From The Published Archives: The Discovery

“Weird but good!  I would like to use your story in the November issue of Aphelion.”

It was September 17, 2000.  Cary Semar, the then-Short Story Editor of an online science fiction zine, had really enjoyed my first submission.  It was a personal triumph.  This email message marked the first time I ever had a piece of fiction accepted for publication.  Yes, there was no money involved and yes, it would only be posted online but it was a welcome breakthrough nonetheless.  A complete stranger I’ve never met in person thought I had something.

For years, I fantasized about what it would be like to attend my own funeral.  How many would show up to mourn me?  What would they say?  Would there be excessive weeping?  Would people be happy to be rid of me?  How much of a void would my absence be in their own lives?

The Discovery evolved out of this concept.  It tells the tale of a long suffering comedy writer and the deteriorating relationship he has with his longtime boss, a TV vulgarian with a lot of personal problems and a demanding personality.  The approach I took was darkly comic and dramatic.  You can decide if I ultimately succeeded.  Personally, I’m proud of the story and was happy to see it made available online, even just for a short time.

The original story opened with two lines:

“In an instant, I was dead. Just like that, my life was over.  Now, I awaited the aftermath.”

But Semar wanted them dropped.  (“The gimmick of having a dead narrator is a cliche…You would be amazed at how many first person dead stories I get.”)  He also wanted a key plot point changed but I successfully fought him on that.  In the end, we made a compromise.  I excised the opening and the rest of the story remained pretty much untouched.

As promised, The Discovery was posted in the November 2000 issue of Aphelion but only for a month.  And that was my decision.  Semar told me I had the option of having it pulled after 30 days or it could stay there for as long as the site is in existence.  Thinking at the time that I could sell it somewhere else, I requested its ultimate removal.  Today, when you try to access the story, you’ll see this instead.  (Sadly, no cache copy of the original posting exists.)

Unfortunately, I never did try to sell the story elsewhere but I don’t regret my decision.  Ever since I began this website, I’ve thought about reposting it exclusively on here.  When the tenth anniversary of its publication quietly passed, I missed a welcome opportunity to revisit it as well as the circumstances behind its creation.  But while working on 10 Great Songs Of The 1990s (Parts One and Two) recently, I pulled it out again, re-read it and realized that despite missing the anniversary last year, it wouldn’t be a big deal to publish it now.

Semar was very kind to me after I wrote him a thank you email in December 2000 for accepting and posting the story.  He said The Discovery was “very original and skillfully done, but perhaps a little too cerebral for most Aphelion readers.”.  That last comment referred to my disappointment in the lack of feedback for the story.  He further noted, “Unfortunately, very few people take the time to comment on stories and you really need to knock their socks off to stir them out of their lethargy.”  He also encouraged me to “keep writing”.  Speaking of Aphelion, it continues to publish monthly issues online.  The most recent one was released this past May.

For this reposting, despite a strong temptation, I’ve ultimately decided to not restore the original opening.  Semar was probably right.  Maybe I did give away too much in those two lines.  Anyway, what you’re about to read is, I believe, exactly what was posted all those years ago on Aphelion.

One last thing.  I named the villain Jimbo Willson in tribute to my old friend, Shane Willson, who, it should be noted, is a much nicer guy.  After losing touch with him for about a decade we reconnected on Facebook not too long ago.  We’re not as close as we were in our younger days (he’s a happily married man with a cat that thinks it’s a dog) but it’s good to know that at any time we can message each other and get caught up.

 

THE DISCOVERY

By Dennis Earl

“You stink, Charlie. This is the worst crap you’ve written yet.”

Picture it, a nice spring morning, hardly any traffic, the trees swaying ever so slightly as the wind gently caresses their aging textures, the sun with a clear view of the land below, unobstructed by non-existent clouds, producing a pleasantly warm atmosphere, the various sounds of wild life heard throughout the area, the overall calm and serenity felt just by being out there. I tried desperately to maintain my concentration from the inside while I was being scolded by my boss. Reality was winning.

“How do you expect me to get laughs with this garbage, huh? We were once a Top 10 show, remember? This is gonna bury me! Have you forgotten about the goddamn sweeps? Are you even listening to me, you dumb bastard?”

I really wasn’t. But I humoured him.

“What’s wrong with it?” I asked innocently.

“It has no zingers. Where are the zingers? I’m looking and looking and looking and I can’t find any zingers. Where are the goddamn zingers?”

“What about the bit involving Wally The Wacko, the turtle and the nutcracker? That’s pretty good.”

“Pretty good?” His sarcasm was killing me. “Let me tell you something, Charlie. I’ve been in this business for 45 years. I know funny when I read it and this ain’t funny. Look at this trash. It isn’t even offensive! Where are the Catholic jokes? The busty broads? You don’t even mention the word ‘vagina’ in here once! You do have a penis, don’t you, Charlie?”

“Last time I checked.”

“There’s not one joke about minorities in here, either. Not one epithet!”

“The network asked us to cut down on those, remember?”

“When was the last time anyone listened to an executive, Charlie?”

Then, there was silence, the second longest 25 seconds of my life. (I actually timed it. I’m that sad.) I was expecting another order to re-write part one of our sixth season finale. (Draft #13, to be precise.) My writing staff were fed up, as usual. But we were well paid, a rarity in our business. HE demanded quality.

“I’ve been thinking about this for a long time, Charlie.” He paused. All of a sudden, I felt a horrible ache in my throat. It had to come, sooner or later. After all, we were #33 and falling.

“Your instincts have let me down for the last time. We shouldn’t be going down this road every goddamn week.” He paused one last time. Drama was his real gift. “You’re through. Get the hell out of here!”

I had known Jimbo Willson for 30 years. 30 LONG years. A crabby, portly man who looked old and rubbery even then, he felt sorry for me. I had dropped out of grade 11, hoping to become a great comedy writer. Jimbo was a close friend of my father’s, a fellow comedian who quit the business to look after me. (My mom was the breadwinner, the CEO of a major record label. I hardly saw her.) One day, my dad told him how disappointed he was in my lack of scholastic ambition. He wanted me to go back and eventually graduate. It wasn’t in my future.

“Does he have a job?” Jimbo inquired.

“He’s allergic to work,” My dad responded.

“He can be my assistant. He can take care of the crap I can’t stand taking care of.”

And that’s how I met him. I started out doing his laundry, forging his cheques, buying his pornography and coke, recycling his beer cans, paying the staff every week, updating office equipment, stuff like that. Not completely unpleasant, as you can imagine. It’s not as if he received his beloved porn RIGHT AWAY. By the way, his favourite was Anal Monthly.

When I was in my mid-twenties, he threw me a bone. I started writing jokes for his stage act. He never liked them, or rather he never SAID he liked them. That didn’t stop him from throwing them into his act and getting big laughs. I never did get a thank you. Just more grief.

For years, Jimbo toured the country, using my material and passing it off as his own, as all great comedians do, especially the ones on late night Television. (Most people forget that behind every funny and successful talk show host is a staff of 20 writers, the real funnymen.)

The Jimbo Willson Show went on the air the day before my forty-first birthday. The set-up was simple. Jimbo played himself, a shady, hilarious, struggling stand-up comic who will do anything and everything to outshine the competition in the club circuit. One rookie comic was killed in every episode. Gene Roddenberry would’ve been proud.

I was hired as the head writer with 5 other scribes assisting me with the jokes. It was one nightmare after another. First, the jokes weren’t rude or funny enough. Then, they weren’t timed properly. Next, the story was all wrong. It needed to be re-written. It’s any wonder the shows ever got made at all.

By this point, Jimbo’s nose candy habit was out of control. He only sniffed it because he thought it made him funnier. (It was my jokes, stupid.) He got angrier and louder and even more difficult to please than usual. His tenth wife convinced him to straighten out. The day he left detox, he filed for divorce. His rehab counsellor became wife #11.

Jimbo Willson never did know the meaning of the word ‘gratitude’. So why did I work for him for so long? Why did I take so much abuse?

The morning of my dismissal, I went home with all my stuff from the ofice and thought about my next move. But then, I remembered an old idea that I had that was rejected by Jimbo last season. On the show, his biggest rival was Wally The Wacko, a tall, lean, gonzo comic who liked to bash himself in the head with his own dangerous props. (He also used objects belonging to members of the audience.) Wally decides to go away for a while, just to see what happens. That got me thinking. What if I disappeared suddenly, without any warning? Would anyone miss me? What would Jimbo Willson say in my absence? I wanted to know for sure.

2 days after my firing, the police made a horrible discovery. No one had heard a peep from me since I left Jimbo’s office and my friends were worried. The phone endlessly rang. The mailbox was still full. All the lights were off. No one was answering the door. Everyone feared the worst.

There was a reason for the silence. The house was on fire. By the time the police arrived on the scene the firefighters had already quieted down the fiery blaze. There was nothing but smoke and ashes. Everything was reduced to blackness. There were no floors anymore. Just one big crumbled mess. Inside, there was a body, burnt beyond recognition. Who was it?

The DNA tests were inconclusive. There wasn’t much of me they could use for testing. Nobody came forward with any new leads. Presumption became fact.

Attending your own funeral is a bizarre feeling. No one expects you to be among the observers in the church. They expect you to be dead.

It was a worn-down, decrepit old building that was going to be torn down in 2 weeks. Attendance had dwindled over the years and the building was sold to a developer who was planning on knocking it all down and replacing it with an unemployment office. (There’s a joke in there somewhere.)

It was a packed house. Unusual, considering I had so few friends within the business. It only took me a few minutes to realize why there were mostly writers in attendance. Word spreads quickly in our business.

“Please rise and join us in singing hymn #227,” said the minister.

After the hymn, the minister addressed the congregation: “Today is a time of great sadness. We are gathered here in God’s house to remember a man we knew as Charlie. A friend and a great talent.”

Wow! My first compliment.

“He was an enigma, a mystery, a man few were intimate with.”

He ain’t kiddin’.

“He had a certain wit, something I will never forget. When I think of Charlie, I always remember his best one-liner: Why can’t I put window dressing on my salad?”

Dead silence. It was a groaner, after all. And no, it wasn’t my best line. No wonder Jimbo’s show was getting killed in the ratings. When did I start writing crap like that?

“And now, Jimbo Willson.”

I had been sitting in this place for 30 minutes and no one had recognized me. I wore no disguise. I wore the same clothes the day I was fired. (Yes, I did a wash.) No one cared. Even my friends and family didn’t bother to turn around and look at the corpse sitting in the balcony. Something was up.

Jimbo looked angry and fatter, if that was possible. 2 weeks had passed since my death and I read in the paper that he had been overeating more so than usual. (He loved the pastries.) He also kept working. Part one of the season finale was finally taped after the latest re-write. The second part was re-written for a fourth time and had yet to be taped. Nothing had changed. I had my answer.

Before he got up to the podium, he looked at the giant painting of myself (I never let anyone photograph me), and then, collapsed.

“Call an ambulance!” someone yelled.

Everyone rushed to his side but there was nothing they could do. It all happened within seconds. All those women and drugs. All that food and bitterness. They had finally taken their toll. The lousy bastard. What was he going to say?

Suddenly, the service was postponed. “It will be re-scheduled at a later date,” the minister said vaguely. “An announcement will be made soon.

Jimbo was taken out of the building by gurney. He revived his sagging career at my funeral. I left in disgust. No one noticed.

After everyone left, I hung around outside, wondering what to do. Suddenly, someone quickly grabbed me from behind and threw me in the back of Jimbo’s ambulance. I couldn’t believe what I saw.

“So you faked your death, huh? What do you think I’m stupid, Charlie?” Jimbo was staring right at me. He was sitting up on the gurney. Maybe he shouldv’e given straight acting a try. He’s a natural. “Everybody knows, you moron. Why do you think they’re all ignoring you? You let them down. You might as well be dead.”

I was dumbfounded. How did he know?

“Through the wonder of technology,” he replied. “Everywhere you go, I go, pal.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” I shouted, not caring about the volume.

“I always wondered why my magazines were always late. Then, I noticed the writers. They dressed better than I do. Supplies were always missing. I never seemed to have enough money for myself. I wonder why.”

So, he thought I was a thief? Well, it wasn’t true. He was right about the magazines, though.

“You know damn well I don’t steal.” I called his bluff. He had nothing on me. The truth was the writers were drug-free and Jimbo wasn’t. He loved his nose candy.

“You think you’re so clever with your tinted car windows, fake rotting corpse and secret hideaway. I saw it all, Charlie. There are hidden cameras in both your houses and your car. And when you go out, someone is always watching.”

“What do you want from me?”

“All the money you stole.”

“I didn’t steal anything from you. All that money went up your nose!” I was furious.

“If you don’t co-operate, I’ll go to the press. I know you got the body from the special effects department. Pretty convincing, unless the secret is revealed.”

“No dice, fatty.”

We weren’t alone. 3 of his well-toned bodyguards were surrounding us. The one on his left had a vein on his neck that was pulsating so much I thought it was going to burst. That’s how he got the nickname, “The Vein”. He pulled a knife, grabbed me hard and pointed it at my throat.

“So, what’s it going to be, Charlie?”

It took me 25 seconds to think it all through. (I actually timed it. I’m that sad.) Without warning, I pulled the knife that The Vein was holding and jabbed it right in my throat. He was still holding the knife as I gasped for air. The stupid bastard left it in. He was stunned.

“Jesus Christ!” Jimbo started hyperventilating. Then, he yelled, “My heart!” He keeled over within seconds. For real, this time. The bodyguards left the ambulance in a flash. They weren’t looking for help. They were leaving for good.

I finally pulled out the blade. Blood was gushing like crazy. I was a lost cause.

On the floor of the ambulance was a piece of paper. It must have fallen out of Jimbo’s pocket when he fell over. I didn’t have much time left. I uncrumbled it. At the top were the words, “Why I’ll Miss Charlie”. The rest of the paper was blank.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, July 1, 2011
11:56 p.m.

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Published in: on July 1, 2011 at 11:57 pm  Leave a Comment  

Plot To Kill

Here’s a very silly short story from my high school period.  It was written February 7, 1991 during Grade 10 Advanced English.  All of us were asked to write a short piece of fiction, then have a fellow classmate proofread it.  Finally, after all of that was taken care of, we got to read our stories out loud right in front of the entire class.  I thrived on assignments like this.  Any chance to get laughs in front of an audience I gladly took.

Half of my life has passed since I wrote Plot To Kill (I still love that title) and I still marvel at how much I’ve changed as a writer since I was a teenager.  Anyone reading this today will instantly note that it was written by a very silly boy who loved movies about gangsters and tough cops.  (One such famous movie cop makes a surprise guest appearance at the end.) 

I’ve decided to post it, despite its numerous shortcomings, because it’s fun to read.  (I remember the Grade 10 English class liked it.  A friend in the class, who I haven’t seen in years, enjoyed the different voices I gave the characters.  I’ve since forgotten how I did that, but the compliment was nice.)  It has some funny parts (one of which is completely preposterous) but clearly, looking back, there were some missed comic opportunities.  Then again, I was only 15 and not a genius.  I still like the idea for the story, though.  Maybe something better can be done with it in the future. 

The story ended inconclusively but there was never any intention to write a follow-up.  (It was just an assignment for English class.) Still, I’ve dropped the "TO BE CONTINUED…" bit that originally ended the piece.  I don’t want to give anyone the impression that I’m not done working with these characters.  Quite the contrary.  I have no desire to do a sequel. 

 

PLOT TO KILL

Harvey Bergman was a construction worker and a damn good one at that!  He had 5 kids and a wife who didn’t appreciate all the things he did for his family.  One day, while he was waiting for the bus, he saw two suspicious men with slicked-back hair and ponytails start moving towards the bus stop.  They were chatting very loudly about something that he couldn’t quite understand.  "Hey Cloe," said the first thug, "What are we going to do about the family business, eh?"

"I don’t know.  Just because someone knows something about our business doesn’t mean he’s gonna squeal!" said the second thug.

"Well, if you say so!" whined the first thug.

While this was going on, Harvey thought to himself about what the consequences were gonna be because he was hearing some weird conversation. 

Well, it’s New York City at 10 o’clock at night.  What the hell did he think this was?  Hamilton, Ontario, Canada?  Obviously, it was not.

After waiting for the bus for 10 minutes, it finally arrived, and not a moment too soon.

Harvey let the two men go on the bus first.  That was so they wouldn’t be able to put a gun to his back and then pull the trigger.  Then he went on the bus and put $1.25 in the fare machine.  "Damnit!  How the hell did the bus fare get so high?" he said out loud.

"Well, for one thing, they increased the price by a quarter way back in January!" replied the bus driver.

After Harvey found a seat at the back of the bus, he continued to listen in on the unusual conversation that drove his curiosity bonkers.

"You know, Vincent," said Cloe, "I think that it would be appropriate to discuss termination of this Frank Caprelli character!"

"I don’t know, Cloe, " Said Vincent.  "I think we ought to discuss this with the boss first before we do anything else!"

Harvey could not believe his ears.  A plot to kill someone?  That was absolutely horrible to even think of.  The two thugs started whispering which made it hard for Harvey to listen to.  So, out of a moment of desperation, he went into his pocket and found his Whisper 2000 set.  He then put a blank cassette in it so he could tape the conversation and present it to the police when he had the chance.

They continued their conversation.

"I don’t think we’ll have to consult with Danny Dangerfield on this one, Cloe."

"You mean we should go ahead and murder this guy without planning ahead?"

"Yes, and I think we should get off on the next stop since that’s where Frank Caprelli lives.  Once we get off, we’ll go to this house and kill the bastard!"

"That’ll teach the bum to snoop around our place, eh?"

When the two thugs finished their conversation they made their way towards the side door of the bus.  Harvey went to the front door so he wouldn’t be in the way of the two would-be criminals.

Once all three men were out of the large vehicle, they all progressed down the street where Frank Caprelli was supposed to be living on.  The two thugs were chatting again to each other as they quickly approached the house of Frank Caprelli.

"There it is!" said Cloe.

"Well, what the hell are we waiting for?  Let’s go kill that son-of-a-bitch!"

As soon as they went into the house, Harvey darted furiously to the nearest pay phone.  He quickly dialed 911 for the quickest reply from the police.

"Hello, police?  I’d like to report a murder that’s gonna happen at 225 Vine Street!"

"I’m sorry, what was the address?"

"225 Vine Street.  I saw two guys go in the house with guns and they’re ready to kill some guy because he knows something about their crooked business."

"I don’t know if that’s enough evidence for the police!"

"Then listen to this!"

Harvey played the tape of the conversation to the police officer who immediately reacted by saying, "Stay where you are.  We’re coming there immediately!"

The police officer then rounded up his men and said, "It’s time to kick ass!"

It only took a few minutes for the police (NYPD) to arrive on the scene.

"Are you the guy that called?"

"No, I’m just standing here because the New York Yankees want me to impersonate Roseanne Barr singing the Star-Spangled Banner.  Of course I’m the one who called.  And they went in that house."

"Thanks a lot!" said the policeman.

Meanwhile, in the house of Frank Caprelli, the two thugs had just found Frank and threatened to kill him if he didn’t keep his mouth shut.

But then, Inspector Dirty Harry Calahan arrived on the scene and shot both thugs right between the eyes with his 44 Magnum and it only took one bullet.  It was a gruesome sight.

The police then covered the bodies and came out with them under their arms.

Dirty Harry thanked Harvey for his quick thinking but Harvey still had one thing on his mind that he wanted to clear up.

"Harry," he said, "I thought you were a cop in San Francisco!  What gives?"

"Go ahead, make my day!" replied Harry.

After these series of events, Harvey Bergman was honoured as an honourary detective of the NYPD.  He then quit his job and became known as Harvey "The Squealer" Bergman.

As for Danny Dangerfield, his business is still running though.  But not for long.

 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, October 23, 2006
8:09 p.m.
Published in: on October 23, 2006 at 8:26 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Life I Left Behind

As I continue to go through all these papers that I’ve saved throughout my life (a bad habit I have developed genetically through my parents), it’s fun to look back and see what I wrote when I was a younger man.
 
In 1994, I was in my second year of Television Broadcasting at Mohawk College.  Much to my delight, we had a lot of supplemental writing courses.  Many of these classes were taught by that Southern gentleman, Richard Giles, probably the biggest champion of my writing.  He was also the student advisor for The Satellite, Mohawk’s student newspaper.  I remember him as being very intelligent, funny and good-natured.  I haven’t seen him or talked to him in 10 years.
 
I had countless opportunities to write during my college years and I’ve tried to save all the worthwhile things I wrote back then.  During second year, Richard gave us all a writing assignment.  He wanted us to write a short story that embodied any aphorism of our choosing.  What’s an aphorism?  Essentially, it’s the moral of a story.  It could be a proverb or simply a simple, concise statement of truth.
 
I wrote a story called The Life I Left Behind.  It’s about an interracial couple dealing with pregnancy.  It’s a pretty good story with a terrific ending, to which Richard remarked, "Quite the surprise ending, but I’m not sure you adequately prepare your readers for it!"  He gave it an A-.  Not bad for a story that probably could’ve been developed more but, if memory serves, we were only given a limited amount of words to work with.  As for Richard’s remark, I felt I did provide an obvious clue to the end of the story.  I wouldn’t dare point it out.
 
 

THE LIFE I LEFT BEHIND
By Dennis Earl

 

David and Sandy Lucas were the type of people you thought of when it was time to decide who would be your baby’s godparents. They were a decent couple, honest, trustworthy, full of admiration for each other and yet, they still faced obstacles both in their marriage and within their own neighbourhood.

David was a twenty-eight-year-old secretary and one of the most accurate typists the state of Indiana had ever hired. He typed one hundred and ten words per minute, an astounding speed that most typists dreamed of achieving. But he was black. Most citizens didn’t care about his race but in the Lucas’s local community, several Orientals and Caucasians were rather peeved. They didn’t approve of an interracial union between a light-skinned woman and a dark-skinned man. They believed in same-race marriages. However, no one was brave enough to approach David in order to state that opinion. Something about his glare made them think of another subject.

David was a tall man, about five foot ten with a muscular build and a body weight that nearly reached two hundred pounds. He had hazel-coloured eyes, dirty blond hair and that memorable visage.

His wife, Sandy, was twenty-five. Her gorgeous red hair complemented her slim figure quite nicely. She worked as an advertising executive for one of those gigantic soft drink companies. Her best commercial, in fact, was the one with the ski-jumping polar bear. It won many international awards. Also, it sold plenty of the company’s popular liquids.

Since she was a young child, Sandy always wished for a bundle of her own. She fantasized about it constantly. But David lived in an abusive home with a mother who made Ma Barker look like Richard Simmons. As a result, Sandy’s hopes remained unfulfilled.

 

After working past eleven late one windy night, David came home exhausted. He gently closed the front door and walked towards the refrigerator. He opened the door and noticed a half-eaten piece of pizza which he placed in the microwave. Five minutes later, he ate the pizza remembering why he didn’t finish it the first time around.

Out of the darkness came Sandy. She had a worried look on her face and was awfully pale. Her body language revealed that she was ready to share something with her only love.

David looked at her as if she wasn’t his wife. He asked her why she waited up for him. Sandy said that she had something important to tell him. He asked her what her announcement was and, then, the bomb was dropped. Sandy implied that she was in a different mood than she was twenty-eight days ago. As soon as she had completed her announcement, David went ballistic. He couldn’t believe what he had just learned. My wife is ready to spawn something fiendish, he thought.

He collected his thoughts again and asked his wife whether or not she would go through with it. Without hesitation, she said yes.

 

8 months later, David Lucas wheeled his wife into the delivery room of St. Mortimer’s east wing dreading a moment he wished would never happen. Sandy, on the other hand, was full of anticipation despite the fact that she was in unbearable pain. Her beautiful red hair was drenched in perspiration and fear. She was about to embark on a journey that would be unpredictable in length and pain. But that was the least of her worries.

A few minutes passed before the doctor arrived. Her name was Dr. Laura Poseidon and she was as skilled as they come. Tall, slim and outspoken, Dr. Poseidon was also one of the most attractive workers in her profession. She had been delivering offspring for fifteen years before meeting the Lucas’s. After conducting several meetings with them, she reassured David and Sandy that their firstborn would be healthy. The Lucas’s placed their entire faith in her hands.

 

Three hours into the procedure, things were looking promising for Sandy’s little visitor. In between periods of heavy breathing, the young creature was preparing to make his first appearance in the new world. First, the head popped out, and what a slimy, bald head it was! Then, the arms came into view followed by the chest, the stomach, and eventually, those magnificent legs which left her body after one incredible push. Seconds later, the cord was cut and another life had begun.

As the medical staff congratulated Dr. Poseidon on her fine efforts, David wanted to do the same for his courageous wife. But she had passed out immediately upon the completion of her birthing duties. David would have to wait for her to awaken.

Dr. Poseidon, feeling remarkably humble at this point, decided to awaken the silent Sandy and allow her to hold her new creation for the first time. As she looked at Sandy, her face turned completely white. Everyone in the room except David knew what had happened. Feeling left out, David demanded to know what had happened to his wife. After dismissing all of her assistants, Dr. Poseidon notified David that he was a single parent.

 
Aphorism:  "Be careful what you wish for.  You just might get it."
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, May 2, 2006
5:34 p.m.
Published in: on May 2, 2006 at 5:40 pm  Leave a Comment  

Zoo Station (Short Story)

In the spring of 1993, I was in my last semester at Delta Secondary School.  It was a tough time.  The school went through a 7-month caretaker strike which began in mid-September the previous year and finally ended in March.  The worst part was that I was the Student Council President during half the crisis.  Few people can understand what President Bush is going through right now but I do. 
 
After resigning the gig in late November (because they were going to impeach me) I was asked to stay on as an honourary member which was surprising to me.  It was also a mistake.  I should’ve quit the Council entirely and immediately begin the long, arduous process of picking up the pieces of what was left of my self-esteem.  The fact that I was a horrible student politician had a lot to do with my deflated state of mind.  (In the last week of January, I told the new President, who was elected a Vice President, that I wasn’t on the Council anymore when he asked me if I was attending the next meeting.  And that was that.) 
 
There were two bright spots during that time:  the movies and writing.  In my Grade 12 English class, my teacher, Mrs. Denise Hagger, who I had a hard time getting along with, did something for me I will always remember and appreciate.  She taught me the concept of precis.  The answers.com definition says it best:  "A concise summary of a book, article, or other text; an abstract."  Essentially, she taught me how to tighten up my writing, particularly my critical assessments, and also to not use so many unnecessary words and to make my writing voice as clear as possible.  Being a very sensitive fellow, it was tough hearing her absolutely bang-on criticisms of my writing.  But after calming down, I knew she was right.  She is the very reason why my writing has steadily improved since my time in her class.  No wonder I did so well in College.
 
Zoo Station was created out of this hostile and depressing period.  I think U2 are the greatest rock and roll band that has ever existed and one of their great albums is Achtung Baby.  The first time I heard the opening track, Zoo Station, I fell in love with the song, right from the intro.  I also thought it would make a great title for a short story.  The mood of that album, in my mind, mirrored the mood of my story.
 
I didn’t realize I was doing this at the time but I used the name Zoo Station as a fictional version of the Go Train Station in Ontario.  You may also notice some other strange pop culture references like Scantihose (remember those?) and the movie Indecent Proposal.  (At one point I mention someone receiving a "decent proposal".)  I also mention, as a bit of an inside-joke, chocolate-covered almonds.  Is it just me or does every high school, past and present, sell those things every year as part of their fundraising activities?
 
This story might have been handed in to Mrs. Hagger as an assignment but I’m not sure now.  The typewritten copy I have doesn’t have any grades or teacher markings on it so maybe it was submitted without receiving any kind of feedback.  I like the story.  It captures the bleakness of my life at the time even though it’s rather short, could use some greater detail and be expanded.
 
I named the woman in the story Julia because I had a crush on a girl with that name in high school.  (She was the trumpet player in one of my music classes.)  I thought she was hot and smart and incredibly, I managed to get her phone number.  Curiously, whenever I called, she was always out.  Hmmm.
 
This one guy, another trumpet player, used to make fun of her all the time.  He said the only reason she called herself Julia (her actual first name is Julie) was because of Julia Roberts.  Much to everyone’s surprise, they were a couple for a while.  Very strange.
 
The last time I saw her she was at the downtown Public Library sometime in the mid-1990s, I do believe.  She looked like she was dating a good friend of mine, Dave (not to be confused with another pal named Dave who I’ve known for 22 years), who came over to talk to me.  She seemed to want to get out of there in a hurry and so I only spoke to Dave for a short while but it was good to see both of them.  I haven’t seen them since.
 
Story of my life.
 
One more thing.  This story mentions the dicey subject of sexism which, I’ve noticed from going through these 1990s pieces, was a recurring theme in my writing.  I always considered myself paranoidly conservative but I guess there was a social conscience in there somewhere.  Either way, despite its flaws and short length, I think the story shows some growth from what I was writing at the start of my high school years.  I’ve corrected some small spelling and grammatical errors but essentially, this is the same story I wrote back in 1993.  I hope you enjoy it.
 

ZOO STATION
By Dennis Earl

 

After all these years I can’t believe my life is close to the end. Here I lie in this overused hospital bed, hoping that the cancer inside me ends my pain and yet, at the same time, I want to remember. I want to look back at my days as a poor and pathetic man who, because of one woman, was able to keep going.
 
How I wish she was here now. Her soft hands caressing my prunish face while soothing me with her smooth speech. Her hazel eyes reminiscent of those chocolate-covered almonds that high school kids sold for fundraisers. But it was her intelligence that I was most attracted to. She knew more about political science, history and medicine than any man I ever met. If it weren’t for the sexist workforce back then, she would have pursued a career in politics. Instead, she had to settle for a teaching position at a Hamilton elementary school. And it wasn’t even a Canadian history course. More like home economics. Can you believe that?
 
She was also a physical masterpiece. This woman could have been a top-notch model like Twiggy, as far as I was concerned. She always hated those women, though, the way they looked and the horrible ideas they provided for ambitious, teenage girls who didn’t know any better. I was pleased she wasn’t interested in that line of work as well as the hefty, financial rewards. But she would’ve been something.
 
I fondly remember our first encounter. It was quite by chance, actually. I was on the Zoo train that was returning from Toronto and re-entering Hamilton. The ticket cost me my last paycheck and I didn’t know what my next move would be. I had just been fired by my boss at The Globe & Mail for rarely showing up on time. He was never displeased with my sports articles, by the way. In fact, he was my only supporter at that building.
 
Anyway, the train pulled into Zoo Station after a rather bumpy, one-hour journey. It was one of those two-leveled trains that were more fun to ride on if you sat on the top deck. Being in my forties at the time, I preferred the bottom floor. The exterior sides were painted green and white and the Zoo logo was stuck in the middle of the colour scheme. I grabbed my bags and quickly exited the train. As I turned my head, I saw her for the first time. She was sitting on a bench all by her lonesome, and that got be thinking. Maybe if I talk to this woman and open my soul to her, about my problems, she could arrange something for me.
 
You see, not everyone was sexist during the psychedelic era, as some younger people would have called it. I was well aware of the women’s movement and was one of the few who supported it.
 
I approached with caution, nervous that the opposite purpose would be discovered. I mean, she could have mistaken me for a desperate and lonely man who needed to hear a reassuring voice from a stranger.
 
This woman wore a classy pinkish-coloured dress with white polka dots and with matching pumps and a nice new pair of Scantihose. Her hair was quite dark and absolutely straight which suited her personality. She did not glance at my unappealing face which, to some people, resembled Karl Malden.
 
I reluctantly sat down beside her. Still no glance. I waited a few seconds for her to start the conversation. Silence. There was definitely no way that I was going to speak first. I’m terrible at that stuff. Granted, if someone asked me a question, I would immediately respond. But this was a much more complicated situation. I didn’t know how to start this flirtation.
 
Thank God for the rain; no offence intended! Fortunately, I had an umbrella packed in one of my bags and I proceeded to use it.
 
Finally, she spoke to me.
 
"Excuse me, sir, but may I stand under your umbrella?"
 
"Oh, sure. Quick, get under!" I responded.
 
The rain was torrential at this point. But at least there was no thunder. I hated the noise it made. It irritated me and made me feel fragile. I was amazed at how friendly this woman was to me.
 
After her request to stay under my umbrella, there was a brief pause. Then, she impressed me with her intelligence.
 
"I can’t believe it’s taken this long to end the drought," she said.
 
"We had a drought?" I asked stupidly.
 
"Oh, yes! You were probably in Toronto for a while, writing those articles. The weather was much more pleasant there but here, it was nothing but hot and humid afternoons. I’m sorry, I should have told you my name before all of this. I’m Julia."
 
"The name’s William."
 
"I know."
 
We shook hands trustingly and I realized that I did have more than one fan. Soon after, the dialogue resumed.
 
"I noticed you on the train. You had this horrified look of despair on your face. Are you alright?" Julia inquired.
 
"Actually, I’m in over my head. I just lost my job, I got the axe from my landlord and that train ride ended my cash flow."
 
"Oh, how awful! Does your family live in Hamilton?"
 
"No. I’ve never been married and all of my immediate family is dead so I don’t know what’s going on. My life is just a complete mess right now."
 
Then, I was saved.
 
"I have this incredibly insane idea and I hope you won’t feel uncomfortable because of it."
 
"Say it."
 
"Would you be bothered if I asked you to stay at my apartment for a while? Until you get rolling again?"
 
"No. I don’t think so."
 
"It’s just a train ride away. I’ll even buy your ticket!"
 
"No. I would be stepping over the line and you have problems of your own…"
 
"Please. Don’t walk away. I’m going to help you. I mean, you’ve got absolutely no place of your own and where else are you gonna go? Your belongings are all gathered as I can see. Why don’t you bring them with you to the apartment?"
 
"No. I’m flattered and touched by your offer but…" Julia interrupted me again and she continued to sympathize with my problems.
 
"Listen, William. I feel for you, I really do. I know that we’ve just met in a train station during a torrential downpour but I want to help you."
 
I was relieved and eventually, I accepted her decent proposal. She bought my ticket and a few minutes later, our Zoo train arrived. I left my stress, as well as my past difficulties, behind at Zoo Station.
 
Now that I’m at that age, I can’t recall any more details of my life with Julia. Not even the first time she professed her love to me. The only other remaining image I have of my wife was in the casket at the parlour a few years ago. I was saddened by her quick passing, hoping that she would outlive me. But that didn’t happen.
Julia was a charming woman, twenty years my junior. Age never mattered in our thirty-eight years of bondage. Only our passion for each other was important. If only I could remember how we first realized that we were together, that we were in love. But that detail, along with many others, has dissolved itself from my dream maker.
 
Now I have no one.
 
Please, my Lord, end this pain, this horrible feeling in my body. I can’t stand this hospital. The nurses treat me like my young grandson and not like an eighty-year-old man which I am. The stench is unbearable. The people are impolite and I never have any visitors. Kill me now before I find those pills. Oh, they’ve just turned off the lights. Finally. Now I can sleep for the last time.
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, May 1, 2006
11:39 p.m.
Published in: on May 1, 2006 at 11:49 pm  Comments (1)