September 10, 2012 § Leave a comment

John Hansen

He waited until his son went to bed and took his prescribed pill. Other than a general feeling of slowing down, he didn’t feel particularly different. He fell asleep and dreamed he was with his son, in a life raft floating in the waters of a marsh. He navigated their way through the bulrushes but they never found shore.

Earlier that day, he waited in the neurologist’s office. The doctor left, her  medical student in tow, to confer with her colleague. Her office overlooked the site of the new “super hospital” and, if he leaned to the right, he could see nine cranes busily completing its construction.

The medical centre was adjacent to a tony neighbourhood of high end boutiques, fair trade coffee, smug self-satisfaction, and nowhere to park. He chose a spot where parking was permitted for one hour, and hoped it would be enough.

He came because his family doctor referred his case when he saw him about a stutter he had recently developed right around his fortieth birthday. He never had one before and wondered if this was the beginning of the end of his mental facilities.

He found himself stuttering at work, in meetings when he was pressured for an answer, or when his toddler refused to get in the bath, or get out of the bath, or his wife would ask him a question and suddenly, all he could say was “p-p-p-p-pork chops.” This caused him to be more reticent than usual. He earned a reputation as someone who rarely spoke.

The neurologist administered an exam to determine if there were any issues and asked him several questions about his overall mental state.

As he answered, he remembered his father who, in the span of seven years, sired four children. That meant, at one point, they were all at once teenagers. He remembered him at the dinner table, trying to maintain control over his unruly, defiant brood. The words would catch on his lips, or at the back of his throat while his children would have a good giggle at their father’s troubles.

After she left, he noticed a small bust of a bearded man. He wondered if it was Sigmund Freud. He picked it up and saw that it was Hippocrates.

Right, he thought. Of course.

When the doctor returned, she was accompanied by her colleague, an older man with dark curly hair. He held a position of authority over her because his medical students numbered six to her one. The ratios clearly increased with tenure.

“We don’t think there is anything wrong with you, neurologically,” the doctor told him. “We think your stutter is anxiety related. I’m going to recommend a subscription to Rivotril. Try it at home first as it may cause drowsiness but it should help with what may be a generalized anxiety disorder.”

“Should I take it with scotch?” he asked the doctor.


When he left, attached to his car, was a parking ticket.


John Hansen lives with his wife and child in the suburbs of Montreal, Canada where he works spends his days looking at spreadsheets and evenings writing and obsessing over Coronation Street. 

Image: Stick in Sand, By Leigh-Anne Fraser


Sequined Visitors

March 21, 2012 § 2 Comments

Sequined Visitors
Cindy Small

A constant visitor in my grandmother’s pornographic lingerie store was Mr. Louie Farina, a square, short Italian man, owning a face like a pock-marked lemon. He was a daily permanent fixture and not on payroll. Family history or home address was never known to grandma. His Hart & Schaffer suits fit like a glove that had been hot-glued to his lumpy body. No “Soft Spot” beige vinyl shoes for Mr. Farina, rather he wore exotic crocodile shoes that seemed to slither on the pink and black floor tiles. Rumor had it years ago he was a member of the New Orleans Italian Mob and met grandma while purchasing lingerie for a hooker. Their friendship blossomed and in return for sexy underclothing he would “fix” things for her – parking tickets, lawsuits and angry customers who bitched that the merchandise was too expensive. He also was a liaison between hotels and her store. Mr. Farina made sure the mirrored storefront became a popular location for a steady stream of hookers and husbands away from home while insisting that Greyhound tour buses stop at Joan’s front door. Tourists plunged out of the bus and were herded immediately into the shop – like an adult Disneyland where the merchandise emerges whether you want it or not. Mr. Farina had an accomplice named “Blackie,” a short, skinny man in a cheap suit. Blackie helped Joan in the muscle department, taking care of anyone who got on her bad side. After all, she was one to snap easily. The pressure was on and my grandmother was the Jaws of Life regarding porn attire. She was the hydraulic rescue tool that extricated the victim — meaning customer. They had no choice but to buy something.

“Madam, you look fabulous. The mens will love you! There’s nothing to be afraid of. Stick out your bosom big and be proud. Your bosom is your crown!” Grandma yelled in her Viennese/Bavarian/Hebrew dialect.

“Well, yes,” said the usual victim.” “It does feel a little tight…but…I’ll get used to it…I…guess.”

Blackie loved Grandma and did as he was told. Over the years during my childhood, he had been in and out of prison and normally ate a celebratory dinner with Joan each time he was released from jail. Joan insisted he get fed in a more civilized way after being released from the pen. So, in reality, he could have lunch in jail and suck down lobster ravioli for dinner at Commander’s Palace, a five-star New Orleans restaurant. My family had mobster worship. They loved the intrigue, the danger of getting caught and always in hopes of meeting Don Corleone or Vito. The distinct smell of money travelled through the air surrounding me at all times, like leaves in autumn. Expensive perfume mixed with a “cash-like” aroma and you knew you were with the New Orleans mob alongside an X-rated depository of underclothing for the secretive – inside my grandmother’s store.


Bizarre family eccentricities provided Cindy Small a wealth of black humor laced with arsenic. Her memoirs are a field guide for the aficionado of a particularly rare breed of bird, daughters of Viennese Holocaust survivors living in New Orleans.

You can get in touch with Cindy here: csmall223 (at) aol (dot) com


Image: Firehorse, By Pirjo Zeylon

Real or Imagined

March 7, 2012 § 5 Comments

Real or Imagined
Rebecca Bielik Zick

Needle sharp, needle sized points of itching flare over her back, possibly thirty of them. She really shouldn’t count. A few spark on her arms. She feels one or two prickle on her butt and maybe some are scattered over her thighs. Probing for these far flung irritations goes against popular wisdom.

She must consider the flares don’t exist at all.

One November on the five hundred mile car ride to the cold North, wearing a sweater pulled out of a box, the itching first started. She fought the attack waged by the inside of her sleeve with full bore scratching, with reason and when those failed, with dissociation. She’d never been allergic to wool, and in any case, the sweater was most likely a cotton/poly blend.

By the time they cleared Kentucky, she had a full blown epidermic calamity: welts rising all over her right arm. She took off the sweater. She didn’t wear that or any other sweater the entire Thanksgiving holiday. She wore short sleeves. She tried drug store ointments. Regardless of sensible interventions, when she wasn’t on her parent’s couch sleeping the sleep of the catastrophically bereaved, she watched the spreading paths and hillocks.

Her family, a living daughter, a husband, a sister, a mother and a father all thought she was nuts. When did “dust” accumulate in a sweater washed before it was cleanly packed in a taped box, gain such power? They didn’t believe in such dust, and even if there were dust, they didn’t believe in its atomic capacity for contact dermatitis. She has a sense of humor, and so Phantom Itch was born. With medicine, extreme will power and time the first occupation by Phantom Itch dissipated.

She never donned, before a thorough wash and two rinse cycles, a single item of clothing from a box again, and yet Phantom Itch continued to visit. It’s a running family joke now and she faced the possibility of hysterical symptoms. How could she avoid it when one summer vacation, she had inexplicable traveling pain in one arm, and the repeated need to ask her daughter, “Am I drooling?” as she swiped at the corners of her mouth, coming up dry fingered every time.

And so tonight, she won’t think about dust accumulated in the fabric of the rental home’s furniture. Once or twice, with lightning speed, she bats away visions of mites until she can suppress them altogether. She does fantasize taking Benadryl, purchased on arrival against the possibility of mosquitos and sand fleas.

And the prickling itches that scatter like evil fairy dust over her skin?

She’ll never know if they are real or imagined. She does know the fallout of tragedy can linger in the most absurd, in the smallest ways. She can take the itches. She’s glad, more than ecstatic, that she can keep them in their place, that she has more choices with which to accommodate her mind than the question of craziness or slumber.


In a past life Rebecca was a clinical social worker and in a parallel universe she is an NHL hockey player. In this one, she is a writer. Real or Imagined is her second published piece.

Image: Wood and Stone, By Stephen Martin


February 15, 2012 § 4 Comments

John Hansen

It was hard to maintain the solemnity of the dead man’s wake when his mouth wouldn’t stay shut in full view of the mourners. When he died at the age of 85, the distance was too far and the expense too great to hold his wake at the nearest funeral home. So, it was his daughter-in-law, who lived on the farm with him and her husband, who took charge of preparing his body.

But death was viewed with the same seriousness as the temperance pledge in their family bible which remained unsigned. Temperance was a virtue, true, but so was hospitality and it was important to ensure there was enough dandelion wine to go around. Death was not a thing to take lightly but would always mean that while yet another person we love is gone, we are still here.

But that mix of sadness and relief, which often threads its way through funerals, was not enough to stop some mourners from becoming visibly upset at the sight of a dead man suddenly feigning surprise. His daughter-in-law therefore added to her list of chores the task of smearing sealing wax over his lips to keep them from popping open. As the wax was not strong enough to hold for very long. she would repeat this chore until the mourners had left.


John Hansen lives with his wife and child in the suburbs of Montreal, Canada where he works spends his days looking at spreadsheets and evenings writing and obsessing over Coronation Street.

Image: Blue Morpho, By Leigh-Anne Fraser

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