Torontoist

#1. Superstar
381 words . Apr 2009 . This is a work of fiction

She calls herself a superstar; she has the legs of a pre-pubescent track star. Skinny and chopstick-straight, yet with a tofu-like consistency around the knees, they jog around my neighbourhood below nylon shorts and the track jacket of her alma mater.

This happens every Sunday around 9:20 am. She’s not a churchgoer herself, but I have a taste for the hardness of early pews. Our punctualities necessitate that we brush shoulders at the intersection of Spadina and Dundas like clockwork.

We always exchange complicated pleasantries, for I’ve never been good at keeping it simple with the weather and things like that, and she is constantly preoccupied with the details of getting ahead. The results are colloquy of the type we both learned in endless undergraduate wine and cheeses, where freshmen mendicants suckled at the teats of faculty research grants, and the rest—the type of people who are supposed to know one another but really don’t give a fuck—took turns volleying at the ramparts of one another’s self-esteem. To her I exalt the tart flavour of still being in school, while she talks about the real world like it’s something I’ll encounter if I simply put my crayon over the black line.

“Out there, you’ve got to be a superstar,” she says firmly, and pats her knees as if to indicate that she jogs like so in order to improve their superstar quality.

“Oh, really?” I retort, and clutch the crayons to my palm with that much more urgency.

I often come to the conclusion that we must dislike each other enormously to go on like this. In the pale light, we both cast colossal shadows over the worn Chinatown pavement: hers, lithe with that strange interplay between femininity and warlord that caused the Greeks to worship their goddesses, and mine, stiff and ascetic. But I am reminded by her jacket logo that her alma mater was mine, that we cheered for the same last-place football team once, that our consistency of experience simply augments the fact that I am two years behind her in school, and that two years is a precipitous gap for two people who measure their lives in a tally of epochs and next-big-things.

So I make it easier for myself sometimes. I tell her that her legs deserve compliments, and she smiles with the thought that I’m making advances. Strange how women cover so much ground like that, especially the successful ones, who are all ambition and the expectation of reciprocity where none exists.

She is the most successful out of her graduating class, and the Tartarean expectations are how you can tell.

She is also the better version of me—the best, really–and when we part I must scurry to my hard pews so that I may pray she never does become like me, nor I like her. It’s not too late to hope, anyway.

#2. The Real Ocean
381 words . Sept 2008 . This is a work of fiction

I know where they are now, the stars in Toronto. I counted them last night, with my eyes closed, under a fake ceiling, outside an arts college where other people go to learn about making other stars.

I was left salty and soaking in their wet illumination; I felt my clothes clinging to me like a second skin. Skin is bare and so I felt bare. My voice changed to the one I use when there are no people around.

“I feel bare,” I said miserably, purposelessly.

Then he said, “Don’t write about me.”

And I said, “Fuck you, loser. I’ll write whatever the fuck I want.” And I used the end of my pen to align perfectly with one of the stars.

I realized that if I were to enumerate them, the task would be surprisingly easy. I used to figure I would if I could, but when I found them, they seemed to be prettier when left unnumbered. My body processed the whole and was satisfied with being crushed under its impact.

“Are you breaking?” he asked, finally.

“Yes, I think so,” I mused, as pillars and columns fell down inside. He thought he achieved something by bringing me here, but all I saw were the stars, and my mind could have eaten my body, for all I cared.

I had been too arrogant; I know that now. And the differences are salient. The stars in Toronto, after all, are black and square. They touch at the corners for comfort. They don’t break and they don’t make supernovas. The atmosphere around them smells not of cold and salt, but of smoke from the clubs down the street. But who is to say that it isn’t real? The atmosphere is the air we breathe. Everyone here breathes, too, in great gulping mouthfuls in the way we all cling on to life.

The things we are looking for are usually there. The real ocean is east and west, maybe, but the real islands are here as well, anchored jealously to the stars that remind you of the place where you live.

#3. East Coast, Your Favourite Ghost
381 words . Dec 2007 . This is a work of fiction

We both grew up in a succession of places on the East Coast that could only be described as out-of-the-way, traditional, and organic; thus it always seemed to us especially conspicuous when we found a tourist by the water. He or she would be resplendent in maps and gift gear, querying the whereabouts of that mythical two-dollar lobster that I sure as hell had never eaten. I would stuff my hands in my pockets, dying with mirth, as Riley gave the usual misdirections in that offhand yet charming way of his (“You just head right down that road, Sir. You can’t miss it.”) –that only I knew was really full of shit.

Then he would turn back to me, hold my hand, and talk about getting out of this place one day. I didn’t think too much about it back then, but he was always on about backpacking across Japan, gigging in Leeds, taking up Swedish girls if I ever did piss him off, while my own hopes, even if a tad simpler, were likewise pinned on a city somewhere unbordered by saltwater.

“Hypocrites,” you could say, but I would reply, “Teenagers,” which, after twelve years of rotting, without him, in the flesh-coloured suburbs of the dream, is as nice an excuse as when my mother first used it in lieu of calling me crazy outright.

And every Christmas, he still phones from his one-bedroom loft in Montreal to let me know that he hasn’t given up, although he grows progressively quicker to add that we should have considered ourselves content in those old days — for we were locals, and there are surely no better people in this world than locals who find themselves at home.

#4. If Every Angel’s Terrible, Then Why Do You Welcome Them?
381 words . May 2008 . This is a work of fiction

She calls me early in the morning on purpose, despite being perfectly aware of the difference in time zones. She says she’s at Pearson and won’t be stopping by because the flight is in twenty minutes. Her tone is easy, but too glib to be entirely comfortable. And just as I am about to demand how the hell she knew to call me at the lab, she answers my question with a breeziness that appalls me: “You slept there, of course. Come on — you know things, I know things — it’s all the same thing.”

My jaw is hitting the floor. “No, it’s not!”

“Also, your father will be calling in exactly five minutes.”

I grit my teeth. “You mean you’re forcing him.”

I can’t see her, but the sagely smile transcends time and space. I know her eyes are glittering when she says, calmly, “There is no such thing as coercion. Only choice.”

*

He calls me early in the morning on purpose, but only because he feels that he has to. He’s just finished speaking at his fourth conference in Vienna and he makes it clear that the difference in time zones is almost as irritating as poor mathematical rigour. He queries me for an update on my mother’s mood (“Average,” I reply, which we both know means “bitter”) and then uneasily attempts to end the conversation: “I should rest my eyes. I will call you in a week.” He pauses, and his tone makes it clear that he is hoping I will say don’t bother.

Truthfully, I am already impressed. I imagine that the present exchange has already far exceeded his daily aliquot of emotional availability. However, inspired by my mother, I will not give him satisfaction. The women in my family don’t let the men off hooks, although occasionally we might allow them to hang more comfortably. Today, he has done nothing to merit the latter and I act accordingly.

“Okay.” I smirk, picturing his grimace. “Have a safe trip.”

He clears his throat, and then apparently finds it appropriate to outdo himself once again.

“Please give my regards to Professor Watt.”

A click indicates that he’s gone. The bastard.

I am left to hold the phone away from my ear, feeling absurd. I turn to the custodian who has just wandered in and begun mopping the floor of the lab. “I can’t believe him! No goodbye or anything! ‘Give my regards to Professor Watt’?! Is he kidding?!”

The elderly man shrugs. “Least he isn’t an alcoholic. Never knew me father meself.”

He tells me to shift over so he can get a patch by the door, while I contemplate whether a matheholic is really that much better than an alcoholic.

Really, all I have gotten out of this morning is a failed PCR and the realization that testing either of my parents is a bad, bad idea.

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