Ruby's Breakfast

Ruby waits, covers pulled up to her chin. She’s getting hungry. Harold has been up for hours working on his latest ship in a bottle. She’s learned not to call them models. Models are what little boys build out of kits. Little boys and amateurs. Harold doesn’t put together models, he makes every part of the ship, right down to the ropes and the little boots on the captain’s feet. If she’d paid more attention, she would have known that. If she wasn’t so wrapped up in herself.

She’s waiting for Harold to call her for breakfast. That’s their Saturday routine, has been since they were newlyweds seventeen years ago. He gets up early on Saturday morning; works in his workshop in what could have been a nursery. He stays in there until he feels he’s accomplished something and then makes breakfast for both of them. He doesn’t like her fussing in the kitchen. She can fuss all she likes during the week. Monday to Friday he’s up and out of the house before she has to get out of bed.

After breakfast, they read the paper and drink their coffee. They don’t drink coffee with breakfast because it ruins Harold’s digestion. Ruby likes to read bits out loud, but her husband prefers quiet. “Companionable silence,” he says, “Nothing wrong with that.” She thinks it would be more companionable to have a spouse who likes to listen. Sometimes she turns the pages so they rustle, or makes a tent out of the business section for the cat, or asks Harold if he’d like more coffee when he’s not finished his first cup.

Finally, he calls her. “Breakfast Lazybones. Up and ‘at ‘em.”

“I’m up,” she says and gets up. She puts on an old sweater, her purple chenille robe, thick socks and knitted slippers with pom-poms on them. The house never gets above sixty-three in the winter because Harold likes to keep the gas bills low. Money doesn’t grow on trees. She’s cold in the house from October to February.

When she gets downstairs, she sees he’s started the grocery list. “Scotch Tape times two,” she reads. It’s underlined. “Oh sorry, Harold. I forgot you asked me to buy you some tape yesterday.”

“I had to use bandages to attach my new plans to the wall. Bandages, Ruby, for Christ’s sake. I’m not an animal.”

He sets her plate down in front of her. He’s made fried eggs, toast and bacon. There’s even a grilled tomato. The food is attached to her plate with bandages. X’s made of bandages are holding down every bit of her food. He must have used the whole box.

She picks up a pencil, wets the tip of it with her tongue and writes bandages. She underlines the word, pressing so hard she makes a line-shaped hole in the paper. She slips off her bathrobe and sweater. Ruby doesn’t feel cold any more.

Stanley and Nora's First Date

“Oh, let’s do this,” said Nora. “It says fortunes told, ten dollars, and that’s exactly what I have left. It’s a good sign.”

Nora and I have been at the Canadian National Exhibition all day. We’d ridden the roller coaster three times and looked at every cow in the animal building. “Don’t you just love how their names match the cows so perfectly,” she’d said. I hadn’t actually noticed that. To me, a cow was a cow, but that’s not the kind of thing you say on a first date when you hope it’s the first of many dates to come. At least I didn’t think it was the kind of thing to say. I hadn’t been many first dates so I didn’t know for sure. Now here we were in Madame Sylvia’s tent in a waiting room with a saggy red couch. I sat on the edge of the couch as it looked like the kind of couch that could swallow you up and nobody’d ever see you again.

Nora flopped down beside me, kicked off her sandals and tucked her feet up underneath her. “Do you want to go first?”

“I’ll just wait for you,” I said. “I don’t feel like getting my fortune told today.”

“Do you ever? C’mon Stanley, you’re not the kind of guy who doesn’t like trying new things, are you?”

“Of course not.” Somehow I knew that Nora didn’t want me to be that kind of guy. “I’ll try anything once. I’ll even go first. No problem. If I have enough money left,” I said. I’d found a loophole and I latched on.

“Oh, I’m sure you’ve got enough. You’ve got that twenty you always keep in case of an emergency.”

“Is this an emergency?” I’d forgotten that I had been watching what I said. I was having second thoughts about whether it was a good idea to go out with the sort of girl who would consider this an emergency.

“Of course it is,” she said. “It’s a fortune-telling emergency.” She winked at me. Now I wasn’t sure I wanted to go out with the sort of girl who winks at me. She was making me nervous.

“What if there’s a real emergency and all I have is a ten when the emergency needs twenty. What happens then?”

“I’ll tell you what happens,” Nora said as she stood up. “No need to pay the fortune teller. I’ll tell you what she would have said. One.” Nora held up her right index finger. “Stanley is no fun. Two.” She held up her right index finger and her middle finger. “This is why Stanley doesn’t have a girlfriend.” She bent down, picked up her sandals and left without looking back.

My Encounter with the Big Bad Wolf

As soon as I step into the bedroom, I can tell that it’s not my Grandmother in the bed—it’s a wolf. Maybe I can get it to tell me what he’s done with my Grandmother. “My what a big nose you have today, Grandma.”     

“Say it like you mean it,” said the wolf.     

“What?”     

“You heard me. Say it like you mean it. Your voice’s too timid. Project! Project!” The wolf is flinging his arms around. He reminds me of my grade ten English teacher who made us each teach a class on Catcher in the Rye. I had nightmares. “And for God’s sake, keep your basket still. It’s shaking so hard the muffins are going to fall out. I don’t want to eat something that’s fallen on the floor.”     

I want to say you’re a wolf for Pete’s sake, you’ve probably eaten worse things. I want to say you’ve insulted my Grandmother’s housekeeping, her floors are spotless. But I don’t.     

The wolf adjusts my Grandmother’s glasses on his big nose. “Try it again. With gusto.”     

“My what big eyes you have today, Grandma.”     

“No. No. You’re skipping ahead. Start again at the beginning. Your basket’s still shaking. Would it help if you imagined me naked? I’ve heard that helps with stage fright.”     

“Ewww, no. Gross.” I take a deep breath. “My what a big nose you have today, Grandma.”   

“That’s a bit better,” said the wolf. “Stand up straight. It helps with your breathing. Don’t forget to breathe or your audience won’t breathe, either.” The wolf adjusts my Grandmother’s frilly nightgown. “The better to smell you with, my dear.”     

“You sound just like my Grandmother.” I said before I could stop myself.   

 “Thank you. I’ve been told many times that I have a talent for mimicry. Many times. But please, stick to the script. And curl your toes. It helps to ground you and make you stand up straight.”

I curl my toes and project. “My what big eyes you have today, Grandma.”     

The wolf puts his paws over his ears. “No. No. That’s all wrong. Say it like you’re saying it for the first time ever. Say it like you’re surprised.”     

“But I’m not. I’ve known this story for years.” 

"You’re arguing with me now? I’m in charge here. What I say goes. Let’s continue then. And remember—surprised! Surprised!”     

I try to act surprised. “My what big ears you have today, Grandma.”     

The wolf lets out a big sigh. “I don’t want to see your surprise. You look like one of those big-eyed kids on black velvet. I want to hear your surprise.”     

I scream at the wolf, “Just tell me where my Grandmother is!”   

 It’s his turn to be surprised. “That was great. Didn’t know you had it in you. Okay kid, I’m going to give you a break.” The wolf takes off the glasses and rubs his eyes. “Hand over the basket. She’s in the attic.” He starts to unbutton my Grandmother’s nightgown and then stops and looks down. “What the hell. I’m keeping this.” He clamps onto the handle of the basket with his teeth and runs out the door on all fours.

Jessie's New Job

Jessie’s having more trouble adjusting to life on the submarine than she thought she would. She’d been on the intergalactic space station for eight years before this. She’d thought this job would be much the same, a rigid routine in a confined space, just a different view out the windows. Instead of stars and planets, she’d see fish and other sea creatures.

She’d been unprepared for the cloudy water. The mission wasn’t quite as it had been described. Instead of investigating interesting flora and fauna of the deepest ocean and the seabed of the Mariana Trench, they were looking for species that had somehow survived the war. The First Great Nuclear War had destroyed the surface of the planet. The only survivors were the people who’d taken to the air or gone underwater, the only livable places left as far as anyone knew. Perhaps the scientists were lying to them. Still they’d been warning for years that climate change would mean the end of humans on earth but instead it had come in a quicker form, from men with big egos pressing buttons on stockpiled nuclear warheads. Maybe the scientists were living the high life somewhere on earth, a post-war Garden of Eden. She wouldn’t put it past them.

Jessie felt worn out by the constant fruitless searching and the never-ending murky gloom seen through the windows. She wished she’d stayed on the space station. Up there there’d been constant danger of encountering space junk but everyone had taken their turns as gunners on the lasers to disintegrate the junk. It was exhilarating. She’d heard her grandfather talk about playing video games when he was a youngster. She imagined it was the same sort of feeling.

There seemed to be no danger on the sub. There was never a worry about running into anything because the wrecks – supertankers, container ships, cruise ships, oil platforms, huge aircraft – all littered the bottom like toys on a child’s bedroom floor.

The biggest worry down here was dying of boredom. And people did. They just snuck into the garbage hold through the airlock. Everybody knew the garbage hold was opened every Wednesday at noon. Apparently death was quick and painless. You didn’t drown. You were squished to death in milliseconds from the water pressure, down to the size of a basketball. Jessie asked how big a basketball was. “About half the size of your pillow,” the guy who answered her said. He clapped his hands together with a smack that made her jump.

Lois Introduces Herself

Hello, my name is Lois, and I am a person with anger issues. I’m really not here of my own accord, it was part of the deal my lawyer worked out with my local Tucker's Food Market – the one at Cobourg and Queen. The other part of the deal is that I can’t go in there anymore. I thought I was being reasonable, asking to speak with the manager about why the cashiers don’t pack the groceries as they ring them in, I mean that’s just the most efficient way, right? Instead of playing a waiting game at the end, customer on one side of the counter, cashier on the other, to see who was going to crack first and start packing.

Sometimes I pay by debit even if I have enough cash in my wallet, just to give them some extra time to think maybe they should trouble themselves to throw some of my groceries in the bags with their logo on them that I’ve carried to the store. If I wanted to pack my own groceries, I’d go to the stores where that’s expected of you. The Pay 'N' Go and such.

At least they haven’t banned me from the entire chain as they’d threatened. My lawyer got them to back down on that one.

The other Tucker's I can’t go to anymore is at Monaghan and Hopkins. That wasn’t so much a non-packing problem (although I’m sure that would have eventually become an issue because that store is notorious for not packing groceries) as a we’re out of butter first thing Saturday morning on the weekend that I was going to do my Christmas baking sort of problem.

The crux of the matter was that, technically, they weren’t out of butter. Apparently they had more but had deemed it too difficult to retrieve. It was apparently buried under cheese, sour cream and other dairy items, only to become retrievable when what was on top of it was taken off and shelved in the store. The guy who I asked about the lack of butter explained this to me as it if was entirely reasonable. I pointed out to him that a lot of people, not just me, would be trying to do their baking for the holidays this weekend, and that it was hard to do it without butter. I mean, even if you use margarine the rest of the year ‘round, you still want butter for the Christmas goodies, right? But he wasn’t swayed.

I guess he thought the exchange had become a little too heated for his liking, because I didn’t have to ask for the manager that time, the we have more butter but we just don’t want to go to the trouble to getting the butter for you guy went and got the manager on his own initiative. And that’s how it came about that I’m not able to go anywhere near that Tucker’s anymore, either.