Maybe it’s the way I look or how I carry myself
but each time I go to the service station for fuel,
the attendant takes a good look at me and says
“Have a good day. [pause]. If you can”
as if I was constitutionally incapable of it.
It makes me try a little harder.
his little epiphanies
tucked away in his notebook
like matches in a box
What sort of wuss wears a beanie around the house?
It’s not Outer Mongolia for fuck’s sake.
And I do have the heater on.
But it does look exotic and its warm and woolly.
A tower of a hat from Ulaanbaatar, the trader tells me.
I had to have it with its burnished reds and browns and its black leopard spots.
But I look a proper Charlie wearing it in the mall or library or on public transport.
In restaurants people just stare.
So I wear it in the yard when I’m gardening or evening walks along the esplanade before disappearing into my yurt
where I cuddle with a copy of Sonomyn Udval’s ‘Collected Short Stories’
Every now and then you read a story which gives you a jolt. ‘Suicide Watch’ is one of these. In spite of its confronting title, the story is not depressing. It takes you into the teen world of social media, with its relentless pursuit of ‘likes’ and ‘comments’ and what lengths teens will go to so they can elevate their quota. The tension and uncertainty are nicely calibrated so the narrative skips along.
It has one of the best openings I’ve read:
‘Jill took her head out of the oven mainly because it was hot and the gas did not work independently of the pilot light. Stupid new technology! And preferring her head whole and her new auburn sew-in weave unsinged, and having no chloroform in the house, she decided she would not go out like a poet’.
I love the humor and desperation in this. The ending though comes with a jolt. Partly expected, partly not. The writing is an exercise in style, masterfully balanced between the vernacular and the poetic.
AS Adam Ant says, “Do yourself a favor’ and read it. *
Have you read a story recently that has given you a jolt?
It simply is not true.
You can’t eat your cake
And have it too.
I tried it once.
It does not work.
Someone always ends up hurt.
Take a slice maybe two.
Leave some for others too.
And if the cake
is truly sound.
There should be enough
To go around.
It’s Carol’s 70th so we have to go and I know what’s waiting for me as soon as we rock up. The Test! My partner doesn’t have to submit to it, nor do the younger males, only the senior ones. Each Xmas, Easter, special occasions, he waits for me. Bone-crusher Bowden.
We lock eyes, hands like deer lock antlers, while my partner settles down to chat..
He grips. I grip. Harder. Tighter. Grimace. Grunt. Grin. Faces redden. Eyes almost pop. “What are you men up to?” the women say. Then one of us weakens. It’s always me. He was a wharfie. I was a teacher but it’s getting closer. He’s losing his edge.
I’ll get you next time, I smile. Not on my watch, he says. But he doesn’t know. I’m working out at the gym. Can’t wait till Xmas.
I went out today without my mobile phone.
It felt wanton.
I know something dreadful will happen.
An accident. A death.
A crack in the surface of things.
And someone will try to contact me.
It’s happened before.
My daughter giving birth.
I was three hours late.
But nine times out of ten it doesn’t.
It’s a gamble.
A dead weight in my pocket.
The world can do without me for a few hours.
I’ll be back, as Arnie says.
There may be messages saying,
Where the hell are you? We’ve been trying to contact you all day!
And I’ll answer winsomely,
I just stepped out for a moment.
At the writers’ group we were issued a list of things to check when we’re critiquing each others’ stories, things like plot, character, setting, dialogue. We’d put a tick or a cross depending whether the requirements were met. All well and good. Yet I couldn’t help thinking of the checklist that mechanics fill out when they’re servicing your car. So I said, “A short story is not a car!”
This put a brake on proceedings. They didn’t know what I was driving at. I didn’t know what I was driving at either. I just felt it was wrong. I don’t know what a short story is like but I do know it’s not like a car.
What do you think a short story is like?
You shouldn’t have written that poem, he said.
That short one about brain tumors.
But I wrote it before her daughter …. I protested.
Doesn’t matter. She needn’t be reminded of it.
I can’t take it back. It’s out there now.
You didn’t have to give her the book the poem was in. Each time she reads it she’ll be reminded.
You could have pulled it, he said. It didn’t have to be there.
He was right. It didn’t. But it was a good poem. My editor said it had to go in. Anyway it wasn’t about Jess. It was written about a tumor I had seen in Scientific American, how beautiful it was, how like the wings of a butterfly unfurling into the hemispheres of the brain.
Are there subjects we should not write about?
You can’t say ‘no’
to a bloke in a wheelchair with one leg and a busted right eye
so I reached into my pocket
to pull out some coins
he said he didn’t want money.
You got any grass? He said.
Weed? I answered. No.
Look at me.
You’re asking the wrong guy.
That’s the third time in two years I’ve been mistaken
for a druggie.
Perhaps it’s that flannelette shirt and the
Faraway look I’ve had
since I was a kid.
Maybe I should wear sunnies.