Broken Fiction is a collection of short auto/fictional pieces that move in between the force of memory and the force of loss. The collision of memory or storying, and loss or grief is where the author finds both solace and anguish and tries to negotiate a recognition or a moment without resorting to easy resolution. In each recognition there is an acceptance of the details of life gone off the rails in some worlds, but a life that is normal in other worlds—and not necessarily tragic but often heartbreaking, sometimes funny and always in an in-between orbit of love or love gone wrong, anger or anger misplaced, joy or joy’s many faces, cultural memories that are translated into new-world talk or translated not at all.
On occasion language invites a giggle especially when “real” objects assume a hyper-fictional grace—as a way to travel quickly over decades or refer back to old wounds that shape new ones, and yet are attached to simple joys. Not all of these stories are fully true, but the fiction is also cracked or broken by photographic “evidence” of the forceful memory and the narrator’s sense of loss at the same time as she plays with the fact of life’s natural journey into its natural denouement and death. Can this fact find its difficult resolution and its difficult knowledge in a more neutral interpretation without giving into full-on sorrow or self-pity, or its many opposites, such as the force of forced optimism?
“This is a quirky and powerful book, original, heartbreaking, clever, enigmatic, oh so intelligent, sometimes angry, and more often humorous in a sly way. This is prose that slips into poetry. This is snatches of memory, a glimpse of family history, a dream journal, and a series of love letters. This is what the title says it is, broken fiction. It is autobiographical in some parts, not in others, except in the sense that authors always leave traces of themselves behind.”
—Jan Rehner, author of The House of Izieu and Almost True
21 January 2017
If you get one lymphoma, you get one doctor. If you get two lymphoma, you still get just one doctor. One doctor for two lymphoma is already crowded. In the time it took to diagnose Herpetiformis, all of my expectations could have been met. The seas were blustery and the sun, mercurial. There was very little time for me to make a break as the blisters crossed my chest and my scalp, blooming already into large red masses that although pretty, drove a person mad. A tattoo from left ear to left ankle. I remember that moment on Bloor street so clearly; so deeply did I notice it that I paused. Yes, I paused on Bloor street in a beautiful sunshine, near a poubelle in case my left foot and leg were on a break and could not withstand the sight or the news or maybe the weight of a heart that was screaming: I am ill. Can you hear me? Something is wrong. I have pain that comes out the wrong way. It leaks from under the epidermis until it can quietly make white skin turn purple and red, as if to say, hey, over there, can’t you see me? She is right: this is very painful and now I will make it bleed. Surely someone will notice who has read books or made cue cards. Get the one that says “Skin.” Then turn it over. What does it say?
A cue card cannot deliver a diagnosis, I know: I am not that stupid. However, where else do we learn how to catch not a doctor, but a doctor’s eyes, not his, or hers, or that other guy’s, but the ones that betray the code. A woman in a silky dress who has the panache to grab my ankle. I had only been there a minute so it was a rather forward act.
Once the ankle was grabbed, though, there was—sadly—no turning back. These eyes were already pure, untainted, ready to hold a foot to speak purely: you are ill; I will treat you as though you have Leprosy and tomorrow your welts will begin to melt into your ether. The process takes time, a lot of time, and you can no longer tease this agony into your skin with sweet, delicious breads. You know, the bread of life has no staff on this ship.
And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.
And yet hunger and thirst, I did. I went to parties and talked about my research, but it appeared more difficult to speak once the door was closed, to lean against a sofa, then panties abraded my hips and the seams of my jeans burnished my thighs. My hair, innocent hair, like slender metal pins, piercing skin and other material until it is held tightly in place. Why was that needed?
She said, this little white pill will tell us the truth.
A Work of Art
Those are my words not yours
6 August 2018
When the sun came up today, I was listening to the radio. I drifted back to sleep once I had enjoyed the sliver of light that stretched across the blonde floor. I stretched, too, feeling the joy of it all: my legs and feet, stretching, so quietly on the outside but so loud on the inside. Sweet sounds of muscles waking up, meeting sunshine. Pure white percale sliding along my hips. The bed is a work of art, I thought. I have a white bed, and the sheets are ironed and smell of lavender oil. I just go: shake, shake, and a nub of oil sinks into the luxurious pillows.
I didn’t know I could stretch my muscles again until I tried it. But that is a scary thing to try when you say, “I didn’t know” I could do it without the sinews splitting or screaming. I walked along the band of light on the floor, marvelling again. Touching cold floor, enjoying the temperature and the firm reception.
I didn’t have much to say about this at the time, but now I think: well, now, how miraculous is my body; how tolerant, my feet; how persevering, my muscles. How white my bed. I must have a picture of it in case someone else wants to see it.
No twitching, no pain, no spasms.
I don’t usually find it easy to imagine past brave deeds unless they belong to someone other than me. I think this is a very funny point of departure because bravery is like a stretch. It belongs to all of us in its way and yet, without a context, brave deeds can seem paltry.
Here is an example. I know one woman who, after living in the region for seventy years, she died. She lived in a small condominium that her generous brother had bought for her only a few weeks before. She had been used to living in her minivan, a Dodge Caravan in good condition, but winter was coming and it wasn’t clear she would be safe if she didn’t drive south again. Which is what she did this year, but we think she felt tired all of a sudden, and wanted to stay in one place now that she was a few days from her 71st birthday.
She may have been sleeping peacefully in her new bedroom and just took a last breath; or she may have had a heart attack or a stroke, all alone. She may have been treated unfairly by someone, but how do we know? One thing is for sure: she went to visit my mother in her no-frills seniors’ residence, an inferior home now that I see it again. She had time for my mother; I believe she often chatted with elderly women for fun. Out of the blue, she said this: “my ultimate homelessness was caused by that eviction…so one of the guys leading this fight is filming me in my van etc.” I do remember she was evicted, but the story was not always transparent. I did not know there was a film in the making.
Months later, we agreed to meet on a Saturday afternoon. She emailed me a few hours before our visit—which meant she wrote to me in the morning (odd, that, since she went to bed when the sun came up). She typed a message in the subject line of the email so I didn’t have to bother opening the message. It said: Hi, Sorry it didn’t work out…I think now that I’m out of the van, the last yr is catching up w/me…this A.M. after doing 2 things, I had to go back to bed…maybe when U get bk from East…enjoy the journey & respite.
Catching up with her. We have all used this expression to say something that strikes us later, or when we yawn more than usual. I thought, this is a delayed response to a physical reality that likely required bravery. Brave deeds every day of her life living on the edge of a home but never really in one until that day, that week, so recently, and for such a short time
23 January 2020
I gave her a Mead Five-Star short, fat note book. She wrote her grocery list in it, but it wasn’t easy to make the letters any more. Some letters made words that I cannot now decipher, but maybe you will find the meaning that I can’t find.
Celery G. pepper
Two c words in that list: almost alliteration, I thought. It would be so much better if she could phone the store herself. Mind you, it was just easier to take the list and make the call myself—it was such a little thing and I was happy to do it, really.
I said once: are you lonely? She said she wasn’t which gave me some relief.
The next time I asked for the shopping list, it went like this. There was no alliteration, but there was a shape to the way the items were collated.
Tomato Juice + orange
She couldn’t see the words on the page, she said, and she then paused and whispered: I am lonely.
I turned the page. Just one word on the top of an otherwise empty page: she had written Diplomat. Again, I had no idea what this meant, if anything. All I can see now is the sadness between the words, the intensity in the silhouette of the lists, the loneliness.
I now feel so lonely without her, without that innocent sweet woman who called me darling at every opportunity. I know that she was thanking me for calling the police. Not this time, but the first time when my father hit her with a coat hanger. I saw red.
I thought: if I love them both equally, I can save my mother. I am not sure how that would work in real time, but in a kid’s head, it seemed a spot-on observation.
What is a Diplomat, I wanted to ask? The answer is clear now, but it might be too late for a solution. A Diplomat is a go-between, someone who makes deals that appear to smooth over the wrinkles, the heartache, the sobbing.
When I turned the crumpled page, I touched something fibrous. It was a passport photograph of her father. This photo was taken at Kennedy Travel on Queen street at the corner where my grandfather also bought Future Bakery light rye bread and MC dry cottage cheese.
By now you realize that the travel “agency” was an oasis where we met other interlopers who anticipated special treatment.
“Speak Slovak and make it all work for me, please.”
A musical refrain that iced the cake and sweetened the deal.
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