The end of the world – a short story

June 22, 2007

At twelve years old, Cathy decided that, when it came right down to it, she’d rather be too hot than too cold. It was a life choice, and she stuck by it right through that summer’s will wilting three week heat wave. Even passing out from heat stroke in grade 10 didn’t change her mind. She’d made a commitment, and she wasn’t going to be like everyone else and throw it away. When she was 15, she made three more major life decisions; she was going to get married on a boat, she would never like olives, and she was going to be an accountant. She committed to believing in God at 17. And at 18, she found the man she wanted on that boat deck beside her.

Then, at 22 years old, Cathy failed her CA exam for the third time. Two weeks later she found out her fiancé was cheating on her. Nightmares started waking her up every morning. Not the being-chased-by-a-giant-iguana or the naked-on-the-jumbotron kind, but real end-of-the-world-fiery-death nightmares. Her doctor told her it was stress. Her therapist told her it was unresolved divorced parents issues, but she knew it couldn’t be that simple.

She went to her pastor one night after gospel.

“End of the world, eh?” he said, bringing his face uncomfortably close to Cathy’s. “Have you heard of global warming? People are just catching on, but what they don’t know is there’s nothing they can do about it.”

“Sure there is.” Cathy pulled her head back a few inches. “Haven’t you heard David Suzuki?”

Her pastor sighed, and looked to the heavens for inspiration on how to put the truth as gently as possible.

“Catherine, just be thankful you’re saved, global warming is the first stage of Armageddon. Not even praying can stop it.” He put his hand on her arm and squeezed maybe a second longer than he should have. “Now, let me give you a ride home. We can talk about it more in the car.”

When she climbed out of his SUV in front of her apartment building, she knew she never wanted to ride anywhere with the man again, even if it was shotgun at the rapture. She locked her door behind her and went straight to the fridge. Her roommate always kept a jar of olives beside the shared mustard. Cathy unscrewed the lid and reached in with her fingers. This was the final test. She met the fat green olive’s pimento eye without flinching. Brined dribbled over her hand and down her wrist. She hesitated, but only for a second, before popping it whole into her mouth. She closed her eyes and bit down. Salty, juicy – Cathy got the most horrible shock – it was delicious!

The olive jar dropped and shattered on the tile floor. Even her palate had betrayed her. Cathy staggered back and collapsed into a kitchen chair. It was the end of the world…

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Cymbria vs Steinbeck…who will back down first?

June 19, 2007

I reached the end of chapter 11 of East of Eden (Steinbeck) and stopped. I closed the book and put it back on the shelf. There are 44 more chapters to go, but I’m not sure if I can put myself through that much more suffering (both mine and the character’s!). Don’t get me wrong, the writing is brilliant, the characters are richly fleshed and real, and the plot is swift and undeniably addictive. But there’s enough human cruelty jammed into those first 11 chapters to keep Jerry Springer (and child services!) busy for decades. I’m sitting here numb, staring at the ironically cheerful pastel book jacket and wondering if I’ve got the guts to keep reading.

A book is real. You can close your eyes in a movie theatre, but when you try that same escape from a book, the colours and images take over, often with nightmarish intensity. East of Eden is a classic and, as a writer, the shame of retreating from a Steinbeck would be mortifying. But if I pick it up again, what do I do about the physical symptoms?

The more I read, the more flushed I became. My hands started to sweat, and I felt distinctly nauseas. I wanted desperatly to find out what was going to happen, but like when they finally pull the body out of a car wreck, I was horrified with myself for having stuck around so long. What was I expecting? A happy ending to their struggles? We’re only a quarter of the way through. Cathy, Adam, and Charles are just getting going. My mind is whirling with all the awful possibilities awaiting me in the next 44 chapters.

It’s the brutally human books that become classics – same with love songs, same with art. But we shouldn’t blame the writers. The good ones can only helplessly describe the truth. A reader can get a Steibeck out of the way in a matter of hours, then go out for dinner and forget all about it, while the poor writer is stuck in that same story for years! I can’t help but feel sorry for Steinbeck. The world inspires the harshness he writes about; his plot has no sadistic aim (though I’m sure he did have his fair share of issues). It’s sobering to think of all those tortured souls who, for weeks at a time, are trapped muddling over the grammar of murders!


Observations from a watch repair shop…

June 18, 2007

Replacing watch batteries is very much like working in a funeral home. People come to me when their time stops, which happens far more frequently than one might think. People always sound so surprised: “I put it on this morning and the hands weren’t moving!” They speak as if this is the first time this kind of tragedy, this kind of injustice, has entered their lives. “I thought it would last longer,” they say, every time. I smile gently and reach out my hand. “Every circuit’s different,” I tell them as I take their watch. “There’s no guarantee.”


Sauerkraut? (mini-story)

June 10, 2007

You don’t know somebody until you can dress their hot-dog from memory. Not just choose the right condiments, but get the proportions right too. Sound easy? Take out your address book and test yourself. You’ll be surprised at how few people you really know.   

Casey doesn’t hesitate. She digs into the jalapenos with confidence. Her boyfriend likes six slices of them on his jumbo Seven-Eleven hot-dog. She adds one scoop of onion from the next bin, bypasses the relish, then tops the dog with a narrow line of mustard and two lines of ketchup to glue all the ingredients together. He likes his buns toasted, but you can only go so far for love when it’s 11pm and the cashier is in a foul mood.   

It’s raining outside, pouring actually, and Casey’s been getting looks and laughs for her outfit since she walked in: bright yellow raincoat, baseball cap, green cords rolled up to her knees, and bare feet swimming in a pair of her boyfriend’s size 12 slip-on Nike sandals that had found their way into her closet and never left. She doesn’t care what these people think of her. The kind of people who hang around a convenience store at 11pm, when it’s pouring outside, have their own issues. But then, she’s right here in the middle of them dousing a hot-dog into oblivion.

She’d eaten supper hours ago, but then her boyfriend had called to say “he’ll be around later” and “can he drop by?” She knows how much he’ll love the midnight snack surprise. Just thinking about how he’ll thank her for it makes her toes curl into the wet rubber of the sandals.

“Will that be all?” asks the clerk. He doesn’t bother to look up.

“H’uh? Oh, ya, thanks,” says Casey and hands him the money. She’s still dreaming about her boyfriend. She can almost feel his presence behind her. When she breaths in, she can almost smell the warm earthiness of his favourite black sweatshirt. She spins round. There’s no almost.

“Mike!” she exclaims, and gives her boyfriend a bear-hug. She steps back and laughs. “We both look like idiots.”

He has his hood on and the collar of his T-shirt pulled up over his nose.

“I got you a hot-dog,” says Casey, passing it to him from the counter.

“Uh, thanks,” he says. He takes it from her, while, behind his back, his other hand quietly tucks the gun back into his pants.


A Canadian Pioneer (in the classic sense)

June 10, 2007

Quite a lot has changed since my last post. Besides having three less (wisdom) teeth in my head, I’m now living in Calgary. George and I pared down our belongings and headed West. Our covered wagon was an Air Canada jet. In-flight movies sure beat watching the tumbleweed roll by, and who can argue with a cesar salad at 30,000 feet. De-lish. We’ve settled into our new apartment and are well on our way to becoming true Calgarians. All we need are a couple of cow-boy hats and a ride to the mountains (horse or car, we’re not picky).