Sunday 31 July 2016


There is something. Something indescribable. Ineffable. Shifting and morphing and beautiful. Burning with the sunsets of Miami, 80s. Synths blazing. Purple. Deeeeeep purple. And blue, and orange, and of course pink, and it's gone.

Tuesday 23 June 2015

"Just one, they don't come by til 5 for dinner," I said to no one in particular. We took out the plastic wine glasses and asked the man at the front desk to borrow his scissors and cut the straw for you to drink with your head on the pillow.

Steve took out his spare shirt and held it to the smoke detector as we lit a cigarette. "They didn't have Peter Jackson, I hope this is OK."

Your sunken eyes smiled as much as they could, and we drank and laughed for a while. None of us had anywhere else to be so we stayed for dinner. The orderlies didn't mention the smell as they came to fetch the trays, so we had another after your pil.

Steve lent me his jacket when I got cold and I fell asleep, listening to the crackle of your breath, shallow and tired. I woke up in the dark, trying to squint through the dark. Steve and Sharon had each taken a side of the love seat near the door. I sat up and listened, and closed my eyes again, smaller than I'd ever been.

Friday 28 June 2013


Lewis skipped down the street that evening, as he often did on Friday evenings, hoping, wishing, calculating for a chance encounter with a beautiful stranger who would ask: “Why are you skipping?” He had rehearsed the answer in his head hundreds of times, anticipating every possible interaction that could arise. But this woman, this imaginary perfection, would not really care why he was skipping. She would appreciate the fact that he was skipping simply because he wanted to. She would see that he skipped only for the sake of the joy that comes of skipping. She would take the skipping as a glib act of joyful irreverence, a childish yet charming way of pulling everything he could out of life.

He skipped, passing couples and dog-walkers and people carrying grocery bags. None of them, it seemed, took any interest in his display of free spirit. That was just the type of person his personal rebellion was aimed at: stodgy, pent-up and anal-retentive people, self-involved, jaded conformists leading their scripted lives. It was a rebellion he thought a lot about, a rebellion he felt was much-needed.

Lewis crossed Melrose, then Elm, then Avenue, hopping lightly at red lights before resuming his bouncy trajectory. The patrons at the diner sitting in the window turned their heads as he went by, and he felt them frowning in bewilderment long after he’d passed them. He relished the feeling. The thought that he was the subject of bewilderment was heartening, pushed him on. He smiled, and his smile, he realized, would only serve to support his idea of himself as a happy-go-lucky eccentric. He was larger than life. He was a force of nature. He was a fine example of a life well lived. He felt that he was of another world, a kind of savior to these miserable, trudging mortals.

And then she said it: “Why are you skipping?”

Lewis was bobbing up and down at a traffic light, resentfully watching a limousine as it turned onto Richardson. He was still smiling, but he had forgotten why. This made his grin look alien and something like demented. He didn’t realize that his face was still distorted when he looked at who had asked the question.

She was shorter than he had expected, and younger. When he turned his head and looked down at her, he saw a child, no older than fourteen, looking up at him. She was wearing a plaid skirt, down to the knees, socks halfway up her calves, and a white blouse covered by a green jacket. Her big blue eyes looked out of place. They looked like a fashion faux-pas with the schoolgirl uniform she was wearing. The bright blue disks were trained on his face, suddenly making him aware of the smile that had atrophied there.

Lewis immediately knew that his responses were useless. The prepared answers he had written and re-written instantly became just a collection of words, a script to a movie that would never be made.

“I...” he began. He stopped the lazy hopping and ground his heels into the sidewalk. “I dunno.”

“’Cause you look silly,” said the girl.

“Not everybody thinks so.”

“Well, I do.” The girl said this plainly, as though she had won an argument, then turned her massive blue eyes forward, facing the opposite side of the street. Lewis felt his face turn red. Who was this little girl to stifle his evening of planned spontaneity?

“You must skip sometimes,” he said. “Children skip all the time.”

The girl started crossing the street, the light having just turned green. Lewis jogged to keep up.

“Don’t you skip?” he asked lamely.

She kept walking South, away from his apartment.

“Sure I do. But I’m twelve. You’re, like, fifty.”

Lewis paused for a second, figuring some quick arithmetic in his head.

“I’m closer to your age than to fifty. I’m just twenty eight.” They were halfway down the block now.

“Do a lot of twenty-eight year olds skip down the street?” she asked.

He felt odd now, vulnerable to a girl, not even a teenage one. He knew that most people his age didn’t skip. That was exactly why he did. But there was no way to explain that. Not to her.

“Sure they do. When they’re happy, when they want to feel like a kid...” he fell silent, trying to think of other disingenuous reasons.

She stopped walking when she reached the bus stop and sat down on the bench. He stopped, considered heading home. Then he sat down next to her.

“I’m not supposed to talk to strangers,” she said offhandedly, like a coworker mentioning the weather.

“Well, you started it. I’m trying to answer your question.”

She turned her head towards the end of the street, away from Lewis, scanning for a bus. There were none.

Lewis shoved his hands into his pockets and tried to look uninterested. This made him look like a repressed pedophile struggling to restrain himself. Anger crept into him. How could he be humiliated by a child?

“I skip because it’s fun!” he blurted out. “It’s relaxing.”

“Just walking is more relaxing,” she said, without turning her head. “Why don’t you just walk?”

Lewis frowned. “Well, why do people go jogging?”

“For exercise.”

“Maybe I’m skipping for exercise.”

“You told me you didn’t.”

Christ! Lewis thought. Why can’t she let up?

From her left stocking, the girl produced a cell phone and proceeded to type into it very quickly. Lewis wondered what she was writing, and to whom. He became acutely aware of the compromising appearance he was projecting to passersby: a twenty-eight-year-old man, sitting and conversing with a twelve-year-old girl.

“I guess...” he said, after the girl had slipped the phone back, “I guess I’m trying to find someone.”

The girl turned to him and furrowed her brow. “You need to skip to find people?”

“No,” he said, slowly. He didn’t know where he was going. He was feeling his way through the unfamiliar, murky waters of honesty. “It makes me different. It makes me special.”

The girl looked at him inquisitively.

“Skipping is special?”

“It is when you’re twenty-eight.”

“Everybody’s got something special,” she said. He thought that she sounded like a tiny Mr. Rogers. He felt like a child again, and this girl had expanded into motherhood.

“That’s not really true,” he said at last.

“Well, how many people would sit down and talk with a twelve-year-old?” said the girl.

He thought for a moment, then offered, “I only talk to the wise twelve-year-olds.”

He heard the bus brake at the light, half a block away.

“That’s special,” she said, getting up. Lewis followed suit.

“So...” he said. “I skip because I don’t feel anything else about me is interesting.”

The bus was pulling up at the stop now, and passengers were getting off, pushing through the line of people waiting to get on.

“You’re just as interesting as anybody else.”

The girl didn’t say goodbye. Lewis watched her pull out a bus pass from her right stocking and get on, and saw her sit down at the back, putting on her headphones.

Lewis walked home. His mind was enveloped by the little girl and what she had said. The same couples and dog-walkers and grocery bag carriers were on the sidewalks, but he no longer saw them as lofty and  bourgeois. They were no more special than him. They were real and flawed and lovable. They were all special, and not a single one had to skip to prove it.

Saturday 22 June 2013

Digging Out

The streets were white, cars snug under a flowing blanket of snow. The diffused light made for a matte, surreal  effect of the snow, where outlines couldn’t be seen through te eddies of snowflakes, which hurried up and down the street, whipping pedestrians, their faces buried in their scarves. Tires spinning were the only sound that could be heard.

James walked outside, holding a shovel. He was wearing snow pants and a parka, mittens and a flapped-ear hat. His face was barely visible. He scanned the street, his shovel like a staff beside him.

He walked towards the closest stranded car, waved at the driver then cleared a path out to the street. Then he walked to the back of the car and pushed it out after three or four basculations, and gave a little salute when the driver honked appreciatively.

This little cycle of his repeated itself for two hours. Wave, dig, push, salute. Wave, dig, push, salute. Wave, dig, push, salute. He was sweating under the parka now.

The drivers were always very kind and would try to give him money, which he would refuse. Gifts, though, were graciously accepted. One driver tossed a beer from the window on his way out, and another gave the man a half-pack of cigarettes. These garnered the drivers a longer, more formal salute.

Around noon, the man brought out a folding chair and installed it in front of the building. He drank his beer and smoked a cigarette for lunch. He watched the cars make it up the hill with difficulty. One car came around the corner too fast, and lost any grip that it had had on the road. It slid into the sidewalk in an action movie parking job, and the sheepish looking driver looked relieved at there not having been a car in that spot.

After his beer was done, he threw out the can and waved, dug, pushed, saluted a few more cars out.

It was around 3. The street was quiet now, but for the slushy sounds of tires through the road. No spinning wheels or shouts of instruction.

And then two men came down from the man’s building. He watched as they got in a black transit van and, just like the others, struggled to get the car out of its parking spot.


The driver got out. He was a tall man, with striking, hawk-like features and small, squinted eyes. “Thanks a lot man. This snow’s awful, eh?”

“Sure is.”

“Jeff! Get out here and help!”

Jeff got out of the passenger’s seat holding a flimsy collapsible pink shovel.

“I was just looking for a proper shovel, man,” he said as he shut the car door. “This is gonna break in two seconds.”


The van was blocked by a particularly large snowbank, and it was getting warmer, which meant that shoveling the snow became harder and harder as the light fluff turned wet and clay-like. Jeff had been right, the  little pink shovel broke at the neck within a minute. He used the blade to fling snow from the street to the sidewalk, bending down each time, like a child destroying sandcastles.

“Dude I don’t mind shoveling if you want,” said the driver, whose name turned out to be Gord. He explained: “Gordon. Like the gin! You want some gin?” Gord pulled out a bottle of gin from under the driver’s seat.

They all took a swig, then planted the bottle in the snow. Jeff and Gord were kicking at the snowbank while the man shoveled.

“Sorry, man, I don’t think I got your name,” said Jeff, kicking a chunk of snow into the street.

“James. Like the bourbon,” said the man, to the confusion of the two men.

“You know, Jim. Like Jim Beam.”

The two men smiled. Gord said, as he pulled his wet foot out of the snow.

The snow had got heavier, and the swirling flakes were closer to raindrops.


Gord had suggested a break before pushing the van out. He opened the back, rummaged through his bag and brought out a joint. The three men piled into the van and sat on blankets, leaning against the sidewalls, legs stretched out in front of them.

“So you just, like, spend your free time out front of your building pushing cars?” asked Jeff.

“I don’t know whether that’s retarded or heroic.” Said Gord.

“I dunno. It kills the time.”

“I never got that expression,” said Gord. “I never want to kill time. I’ll spend it. I have to spend it. I might as well spend it well, not kill it.”

Jeff turned his head to look at Gord. “Dude you kill tons of time. You watched the whole series of Star Trek movies in a row like three days ago.”

“Yeah ‘cause they’re awesome, said Gord. That’s not a waste of time. Have you ever watched ‘The Wrath of Khan,’ Mr. Beam?”

“It’s James.”

“I kind of like Mr. Beam, and to be fair, Jim, it’s your own damn fault.”

“I guess.”

The smoke filled the van. James hadn’t smoked in years, and he felt light-headed and distant. He closed his eyes and felt the wind rock the van gently back and forth. His arms and legs were tired from the shoveling. His body seemed to sink and sway, his mind far removed from the van and the snow and Jeff and Gord and shovels and snow banks. He heard them talking, but through a filter, as though he were listening to a videotape of an old family reunion. The white noise of cars going by through the snow began to sound like waves crashing on a beach, and suddenly James and Jeff and Gord weren’t in a van on a snowy street on a snowy day. They were sitting on lawn chairs on a beach, with sun and sand and boats operated by shirtless dark-skinned men.

“Beam. Beam, you good? He must’ve fallen asleep. YO! BEAM!”

James woke to Jeff shaking him by the shoulders and handing him the bottle of gin. James took it and tipped some into his mouth.

“So where are you guys going?”

Jeff exhaled the last smoke of the joint and looked around for something to put the butt in. His eyes were squinted despite the lack of light. James handed him the bottle of gin, but instead of taking it, Jeff dropped the butt into the neck.

“Aw that was stupid,” Jeff said when he realized the bottle still had about two inches of gin in it. Gord laughed.

“So where are you guys going?” James repeated.
Gord said “We dunno, we just figured we’d drive around.”

“Good day to drive around.”

“It’s more exciting when the weather’s bad.”

There was what seemed like a long silence.

Jeff fiddled with his coat, which was draped over his legs. He was latching and unlatching a strap on the sleeve. “I dunno man we have a lot of free time now.”

“Why’s that?”

“Why’s what?” asked Jeff.

“Why do you have a lot of free time now?”

“Oh yeah. Well I’m unemployed now.”

“Sorry to hear that.”

Gord was staring out the back of the van. Without turning his head, he said, “Yeah, it’s been a rough winter.”

“Everybody goes through rough patches, huh.” said James. Gord and James looked like children owning up to breaking a lamp or tearing a couch. Another silence.

“I guess,” Jeff said after a moment, “I guess we’re just trying to stay moving.”

“That’s good,” said James, without meaning it.

“It’s been a rough winter,” echoed Jeff. “I got out of rehab like two weeks ago.”

“What for?”

“What does anybody go to rehab for?” James felt Jeff shoot a look at him.

“I dunno. Drugs, booze...”

Gord answered. “Drugs.” He was looking at James’ face now. “He’s clean three weeks and counting.”

“Grats.” Said James.

“Yup.” Jeff was slouching, looking at his legs, stretched out in front of him.

“You two live together?”

Jeff said, “Yeah, now. I used to have a place below the canal, but I couldn’t afford it without...” He stopped himself short.

“Drug money.”

“You make it sound like I was a prostitute, Gord.”

“I didn’t think you were a prostitute, man.”said James. “Everybody has stuff.”

“Stuff.” Jeff was rubbing his coat pocket.”All I did was deliver. Stuff.”

James watched as Jeff nudged Gord with his knee, as a sign to stop the conversation.

“Jeff here used to cycle downtown to deliver coke for the bikers.”

“Gord, come on.”


“You don’t have to tell everybody.”

James kept his eyes on Gord.

James tried to steer the conversation away from Jeff. “So what do you do, Gord?”

“Call centers.”

“All of them?”

Jeff chuckled.

“One in Place Desjardins downtown,” said Gord. “Warranty support.”

“You like it?”

“It pays the bills. The van is a thirsty mother.”

“So where are you guys going with it today?”

Gord reached into the front of the van and tilted a toboggan into view.

“We’re gonna go have some fun. Just sick of sitting and thinking I guess. We’re gonna find a hill and slide down it.”

“Sounds like a plan.”

“Better than usual,” admitted Jeff.

Gord’s eyes narrowed at Jeff, “You have plans, but what do you do with them? Nothing. You’re gonna be a firefighter. You’re gonna be a machinist. You’re gonna learn to play the guitar. You’re gonna, gonna, gonna, but you never do.”

“I do stuff.”

“Like what? You don’t even do dishes.”

“I’m getting back on the horse, you callous bastard.”

“You’ve been getting back on the horse for-”

As James listened, he decided that a drink would lighten the mood. He tipped the bottle of gin into his mouth, and felt the cigarette but that Jeff had dumped into the bottle fall onto his tongue. When he realized what he’d done, he grimaced, then spit it out onto the van’s floor.

Jeff and Gord burst out laughing. Gord slapped James’s shoulder and yelled a bit too loud: “We have a winner!”

James spluttered “I have to go, man.”

Gord smiled and pointed a thumb outside at the snow. “More people to rescue, eh?”

“I’m not rescuing anybody.”

“Sure gave us a hand, Beam.”

Jeff said “Yeah, man. Thank you.”

“Still have to get you on the road.”

Gord tucked the bottle of gin into a side compartment of the van. “Come on bro let’s push this bad boy out.”


The shoveling had done the trick. It took one big push administered by Jeff and James, and the van was free. Gord got out.

“You’re a godsend, bud.”

“No worries.”

Jeff took a large joint out of his pocket and handed it to James, who cupped it in his big mittens.

“There man. Don’t smoke it all at once, it’s potent.”


“Alright Beam, take it easy,” said Gord. He and Jeff got in the car and gave a quick honk. James stood in the street and clicked his heels and held his head high in his most formal salute.

After the van was out of sight, James sat back in his chair and watched the cars go by, spinning their wheels up the hill. He watched a middle-aged man with thick-rimmed glasses struggle to get out of his driveway. He watched a teenager alternate, backwards, forwards, trying to get the car in motion.

He lit the joint and brought it to his mouth. Deep inhale. He closed his eyes. Children were playing. The shirtless dark-skinned men were yelling and brandishing nets in which they had caught several brightly-colored tropical fish. The wind carried the ocean spray to his face, cooling him against the hot sun. Waves were breaking in slow motion onto the beach, and a thought swam through him, that he was just where he needed to be.

Tuesday 11 June 2013


The diner was so quiet before Nat unlocked the doors that you could hear the heater in the coffee machine when it would buzz on and off. When it was clear, the early sunlight would spill in through the front windows, over the chairs, which were still upside down on the tables, and onto the old-timey linoleum floor. The air would still smell faintly of toast and bacon, as though it were giving a subtle overture to a symphony.

When he got in at five, Fred put on a pot of coffee, then swept and mopped the floors. After that, he sat at the long counter and watched the sun come up until Nat got there. Nat counted the cash while Fred wiped down the tables and set them.

“There’s eight dollars missing,” said Nat from behind the counter.

“I didn’t close last night,” said Fred without looking up from his work.

“I swear I’m gonna buy cameras for this place.”

“It was probably a mistake, Amanda wouldn’t steal anything. Remember the time she found that man’s wallet? Wouldn’t even take a twenty as a reward.”

There was a knock on the glass.

“Dave’s outside,” said Fred. Nat threw him the keys and started counting again.

“Damn it’s cold outside,” Dave said, walking in the door. “I’ll bet it’s minus twenty.”

“Said minus eight on the radio,” said Nat. “That’s not too cold.”

Dave pulled a stool off the counter and sat down. “Anything ready back there?”

“We can make you some toast and coffee. Stoves aren’t on yet.” said Nat.

“Well they should be. It’s six-fifteen already.”

Fred looked at the clock on the wall. It was quarter to six. In the kitchen, the cooks were taking things out of the fridge and placing them on the counter, ready for the day.

“Actually, it’s quarter to,” said Nat. “You can have some toast and coffee.”

“Just the coffee, then. You get the paper, Fred?”

“It’s on the counter.”

Dave grabbed the newspaper next to him. “So it is, Freddy boy.”

From six to seven, there were hardly any customers. A few office workers getting coffee before going to work, two men coming off the night shift on security at the parking lot, and a couple late-nighters. The late-nighters walked in, eyes glued open, and spoke very quickly. One was short and tan, with a faux-hawk and eyeliner on. The other was regular build, dressed all in white. His long hair was dirty and looked wet. They sat near the wall at the back of the diner, and took a long time to decide. When they motioned to Fred that they were ready, they ordered from the lunch menu. “Lunch starts at eleven,” Fred said. Both of them looked at their watches.

“We’re going to need another minute,” the short one said.

Fred attended two other tables then came back to them.

“How’re the pancakes?”

“They’re good. Come with real maple syrup.”

They looked back at the menu.

“And the waffles?”

“Good. Come with the syrup too.”

Fred saw Nat watching them from the cash.

“Alright,” said the tall one. “I’ll have a western omelet.”

“And I’ll have the steak and eggs.”

“We don’t have any steak today.”

The short one rolled his eyes and slapped the menu onto the table. The tall one was looking out the window.

“Well then I’ll just have the eggs, huh?”

“How d’you like them?” asked Fred

“Over-easy. No... Sunny.”

“You mean sunny-side up?”

“Yeah, that’s what I mean.”

“You want toast with that?”

“Oh you have toast? It’s not on the lunch menu?”

“You can have toast or hash-browns.”

“Gimme the hash-browns.”

Fred picked up the menus and walked to the counter to put in the order. He opened them up to put them into the holder, and found a wet piece gum inside one.

“Kids,” Nat said to Fred. “Staying up all night is bad for ‘em.”

Dave looked up from the paper. He straightened his back, puffing his belly out. “They’re probably on drugs,” he said.

“Maybe,” said Fred, using a napkin to get the gum off the menu.

The order for the late-nighters came out, and Fred brought the plates to the table, along with ketchup and a refill of coffee. They didn’t say anything when the plates arrived.

After seven, more customers started coming in: retired couples who came in every other day, young couples who made awkward conversation and left quickly, and some regulars, who all sat at the counter, talking to Nat. Dave was telling them that the two kids by the wall were strung out on something. “Wouldn’t get too close to those two.”

Fred was polishing cutlery and watching them from behind the counter. They leaned over their plates, but didn’t eat much. Every so often, they’d look up at each other and smile or give a little laugh. They touched each other’s arms. Fred turned to the kitchen and smiled while he put the cutlery into the tray.

Nat and Dave and the other regulars were glancing over at them every so often and talking quietly.

“... touching like gays.”

“... wife never touches you like that.”


“When was the last time you even...”

“Why, just last week, this pretty little thing...”

Fred went to the table and asked if they were done. They looked startled to see him.

“Yes,” said the tall on with the wet hair. “Thanks.”

Fred cleared the table and brought the bill, which he left between the salt shaker and the ketchup.

He said hello to Amanda as she walked in the door and to the counter. She squeezed his shoulder as she went by. She smelled like watermelon today.

“Hi Nat. Hi Dave. Hi guys.”

“Amanda, the cash was short again today,” said Nat before she had a chance to walk around the counter for her paycheck.

Fred watched him from the table he was setting.

“Sorry, Nat. I must have miscounted it. I can give you the eight dollars.“

“I’m sick of telling you, Amanda.” Nat had both his hands on edge the counter and his eyes were fixed on the cash in front of him. “If you can’t count, that’s a big goddamn problem.”

“I can count, Nat, I just-“

“I don’t want to hear it. You fuck up the cash every fucking week. I could hire an eight year old to do your job.”

Amanda opened her mouth, as though to say something, but closed it again before saying anything. Her eyes were wet.

“What? What are you going to say?”

Fred walked up to Nat. Nat stood straight and faced him. Nat looked very small next to him, and his grey hair hardly reached Fred’s nose.

“Come on, Nat, she made a mistake. You make them too when you count the cash.”

Nat was almost shaking from anger. “Stay out of this. It’s my restaurant. I’ll handle it the way I like.”

Amanda was crying hard now. She took eight dollars from her purse and put it on the counter before running out.

 Fred pushed the eight dollars to Nat. “Happy now?”

The regulars sitting at the counter weren’t talking any more. Dave was watching the arts and life section intently, and the others were pushing around their hash browns around their plates or looking at their coffee.

 When Fred turned back to see his tables, the two late-nighters had left.

“Where did those two kids go?” said Nat, trying to put things back to normal. “They didn’t pay yet.”

Fred checked the washrooms, which were empty, then ran outside to the street. The customers inside watched through the window, one or two even got up to see if anything would happen. There were businessmen, couples strolling down to the Old Port, and bike couriers all along the street. The late-nighters were gone. Fred walked back inside, and the diners seemed disappointed as they turned back to their food.

“Could tell soon as they walked in that they were no good,” said Nat.

“Probably on drugs, those two,” repeated Dave. “Did you see the thin one’s hair? Greasy as your onion rings, Nat.”

The other regulars gave a chuckle.

Fred went to clean the late-nighters’ table. There, under the ketchup, were two crisp twenty dollar bills, enough to cover the 23 dollar bill and leave a hefty tip. Fred smiled and put the forty dollars on the counter as he walked by.

Nat looked confused. He looked at the table, then at Fred, then back at the money. He took it and put it in the cash.

Fred waited tables until 3. Nat took the afternoon off. His daughter was going to the dentist’s. After 3, Fred sat at the counter and talked to Amanda, who came in at 2. She still smelled of watermelon. Her hair was loose, the way it was when Nat didn’t tell her to tie it up.

He watched her until six. They talked about the weather, her boyfriend, her apartment. They stopped talking after a while. He just watched. Every time she put the money into the cash, she would keep a dollar or two in her hand and put it in her apron. At one point, she took a twenty from the cash and stuffed it in her pocket. She didn’t see Fred looking at her.

The next day, Fred came in early. He swept and mopped the floors, then sat at the counter to watch the sun rise. It was overcast, so he watched the sky turn from dark purple to gray. At five-thirty, Nat came in and counted the cash.

“Twenty-fucking-four dollars short today. I can’t fucking believe it.”
Fred kept on setting the tables.

“I didn’t close last night.”