you as someone who respects truth.

There are a lot of misconceptions about vampires out there and I’ve done my best to raise you as someone who respects life in all its forms, even death. You know vampires don’t sleep in coffins, cause you’ve seen me sleep on my king size waterbed. I find less people think to stick a stake through your heart when you’re sleeping on a waterbed, you know what I mean?

Still, I think this image of your mother sleeping on her great big waterbed may have given you the wrong impression that vampires rest easy. I sleep in fear of the sun and cremation. Cremation has really killed off vampires. Why do you think the Hindus started burning? Even 5000 years ago there must have already been so many of us that they knew there wasn’t room for everyone who died to come back vampire, so, it’s down to the river bank, for a good old fashioned cremation.

India’s the world’s second largest population, because there are very few vampires. India could use a few more vampires. The few vampires I ever bumped into there were tourists like myself. It’s hard becoming a vampire in India, cause, the Hindus are quick to burn their dead, so if you go a whole night without breathing, you’ll be down at the Ganges, burnt to a crisp before you’d ever get a chance to wake up to tell them they’re making a horrible mistake.

Night feedings were fish in a barrel from Calcutta sidewalks all the way to Bombay slums, people sleeping head to toe. Walking down sidewalks in India at night is like going from aisle to aisle in your favorite grocery store. I’m probably the only tourist you’ll hear who got fat in India, it was just too delicious. I love Indian curry. It’s so strong I can taste it in their blood, Indian blood is that spicy. My tongue is dulled by death, but, I can still taste the difference between a Canadian and an Indian, unless of course, he’s an Indian-Canadian, like this little writer, your father, I was one bad book away from eating.

That book literally saved his life, and in a way, gave you yours. It was very funny, and for a few minutes I forgot about my hunger. I read three paragraphs before I decided not to eat him.

I couldn’t help but like the guy, he was adorable. I stood.

“Where you going?” He was up in a shot.

“I have to go.”

“No, why?”

“Thank you for letting me read your book, it made me laugh.”

“So why are you leaving?” He looked genuinely hurt, the bastard. He really was a bastard, I’m sorry to use such language for your father, sweetheart, but, your father could be the most beautiful bastard who ever lived and I’m not just using the word pejoratively, his parents were never married. This is rare for Hindus, and from the way he told it, his parents were different castes, never married, and were basically shunned out of Calcutta by both families, then out of Varanasi, New Delhi, then out of India by the time Ravi was twelve.

I had gone out to pick up food that night. If I wanted to eat before sun up, I thought I’d better try another room full of tall, dark, and delicious looking men. I don’t remember planning on seeing Ravi again, leaving his place that first night. I remember just wanting to go eat, so I went to another bar, saddled myself on a stool, bought the jerk beside me a drink, took him back to my lair and ate him. I could taste the vodka the guy had obviously soaked his life in.

That guy that night, like all guys every night, wanted to know why there was plastic over the sheets. It’s usually the last question they ever ask. It never tips them off. They’re usually too drunk and I get to the bloodsucking pretty quick. As soon as my fangs puncture their carotid arteries there’s no chance for either of us to scream.

It’s not hard getting at his neck when the guy thinks you’re giving him hickeys. Uglier male vampires must have a harder time with it. They probably resort to mind control, or attack the sleeping. I rarely do that. It seems somehow unsporting to me, like fishing using sonar and dynamite. I like to give my dinner at least a fighting chance. In fact, I use my hypnosis so seldom that I forget I have it half the time and it’s not that strong on the best of nights. I’ve never been able to get you to clean up your room, or, put on a different outfit, or, do anything you don’t want to do and I’ve tried, believe me.

The Jealous Joke

The painting envied the joke.

“You live, you breathe,” the Van Gogh told the joke during a lull in museum traffic. Since the museum had raised its rates, the foot traffic through its turnstiles had slowed considerably. Now the painting had lots of time to talk to the other paintings who shared the gallery, and any joke, sneeze, or snide remark that lingered after their creators had long left the room.

The joke didn’t like being laughed at, and wished the painting would stop telling it how funny it was.

“I know I’m supposed to be funny, but, I think I’m deadly serious, so, stop laughing at me.” The joke felt insecure around so many masterpieces. How was he supposed to compete with a Picasso, Pollack, or, even a Pissaro?

The painting, though drawn by one of the world’s greatest artists, had only respect and even envy for the little joke.

“I’m not laughing at you, I’m laughing because of you,” the self portrait tried to clarify.

The joke was confused, “What’s the difference?”

“The difference is harmony. We sing together in laughter when I laugh because of you, don’t you know that?”

“Shut up,” said the embittered joke. The painting tried not to take it personally. It sensed the joke jealous of him and every other thing in the room, save for maybe the bench, though, the painting wouldn’t be surprised if the joke was even jealous of the bench that sat in the middle of the otherwise furnitureless room. The painting could tell the joke had issues.

“At least they can see you. I’m a joke somebody said two days ago. I’m not even funny any more. You, you’re a Van Gogh, you have a shelf-life of forever, but, me, I’m stale after five minutes. Once you open me, I become stale. Don’t you know how lucky you are?”

The painting couldn’t take credit for its own beauty; he’d been framed this way. Alive, Van Gogh had not been a particularly attractive man, yet, as a self portrait, he was worth more than any man on any page of any magazine. “No, it’s you who’s lucky. I’m stuck here to this wall, trapped in this frame. You? You’re wherever someone says you.”

“No I’m not, I’m right here talking to you, but, I can see you like I can see Guernica over there, and I know a Jackson Pollack when I see it, though they all look the same, and there’s The Persistence of Memory there, and everywhere there’s great art and beauty and I’m completely invisible and meaningless and I’d only bug you if you heard me again, but, I could look at all of you forever.”

“Maybe that’s why you’re still here. Because, I’m sure a joke like you must get told many times all over the world. You’re really quite funny,” the Van Gogh tried to be encouraging. He really was a fan.

The joke was unmoved. “I don’t think so.”

“I think you should count your blessings then shut the hell up! Look at me over here, sure I’m brilliantly painted, but look closer, forget technique, look at what’s happening to me… I’m getting the shit bombed out of me! Look, Nazi planes are destroying my city and you’re complaining about being invisible? I wish I was invisible! If I were invisible, the Nazis couldn’t see to bomb me! You lucky bastard!” Guernica screamed at him through the mouth of a dying horse.

It was the Dali to speak up next, “As Hercules lifts the lip of the sky, freeing the Earth’s gravitational pull, causing a rip in the stars big enough to shoot through a missile made of ants crawling up the face of my grade seven gym teacher, Señor Mustache, before exploding to melting pocket watches upon impact against your gums held up by the Virgin Mary and Mickey Mouse. Time is measured in cheese.”

The rest of the paintings looked the other way.

The joke laughed at the mad surrealist. “Ha! You’re nuts! Ha! Ha! I’m laughing at you! You’re a joke to a joke!” The joke was beside himself.

The Dali was unfazed. It had taken criticism worse than this and from better critics. “If I am a bucket of worms, what am I when you’re fishing in the Suez Canal with a rod made out of the tears of the Easter Bunny?”

For the first time, the joke lightened up and didn’t take itself so seriously, hearing that even the masterpieces have their problems.

Book of Genesis: The Soap Opera (Episode 5)

Announcer:  When we last left off, (May 14) Adam and Eve had challenged God to one last pitch to get them to sign with him and turn down Mr. Satan’s proposal to turn the Garden of Eden into Mr. Satan’s Funland.

Adam:  Well, Dad, any last words?

God:  I told you, I’ll give you heaven, the greatest paradise there is.

Eve:  Sure, after we die, what have you done for us lately?

God:  You have to go through this world and suffer here, so you can truly enjoy heaven. It’s like how no one will appreciate a warm sunny day more than a Canadian, cause they will remember how cold the winter is. Heaven’s like that: you keep your memories of this world, so you can better love the next.

Eve:  Can you put that in writing?

God:  I’m God, my word is divine.

Eve:  Yeah, but our lawyer likes every thing written down.

God:  Lawyer? You’ve got Satan as your attorney? Don’t you know the devil’s in the details!

Mr. Satan:  And what are you? Next to cleanliness? You’re clean, big deal. I’m everywhere. And they know they’re going to enjoy this Ride Called Life a hell of a lot more if they take it with me. So, why don’t you fly out the window like you came. Maybe you can rescue a cat in the tree or something.

God:  Son, think of the family.

Adam:  Dad.

Eve:  Adam, I’m pregnant.

Adam:  Sweetheart!  [Adam throws his arms around Eve, attacking her with kisses.]

Eve:  We should think of the baby and get the best we can for right now. Let’s worry about the afterlife when we get there.

Adam:  Ok. Dad, I am going to think of the family, my family, my wife and kid. I’m sorry, but, I’m signing with Mr. Satan. Do we get healthcare covered?

Mr. Satan:  Full benefits for you, your wife and children.

Adam:  Yeah, see you can’t beat that. You’re all about death and later, but, I can’t think like that if I’m going to be thinking about my family.

God:  Son, I am your family.

Adam:  I love you, Dad. But, you can take care of yourself. My wife and unborn child need me.

God:  You’re breaking rule one of the Commandments!

Adam:  What are the Commandments? You can’t just make up rules as you go.

God:  I’ve really got to write this stuff down if I’m going to compete with lawyers and contracts.

Adam:  It’s probably a good idea, Dad. Excuse me as I sign this.

[Adam bends to sign Mr. Satan’s contract.]

God:  NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!

[God’s scream is so loud it shatters the pen Adam was using. Mr. Satan smiles, bemused by God’s desperation, hands Adam a fresh pen.]

Mr. Satan:  Cute. Go on, Adam, sign before the shit storm hits the fan.

Adam:  You wouldn’t do that, would you, Dad?

God:  I swear to me, don’t tempt me.

Announcer:  Will Adam sign, therefore getting God to shower the world in a rain of fire? Tune in next time for another episode of Book of Genesis: The Soap Opera!

Christmas Party at the Prison for Women

The following story is based on my one night entertaining at Kingston’s Prison For Women.

Pete volunteered three hours every Monday to teach Cleo, a woman in her late forties, how to read. Cleo was the quietest, softest woman Pete had ever met; he couldn’t imagine what she could have done to have gotten herself checked in to the prison for women. The prison literacy group Pete worked for wouldn’t tell their volunteers the crimes of any of their student prisoners.

“But, if they want to tell you, it’s up to them,” Bev had told her newbies at their orientation meeting. Pete had always hoped he would forge a bond close enough for his student prisoner to tell him what she was doing in prison. So far, leading up to this Christmas party, Cleo had said little more than, “hi” and “bye”. He could only imagine she’d done something pretty bad, cause he knew she wouldn’t be getting out for another ten to fifteen years.

Pete was a budding writer, and he did everything he could to get into situations that could yield moments worthy of reading. He figured volunteering at a women’s prison was an easy way to get material. A good short story’s worth came from the Christmas party alone.

Arranging a Christmas party in a prison for women is not an easy task. It takes going through a lot of logistics. Prisons get suspicious of any cake or wrapped presents being delivered to any of its prisoners. Santa has got to go through a full cavity search before he’s let inside.

Pete and his friend, and co-literacy volunteer, Lisa, had offered to play guitar and piano for the party. “Thank you for coming out to the prison for women!” Pete greeted his captive audience.

“Thanks for showing us your ass!” Vivian, the tallest of all the prisoners shouted back at him. This brought down the house.

Pete backed up against the wall and waited for the room to settle, before announcing the night’s first carol, Away In A Manger.

Then the prison went into lockdown and no one was allowed in or out. This didn’t matter to the volunteers until the end of the hour long party, and they were told by the guard, John, that no one would be leaving the library till he got the all clear from the front desk.

“Hey, you know any songs that don’t suck?” Charlotte yelled at Pete and Lisa.

“What would you like to hear?” Lisa asked her.

“No, not you, sweeties, him.” Charlotte pointed at Pete.

“Yeah, play more, guitar man, and shake that sweet ass of yours. Make it your Christmas present to us!” Janis demanded.

“Yeah, let’s see your package!” Sam cried. The crowd hooted approval.

Pete didn’t know whether to laugh or scream. He went with laughing, thinking it more sociable. Lisa tried to help by starting in on the piano with, ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger,’ knowing it was Pete’s favorite song. He warbled out the opening lines. The women backed off to listen to him sing. He was utterly terrible, and completely off key, yet, none of the women had ever had a man sing to them before, so he sounded wonderful to all but Gertie, who’d been a music teacher before she went to jail for branching into biology by dissecting her husband.

Cleo, who’d been slowly making her way up to her teacher, was completely transfixed by the music. It was the very song that had been playing in her head when she had set her ex husband’s house on fire. Cleo, who hadn’t spoken a word the entire party, thought that now was the appropriate time to open her mouth and shout over the music:

“THIS IS THE SONG I SANG AS I TRIED TO BLOW HIM UP!”

This stopped Lisa and Pete’s playing. “What?” Pete asked, more out of shock than poor hearing.

Cleo never spoke again, sinking back to the edge of the party, tucking into her apple juice.

The silent musicians were freed from their gig, when John, the guard told them that the lockdown was over and they could go.

Leaving, Pete and Lisa heard one prisoner shout out, “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do!”

Followed immediately by, “Yeah, or, don’t get caught!”