We drove north towards the fires in the northern territories and silently turned up the gravel road to the oil rig where the grizzly ate the woman. She opened the blue plastic door to the porta potty and found the bear. It attacked. Before she could close the door or run away she was on the ground with a mouth of bear teeth rending her arm. Her screams drew us like a pump draws oil. We said we beat the bear with tools and hands. We said we yelled and pulled at fur and stuck fingers in beady black eyes while teeth ripped her arm off and claws tore open her chest. That’s our story because dried blood in the oil sands can’t talk. The smoke from fires and the fog of memory stung my eyes to tears and I could still see her from where we really were, behind the porta potty. We yelled. I threw my boot but the bear growled and that was the end. It was big and wild and real. Her last breaths bubbled through the blood in her throat and the bear made off with the arm no one ever found.
Reflex Fiction Posts
The newspapers called it Puddle Protest. Mary was thinking No woman is an island. The developers left an unfinished road on her estate. The council denied responsibility. Impasse. When the forecast storm came, she placed her white plastic garden chair in the middle of the puddle and sang songs until the media arrived. She quoted John Donne, Status Quo and once, when the puddle splashed against her knees, Blondie.
After the local radio station lost interest, she decided to stay and ignored entreaties to do otherwise. She asked neighbours to join her, but they looked away. She explained that the causeway was safe. They looked somehow frightened. She reached out her hand. It was not held or even acknowledged.
The boy from two doors away came with a paper boat and pushed it across. She picked it up and saw the writing. Us and Them. She looked up but he was heading back to homework or tea or scolding.
He came every day with a new boat which he pushed across to her. On the third day there was a button. She smiled when she looked at it and felt the loose thread on her coat.
The next day there were petals in the paper folds, and on Saturday a cardboard number two. She lived at number twelve, but people often thought it was number one.
In the second week he sent a small pencil he must have picked up on a trip to IKEA with his parents. They exchanged messages.
The sweet spices from the end of an Indian meal seemed to be included knowing the water would bleed their vibrant colours into the paper and the puddle. There were sherbet lemons wrapped up and intended to be eaten. She wrote saying thank you, and told him about her favourite sweets.
Then there was a mint with a hole in the middle. She knew a lifebelt when she ate one, and waded across, smiling.
“Open up your heart to the sun.” The yoga teacher chants, her voice like balm on my forehead. I arch my back and hold my palms together high above my head. I close my eyes and see colors. Oranges and yellows and reds. My limbs are all longer than thirty minutes ago, my neck like a swan’s, my spine like a stretching panther’s.
This is where I hear my thoughts. My breath. The sounds of this morning in my kitchen seem far away. His loud voice, his shaking jowls, his belly tumbling out of his too-tight T-shirt and low hanging pajamas. “The coffee is bitter. Johnny can’t find his soccer shoes. Can’t you get anything right?” His left toenail is deep blue. From when he tried to kick me but stubbed his toe on the bed leg instead. Ha. How I laughed inside.
I touch my nose to my knees. I fold, like a paper doll. I graze my lips to my knees and kiss them thank-you. For carrying me through every day. Soon it is time to end. I sigh into child’s pose. If only I could stay like this for longer. We all bow deeply, saluting each other’s souls with Namaste.
In the parking lot, I see I’m late. I have to pick up my son from his game. I imagine his forlorn face as every parent comes and he is left standing. I pull out of the far-too-narrow space I had pulled into, looking over my right shoulder. Then I hear it. The screech of metal digging into metal, metal scraping off metal, metal gashing metal. My car has grown a claw. I keep pulling out, taking the scar to its end.
I look in my handbag for a notepad, a pen to leave my contact information. Can’t find one. I look on the dashboard. None. I look around the parking lot expecting everyone to be looking at me. The owner racing towards me. The parking attendant. I see no one.
I push the gear into drive and race out the exit.
What Rudy remembered of their last night in Moscow were the gladiators on tables swinging gold-tipped skirts. They had been on vodka and gentle lifts of ecstasy for two days after the boss went back to Milan early, which included the party finale last night. Now they were in the queue at the airport.
Rudy was summarising his thoughts. From the first day he’d felt that he had rejoined a collective of the belly, of the bowels. He’d read the Russians as a youth. You know the feeling when you land in a country and you see them as brethren?
His colleague Leo tapped his arm. “I wonder what happened to the guy we left at the party,” he said. “The guy from the hotel who came in the taxi.”
As he fished for his passport, Rudy’s mind staggered over the opulence of the party last night. There had been dancing girls entwined with the gladiators, lush girls with ponytails and erupting breasts and slashed gold togas. There had been bodies crammed on balconies embedded in the walls, bodies amassed on stages and crumpling in offshoot rooms. He had never seen anything like it. They had loaded up on vodka before the drugs kicked in. Rudy was good-looking but not a single person hit on him all night; there was only a black guy from Mali in the unisex toilets with whom he sat talking on the floor.
Rudy wondered if he would ever come back here with his job. They were always on the move with their product and usually achieved great success. But here in Moscow they sold nothing and people had no regard for them. Rudy knew he had flown into the eye of a civilisation where he neither existed or mattered.
God made the world on a Monday morning, ever so quietly, with a crateful of coffee and a hangover. When He was done He lit a cigarette and swore to Himself He’d never drink again.
I see God most days, in strange places around the house, or out in the garden, sometimes. He never speaks to me.
God has bone-pale hair and mismatched teeth that crowd His holy mouth like shrunken crucifixes, waiting for the promise of a prophet. I know people think He doesn’t care, but the truth is he cares all too much, about all the wrong things. Ask Him and He’ll show you His miracles; they litter every surface, flat or vertical, framed and mounted. God is very proud of His miracles.
I watch Him sometimes at his desk in the mornings. He sits with His head in His hands, muttering prayers under His breath, scratching His stubble with half-eaten nails, blue from the ink of His trade. God has blood-soaked eyes and a tannin-coloured tongue, stained with the memory of infinite cups of tea. He keeps His shadow in a jam-jar beside his bed, it screams at Him every day, begging for release.
God only sometimes listens.
I ran into them at the park. They were sitting on the bench. I was taking a walk, so I had to stop to say hello.
She was reading her book, but he was playing on her phone. I looked down. My game.
Everyone was playing it. I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I wasn’t expecting it.
He knew the app so well. His little hands barely fit around the phone, but he knew every turn, timed every jump, grabbed every coin. Three stars on every level.
“Does he play on the phone a lot?”
“Not as much as other kids, but it keeps him occupied.”
“Isn’t he too young for it?” He must be like four now? Did he turn five? How old did most kids get phones?
She sighed. “You don’t get to ask me that.”
She’s right. She’d said he’s doing alright in preschool. He’s eating fine. He doesn’t get in fights. She’s doing a good job.
“Is the child support coming through okay?”
She nodded. We both knew it was.
The game music cut through the silence as we tried to remember what we used to have in common.
“—He loves Adventure Chase.”
“—I meant to call more.”
We paused, trying not to overlap again.
“I made the character look like him.”
She smiled. “I saw. That was sweet.”
“We should do this more often; he’d like to know you.”
I looked down at him and watched as he moved to the next level. He didn’t look up. At least I gave him something.
At the supermarket today, I found a phoenix. It lay there plucked like any other bird. Larger than a chicken, more slender than a goose, it was on sale. I don’t usually buy what I don’t know, but I was curious.
I removed a small bag tucked deep inside it containing its head, claws, heart, liver and kidneys, which I placed in a pot to boil into stock. I added a bay leaf, salt, pepper.
The bird’s body I carefully clipped into four. The breast meat was lean, the thighs plump, the wings slender. I added the stock and some sweet paprika, and let the bird simmer for almost two hours. It was, after all, a fairly old bird.
Some say that the phoenix lives for 1,400 years before it can be reborn. There don’t always have to be ashes. It can just decompose. There’d been no age on the label and no use-by date, which probably accounted for the sale. I wondered how it would taste. Whether I should invite others to share my meal. What if I imploded? Or simply soared? Would there be an outbreak of salmonella? Salmonella in Phoenix? I giggled. The bird was getting to me.
I laid the drumsticks and wings out on a platter surrounding the tender pieces of breast. Did I dare taste? Would it not kill me? Or would it allow me to rise above my anxiety, and let me soar with a paprika kick? I pushed at the breast meat and uncovered a wishbone; it glowed with a come-hither look. Come ride me, it said.
I brought the white bone to my lips and scraped off clinging slivers of flesh with my teeth. Closing my eyes, I breathed deeply. Then I took off.