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  • Writer's pictureWellington Lambert

Donna Farmer Chapters 1-6

Chapter 1

“He’s making shy.”

One of the employees brought her baby to work. They are all cooing over him, propped up on the lunch table in the back storage room, pushing his rocking seat. I’m on the outskirts of this love in, a temp on a job that will probably be over in a week. I glance over from the make shift table I put together from boxes filled with tampons. I stop chewing on my cold homemade sandwich every now and then to listen to the comments being made to a tiny little person who is being held captive. “He looks like you,” says one of the women. Susan, I think. I can never remember their names, and they never remember mine. I return my full attention back to my lunch, keeping them in my conscious periphery.

The day ends with me chasing the manager down to fill out my time sheet. He asks me to come back next week, then smiles, like he’s doing me a favour, like he knows I’m desperate and the crumb he is offering somehow will earn him some kind of sainthood somewhere. I smile back, then think about the whitening pack I put into my bag and left off the inventory count.

“Maybe it takes more than just once.” It’s Friday night, and I’ve decided to spend some time with my friend Karen.


I’ve already whitened my teeth twice since I’ve been home. They say only once a day on the instructions, but my teeth are really yellow. Karen goes on and on about her asshole husband and her teenage daughter, sometimes her son...I think she has a son. Apparently, her daughter drinks and smokes pot already, kind of what we’re doing now. Except for the pot, it makes me turn inward, and that’s a direction I try hard to avoid. “She calls me a fucking bitch.” Karen will sit for the next hour and complain about her daughter. Personally, if I were her daughter I’d take any substance around to avoid dealing with her domestic reality, and as for Karen being a bitch, well, if honesty is a sign of maturity, then this kid is ready for adulthood.

I can feel the alcohol do its business. Quickly removing any signs of common sense, allowing me to see through all the hatred and grab on to all the possibilities my sober self knows damn well are out of reach. Karen encourages every ludicrous piece of crap that comes out of my drunken lips and I, in return, tell her what a great mother she is, which even in my most inebriated state don’t believe. We laugh and encourage each other’s versions of reality, ignoring our death march towards half a century of failure.

“Let’s go out.”

We are now drunk enough to think this is a good idea.

We cab it to a drinking hole Karen suggests. The bar is crowded and filled with under aged children dressed like hookers and gangsters. Everyone seems to have mixed the last four decades together, wearing bits and pieces of fashion they’ve torn from my past. Their youth sobers me up, making me feel like a senior citizen who has lost her way.

“Come on.”

Karen grabs my arm and pulls me to the bar like a lamb to slaughter, a really old lamb, not sheered, marked with a red dot. She is laughing and drunk enough not to notice the stares being given, the whispering and laughing. I want to pull away, run, go home, but that would draw even more attention. She orders some drinks and now I feel stuck. She will guzzle her drink, yell at me to dance and pull me onto the pre-school dance floor. I am having high school flash backs, all the pretty girls, all the pretty boys...and me. I can feel someone standing behind me, but I don’t turn around, I’m focused on Karen’s awkward display of flirting with the bartender. She’s so old looking, tired, like me, slurring God knows what to this kid while he smiles a smile I recognize from the attendants at the nursing home where my father lives.

I wish they’d turn the lights down, give us a chance to hide.

“Mom?” The body behind me finds her voice.

Karen turns around, allowing her fake laugh to disintegrate. “Sweetie.” She jumps off the bar stool and lunges at her daughter standing behind me. “What are you doing here?”

“I always come here, you know that.”

“Do you?” Karen holds onto her daughter’s shoulder, trying to camouflage the need to balance with an awkward expression of affection.

Her daughter doesn’t even try to make eye contact with me. She is in full bitch mode and is currently totally immersed in her own nightmare. I kind of share that feeling at the moment, but for different reasons.

“Get out.” Her daughter takes Karen’s hand off her shoulder, and Karen falls back towards me. I grab her hand and place it on the back of my chair, anchoring the drunk.

The movement and the words seem to take Karen by surprise, like this is the first time her daughter has treated her like a bag of shit. I know this isn’t true, but to see it in person reminds me of the cruelty of girls, the mean spirited stupidity that comes with an odd sense of entitlement when you’re pretty.

“You can’t talk to me like that!” Karen has decided to yell. I can tell by the look on her face, she has made the decision to take a stand, the middle of a crowded bar. “I said, you can’t talk to me like that!” Karen wobbles up to her daughter regaining confidence in her balance with the encouragement of a few testosterone filled boys in the back, chanting the word “Fight” over and over. She grabs her daughter by the shoulder and spins her around. “Apologize,” she yells, feeling the support of the group behind her, but the support is in the drama of the moment, not the cause. Karen’s daughter just looks at her and laughs and walks away. This is a train wreck that started with a train wreck. “Why don’t you love me? I’m your mother.” Her daughter has left the bar, leaving Karen with nothing to bounce her anger off of. I want to go up to Karen and guide her out of the bar, but I want to give a bit of time for her daughter to get a head start. Karen is now sobbing to the beat of a disco song that has been pulled from the seventies and remixed. The kids are now giving her a wide birth and the chanting has stopped. They are not empathetic, just bored. I finally walk up to Karen and take her arm, guiding her back to our seat. I’m not embarrassed anymore. All these kids will soon be me, or some pathetic version. Someday, they will be working a shit job wondering where it all went wrong, or like Karen, wondering how someone you love so much can hate you so much. “Let’s get drunk.” Karen offers this idea like we’re not already there.


Chapter 2

I feel like I’ll crack if I sit up. The alcohol last night has sucked every ounce of liquid out of me while I slept. It also appears to have sucked out every brain cell related to memory. I don’t recognize my bedroom. I venture a brief tilt of my head, ignoring the pounding inside. Sun is pouring in a basement window. I tilt my head further. I can see posters on the walls, clothes on the floor. I smell an overabundance of body spray mixed with hair gel..

There is a someone beside me. I feel my chest move up and down quickly, I think I am hyperventilating. Maybe if I close my eyes and open them again, this will change. Close, open...he’s still there, or at least I think it’s a he. Of all the times I pick to experiment. I tilt my head back down and try to think of an exit strategy. Nothing comes to me – no brilliant slip out of the covers, pat a little make up on, giggle just a bit about what a bad girl I’ve been then sneak off. All I can think of is...I’m so tired. I’m so thirsty...I’m so old.

“Trevor, time to get up!”

It’s not a girl’s voice. It’s a woman’s voice, an older woman, someone my age. I can feel my heart pound harder. I can feel the waifish figure beside me start to stir. He moves and a stick like arm reaches over me. He bolts upright like I’m a live exposed wire he just touched.

“Shit.” He looks at me with the same amount of horror I would have if I could see myself. “Fuck.” I can hear footsteps on stairs, descending. He pushes me out of the bed and I fall on the floor. “Sorry,” he mutters, “Stay there.” He throws a sheet over me. I can hear the woman open his door. I can hear her heels click on the cement floor... I hold my breath.

“Jesus Trevor, air the place out.” She pulls the basement window open and immediately I feel a cool breeze brush the sheet covering me.

“Mom, get out, I’m not dressed.”

There is a moment of silence. I swear she is looking at me, staring at my sheet covered corpse.

“Did you go out last night?”

“No,” Trevor says with little to no conviction.

“You’re late for school.” I hear her walk out the room and close the door. He lifts the sheet off me.

“Get out.” It is then I realize, seeing Trevor in all his pubescent glory, that I have made, possibly, the biggest mistake of my life.

“How?” I look around, staring at the tiny basement window wondering how my fat ass can possibly fit.

“The same way we came in...through the window.”

I am scanning the floor for my clothes, picking up pieces of tissue and forgotten socks till finally I assemble last night’s outfit like a puzzle, cougar, the puzzle box would read. I try to convince myself I am not a pedophile, younger men, older’s all the rage. Then I see Trevor stand up, over six feet and pimply. God help me, please be older than you look.

“I can’t reach the window.” Trevor grabs a wooden trunk and slides it under the basement window. He seems almost as embarrassed as I am horrified. “What about the screen?” He reaches up and pulls the screen out with

. “I need some help,” I say, standing on the trunk waiting for assistance. I see him glance at my full figure, years of smoking...and I’m still not skinny. I guess cancer will eventually take care of that.

“Here.” He gives me an arse boost and I swear I heard something snap. A quick yelp and the pressure from below holding me in the window disappears. I am half way out the window, grabbing at daisies and dandelions, wiggling like an over fed worm. I hear his mother yelling something down the stairs. Then I hear a door slam and see her go to her car in front of the house. This couldn’t get any worse, and I’m sure it will be funny someday, but right now I’m choosing death over her seeing me. I bury my head in the ground and start trying to shove dirt over it, like a huge big fleshy bulb. My body eventually gives way to the logic of gravity and slides back down into Trevor’s bedroom. The dirt in my hair is spilling over the floor, making me look, if possible, even more terrifying than before. Trevor is now on the bed nursing what looks like a dislocated shoulder.

“I need to go to the hospital,” he says through gritted teeth. My mothering instincts should kick in. A child is in pain, in front of me, caused by me. I should run out, grab his mother before she leaves and get Trevor to the hospital as quickly as possible, deal with the consequences later.

I pause long enough to hear his mother’s car leave.

“Where’s your phone?”

He indicates the location of a cell phone with a movement of his head.



“I need a really big favour.”

I give instrucitons to Karen and hang up the phone.

“So…” I look at Trevor tearfully trying to get dressed, “how’s school going?”

Karen assured me that Trevor was more than willing to never admit to my very existence after she drove him to the hospital. When asked if he would mention me, I think Karen said his words were “Are you kidding?” I am relieved, relieved to know my very existence repulses someone enough to erase me from theirs. If only it were that easy, if only you could go back in time and choose who will remember you, call you, and be happy to hear your voice.

Chapter 3

I can’t find my Metropass. I can’t find my wallet. I had just assumed that it was in the same coat pocket I put it in when Karen dragged me to the bar last Friday night, but it’s not. I distinctly remember taking it out of my purse and putting it into my jacket pocket, thinking I won’t be taking my jacket off. I retrace my steps home, thinking maybe somehow, it jumped out of my pocket. I get home and call the temp agency and tell them I’ll be late. That receptionist answers – the one who makes a point of putting me on hold before I can agree to it. Then I get shuffled to Pat who is in charge of the low level temps, the one who deals with not just the desperately unemployed, but the desperately unskilled unemployed, the ones who take anything and are happy to get it. She listens to me ramble and mumbles for me to just bring in my time sheet. They no longer need me for inventory. My body relaxes just a bit as I hang up the phone. I can’t even make the rent this month, but somehow that seems less important than the missing wallet at the moment.

I call Karen to see if she will come down to the bar with me later, see if they found my wallet.

“Hello?” Karen always sounds like she just woke up, it doesn’t matter how long I wait in the morning to call, she always has that “just got up” sleep sound to her voice. I explain my wallet situation and she is happy to help...again. She then attaches one condition, coffee, I fall for this every time. Her willingness to help is always followed with a request. Something that sounds harmless, like coffee, but it’s a high price since I will be sitting for at least two hours listening to her complain about her husband, her daughter. It might be three hours since I owe her big time for the hospital thing last night.

I put the phone down and start to feel the cold push its way through the balcony door. I have requested service on the door three times now, but I think the super hates me. There are a lot of reasons for him to hate me, most of them justified. The last time involved some yelling It didn’t help that I was drunk, or for that matter, that he probably was too. He thinks my life is easier, and who knows, maybe it is. I get up and get some towels and roll them up, I stick them at the bottom of the door, but they are no match for today’s freezing temperatures. I turn up the electric heat and watch what little moisture is left evaporate out of the air.

I decide on a bath to achieve warm and moisture at the same time. Half of the relaxation of a bath is the anticipation, the prep. I put the hot water on, pick my smell of the moment, pour the bath oil in, mix in some cold and sink into my liquid lover. Perfect, a day off, sort of, I’m not going to worry about tomorrow,worrying won’t change what’s going to happen.

I was right. Karen is going to cash in all her attention credits. This is a three hour session, minimum. She starts with the daughter and works her way around to her husband. This will be rounded off by a triumphed justification of her current cheating. I don’t know why she bothers. I don’t really care if she is sleeping with someone else, but then, she’s not really trying to convince me. She’s talking to herself. She pauses long enough to allow a snippet of someone else to enter her world, but she is only testing to see if I’m still listening. Finally, we leave the coffee house and walk to the club.

“This is it?” I look at the entrance. It’s just a door with no sign. There is no way to tell if it is even a club.

“Ya,” says Karen, opening the door and walking in, “You’d hardly know it’s here. That’s why it’s so popular with the kids.”

The word “kids” pops out of her mouth and hits me right between the eyes. I must have been drunk before I got here last night. It didn’t even dawn on me that it was a hangout for children.

“The kids call it the Sandbox,” Karen laughs.

I feel my stomach tighten.

There is only one person in the club. He is sitting at the bar, looking like he never left the night before.

“Excuse me.” Karen walks up to him.

He looks at us, but doesn’t respond. He is around our age, but looks like he has managed to survive most of his adult life without bathing. He has teenage clothing on and appears to be stressing every stitch of it, including an ass crack that has managed to escape his low rise jeans.

“My friend here lost her wallet last night.” Karen ignores his lack of concern or communication. We stand and wait for a response. He’s all we’ve got. He lifts his elbows and moves them backward, then rests them on the bar. He is facing us with his gut fully protruding from his skater t-shirt.

“I was just thinking,” Karen moves closer, “maybe you have a lost and found.”

He starts to smile, showing off a yellow grin hidden beneath a field of stubble that is supposed to look deliberate and masculine, but just looks filthy.

“Anything lost here, stays lost.”

“Oh, okay.” Karen and I start to back away from him, and what we assume is the source of a rather sour fruity smell. “Well, thanks anyway.”

We leave, closing the outside door to the Sandbox.


“That’s ok.” I’m hoping it is lost and stays lost. The only other place it could be sends a chill down my soon to be arthritic and aging spine.



One drink turns into two... three...four..., I finally arrive home, happy it’s the weekend. I’ll start next week with a clean slate. I’ll have a plan, take a course or something, work my way through college, graduate and become a semi successful middle income middle aged wage earner. My God, how low the bar has fallen, I can barely pick it up to crawl under it. I can’t think about it right now. Getting into bed is the best I can do at the moment.

The phone wiggles its way into my dreams, letting me know the real world awaits with all its teeth showing, perhaps a weapon. My arm reaches over and fumbles for my big clunky bed side phone. I can’t cope with cell phones. The numbers are too small, my eyes too weak, my fingers too fat. The machine picks up and I start to fall back asleep.

“Hello?” It’s a woman’s voice. “Is this...Donna Farmer’s voice box? Oh, I mean, I guess you can’t answer back, can you?” I can feel a sleepy grin trying to form over my dry front teeth – a solicitation call. Thank God I didn’t pick up. “I have your wallet.” This brings me into full consciousness. I sit up. “I found it.” A wave of relief washes over me. I won’t have to cancel my cards, redo my license and health card. I need to pick up the phone...thank this woman. “It was in my son’s bedroom.” I back away from the phone on the night stand like it somehow houses this woman deep in its circuitry. “I think I can read your address here. I’ll just stop by and drop it off.”

This isn’t a favour, it’s a warning, soon to be followed by an attack.

I start to think of ways to avoid this woman and perhaps still get my wallet back, but to be perfectly honest, I don’t care about the wallet anymore. In fact, death sounds good right about now. My feet land on the floor, swallowing the cold. I need to leave. I need to be gone for the day. She doesn’t know I’m home. She’ll just leave the wallet, push it through the mail slot on the door. In fact, an outing would be good, you know, a date with myself. I mean really, a girl needs a little time alone, preferably not incarcerated.

“One forty-five.” The East Indian girl behind the cash slurs the price in my direction while holding out her hand and talking to her brother....sister...cousin, I can’t tell, hair nets and identical costumes make them all look alike. I am tempted to wait till she actually looks at me before I give her the money, but right now indifference to my existence is kind of what I want. I have pissed off the universe and I need to lay low, you know, till God or whoever runs this show forgets I am here, if they haven’t already. I hand over the money and wait for her to actually stop talking and realize she has to give me change. This takes an astonishingly long time. I try to chalk it up to cultural differences. Perhaps she thinks she is doing me a favour, standing there, giving me time alone to meditate and find my inner retail God, you know, the one who says, don’t get pissed, she’s barely making minimum wage. The change is delivered, placing her hand in the same location without looking to check if I’m even still there. I find a seat and prepare to nurse my double double till the cows come home... those crazy cows, how do they know?

One hour bleeds into another, forming a goopy kind of fused together clump of time. I try to think of a plan. I even take a pen out of my purse and write on a napkin. This is the height of my organizational abilities, scribbling on a recycled bit of tissue. “Leave town,” I write, “then suicide?” I scribble it out, not that it isn’t a viable option. I just know, well, I’d never do it. It requires a commitment, and besides, I’ll die anyway, probably soon, probably at the hands of an angry mother. Trevor’s face flashes before me and I try, like checking the toilet before flushing, to remember that night. Did we actually have sex? I then convince myself that if we did I would have remembered...something. I stare at my napkin again and write “school?”, but it seems as likely as suicide. My last venture to get help from my family to go back to school was met with a resounding “never”, then, if I’m not mistaken, a little bit of chuckling. Not that I blame them. How long can I stall this final descent into impoverished old age? Maybe I can squeak out enough social assistance to get by. I don’t need much, some alcohol, some cigarettes...a cat. There’s always something good on television, so my nights are taken care of. I’ll get a head start on my final chapter. There...done.

I feel better, a plan has been made, my future comes into view. Not so bad really, I’ll become that loveable old lady in apartment 4C. No one will really knows where I started, but everyone can see where I’ll end. One day, someone will say; “Hey, has anyone seen Donna? You know, that sweet old lady from 4C, the one who makes those really great cookies for the Christmas co-op?” Then someone will put together that odd smell on the fourth floor with my absence and there will be sad faces all around. I can feel my eyes start to water as I picture the emotional pain my death creates. I dab my eyes with my napkin and dampen the scribbles that outline my wobbly fate.

Time has decided to torture me with its insufferable habit of continuing at the same pace. Barely two hours have passed. I only know one person who has any power over time. She can slow it down till each second has its own personality.

Chapter 4

“Yes, mother.” I realize almost immediately, and should have known, really, that this was a bad decision, but why stop now, bad decisions are my forte. “I don’t know mother...I’m not sure.” All I want to do is go upstairs to my old bedroom and crawl into bed, wake up the next morning and start all over again, not just tomorrow, but my entire life.

Unfortunately, passage upstairs has a price, and right now I’m paying for it. “Sure, I could look into that.” I respond to mothers advice.

Bless her heart., she really thinks it’s that easy. I can just do this or do that and problem solved. I think she still thinks I’m young, very young, like I have the energy or ability to do anything she is suggesting. Also, it all takes money, which, if she can recall, I don’t have and can’t get. “Sure, I’ll look into that.” She doesn’t get that I am not young, fresh and ready to start new. I am old, tired and so ready to call it quits. “Sounds like a good idea.” Finally, she suggests something I can actually achieve with flying colours.

A nap.

Dreams have become the gift of Gods. Even the shitty ones, you know, the ones that leave you feeling pulled apart from the inside out. Right now, I’ll take almost anything that tells me I’m not really here and I don’t have to stay. Something that tells me no matter how shitty it gets, it is all just temporary. It doesn’t really matter...but it does matter, and those few cells in my brain that represent my ego are holding on for dear life.

I can smell dinner, spaghetti, a mix of garlic and tomato sauce brewing on the stove. I hear my mother moving around downstairs, shuffling her feet on the linoleum floor, the sound of dishes being put to work. There is a sense of purposelessness to her now. Like she is going through the motions, waiting for death when there’s a spot available for her. She became this shuffling creature when Dad had his stroke and was put into the nursing home. She visits him every day and each time she comes back, there is less of her. I should get up, make more of an attempt to talk to her, stop thinking of myself, help out. But it’s hard to start a relationship with someone who is staring at the exit sign. We both know it would be a lot of work and not necessarily worth it. There is no common ground between us and what little usable land there is has emotional land mines planted everywhere. Both of us would lose a limb...or two. We have become used to our clumsy indifference and it will stay that way till she dies.

My eyes start to get heavy, happy with my decision to stay in bed. I’m safe here, tucked away in the past. Maybe they’ll forget I’m here. Maybe years from now my mother will open the door and see a pile of dust and think to was supposed to be my turn. I can’t believe I’m actually racing my own mother to the finish line. This thought disturbs me. I should at least let my own mother die selfish. My death fantasies are interrupted by a voice, someone speaking to my mother in the kitchen, it’s my father. I listen to him talk, allowing the content of the conversation to remain blurry, letting my sleepy thoughts last a bit longer. His voice, I haven’t heard it in four years – I keep forgetting it.

“Supper,” my mother yells, followed by a low rumbling sound that sounds like my father, but it’s really my brother. I wake up just a little bit more. It’s my brother talking, not my father. It will never be my father talking again. I sink a little further thinking that the only person who can remind me of my father’s voice is someone I can’t stand.

“Anything new on the job front?” My brother decides to direct the conversation, or at least start one. I should have started first, then I would be in control.

“No, how’s Sarah?” I try to change the subject to something we all equally hate.

Sarah is my brother’s wife. They met in high school, football player, cheerleader, then she got pregnant and he did the honourable thing. He decided to lock in and make three human beings equally miserable for eternity. He is permanently unhappy, but in a self-righteous, I’m doing this for the children kind of way. My mother worships the ground he wobbles on. Now, pushing at least three hundred pounds, the only cheer he hears from his wife is; “don’t touch me.” So here he sits, every other night, with mother, eating. Oh, and yes, since Dad had his stroke, my brother, Martin, controls everything, and by everything, I mean, my mother.

“Are you still with that temp agency?” He ignores my question, continuing the attack. When we were kids, we would throw peas at each other. Now as adults, we just use the debris from our train wrecked lives.

“No, how’s Aaron?”

Aaron is Martin’s son, Martin the football player, Martin the ladies’ man. Aaron, unlike Martin has a mind of his own and unlike his mother, actually has a brain. Aaron is an alien in his own family, which, as far as I can tell, is a good thing.

“He’s fine.”

Martin decides to keep quiet, sitting across the table with my mother. Both looking down, concentrating on curling their spaghetti around their forks. Usually, any mention of Aaron shuts Martin up. I kind of feel bad now, I shouldn’t have pulled the big guns so early.

“Did you see Dad today?” I direct the conversation over to my mother, who is happy to be thought of. Usually, when my brother and I are together, she just fades into the back ground, the oddly shaped landscape of our battlefield.

“Yes.” She puts her fork down, frustrated at her failed attempts to spool enough on the fork to create a mouthful. “He’s doing well.” She grabs her knife and starts to cut her spaghetti into one inch pieces. “He seems to be improving.”

Martin and I remain silent. Neither of us wants to encourage this, mother’s fantasy of Dad’s full recovery.

“Aaron said he found a place we can send him to. Apparently, they can work wonders.”

Aaron and my mother are close. I’m not sure what the attraction is. My mother is terminally boring and my nephew lives on another planet, maybe a planet where the terminally boring are permanently exciting. I should probably ask Aaron to take me there.

“And how much will that cost?” Martin’s already got his wrecking ball out, time to crush this dream before it becomes an expensive reality. He doesn’t want anything to take away from the inheritance, it might reduce his life time supply of Kraft dinner, or whatever he stuffs in his mouth that keeps him so fat.

“I don’t know, Aaron’s looking into it.” My mother takes a spoon and shovels a heap of massacred noodles into her mouth.

“Is he?” Martin says this to himself while inhaling an extra large twine of noodles. Bits of sauce dribble onto one of his six chins. I look at him and I am amazed at how two people can grow up together and be so different and how one can so easily wish the other dead.

Family, what an odd trick of fate.

Chapter 5

My apartment greets me with a cold chill made familiar to me by most of my ex-boyfriends. I am happy to see there is no note on the door, no yellow tape blocking a crime scene. No CSI detectives running around with tiny flash lights in the dark. Now, if there isn’t a message on the phone, I’ll consider the day a success and almost worth enduring the obese company of my asshole brother. I check the machine, no red flashing light, perfect, no messages. My mind wanders to fantasies about moving, about changing my name to something exotic, like Cheechee or Pomegranate. I’ll move to a different country and live the life of a desperado. I’ll become totally vegetarian. I can’t spoil my karma with meat... of any kind. Maybe I’ll join a lesbian collective. I’ll tell them I’m celibate, dedicating my life to the Goddess of Home Depo. I’ll string beads and grow hemp. I’ll contribute to the group and everyone will value me... maybe more than the rest, creating, possibly, a little jealousy. But I will rise above it all and insist I be seen as an equal. Eventually, it will become impossible for them to resist me sexually and I will have to move on... with my dog...did I mention I have a dog.

The phone rings.

“Hello?” I pick up the phone without even checking call display. It’s after ten. No calls me except Karen after ten, in fact, no calls for me except Karen.

“Hello?” It’s not Karen.


“Is this Donna?”

“Yes.” I think of saying no, but I’m too tired to think quickly, or slow, or at all.

“I must have missed you.” It’s that woman, Trevor’s mother. “Perhaps we should arrange a specific time and place.” Her voice sounds a bit different, all business this time, no friendly, I’m doing you a favour kind of shit going on, more, kind of, I know what you did last ...night.


“How about Timmies, on Elm St, near the city library...perhaps, two o’clock tomorrow afternoon?”

She’s got this all figured out. She has a plan. She’s leading me into a trap.

“Sure.” I hang up. The mouse, the cheese, snap, it will all be over soon. I’d love to think I have options. I’d run if I had somewhere to run too.

The knot in my stomach is pulled so tight, it feels like a rock, throbbing. I feel sick. I go to the bathroom and surprise myself by projectile vomiting all over the floor, not even near the toilet. The smell makes me want to vomit more, and I do, kneeling in the mess over the toilet this time. I didn’t realize I ate so much spaghetti. I stare at the contents of the bowl, amazed at how undigested it all looks and how no matter what you swallow, it comes out smelling god awful.

I am facing my accuser. She is shorter than I imagined, but then, I was looking up from the basement window. She could have been a midget. We have both ordered our coffees, mine in take-out, hers in a real cup. I guess it was just wishful thinking that she would hand over the wallet and I could just go.

“I’m Anita.” She puts her hand out before we sit down and we shake, then sit. She takes off her coat and hangs it over the back of her chair, I keep mine on. I think to myself, if things get ugly, uglier, I’ll just get up and leave, then run. “So Donna, what’s your story?” She sounds calm, almost polite. If I hadn’t slept with her son I wouldn’t mind being friends. But then, she looks like a career person, someone who works in an office. I think briefly that I might want to be her. I know she doesn’t want to be me, but that’s okay, neither do I. So, I guess we will never be friends, I’ll be lucky if she doesn’t kill me, or put me in jail.

“I don’t really have a story, I’m just a footnote.” I stop myself from saying anything more, I can’t possibly say anything to make this work out for me, let her guess, she obviously has a plan, if I shut up long enough she’ll eventually tell me.

“How did you meet him?”


“Trevor.” I can see she wants to add, you idiot, but she is showing tremendous restraint, I’m not sure why.

“At an after hours club.”

“Aren’t you a little old for that?” She leans back, straightening the cuff on her perfectly ironed, completely unstained blouse. She has a necklace with a diamond in it, she fingers it and stares at me. Not in a mean way, more of a curious way, like she can’t figure me out, how someone like me even exists.

“I’m a little old for a lot of things.”

She laughs, reaches into her purse and pulls out my wallet. I can feel my heart start to pound. I could grab it and run, she’s tiny, I think I could outrun her. She seems more like a cheerleader than a track star.

“Do you know how old my son is?”

“No.” I look down at the table, my ears are ringing, or maybe it’s just the word “sin” screaming in my head.

“Fifteen,” she pauses and puts her hand over my wallet, which is now sitting on the table between us. “Fifteen and three quarters.” It sounds like she is measuring his age in cups, like a recipe, he is still being mixed, hasn’t even been cooked yet.

“I didn’t know.” I manage to choke out. The shame inside my head is so heavy I can barely lift it to make eye contact.

She waits just a few seconds, allowing the moment to bottom out, watching me bathe in the ugliness of my own stupidity.

“Here’s the plan.” She lifts her hand off my wallet and pushes it in my direction.

I pick it up.

I could leave, I think to myself, run away, just leave, but I don’t. She has a plan she just said. I’ve never been part of someone else’s plan. As pathetic as it is, I feel complemented to be included in someone else’s life. Sure, I had to sleep with her under aged son to do it, but still, it’s something.

“Trevor tells me you’re a...temp, is it?”

Temp, she says the word like it’s foreign to her, like she is trying out a new language.

“Yes, I’m, sort of in between jobs.” God...please don’t ask me what jobs. I try to think of two jobs that would sound impressive, but would also be kind of odd, something that would not encourage follow up questions.

“I have a proposal for you.” Good, she is moving on quickly.

“A proposal?” This is not what I expected. I was ready for a bit of yelling, some tears, perhaps the police, maybe a few dirty looks. But right now I feel like she is about to enter into some kind of business deal with me. Like she has forgotten why I’m here.

“Yes, you know, something in exchange for me not putting you in jail.” I was wrong, she hasn’t forgotten why I’m here, in fact, the reason I am here is the cage that is keeping me here, listening.

“I have a job for you.”

“A job?”

“A job.”

“What kind of job?”

“I don’t know.” Karen has come over. Risking cockroach carcasses on her Prada shoes as she walks into my apartment and starts to make tea. “She just gave me an address to meet her later this week, she said she would go through the details then.”

“Do you think she wants you to kill someone?”

“No.” I’m sitting at my tiny kitchen table, long johns, two pairs of socks, slippers and house coat with a sweater over top. The cold from the base of balcony door has created fridge like conditions in my living room kitchen.

“Christ it’s fucking freezing in here.” Karen warms her hands in the whistling steam of the kettle before taking it off the stove. “You should call the super.”

“Good idea.” I respond without expanding on my super relations.

“She could want you to kill someone.” Karen seems stuck on this homicidal trend.

“Karen, for God sake, if she wanted me to kill someone she would be asking me to risk going to jail for a lot longer than she could put me away for.”

Karen finishes preparing the tea and brings it to the table.

She sits.


“Cups.” She gets up and ventures into the cupboards. “Which cupboards have cockroaches?” she asks before opening.


“None? they hibernate?”

I take a large breath, reaching for some kind of yoga calm. All I come up with is a dry smokers cough. “I don’t have cockroaches.”

“You don’t?”

“I don’t.”

Karen sits down and pours tea into each cup. We sit and stare at the steam rising, which looks more like a chimney with a fire in its belly.

“Wow,” Karen says staring at the smoke, “it’s bloody cold.”

“She wants me to meet her at this address.” I open a crumpled piece of paper I have stored in my house coat pocket. “Tomorrow night.” I put the paper onto the table and smooth it out with my palm of my left hand.

Karen reads the address. “Rich area...maybe she’s casing the joint. Maybe she wants you to help her burglarize the place.”


“Ya, you know, a little B and E.”

I am wondering, just briefly, why Karen came over. I look at her Prada shoes, her slutty dress, her ruby red nail polish.

“What are you staring means break and enter.”

“I know what it means, and don’t be stupid.”

“Look, you shouldn’t go, she could be planning to kill you, or frame you for a murder she already committed. You go in and bam, over the head, you wake up with a gun in your hand and a dead body beside you.”

“You’re not helping.”


I take a sip of my tea and blow in the cup forcing the steam against my face and warming my nose.

“Why the whole slut outfit?”

“I met someone.”

“A pimp?”

“Fuck you.”

I shouldn’t make fun of Karen. She’s trying to be happy, searching for some form of that illusive love. At least she’s trying, not like me, just sitting here in my puddle of poop.

“Gotta go.” Karen gets up and looks down at me, wrapped in my sexy winter wear. “You should go with me tomorrow, get a cut.” She fingers my flimsy unwashed hair.

“Sure, I’ll just take out a loan.”

“I’ll pay.”

Karen leaves, taking her giddy “I’m off to have sex” attitude with her.

I decide a bath is in order, just in case Karen is right, just in case tomorrow is my last day on earth. I think of my mother, my father, I cry a little, just to add to the drama of the moment. Secretly, I’m kind of hoping she kills me. I can’t make this month’s rent anyway. I’ll have to make sure I have proper ID in my purse...and clean underwear.

Chapter 6

When Karen mentioned haircut, I was kind of thinking stylist, you know, in an actual shop, by a super funny homosexual who calls me darling and suggests highlights. But, like the Sandbox experience, Karen surprises me in a way that should be, by now, not very surprising.

“She managed to squeeze you in, it’s a huge favour.”

Karen says huge favour to me, warning me to be nice, perhaps even smile. I can manage that, she’s paying.

“I’ll give you the details about my date last night later, after the cut.” I guess that’s when I’ll be paying. This will probably cost me a couple of hours of gruelling details about last night’s date. Thank God I forgot to eat breakfast.

We are in a suburb of sorts. A part of the city I have never ventured to. I am a downtown person mainly, a subsidized rent downtown kind of person. I never graduated to condo living and never suburbanized myself to own a house. Not that I could if I wanted to, mortgage, car payments, that’s the stuff of fairy tales.

Karen stops at a walkway leading to a tiny brick house.

“Here it is.” She walks down the walkway, still wearing her Prada shoes. I don’t think she went home. Her makeup has that high school whore look, like she’s still putting it on using a learner’s permit.

“Shouldn’t we knock?”

“She knows we’re coming.”

Karen opens the door and we both squeeze into a tiny foyer. We both take off our shoes. “Put these on.” Karen hands me slip-ons made of some kind of paper. I feel like I’m about to deliver a mattress. She opens the inner door and we spill into what looks like the tiniest living room I’ve ever seen.

“You’re late.”

The voice comes from a tiny creature perched on the edge of a couch.

“This is Stella.” Karen walks into the living room with one step, one sideways step, facing Stella who sits tucked behind a coffee table littered with ash trays, all full, some still smoking.

“Hello Stella.” I speak loudly and slowly, assuming, by her age, she is a little deaf, and perhaps, a little slow.

“I’m hard of hearing, not retarded.” She gets up and hobbles past me. She can’t be more than four feet tall. “Follow me.” She walks into her kitchen. I follow as instructed. “Sit.” She points to a barber’s chair in the middle of the room. I notice there is no mirror in front of the chair. In fact, I haven’t seen mirror in the house, anywhere.

The kitchen is as tiny as the living room. I take off my coat and hand it to Karen who has found a comfortable corner facing the chair. With one movement, I work my way onto the chair. I feel huge in this mini house, huge and slow.

“You want what.” The midget speaks. She has pushed a step stool beside the cutting chair and is now looking down at me.

“Oh, just a trim.”

The sharp object Stella is holding in her left hand becomes still. She turns and stares at Karen. I have obviously angered her and she is now speaking in harsh tones in a language I don’t understand. Karen manages to calm her down before she starts pulling at my hair. She pokes my scalp, making odd tisk tisk sounds in her mouth as if each follicle has insulted her, like the mere existence of my hairy head has made her life a living hell. Karen speaks some more and this decrepit midget lets out a loud laugh, like a huff. Her breath smells like a mix of cat shit and cigarettes. I risk a breath each time I see her turn away from the general direction of my head. Clearly, whatever Karen is saying, the joke is on me. The next hour is filled with the sound of her racing up and down her tiny ladder, moving my head in various directions. I try to predict the direction she needs ahead of time but that only serves to frustrate her more and she fixes me in a desired angle with such aggression I freeze till she moves me again. There is no love in this cut, just science.

Finally, she is finished. Her body odour overpowering her bad breath, she steps off the ladder. She rips off my body bib and I vacate the seat. I want to get a good look at my hair, but she practically pulls at my feet to get me to leave.

“Wait in living room.”

Karen jumps in the chair and immediately they both start laughing like school girls. The little hair cutting troll smiles and giggles, fully exposing the nicotine glory of what were once white crooked teeth. I feel like the ugly girl in school...again. I reach up to touch my hair, “Don’t touch.” She yells. I move my hands down to my side and retreat to the micro living room.

The ashtrays are still alive, busy burning filter and spit. I picture Stella here, sitting, smoking her way to a happier ending. Muttering under her stinking breath in whatever language she barks in. I don’t know what it is, why some people just instantly dislike me. Initially, I’m very pleasant. Get to know me, then hate me, that I can understand.

Staring ahead at the peeling wallpaper turning yellow at the edges, I wonder how many years she has lived here, hunched over, hating the world. Then it hits me. She is me, except I’m taller, fatter and not nearly as talented. The walls start to close in, burning that God awful paisley design of wallpaper into my eyes.


There is a very thin middle age man standing at the base of the stairs, inches from the front door.

“Hello.” I answer. He makes his way towards me, all three pounds. He sits on the chair across from me, perching precariously on the edge, arms crossed, eyes red.

“Who is she with?” he asks, in a voice that is soft and sad.

“Karen.” I pause for a second, trying to remember Karen’s last name.

“Karen?” Sad man’s eyes brighten and he tilts his head in the direction of the kitchen, like a dog that recognizes the voice of his master. “Karen’s here?”

“Yes.” I say with a little more bitterness then I intend.

“When’s she finished?” He asks not bothering to make eye contact with me.

“I don’t know.” I try to manufacture my revenge for his rudeness by not making eye contact with him. That will teach him, I’m sure to get an apology any moment.

He stands up and reaches into his pocket. His movements are awkward, his stick like arms moving his hands through miles of fabric. He pulls out a folded up piece of paper. “Can you give her this?” The paper looks like it has been crumpled then folded then re-crumpled then folded again, perhaps a little stain from drool, or God knows what.

“Sure.” I take the paper noticing the redness of his hands. He sees me staring and puts them immediately into his pocket.

“They’re never clean.” He tells me with a look of shame I recognize from the mirror.

He scampers up the stairs as soon as he hears Stella and Karen approaching. I watch him disappear and wonder if he was really here.

“Thank you,” Karen says, bending down to give Stella a double cheeked air kiss.

Stella laughs a horsey laugh and spins on her hoofs back into the kitchen.

I wait till we are outside before handing her the piece of paper.

“This arrived, via, freak job from the second floor.”

Karen unfolds the paper after lighting a cigarette and sticking it in her mouth. She squints to block the smoke from her eyes while reading the note, looking like a tired hooker in last night’s clothes, cigarette in mouth and a God awful haircut that looks like a fifties beehive, which reminds me, I need a reflection.

“Shit.” She crumples the paper and sticks it into her purse. “You know how to get back?” She points to a street with a bus stop that looks used once every other decade.

“No, not really.”

“Just tell the driver you want to go downtown.” She doesn’t wait for a response from me, check to see if I have money or if I even brought my wallet, which I did, thank God. She just scurries off, back towards Stella’s house. Karen has a magic ability to draw people to her, fuck them up, and move on. Usually this is consequence free in that she never has to deal with that person again and the alien emotion of guilt never has time to stick, but this time something is sticking and I think it’s starting to stink.

“Thanks.” I yell at her as she turns a corner and is reduced to a sound track of clicking heels.

Walking to the bus stop, I run my fingers through my hair and get them caught half way by a steel net created by hair spray. I pull my fingers out of my hair and stand by a pole marked Bus 23. There are other numbers and symbols, but they are scratched out. Probably by some bored homicidal nut case who will eventually come and stand here with me.

After an hour or so, the bus finally pulls up, and, as it turns out, the bored homicidal nut case I feared would stand beside me while I was waiting is actually the bus driver himself. Surly, mumbling, apparently unable to answer a simple question without flying into some kind of incoherent rage. He is a man on the edge, the edge of his own sanity. I sit, thanking him, trying to undo whatever I did to annoy him so much, hoping he will not kill us all. Maybe the city saves all the crazy bus drivers for the suburbs. I mean, really, who cares who gets shot this far away from real civilization. I have managed to squeeze an ounce of direction from the driver’s hissing and spitting. I think he said this bus will pull into a subway station...and it does.

I love the subway. It is so quick and anonymous. With the slightest bit of care, you can fit right in. You could be sitting beside a rapist, standing close to a serial killer and off you go at the next station, never the wiser. This is my attraction to downtown, no hellos, or daily contributions to the whole, just stay out of my way, but don’t leave. Somehow this has become the only relationship I can emotionally handle. It’s a sad truth that I am drawn to detachment.

After a few changes, I am on a street car. Then finally, I am home. The entire trip took me three hours. “The Better Way,” the transit company advertises, better than what...crawling?

My body slips into nap mode. Every part of my flesh is telling me it’s time to become horizontal. I throw my coat and purse on the floor, sit, take off my salt stained boots and let the couch hold me. I think of my father doing the exact same thing every day. Patting the bald spot on top of his head, thinking about God knows what. I lie and do the same thing, wondering if this ritual is learned or genetic. My thoughts start to gain independence, doing that pre-snooze dance. I allow the heaviness of sleep to take over and give up the wheel.

I am pulled from a deep sleep by some kind of pounding sound. I start to surface, still dripping from the liquid hold of my subconscious. Images of scenes that have managed to integrate the banging at the door into odd dream like symbols will slowly fade and in seconds, I will forget them completely.

“Super.” The voice with the loud knuckles yells.

“Shit.” Of all the times to come and re-fix my draft infested apartment.

He knocks again.


“Hold on.” He knows I’m in here. He knows I’m coming, but he wants to start this one on one with the advantage of pretending he is being made to wait. I grab my house coat and put it on, not because I have nothing on, but because I’m cold and the more layers between me and this arse wipe, the better.

I check the time making sure it is not as late as it feels. The apartment has that winter bleakness that comes with four o’clock.

“Hello.” I open the door and force the edges of my mouth to move upward, trying to imitate a smile.

“I need to fix your door.” No hello, no nothing. He is his usual friendly self.

“Sure.” I let him in and watch him walk through my tiny hallway into my main room without taking his shoes off. Karen leaves her shoes on and that’s fine, God knows where her feet have been, but most other people who come here take their shoes off exhibiting some form of civilized behaviour. But then I have to admit, no one really comes here besides Karen, and it’s not the shoe thing that really bugs me, it’s just him.

“This the door?” He points to the only door in the room.

“Yes, thank you.” I answer, keeping my mouth in friendly territory by shape and content.

“Cold as a witch’s tit.” He spouts off while opening his tool box.

“Yes,” I say, trying not to sound insulted while instinctively folding my arms over my breasts.

“Ah,” he says when he opens the balcony door, “here’s your problem.”

I want to say that I’m looking at the problem right now, but instead I say, “Do you want some tea?” He shuffles around, acting all concerned about a door that has taken him three months to get to then says yes to the tea which kind of surprises me. Maybe he’s not so bad. Maybe I can smooth our relationship over, make sure I don’t have to wait another three months for my next request. After all, most of our encounters were at night with both of us drunk. It might be possible he doesn’t remember me.

“You still hang out with that chick?”

“Excuse me?”

“That chick you always drink with,the one that looks like a prostitute.”

He carries on with his repair, allowing words like “chick” or “prostitute” to effortlessly roll off his blue collar tongue.

“Karen, her name is Karen.” I try to sound defensive, but the truth is, Karen does dress like a hooker most of the time, a nicely dressed hooker, one who can afford slutty, but expensive clothing.

“You guys were really hammered the last time I saw you.”

I guess he does remember me.

“Totally pissed.” He laughs. I’m not sure if he’s making a value judgment or trying to angle for an invitation. I pour the tea and sit at my kitchen table facing the balcony, watching him, waiting for his next move. I can tell he is going somewhere with this, but it’s hard to say how a man of his breeding constructs a plan.

“So, like, is she married?”


“Your friend, Karen.”

There it is, the pussy finder. “No, you should ask her out some time.” I am looking down at him while he is crouched into a corner of my balcony door frame. I feel smug and hurt. I want to throw him to the wolves, set him up with Karen to get back at him.


“No, not really, she’s married.” I change my mind.

“Oh.” He seems justifiably confused, but doesn’t try to further his Karen investigation.

“Are you married?” I ask, deciding to lead the next personal push.

“No.” His answer is brief and a little brisk. I’m thinking a divorce, recently.

“Really, I’m surprised. I thought there would be a Mrs. Super.”

He laughs, which surprises me, I meant it as an insult.

“Well, you know,” he says with a tone that suggests deep thought, “not many women can handle the fast pace life of a handy man.”

“You mean all those late nights and high power lunches?” Now I laugh.

“Ya,” He gets up and finishes putting some kind of seal around the inside of the door. “Something like that.”

He doesn’t laugh after he says this, leaving me to wonder if the light that aids his reflection also distorts it. Then I think, why not, why shouldn’t he see himself as important, if he doesn’t, who else will? Maybe our own self-importance is the only importance there is.

“Finished.” He starts to put his tools back.

“So it won’t freeze in here anymore?”

“Shouldn’t.” The seal of approval on his work is somewhat loose. “Just make sure you push the door in firmly, till the latch clicks.” He pushes his body against the balcony door to demonstrate. “The seal I put on the inside frame makes it hard to close.”

I stare at him and wonder if this feeling I now have of attraction is just loneliness fermenting inside me. He turns around and looks at me. He must be able to smell it.

“What about you?” He says.

“Me what?”

“You, are you married?”


“He doesn’t look surprised.”



He now looks surprised.


“No.” I know where he’s going in his very slow head, “I’m not a dyke.”

He smiles, “I wasn’t thinking that.” He sits down and pours himself some tea.

“Yes, you were.”

“Kind of.”

He mixes in some sugar then pours a bit of milk. I try not to be obvious when I stare. I pretend to look preoccupied with some future event, which I am, kind of.

“I have beer if you want.” He leans back in the kitchen chair I bought years ago at Goodwill. It was a set of four, steel frame, red plastic floral seat cover. I was trying to be trendy, but now they just scream poverty.

“No thanks, I don’t drink.”

This brings me back from my day dream. I can swear I’ve seen him drunk a million times.

“You don’t drink?”

He laughs, one step ahead of me. “I know, alcoholic, building superintendent, they kind of go together, but no, I’ve never liked drinking much.”

If I thought for a second that he was even remotely interested in me I might think he was lying , but he seems so neutral, like he’ just idling, comfortably. God, I must have been really drunk when I fought with him, and to think he was sober. I’m feeling incredibly exposed. I pull my house coat closer together, trying to hide the sloppy ego I threw in his face a couple of months ago.

“What do you do?”

I hate this question for obvious reasons. It is usually the second, third or fourth question in a conversation with someone you don’t know. Sometimes, when I see it coming, I try to think of a job I can lie about, unfortunately, that has proven embarrassing as I’m not really a spontaneous thinker.

“I’m in between jobs.” I look at him, trying to figure out how he’s judging me, then I think, he a janitor...then I think, socially, he’s a few steps ahead me right now, maybe a whole flight of stairs.

“Any luck job hunting?”

“Right now, the job’s hunting me.” I laugh and watch a polite smile transform my janitor into someone I want to know. I look at the faded name tag on his dark blue uniform. Bob, it says, with the second blue b almost completely faded to white. I want to touch him, his hair, face. I feel this overwhelming urge to connect to another human being, to feel the energy of someone who shares my space.

“Well,” he says, getting up, “I gotta go.” I want to tell him to stay, but I can’t think of a single reason why he would want to.

“Sure, no problem...thanks.”

“No problem.” He walks to the door and leaves, closing the door behind him without looking back.

I am still sitting. I am still thinking about him. I know what I am doing and it’s just a distraction, but I really need a distraction right now. I think I’ll go into the bedroom and find that present Karen gave me last Christmas and finish this thought.

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