Lineage

Excerpt from: The Mermaid of Lake Ontario

Saoirse’s mother had been the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter, which set her up for greater hopes in life than she would ever achieve. Instead of becoming a prophet or a renowned healer, Medbh Nolan found herself changing diapers for the better part of her adult life.  Saoirse was the first, a reddened infant with tight fists and a gaping mouth. The first daughter of a seventh daughter, nothing special, but a blessing all the same. Medbh was half-hoping to continue, but broke the chain of seven daughters by having a boy on her second try, a young tadpole child with wide-set eyes and constantly running nose. Mebh wondered if maybe she had angered God in some way when her inquiring prayers were answered with three more boys. Mebh thought for a year that perhaps she would have seven sons after the Saoirse fluke, but the Christmas Eve arrival of baby Rhiannon ruined that opportunity.

Mebh’s husband, Séan, joked that perhaps if they stopped there they could keep some of the magic in the family before it all leaked out. But it kept leaking, the sweat of child labour soaking twice and thrice through every set of sheets the Nolan family owned. Diarmaid, Ailill, Niamh, and Ceilidh were relatively painless, spilling from their mother like fruit from a cornucopia. There was a long break then, before the miracle child of 1965. Roisín was shrivelled, unkindly nicknamed Raisin Child for many reasons. Rose-child to raisin-child, Roisín was born premature, wrinkled and purple as a prune. Delivered after 36 straight hours of labour, Roisín was a curse before she was a blessing, a needless encore that reminded her parents just how many hopes for the future they could never afford. She grew up wrinkled, familiar with the sackcloth burden or her existence.

Hormones

Excerpt from: The Mermaid of Lake Ontario

Catherine had never been so nervous in her life. Not in any of her high school performances – choral or otherwise – not in any of her first dates (though those were with girls and hadn’t really counted), not even upon arriving in Toronto without any money and without any friends. What scared her most was the fact that the person across the desk from her was in charge of the rest of her life. This person could kill her, or this person could make her the happiest girl alive.

This person was going to tell her if she could get hormones or not.

How easy it was for cis people to ask for hormones. Feel like not getting pregnant? Sure, take some estrogen. Having troubles conceiving? Sure, take some of both! Hey, need a new vagina? No problem! Breast implants? You got it, honey!

But as soon as the woman asking for help had a penis? Unthinkable.

This was the third doctor that Catherine had talked to since arriving in Toronto. The first doctor had been at an STI clinic, who assured a panicked Catherine that no, she didn’t have AIDS, just mononucleosis. Catherine had been relieved and then irritated, and resolved to get tested more often. It turned out that Catherine didn’t have enough sex to warrant being tested again, so she never had an occasion to return.

The second time she had been to a doctor was when she had contracted an ear infection from a very bad cold. Whatever the germs were had travelled from her throat into her ear cavity (she assumed there was a real medical term for that) and had started partying up in there (she assumed there was a real medical term for that, too). She was constantly dizzy and she felt like she was trying to listen to music underwater. The doctor had given her a prescription for some antibiotics, marvelling out loud at how advanced the infection had become.

“Don’t you come to get yourself checked out more often?” The doctor had asked.

“Nope,” said Catherine.

“You must be a very healthy man.”

And that was why Catherine didn’t go to the doctor’s office to get checked out more often.

*

A clock on the wall told her that it was 3:35. The clock did not tell her that it was February, 2007, seven years since she had realized that she needed hormones in order to survive. And she almost hadn’t survived.

How many hospital visits? Catherine thought back. There should be a frequent flier card that could get punched every time she had showed up at the ER with a drug overdose. Every 10 visits, you get a free sandwich from the sub shop in the food court. Maybe even air miles, not that Catherine had the time or money to travel anyway.

How are you still alive? Catherine could see the questions in the paramedics’ eyes.

Catherine had always had a strong stomach. When her sister Amity was learning to cook, Catherine would be the guinea pig. The drug overdoses surely didn’t have anything on Amity’s famous PB & J pasta, or even the dreaded jello buttermilk surprise. (The surprise was tuna.)

And now, Catherine’s stomach turned. She felt like she was going to throw up. Twenty seven years of keeping her food down except when drunk, and here she was threatening to toss her cookies in the middle of a perfectly sober situation. Catherine wished that she had a beer in her hand.

She tried to calm herself, and reached into her bag to pull out her phone. She had a game on there that she liked: a version of solitaire where the cards did a little dance when you got their positioning right. It made her feel a little better. But as she extracted her phone, she realized that her phone was vibrating. Who could be calling her at this hour? She flipped it open, and realized a second time that no, her hands were just trembling.

She put her phone down and set her hands in her lap, trying to remember one of the calming techniques that the nurses had told her.

Whenever you’re in a crisis, try to breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth.

In through the nose, closing her eyes, Catherine inhaled. She smelled clinical sanitary regulations.

It didn’t help.

*

Escape

Excerpt from: The Mermaid of Lake Ontario

Catherine was seventeen when she realized that she had to leave Buckhorn. She was in class, alternating between doodling and gazing out the window. These were her two pastimes in school, learning having been abandoned long ago. She wore a sweater with a hood that she kept pulled over her ever-lengthening hair, and she sat hunched over her desk. Her math teacher was going on about trigonometry, something about how to calculate the areas of shapes that were stuck together. She couldn’t have repeated the information if a person waved a one hundred dollar bill in front of her face. Looking out over the trees and small grassy field where the boys played football after class, she realized that this town wasn’t big enough for its own issues. It couldn’t even begin to have room for hers. She would go to the city, a small fish in a big aquarium, and she would hide behind rocks until no one could find her.

Here, walking to the store was like walking with a spotlight trained on her. People looked, people tittered, people sometimes hurled insults. In a city, she could trail a crowd and blend in to the thousand other freaks who lived there. At least, that’s what she thought.

Her class had gone on a trip to Ottawa one year, to learn about the government. They had walked through every hall of government and gone skating on the Rideau Canal. They had crunched down the city streets that still didn’t get adequately plowed, and they had a snowball fight in front of the Parliament Hill. She had enjoyed herself, not because of fun experiences with friends, but because she saw how easy it was to hide. At one point during the trip, she had slipped into a dress shop for five minutes, keeping an eye out for the group from behind racks of designer gowns. No one noticed. In Buckhorn, everybody noticed her. In this city, she was just another face out of millions. No one cared what she did, as long as she wasn’t shooting up in the middle of the street or shooting up a shopping mall.

But Ottawa might not even be big enough to contain her blossoming self-hatred. Maybe she would have to venture to Toronto, the unofficial capital of Ontario, that looming Jericho that strangled people with pollution smog before they could set foot within city limits. She would go there and lie underneath the pavement, blend deep into the scum of the earth, and only emerge when she was ready to become a butterfly. Then, she would go to the Eaton Centre with a fur stole over her shoulders and watch the peasants bow before her. She would be glorious.

But first, she needed somewhere to pupate, which would be exactly as gross (if not more so) than it sounded.

“Malachy,” snapped the math teacher.

Catherine didn’t respond at first. Sometimes she forgot her old name, because she never addressed herself that way. And barely anyone else addressed her at all.

“Malachy, please solve for x.”

Miserably, Catherine rose from her seat and trudged up to the board. Chalk smeared in wide loops and angles that must have been numbers, but she had no clue what any of it meant. She desperately pulled some information from last class out of her memory’s less pleasant recesses. With a loose and shaking hand, she scribbled some numbers on the board, trusting herself not to cry when the teacher inevitably picked her apart for it.

She made her way down the aisle, eyes focused on her desk for self-preservation. She slumped over her desk, pulled her hood down, and began to plot her escape.

Lupus

Excerpt from: The Enchanting Adventures of Dr. Penis

Asher couldn’t figure out where the lupus had come from. He hadn’t found it in the kitchen junk drawer or in between his couch cushions or at the curb on garbage night. It wasn’t even tucked into the branches of his family tree. No, he would have preferred it that way. He just went to the doctor’s office to pick up his test results and it was suddenly all there in the little checkmarked boxes. He’d asked his doctor, Emily, and even his basset hound Dr. Penis, but nobody could really tell him why. Maybe the sunlight, said the doctor, maybe a drug reaction, maybe your genes. Maybe your face, but Asher kept that one to himself. Especially unhelpful was Dr. Penis, who had eaten most of the test results (“You better hope I’m not contagious,” said Asher.)

*

He had sat on the doctor’s bench, on the crinkly white paper to keep your butt germs from getting on the seat, relieved he didn’t have to wear one of those skimpy gowns. All the same, he felt strangely naked without Dr. Penis, who came with him everywhere since Emily left. But Asher knew that if Dr. Penis was actually there, he would have found a way to get into the container of syringes by the hand-washing sink.

Asher was thinking about how biopsy would be a much funnier word if it was just ‘bipsy’ when the doctor walked in.

“Miss Ka–”

“Mr.”

“Mr. Ka’aukai.”

“Yep,” said Asher.

And the doctor told him about the lab tests. CBC, ESR, ANA, YMCA. They looked at his pee (which was lacking) and his liver (which was actually okay). And they got results for the biopsy from the rash on his face.

“What rash?” asked Asher.

“The butterfly rash,” said the doctor. “It’s…uh… actually pretty obvious on your face. A common pattern across the face of wome- uh, individuals with lupus.”

“I didn’t think I had a rash,” said Asher, touching his face to make sure. It felt like it did most of the time, which was not all that pleasant.

“You didn’t notice the large splotches of red on your face?”

“Honestly,” said Asher, “I thought it was acne. Jesus. I mean, I knew I hated myself, but I thought maybe my body didn’t hate itself so much.”

“Think about it this way,” said the doctor. “Your body loves you so much that it’s attacking its own tissue in an attempt to protect you”

“That’s not reassuring,” said Asher. The doctor didn’t argue with that one.

Asher’s next question was “Am I gonna die?” Not because he really wanted to know for himself, but he had to figure out who Dr. Penis would live with. Brad was looking after him today because he had a day off, and Brad spent his days off with the boxed DVD set of Will and Grace and some pickles. So Brad was at home anyway, instructed not under any conditions to give Dr. Penis a pickle.

“Everyone’s going to die,” said the doctor, who was in most respects a pretty crappy doctor. “But no, chances are that you won’t die sooner than anyone else. On the other hand, we can give you medicine to manage your symptoms, but it won’t go away for good.”

“Can I still eat ice cream?” asked Asher.

“I guess,” said the doctor.

“Sweet.”

*

When Asher got home, he was greeted by Dr. Penis wedging himself between his legs and a muffled “hey, sailor” from behind the door of Brad’s room. Asher tripped over Dr. Penis three times trying to close the door, and when he succeeded in the difficult task, the basset hound unwound himself from Asher’s jeans and started whining for food. Judging by the smell in the room, Brad had caved to Dr. Penis’ water-torture-like howl and given him a pickle. Asher heaved a giant sigh and went to the fridge for Dr. Penis’ can of Monday Brunch.

As Asher opened the fridge, he saw that Brad had spelled out “frantic butt-licking” in magnetic poetry on the freezer door.

And that made everything just a little bit better.

Novel Summaries

Out of the Loop/Netherworld Incorporated

A man dies and finds himself in the lost in the netherworld, slipped through the cracks of a Hellish bureaucracy. With the help of some disorganized rebels, a disembodied voice, and a disenfranchised basset hound, he must make sense of the (other-)world around him.

The October House

Trinity began to notice dead things in her apartment, and then she began to notice the dead things in her head. Max tries to live with a couple of perverts.

Chasing Paradise (Nevada)

Book smuggling Canadians, Booze smuggling Mormons, and a highway cop zombie hunter are tied together by the highways of Nevada.

Interns

The human meat market of New York City, mixed with a healthy dose of exploitative tales lit in neon.

The Enchanting Adventures of Dr. Penis

A hapless dude and his farty dog have things happen to them.

The Mermaid of Lake Ontario

Four generations of family history along the shores of Lake Ontario.

 

 

Camp NaNo August Party up in hurr

About:

Life after dark in a New Orleans graveyard, and the stories of two people a century apart trying to find freedom —
In 1852, a free woman of colour struggles to help slaves along the underground railroad, all the while coping with an odd set of feelings attached to a new friend. In 1952, a plumber’s boy falls in love with a girl far across the tracks, challenging the rules in a world of racial segregation. The two stories are tied together by the graveyard and the set of Vodou spirits who inhabit it, as Baron Samedi and his family watch a city grow around them.

Genre: Historical literary partially-supernatural hints-of-queer-but-also-straight-romance psychological mega-adventure

October House – excerpt

Piles of sticks, piles of stones

piles of dirt above my bones

 

I’ve slept for so long

 

Max finished jotting down the words in his notebook and looked up. The old “pile of sticks” song, simple and haunting, chanted in his head. It was from back when he was in grade school with that repulsive — whatever her name had been. They would sing that song in the schoolyard, whenever some brave soul would lie down and pretend to be deceased. The other children would dump leaves and dirt onto the child’s only slightly motionless body, while feigning grief and then losing interest. Either the mourners or the body would get bored first and walk away, and the game ended at either of those points. It was a morbid thing for children to be doing, now that he came to think of it, but he supposed that it was much healthier to get them started contemplating mortality early than to have them fear death and shove it under the category of taboo for the rest of their lives.
And in all honesty, they probably had less time than they thought they did. Max had learned to underestimate the time he had left, which he presumed was far better than overestimating it and then being severely disappointed upon being proven incorrect. The great thing about suicide was that one could more or less choose his own destiny. Max felt a slight ringing in his ears.

He stood up and walked over to the nearest tomb. This one was one of the condo-crypts, as he called them, with a typical black door and hulking gray exterior. They looked like those awful public buildings from the 1960s that clogged too many streets in too many cities around the western hemisphere; those massive bunkers of buildings, with their hideous concrete and mere slits for windows. They were disheartening to be inside, and disheartening to see from the outside. Max felt no more optimistic about the tombs around him. He placed his hand on the iron bars which protected the inside of the tomb from grave robbers, or just homeless guys who needed a place to stay for the night. Max rapped his knuckles on the bars, enjoying the hollow metallic ringing with which the cemetery swelled. He inspected a wreath that had been slung across the bars by some mourners. It was dried out and disappointing, but he supposed that the dead would neither notice nor care.

Piles of sticks, piles of stones….

Max bent down to pick up a stick from the ground. He dropped it in front of the tomb. He set about looking for more sticks, and setting them by the first one. Sticks were hard to come by in a cemetery with relatively few trees, but Max finally managed to create a decently-sized pile. He stepped back to admire his work, not sure why he had done it in the first place. He shrugged. It looked like substantial bundle of firewood, but with twigs, or the preparation for some grisly sacrifice. He wondered if he should put some sort of effigy on top of the pile, so that people would further get the wrong idea. Well, there was no right idea to it anyway. He supposed that it did not matter, least of all to the occupants of the tombs which surrounded him.

The sky was an obnoxious, crackling blue that day, dazzlingly smug like the type of person who wakes up early in the morning fully alert. He had always preferred a leaden sky, especially when visiting a graveyard, and he would have thought that living in Ireland would banish any vestige of blue, but there were always those unfortunate days with that unfortunate sky. The man on the pink bicycle whizzed past; Max hailed him with a middle finger raised at his retreating back. The man even breathed in an annoying way; considering the way he wheezed, he had no place on a bicycle, let alone outside anywhere.

Max started to walk, wandering the rows of condo-crypts and graves, noting down his favourite names: Gallows, Partridge, Severn, Howl, Deth; and Black, Brown, and Green all in the same plot. Two tombstones next to each other simply read “Francis” and “Bruce.” Max enjoyed the company of the deceased; they were not much for conversation, but they made him feel less alone. They were a welcome departure from Paul and Isidor, certainly. He would not mind spending the rest of eternity with them. He wondered if any former classmates were here and he was not aware of them. Maybe they were all there, and they had neglected to invite him, as it had always been during his years at school.

He shoved his hands deep inside his pockets and looked up in resignation at the sky. Why did things always have to be like this? He was tired of being left this way, nature abandoning him too. Its ugly smirk and its baldness – not a cloud up there – irked him. The problem was that it had always been like this, and, he predicted, it would continue to be so. He looked down. He wondered if he was standing on a murder victim…. or a murderer. Or a suicide. Or all three. What did the stone sound like? Silence, the only thing it could sound like. Or if it could speak, sing the songs of the dead or tell their stories… but the stone was dead too; the stone was never alive. Something dragged inside of him, unbearably heavy, torn fabric. He shuddered; an icy hand rested on his shoulder. With the heaviness came coldness, or maybe it was with the winter came coldness. All the same, he was finished being there. He would tackle the presence of Isidor and Paul again, because something had gone wrong here, in the place that he could go to escape. It was no longer safe. Their eyes followed him everywhere. He needed to prepare.

Max drew his collar closer around his neck and made his way out of Mount Jerome cemetery as it began to snow.