Welcome To the Neighbourhood

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Prosser Meets the Police

“You Keith Prosser?"

Keith sized up the beefy man standing in the building manager’s doorway before responding. The man was an inch or two shorter than Keith, but easily outweighed him by a good thirty pounds. He had short brown hair and looked to be in his forties, although the man’s trunk-like forearms suggested he could easily knock down most guys half his age.

“And you are…” Keith let his voice trail off, waiting for the man to fill in the blank.

“Detective Stevens, City police.” The man flipped open a leather wallet, revealing a gleaming gold badge. “You called about a missing person?”

“Ah, right,” said Keith. “That was me. Let me grab my keys and I’ll show you the apartment.”

The detective didn’t move as Keith grabbed his keys and slipped on his shoes. Nonetheless, Keith noticed the cop’s dark eyes swiftly taking in his surroundings.

“I kind of expected someone in uniform,” Keith remarked, as he shut the door to his apartment. “I called you guys three days ago.”

The two men headed down the corridor. If Stevens had a response, he kept it to himself.

“Any sign of a crime?” said the detective.

“Well, no, I suppose. Nothing obvious, I guess.” Keith’s keys jingled as he separated his master to open the door to Jocasta Smith’s apartment. “One of the neighbours complained about a loud alarm clock. When I checked, the door was unlocked, but nobody was inside.”

Keith flipped the deadbolt and pushed open the heavy wooden door, allowing the detective to enter. Stevens had produced a pen and a small black book and was making notes. “Double-S in Prosser, right?” the detective mumbled over his shoulder, already in Jocasta’s kitchen.


Stevens made a cursory pass through the small apartment, pausing at each of the windows and studying the sliding glass patio door off the living room. “You touch anything?”

“I shut off the alarm clock,” said Keith, still standing near the doorway. “Aside from that, I just locked the place up and called you guys. I also called Mrs. Smith’s daughter. She was the only contact listed on the rental agreement. She’s on her way, I think.”

The detective crouched down to examine the two wine-stained glasses on the coffee table in the living room, then moved to the dining area where he used the end of his pen to move around a few papers strewn on the table. He scribbled something in his notebook before flipping the cover shut and stuffing the book inside his jacket pocket. He sighed heavily.

“Well Mr. Prosser, so far I don’t see a crime here. You sure the lady didn’t just take off on some bus trip to play some coin slots at a casino or something?”

“Well, I'm not certain, I guess, but…”

The cop continued. “She miss paying her rent?”

“No. She leaves post-dated cheques.”

“She normally tell you about it if she’s heading out of town for awhile?”

“Um, no, I guess.”

“You two close friends?

“No,” said Keith.

“So aside from the fact that she forgot to lock her door – you said when you called that she’s in her sixties, right?

“Yeah, somewhere around there, I think.”

“So aside from the fact that an elderly woman forgot to lock her door, we don’t really have any actual evidence of a crime here.”

Keith pursed his lips before continuing. “Still, shouldn’t we be, like, declaring her a missing person or something?”

“I’ll open a report and give you a case number, but really we should wait until a family member gets involved. You said the daughter’s coming?”


The detective placed a huge hand on Keith’s shoulder. “Until then, let’s just wait and see if the old lady shows back up, eh?”

Keith locked the door of the apartment as the detective produced a crinkled business card from his pocket.

“Give me a call if anything else happens, right? And tell the daughter to call me if she wants.”

“I will,” said Keith, shaking Stevens’ hand. “Thanks.”

Keith watched the detective stride down the corridor. The cop was out of earshot when Keith added, “...for nothing.”

Eason Riley


Eason Riley pulled off his heavy work gloves and used the back of his hand to wipe away the rills of sweat dripping from his brow. It was barely June, but already the two o’clock sun bore down relentlessly, conspiring with the red chips of the worn clay path to parent waves of sweltering heat from both above and below. Shirtless, Eason paused to absorb the warmth on his drenched skin, feeling much like the soiled leather gloves he held – still young and new, yet already dirty, stained and crusted.

The kitchen job would still be worse, he reminded himself. Either a line cook or a labourer – the previous month’s classifieds had ceded few viable options for a 20-year-old with nothing to offer except a strong back and one failed semester of college. All things considered, Eason was thankful to have landed the latter, a landscaping gig, even if it was bound to leave him unemployed again by autumn. To him, the sprightly smell of freshly cut grass measured a fair sight better than the enduring stench of greasy French fries.

Eason’s new boss had proven palatable enough. A stout, short man in his early fifties, Leo and his pear-shaped physique appeared to Eason more suited for life as an accountant or a desk-bound bureaucrat, rather than helming a 20-man landscaping company. He had hired Eason on the spot, asking only a half dozen perfunctory questions before sealing the deal with a solid handshake. He had then tersely outlined his expectations.

“I’m not paying you to think. I’ll tell you what to do; I’ll tell you when to do it. Be on time, don’t lose my tools, don’t break my equipment, and we’ll get along great.”

Eason followed Leo’s instructions as a corporal would a general. A dozen shifts later, Leo assigned Eason to handle “the garden,” a routine maintenance contract Leo had for a small, century-old cemetery about 25 miles north of the city. Twice a week Eason would drive alone in one of Leo’s doddering white pickups along a winding rural road to the site -- one visit Eason would push a mower; the alternate visit he’d weed between the narrow clay paths and rickety wooden fences, the job he was doing today. The work was drudging and monotonous, but Eason didn’t mind. He could toil at a moderate pace and take breaks when he felt like it. Plus he didn’t have anyone peering over his shoulder as he worked.

Eason swallowed a drink of cool water from his canteen and surveyed the grounds. The gothic iron letters arching over the gate formed the words “Whitewood Memorial Interment Garden.” Call it whatever kind of garden you want, he thought, taking another gulp of water. It’s still a fucking graveyard.

The graveyard was about forty yards wide by a hundred deep, a tidy rectangle enclosed by a dilapidated wooden fence and sloping gently upward at the back toward the forested hills beyond. Without the growl of his mower and only the sound of his work boots making crunching noises in the gravelly clay, Eason marveled at the heavy silence blanketing the place, which even the breeze flowing through the leaves of the surrounding trees respected.

Eason estimated the cemetery had about a thousand graves, the oldest ones dating back to the early 1800s; so far as he could tell, no one new had been buried here for over a quarter of a century. Most of the headboards were pine, though some of the newer graves had actual headstones. As he worked his way around the graves, adjusting rocks and tidily removing various weeds, Eason sometimes found himself studying the names on the markers of the various men and women interred below, wondering what kind of people they had been, what kind of lives they had lead.

Some were obviously landowners or other important citizens, as Eason recognized many of the family names from the myriad streets and avenues that served as arteries coursing with cars through the body of the nearby city. These names were etched in the largest of the headstones, the ones nearest to the road by the cemetery’s gate.

However, the majority of the graves, especially the older ones marked only by headboards, offered few clues about their occupants. Some of the boards had been cut into the traditional, flat simulacrums of crosses and hourglasses, but many were simply squared, not even rounded at the top. Most had names and dates carved into the wood, or sometimes awkwardly lettered in a scarcely distinguishable charcoal or ink, though some had merely initials. Indeed, some had no writing at all. Of all the graves, these were the ones that most fascinated Eason. They rested at the very back of the graveyard, in the oldest part. Over the decades, many of them had become oddly tilted and precariously angled, and some had sunken into the earth almost entirely.

Eason glanced at his watch and walked down the hill toward the cemetery gate where he’d parked the truck around seven o’clock that morning. He had accomplished plenty today; plus Leo certainly wouldn’t complain if Eason knocked off and got his butt back to town to punch out before adding any accidental overtime to his shift. But as he dropped his tools and bags of weeds into the bed of the pickup, a flicker of movement caught his eye.

At first, Eason seemed to sense her rather than see her, as the woman walked slowly among the headboards near the top of the graveyard. He blinked hard, drops of sweat stinging his eyes as he tried to focus. Over the past weeks he had worked dozens of hours alone among the graves, but this was the first time he had ever seen anyone visit.

From her movements, Eason judged the woman to be young. In her twenties, perhaps? Surely no older than her thirties, he guessed. She was slender and fair-skinned, wearing a white sleeveless blouse and light blue skirt that flowed gently to the rhythm of her strides. Locks of chestnut hair fell to the middle of her back from beneath a black-ribboned Newport straw hat.

Eason watched from beside the truck as the woman stepped gingerly along one of the oldest rows of the cemetery, studying each weathered headboard in turn, before finally pausing. She stood motionless for a moment, and then bent down, as if to tie her shoe. A moment later she rose, stared one final time at the marker, and then retraced her footsteps along the row, hastening her strides as she walked toward the cemetery’s broken rear fence.

Then, as quickly as she had appeared, the woman was gone.


Did I just see what I think I saw?

Eason slid behind the steering wheel of the truck and cranked the ignition, coaxing the reluctant engine to life. He let the truck idle, allowing the uneven clatter of the decrepit motor to chase away the silence of the spell cast only moments before. Then he turned the engine off again.

He had to take a look.

He lifted a rake from the back of the truck and started up the earthen path through cemetery gates. He walked casually, taking his time. If the woman should suddenly emerge again from the trees, Eason was ready to appear as if he were merely a worker lost in his landscaping duties. As he neared the top of the hill, he paused. The woman was nowhere to be seen. The graveyard had once again surrendered to the weight of the deafening sepulchral silence.

Eason followed the clay to the end of the cemetery, then turned to the right, walking along the wooden fence. Eason had never noticed a rear gate, but that fact hardly mattered. Over the years enough planks had fallen away from the rotting balustrades that a grown man could easily step through the fence in numerous places, which is what Eason now presumed the woman had done.

Beyond the fence, the trees began only a few feet away. Eason slowed as he neared the place where he had last seen the woman. Sure enough, on the other side of the fence, a narrow path led into the forest. Eason easily understood why he hadn’t noticed the path before. Aside from the broad, sweeping passes he made with the mower, Eason had rarely spent much time back here. Furthermore, the tree branches served as expert camouflage – the leaves allowed him to see only a few feet down the path before it was absorbed by the forest. Still, Eason could tell from the worn ground that the path had been around for a long time.

Eason returned to the cemetery’s clay walkway and walked along the corridor of leaning headboards, spotting immediately the marker at which the woman had stopped. The graves along this row were so old, so drawn into the earth, that without the boards one could hardly tell they were there. The woman had paused at one of the smallest of the graves. Compared to the others, this one appeared in miniature, hardly two feet in length from the headboard to the small wooden stob marking the bottom. The headboard was blank except for a solitary date carved carefully into the wood: 1901.

And on the grave lay a single, long-stemmed white rose.

Wes' good deed

“Blackberries. Faaaaack!” Wes muttered to himself as he picked the thorns out of his palms, angry, but not angry enough to swear outright. Somehow, “fack” was never “fuck” to him, probably because it sounded more like a drawn out expression of malcontent and disbelief than a cuss word. He had just fought and lost a battle with what he thought was a small embankment while riding his mountain bike back to Kitsilano, the western part.

He was just returning from the café he made a point of visiting at least once a week. It was a step up from a rural coffee shop, and he enjoyed sitting by the window where he had a pretty good vantage point of people, women in particular, parking their cars to go to the beach, which hadn’t been as good as he remembered. He was always fortunate enough to come back to this city in the midst of a dry spell, but he was beginning think that he may not have been so fortunate at all. It had rained solid for the past month and not until today did he see the sun’s rays hitting the north shore.

He initially thought that a branch had snagged his courier bag mid-air, but further inspection of his pant-cuff revealed that his jeans had become snagged in the chain of his bike, sending him off his intended target and into a blackberry bush at the bottom of the muddy embankment. He now realized why so many people either tucked their right pant leg into their sock or wore those yellow reflective Velcro things he saw at MEC.

Wes had nothing against blackberries themselves; in spite of this unfortunate encounter he had always loved blackberry everything. Blackberry pie and blackberry frozen yogurt were always appreciated. But not Blackberries. Those were for pretentious pomos and dot-commies. He never understood PDAs, as he preferred to go analog with a Moleskiner and some index cards. He read about it on a blog somewhere.

Just as he picked the final thorn out of the fleshy pad below his thumb, he could sense someone behind him.

“Hey there!” a flamboyant and effeminate voice screeched before he had a chance to turn around.

“Uh, hello”

“I’m Corey, but my friends call me Queen Corey. Mmmmhmmm.” Said the dark-skinned man as he snapped his fingers like some sort of a diva.


Wes looked at the man, who was short, slim and obviously a flamer. Wes immediately ran through his exit options from this strange situation.

“So, are you from out of town?” Corey asked.

“Yes. From Alberta. How could you tell?”

“Queen Corey knows, honey”.

Wes tried not to laugh, but Corey was talking a mile a minute. He was from Jamaica, was bisexual and HIV positive, Wes found out. Corey was in his mid-thirties and had trained in the National Ballet of Canada, but was now a recovering heroin addict and pulled tricks to get by.

“Listen, I’m kind of embarrassed about asking you this.. but….”

“Sorry dude. Not interested. At all.”

Corey gasped, feigning outrage, but smiled.

“Oh you thought…. Well, I must say that I’m a professional and that I never mix business with survival. I have never done this before, but would you happen to have some spare change so I could get some milk and eggs? I haven’t eaten in two days and….”

“Oh, well, hold on man.”

Wes thought about that Bible verse about how Jesus said something like “I came unto you seeking food, water, a blanket, and you never gave unto me. Depart from me. I never knew you”. He rarely gave money to people who sat outside gentrified chain stores, hoping that people would heap pity on their half-assed calls of “spare change man?”. But if someone asked for the basics – food, water, clothing or shelter, Wes would step up to the plate and do whatever it took. He was good that way. Deep down, he felt that encounters such as these were tests from the Almighty. Plus, if he paid the guy enough money, he wouldn’t have to put others at risk of HIV transmission, Wes figured.

“Here you go, Corey. Knock yourself out!” he said, trying to put a positive spin on the situation.

“Oh, you just made my week! ThankyouThankyouThankyou…” Corey gushed as he tucked the twenty dollar bill into his black leather purse.

Wes stepped back to avoid getting hugged or something.

“I gotta get going” said Wes as he hopped on his bike. His good deed for the day was done, and he had to go home and scrub his hands. They had open cuts on them, afterall, and Wes was paranoid about stuff like that. Nevertheless, while Corey met every stereotype of a gay man the media had instilled in Wes, he realized that the guy was human, and obvioulsy in need of social contact.

"Later, Corey"


Friday, May 27, 2005

Wes and Yoga

She was right, the barista with the dark eyes and the mocking tongue. It did taste like warm ice cream. Still, I can't bring myself to throw away the $4.63 worth of curdled milk. I still don't understand why people keep drinking this crap, but there must be something to it, or why would everyone else be holding the same cups? I'll figure it out eventually.

I'm late for my yoga class. My old high school buddies would laugh if they could see me, with a too-tight tank top and trendy little jogging pants. You know, the kind without the elastic at the bottom. Elastic isn't hip; the lady at Lululemon assured me of that. I can't blame my old buddies, these days I'm getting more male attention than female. It doesn't help that my yoga class is in the middle of Davie Village... aka, Gay Central. I'm a little uncomfortable around here, but I try not to show it. I'm trying to be more enlightened, ever since I was having drinks with my landlord and he told me the biker chick next door was gay. Okay, so knocking over my rye wasn't the most graceful response.

Too bad, though. She's pretty hot. I'm told that "you just haven't found the right cock" isn't a good pickup line for dykes. Wonder what might work better?

I can't get sex off my mind. If you went to my yoga class, neither would you. Have you seen these women? These perfect little tight bodies in their perfect little tight shorts? I think that's why I still go. It can't be so that I can make my body into the perfect Eagle pose, that's for sure. Look ma, I'm a bird.

I've got my mind on another type of bird, thanks.

There's one particular girl, I usually position myself behind her. This way, I can watch her in the mirrors, and it looks like I'm watching myself. She's something else. A lot of the women in my class have that sweaty, disheveled look afterwards. Not her. Every blonde hair is still perfectly placed, her little pink lips still exquisitely made up. She usually wears these ultra-short shorts and a sports bra that usually only look good on mannequins, but on her... I just want to bend her over her yoga mat and well, you get the idea.

I really should try to get her name first. Maybe offer to buy her a latte.

By the time I get to class, the spot behind her is taken. I glare at the skinny dude with the blonde-tipped hair behind her, and find an unoccupied spot far behind her, and well to the left. No staring at her today, it would be too obvious. I've missed the first 10 minutes and worry briefly about pulling a muscle. Gently resting my latte next to my mat, I join the class with a perfectly executed Eagle pose. Damn, I'm good.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Lee's Roommate

Sometimes Jill didn't give two shits about her neighbours. Most of the time she tried to stay out of the way, but sometimes, she really could care less about what Jackista, the old biddy, or Les, the urban cowboy, thought of her.

And when she heard her phone ringing at the end of the hallway her giant boots made crashing thuds all the way down; each door getting a louder thump than the last. Her next-door neighbour Lucy, or Landy, or Lettuce, would have heard the heavy metal door crash into her wall as Jill burst through her entryway and threw her helmet on her couch.

huff"Hello?" huff "Gurpreet! No, I haven't heard from Mark." huff "Really? Where?" huff "When did she get back?" huff "I haven't heard from her, either." huff "That's very odd, indeed." littlehuff "Sure, where are we going tonight?" inaudiblehuff "Sounds good. I'll just get changed and I'll meet you guys down there."

Jill hadn't seen Edith Brennan in over a year. Last time it was at some house party of Mark and Lee's. As she got changed, she contemplated where Edith might be, if she had moved back into the old house on Cherry Street or if she had found somewhere else. She kind of disappeared last year when she moved to Prince Edward Island in the summer. No email, no calls. Just vanished. And then she reappeared. Only to Mark and gave no indication as to where she is now, except that she was in the Buy-Rite parking lot the other day.

Very strange, she thought.


I'm a barrista. Actually, I don't know if I'm a barrista. That might be trademarked. But it sounds better than "coffee maker".

I bitch about the work to my friends, co-workers and even my parents, but I secretly love it. I thought I would be sick of the smell of fresh ground coffee, but it gets better every day. I thought the "just above minimum wage" was going to kill me, but it hasn't yet. I thought I'd hate my co-workers and loathe the finicky regulars, but those are my favourite people. The finicky regulars have character. I know a handful by name; an even larger number by drink.

I have to say I fancy the Double Shot Latte with Vanilla man the most. He's trying in his own way to fit in with the latte crowd, but there is no way you're going to get him to drink something that doesn't taste like coffee. When he realized no amount of shots will cure a latte, he asked me how to fix it. I told him to stop trying to get it to taste like coffee and more like warm ice cream. He laughed at the idea and at least once a week he's in getting his Double Shot Latte with Vanilla.

Last week I got personal with him. We're not forbidden from being friendly and we've been given permission from the head cheeses to flirt with whomever we fancy. His name? Wes.

"As in Wesley?"
"Naw, just 'Wes'."
"How long have you lived here?"
"Do I look out of place?"

Turns out he's "one of them thar good ol' boys" from farm country. Tried to check his temperature about me, but I was shut down by my co-worker shouting "Double Shot Vanilla Latte". He always says it wrong.

Delta Smith

When I got the call, I wasn't sure if I wanted to go. My eldest brother, his wife and children were in Italy, the next oldest brother and my nephew were in Greece staying with a cousin and my older brother was at sea.

It was only on my way home from work, trapped in the snarl of traffic that I realized that finding out what happened to my mother was far more important than editing my peers' reports. With nothing packed, no one notified and no one to keep me there, I was at the airport buying a ticket at the counter for YVR. It wasn't the first and it won't be the last impulsive action I have taken.

I spent my in-flight hours reading the magazines that were provided. Full page ads for Shangri-La condos and golf courses in Mexico caught my eye. My mother loved Mexico. She wanted to live in a high-rise. Even the jewelry with absurd engravings of roman numerals reminded me of my mother.

My parents were married in the fall, maybe October, of 1961. She was 21 and he was 35. Her family had emigrated from Greece when she was 4, his maternal grandfather was Métis, the rest of the lineage was European-Canadian, Heinz 57 Varities. I was the youngest and the most planned. My father wanted a daughter and my mother kept trying. After Endre, Linus and Nemo came Delta. My mother named me "fourth" to remind him of her efforts.

I wasn't surprised to have landed in the midst of rain. I had never been to Vancouver, but the atmosphere made me feel like I was destined to be a Dick Tracy or a Sherlock Holmes. Only in search of my mother's whereabouts.

A cab took me to 344 North Avenue, somewhere in the city. My mother's apartment was there, and I was to meet with a Mr. Keith Prosser in regards to the keys and lease. Instead I met with a sign on the manager's door that read:

"On a break
Be back in 5"

My doubts ran high. I stood in the hallway and stared at the green and gold tiling that my mother probably ignored. Unlike her, I had the opportunity to count the tiles. The mailboxes provided some distraction as I searched for "J. Smith" or "Jocasta" or anything that would signal that I was at the right building. Privacy was noted by all those with the family name "Occupied". Not seeing her name, I had to assume she had joined the cult, too.

A man in his 30s came around the corner and tipped his hat at me. I echoed a hello with a nod of my head. I searched his eyes for signs of a Prosser. He went out the front and remained one of the "Occupied"s.

A younger woman stood outside the door fumbling for her keys in her bag. I reached for the door to let her in and she stared at me sternly.

"You shouldn't let just anyone in."

"I didn't. I let someone who was looking for her keys in. I'm sorry."

She stuck her nose, in the most clichéd manner, upwards, checked her "Occupied" box and stormed towards the stairs.

Is it a wonder how a woman could go missing from this apartment? No one wants to know each other aside from minimal acknowledgment. I'll have to start organizing something so we can start looking after each other's neighbours. I should probably let work know I'm unlikely to come back in the next couple weeks.

"Ms. Smith?"

"Mr. Prosser?"

"You look very much like your mother."

Jacob (Kapel) Seiler

From: Jacob S. {speedpeddler1@gmail.com}
Sent: May 11, 2005 10:17:12 PM
To: EZRA H. SEILER {e_z_seiler@hotmail.com}
Subject: Re: from the holy land

hey ezra,
I'm holding down the fort just fine, thanks for trusting me.
Actually, we broke up after the night she had a bad trip. She's with some guy from the suburbs now. Not too worried. There is a girl at one of my deliveries that wants to go out next week. Seems a little more stuffy than most, but then again, I see her at her work.
Got word from mom and dad. They're planning on heading west for chanukah this year. We won't be dealing with the whole family, again, it'll just be them and Deb for a couple weeks. And they won't be staying here. Dad has someone he knew from the university that he'll be staying with. Dr. Carlson?
Just wanted to give you the heads up, in case you get inspired to stay on longer to avoid another holiday chaos. If you're not back for chanukah, I'm laying claim on your stuff.
Hope you're keeping safe and enjoying your time in Israel.



From: Jacob S. {speedpeddler1@gmail.com}
Sent: May 24, 2005 11:14:45 PM
To: Cats Meow {har23blind_fur@hotmail.com}
Subject: order

65 - 25mg ephedra




From: Jacob S. {speedpeddler1@gmail.com}
Sent: May 25, 2005 2:21:52 PM
To: Hymie Seiler {hseiler@yorku.ca}
Subject: Ezra

Ezra emailed me last weekend and he said he's coming back at the end of June. He wanted to know if I could take a week off so we could have some time in Toronto before he heads back here. I won't be able to make it. La Grande Baguette tends to get a lot of wedding orders at that time and I'm already short-shifting the courier gig to make sure I don't lose my job with LGB. Any help from home would be appreciated.
Tell Deb and Mom I say hi and that I am sorry I won't be able to make it out this summer.



From: Jacob S. {speedpeddler1@gmail.com}
Sent: May 26, 2005 1:35:02 AM
To: Cats Meow {har23blind_fur@hotmail.com}
Subject: Re: order

New customer. $48 okay?



From: Jacob S. {speedpeddler1@gmail.com}
Sent: May 26, 2005 2:43:19 AM
To: Hymie Seiler {hseiler@yorku.ca}
Subject: Re: Ezra

How am I supposed to go to school when I work two jobs? I just don't have the time for it.
I'm not going to abandon Ezra out here because you'll put me up again for school. I was lousy then, I'll be lousy now. I seriously doubt Ezra's moving back to Toronto when he gets back from Israel. And if he does, I'm not going to abandon the friends I've made here. And don't start about how they're "no-good, dead-end junkie bums". Not everyone is an academic.

I appreciate your concern, but right now I just want to enjoy my time outside of school. Can't you ever let up on "my path"? I'll find "my path" eventually. I don't see what getting on my case is going to help.

I'll see if LGB will give me the time off. The courier place is overstaffed, so they're not going to mind if I need the time. I doubt I'll get a week, but I'll try to get a weekend, okay?


Tessa Kinney

(from the television) "... exhale pressing to down dog, inhale to plank and then exhale back to down dog..."

"Ouch, SHIT",

Tessa Kinney is losing her mind slowly, however surely. She is a thirty-one year old woman who is pretty attractive in her own right, she's slight if anything and she doesn't really have to try. Regardless, she thinks she does and becomes increasingly exasperated with herself upon failed attempts at self-improvement. My prediction, too much spare time.

Her latest strategy has been yoga videos. The problem she has been encountering this time around is weak wrists. Years of laptop use have weakened her wrists and made some of the yoga postures uncomfortable for her. Truth be told, she's mostly just lazy. Her wrists would get better in time but she's really just looking for a way to get out of forcing herself to do the videos.

She does this every time. She used to ride a bicycle to work everyday and she stopped after only a few weeks claiming she smelled like sweat when she got there. In actuality she did smell a bit like sweat but she went to the gym in the same building as her office every morning before work anyway and showered there before she ever stepped foot inside.

Excuses, excuses.

"I want to die" she would ever so dramatically say to herself after every bag of chips, after every cookie, but she just continued to do as she always had done. She never really wanted to die, she just wanted her will power to work, or at the very least, for it to exist.

This latest round of self-delusion took a turn for the worst. Tuesday, in the lunchroom at work, Tessa ran into Jacob. Jacob was a bike-courier she knew from her apartment building. She was pretty sure he was into drugs but he had always seemed so docile and safe to her. One night she saw him in the hallway with a woman, a girlfriend she had assumed. The woman's face was covered with running mascara, she was looking at the floor and he was wiping her damp hair away from her eyes. She couldn't tell if they were wet and upset or sweaty and passionate but whatever they were they were alive and she couldn't remember feeling like that. It had been years since she had felt much of anything, short of self-pity. He turned and looked at Tessa, caught eyes for a moment and turned back to his lover. She fled the scene with haste.

She dreamt of him that night, and countless nights since. She couldn't explain it to herself. Maybe it was loneliness, maybe it was lust. Maybe, just maybe, it was a premonition.

Before she thought she spoke,

"Hi Jacob" and instantly her face was flushed with heat and red.
He turned to her, they met eyes and, "Oh hey, Tess right?", he said smiling.
"It's Tessa actually. Listen, I need to ask you something. I'm a bit embarrassed"
"Um, Can you get pills?" not able to believe herself, how could she ask that?
"Yeah, sure. What are we talking about here? Vitamins!" he said with a smirk.
"Diet pills"
"Sure, yeah, I can get them for about a dollar a pop but it would take a couple of days" he showed confusion, or maybe surprise, with his eyes and burrowed forehead. She could never distinguish between the two expressions.
"Thanks, really. Thanks. Here's sixty-five dollars. I'll drop by on Friday to pick them up, ok?" She quickly put the money in his hand and turned to walk away.
"Tessa?" he called to her back.
"Yes?" she said turning to face him again.
They paused and held an awkward glance.
"... nothin', see you Friday."

She couldn't wait to see him again but she couldn't believe what she had done.

Jill Hudson

The voices were coming closer. Jill pressed herself closer against the cement pillar, trying to be as inconspicuous as possible. She listened closely, trying to identify them. Ah. It was the redneck yuppie and his friend, not the landlord. She stepped out from behind the pillar, casually leaning against her silver '03 Ninja 600.

"Seen Keith?" she asked. Wes raised an eyebrow and looked at her curiously. They'd never spoken more than a polite hello in the lobby. Or at least, he would give her a polite hello, she would give him that porcelain stare that her face never seemed to crack from in return. In fact, he wasn't even sure he'd ever heard her speak before. This girl was definitely never the captain of the cheerleading squad. He shook his head and moved on. Jill let out the breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding, tucked her helmet under her arm, and walked towards the lobby.

Still cautious, she stepped inside the door, her armored leathers creaking with each step. Not the best outfit to wear when trying to move silently, she thought. She glanced at the managers office as she slipped by, willing it to stay closed. It didn't. Fuck.

"It's the fifth," Keith said dryly. Jill reached up and tucked a lock of her black and blonde hair behind her ears nervously.

"I'll have it by friday," she said in that rusty voice that sounded like she'd been raised on cornflakes and whisky.

"Every month, you're over a week late with your rent, Jill. This is getting fucking ridiculous." Keith was more surly than usual, Jill noticed. Hell, Keith being surly at all was unusual. He was a hardass when she was late paying her rent, but had never sworn at her before. Jill felt the old familiar temper rising. But before it had a chance to fully flare, there was a loud rapping at the door behind her.

She glanced over her shoulder, and felt Keith push past her to open the door for the police, her overdue rent forgotten.

sunday, bloody sunday

Sunday night, ten o'clock. The crowd on the crazy-8 have all the life of a somnabulist convention. Little old asian ladies going from here to there, skid kids comming back from paning-for-tourists on Robson, the hotties from some ESL practice with each other, and me.

Me, i'm just trying to get home. I don't remember how long it's been since I left the front door of my place, but time seems to be moving like rainy saturday afternoon (and nothing on t.v.). I'm trying to stay small, they can't see me when i'm scrunched up in my jacket. I've got my head pulled in like a turtle and i'm staring at a crushed smoke pack between the feet of the twinky across from me. She has on these white, and pink, and blue, and sparkly retro high-tops and she's got this writing all over the tops. I know it's her's cause it looks like she does: all tight with the t's crossed and the i's with perfectly centered dots. Anal people scare me, I know they're judging me, they think i'm dirty.

I see the skid kids start to play fight with each other. One of them poked the other with a pencil he was writing with and the other (she/he I can't tell, the hair is covering his/her face) and he/she punches him back. They're laughing now and this is when you have to be the most careful. They're trying to get people to notice them but not look at them. When people laugh their endorphins are active and they start to become more agressive. Especially kids like this, they can go mean just like that. I've seen it happen before and i'm careful now. Stay away from kids, pets, police, anyone who's laughing too loud, drunk guys, drunk girls, those old asian harpies and transit cops. There's more but that's the basic list. You have to be carefull out here, it's not safe if you leave your home. Hell, it's not safe to stay home either.

I'm hungry. I ate this afternoon when I swiped a sandwitch off this suit talking on his fucking-cell-phone. He was on the patio of that pita place across from the library. I was smooth, he never even glanced in my direction, I was in full stealth mode and just glided past his table and his sandwitch just seemed to float into my arms. I was half way through it before I realised it was some kinda pig meat. I kept eating cause you never, ever waste food. You can waste water (cause it's free), and you can waste time (cause there's too much of that), but you can never waste food, never. "You eat what you get, or you get nothing". That was the rule at home. That and "you eat when we eat, if your not here, too damn bad".

I spend most of my time hiding in the corners of the library.

There's a young black man sitting (actually sprawling) near the other end of the bus. His eyes are closed and his head is doing a slow bop to the music he hear's in his huge headphones. He's dressed like a construction worker with big tan boots, heavy jeans that bag out over his belt and hold his long taunt legs in straight lines and right angles. He wears a parka that looks like brown bubble wrap, all bulgy and poofy. He's like a young lion siting in the sun. The confident master of his fate. The rule with these ones is if they're wearing headphones they're trying to keep you out so your safe. If they can hear you, they will notice you, and that can get bad.

I'm trying not to look at the young girl sitting across from me. She's on her fucking-cell-phone talking too loudly. Is she trying to make everybody notice her. "Look at me, look at me. I have a cell phone." I wish the bitch would shut up. I didn't mean that, about calling her a bitch. These things just seem to pop up from somewhere sometimes. I'll be walking on the sidewalk and a bus will pass by and Bam i'll have a full mental picture of myself pushing some woman in front, or under the tires and running away. I wouldn't do that but these images keep coming. Sometimes it's another voice under my internal monologue that says things and tries to insert words into my thoughts. It's hard when this happens because I get confused about which words are mine and which are from that hidden shadow place.

I just saw the girls white panties. I wasn't looking up her skirt but i was just letting my eyes roam across things when she bent over to pick up the smoke pack. Her legs parted for a brief moment. It was like a magnet pulled my eyes to the flash of white. Pure white, soft cotton, light pink threading on the edges, the smoth rounding of her mons veneris. I pull my eyes away and see she's looking right into my eyes. She saw me look at her private place. My face starts to burn and i feel my skin start to prickle with heat. There's something crawling up my spine that tickles my intestines on it's way towards my heart. It wraps itself around my lungs and squeezes. It starts licking my heart and it begins to hurt. I close my eyes and visualise white light burning this phantom away. When it's gone I'm almost bent over with my eyes clenched tight, my stomach is like a wet boulder, my shoulders are clenched and my hands are white. But i'm ok now. I half open my eyes and look up.

The girl is gone, the young black man is gone. We are way past my stop and i'm alone at the back of the bus. I don't recognise anyone on the bus. But the bus never stoped! I was right here, I would have noticed if the bus had stoped. I would have got off. I'm going to get off at the next stop and walk back. The bus driver is looking at me in his mirror. I can see him looking at my eyes.

I pull the bell.

I'd like to work on this from each of the riders point of view. Just from the time they get on the bus untill they leave. This is more a challenge to create an internal monologue from several different people and show how each has their own perceptions of the people and events around them.
If anyone would like to use these characters feel free. If you would like to creat a story about before or after the trip, that's ok as well.

Keith Prosser

The alarm clock in Jocasta Smith's apartment beeped from 6 a.m. to 7 a.m. every morning for three weeks before the tenant next door found the nerve to knock on my door and ask me to check it out.

I've been a building manager long enough to know this can't be good.

"Sorry, what was that Edith?"

She stares up at me like a mouse asking a cat to pass the cheese.

"I said, at first I thought maybe someone was just on vacation? And forgot to shut off their alarm? But then I thought, what if something's wrong?"

Edith Brennan moved into the bachelor suite next to Jocasta's just under two months ago. I have never heard her speak in more than a breathy whisper. Every time I talk to her I start wondering if there's something wrong with my hearing. She also tends to end her sentences on a higher pitch, as though she's asking a question.

She looks like she's waiting for a signal to leave, standing there fidgeting with her sleeves.

"Don't worry," I sigh. "I'll check it out. I'm sure it's nothing."

Edith murmurs something that could be 'thank you' and scurries back to her apartment. I take a deep breath and follow her down the hall.

I've had this gig for five years now. I can handle the plugged toilets, the dripping ceilings, the periodic battles with roaches and ants. I can play the heavy when the rent's overdue and I can coax old Tony Tsui, who owns the building, to spring for a new dryer when the old one stops working. But oh God, I do not want to deal with this.

I lived in an apartment as a tenant once where someone died. The dead man's apartment and the two next to it were roped off as a biohazard. The next-door tenants were put up in a hotel for a month while all three suites were scoured clean by men and women in yellow hazmat suits.

The smell didn't respect the yellow tape. I don't know how far gone the body was. The sweet rot smell crawled into your nose and down your throat. If you breathed through your mouth you tasted it on your tongue. It's impossible to describe just how revolting it was. The reaction to the smell is hardwired into us: stay away, don't come close.

I'm at Jocasta's door. I knock, because despite all I am an optimist. Predictably, there is no answer. I sniff the air ... if Jocasta is in there, she's not ripe yet. There's a faint smell of cooking bacon and, oddly, cat piss. No pets here. One more thing to check out.

Enough delay.

I knock once more, for form, and turn the key in the door. I'm sweating and cold. The hair is standing up on my forearms.

"Jocasta? Are you here?"

But there's nothing. No one around. The apartment is immaculate except for one meal's worth of dishes drying in the sink and two wine-stained glasses resting on coasters on the coffeetable. I walk into her bedroom and turn off the alarm.

I wipe the sweat off my face with a sleeve and heave a big sigh. No calling hazmat this time.

Then it hits me: the door was unlocked. Who goes away for three weeks and doesn't lock her apartment? Who does all the dishes except for a couple of wine glasses, and yet uses coasters?

Not hazmat. Police. Damn.

Edith Brennan

Her mother told her that the Atlantic was her calling; it was not Edith's. At the time, Edith felt she had little choice but to pack her boxes. Mixed tapes, plastic dinosaurs, her movie posters. The room that would have inspired Jackson Pollack himself looked wilted within the week. And in four more weeks she was living out of a U-Haul with her mother for a glorious 6 days, 5 nights.

Within the year, Edith returned home. The apartment's smaller, the bathroom seems bigger and the stove does not work. Her childhood relics reside in the barn of the Noonans' back in Cardigan. Her mother remained at St. Andrew's Cemetery. She returned home, knowing she could be anyone she wanted. The only change she made was to start fresh.

She waited a few months before letting anyone know she was back, but even that was an accident. Avoiding her old stomping grounds, having Small Potatoes deliver, keeping public transit-free, working for a small accounting firm (the kind that exist on second floors between shops), and staying away from main streets proved successful for the first few weeks. Having lived in the region for her entire social life (kindergarten onward), not running into someone was an effort. But there will always be parking lots.

It seemed innocuous to Edith. He was the roommate of a former classmate that she had socialized with on occasion for the year prior to her disappearance to the abysmally small town. He recognized her immediately and had chased her down, leaving his shopping cart full and his trunk wide open.

“You’re back!”
“I am!” She was socially rusted and her desire to be left alone sounded harsher than even she would want. “I’ve been getting set up, again; starting fresh. You’re still around, I see? How is Lee?”
“Moved back after graduation. Was to be expected.”
There hits a point in conversations where it is to early to leave without a believable (true or false) excuse without looking impolite, but Edith wasn’t rehearsed enough for it and he wasn’t going away without an explanation for her quiet return. Grabbing the ends of her coat sleeves, she tried to find the watch she never wore or the comfort that she found in hems. Neither was there.
Just as Edith found the “Exit” sign: “So, when did you get back?”
“March,” She wanted to use her escape hatch, but the conversation was en route again.
“Fantastic! Seen anyone yet?”
“No.” (Except you.)
“A bunch of us are going out tonight, if you’re free.”
“I don’t know… I’m still getting set up.” (Not really. I’m working on a fabulous 2500 piece puzzle of kittens.)
“Still? Do you want me to stop by to give you a hand? Where are you two living now?”
“Where are you going to?” (It’s just me and I don’t think you’d enjoy the kitten puzzle.)
“Not sure. Want me to give you a call when it’s all set up?”
(Think. Should I lie about my phone not being in?) “Should you leave your groceries out like that?”
“Oh, shit. Hold on a sec.” (But I didn’t.)

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Character Sketch: Wes

Wes is new to the neighbourhood in one way; in other ways, he’s returned home. He has no idea why he moved back; he just moved for its own sake. He left the neighbourhood at the age of six years old when his family to northern Alberta to seek out better economic opportunities related to all that oil up there. His family raised him in typical Alberta fashion: on a farm, out of the way of “big city” influences such as drugs, crime and punks. Weekends were reserved either for church or traveling the snowy Alberta highways in a blue Oldsmobile station wagon en route to a hockey game in some other small town. In a personality test in one of his sister’s Cosmo magazines, he once used the words “curious, honest and sensible” do describe himself.

In his mid-twenties, he calls himself a “British Albertan”, and figures, jokingly, that if one wants to truly appreciate what the people of B.C. and Saskatchewan have accomplished with hard work and ingenuity, one has to move to Alberta. He likes Alberta beef, but still remembers what good salmon tastes like. To his disappointment, most of the salmon for sale in the neighbourhood stores is farmed and pumped full of hormones, just like the beef in Alberta. He doesn't like corporate farming and voted Green as a protest vote.

Wes is a “Non-cowboy” Albertan, meaning that he’s clean-cut, drinks Rye and prefers to ride a snowboard rather than a horse. Only slack-jawed yokels wear Wranglers, in his opinion. He has a weakness for whiskey and women and his strength is that he can hold both quite well. Generally, he thinks people are idiots and that they are getting more stupid as he gets older, but it’s really just because he’s getting older and his education has instilled in him a healthy sense of cynicism.

Although he’s changed quite a bit since he moved out of his parent’s influence, he still has plenty of adjustments to make before he can truly fit in with the rest of the residents of the neighborhood. They generally view him as a Redneck, no matter how many yoga sessions and lattes he takes in. He doesn’t realize, though, that imitating his own stereotypes of his neighbors isn’t what will make him “fit in” because the neighbourhood is a pretty diverse and accepting place. He’ll figure it out though.

Here's who's working on what ...

Members: leave a comment here if you want to lay claim to a particular character or plot progression so that we don't accidentally double up. Only do this if you're sure you're going to write it reasonably soon. Make sure you leave the date of your "claim" in the comment as well.

About this weblog

We are a group of writers who are collaborating on a series of short stories about the same pool of characters. Each of us writes in his or her own voice, and each has the power of God over the characters and plot while they are under his or her pen.

The stories that will appear here will vary in voice, tone and even genre. The only limitation we are giving ourselves is that we must respect the "histories" that have already been written about these characters.

We are aiming to create a loose patchwork of short tales. Each story should stand on its own, but taken together should paint a picture of a community. We have no control over what fates other members choose for our characters.

If you would like to join us, send an email to breebop [at] gmail.com. Please include a character sketch introducing someone new to the 'neighbourhood' and we will use that to judge whether you'll be a good fit here. You can feel free to bring in guest stars from other stories, and create relationships between your character and others'. Your character is "yours" in this first story, but after that his or her fate depends on the whims of the writer gods...