I was thrilled to find out a little while ago that one of my pieces of Flash Fiction was accepted by Elephants Never Magazine. It’s a short little piece about keeping promises and it’s called “‘Til Death Do Us Part”. I hope you get a chance to read it. You can find it here.
Just a quick mid-week post to share that I have a new piece of flash fiction in the latest The Sirens Call anthology. It’s a spooky little story called “The Visit” and it’s on page 94—I can’t link straight to it but here’s the link to the anthology if you’d like to read it: The Sirens Call Issue 48. Happy New Year, everyone!
Just a quick mid-week post to let you know that a piece of Flash Fiction that I wrote recently appeared in SpillWords Press. It’s short and a little weird (one of these things is exactly like me–I’m 5 foot 6, so guess which one?). It’s called ‘Magpie” and you can read it here if you’d like.
So I was recently tagged for a couple of blogger awards, and I know some people don’t like this, but for me, it’s always a chance to have a bit of fun with the questions. The first award was the Mystery Blogger award, and I was nominated by Simon from Beyond The Infinite, a cool blog about science, space, and exploring the universe. As a part of this award, I’m supposed to tell you three things about myself, and then answer five questions:
1) In real life, people think I’m a very serious, professional person.
2) I collect small jewellery boxes that are made with seashells.
3) I talk to stuffed animals, just in case.
1) What is the strangest thing you’ve seen lately?
This ad, on a buy and sell site. It’s unsettling and at the same time, intriguing. Is it a challenge? Like, if I really want those beanie babies, am I willing to pay $200 AND defeat The Gatekeeper? And it doesn’t even say HOW MANY beanie babies there are. Who would post an ad for stuffed toys and accompany it with a picture so intimidating? Is the person selling the beanie babies against their will and this is a warning? I can just see someone taking their small child to pick up them up and being confronted by this person screaming “YOU CAN’T HAVE MY BEANIE BABIES!!!” You’d be scarred for life. This ad is strange and it really does engender more questions than answers.
2) If you could travel to any planet, which one would it be?
Uranus. Duh. Don’t you know me at all?
3) Do you ever give your cars (or other transportation) names?
No. I have a Chevy Sonic, and I call it “The Sonic”. Wait—I guess that’s kind of a name. In fact, it’s a very cool name, like a superhero name for someone who could fly faster than the speed of sound (is that actually even fast? I’m not as science-y as Simon so maybe he knows), or can destroy things with sonic waves. Wow, and I thought the coolest nickname would be Player One—now I want The Sonic, like Suzanne “The Sonic” Craig-Whytock.
4) What’s your weirdest habit?
Me: What’s my weirdest habit?
Ken: Obsessing over a piece of furniture or a vase being moved 5 millimetres from where you put it, and then yelling, ‘What the f*ck?! Why is it out of place?!’
Me: That’s not weird—it’s because I worry about ghosts, and THAT’S PERFECTLY NORMAL, KEN.
5) What are your 3 desert island must haves?
Ken, Titus, and an unending supply of white wine. I’d add my daughter, but I know she has better things to do than hang out with a drunk castaway.
I was also nommed for the Real Neat Blog Award, also by Simon, and the fact that he thought of me for both of these is incredibly kind and thoughtful, and I thank him very much. Some of these are his questions; some I just made up.
1) What was the funniest thing that you saw yesterday?
I was on the train sitting towards the back, and an elderly woman behind me got up and started walking towards the front of the car. She had a giant duffle bag slung over one shoulder and as she made her way up the aisle, she whacked everyone sitting in the aisle seat on the head with the bag. Hard. It was like something out of Monty Python, watching the reactions of each person as she hit them suddenly from behind, and her seeming obliviousness to the fact that she was leaving such mayhem in her wake.
2) What little known fact would you tell people about yourself?
My nickname is “The Sonic”.
3) Are you good at making speeches?
No. For example, last week at work, we were saying goodbye to some of our summer students, and one of my colleagues announced that I would be making a speech. I laughed and reached into my pocket to jokingly mime taking out a prepared speech but instead pulled out an actual piece of paper that said ‘chúc mừng năm mới’, which means ‘Happy New Year’ in Vietnamese. So I said THAT. People were confused. But here’s a little background as to why there was a piece of paper in my pocket that said ‘Happy New Year’ in Vietnamese. Several years ago, I was the principal of an International Languages site. The school had 13 different language groups who all liked to celebrate various occasions, and they each felt it was important that I, as the principal, welcomed the parents and guests in the large auditorium. Unfortunately, I don’t speak 13 languages, so they would all give me a greeting in Arabic, Farsi, Vietnamese, and whatnot. The MC would get up and start the show in their home language with me waiting in the wings. Then suddenly, the MC would turn and yell, “And SUZANNE!!!” I was always, without exception, taken completely unawares, and would have to rush up to the stage with my piece of paper, the greeting spelled out phonetically in my hand, and the crowd would go wild as I butchered their mother tongue.
4) Have you once again changed your favourite bathroom stall at work?
Why yes, I have. If you’ve been following along, it was initially Stall 5, but then I realized that the toilet paper in that stall ran out much earlier than all the other stalls, which meant that a great many other people had also designated it as the most desirable. I switched to Stall 2, but recently, it’s become less hygienic than I like. Stall 3 is uncomfortably in the middle and the door is usually closed, which is completely f*cking off-putting, and Stall 1, as we know, is haunted. So I’ve resigned myself to Stall 4, even though in some cultures, 4 is an unlucky number. Fortunately, the number 4 is relatively meaningless to me, like most numbers. Also, you probably know by now that if you nominate me for any type of award, there WILL be a discussion about bathroom stalls.
5) Favourite comedian?
John Mulaney. He’s hysterically clever.
6) Is that ghost still haunting your house?
I don’t think so. A couple of weeks ago, I went into the haunted room and the chandelier started flickering, so I whispered, “Shhhh. Everything is OK.” The flickering stopped and there hasn’t been an incident since.
7) What should new followers to this blog expect?
A lot of swearing, mostly.
Also, as some of you know, I write short fiction and a bit of poetry, but those things are very different than this blog or my novels. I recently had a piece of flash fiction featured in X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine, so if you care to read it, you can find it here.
It’s been a strange time lately, a time when all the weird things are happening. If you read The Mystery of the Tip Sheet on the Table, I should tell you that was only the “Tip” of the iceberg, haha, and I apologize for the terrible pun, but I’ve certainly had some experiences in the last three weeks that have been completely outside my wheelhouse, and most of them have to do with the magical world of math. I call it “magical” because there are formulas, and also whenever I see someone solve an equation, I squeal excitedly and exclaim breathlessly with child-like wonder, “How did you do that?!” Here are the 5 strange things that have beset my life recently:
1) I applied for a job closer to home. I love my current job, but I have to live in the city during the week, and it’s getting pretty sketchy downtown. The job was kind of the same as what I do now, I thought, and to be honest, I didn’t really want to change jobs immediately, but at the bottom of the job posting it said that eligible candidates would be put in a pool for future positions, and that seemed like a great opportunity. So I applied, and lo and behold, I got an email about an interview. And at the bottom of the email was a description of the interview telling me that I would have to prepare a presentation for the interview panel. On MATH. My first reaction was, “Did they even LOOK at my resume?” Because I have a lot of qualifications and experience, none of which have anything at ALL to do with the numbers or adding or dividing or whatnot. The closest I’ve ever come to doing math professionally was teaching Life of Pi. And then it said at the bottom of the description that there would be a TEST at the end of the interview, and I was like, “What? A MATH TEST?!” because nowhere in the job description had it even mentioned math at all, and it seemed pretty obvious by then that they probably already had someone for the job, someone who was, perhaps, good at math. So when the place called me to confirm that I got the invite, I actually had to ask the woman, “So is the test at the end a math test?” because if it was, there was no point in going, but she said she didn’t think so, that it was probably a “scenario”. Which it was. And ironically, I totally ROCKED the math presentation, but I blew the “scenario” which was writing a letter in response to someone who was very angry. I responded the way I normally would—no, not by saying “Take a f*cking step back”—but in a professional way which is “Please provide more information to help me understand your anger.” It turns out though, that apparently I was supposed to direct them to a variety of different websites where they could explore their feelings themselves. Ultimately, it was not fun, but I DID get put into the pool for future positions, mostly on the merit of my math presentation, which is another one of life’s great mysteries.
2) I went to empty my blog spam folder, which usually contains about 30 comments about Nike shoes or Viagra, and there were 1, 167 spam comments in there. They were all for CBD oil (derived from marijuana). So I emptied the spam folder, and three days later, there were another 2, 000 messages, again for CBD oil, and all I could think was “Someone REALLY wants me to get high”. But then I did a little research and it turns out that CBD oil isn’t psychoactive, so I’m not sure what’s going on there, but the Viagra people need to step up their game.
3) I had to go by myself to do a presentation (this time on my actual work instead of magic-y math sh*t) to a group of around 60 people. I don’t enjoy standing up in front of people at any given moment—I don’t even say much in meetings when I’m sitting down—but someone had to do it, and I was that someone. I stayed in a hotel the night before because the weather was supposed to be lousy for travelling the next day. I decided to order some Swiss Chalet chicken, and then stay in for the night watching the Oscars. I called up Swiss Chalet and asked for delivery, but when the woman gave me the total, I realize I didn’t have any money so I said, “Oh, I don’t have any cash on me. Will the guy take Visa or is there something else I need to do?” and then I realized to my horror that it sounded like I was offering to instigate a porn scene where the lady doesn’t have money but offers to “take it out in trade” with the nubile young delivery man. Luckily, you can pay for Swiss Chalet over the phone, and a very sturdy older lady came to my hotel room, so no worries there. But then, incredibly, the hotel TV had 54 channels and not one was showing the Oscars, so I ended up watching porn. No I didn’t. That was a joke. I ended up watching a Flip or Flop Nashville marathon.
The presentation the next day went OK, except for the snarky guy sitting right in front of the podium who kept muttering under his breath and rolling his eyes, which was very distracting. At one point, he raised his hand to angrily complain about how hard it was to use a particular report, and I felt like saying, “Well, toilet training is hard too, but I assume you’ve figured that one out.” Instead I just smiled and said, “Here are some websites you can use to explore your feelings about this issue.”
4) Then I got back to the office and was asked to start supervising, in addition to my own team, another team whose job revolves completely around MATH. My reaction again was “Have you even LOOKED at my resume?!” And now not only do I have to try and understand math in English, I also have to try and understand it in FRENCH, because we have two official languages, and math is hard in both of them. At least the people are nice and don’t roll their eyes at me.
5) On Tuesday, I raced to get dinner finished and get ready for bed so that I could be all cozy on the couch in my pajamas in time for my favourite new TV show The Launch (it’s Canadian). I made it with a minute to spare and yelled to my roommate, “Come on, it’s almost starting!” Then I went up and down the guide and couldn’t find it on anywhere. “I don’t understand” I said. “Are they on hiatus already” and my roommate said, “Isn’t The Launch on Wednesdays?” and I said “Yes,” and she said, “Today is Tuesday”, and this is what too much math does to you. So we resigned ourselves to watching The Voice and I was trying to figure out Instagram when I realized my young cousin was starting some ‘live’ video thing so I clicked on it. He and his friend were talking, then suddenly he said, “Hi Suzanne”, and I shrieked and threw the phone down and said to my roommate, “Oh my god, can he SEE me?!” She started laughing hysterically and explained how your name comes up at the bottom so that people know you’re watching, and it reminded me of the first time I tried to send a fax, and panicked when the paper went into the fax machine because there was a phone number on the back of the form that I needed. The secretary at the school also laughed hysterically just like my roommate and explained that the paper would come back out once it had been scanned. “Did you think the fax machine magically transported the actual paper to the person you’re sending it to?” she asked. “Of course not—that would be ridiculous,” I said, but in my head I was like, “Yes. Yes, I totally f*cking did.” Because faxes are magical. Just like math.
(I just had a short story published in the inaugural issue of a terrific literary magazine called Slippage Lit. It’s called Perfect Food, and if you want to read it, click here: https://www.slippagelit.com/perfectfood)
Saturday: I realize I’m in a June/September relationship
Yesterday, Ken and I were driving back from grocery shopping when he said, “Can we stop at the cemetery?” While this might sound ominous to some people, I was actually really excited because someone in town has been playing a practical joke for weeks now, whereby they move the sign directing people to a new property development/subdivision in our small town to the outskirts, where it points right at the cemetery. The first time it happened, it was funny enough, but the person is nothing if not determined; despite the best efforts of the subdivision developer, the sign keeps magically reappearing across from the graveyard. I think it’s fairly obvious what kind of message the sign-thief is trying to send—that Drumbo is so boring that it might as well be a cemetery—but the big question is who? Is it a disgruntled teen, longing for the lights and action of the big city? Is it the previous developer, who wasn’t able to sell most of the lots and had to give the land up? (Also, it’s worthwhile to note that the previous development was called Aspen Hills, which is the most ironic name I could think of for a subdivision on completely flat land—luckily the new owners have called it “Oxford Meadows”, which makes more sense considering most of the lots are currently overgrown with weeds and wildflowers).
Anyway, it’s been giving us a bit of a chuckle, and yesterday, Ken wanted to get a picture of the whole scenario. So we stopped and Ken got out of the car, camera in hand. Ken takes a camera with him wherever he goes, “just in case”. He has a very popular Flickr account, and sometimes he gets over 8000 views in one day, so I cut him a little slack when he leans over and tries to shoot an interesting cloud through the windshield when I’m driving.
He got back into the car, having taken several photos of the sign and the cemetery, and then the fun began, as he tried to post the picture to Facebook. I watched him out of the corner of my eye, as he pressed buttons and muttered to himself:
Me: What’s going on?
Ken: Oh, nothing. I just have to—hmmm. Or maybe…
Me: Just use the image icon.
Ken: I will, after I write the post.
Me: You’re not done yet?
Ken: No, I’m trying to find Facebook.
Me: Maybe the problem is that you have a Blackberry. You know how the “interwebs” works, right? “I just can’t keep up with you kids and your newfangled gadgets and the Twitters. What ever happened to the good old days when people used typewriters?!” Oh wait, you ARE using a typewriter. Look at the keyboard on your phone.
Ken: Blackberries are great phones.
Me: Yeah, if you’re 75 years old. “I like to feel the keys go down when I press them, just like they did in the 1950s.” Also, could your screen be any smaller? No wonder you can’t find “the Facebook”.
Ken: Ha. Posted. So there. Oh wait, not yet—it’s a little laggy…by the way, Sheila has a flip phone with an ANTENNAE, so go make fun of her.
And then I was like, man, I really AM married to a senior citizen, because the thought had occurred to me earlier when we were in the grocery store, and all these old people kept greeting us.
Me: Who was that?
Ken: Oh, that’s Sheila. We’re on the Historical Society together.
Me: Who’s that?
Ken: That’s Bob. He curls at the same club as I do.
Then, 5 minutes later, we got stopped by an elderly couple:
Man: Oh hi, Ken!
Ken: Hey Gary. How are things?
Man: Good. We’re just here picking up some groceries for the Lion’s Club dinner on Wednesday.
Woman: Yes, it’s my turn to cook!
Ken: Ooh, I can’t wait!
Woman: See you both then!
Me: Oh, sorry, I won’t be there–I’m in Toronto that night. Darn.
You see, Ken recently became a Lion, which means he does civic duty type things like helping decorate the Lions Park trees with Christmas lights, or taking cookies to the Historical Society Sunday Tea (which I just had to wake him up from a nap to remind him to do). It’s probably quite telling that most of the members of these clubs refer to him as “the youngster” or “fresh blood”. In order to be initiated into the Lions, he had to learn the Lions Club roar, which is not as cool as the Mason’s secret handshake, and simply involves bending over at the waist, making your hands into little lions’ paws, then straightening up as you roar and reach your paws to the sky. He’s obliged me with a couple of demonstrations, and it’s kind of cute if you ignore the fact that a grown man is doing it.
In the long run, I’m glad that Ken is involved in so many community activities. It keeps him busy during the week when I’m not here, and the interaction with other people will keep him away from the Bingo Hall. But the dude needs a phone without an actual keyboard. Luckily, Christmas is coming. But now I’m getting worried that Ken is rubbing off on me, because last night at dinner, I dropped the F bomb in front of K and her girlfriend, and I put my hand over my mouth, apologized, and corrected it to “gosh darn”. Then I read back this post and realized that there isn’t a single epithet in it. My god—I’m an old f*cking woman!
The other day, I was rummaging around in one of my desk drawers, and I found a piece of foolscap with the following written on it. It’s a little weird but I hope you enjoy it. It’s about karma, among other things:
The boy carefully opened the can of peas with a wooden-handled can opener. This would be his new killing jar, and therefore, couldn’t have any jagged metal edges which might damage his specimens. He dumped the peas into the garbage, and rinsed out the can. Then, taking down ether, plastic wrap, a rubber band, and cotton balls from the shelf above the sink, he prepared the chamber. When all was ready, he picked up his butterfly net and headed out the door, into the field behind his house. Putting his equipment down on a nearby rock, he waited for his prey to float by.
It was a lazy, warm afternoon and his eyelids felt heavy as he watched the skies for any sign of the fluttering prize. Over the last two years, he had amassed quite a collection, from the simple Monarch to other, more exotic species, each carefully caught in his own net, and then executed in a tin can.
As he sat, cross-legged, patiently watching and waiting, he suddenly heard a loud voice from somewhere far above his head:
“Ew!! Mommy, a bug—kill it! Kill it!”
“It’s all right, sweetheart, I’ll get it.”
And with that, a giant shovel slammed down from the heavens and crushed him into oblivion.
Thursday: Donut Store memories
When I was in my first year of university, I worked in a donut store to pay for the next year’s tuition. It wasn’t the worst job in the world but the hours were long, and people tended to treat you as if you were inconsequential, or a target for their own frustrations, you know, like “I had a sh*tty day, so I’m going to yell at this poor donut girl for not giving me enough honeyglazed donut holes”. Still, the other girls were fun to work with, the donut maker was this sweet old German guy named Wolfy who would pretend to break a donut and then give it to you as a treat (well, he thought they were treats—we were all thoroughly sick to death of donuts), and the owner treated us really well. It was over thirty years ago but to this day, I still remember two specific customers for two very different reasons. The first was Norm, a guy in his 40s, with bright red hair and a red mustache. He drove a giant-ass Cadillac, and when we saw it pulling into the parking lot, we were all like, “Oh God, Norm’s here.” Then it was bargaining to see who would have to serve him. He would sit at the counter for hours, with his “tea”, a beverage which had to be made to very strict specifications—a quarter cup of hot water, three quarters milk, then drop the teabag in and take it out right away. It was never perfect, and he would instruct us over and over again, until finally the owner told us to just give him the milk and the pot of hot water and let him do it himself, and if he complained, (which he frequently did) she would deal with him. Norm was on disability and took a lot of narcotic pain meds for a back injury, and in retrospect, I think we were the only friends he had, since he spent the majority of each night with us.
(Addendum: Ken started reading this post and said, “Wait a minute! You only had TWO memorable customers?! Excuse me?” So I have to point out that Ken and his roommate used to come to the donut store once a week around closing time to buy the day-old donuts that we sold for $1 per dozen. This was long before we actually started dating, but yes, honey, you were very memorable.)
The second customer was Eric McCormack, the Canadian writer (not the “Will and Grace” actor of the same name), although I didn’t realize who he was until he’d been coming around for a while. He was quite well-known at the time—well, still is, having been nominated for the Governor-General’s Award, and is still publishing in his late 70s. At any rate, when I worked at the donut store, I didn’t know who he was, except that he was a really nice, silver-haired Scottish guy, who always ordered a large coffee “dooble dooble”, which is to say double cream and double sugar but with a Scottish accent. He did this regularly, and seemed like the kind of guy you’d want to know better. When I DID find out that he was the author of one of my favourite short story collections, “Inspecting The Vaults”, I was overcome in the way that only English Literature students can be. He was teaching at the local university so I got to know him a little bit from conversations at the donut store, and once, a few years later, I bumped into him at the grocery store and asked for his autograph, which he gave me with a bemused smile. Then a few years later, I was helping run a writing competition for students in my school board, and we needed a new fiction judge. I contacted him at the university, and reminded him that I was the donut store waitress slash grocery store stalker, and despite that, he graciously agreed to be a judge for the contest, a role he continued even when he moved to Kingston. Why am I telling you this? Because a couple of weeks ago, I had this bizarre dream where Eric and I were writing a story together. I don’t know why—I literally hadn’t thought of him in years, but there he was in my dream. We were brainstorming the plot of the story and came up with what we thought was a terrific first line. Then, randomly, we had to go into another room to finish the story, at which point in the dream I exclaimed, “I know how it ends!” I won’t tell you that right now, because I just wrote the story that I dreamed about, using the first line and the end, and filling in the gaps. So I guess Eric McCormack is my muse? Well, here’s to you, Eric—thanks for being in my subconscious with me:
She’d always liked a man in a cowboy hat, she thought, trying not to stare at the older fellow who had just now come into the diner. She couldn’t have helped but look up initially; the place was almost deserted, and the bell over the door had chimed in a jarring way when it opened, as if signalling something ominous. The restaurant itself was one of those side-of-the-highway service centre places, places for people on their way somewhere—or nowhere.
Cowboy hats reminded her of her father, and she could never see someone wearing one without immediately thinking of him, his blue eyes crinkled with laughter, beer in hand, making a clever joke and not yet slurring his words. He always wore one when he went out, incongruous as it was with his upbringing, background, and career. He wasn’t a cowboy, wasn’t even a farmer; he was a bricklayer, among other things, things which he took on when brick work was scarce. Or when he’d lost yet another job. Still, he always managed to pick something up—his nickname was Cowboy Jack, and people always gave him a break because he was good with his hands when his hands were being good.
The man wearing the cowboy hat sat down at the counter, nursing a large coffee handed to him by a waitress in her late teens or early twenties. The girl looked a bit sour as she’d filled his cup with double cream and sugar—no wonder, working in a place like this at this time of night. Her hair and makeup seemed out of place with the brown and beige polyester uniform she was wearing, and there was a novel and an open binder at the end of the counter where it looked like she was trying to get some work done. University student earning tuition, no doubt. The waitress was on her way back to her homework when the man said something to her. She looked around and her face broke into a big smile. She said something as a rejoinder, quick and witty, with a nod of her chin, and they both laughed, his shoulders shaking with mirth.
Her father. She sighed. It had been a while, through the never-ending cycle of “I love you” to “I hate you” back to “I love you” and then finally to “I love you, but…” He’d been a great dad in so many ways, except for the staying sober part, and as the years went on, that part got smaller and smaller until it was a thin slice sandwiched between bouts of drinking and fury that never seemed to end. The letters came once in a while—“I’ve been going to meetings. Can I see you?” but there was work, and Luke and the kids, the grandkids he’d only seen a couple of times. The guilt had eaten away at her, but she’d lost the ability to trust his good intentions years ago. Then the last letter came, a few days ago. It was funny, it struck her, how time seems to linger, circles around you, whispers in your ear that there’s no rush, until suddenly there’s no time left.
The man at the counter swivelled on his stool, then got up and walked towards her table. He was thin, thinner than she remembered, but his eyes were the same under the cowboy hat, blue and crinkled at the corners. He stood in front of her, hesitant, holding tight to his coffee. She looked up at him and smiled.
“Hey, Dad. Merry Christmas.”