Hair

Hair

she was a stranger

who felt no compunction 

in reaching out to touch my hair

I must have been in my mid-twenties

at the time

my hair was freshly washed

shoulder length

‘it’s like baby hair,’ she said

I was a natural blond

even blonder 

after a month of summer sun

‘I would kill to have like yours’

she smiled 

‘thanks’ I replied

not adding

that I hate my hair

I hate it being so smooth

hate being asked

are you a boy or are you girl

being called fruit

by guys because of my hair

not that I was mr masculine

to begin with

 

shortly after that

I dyed my hair for the first time

I wanted a change

I bought a home kit

to make it permanent jet black

the look was striking

my mother said

‘what were you thinking’

I went to work

raised a few eye brows 

but no comments

the black faded after the first wash

so much for permanent

in a week it was ash

in three weeks

back to baby fine blond

 

my hair

was like my sexuality

something I couldn’t disguise

no matter what women

I flirted with

what I tried to call it

what I drank to blot it out

it would always be

I had to live with the envy

some felt about that hair

about something I was powerless over

something I hadn’t constructed

something I learned to live with

 

I remember my first perm

a head of tight blond curls

they bounced in the light

it was my face

but a different me

the stylist conferred with a colourist

both agreed

that my hair was too fine 

to hold colour for long

that it would be a shame

to tamper with it anyway

 

the permanent curls

would flatten within a week

I wasn’t willing 

to go to bed with hairpins in

to look like my mother

so I’d get that perm 

every month or so

I loved my hair for the first week

then a week of doing what I could

to keep the curl in

it was too much work

too much time checking in mirrors

 

I had a friend who was

what he referred to as 

a hair burner

he touched my freshly washed

uncurled hair one day

‘you have baby hair.

I have clients

who would kill to have hair like that.’

I said

‘I hate my hair.

it’s too much work.’

he said

‘do you trust me?’

 

I let him do what he wanted

it took a couple of hours

that first time

to cut it short short short

then incise it with electric razor

patterns into the hair

sometimes a maze

other times circle or triangles 

always different 

 

then he died

murdered by HIV meds

 

I shaved my head for his funeral

no one would ever touch my hair

again

This piece was directly inspired by reading posts, tweets, cultural analysis of race & hair. Black women, in particular, frequently have co-workers, friends of friends & complete strangers of all races, walk up to them to touch their hair, often without asking. It is seen as a lack of boundary respect.

This is something that happened to me more than once. Perhaps as a man it hasn’t had the same response from me. There is a cultural difference between a woman touching a strange man casually – than a man touching a woman’s hair casually. A woman’s touch isn’t threatening whereas a man’s is. Recently someone, without asking, stroked my fresh shaven head and said ‘smooth.’

Anyway this piece isn’t about sexual or racial politics but about my hair. This hair touching did happen often when I was a child, less often as a teen but until I actually started shaving my head it continued. The dialogue is actual, the hating of my hair is an exaggeration. I loved the colour but hated that it was baby fine. It was shiny but shapeless. I was hounded in high school by teachers to get my hair cut when it was getting to length I liked. Brian Jones-ish. 

I did dye my hair jet black & as the piece says, it washed out within a week, I never tried to dye it again. There was no altering it just ways of cutting it. As a big I usually had a brush cut, hight school was mod mop top; I never went for scraggly hippie long though. I was grappling with my sexuality & what masculinity meant. Though caring at all about my hair was then seen as being a more feminine attribute.

 

When I moved to Toronto one of the first things I started was getting my hair permed. I might photos of that somewhere. I would go to House of Lords to get that done. It was there the colourist said my hair would never hold colour. It would also not hold curls, unless I did extra work myself. 

The hair burner was a friend in recovery. Ed – he was also from my hometown, Sydney, Cape Breton; though we never knew each other when we were living there. I often wondered what might have happened had we met way back when. As the piece says he cut my hair super short then ‘etched’ patterns into it with an electric razor. I loved it. Our haircutting sessions were slow, mediative talks for many years, in which we became spiritually connected.

He was an early HIV diagnosis & thus one of the guinea pigs as science figured out dosages. The meds killed him, not HIV. ‘So sorry.’ Before he passed I did try another hair-burner friend in recovery but he didn’t have the patience for the cut that Ed gave me. For Ed’s funeral I shaved my head for the first time. I knew that in some religions mourners would wail, tear their clothes, even scar themselves in a display of grief. This was/is my display.

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Chapter XXXIX – Lillian Joins the Mob

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Coal Dusters – Chapter XXXIX

Lillian Joins The Mob

Back sore from the uncomfortable train ride, yet excited, Lillian stood at the gate to her home in Boston. It hadn’t changed at all since she had departed several months ago. The white house with its yellow shutters looked freshly painted in the warm afternoon sun. The shutter on the upper right windows needed repairs. She didn’t understand how her father could allow that misaligned shutter to mar the perfect facade of their house.

The gate opened soundlessly when she pushed it. She nodded to the train porter behind her to follow her up the stairs. He put her travel bag beside her at the front door. She sorted the coins in her change purse to make sure she was giving him American, not Canadian, money.

“Thank you.” she said dropping a dime in the palm of his hand.

She watched to make sure he had gone before she turned and knocked at the door. She was disappointed that she even had to knock, she had fully expected Sarah, or any of the other housemaids, to have seen her and to have thrown the door open wide to welcome her home.

Her first knocks with her knuckles could hardly be heard. She pulled off her travel gloves to rap soundly at the door. There was no sound from inside. No hurried footsteps to answer her knock.

She tried the door handle and it was locked. Reluctantly she used the brass knocker in the middle of the door. No response. She knocked again. No response.

Surely they weren’t up at the summer cottage? Even if they were, there was always house staff on duty when they were up at the lake. She stepped to to peer in one of the side windows. She could see Sarah in the foyer dusting the stair railings. Her knock on the window to get Sarah’s attention.

When Sarah didn’t respond she went back to the front door. It was just shutting and her travel bag was gone!

She tried the door handle again, pushed against it with all her weight but it refused to budge. She pounded the door with both her hands and all her might. She could hear the pounding echo from the houses in the square behind her. The door suddenly opened and she fell hard on the floor. Momentarily dazed she painfully turned herself over and found herself on the floor beside her bed in Castleton.

The pounding continued. It was someone knocking on the front door of the manse. She grabbed her wrap, slipped on her shoes and rushed down the stairs to answer the door.

“Father Patrick!” she called out as she ran. “Father Patrick!”

She opened the door and it Mrs. McIssac from across the street.

“Sorry to be bothering you Miss Lillian.” She was breathing heavily. “I was told to gather as many of the women as I could to go down to the pier to be with the miner’s when the Dingle Dandy gets here.”

“Oh yes.” She pulled her wrap closer. “I must have overslept. I was up later than usual getting some things ready for the strikers.”

“We all do what we can. Castleton is now your home as much as any of us.”

“I’ll join you as soon as I can. But don’t wait on me if you are ready to go now.”

Lillian shut the door and leaned her back on it to catch her breath. She tried to remember her dream of Boston. She could feel that morning sun on her skin as she walked up the steps to her house. Her true home.

She went to Father Patrick’s room and knocked on the door. It swung open at her touch. The bed hadn’t been slept in.

Twenty minutes later she latched the kitchen door behind her. Mrs. McIssac, Mrs. Danvers and several other women from nearby were at the Upper Chestnut corner talking amongst themselves. There were several of their children with them.

“I’m saying we shouldn’t have the children underfoot.” one of the women was saying.

“We can’t lock them up Marg.”

“I certainly wouldn’t leave mine alone in the house.” one said.

“Or anyone else’s.” Another replied.

The women all laughed.

“Outdoors has been good enough for them so far this summer.” Mrs. Danvers said.

“For sure but there hasn’t been troops to worry about.”

“Might we put them in the Hall?” Mrs. McIssac asked.

“Ah … I don’t know.” Lillian said. “I don’t have … authority to give permission. You would have to ask Father McTavish. He’s not here.”

“He’s probably with the men already.” One of the women said.

“I’m going there what ever you say,” one of the boys said. He looked at his buddy and the two of them scampered down the road.

One of the smaller girls began to cry. “They gonna kill Daddy. I know it.”

As the women and children marched toward the dock they were joined by more of the wives of the miners. Lillian nodded to the few she had met already and to some who were familiar to her from their attendance as the various services at St. Agatha’s.

“It’s good for us to have an opportunity to show our numbers to them.” Mrs. Franklin was walking beside Lillian. “The men can’t stand alone all the time with us women folk hiding behind them. It’s time we were in the front ranks.”

“I doubt if it’ll much difference.” Lillian said. “But it is better than waiting.”

A distant horn tooting quieted them.

“That’s The Dandy leaving North Sydney.” One of the women said. “It’ll be here soon.”

“You children stay behind. You hear.” Mrs. McIssac made them form a row. “We’ll have enough to do without keeping an eye on you. You understand.”

“Yes ma’am.” one of the older girls said.

“I’ll keep watch over them.” Lillian took the smallest girl by the hand. “You’ll be good, won’t you?”

“Yes Miss McTavish.” the child said.

As they rounded the corner the dock came into view. Lillian could see the ranks of miners already there surrounding the dock. In the distance she could see the Dingle Dandy approaching. She could make out several men on board.

The miner’s began to shout. “Back to the mainland.” “Respect us workers.” “This ain’t yer fight.” “Don’t cross our picket lines.”

As the ferry got closer they miners began to stomp their feet. Lillian was afraid the dock might gave way under the pounding. She could feel the vibration in her feet.

As the boat was about to dock it was clear that there was a dozen or so men on board. Three in suits, the others in uniforms with varying shades of brown. 

“Not real uniforms.” Mrs. Franklin said to her. “Probably ex-militia. Putting on a front for us.”

“That’s Mr. Bowden?” Lillian shaded her eyes.

“Yes and I think that’s Baldwin with him.” Mrs. Franklin said.

“Baldwin?” Lillian asked.

“The Premiere. At least for now. With the election coming up he’s not going to miss this chance to campaign.”

As the ferry tied up to the wharf, the miners began to chant repeatedly, “You can’t stand the gaff. You can’t stand the gaff.” 

Lillian was stunned to see that the first person to step off the ferry was her uncle. He raised his hands and the men fell silent.

“Thank you for the enthusiastic greeting.”

The men laughed.

“I have spent the night in discussion with Premiere Baldwin, Mr. Bowen and Colonel Strickland.”

“Which of them did you give final unction to?” One of the miners shouted out. The other miners laughed.

“What did they confess?” Another called out.

“Men. Friends. Parishoners. ” Father McTavish stepped closer to the line of miners. “I have convinced them that we are civilized enough to conduct ourselves like adults, not like a bunch of hooligans. No one wants things to escalate any further.”

“We aren’t the one trying to bust up the strike with outsiders.” William Gregory stepped out from the crowd of miners.

“We have no intention of busting up the strike but BritCan can’t let the mines remain idle. We have the legal right to mine the coal there, regardless of the union’s stance.” Bowden answered.

“They have the rights to their coal.” The Premiere took a document out of his overcoat pocket. 

“Not worth the paper it’s printed on.” Someone called out. A clod of grass flew from the back to the crowd and landed directly on the Premiere’s chest and scattered dirt over the document.

“We want to come to amicable agreement.” Baldwin continued. “These are difficult time for everyone. There has to be compromise on your part if …”

“Here’s a compromise,” Gregory looked around the men behind them before continuing. “Pay the miner’s what you are going to pay the scabs, including the bonus you’ve guaranteed them.”

“I’m not here to negotiate.” the Premiere said. “I wanted to tell you directly that either you comply with the BritCan conditions or the province will step in with full support from Ottawa, I might add.”

“We will use what force is necessary.” Colonel Strickland said. “We would rather not have to go to that extreme.”

“Tell that to your wife.” Mrs. McIssac pushed through the crowd to face the colonel. “Tell that to your children.”

“My wife and children obey the law.” He said.

“I hope you are proud of yourself.” She turned to the Premiere. “It’s the law of money you obey not of the people who elected you. Remember that when the election comes around.”

“I’m asking you all to disperse.” Colonel Strickland said. “Go back to your homes and stop interfering with the lawful business of the BritCan Coal Company.”

“Or what?” one of the miners shouted.

The Colonel nodded to one of his men who was still aboard the DingleDandy.

“Attention.” The man shouted. A dozen, fully armed men came up from below deck and marched off the boat.

There were boo’s from the miners as stones, bricks and bottles flew through the air. The Colonel signalled Premiere Baldwin, Mr. Bowen and Father McIssac to step behind the soldiers.

“Arms.” He commanded.

“They aren’t going to fire on us, are they?” Lillian asked. 

“Women and children move back.” Gregory shouted. 

“Aim.” The Colonel said.

The soldiers brought their rifles to their shoulders.

“Fire.”

They discharged their weapons over the heads of the crowd. 

The children and some of the women scattered. Some were screaming, others were crying.

Lillian was pulled back by a couple of the children.

“Come Miss we have to get safe.” 

Lillian looked down and one was Birk’s sister Maddy.

“That was merely a warning.” The Colonel shouted over the noise of the crowd. “The replacement company workers will be arriving soon. My men will remain here to make sure no one … I repeat … no one interferes with them doing their lawful work. Now disperse before we take further action.”

Premiere Baldwin and Mr. Bowen boarded the Dingle Dandy and it started back to North Sydney. The crowd dispersed into grumbling factions.

Birk and his father Blackie appeared from out of one of the factions.

“Maddy there you are.” Blackie tugged her hand out of Lillian’s. “I’ll look after her.”

“You’re okay?” Birk asked.

“Yes.” Lillian replied.

“It was just a show of force.” Blackie said.

“Looked more like a declaration of war on the miners.” Lillian shook her head.

“Miners have been at war with the company for generations. Some years it feels like a losing battle but … there’ seems no other way.”

“You safe to get home?” Birk asked.

“Oh yes.” Lillian said nodding to Mrs. McIssac and the other women. “I should be getting back to the manse. Father Patrick looks famish.”

Her uncle was talking with some of his parishioners as he walked away from the dock with them. As he passed her, he glanced at Lillian.

“There was no need for you to be here Lillian.” He said.

“I was asked by Mrs. McIssac to help mind the children.” she said. “Excuse me Mr. Nelson. I’d best get these children back to their families.”

She reached out for two of the parish children she recognized and took them by the hand. “Come along now. Heather, isn’t it?”

“Yes. Weren’t you scared when the guns went off?” Heather asked.

Lillian resisted saying. “You can’t kill the dead.”

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Chapter XXXVII – Birk Pays a Call

Coal Dusters – Chapter XXXVII

Birk Pays a Call

Holding Maddy loosely by the hand Birk stood at the corner street. He stared down at the door of the rectory. His mother had pressed the shirt and finally stitched the cuffs of pants Lillian had sent to him but he thought he still looked unkept. His borrowed belt made the pants bunch out around his behind. That was a tailoring job his mother said would take more than a few stitches to do. He was already sweating from his walk there. His face itched from shaving it twice in the same morning. His hair refused to stay down no matter what he tried. He looked down at his work boots wishing he had shoes more fitting to wear. 

The boots, even when they were new, didn’t hold any kind of shine. There weren’t meant to. His sisters had tried to clean them but there was nothing to be done about the scrapes on the toes. The crease of the pants made the boots look even more unsuitable. His mother wouldn’t let him go in bare feet.

“We going to stand here all morning?” Maddy asked. She was wearing her Sunday dress with a new piece of lace sown around the neck. There was a yellow satin bow in her hair that she kept pushing back into place.

His mother had insisted he take his sister along so she could see how those outside Mudtown lived. He was sure it was to make sure he acted proper. He wished Clancy could have been with him but after the scrap they got into yesterday that wasn’t going to be. 

When Birk had woken that morning it took a few minutes for him to remember that Clancy was gone and not sleeping on the floor where it was cooler in the summer.

He walked to the front door of the house and knocked. No answer. Knocked again a little harder. Maddy kicked at the door but her shoes did make much of a sound. 

“You sure you got the right day?” she asked.

“It’s the day Clancy read to me from her note.” Did he have the wrong day? Wrong time? Clancy had read those things to him off the note. Was that his idea, to send him there at the wrong time to make an even a bigger fool of himself. Maybe the note didn’t ask for him to lunch. “You read it too, didn’t you?”

“Yes.” She stood on tiptoes to see through the side  window.

He turned to leave.

The door opened.

“Mr. Nelson.” Father Patrick said. “You have to knock louder than that.”

Birk turned back to the door. “Sorry.. uh … Father McTavish. I wasn’t sure how ….”

“Come in, please.” Lillian appeared behind Father Patrick and pushed past him.

“Thank, ye, Miss. You remember my sister Maddy.” He was awed at Lillian’s appearance.

“Hello.” Maddy curtsied. 

Previously Birk had only seen Lillian dressed in dark green pinafores with darker green aprons around them, a black kerchief of some sort covering her hair. So similar to a nun he had assumed that she was one.

Today she was wearing a light blue shift with a pleated skirt that ended directly below her knees. A row of blue buttons along the back went from her neck to her waist. How did those buttons get done? He had enough trouble with ones that went up the front of his shirt. She was wearing black shoes with small heels and with straps across the top of her foot.

He took this all in with a couple of rapid shy glances as they followed her into the parlour. She continued through the parlour to another room.

“How is your family faring during the strike?” Father Patrick asked him. He gestured to a chair for Birk to sit. Maddy sat on chair by the fire. Hey eyes wide as she looked around the room.

“We gets by.” Birk looked briefly at Father Patrick. “We have … a little garden… we hunt some and …. fish in the lake.”

The room wasn’t much bigger than the parlour in his house. The furniture was more ornate. The window panes were so clean as to be nearly transparent. The lace curtains barely held back the sun.  He was nervous with the crucifix on the wall that loomed over his shoulder.

“Very enterprising.” Father Patrick said. “How are you doing is school.” The priest asked Maddy.

“Good. How do you get the windows so clean? The curtain are so white. My sister Sal wasn’t feeling strong today so she couldn’t come with us. She supposed to help Ma with picking pears, which means finding any that fall from the tree.”

“Pears?” Lillian asked. 

‘Yes ma’am.” Birk said. “There some pear trees and apple trees in behind our lane.”

“Very nice. I’ll get the tea things.”

Lillian retuned with a tray on which was a tea service. Birk had never seen such a set. The tray was highly polished silver. The whitish ceramic tea pot had a thick gold braid along the base, the cups had saucers that matched and weren’t cracked. The gleaming ivory of the china glowed in the sunlight that came through the window. He was afraid to handle it.

“Tea? Mr. Nelson.” Lillian asked him.

“Why thank ‘er miss.”

She handed him a cup and saucer. 

He quickly put them on the table beside him before they could notice how much he was shaking. Maddy went to the tea service and brought the milk over and poured some into Birk’s cup.

“Thank you.” He said as she stirred for him. He tired to pick the cup up by the handle but his fingers could barely hold it. He sipped trying not too look too clumsy.

“Father Patrick, my uncle, and I wanted to express our gratitude for your daring rescue. Your brother is very brave.” She put a cup and saucer on the table beside Maddy and poured her a cup tea.

“T’wasn’t me who saved that babby, it was you miss. That took a brave heart to do that. I only helped when I had to.”

“Be that as it may, I wanted to thank you in person.” She handed Birk a plate with a couple of biscuits on it. “I made these fresh this morning.”

Birk looked directly at her face for the first time. Her dark auburn hair shone in the light that came through the window. The light gave it a reddish tinge. Her skin was clear. No sign of the bruise remained. She smelled of flowers. He didn’t know what kind. Lilacs or roses. A delicate clean smell.

“This is thanks enough for me.” He touched the shirt she had sent to him.

“A little large on you.” She laughed lightly.

“True miss but it’ll wear well.”

“Not those trousers through.” Father Patrick said. 

Maddy started to giggle. “Me and Sal each fit in a leg of them.”

“Stand so I can see how they fit you.” Lillian said.

Birk blushed as he stood. Some of his mother’s hasty stitch work had come loose. The cuffs were unrolled and caught beneath the heels of his boots. The waist was bunched by the belt he had borrowed from Blackie to cinch it. They had tried suspenders but the pants drooped so he looked as if he was wearing a cloth barrel.

“I am much taller than you, my lad.” Father Patrick grinned. “But I think Lillian can alter them to fit you somewhat better.”

“Yes. Thank you …” Birk blushed that they were going do those alterations right away.

“I can bring them over another day.” Maddy said. “Ma’d’ve done them but she was busy tending to Sal.”

“Yes.” Lillian laughed. “We aren’t going to do it now, if that’s what you feared.”

“I like your biscuits.” Maddy said. “Can I have one to take home to Sal?”

“Of course.” Lillian turned to Birk. “Do the men think the strike will last much longer?” She asked.

“Can’t say miss. We have the … demonstration at the end of the week.”

“The attack on the company store was not a wise action.” Father Patrick said. “I’ve sure troops will be brought in soon to make sure order is maintained.”

“Not as if that at the pluck me was planned. Happened so fast none of us was ready for it.”

“Not from what I hear.” Father Patrick said. “It has been brewed up by a couple of the men for a few days. They were waiting for an opportunity. You know Jim McKlusky?”

“Sure. He lives next door to us in Mudside.” So Jim was the ring leader of that pack.

There was knock at the door. Lillian went to answer it. She brought Mr. Bowen, one of the mine managers, into the room

“It’s Mr Bowen, Father Patrick.”

“Sorry to barge in on you this way Father but ….” he caught sight of Birk. “Oh, I see you have company.”

“Yes. This is Birk Nelson. The young miner who  saved my niece from the fire the other night.”

“Least he could do. It was them bastards that started it.” Mr. Bowen glared at Birk. “You men should know better.”

“I didna’ have anything to do with that.” Birk said. 

Mr. Bowen give a dismissive snort and turned to Father Patrick. “Father I have some urgent business that I must speak to you about. In private.”

“Why don’t we step out into the garden Mr. Bowen.” Father Patrick said. “It won’t take up too much time will it Mr. Bowen?”

Father Patrick lead Mr. Bowen out through the kitchen to the back garden.

“The garden is where we first saw you a few weeks back.” Birk said.

“I was not very happy that day. You were going fishing with your brother. I envied your freedom.” Lillian got up and leaned against the fence.

“Clancy’s no brethren to us.” Maddy said sharply.

“Oh I see.”

“They fights like brothers though.”

“Sush Maddy.”

“It’s true! You and Clancy were as bad and you and Geo t’other day punching away at each other.”

“He’s had some schoolin’ mor’n me and thinks he’s better n’ me ‘cause of it. Same way as so many mainlanders, you see. I jus’ got tired of him lordin’ it over me.” Birk said.

“You do want to improve your mind, don’t you.” Lillian looked at Birk, “You don’t want to be a … an uneducated miner for the rest of your life, do you?”

“Twas good nuf for my father, his father, good enough for me.” Birk shifted uneasily on his chair. Each move of his caused it to squeak.

“The mines can’t last forever you know.”

“Long nuf for the sorts of me, ma’am.”

“Is it such a bad thing, I mean, to improve your mind.”

“No ma’am. But I jus don’t see the point in it, for me. Fir my sister’s it’s different. Ma wants them to leave here one day.” Birk stared up at her. “There’s isn’t much else for me. Not that I care for the coal but …”

“Don’t you have any dreams, Birk.”

“Dreams, miss. Sure but they are dreams not life.”

“You don’t want, say a wife, someone to look after you and someone you can look after.”

“Got me ma to look after me and I got my sisters to look out fer. My family’s enough family for me.” He nodded at Maddy.

“The right wife could be a helpmate in that though, wouldn’t she?”

Birk was confused and unsure what she was getting at. He didn’t want to ask her because he knew Maddy would be telling his Mother everything she heard here. He stood. “I thank you miss, for taking the time to talk with me. We best be on our way though.”

“Wait a moment and I’ll give Maddy some of the biscuits to take home.” She took Maddy by the hand and they went to the kitchen.

He looked around the room. He couldn’t picture Lillian living anywhere else. She would never be suited to a life in Mudtown.

Maddy and Lillian were laughing when they returned from the kitchen.

“I’d be happy to come by to visit with Sal.” Lillian said to Maddy. 

“She would never believe how nice you are.” Maddy said. “She’s gets better and better, so our ma tells us.”

“I’m sure she is.” Lillian smiled. “Don’t forget what we talked about.” She adjusted Maddy’s hair ribbon.

“I won’t. Thank you kindly for the biscuits.” She curtsied. “We can go now, Birk.”

She took Birk by the hand as Lillian opened the front door for them

“Thank you again for rescuing me.” Lillian kissed Birk quickly on cheek.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License

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Chapter XXXVI

Coal Dusters – Chapter XXXVI

Birk and Clancy 

Fall Out

Since the start of the strike Birk had been going to the Sunday morning service with his mother and sisters. This morning he had spent a good part of the morning getting the pants Lillian had sent to fit him better. His mother said she would make alterations but he didn’t want to wait.

The striped shirt didn’t look too bad to him. The collar was okay as long as he didn’t button it all the way. He rolled the cuff one fold so his hands could be seen. But the cuffs needed studs to hold them closed

The pants refused to cooperate. The legs took three folds to get them to ankle height. The waist left five inches slack around his waist.

“That uncle of her’s must have a belly bigger than a cow.” Birk said as he cinched it with a rope. 

“Guess he was fully grown. Not half-sized the way you grew.” Clancy said. “You’ll look an idiot going anywhere in those clothes. Ya look a kid trying on his Dad’s clothes.”

Birk took the pants off. “Here. Ya try ’em on then.” He threw them at Clancy. He was able to pull the shirt off over his head without unbuttoning it.

“She sent them to you not me.” Clancy threw the pants into Birk’s face. “Besides they already stink of you.”

“Says who?”

“Says me you … you … runt. At least I finished growing up. The only part o’you that’s man sized is between yer legs. And you didn’t even know what to do with it till I showed ya!”

Birk shoved Clancy into the wall as hard as he could. “These fists are man sized too. In case ya forget.” He punched Clancy in the stomach with his right hand and in the ear with his left.

Clancy walloped Birk in the side with his right fist.

Birk yelped.

“Hope I broke something. I’ve been wanting to that for a long time.”
“Me too.” He swung and hit Clancy in the nose. Blood spurted.

They grappled with each other and fell on the floor at the foot of the bed.

“You boys stop fightin’ or I’ll get Ma.” Sal poked her head in the room.

Birk stood and hauled Clancy to his feet by the front of his shirt. Clancy stomped on Birk’s foot and pushed him back and out the bedroom door.

“When I came here that first time. Saw that it was you lived here. I almost changed my mind.” He hit Birk in the chest. “But it was cheaper than Mrs. Franklin’s.”

“Too bad you didn’t.” Birk connected again with Clancy’s jaw. “Ya soft arse know-it-all mainlander. You should’ve been paying me to put up with you.”

“I couldn’t sleep proper till I got you sort of washed up. I’d wake up and think I was stuck in some … Hell that stank of feet and … pig shit.”

Birk had Clancy in a headlock and lost his footing at the top of the stairs and they tumbled down over each other. They pulled away from each other when they landed.

His sisters were screaming for them to stop fighting.

“These feet ya mean.” Birk pushed his bare feet into Clancy’s face as they lay on the floor.

“Pigs’ i’d smell better.” 

“I’m sure you’d know that.”

Clancy bit Birk on the instep.

“Ow.” Birk pulled his foot back then slammed it into Clancy’s shoulder as Clancy was pushing himself up.

“Birk! Clancy! What’s got into the two of you.” Birk’s mother was trying to come between them.

“He’s had this comin’ calling me stupid, a runt.”

“I thought you guys had become good pals.” she said.

“Me too.” Birk wiped blood from his mouth. “Me too.”

“The last puss I want to see most mornings is this one.” He swung at Birk and missed. 

Birk pushed him through the kitchen and out into the back yard.

“Watch those tomaters.” His mother shouted.

Clancy stumbled and fell. Birk kicked him in the side. Clancy grabbed at the dirt and threw it into Birk’s face as he got up. They lunged at each other. Heads locked on each other’s shoulder and hitting at each other’s sides and stomach.

“Ya can always go back to Mrs. Franklin.” Birk gasped into Clancy’s ear.

“You can go to Hell you stinkin’ mine rat.”

Birk braced himself and gave Clancy a shove with both arms. Clancy reeled back against the shed and slumped to the ground.

“Soft arse.” Birk spit a gob of blood on to Clancy’s face and went back into the house.

“I’ll be ready for church in a bit Ma.” He splashed cold water on his face. Rinsed the blood out of his mouth.

Up in the bedroom he carefully folded the pants and shirt. He’d get his mother to alter them later in the day.

He passed Clancy coming up the stairs as he went down to join his mother and sisters for church. 

On the way home after the service his mother asked. “What was that dust up?”

“Nothing Ma.”

“I knows better. That weren’t no horseplay. Neither of you were holdin’ back.”

“He told me it made him sick to look at me. That  ‘cause I wasn’t tall, I wasn’t a full man and would never be one.”

“Hurtful words.” She shook her head. “How he feel about the gal as sent you the pants and shirt.”

“He think’s she’s pretty and such.”

“Could be he’s sore she sent you something nice and he got nothing.”

“But I don’t give a care about her. Could have been anyone caught in the fire and I’d ’av done the same thing.”

“I know.”

“I know my duty to you and the girls. Besides she’s practically a nun.”

When they returned to the house from the morning service he found that Clancy was gone. All his clothes and other belongings had been removed from the bedroom. On the bureau was a note:

“Seeing as you can’t read writing I’ve printed this note to tell you I got word that my mother was poorly and I have gone to tend to her. Clancy.”

He tucked the note into his pants pocket. Picked up the shirt and pants that Lillian had sent him and took them downstairs.

“Ma you think you can fix these so they fits me better.”

She shook the shirt out. “That’s quality.” She held it to her face then studied the seams. “Don’t want to tamper with it. Look at that stitching. It’s a blessed art. I could never sew that that fine.”

“Look! We fit yer pants, Birk.” His sisters had pulled on the pants, each standing in one of the legs and holding them up by the waist. They hopped toward him.

“Get outta there.” He laughed.

“Priest’s a big man.” His mother said. “These wouldn’t even fit Blackie.”

The girls got out of the pants and Birk pulled them on over the pants he was wearing.

“Even if ya can fix the cuff some.” He folded the hem several times so that it rode at the hight his present pants did. “Even if they too big around the waist I won’t be stepping on them when I wear them.”

“Your waist will always grow.” His mother laughed. “Give ‘em here. I can do a a few stitches to keep them from dragging along.”
“Thanks Ma.”

“Where’s that Clancy gotten too?”

“Gone.” Birk said. “Packed his things and gone.”

“Yer joking.” she went up to the room and came back down. “So he is.”

He gave her the note.

“I knowed his Ma was ailing.” She said. 

“He say anything to you about goin’ to see her?” Birk looked at the note.

“Yes but didn’t say when.”

“I’m sure he’ll be back for that union march at the end of the week.”

“Depends on his Ma.” His mother said.

After supper Birk went out to check his rabbit traps. There was one caught but he left it there as he continued on his way to his favorite sitting spot. He climbed up high in a branch of the oak tree.

His Ma was right, the things Clancy had said were to him mean. It was same as his first months in the mines where he had to prove himself everyday. The men all riding him for being so small, then for being so hairy but he showed them. Showed Clancy too that he wasn’t going to take that from him either. 

But how could Clancy have been hidin’ those thoughts the past months. Acting as if they were friends. Making him feel he was …. someone he wanted to be with. But foolin’ him all the time. 

Getting him to talk about his hopes and making him think about the future. All that was a big show, a sham. Birk rubbed his head against the bark of the tree. 

When he got the rabbit on his way home he remembered showing the trap line to Clancy, showing him to skin the rabbit easy and where the salt was to treat the pelt.

He sat on the garden bench. He didn’t want to go into the house. He didn’t want to go up his empty room. He didn’t know what he wanted to do. He couldn’t figure out why this had happened to him. That someone could become such a part of his life that when they were gone it was if he had no life ahead of him.

He heard men talking in the road in front of the house, the McKlusky’s arguing next door. 

“I’m going out.” He heard Jim yell. “Where to is none of your business.”

“Don’t be late. I know it isn’t union this time o’ night.” His wife shouted back. “It’s to that Dan’s you’re going.”

“I’ll go where I want and I’ll stay out as late as I want.”

A gate slammed and Birk half hoped it was Clancy coming back but it wasn’t their gate. It was Jim on his way to the bootlegger’s. 

What was his life before Clancy showed up? Him and Geo eating at the table in the morning. Shovelling coal into the carts. He missed that. Doing things with his hands kept his mind from thinking about anything. He wanted to stop thinking. 

His mother came out of the house with a couple of mugs of tea.

“Sweet summer night,” she handed him a mug and sat beside him. “Before you kids came along me and Blackie ‘d sit out here. Then you could smell the hay.”

“You ever want to get out of here? The mines I mean.”

“Before I wed Blackie I thought about teaching or even nursing but once I had Geo those were a girl’s dream. Never can get ahead with the company. You buys from the company store, owes them money. You pays the company a fair price for a house, too, as long as you working there, but the house never gets to be yours.”

“It would nice to have something that was yours.” Birk sighed heavily. “Think I’ll take a walk.”

“A walk?”

“Clancy ‘d do that to get away and think a bit. Yeh something to do.”

Birk headed along their lane and to Pitt St and along to Chestnut Avenue. The smell of the burned company store was still in the air. He nodded to a few folks as he passed them. We went out of his way to pass Mrs. Franklin’s. There were boarders laughing and smoking on the veranda but none of them was Clancy.

He went along the pier and sat on a piling staring out at the reflection of lights on the water. The last drop off by the Dingle Dandy had been half-an-hour ago.

He’d never had this much free time. Time with nothing to do except worry about when the strike would be settled; what had he done to rattle Clancy so; what was he going to do at lunch with Lillian and Father Patrick. 

If this was what a man of leisure had to do, he wasn’t interested. He’d rather be worked to the bone and back sore from the pits than have time to think about things he didn’t understand and problems he didn’t know how to solve.

The Reverend Brown once said that God makes each man to his purpose. All along Birk figured his purpose was to work, to crush coal, bring his pay home to the family, sleep and do it again. Cut and dry so he didn’t have make any decisions himself.

“Taking the air?” someone said from behind him.

Birk started and almost fell off the piling and into the harbour. 

“Oh, Jim, you about knocked me over.”

“Saw you and that mainlander having a go at each other earlier.”

“Got in one another’s way. Gave him a good what for though. Sort of thing I never could get away with Geo.”

“That Geo used to love to torment you some.”

“Ma says it was what brothers were supposed to do.”

“Never had a brother. All sisters. Thought getting married wud be an escape from that. Trouble is sisters is women and I married  a woman. Them ‘s the breaks.”

“How long you think this strike is going to go on?” Birk asked.

“Not too much longer after us burning down the pluck me.  Sort of thing the Corporation won’t stand for. There’ll action and not the kind of action we’re going to appreciate much.”

“You ever think o’ getting out of the mines?”

“And do what? I suppose I could try for the Steel Plant, or that iron foundry in North Sydney. But this is what I know. You want to try your hand at something else?”

“Clancy said future’s black underground. He got some schoolin’ though he could get on. Oh … I dunno … I was pretty happy doin’ what we all do …”

“But you feel there’s something more? I know that feelin’. When I was your age I wanted something more too. Sure wish I done something about it then. What did I do? I changed shifts in the mines. That’s what I did. Come on I’ll spot you a tip at Dan’s.”

“Ma ’d kill me if she finds out I went to the bootlegger.”

“You only die once.” Jim laughed. 

“Sure why not. I’m wanting to do something different. Maybe this is it, eh?”

Dan’s house was at the edge of the end of Castleton Mines past St Agatha’s hall. Birk knew that after the recent union meetings some of the men would end up there drinking their strike pay.

“If it’s not Blackie’s boy.” Dan greeted him. “Thought you tea-total same as yer old man.”

Birk grinned. He recognized several of the men there. There was also a couple women there. Wearing not much of anything. The place smelled of beer, cigarette smoke and sweat. He peered around afraid he’d see Clancy there.

“Aren’t you the hairy beast.” one of the women brushed up against him and put her hand into his shirt. All she was wearing was an untied silk robe. He saw that she was naked underneath it. He moved back.

“Look ladies we got a virgin here?” she laughed hoarsely.

Birk continue to back away. 

“Don’t be afraid, little man. I won’t hurt ya.” She touched his face and moved to kiss him.

“No … n … no … thanks Ma’am.”  Her perfume made it hard for him to breathe.

He turned and rushed out of the house and ran all the way home. Was this were McKlusky spent his time? Was this what men did? 

He took his boots off on the back porch of the house and went in quietly.

His mother was at the kitchen table.

“Where you been?” she asked.

“Down the dock. Thinking.”

She leaned over and smelled his shirt. “All this time?”

“I got took over to Dan’s. Ma it was … I never been in there … you gotta believe me. I was so afraid I’d find Clancy there. There was women. I didn’t know what to do so I bolt out of there fast as I could.”

“Who took ya?”

“I don’t want to say. Don’t ask me. I wanted to see what went on in those places. That’s all.”

“I believe you Birk. I do.” She shook her head. “You go to bed. You got to meet that nun tomorrow.”

“Nun?”

“The priest’s niece.”

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License

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Winter Whisky – Part 4

Scott was bigger than me so I wasn’t sure if I had much that might fit him. My one piece long-johns would do the trick for now. I had pyjamas for myself. I pulled on bottoms too as I usual slept with just the top. 

Donnie came up, bumping along the sides of the stairwell as he tried to warm himself by roughly rubbing a towel on his head.

“Stand still. You can’t dry your feet while you’re walking, you know.” I said to keep him from falling back down the stairs.

“I know. Jus’ fix us a good drink, m’son, and we’ll be fine.”

He slumped into the living room and sat heavily in an arm chair.

Scott came up. He had taken a bit more time getting dried off and was pushing a comb through his matted hair. My long-johns weren’t as long or baggy on him as they were on me.

“I feel a little strangulated in these.” He adjusted his balls.

He sat in the other armchair and dropped the towel on his lap.

I brought out a bottle of whisky with three glasses. “Have a quick one.”

“Don’t mind if I do.”

Scott twisted the top off and drank a huge gulp from the bottle. He shuddered a little as it went down. “That’s almost worth getting here. Takes the chill off.”

Donnie did the same before he handed the bottle back to me. He slumped back in his chair, took a few ragged breaths and passed out.

“Some guys can’t take the snow,” Scott laughed.

We sat in silence for a few minutes, Donnie’s snores the only sound in the room. The warmth of the house made me feel sleepy too. After the cold, the longing for sleep was hard to resist.

“So what’s your secret?” Scott threw his damp towel at me.

“Secret? What d’you mean?” There was only one secret and I had made damn sure no one suspected.

“You never seem to get caught up like I do with some bitch.”

“ ’Cause I don’t think of ’em as bitches.”

“Don’t hand me that.”

“You have better luck than I do.”

“Luck! When Suze and I broke up, I wanted to kill myself. Fuck, we’d been together for two years. I even bought the rings. And how long has it been? Three years, now? And I’m still not over her. You know? Yet when you and Cindy broke up after four, it was if she was never there. Know what I mean? She really dug you. Still does.”

I shook my head to clear it. Scott was talking and I drifted out of consciousness.

“Sorry, I must have dropped off a bit there.”

How long had I been out? The room was dim. Scott was talking, but I couldn’t make out what he said. I focused on him in hopes that would keep the room from spinning. His head and face were sort of twisting too.

“What were we talking about?’ I asked.

“Why you and Cindy split.”

“Oh, she wanted kids. I told you guys all this before anyway, didn’t I? I’m not ready to settle down. You . . . ” I reached for my drink. The coffee table was suddenly closer than I expected. The drink darted away from my hand.

“You sure that was why?”

“You mean that other guy? Of course that too.”

“Or was this is what you really wanted?”

He had something in his lap. At first I thought it was his drink. He stood up. Through the haze I realized it was his cock. The foreskin was so tight, the head of it seemed to be bursting through and being choked at the same time.

I fell back into my chair. It was what I wanted, but not from him. I didn’t know what to say. The truth was as always out of the question.

“Fuck no!” I pushed myself up, shoved him away and went to the bathroom. I had to hold myself up along the walls to keep from falling.

I recalled a guy, Greg, at university, and how I had to be this drunk before letting him know I was interested. I knew it was safe because Greg made the first move. We were both pissed but after that first drunken fumble, we were able to meet sober as well. But we had to be careful. Rumour had it that known homos could be denied their teaching license.

Greg was safe because I knew once I left there I probably wouldn’t have to see him again. He was going to teach in Africa or was it China. It was easier to be honest with someone under those circumstances. But that was nearly three years ago and I hadn’t had a man since then. I’d even started seeing Cindy that last year to convince myself that I really wasn’t that way after all. She was the cure for what was just a phase. Only it wasn’t a phase and I was merely pickled not cured.

“You’re pickled not cured.” I sang as I pissed. “Pickled not cured.”

I flushed the toilet and went to my room. The house felt empty as I sat on the edge of my bed. Empty again. What was so right once now seemed miles away and so wrong. To let people know I was queer would change everything. This comfortable life would cease to exist. It wouldn’t matter if I was pickled or cured. I never did hear from Greg after he went to China.

I felt a draft. The guys would be cold in the living room. Even with the heat turned up, that wind always found some way into the house. I got a couple of spare blankets and went back to the living room. Scott was gone. Donnie was still slumped in the armchair.

“Scott?” I looked in the bathroom. “Scott? You dumb fuck you passed out somewhere?”

When I got to the kitchen, the back door was open. I pushed it shut agains the wind.

“You down here?” I went into the basement and his clothes where gone. He had left.

I tossed a blanket over Donnie. Back in my bed I finished off the whiskey. I knew exactly where to put the bottle in the dark so I wouldn’t knock it over in the night.

I woke around eleven the next morning to the smell of bacon frying. My head throbbing, I made my way to the kitchen.

“Have a seat, m’son, and dig in.” Donnie put a plate of bacon and eggs on the kitchen table. “Where’s Scott?”

“Not sure. He was . . . uh . . . here when I went to bed to pass out.” I didn’t know what to tell Donnie. I pick dup a piece of the bacon with my fingers and tried to eat it. “Maybe he went to pull your car out.”

“Fuck. I forgot all about that! I should be there helping them. My coat in the basement?”

“He’d’ve called if he needed your help.” I chewed another piece of the bacon and swallowed it. “Perfect for a hangover.”

It was the end of February and I hadn’t heard from Donnie about a good drink for a couple of months. That wasn’t unusual for us, but I had that thirst myself. I missed the guys but wasn’t sure why.

I saw in the paper that Scott’s band, Pals Of Mine, was at Stoners that night for the pub’s Survived Valentine Blast. Rather than call Donnie, I decided to drop down to surprise them and see how things were.

There were bristle board hearts on the outside windows. They were drooping and the red was dripping thanks to the melting snow. Over the door was a sign that said “Lover’s Leap.” Someone had written ‘on each other’ under it.

The place was full when I arrived. I was sorry I hadn’t taken a few more belts before I left home. That always made me feel more relaxed when I went anywhere. The tinsel tree was still in the corner only now it had hearts dangling from the branches.  Donnie and Trish were at a table near the front with another pretty girl. I walked over.

“How’s it going?” I asked.

“Good, Dave. How’s by you?” Trish turned and smiled at me. “We haven’t heard much of you of late.” She nodded to the empty spot at the table. “I was asking Donnie if you’d show up to join us for a good drink. You can make up for the ones I can’t have.” She patted her stomach. “Any day now.”

“Work, you know.”

“Yeah, right.” Donnie scowled at me and glanced up at Scott on stage. Scott scowled back.

“Let’s go over to the bar. I’ll buy you a double.” Donnie got up from the table. “Excuse us, ladies.”

Donnie walked me past the bar to the front door and stopped there. 

“Look, Dave, why don’t you do yourself a favour just fuck right off. I know what you tried with Scott. Fuck only knows what you did to me in my sleep. We don’t want no fairies hanging ’round with us. You get that?” He poked me in the chest with a finger. “That kind of shit makes me sick.”

My face burned. I didn’t know what to say or how to say it. “What the fuck are you going on about?”

“Something happened between you and Scott. That much he’s sure of.”

“I don’t know what he thinks happened. Fuck, I don’t think there was anything.”

I didn’t know how to make my story convincing. Scott’s cock had become the tip of an iceberg, the iceberg being all the things in my life that I was trying to avoid and hoped would disappear somehow or stay beneath the surface forever. I didn’t know which way to turn without sinking myself.

“Maybe I should talk to him.” I glanced to the table at Scott’s back. He had his arm around the other girl and was nuzzling her neck.

“He’ll kill you. It took me all I could do to keep him from torching your place. Just get the fuck out of here and this’ll go no further. Got it?”

There was enough truth to what he said that I didn’t know how to let him know what wasn’t true. And now I wasn’t sure myself. Maybe something more had happened with Scott. I could remember his hand on his cock and him asking me if that’s what I wanted. I was sure I didn’t do anything.

But maybe I had.

  What were my choices? To brave it out? My thirst had left me. There weren’t enough drinks in the bar. There was nothing to tell Donnie that would fix anything. Cindy was right. Who needed those assholes? If that’s what he wanted to believe, then he could go right ahead and believe it.

“I thought we were friends.” I said as he walked away.

I stood in Stoners doorway. It wasn’t as if this was the only place in town where I could have a good drink. I could feel the cool night air behind me, as I watched Jen bring a tray of draft over to their table. Scott’s laugh echoed over the din of the bar.

I glanced at the other tables. Similar groups of couples or solitary guys sat. Arms pulled hordes of glistening glasses towards them, doses of fortifying alcohol that would allow them to float from one moment to the next. That’s what I had been doing, wasn’t it? An iceberg floating from one moment to the next, hoping the surface would remain calm enough for easy drifting.

I walked over to the bar. Hec brought me a double without being asked. Donnie and Scott glared over at me but didn’t move.

“What’s with those two?” Hec asked.

“Pour me another and I’ll tell you.”

Tonight I would drink myself to the truth.

-the end-

Winter Whisky – Part One: https://wp.me/p1RtxU-39y

Winter Whisky – Part Two: https://wp.me/p1RtxU-3fR

Winter Whisky – Part Three: https://wp.me/p1RtxU-3gz

Hey! Now you can give me $$$ to defray blog fees & buy coffee on my trip to Cape Breton – sweet,eh? paypal.me/TOpoet 

Wrap

Wrap

I wandered the mall 

without parental guidance 

to get something festive for my mother

she liked anything we ever gave her

things that remained in their gift boxes 

tucked in a safe place for a special day

 

I was tempted to take one of those old gifts

rewrap it 

to see if she would remember it

I was too young understand 

treasured memories

 

did she need atomizers 

bath oils 

perfume

I touched sweaters 

blouses 

earrings

clerks would glance at me glance away

 

I was stumped

I knew all about my mother

she liked to drink tea 

smoke 

watch TV

make clothes for my sisters

that was an idea – bags of yarn

no that would turn into

gifts for my sisters not her

she rarely wore the jewelry she had

would read reread the same mystery books

maybe something 

for the kitchen

something 

to remind her of her childhood

 

I wanted one thing that would be hers

she didn’t need another tea mug 

tea pot

more imported teas 

to store behind the one she really likes 

 

I floated from one store the next 

noticed some woman 

tagging along 

not looking at me 

when I look at her 

I head for the exit she stops me

asks 

you find what you were looking for? 

I shake my head no 

I’m not so sure about that – come with me 

kids think you can get away with anything 

 

we go to the security office

empty your pockets 

she searches my coat 

pats the lining 

tells me what’ll happen for shop lifting 

go to jail – my parents will be ashamed 

we kids are all the same

look so innocent and can’t be trusted 

she finds my wallet 

my money

my dad’s list of things for my mother 

looks like I was wrong honey 

she pats my shoulder 

now you run along home 

I went outside

mom’s little boy no more 

 

how did I wrap that 

Shopping for my mother was fairly easy for many years until, as the character in this piece, I wanted to be able to get her something besides the Evening in Paris that I usually bought her. Evening in Paris (https://wp.me/p1RtxU-VE) was a drug store scent. Yes, even before drug stores forced you to walk through the cosmetics to get to the vitamins, they were fonts of female betterment products.

There was one Christmas when I did buy her a variety collection of teas from around the world. Each type in its own special little canister – most of which were found a few years later tucked in the back of a shelf under a counter. I may have mentioned in a previous post that after my Mother died in 2002 my sister did find some of the gifts we have given her – initialed hankies, bath salts etc. still in their original packaging, stored in a safe place.

The mall in this piece was the first build in Sydney – a covered one with a Kmart, or was it Kresge’s, at one end and Sobey’s at the other end with shops along the walk between. Those shops were women’s clothing, sports equipment & eventually a book store. There may been a bowling alley as well. It was the only mall for decades & hurt the downtown merchants financially.

It was my shopping destination when I had to shop for gifts. The Christmas in question is more of a vague memory than it appears here – much of this is a composite of what I supposed I was looking for – a completion of many shopping excursions over several years. One year I was stopped by a floorwalker and questioned about my aimless search. I explained what I was looking for & it didn’t escalate beyond that.

She did say she was sorry for stopping me though. After that I was nervous in Kmart for a few months when I went in but I got over it when I successful shoplifted something once. The only time I took such a risk there because was I was good boy. I love the ending though I doubt if at that time I could have thought something that emotionally complex. I had enough on my mind figuring out my sexuality. Something I knew I had no of wrapping. 

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Winter Whisky – Part Two

Winter Whisky – Part Two

I opened the fridge and behind some A&W take-out bags found the remains of a big bottle of Coke. Enough mix for the first few drinks.

We went back to the living room. I moved a pile of clothes off the saggy sofa to sit down. I recalled helping him drag the sofa he’d found outside someone’s house down the stairs.

“Here, I’ll put them away.” He sniffed them. “These are clean.” He flashed a big smile. “I guess I’m learning. Next comes folding. ” He disappeared into the bedroom.

“Ironing comes before folding.” I called out as I poured us each a couple of fingers of his Scotch.

“Don’t get too far ahead without me.”

He came back. He pushed some newspapers off his favorite chair and reached for his glass. “I’ll save the mix for later.”

He gulped the Scotch. “Nothing like that first bite. Right?”

I wasn’t up for raw yet. It took me a few mixed drinks before I was able to gulp them down the way he did.

“Now, that’s what I call a good drink.” He turned his head and wiped his mouth on the upper sleeve of his tee shirt.

He poured himself another and downed it. “Been keeping okay?”

He leaned back in the armchair.

“No complaints.” I finished my first drink. The flat pop didn’t quite mix with the Scotch. So I didn’t use as much with the next one. I drank it down as fast as Donnie had. It hit the spot.

“So how long has Trish really been gone?”

“About a month. She’s here nearly every other day though, so it’s not like she’s really gone. If she weren’t preggers, I’d tell her just to piss off, you know? But that’s just not in me. She’s a nice one. My Mom tells me not to lose this one.”

“You mean she puts up with your b.s.?”

“Something like that.”

He gave a short harsh laugh.

“Plus, she loves me. At least, she tells me she does. Nice ass, too. Yeah.” Donnie pushed himself up out of his arm chair. “Com’on see what I’m working on.”

We went through the kitchen to the unfinished part of the basement. This was his workshop. I had to stoop a little so I didn’t hit the door sill top that he had no trouble getting through. The workshop was as neat as a pin. This was his domain. His living room would always look like a storm had hit it but his workshop would be in apple pie order. 

It wasn’t often he’d ask me in to see what he might be working on. Often it was some cabinet or a gun rack. His wood work business had taken a few years to get established but he was doing okay, even after the recent housing project closed down. People always needed kitchen cabinets.

The trouble was I never quite got whatever it was he showed off to me. Joints – dados all that stuff. I couldn’t tell a piece of pine from a piece of walnut. 

This time it was a crib.

“Looks great.” I tried to sound enthused.

“Yeah. I found this here old crafts book and sort of copied it from there. Turn of the century. See.” he touched it and it rocked back and forth gently in its frame.

“Very sweet.”

He grinned. It was only when he smiled this wide that I caught a glimpse of his two broken side teeth. In the clear light his redness seemed almost unnatural. Red hair. Red freckled face. A big kid bursting with pride.

“Being a dad may suit you after all.”

“I hope the fuck so. It’s not like we’re getting a dog or something. But as long as there’s a good drink nearby, I guess it won’t be so bad. I’m going to do some carving along on the backboard here. You think deer or rabbits?”

“No legs on a rabbit to deal with.” I laughed a little. 

“I suppose Bambi is good for boys or girls.”

We went back to the living room. I turned the TV while Donnie went to take a shower. I watched the screen without the sound on. My eyes drifted out of focus so all I saw were undefined blobs moving back and forth on the screen. 

“Okay, m’boy I’m as clean as I need to be.” Donnie plopped heavily on the couch beside me. “But I needs one more to mellow me out enough to drive.” He grabbed the bottle of Scotch and gulped down the last of it.

………..

Stoners was near empty when we arrived. Not a good sign for a Saturday night.

“Sheesh. What’s up?” I asked. “Nobody like your Christmas decorations? Maybe it’s time to invest in a new tree.” 

Lazy loops of tinsel garland had been strong along the lights along the back of the bar. The tree leaned in a corner, one of the legs on the base having been bent out of place in a fight two years ago. According to Hector, the bartender, replacing the silver aluminum tree wasn’t possible as they had been discontinued as fire hazards.

“Looks like the snow’s kept most folk in t’night.” Hector poured doubles for each of us without being asked. “Even Scott’s band couldn’t make it.”

We took our usual table near the stage. I always made sure I sat where I couldn’t catch my reflection in any of the mirrors around the room. Even in the dim lights I didn’t like to watch myself when I was drinking. I waved to Scott.

“The driving didn’t seem that bad, did it Donnie?”

“Hard to tell with all that friggin’ snow.”

We laughed.

Scott was alone on the stage. “The rest of the band get caught in the snow up in Meat Cove?” I called up to him. The rest of the band would have been a bass player and a drummer.

“I’m going to close with one of my favourites.” Scott tuned his guitar. 

“Close? What time is it?” I looked at my watch. It was nearly midnight. It had been around nine when I went to Donnie’s. Where had the time gone? We left there around eleven. It was usually a twenty-minute drive from Donnie’s to the bar.

“It’s for someone I loved once. And well . . . still do.” He sang Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne.

The love of his life was a Susan none of us ever got to meet. Depending on his mood, the song would stick to the original lyrics, or if he was a little down in the dumps he’d add verses. Tonight was one of those morose nights as he sang, “Suzanne puts you down, deeper than t…he river, even when you give her all the tea in China.”

“Ooh,” I thought, or at least I thought I thought it, but I must have groaned out loud because Donnie gave me a hard nudge. “Not so loud, eh?”

Jen put a pitcher of draft on the table with three glasses. Again we didn’t have to order. I liked that. What we wanted was ready for us. “Ta, Jen. Busy later?” I asked.

“Who wants to know?” she laughed. “I’ll let you know when I counted up m’tips.”

Every guy who drank there hit on her at some time or the other. Some of them never figured out that her easy going way was primarily for the tips. If a guy didn’t behave she’d just nod to Hector and he’d come over to put him in his place. 

Jan wasn’t a bad looking gal so it was easy to flirt with her because she knew it was just flirting. It allowed me to pass for one of the typical drunken bozos who’d hit on anything in a skirt.

The song went on. ‘Just as you start to kiss her, she tells you she has no love to give you.’

The only light seemed to be the overheads on the stage. I peered around and couldn’t make out much in the gloom around me. Even Scott’s voice slipped into the darkness. Scattered applause around me pulled me back to the room.

Scott put his guitar into its tattered case and sat at the table, poured himself a draft. “So how are things in the chalk mines?”

“Dusty.” The chalk mines referred to the school where I taught drafting to teens who often couldn’t draw straight line with a ruler.

Even though I showed promise in university the competitive drive in my dream field of architecture was more than I wanted, so I settled for something more practical. Teaching. I pushed the pitcher of beer over to him. “How’s things in the grease pits?”

“The pits. Haha. Same old, same old.” Scott downed a double with a quick beer chaser. “Now that’s a good drink.”

Scott worked at Turcott’s Auto, the service station his dad owned, which he would own one day. There was always that smell of oil about him. At six foot something, he was taller than either Donnie or myself. His brownish and sparse facial hair made him seem to scowl. But if scraggly was good enough for Bob Dylan then it was okay for him. I found it hard enough to listen to Dylan let alone look at him.

“Must be nice to have weeks off at Christmas.” He signalled for another pitcher of draft. 

“Would be if I didn’t have papers to worry about. Just because I’m not at the school teaching, doesn’t mean I’m doing nothing. Even during the summer there’s something.” 

“Yeah, yeah, yeah.”

“Besides, you mechanics make more than we teachers do. Even Donnie makes more than I do.”

“You hinting that I get the next round?” Donnie patted his pockets for his wallet. “Looks like I left my wallet at home.”

“Again.”

I couldn’t resist. Donnie leaving something behind was business as usual. Many’s a time we had to come back to Stoners to get his jacket or hat, once his shoes.

“Smart ass,” Donnie snorted.

“John McAuley’s one of the teachers at your school?”

“Yeah.”

“Well,” Scott’s voiced dropped, “he’s a fucking useless cock-sucker. A gear-box. He was in the garage the other day pawing at Mark, the kid my Dad hired last summer. Seems he was McAuley’s favorite. All over him he was. Made me sick. Isn’t it against the law for queers to teach? If it isn’t, it should be.”

“All over him?” Donnie asked. 

“Practically!” Scott made a limp wrist and lisped. ‘Ooo Mark your jeans are so oily.’ He went back to his usual self . “You could tell he wanted to slip on that oil and into the kid’s jeans. So I told Mark to get to friggin’ work and asked McAuley what he was lookin’ for?”

“Which was?” I poured draft into each of our glasses.

“Not the oil change he was hoping for.” Scott laughed. “He was gettin’ his winter tires.”

“Just in time too.” Donnie looked into his empty glass. 

John taught two grades ahead of me. I had heard whispers at school about him, and so I kept my distance. Mark had been in my class as well. He was repeating a year after getting out of ‘junior detention.’ 

Keeping that distance was a part of my life. Everyone had some secret and this was mine. I was safe as long as I saw to it that no one suspected. Letting go of Cindy was part of that, too. It allowed me to pretend I still had feelings that kept me from pursuing other women.

Cindy was a fun woman to be seen with. Pretty and always all over me in public. But in private there was really nothing. I had learned how to satisfy her sexually, but all the touching and rubbing never did much for me. Sometimes I couldn’t even get hard with her. Had to think of some man I had seen in the street or the drummer from Scott’s band. When she wanted that final commitment, marriage, I had to get out of it. Told her it might be wise if we saw other people for a while.

Winter Whisky – Part One https://wp.me/p1RtxU-39y

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Janis Ian

I have a fairly extensive Janis Ian collection as mp3’s one includes the early work: Society’s Child; A Song For All the Seasons of Your Mind; The Secret Life of J. Eddy Fink; Who Really Cares? The other includes her later works: Stars; Between The Lines; Aftertones; Night Rains. After her initial hit ‘Society’s Child’ written when she was 14! She disappeared to resurface decades later with the stunning Stars. 

Why did she fade so abruptly? Part of the answer comes from Wikipedia: “At the age of 16, Ian met comedian Bill Cosby backstage at a Smothers Brothers show where she was promoting Society’s Child. Since she was underage, she was accompanied by a chaperone while touring. After her set, Ian had been sleeping with her head on her chaperone’s lap (an older female family friend). According to Ian in a 2015 interview, she was told by her then manager that Cosby had interpreted their interaction as “lesbian” and as a result “had made it his business” to warn other television shows that Ian wasn’t “suitable family entertainment” and “shouldn’t be on television” because of her sexuality, thus attempting to blacklist her.” 

Re-read that & let it sink in. This story sums up the plight of many female singer/songwriters who did not roll over and play fem.

Her early work is at times folksy, at times jazzy but she never stepped into the traditional pop female mold. Her writing covered social issues, romantic ups & downs & self-discovery. J. Eddy Fink is an amazing album with expansive jazz arrangements & tender romantic observations. It didn’t fit the commercial categories like Laura Nyro; nor the hippy category like Joni Mitchell.


She changed labels for her return with Stars. These later albums are more deeply emotional, some social commentary & sweet unfulfilled romantic longing. They music is more what I call chamber pop – elegant with jazz & semi-classical touches. Sweet harmonies & understated performances. In fact some of it is a little depressing. On Night Rains she works with, of all people, Giorgio Moroder! 

Ian is a survivor who came out, got married, started her own record label for full creative control. She may have been slowed down by that ‘blacklist’ but remains an amazing writer. If you are unfamiliar I’d recommend The Secret Life of J. Eddy Fink as good starting point. Aftertones is emotionally discomforting – though any of these are excellent lps.

The Wings Of St. Martinia

Last night Hank Grebly did me the great honour & pleasure of taking me to the Maple Valley Rialto Cinema – it is a shame that this fine building is now only opened on weekends for our film going pleasures.

I can remember a time when it would be busy seven days a week, offering us the finest in Hollywood films and fresh roasted peaches or tasty caramel bark corn.

Every time I enter the Rialto I am taken back to a distant era – the mirror balls in the ceiling reflect the many spot lights around the floor. The zig-zag carpeting & lame seat coverings make me long for simpler times.

The film Hank took me to was “The Wings Of St. Martinia.” Many of you are familiar with the local tales of St. Martinia & the font at St. Sufferer’s. Those are her blood spattered wings holding the baptismal tub in the centre of the nave. Not her actual wings, but representations. Not many angels would have had five sets of wings.

Like the Rialto this film is also a relic of another time. Recently discovered in the vaults at College of Arts and Reconstructionist Designers, we were first treated to a lecture by Rudgar Quartz, the Professor of Cinema Studies there, who gave the history of both the film, St, Martinia and the Rialto itself. A very educational evening, leavened by the delightful film itself.

The story is a simple one of suffering and repentance through suffering. Martinia, born out of wed-lock to the daughter of silver smith and troupe of travelling carnival workers, had to face the disgrace of her family and neighbours all through her life.

She saved her fellow orphans from the rain of comets in 1879 by waking each and every child, and leading them to safety. Sadly she wasn’t able to get back to rescue any of her teachers. She comforted the children, as they heard the screams of the staff, who had been trapped in locked rooms in the upper quarters of the orphanage.

In leading the children through the swamps to safety she also rescued Button, a Labrador retriever and her recent litter of puppies. This is why the suckling Labrador retriever has become the representation for St Martinia. When they say, she of the many teats, they are referring to Button and not to St Martinia.

A fact that I was not aware of either.

The movie follows her travails in the garment trade, being abducted by pirates and finally her mission to Mongolia where she single handedly brought the word of good to those unhappy and dirty mountain people. Her attempts to show them the joys of washing brought tears of joy to my eyes.

If you have a chance to, get in to see this delightful movie. Tell them Dolly sent you, and you may get an extra dash of moose mustard on your red hots. 

https://wp.me/P1RtxU-2f6

http://www.queerslam.com

returning every Tuesday 2019


June  – Capturing Fire 2019 – Washington D.C.  capfireslam.org 

August 2-13: getting back to my roots in Cape Breton 

Hey! Now you can give me $$$ to defray blog fees & buy coffee in Washington at 2019’s capfireslam.org – sweet,eh? paypal.me/TOpoet

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Stocking

My seasonal decorating trunk is a box of memories – which is what most people’s Christmas trunk is filled with – not all of mine are treasured object from the distant past though. Most are ‘recent,’ that is, from the last twenty years or less. I do have a few from my Cape Breton home though. 

One is this fun stocking with my name printed on it by my father. I recognize his writing. I can’t say that this isn’t even from before we moved to Cape Breton – it could be from when I was growing in Winnipeg because I have no actually memory of it. My sister found it in my mother’s accumulation and sent to me a few years ago.

I was stunned to get it & even was more shocked to have no real memory of when it was first hung anywhere. It’s felt with glued on appliqués; the sides are glued together. It might have hung by a chimney as there is some sooty finger prints on it. Or my hands just might have been dirty 🙂 The corn sticker is my own childhood add on, it does have a tiny resonance in my memory. I love having it & hanging it every year in my living room. I love the train engine.

The card is the last one my mother sent me before she passed away. I don’t have one from father as he had died unexpectedly the previous year early in December. When he was alive I got a card signed by both of them. It joins my Christmas cards every year. We spoke on the phone frequently so her written message was brief.

So, as you can tell I do take after my mother a little – being a bit of a memory pack rat.

Mitten

Mitten

do you remember the day 

we jumped from second-story windows

into heavy piles of snow 

banks barely dented by our bodies

you, the favorite cousin

you didn’t want to jump

I teased you

‘Kitten Kitten I got your mitten’

you jumped just to shut me up

 

it was a week of so much snow

that  streets were so covered

cars were white humps

schools were happily closed

 

on the old toboggan

we pulled pushed slid soared

flew down hill to the pond

the danger of suddenly cracked ice

Meg was downed there last year

you said it was haunted

we crept quickly past it

I said I could hear Meg calling

‘Kitten Kitten I got your mitten’

you pushed me back toward her

 

the snow was softer there

we sank deep into 

heavy thick white foam

it rushed up our legs

held us pulled us trapped us

we bobbed like a pair of

dog heads on springs 

in the back window of a car

 

you had to pee

I helped you pull down 

your ice encrusted zipper

and saw your little red cock

the stream of yellow 

dazzle dizzy 

as it hit the snow

‘Be careful’ I yelled as I pulled away

‘Your turn’ you dared me

‘Or do you need a mitten to keep it warm’

 

so I did it too

the cold rush 

around the moist warmth

that my pants had held

I made crosses 

out of your yellow splotches

neither of us had enough to

write a name a note a memento

we stood a moment there

our dinks dangled in the cold

looking at them and then each other

smiling wide and wondering

 

it began to snow again

So much of this happened to me – I do remember winters in Cape Breton where I jumped out of a second-story window – actual it was more like a dangled out then spurred away with my feet to land on my back – inot the snow. The windows in our house weren’t large enough to really jump out of head-first.

At least once a winter Toronto gets enough snow to turn cars into snow humps but never has gotten to the point where one is walking shown the sidewalk between mounds of now so high to can’t see over them. That would never happen as snow removal favours cars & sidewalks would be made impassable. Toronto’s war isn’t on cars but on pedestrians. But I digress.

I did have a toboggan that flew down hill, there was a pond where some little girl had fallen through the ice & drowned but it wasn’t that close to where we lived. I did get stuck walking through a snow bank. I did piss in the snow more than once rather than wet my snowsuit.

The piece is one of several in which I allow early age same-sex attraction happen with innocence. I’ve read enough hetero poetry about this sort experience – most of the queer stuff involves trauma not innocence. Before I knew what it was I need feel a real curiosity about boys at an early age – I did a bit of peeking but that was all. When I found a name for it replaced innocence with shame. I love the last line ‘it began to snow again.’

Also, I hate to break it to you, but there was no cousin. Our family had no relatives in Cape Breton.