Saturday, 24 August 2019

Flashback: Made her bones ...

When Jessie and I walked into the club I announced to the room;
“Twice the cookies today, Mike!  In fact, cookies for everybody, my little girl just made her bones!”
The crew and the hang-arounds all cheered and applauded, and even some of the regulars clapped.  Leon, Patrick, and Cheech all came forward to kneel and hug Jessie and kiss her on both cheeks in the Italian way.  Then they ushered her to a chair at the crew table as Mike came out with a heaping plate of cookies and Jessie’s usual frosty glass of milk - Mike had taken to keeping a glass in the freezer for her so her milk was extra cold as the weather got warmer.
The guys waited until Jessie had her first sip of milk then begged her to tell the story.  With a milk moustache, Jessie began by saying that Morgan and her had been on the playground when Rickie had come up to them and said that horrible thing to Morgan that made her cry.
“What did the mutt say?” Cheech asked.
“Yeah, his exact words.” Patrick said.
Jessie looked at me standing at the counter, sipping a coffee, and I nodded, so she turned back to them and repeated word for word what Rickie had said to Morgan that made her cry.
Cheech made a fist and bit his knuckle and made a painful sound.
“The stronzo!” said Cheech.
“Infamia!” said Leon.
“Ach!  What a bum!” said Patrick, “What did you do?”
“I made a fist back here” Jessie demonstrated but putting her arm back and to her side and making a fist, “And I swung as hard as I could up like this.” she said as she pushed her fist up and in front of her, “Because he’s bigger than us.”
“And?” Cheech asked.
“Pow!  Right in the nose!” Jessie said, getting into the theatrics of telling the story.
“Was there blood?” Leon asked.
“Gallons!” Jessie said with feigned fierceness, “They had to take him to the hospital because it wouldn’t stop.”
The crew laughed.
“And!” I said loudly, “When she was pinched, she didn’t rat.”
More laughter.
“What did you tell the Principal when she tried to get you to talk?” I asked her.
“I went like this.” Jessie said, crossing her arms and making her angry face, “I’m not saying a god-damned word until my dad gets here.”
The crew was up on their feet again laughing and jostling her good-naturedly.  It was good to see Jessie basking in the adoration of the crew, knowing it was all in fun and seeing it as the rough acceptance of her adopted family.
When every one had settled down, and we all had a celebratory cookie, Jessie asked Cheech;
“What does “making bones” mean?”
“Ah, when some guy has to go because he’s nothing but trouble for the family, and another guy - you know - pushes his button, he turns into a pile of bones.  So when you do that, you ‘make your bones’.” he explained.
“Have you made your bones?” she asked Cheech.
“I refuse to answer on account that my testimony may incriminate me.” Cheech held up his hand like he was pleading the fifth like an American gangster, and we all laughed.
“Has my dad made his bones?” Jessie asked.
And there it was.

"Millennial Gangsters"

Friday, 23 August 2019

Flashback Friday: Going Crazy ...

  “You know what the worst part is?” Frankie said, peeling a blade of grass into thin strips, “There was a girl that moved into the house across the alley from me last winter.  Her name is Gina - Gina Marie.  I saw she was all alone in her backyard trying to build a snowman, so I went over there and helped her.  We built a huge snowman together - and it was beautiful.  Her mom was watching us through the kitchen window and smiling and she brought us out a carrot for his nose and an old hat to top him off, then invited me in for hot chocolate and cookies with Gina.  It was a great day.  I really liked her.”
Frankie paused, like he was trying not to feel what he was feeling.
“Then when Christmas break was over we went back to school and at first Gina was friendly to me, letting me walk her to school and home again.  But as time went on she started making excuses to not be around me.  I finally asked her what was going on and she said it was because I scared her.  She said I was dangerous and we couldn’t be friends.”
“She said I was dangerous, Denny.” Frankie said, his voice thick with barely contained emotion, “I would never have hurt her.  Not her.  Not for anything.”
I thought of Carrie then and knew how he felt - it would kill me if Carrie thought I might hurt her.
“So, yeah.” Frankie took a deep breath and let it out, “I think I’m a little crazy.  I scare girls when I just think I’m being funny.”
I rolled onto my back and stared up at the small white clouds that weren’t in the shape of anything other than clouds.
“I’m sorry that happened to you, Frankie.  It must have hurt.” I said, “And I don’t think you’re crazy, but I know I am.”
“What do you mean?” he asked.  So I told him about the sparkly shit that eats my vision once in awhile, and the hollow, numb feeling of shrinking and growing at the same time, and how I don’t know how to talk to people.
“You do better than talking to people.” Frankie said, “You listen.  You actually listen to people when they tell you things.  When most people are in a conversation they’re just waiting for you to stop talking so they can tell their story.  Sometimes they even interrupt when you take a breath.  You actually stay still and let people finish what they’re saying.”
“What about the sparkly shit and the numb thing?” I asked him.
“I don’t know.” Frankie said, “Did you ever think it might be because your old man slaps you around all the time?  Like maybe it’s better to be numb than have to deal with that?”
I had never thought about it that way before and it sent goose bumps up my back.  I’d never figured that my dad slapping me around had an affect on me, but maybe it did.  Maybe it was having a huge affect on me.
Jimmy’s dad slapped him around too and his habit was to be slow and careful and that’s how it affected Jimmy; he was terrified of making a mistake and being beaten for it, so he was slow and careful about everything.  He was even slow and careful around his friends who wouldn’t be mad at him for taking risks and messing up.
Carrie was shy and quiet and tried to blend into the background because if she stood out she’d be picked on by her older siblings, and when she was picked on you could watch her fold into herself, trying to be smaller than she already was so she could go back to not being noticed.  It wasn’t until those moments of awareness sitting under the fir trees in Stanley park that I understood why Carrie was so happy that I pushed her on the swing that day that she held my hand as I walked her home; she knew I saw her and appreciated her as a person.
So maybe Frankie was right; that I disconnected from my body rather than feel anything, just like filling my head with a million stupid facts kept me from having meaningful conversations with people like I was doing with Frankie that day.  It was a revealing moment for me as I realized I couldn’t fix a problem I didn’t know I had and now that I knew, I couldn’t go back to not knowing.
I stood up and looked down at Frankie as I started to walk down to the rocky shore where the little crabs lived.
“Where you going?” he asked.
“Crazy.” I smiled, “Wanna come?”

"Little Gangsters"

Monday, 5 August 2019

The Cover-Up ...

M_ moved to the front of the Winnebago, so I moved toward the rear where the bedroom was.  I saw movement and the short barrel of a sawed-off twelve gauge sticking out from behind the half closed accordion door.
“Drop it!” I said, aiming at the thin vinyl of the retractable door where I knew I’d get a piece of him, “Come out slow and drop it.”
There was a silence, then;
“Okay.  Coming out slowly.” the second biker said, his rough voice deep and calm, “Just don’t shoot.”
He eased himself out from behind the door, holding the butt of the sawed-off and pointing the barrels at the roof.
“I don’t know what your beef is friend.” he said, looking me in the eyes.
“Put the gun down.” I said, aiming my Walther at his centre mass.
“Setting it down on the counter.” he smiled, “Nice and sl …”
A sudden violent thud knocked the wind out of me as the tight air in the RV was shocked by thunder.  I actually felt the bullet from M_’s Taurus snap past my right shoulder before it hit the biker in the chest, knocking him back onto the bed in the back.  The shotgun clattered to the floor.
M_ had executed both bikers.
As Lennox and Ruben made it to the door beside M_ I rushed to the biker on the bed.  He was still alive but barely; his sternum was shattered and pulsing blood from dozens of burst veins in pulverized flesh.  He was choking, spitting up specks of blood, quivering.
“Why?” he gurgled.
“You killed D_.” I said, lifting his head.
“Dunno a D_” he gasped, then the light went out of his eyes.  I let his head drop and spun on M_
“Why did you shoot him?” I half shouted at him, covering the distance between us in three strides, wanting to smash him in the face, “He was putting the gun down.”
“They killed D_and Tracy.  They had to go.” M_ said, still holding his Taurus loosely in his hand.
“We could have questioned them.” I said, my anger with M_’s reckless attitude straining my voice, “We don’t even know if they did it.”
“Yeah, we do.” M_ smirked and pointed down at the first biker with the barrel of the Taurus.  I saw it then, tucked behind him in the cushions of the sofa – D_’s Arkansas Toothpick.  I suddenly felt tired and washed out – it finally hit me then that we were truly leaderless, but what hit me harder was that I no longer trusted M_.  The thought came to me that he could have dropped that ugly knife there when I wasn’t watching, and somewhere in there I felt my heart break.
“He was going for it when I shot him.” M_ said.
“We still could have questioned them.” I offered lamely, “Found out if there are others.”
M_slapped me on the back, “There’s always others, B_  It’s the nature of our business.  Right Ruben?”
I looked at Ruben still standing in the narrow stairwell of the Winnebago.  He looked unsettled as well, but whether it was from the lingering shock of losing D_ or if he too had his suspicions about M_, I had no idea.
“Yeah.” Ruben said, “There’s always others.”


Friday, 2 August 2019

The Winnebago ...

I heard the gag and gurgle and turned to see B_ falling to her knees, her hands still clutching her robe tight to her throat as she heaved up bile and foamy spit.  It had all been too much for her and she wasn’t lying when she said she felt sick.
I went to her and squatted down, steadying her with my hands as she vomited then dry heaved.  She was as small and light and frail as a baby bird, and I worried about the child resting in her belly.
“We need to get you home.” I told her gently once she stopped heaving.  I eased her up to her feet, her body still curled around her core.
“I feel sick.” she said.
“I know.” I said.  Then Betts was there, taking B_ from my arms.
“I’ll take her and stay with her.” Betts said, her cheeks still wet with tears, “I can’t be here either.”
We took Lennox’s car and drove out to Conkle road.  We’d all came strapped when we got M_’s call that his father’s home was engulfed and his parents were nowhere to be found.  M_was waiting in his Charger when we arrived and he waved us on to follow him.
Uncharacteristic of M_, he idled down Conkle road then turned right onto a dirt path that lead to a cluster of brush and twisted trees.  We both parked and we all got out.  M_ had drawn his Taurus and chambered a round.  We did the same.
“We go the rest of the way on foot.” M_ said, leading us further down the path.  There were motorcycle tracks in the sand.
“What’s down here?” I asked him.
“The men who killed D_ and Tracy.” he said.
“How did you know they were dead?” I asked, “They just found the bodies before you texted.”
“I was there just after the fire started.” Ma_ said, “I heard the Harley’s light up as they left the park.  That’s what woke me up.  D_’s place was already burning hot and there was no sign of him or Tracy.”
“You followed the bikers.”
“Yeah and I watched.  They’re in there.” M_ said, pointing through the bush.  I could see the corner of an old Winnebago.

Monday, 22 July 2019

The Underdog's New Teeth ...

One of my rare third-person works; 'The Underdog's New Teeth", published by A Million and One magazine.

Read it here

Saturday, 20 July 2019

July 20, 1969 (redux) ...

I settled for a book on space that had a lot of photos and three chapters on the Nasa missions, starting with the test pilots at Edwards Airforce base and ending with the moon landings, the last one being Apollo 17 three years ago.  I think Nasa stopped going to the moon because people stopped caring about it.
I remember being in grade eight when Apollo 11 landed on the moon and they called the place they landed ‘Tranquility Base’.  We had an assembly right after lunch that day and the teachers had televisions on those high rolling carts set up in the gym and we all sat cross-legged on the floor and watched shitty black and white images of Neil Armstrong stepping onto the moon.
But I honestly couldn’t remember Apollo 17 and I bet no one else could either.  Moon missions had become as ordinary as watching the national anthems during the Stanley Cup playoffs.  I wondered if the last of those astronauts got depressed because no one gave a shit about what they did.  But seriously, of the billions of people in the world, only twelve had walked on the moon.  That had to count for something.

July 20, 1969 ...

The only highlight in late July came on the twentieth when we hosted a party at the club and invited everybody to watch the moon landing of Apollo Eleven.  We had decorated the club with Christmas lights, moved out all the gaming tables and brought in more chairs.  I went out and bought three of the largest televisions I could find and Gordon wired them all up for us so everyone would have an unobstructed view.  Gordon wired the sound through a new stereo I picked up to make it sound like we were all at mission control.
Even Carrie rediscovered her enthusiasm as she worked happily with Chelsea and Shelly to make moon-themed snacks and their legendary ‘Moon Punch’ in two large punch bowls labelled; ‘Astronaut Juice’ (non alcoholic) and ‘Jet Fuel’ (spiked with rum).  Carrie made a joke that the ‘Astronaut Juice’ was made from freshly squeezed Astronauts and cracked us all up.
I kicked myself for growing apprehensive as the date loomed; what if instead of landing, the lunar excursion module crashed into a fiery ball on the moon’s surface?  What if it sunk into the sandy surface of the moon like quicksand that some commentators were predicting?  What if my planned celebration turned to a mournful wake that traumatized everyone instead of uplifting them?
It turned out that all my fears were unfounded, but they were typical of the shadow that hung over me that July.
The room was packed on the day and the air was electric as we watched the televisions along with millions of people all over the world.  Every eye in the room was on one of the television screens, watching the distorted live feed from the moon.  Mothers hugged their kids, men had their arms around their girls, Shelly was sitting on Frankie’s lap, and I had Carrie in my arms as I stood behind her, even Gordon was standing in the doorway watching intently with wide eyes.
Then, at eighteen minutes after one PM Vancouver time on July twentieth, 1969, we all held our breath as we watched a fuzzy black-and-white Neil Armstrong climb down the ladder of the lunar excursion module, Eagle and become the first person to set foot onto the surface of another heavenly body.
“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” his voice crackled from the speakers.  We all went nuts.  People were cheering, kids were jumping up and down, couples were kissing and hugging.  Carrie turned and jumped into my arms and wrapped her legs around me and kissed me hard on the lips.
“We did it, Denny!” she cried, as though we were part of the NASA team that fulfilled John F. Kennedy’s challenge in 1961; ‘before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth’.  And that was the feeling; we were all part of it - in that moment, all the people of Earth were united in making our first step into the galaxy and beyond.  This was it - this was the moment that all those science fiction stories were coming true.  By 1980 we would have flying cars and there would be colonies on the moon and Mars.

Flashback: Made her bones ...

When Jessie and I walked into the club I announced to the room; “Twice the cookies today, Mike!  In fact, cookies for everybody, my li...