VOL XV, Issue 1, Number 165
Editor: Klaus J. Gerken
Production Editor: Heather Ferguson
European Editor: Mois Benarroch
Contributing Editors: Michael Collings; Jack R. Wesdorp; Oswald Le Winter
Previous Associate Editors: Igal Koshevoy; Evan Light; Pedro Sena
Vignettes by EMMA
The Chinchilla Fur Fiasco
The Smelly Wedding Gift
Che Saran Saran
Ways of the World
The Price of Passion
Old Times End
The Ladder of Success
Only a Whistle Away
What Do You Know?
Given the pain, unfairness and tribulations that often seem to outweigh
life's joyousness - it is sometimes uplifting to position disheartening
events from the vantage of absurdity and irony. To retain my own sanity,
I have attempted to convey such a position in these works.
The Chinchilla Fur Fiasco
Burkholder Anderson wore a bowler hat and walked with a cane. He ate
caviar mixed with parsley and gourmet cheeses on crisp thin wafers. He
was, of course, very careful not to spill the crumbs on the Persian
carpet he had purchased at an Arabian bazaar.
Burkolder Anderson had only one problem. He was severely allergic to
chinchilla furs. Unfortunately, many of his woman friends wore these
dreaded furs to the Orion Country Club on Saturday evenings in winter.
This was November, the evening before the Orion Country Club Fundraising
Gala. Burkholder Anderson could not resist blinking uncontrollably at
the thought of the chinchilla furs and the misery of a runny nose and
stuffed up sinuses.
The day of the gala arrived. Burkholder Anderson was ready. He donned
his bowler hat and strode across his immaculate floor. He placed his
cane beneath his arm and stepped out into the cool night breeze. He took
several steps, then coughed and sneezed into his silk handkerchief
before he caught sight of his neighbour, Mrs. Tony Grandmaison, walking
toward a taxi. It did not escape his notice that Mrs. Grandmaison was
wearing a despised chinchilla fur. He sneezed and coughed again and
wiped his eyes with his handkerchief.
It was at that instant that Burkholder Anderson concocted what he
believed to be the perfect remedy for avoiding contact with the enemy
furs. He would announce a contest for the most beautiful women's attire
and insist that all the chinchilla furs be placed in a makeshift closet
away from the main activity and far from the podium where many of the
guests, including himself, would be giving their illustrious speeches in
the pleasant absence of the hated chinchillas.
The gala evening progressed smoothly. The contest for women's attire
added a touch of jest to an evening that was dense with passionate talk
of charity and fundraising.
Burkholder had known just who to place in charge of the closet. Remy
McClellan was a trusted handyman known to many of the guests. Unknown to
Burkholder, Remy had just acquired a whistle with which to call his
beloved dog. But Remy McClellan could not figure out how the whistle
worked. As he sat guarding the chinchilla furs, he blew and blew the
whistle but could hear no sound. How could a whistle work if it did not
make any sound? After he had blown the whistle a dozen or more times, he
heard scratching at the door. He thought an illustrious guest was
arriving late and opened it. Two-dozen neighbourhood dogs pounced into
the closet, grabbing and tossing the chinchilla furs as they barked and
ran hysterically around the hall.
Burkholder Anderson coughed, sneezed and blinked his watery eyes
uncontrollably as the women ran around wildly, too, trying to catch
their chinchilla furs, which were flying through the air.
When the chaos was over, the women regained their furs. In December, at
the Winter Soire of the Orion Country Club, Burkholder Anderson was
not blamed for any wrongdoing. Everyone agreed he had no reason to
suspect the fiasco involving the makeshift closet and the chinchilla
For his part, Burkholder Anderson was simply pleased that he had rid
himself of the loathed carcasses for most of an evening but thanked the
illustrious guests for their trust in his goodwill and, with that, he
held a lemon slice to his nose, a new, and perhaps less hazardous,
remedy for his sneezing, congestion and runny nose.
The Smelly Wedding Gift
Now, don't get me wrong.when Clara and Archibald Squire received the
wedding gift from their friend, Gwendolyn --- it was NOT smelly. Clara
thought it was a lovely and original gift. Who else, but the poetic
Gwendolyn, would think of giving strawberry bushes as a wedding gift,
which Clara and Archibald could plant in their own garden. a gift that
would grow and bear fruit for a very long time.
Clara and Archibald lived in the country. They worked long hours in a
nearby city and drove one-and-a-half hours to work in the dark, before
sunrise. They drove home late at night, after sunset, in the dark.
Archibald put the gift of the strawberry bushes, which were wrapped in
plastic filled with moist soil and manure, into the trunk of their car.
Much as Clara and Archibald wished to plant the bushes. they did not
have the energy to do so.
On weekends, they had a hundred and one chores to do, cleaning the
house, mowing the lawn, doing the laundry, grocery shopping, and if they
had any spare time, Clara insisted they go to her mother's house in the
city. When she complained that the bushes had not been planted,
Archibald said "How can I plant them in the dark . when I can't see
anything." Also, the Squires did not own a shovel.
Gwendolyn kept asking if the bushes had been planted - and said that
strawberry bushes are almost indestructible.
Meanwhile, a jug of orange juice had exploded in the trunk of the car
and, in the midst of the worst heat wave in ten years, the strawberry
bushes, or rather the soil and manure, which had now become moist with
fermented orange juice, began to develop a distinct and unpleasant smell
that was growing stronger and stronger. Clara and Archibald argued about
it but neither of them had the energy to take the plants out of the
trunk. After three and a half weeks, the stink was so indescribably bad
that even the smell of rotten eggs. was no match for it!
One day, Archibald was at work in the offices of the Commissioner of
Official Languages. The Commissioner's secretary called Archibald to her
desk. "I need your help," she said. "The Commissioner has to go to an
emergency meeting in Montreal right away. His chauffeur is caught in a
traffic jam at the other end of the city and will probably be too late.
I can't get an airplane ticket. I'm asking you, Archibald, could you
drive the Commissioner to the meeting?"
Archibald was silent. All he could think of was rotten eggs and for a
moment he couldn't remember why. Then, he remembered why.
He tried to come up with excuses. He said he was a nervous driver . he
had to get home early to feed his birds. his wife had dizzy spells and
needed his help. But the secretary was convincing, and finally.he agreed
to drive the Commissioner to the meeting.
Archibald walked slowly to his car. He felt like he was going to his own
funeral. He thought about tossing the bushes into the garbage bin right
then, but he knew that Clara would be devastated. He opened the car
door. and got a whiff. of the worst stink he had ever smelled. His heart
sank.Maybe the Commissioner had a cold and wouldn't smell it.
Archibald's mind was racing as he thought about what he should say:
that he had just bought the bushes yesterday and voila, this morning
they stank.that his sick aunt wanted him to leave the bushes in his
trunk because she heard that old rotten strawberry bushes, wrapped in
manure, cured people... or better yet, he could pretend he didn't smell
anything."Smell, sir.I don't understand?"
As he drove up to the front door Archibald could see the Commissioner
standing inside the lobby wearing an expensive blue suit and a fedora
Archibald's knees started to shake. then.a miracle happened.the
Commissioner's white Chevrolet sped up to the front door.driven by his
chauffeur. The chauffeur got out and opened the door for the
Commissioner. As he was getting in, the Commissioner tipped his hat to
Archibald - perhaps a thank you for his offer to help. Archibald felt
his whole body go limp.
When Clara and Archibald Squire got home at 11:00 p.m., Archibald took
the odoriferous bushes from the trunk of the car and asked Clara for a
large spoon. He planted the bushes in the yard .right in front of the
Archibald came into the house and said to Clara "They're planted." Clara
took a can of deodorizer from the cupboard and went to spray the car, as
she had done many times before. She looked at the brown, withered bushes
sitting lopsided on the lawn near the shed. and remembered what
Gwendolyn had said about strawberry bushes being indestructible. She
said to Archibald "Won't it be nice to have strawberries in the
garden. It is a lovely gift isn't it?"
Archibald thought about the three and a half weeks of smelliness. the
arguments. the close call with the Commissioner. He hoped it hadn't
gotten into the upholstery.that it wasn't permanent.that it actually
would go away. But he didn't want to worry Clara so he simply said,
"Yes, dear. a lovely gift.indeed!"
Che Saran Saran
Martha and Hugh Hurtubise were distraught. On a Wednesday, in the fall
of their second year of marriage, they had, by an accident of foresight,
completely consumed the cylinder of saran wrap, which had served them
admirably for several months. Hugh Hurtubise had had enough. With a
sweep of his hand, he donned his paid cap and invited Martha to fetch
his cardigan. An outing was in order. For a leg of deep fried chicken
and a serving of home-fried potatoes could not go to spoil because of
his mistake. Not when he was acquainted with the manager of a fast-food
chain who could solve his problem forever.
Hugh Hurtubise boldly presented himself at the counter of the restaurant
and asked if he could purchase an industrial-sized roll of protective
covering. The manager, pleased to be of service, immediately acquiesced,
without asking the reason for the request. Hugh Hurtubise paid cash for
the merchandise and walked home feeling quite satisfied. On seeing the
over-sized roll of saran wrap, Martha sighed in relief and promptly
covered the chicken and potatoes that had lain in waiting.
Night followed day and the industrial-sized roll of saran wrap continued
to protect the Hurtubise leftovers. One large piece, one small piece,
one medium-sized piece; imperceptibly the roll diminished. Year followed
month and still the Hurtubise leftovers owed their longevity to the
industrial-sized roll of saran wrap. Martha and Hugh Hurtubise grew
older and older. Hugh Hurtubise was now bald and Martha had grown plump
from eating too many leftovers. Still, after scores of leftovers had
been preserved, the industrial-sized roll remained almost constant in
diameter. Decade followed year and still the industrial-sized roll of
saran wrap diminished only imperceptibly.
One day, Hugh Hurtubise bent down to tear a piece of saran wrap from the
industrial-sized roll. He gasped, fell, and died in the Hurtubise
kitchen with a medium-sized piece of saran wrap in his hand. Martha
Hurtubise, devastated by the death of her husband, lived on for only a
Every summer, to commemorate their parents, the Hurtubise children visit
the graves, with flowers wrapped in saran wrap from the industrial-sized
Ways of the World
Bertha was often distressed. At ungodly hours of the morning, she would
telephone, on impulse, the Centre for Crisis Intervention, which offered
counselling on a rotating basis. By an unfortunate quirk of fate,
Gilbert's telephone number was just one number removed from that of the
The Centre's line was often busy, and Bertha was prone to distraction:
during the early hours of the morning, she often misdialed the number
for the Centre, and connected with Gilbert's line instead. When she
interrupted Gilbert's sleep, Bertha did not identify herself but simply
hung up the phone and dialled again. She would spend all night dialling
and misdialing the number for the Centre for Crisis Intervention.
Gilbert received phone calls at 2:00 a.m., 3:00 a.m., 4:00 a.m., and
5:00 a.m. He found it more and more difficult to get up for work. Bertha
began calling the Centre four, five, six times a night, often misdialing
and accidentally ringing Gilbert's number. Gilbert began missing days
from work because he could not wake up after nights of interrupted
sleep. He developed hypochondria due to extreme fatigue.
One night after the phone rang, Gilbert took an ounce of scotch to
steady his nerves. He found that the whiskey helped him to sleep. Often
as Gilbert was falling asleep, the phone would ring. He began taking two
ounces of scotch and found that this calmed him considerably. In the
early morning when the phone rang, Gilbert would take three ounces of
Meanwhile, Bertha was growing less and less distressed. She phoned the
Centre less often, giving Gilbert some peace. Gilbert, on the other
hand, had developed a compulsion for scotch and often drank three or
four ounces while waiting for the phone to ring. One morning, Gilbert
went to work in a state of drunkenness. He was fired from his job and
began staying at home drinking bottles of scotch.
Bertha had gained some level of stability. She now called the Centre
only occasionally. Gilbert no longer received phone calls in the early
morning. Now constantly inebriated, he became totally isolated and often
longed for the mysterious caller to call.
Gilbert became more and more distressed. He could no longer tolerate the
day without a bottle of scotch. In the grips of despair, he stumbled to
a bridge near his home and jumped off, ending his misery.
Bertha recovered and began volunteering at the Centre for Crisis
Intervention. She wanted more than anything to help people grow.
Matilda sang with gusto. From the bottom of her huge diaphragm, she
belted out notes that were powerful enough to challenge even the stoic
chandelier that adorned her parlour. At seven o'clock every morning,
Matilda practiced the soprano scales, beginning with the C major scale
and ending with a solfeggio that would attack the ear of even the most
ardent opera lover.
Jack was not an opera lover, and his apartment faced the gusty soprano's
parlour window so that the music from her exuberant arias often made its
way to his unappreciative ear.
Jack tried consulting the authorities but found that policemen were not
sympathetic to the plight of a modest craftsman who had no love for the
grandeur of the past.
Day after day, Matilda exulted in the masterful tragedies of Verdi,
Puccini, Rossini; acting, crying, singing to her heart's content.
One day in the month of March, Matilda began practicing for an important
recital, which, if successful, would mark a turning point in her career.
At 7:00 a.m., she began her singing regimen, complete with tenor and
contralto accompaniment. Matilda sang louder than ever before. With the
tenor by her side, her voice rose to the heights of glory, making no
apology to the awakened Jack, who fumed under his poised moustache. He
watched her from across the alley.
Jack knew that the time had come. Without making a sound, he walked to
the closet in which he stored his hunting equipment. With a steady hand,
he located the rifle and checked the barrel to ensure that it was
Without flinching, he walked to the window and pointed the rifle. He had
a clear view of the robust Matilda. Jack did not contemplate the
consequences of his action: he only knew what had to be done.
Just as he was about to pull the trigger, Matilda belted out the most
acute cadenza of her career. Jack was startled. From across the way, he
watched as the crystal beam on Matilda's chandelier shattered causing
the massive fixture to come toppling onto her head with full force. When
he heard the screams, he knew that she had died instantly. Jack moved
away from the window and watched the commotion. The grand finale had
The Price of Passion
Betty loved Herbert beyond reason. Herbert had been her second love. The
first had fizzled after an intimacy had frightened her lover into
marriage with a girl of a much simpler constitution. Herbert was
decidedly strange. He despised women beyond all measure but Betty knew
that he loved her. Occasionally, Herbert would smile at Betty and she
would burn with carnal lust for his savage disposition.
Herbert did not know that Betty loved him. He was indulgent in matters
of sex and often engaged in casual flirtations. Then one day, Betty
lusted after Herbert with all the energy of her resilient, if somewhat
slight, frame. Herbert, bewildered by the attack, assented to the
ravishment with an abandon that seldom surfaced in his demeanour.
After the encounter, Betty and Herbert separated. Herbert lived the
lonely life of a misanthrope and Betty continued to imagine the ecstatic
existence she could have had with Herbert. Zealously, she wrote long
letters of passion to Herbert. Herbert did not reply to her advances but
Betty, undaunted by the rejection, began to fabricate more and more
elaborate fantasies about Herbert's undying love for her.
One day, Herbert was arrested for committing an uncomely act of lust.
Betty, shocked by the aberration in Herbert's character, vowed
nonetheless that she would not abandon him. Herbert was sentenced to
life imprisonment and Betty continued to write passionate letters of
love, which she sometimes sent to Herbert. Herbert continued his
Then a riot broke out in the prison and Herbert was stabbed by a fellow
inmate. Betty read about his death in the newspaper. Undaunted by the
demise of her lover, she prayed every night, knowing that Herbert's
spirit was by her side. Betty grew old and she began talking aloud to
One day, Betty was polishing the portrait of Herbert, which she kept by
her bedside. Unknown to Betty, the nail that had supported the painting
for many years was faltering and suddenly, unable to tolerate the
weight, it gave way causing the painting to fall to the ground and
shatter. Betty could not bear the pain of loss and died at that moment,
falling onto the bed in abandonment.
Betty's family attended a meeting at which the dispensation of her
wealth was to be announced. Convinced that her pursuit would continue in
the afterlife, and to everyone's bewilderment, the will contained two
sentences: "At last, I am again with Herbert. May I rest in peace."
Betty was buried in the family plot and to this day those who visit her
grave wonder at the words carved on the tombstone of the old spinster:
Old Times End
Gertrude believed that premarital sex was unacceptable. She often
lectured her nieces on the follies of unwed copulation and was a leading
member of The Committee for a Religious Environment, which preached the
sinfulness of unsanctified fornication.
When one of her nieces wished to live, unmarried, with her beloved,
Gertrude tried very hard to be tolerant. She donned her spectacles and
braced her lips in a manner that would not convey her displeasure: "It
is not for me but for God, the Almighty Father of Heaven and Earth, to
judge your action," she stated and rested her case.
One day, an elderly gentleman approached Gertrude with the intention of
befriending her. Gertrude interrupted his greeting with a soliloquy on
the evils of premarital intercourse. The gentleman, frightened by the
staunchness of Gertrude's manner, quickly disappeared into the lobby of
the nursing home where he was safe from Gertrude's attack.
Gathering his courage for another attempt, the elderly gentleman sat
beside Gertrude in the sitting room and began a discourse on the wonders
of spring. Immediately, Gertrude stood up to face the timid suitor and
launched into a sermon, in oratorical manner, on the perils of
unsanctified carnal knowledge, waving her arms for emphasis. The
gentleman grabbed his cane and ran into the lobby.
In a final attempt at befriending the tyrant, the elderly gentleman
winked at Gertrude while passing her in the hall. Gertrude stopped the
man and placed her hands on his shoulders. She looked straight into his
eyes and with raised voice began a homily denouncing the modern social
order, which is grounded in promiscuous sexual mores. The elderly
gentleman, in an uncharacteristic fit of rage, lifted his cane and, with
a blow that matched Gertrude's puritanical fervour, belted her across
the posterior. Gertrude had never experienced such sexual dominance and
pursed her lips in an effort to hide her surprise.
The gentleman became Gertrude's constant companion. Still staunch in her
doctrine, she sometimes allows her beau to hold her hand as they sit
together reminiscing on the rapture of youth.
The Ladder of Success
Wilma was bent on getting ahead. Even during her undergraduate days at
Rhodes, she had had a thirst for ambition. At secondary school, she was
elected class valedictorian and participated in several debates, which
won her recognition as an orator of distinction. Later on, during her
university days, Wilma outranked in grade point average even the most
diligent student, several times winning honourable mention from the
dean. Now, as a tenured professor of theoretical physics, she outshone
in excellence even the most competent male scholar.
But Wilma had one ambition she had not met. She wanted, more than life
itself, to be the first female to walk on Mars. Secretly, she submitted
curriculum vitae to the Board of Space Explorations, which recruited
potential astronauts from the student body of the university. Her
application had been rejected because, the letter stated, in spite of
her outstanding academic credentials, at her age, physical training
would be considered dangerous to her health.
Wilma scoffed at the letter and began a rigorous program of exercise
based on her knowledge of body mass. For many months, Wilma exercised
three times a day. Then she started a weight reduction diet, which she
had also designed. She applied again to the Board of Space Explorations
giving figures revealing her level of physical fitness, but still the
Board rejected her application.
At night, Wilma lay in bed imagining the wonders of outer space. The
prospect of walking on Mars filled her with excitement. Wilma continued
exercising and dieting in hope that she would be accepted by the Board
of Space Explorations as a candidate for the first mission to Mars.
One day, a missile was launched with the purpose of landing on Mars.
Wilma followed the event on television as she did her sit-ups to prepare
herself for her own mission. She clipped from the newspaper every
article about the event to paste in a scrapbook she was keeping on space
exploration to Mars. Still, she exercised vigorously and ate only foods
that would increase her resistance to the nausea induced by suspended
The first man walked on Mars and Wilma continued to prepare for her
mission. She grew old and retired from the position of professor of
theoretical physics. Still, she submitted applications to the Board of
Space Explorations. One day, Wilma was jogging to prepare herself for
the mission. She felt a pain in her chest, coughed, and fell to the
ground, stone dead.
When Wilma's family was clearing the apartment of her belongings, they
found in the mailbox a letter from the Board of Space Explorations, It
stated simply: All positions for FEMALE ASTRONAUT: MISSION TO MARS have
now been filled. Thank you for your continued interest in the space
Only a Whistle Away
Gerald loved to sleep. When the birds chirped their welcome to the
rising sun, Gerald snored his merriment in counterpart harmony. When the
children shrieked during afternoon games, Gerald joined in with grunts
of affection as he lay somnambulant. When the traffic buzzed at the
midnight hour, Gerald snored his way into his own hub of liveliness,
lost in an abyss of unconsciousness.
Gerald's wife had long since been aggravated by Gerald's "condition".
After twenty-five years of marriage, she placed her umbrella under her
arm and dragged Gerald to the doctor for a full medical check up. After
a thorough examination, the doctor stated that Gerald's only problem was
"chronic anxiety". "He must find something to live for," said the doctor
as he left the room.
"Find something to live for!" Gerald's wife stammered as she banged the
sleeping the sleeping Gerald across the arm with her umbrella.
In an effort to follow the doctor's prescription, Gerald's wife enrolled
him in "People for Peace", which organized peace rallies against the
Gulf war. Gerald dragged himself out of bed to attend a meeting at which
a famous world leader was going to speak. The Guest gave a passionate
speech that brought tears to many members of the audience. Gerald
responded to the rhetoric by increasing the decibels of his snore.
Gerald's wife was exasperated. "Do your civic duty!" she stammered,
banging Gerald over the head with the umbrella.
In an effort to wake Gerald from his travels into the deepest
somnolence, Gerald's wife accompanied him to an erotic movie that was
guaranteed by the most reputable critics to arouse him from slumber.
Gerald sat at the cinema lost in the avenues of his own illusion, sound
Gerald's wife was incredulous. "Do your manly duty!" she stammered,
banging Gerald across the chest with her umbrella.
One day, Gerald's wife bought a loudspeaker, which she placed beside his
bed. Every fifteen minutes, she would loudly shout his name into the
loudspeaker, impeding Gerald from sound sleep. During a fit of agitated
snoring, Gerald made a whistling sound. The loudspeaker amplified the
whistle. Still asleep, Gerald began whistling a melody. Awakened by the
lovely sound, Gerald sat up in bed whistling tune after tune. Gerald's
wife heard the music and ran into the bedroom to find Gerald wide-awake
for the first time in twenty-five years. Crying for joy, she hugged her
husband, knowing that his condition had finally been cured.
Gerald began whistling at local competitions and soon became the
National Whistling Champion. He spends all of his waking hours
practicing his newfound talent. The umbrella now hangs over the door
with a sign that reads: "Life is just a whistle away!"
Emma was very wise. She read books about the great philosophers and
often quoted the ancient sages in her discourses on the meaning of life.
Emma hoped to become immortal through her art and painted in the rapture
of sleeplessness during fits of inspiration.
One day, Emma was baffled by a drop that fell from the ceiling. She
immediately went to the library to find a book on the atmospheric
conditions producing condensation. Meanwhile, the drop fell from the
ceiling, right onto the canvas that bore her greatest masterpiece.
Emma became more and more disconcerted with the falling drop. She read
several books from cover to cover. But did not learn how to stop the
drop from falling onto her canvas. Emma went to the library to find
books on related subjects: "Rainfall in the Spring", "The Construction
of Tectorial Structures", "Moisture from Granular Surfaces" but none of
these books revealed to her the mystery of how to stop the drop from
falling onto her masterpiece.
Day after day the drop fell, colour upon colour fell to the floor. Emma
called the university librarian for suggestions on how to stop the leak.
The librarian, also baffled by the drip, referred her to an architect
who might help her with her problem.
Emma consulted the architect in a two-hour meeting. He suggested that
she modify the exterior structure of her house so that the drop would be
diverted by means of a metal pipe along the roof to the back of the
building, then fall into a bucket fastened to the left side of the patio
wall. He sent several experts to her house to effect these changes.
Still when the work was completed, the drop continued to fall.
Emma took a course in interior design, hoping to find a way to stop the
drip. She told her interior design instructor about the problem. The
instructor, also baffled by the drop, suggested several ways of
modifying the interior of the room. He sent several experts to the house
to reconstruct parts of the ceiling so that the drop would be diverted
to a fissure on the exterior surface of the building. Still, when the
structure of the room was modified, the drop continued to fall.
In despair, Emma consulted a renovation specialist in the hope of
securing advice that would stop the leak. The renovation expert
suggested that the front and the back of the roof be elongated and
runners be placed across the top so that the drop would be diverted from
the centre left-hand slope to the basal lining of the roof, therefore
falling down the side of the building. When the work was completed, the
drop continued to drip.
One day, a roofer who was in the early stages of Alzheimer's,
inadvertently re-shingled Emma's roof instead of that of a neighbour who
had hired him. In the process, he repaired a hole under a bulge in the
shingles and installed a piece of missing tar paper.
When Emma returned from the library, she found that the drip had
subsided. Certain that the "miracle" was a belated success of the
architect, interior designer or renovation specialist, she immediately
called all three of them in great joy. "Thank you for your expert
advice," she told them. "You have solved the biggest problem of my
Zelda had the greatest respect for her professor. The man delivered
passionate speeches, without notes, in an oratorical style that fit his
dramatic carriage. Believing that she was incapable of fulfilling her
dream, Zelda approached the professor to discuss her plans of pursuing
advanced university studies. Her idol spoke with words of great wisdom.
Zelda did not comprehend their meaning but knew that he was the wisest
of the wise and spoke with the keenest wit. Zelda pondered his words
and, with hesitation, began her first year of graduate studies. She did
not know if she was properly following the advice of the master. Zelda
timidly applied herself to her studies, continuously pondering the words
of the eminent teacher.
Still, she did not know what the great master had said.
Zelda cautiously completed the second year of studies. Still, she
pondered the master's words and they were incomprehensible to her.
Believing that she would soon discern the meaning of the words, Zelda
shyly advanced to the third year of studies. She mulled over the words
of the great teacher but did not understand the point he had made.
Resigned to defeat, Zelda edged into the fourth year of studies, still
not knowing if she was following the advice of her teacher. Upon
graduating with honours, Zelda tentatively moved into fifth year, the
postdoctoral program. She did not know if she was following the words of
wisdom. Dubiously, Zelda attempted yet another year of postdoctoral
studies. She thought of approaching the master to discover the meaning
of his words but did not have the courage to ask him to explain.
Finally one day, after stealthily completing the seventh year of
graduate studies, she telephoned the university to ask for the great
sage. After a pause, the secretary stated that the professor had died
six years previously. Fitfully, Zelda crept into the eighth year of
What Do You Know?
My mom and I are close. My boyfriend's always saying I need to get some
distance from her. Sometimes, I have this feeling she's this huge
balloon I can't stop melting into. I know it's crazy, but it's like
there's this magnet pulling me closer and closer to her and I can't stay
separate. I thought she knew everything.
The ball started rolling when the first Gulf War was on. The way I see
it, I was coming to the end of my own personal war. It was the old
story of good and evil. Evil being Tom, the mechanic at the garage where
my mom used to get her car fixed. The guy liked me, I knew it. I thought
he didn't have the guts to act on it, you see. And I must admit I
thought about him quite a lot because, well, he was cute with a bit of a
rough twist to him. But I never thought for a second he would do what
the papers said. I mean, the guy was actually charged by the cops with
molesting young kids. I mean, imagine making up a horrible lie like
Now when the stuff came out in the papers I asked my mom, "Will Bush
invade, do you think?"
"He hasn't got the balls," she scowled like she always does when someone
says something stupid.
I tend to believe my mom because she follows what goes on in the world,
especially that part of the world because her new husband comes from
there and he tells her everything.
A few days later, Bush invaded.
So with all this stuff in the papers, I figured Tom was a lost cause and
I ended up going out with a guy I'd just met who was a sweetheart. But a
week or so after we start going together, my thoughts start going
haywire. I start thinking "Is he like that Tom guy?" I mean, he's just
as smart and cute and everything and he seems to like kids a lot.
Anyway, I think this over in my mind but I don't say much in case he
gets mad, see. I mean, the guy hasn't done anything after all so why
should I mouth off at him. Then I read in the papers that Saddam has
started this oil slick so many miles long. Everyone thinks he's trying
to destroy the world -- that he doesn't care about anything.
When I talk to my mom about it she says, "It's propaganda! Some
people'll do anything to make him look like a bad guy!"
Right then, it was like something snapped in my head. It seemed to me
like the whole world had completely gone crazy. I started wondering if
my boyfriend was that Tom guy. I mean he could have had plastic surgery.
They couldn't find him after all, and my boyfriend has the same colour
of eyes. What had I got myself into?
By now, my boyfriend was almost crazy with worry. He was trying
frantically to get me back on track so he asks me if Tom is tall or
short. "He's short" I say without even pausing. "See" says my boyfriend.
" I'm tall. I can't be him, can I?"
A few days later the headlines read: "Something Evil Has Been in
Kuwait". They're these people talking about torture and all these
inhuman things that have happened to them. I cringe when I read it. But
how could Tom be guilty? The guy was great. He was as funny as anything.
He was smart too - and had a good job and everything. He was a great guy
that some sick punks lied about.
My boyfriend says Tom's not acting like a man that's innocent. He says,
"why doesn't the guy stand up and scream bloody murder, if he's so
innocent!" My boyfriends's a nice guy but he doesn't understand some
things. When they do something like that to you, what can you say?
I didn't know if my mom was following Tom's story in the papers but when
my boyfriend mentions they only gave him three months, my mom winces:
"Damn courts," she says under her breath.
By this time, I'm thinking the war seemed awfully stupid. I mean, some
people can make anything make sense. They won't admit they're wrong even
if people are suffering like crazy. Then, the war's over.
I ask my mom, "What do you think about that?"
"I think it stinks," she says.
"You still think Saddam's a hero?"
"Yes," she says, as if she's got no doubt.
"But it's pretty clear he's a nutcase. That's what the papers say."
"What about Bush," she says. "What's he?'
I think about this for a while. I know there are two sides to every
story but when the papers say 17 countries think Saddam is bad news for
the whole world; maybe, just maybe, they know something. Mind you, I'm
not saying Bush is a hero either.
The way I see it, there's a lot of different ways of seeing things and
everyone's entitled to their opinion; but when people start getting
hurt, you've got to wonder if you're on the right track. I mean,
everybody's just plain wrong sometime. You know what I mean?
It was the summer of 1976. I had just finished my last year of high
school and was eager for my first job in the "real world". I had been to
City Hall that morning and had filled out an application for "student
employment". I remember the phone call like it was yesterday. It was a
bright sunny day. Summer had just begun. I was in the kitchen of my
mother's house. The man's voice was baritone and fatherly. He said he
had reviewed my application and had a job for me. I was ecstatic. "Don't
get too excited," he said. "The job's not that great". I was ecstatic
anyway. He said something about the "spay and neuter clinic". I had been
a very sheltered and indulged adolescent, and had never had a pet. I did
not exactly know what "spy and neuter" meant but I had an open mind. I
jotted down the address and the following day presented myself to the
receptionist for my interview.
The young woman was wearing pink. She had blond hair tied back in a
ponytail and was wearing glasses. She looked very professorial and I
felt comfortable with her. Even during the interview I didn't quite know
what the job was about. I tried my best to make a good impression and
look knowledgeable. When the woman said "cages", I immediately
mentioned that my friend's dad worked at a psychology laboratory and
that I had helped him look after the caged animals for a few weeks.
Being an industrious young person, I wanted the job and figured I would
find out soon enough what it involved if I got it.
I was informed the following day that I had been selected from among the
candidates. I was to be paid three dollars per hour, which was the
minimum wage that year. I was to start tomorrow. I immediately called my
mother at work to inform her I now had a summer job. She was duly proud.
The following day when I arrived at my place of employment, I was shown
to the back room where the cages were located and the young woman
interviewer proceeded to show me how I was to clean the cages using
paper towels. I was quite taken by surprise (to put it mildly) by the
sight of the sedated dogs and cats that lay lethargically in their cages
after having been spayed and neutered.
I thus began my unhappy stint as a cage cleaner. I tried to bring myself
to empathize with the unfortunate dogs and cats under sedation but my
fear got the better of me. I had neglected to tell my interviewer that I
was quite afraid of cats even when they did not look like they were
dying as they now did under sedation.
To give insult to injury, even as I did my finest work, the young woman
interviewer seemed somewhat dissatisfied with the condition of the
cages. I soon learned that the cage cleaner before me had actually been
a Vietnamese-Canadian veterinarian who spoke little English and could
not get his papers recognized. He had apparently been a cage cleaner
"par excellence". One day he showed up to give me some lessons as to how
I was to carry out my duties. I was becoming more and more disconcerted,
as I believed in my heart of hearts that my competence as a cage cleaner
was being questioned.
Fortunately for me, the English-Canadian veterinarian who did the
spaying and neutering had mental difficulties and was having a dispute
with management. One day, about three weeks into my employment, he
simply got up and left the clinic and refused to return until the
dispute was settled. The clinic was duly closed. As I had been hired for
the summer, City Hall felt responsible for me so I was immediately sent
over to "Roads and Sewers".
I was to work there as a receptionist. Being young and naive, and having
had no office experience, I did not prove by any standards (even those
measuring summer students) to be a competent receptionist. To begin
with, I was somewhat embarrassed to greet callers with a friendly "Roads
and Sewers" and sometimes found myself shortening it to "Roads".
When I took a call, I immediately called over to Bernie, who was at the
front desk, and repeated what the person had asked. He told me what to
say and I would say it to the person at the other end. If the person
said something else, I would immediately tell Bernie what he or she had
said, and he would tell me what to reply. And so, the summer went on
with me acting as intermediary between Bernie and the callers. I soon
concluded that being a receptionist was somewhat like being a parrot and
it did not fit in well with my image of being an excellent student.
In July, I had an opportunity to go to Italy with my mother. She had
organized a charter and I would have been able to go free of charge. I
decided to stay at my job with the City and dreamed of how impressive I
would look to my relatives in Italy when they were told that I was a
municipal employee in far-off Canada. I don't know if I made the right
decision. The important thing is I stuck it out. I guess what I can say
about my summer of 1976 is that it was "interesting". I went back to
school that year with a little bit of experience under my belt. I didn't
get rich but despite everything I hadn't quit and that meant something.
Only twenty-one and the ground sucked her in like a ripe orange. It was
August. Not yet the cruel season.
She died smiling. "Lovely day!" she uttered, gagging, slowly turning
blue, unable to breathe, then collapsing onto the table with the side of
her face in the potato salad. The guests were horrified.
"Isn't that Chablis?" asked the acquaintance, wiping the corner of her
mouth with the napkin.
"Yes at $20.00 a bottle." Randy took a sip of wine and bit into his
salad. "You wouldn't know it."
Mrs. Hanes thought out loud. "What time is it?" She flustered to wipe
the wet table. "This won't do!" The dinner party looked at the body
lying sprawled on the table, mouth open in a mocking smile, eyes looking
straight ahead at the filet mignon. There was no question that this
incident was, altogether, inconvenient.
That was her death, a non-event. But perhaps it was true that her time
had come. The outburst, after all, had made her life complete. Living
on would possibly have been
anti-climactic, and to think that a broken violin string could stir so
Every evening at exactly 5:10, the girl would take out her violin and
tune the strings. Then she would play the C major and C minor scales,
after which she would play either a certain piece by Tchaikovsky or a
certain piece by Bach for exactly ten minutes. Then she would put away
her violin and get ready for dinner. The excitement of this practice was
necessary to prepare her for the meal.
On this particular day, she had taken out her violin at exactly 5:10 and
tuned the strings. Then she had practiced the usual scales. As she was
playing the Tchaikovsky sonata, however, the A string popped and grazed
the side of her face. She was unable to continue the practice.
Mrs. Hanes, who was dusting the living room furniture at the time of the
accident, was deeply disturbed by the sound of the popping string and
went into an epileptic-like seizure as she always did when she lost
control of her emotions. The doctors said it was psychological.. Randy,
whom everyone knew never lost control, accidentally passed air in the
excitement. The acquaintance began shouting curses at the girl.
The girl, unable to tolerate the confusion, rose and began chanting as
she skipped around the conspirators:
"I know, you know. They think they know but they don't. They don't
That evening, she had choked on a morsel of bread and died. At the
funeral, when the casket was lowered into the ground, Mrs Hanes wiped a
tear from her eye. She turned to the guests and whispered, "We just
didn't know." Everyone nodded in agreement.
EMMA, born Renata Battistella, is a resident of Gatineau, Quebec in Canada.
She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Ottawa and in the
mid-1980's won the deSouza literary award given by this institution. She is
an avid enthusiast of radio and good music.
All poems copyrighted by their respective authors. Any reproduction of
these poems, without the express written permission of the authors, is
YGDRASIL: A Journal of the Poetic Arts - Copyright (c) 1993 - 2006 by
Klaus J. Gerken.
The official version of this magazine is available on Ygdrasil's
World-Wide Web site http://users.synapse.net/~kgerken. No other
version shall be deemed "authorized" unless downloaded from there.
Distribution is allowed and encouraged as long as the issue is unchanged.
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