Episode Forty Six - Don't Bother Lying

photo by  Ryan McGuire

Don't Bother Lying Unless You Have an Excellent Memory

The dog had an excellent memory, even if its owners weren’t aware. He was going to get the squirrel, and they were going to forgive him by the end of the week. Just like the time he’d pissed on their iPhone after they’d spent a Sunday afternoon watching cat videos, ignoring his requests for a walk.

“What a bad, bad dog,” The woman had said, but by the end of the night he was back beside her on the couch, watching Scandal.

The squirrel was on the fence, waiting for the geriatric neighbour to stumble out and feed it unshelled peanuts. The dog ran to the patio door and pawed at the glass. His owners did nothing. He angled his scratches toward the recently painted trim, letting out a yelp to alert the man to the impending destruction.

“Fine. Go in the yard. I’ll find it later.” They both knew this was a lie. When it came up white and crumbling next spring, he’d deny it to the woman.

The dog liked the smell of the fallen leaves, liked yipping them between his teeth, just to marvel at their lack of substance, their must. He spotted the squirrel hanging by its back legs down the bark of the maple, stuffing its mouth with a pear. The dog sank down, his jowls curled up, teeth close to chattering.

Then a crow dropped a crust of toast. It fell a pace from the dog’s snout. The squirrel darted down the tree and paused, checking the reaction. The dog forced its eyelids to descend, leaving only a slit, as if he’d fallen asleep. The squirrel sneaked forward.

One spring and the dog had it between his jaws. Had it raised off the ground, whipping it from side to side, a motion he’d practiced with a rope at the hand of the man and woman. He felt the tail slap the corner of his eye. He released, satisfied. The thing didn’t scurry off. It lay there, punctured. It’s liquid had sprayed the dog’s face in places he couldn’t lick clean.

When the man opened the patio door, the dog should have bounded back. Instead, he stayed frozen, so the man had to walk over and see the small, twitching bundle.

“It’s still alive.” The man’s voice was reedy. He would not look at the dog. He walked to the garage and came back with a shovel.

The woman opened the door.

 “No, stay back. Just stay there,” the man bellowed. He collected the mauled bits in an old grocery bag and trailed inside after her.

The dog waited to be summoned. It was one of the first cold days of the fall, when the frost wilts the last green stalks. The dog waited for the glass door to open again. The dog waited.

(written by Claire Tacon, read by Chioke I'Anson) 

That rad music you hear at the end is by Tigerrosa. Buy their debut album here

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Episode Forty One - Perfect Singing Flamingo

photo by  Ryan McGuire

We're taking a break this week from our regular line-up to bring you an excerpt from my new novel, In Search of the Perfect Singing Flamingo. The excerpt is read by the talented Melanie Mallozzi, who made one of my dreams come true by bringing this character to life. She has been a vocal music student for over 15 years and has sung for small audiences. She is developing a plan for an online baking enterprise, getting inspiration from her extensive cookbook collection. Melanie also loves to travel and learn new languages. 

Excerpt from In Search of the Perfect Singing Flamingo

Something’s wrong when I arrive at Fresh Us because Riley's at my table and he’s never at my table.

“Hi, Riley. That’s my station.”

Again, Riley says nothing back.

I go right away to tell Martha. She’s talking with Chef and they’re planning out today’s deliveries. Chef winks when he sees me. “Did you need something, Starr?”

 

(written by Claire Tacon, read by Melanie Mallozzi) 

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Episode Thirty Seven - The Girls Are Watching

photo by  Ryan McGuire

The girls are watching Bobby Darin. The girls are watching Paul Anka. The girls are watching Frankie Avalon. It’s a live show and they’ve lined up for hours. The host glides between them and points a spindly microphone towards one. “What a neat hat,” he says. He takes it off her head and parks it, cocked, on his own. The other girls cringe but they’re used to being spoken to like that, like they’re all dimple and no brain. Like their vaginas are on vacation. Like they don’t have teeth.

The one they’re watching steps on stage. He’s buffed almost to a gloss. He sings like a castrated goat. It’s so close to a mating song. It’s so close to what they want. Is it any wonder they howl back? You put a kettle on a stove—what happens?

(written by Claire Tacon, read by Chioke I'Anson) 

That rad music you hear at the end is by Tigerrosa. Buy their debut album here

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Episode Thirty Two - Quiet time

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Mrs. Singh was walking us over the bridge towards the rainbow when Bruce’s sock ended up in my ear. His toe brushed my right lobe back and forth while I lay there, trying not to interrupt relaxation circle. His sock smelled like something my grandfather would pull out of a jar. Mrs. Singh caught me wiggling away and I slid my hand into an arrow aimed at Bruce’s foot. “Settle down,” she said. “Focus on the stillness in your body. Climb up the yellow beam and slide into the warm pool.” This time, when Bruce’s cheese curd toes started poking, I slid my palm along my mouth, picking up a trail of spit. I clamped my hand onto his ankle. The rest of the class floated through purple waves while I stayed glued to Bruce, fierce as a leech.

***

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This episode was read by the phenomenal Cadence Allen. Cady is a versatile performer and director whose many theatre credits include work with Shakespeare by the Sea, Theatre Aquarius and Theatre Orangeville. Some of Cady's television credits include Murder in ParadiseMiracles: DecodedClose Encounters and Canada: The Story of Us. She recently directed the Hamilton Fringe Festival production of Much Ado About Nothing, which took home Best of Fringe honours. In addition to her work as an actor and director, Cadence is the founder and principal of StageCoach Theatre Arts, a part-time performing arts school for kids ages 4-16 in Toronto's East End. She is represented by Alix Kazman at Fountainhead Talent Inc. 

(written by Claire Tacon, read by Cadence Allen)

Episode Twenty Eight - Some Reasons Why People Fail

photo by  Ryan McGuire

Some reasons why people fail

The lower half of her body was lagging behind the top. As she jogged, she took on the hunched shoulders and curled-up hands of a T-rex.

Her torso had been content with the couch and a laptop. It resented the industry of her legs, this training towards what exactly? 5K, 10K a half marathon? You know what had been nice, it reminded her, the pool.

Earlier this summer, back when she didn’t care, she’d slipped into a neighbour’s backyard after midnight. Her apartment was above three-for-one pizza and had no AC. She was pretty sure they were at a cottage. They had a giant donut-shaped inflatable and she’d floated for almost an hour, feeling the three gradations of temperature—the chill of the water, the heat of the air, the lukewarm, unbreathable plastic. One of the first times in her life she’d been alone, in the dark, unafraid.

At the clinic, they’d made her feel like running was fearless too. You’re a champ, you’re a champ, you’re a champ, she repeated to herself with each footfall. Ignoring the unsaid—control your weight, control your anxiety, control your life. It was such a fine line between running from and running to.

(written by Claire Tacon, read by Chioke I'Anson) 

That rad music you hear at the end is by Tigerrosa. Buy their debut album here

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Episode Twenty Four - Get in on the Ground Floor

photo by  Ryan McGuire

Get in on the ground floor

“You’re terrific,” he tells me. “Your resume is terrific. You never know where you could end up.”

Which is all to say that the internship is unpaid.

“You make it sound like an elevator.”

“That’s the spirit.” He’s wearing a shirt that I suspect his wife picked out—a thin polo, mercerized cotton, different coloured pinstripes woven in at one-inch intervals. After four summers at Parker’s cleaners, I know what an entry-level position looks like.

“Would you consider offering an honorarium?” My friend, Bernice, likes to say If you don’t ask, the answer’s always no. Bernice hasn’t encountered a lot of no. 

“Last year’s intern is now our social media specialist.”

Six months scouring Twitter for good re-tweets, writing service articles for their newsletters, and ghost-writing blog posts for the executive team. Last week, there was a notice with my student loan statement, the government reminding me to report any garnish-able wages.

“What does it say on the label of your shirt?”

“Eddie Bauer?”

“Where do you think the person who stitched it is now? The mezzanine? The basement?”

He looks at me perplexed. He’s just offered me the position and this is not the transaction of gratitude he was expecting.

“That’s the problem with an elevator.” I stand up and collect my clippings folder. “You don’t always know if it’s going up or down.”

(written by Claire Tacon, read by Chioke I'Anson) 

That rad music you hear at the end is by Tigerrosa. Buy their debut album here

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Episode Twenty Three - The woman blocking the intersection

photo by  Ryan McGuire

The woman blocking the intersection, the woman refusing to let me in, is driving a red hatchback, her passenger mid-eighties at least, hair cropped like a jellyfish. The passenger stares out the window. A few car lengths ahead, there’s the ding ding ding of the rail crossing, the twin engines shunting tank cars. We’ll be here a long time.

The driver turns up the radio and I watch the emoji pattern on her scrubs bounce along to Bruno Mars. Suddenly she reaches over towards the open window and I think she’s going to ask me what my problem is. Instead, she uses her index finger to scrape the passenger’s teeth. Is she checking to see if the woman’s died? The passenger flares her nostrils but doesn’t bat the driver’s hand away. No, the motion is more like a toothbrush. A salad leaf, perhaps.

A bike courier scrapes by on the right, going the wrong way up the street. Greasy muscles, shorts ripped right up his thigh, a chain that swings towards the car. The hatchback driver throws her hands up, scowling at how close his pedals get to the front hood. He taps her back window, just to piss her off. As if struck by a defibrillator, the passenger bolts upright. She cranes her neck to watch the cyclist pedal off. Grins as if to say, he’s terrific.

(written by Claire Tacon, read by Chioke I'Anson) 

That rad music you hear at the end is by Tigerrosa. Buy their debut album here

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Episode Twenty Two - With the Same Chipped, Coral Manicure

photo by  Ryan McGuire

With the Same Chipped, Coral Manicure

The woman had her hand on a loaf of pumpernickel, giving the heel a thick squeeze. The baker, Drayton, had witnessed the ritual before. Each day the customer made two circuits through the aisles, past the thistle-stamped short bread, past the deflated gluten-free bagels, past the tubs of cream cheese. Two figure eights’ appraisal of his wares, then a feverish minute of bread groping. Always fifty/fifty as to whether or not she’d buy. He wondered if he was disappointing her with the store’s sameness. Or if she was worried she’d missed something last time. Perhaps she was just gassy and the loops through the shelves allowed her to relieve herself in slow, unobtrusive wafts. Hot air, disappointment—those had been his mother’s hallmarks too.

That night he switched the pickles with the halva, the hamentashen with the honey sponge, the seasonal napkins with the ceramics. The pumpernickel he placed in a bin by the cash, so the woman would be forced to look him in the eye. He’d made that bread himself. Couldn’t she see it was good enough?

(written by Claire Tacon, read by Chioke I'Anson) 

That rad music you hear at the end is by Tigerrosa. Buy their debut album here

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Episode Twenty One - Other Lessons Beyond Self-Righteousness

photo by  Ryan McGuire

His son had asked for a balloon. A foil baseball bat with a softball lobbed onto the end. Eric felt foolish carrying it back from the store, its phallus poking against the sky. He didn’t like the waste. They had what, two weeks, before the garbage truck would tip it into its jaws? Every spring, along with coerced grad students, Eric volunteered to clean up the river. Just for fun, he’d dissected a dead, netted gull. The stomach, stuffed with cigarette filters, bloomed open like a milkweed pod. That was the natural conclusion of his son’s request. But the kid had asked, so earnest, his Earth Rangers pin stabbing his ball-cap. There were other lessons beyond self-righteousness.

(written by Claire Tacon, read by Chioke I'Anson) 

That rad music you hear at the end is by Tigerrosa. Buy their debut album here

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Episode Twenty - Get a Record of Just Laughing

Sidenote: read more about Dr. Munyon  here . 

Sidenote: read more about Dr. Munyon here

Get a record of just laughing

There are parts of my grandfather’s memory he kept shuttered, whole wings left to be demolished by neglect. The bits we know are the not-so-bads. His leather boots nailed to a board, a punishment for carelessness. His socked feet chapped by snow. The view from a hotel window in Prague, waiting to see if the Gestapo would return. His parents’ failed suicide pact. He laughed a lot in the telling, a laugh that buffered us from the words, prevented us from attaching meaning to them, from seeing him as that little boy at the table, waiting to see if his mother and father would come home.

Marginalia in his eight-volume set of The Law of Success. “Get a record of just laughing.” The author, Napoleon Hill, had not encountered any melancholic successes. Even a forced laugh was better than no laugh. Sadness was tangible, an off-putting smell that could cling to a man. Gloom was an old country problem with a new, low-price American solution—a phonograph record of a woman’s sustained merriment.

My grandfather, predicting a scarcity, had added it to his to-do list.

(written by Claire Tacon, read by Chioke I'Anson) 

That rad music you hear at the end is by Tigerrosa. Buy their debut album here

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Episode Eighteen - Tip his knowledge in

photo by  Ryan McGuire

Almost as soon as the boy had come out of the womb, Kai had wanted to crack open his son’s head and tip all his knowledge in. Why should the child have to suffer through organic chemistry, Greek mythology, Spanish syntax? He watched his son struggle to pinch slices of banana between his thumb and forefinger, the lift up to his mouth equally precarious. Even the smallest acquisition of information seemed onerous. His wife had repeated "wave bye bye, Baby" for weeks, flapping his pudgy hand with the same optimism. The kid still stared blankly when Kai left the room.

There were species that passed along genetic memory—bird song, an aversion to the smell of cherries. Kai knew that by the time he equipped his son with whatever wisdom he’d cobbled together, the world would have changed. Kai could only prepare his son for the world right now. Not the one he’d have to live in.

And in that world, where would Kai be? His gonads no longer necessary for the biodiversity project, his ideas gathering mildew. He stared at his offspring, now happily gumming banana, and felt the sting of obsolescence with each chew.

(written by Claire Tacon, read by Chioke I'Anson)

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Episode Sixteen - Bonsai Kittens

photo by  Ryan McGuire

She couldn’t tell anyone how disappointed she was that those bonsai kittens weren’t real. It would mean admitting that she’d looked past their immediate suffering. It was terrible, of course, no animal deserved tobe shoehorned into Tupperware. She hadn’t found the pictures all that cute. But the bonsai cats offered a kind of permanence that was hard to find. Sometimes the onward process of growing was exhausting. Always stretching your arms towards the sky. Lately she found herself struggling against the current of positivity churned up by her friends and coworkers. There was too much pressure to compost all of life’s experience into something fertile. Wouldn’t it be nice, she thought, to be kept fed and petted in a thick-walled jar? Indefinitely small, enclosed. The only thing you are required to do is nothing.

(written by Claire Tacon, read by Chioke I'Anson)

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Episode Fourteen - Willing a Pen pal Into Existence

Photo by  Ryan McGuire

Photo by Ryan McGuire

She had sent off a balloon as a child, willing a pen pal into existence. She had been very careful with the address, her best cursive properly tucked into a plastic sheath. No reply had come back. Her classmate Horace had received an aerogramme from Texas, which seemed impossibly far away. The teacher had pinned it to the bulletin board where it stayed all year. Dear Horace. She suspected he’d faked it. In June, she stole the letter, rolled it into a bottle then tossed it in the lake. The next year, Horace was back with a taller tale. There it was, the warped original and a new card with the Cleveland Terminal Tower. She didn’t know why life was like that, why everything happened to just a few people. Why most dreams were sloughed off, balloons gumming up farmer’s fields.

(written by Claire Tacon, read by Chioke I'Anson)

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Episode THIRTEEN - Participation ribbon

Photo by  Erkan Utu

Photo by Erkan Utu

Now that he could see the end result of the public school sausage machine, now that the little wurst links were sitting in his lectures, Eric decided to volunteer in his son’s class. He brought a small aquarium full of murky water and theatrically dropped in a catfish. He’d planned to outline the nutrient cycle but a hand rocketed up. “My dog eats other dogs’ poop.” Big laughs. Another hand. “Why don’t you clean the tank?” Another. “My parents don’t believe in experiments on animals.” “Do fish eat their own poop?” He left cowed, unable to shift the discussion from feces. A few days later, the aquarium had cracked during a game of unsanctioned indoor tag. His son carried the dead Pleco home in a sandwich bag. “Sorry, Dad,” he said. “You tried.”

(written by Claire Tacon, read by Chioke I'Anson)

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Episode Nine - Two sides of the same coin

The microwave was rotating Danica-from-accounting’s tuna bake, the fan churning out an oppressive fog of tinned fish and cream of mushroom soup. Since the school’s expansion, the staff kitchen doubled as the sessional office. The contract lecturers were trenched in cubicles against the far wall while molecules from other people’s lunches permeated their clothes. Eric propped open the door as a sign of solidarity. Now that he had tenure, it was awkward talking to colleagues who didn’t know if they’d be back from term to term. Empathy and condescension were often the same coin. A post-doc was there now, having drawn the straw to teach five hundred undergrads that the earth is a limited resource. “Fight the good fight,” Eric wanted to say, but the man had already hunched back towards his screen.

(written by Claire Tacon and read by Chioke I'Anson)

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Photo by  Ryan McGuire

Photo by Ryan McGuire

Episode Six - When her cat had died

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When her cat had died, her parents had lied to her. They said January had gone back to the Mennonite farm they’d got her from, that she’d be spending some time with her mother. Bethany tried to picture her tortie snuggled back into the straw-lined banana box she’d come out of. Until the dog dragged the carcass out of the shallow plot and paraded it around their yard. The decomposing pageantry was bad enough, but, worse, she wondered if her parents thought she was weak. If they spared her because she needed sparing. And it made her mistrust them. Even now, when they told her they were going out for dinner, she wondered if the house had burned down. Lately, she was disappointed that it hadn’t.

(written by Claire Tacon and read by Chioke I'Anson)

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Episode Five - The past three nights

That he’d died in hospital had been keeping her up for the past three nights. Regret scratched at her like a raccoon trapped in a dumpster. The din of its claws, determined to tunnel out. The insomnia was making her clumsy, forgetful. She’d seen a friend at the grocery, someone she’d served on a board with, and had hidden behind a display of nectarines because she couldn’t remember if he was Reginald or Albert. Bertie? Reg? What did it matter if she couldn’t name him? She had always been someone who cared about others, who listened with both eyes. But now the rest of the world felt calloused over. She wasn’t sure sleep was going to fix that. And to find out, she’d have to make peace with the raccoon. Crack the lid and throw in an apple. Forgive the oncologist.

(written by Claire Tacon, read by Chioke I'Anson)

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Episode Four - At first it was just a doodle

photo by David Solce

photo by David Solce

At first it was just a doodle

A boy with a cat’s head and tail. Eric had posted the sketch to his blog with the caption Xavier, two years old. It was a friend who emailed the first article, linked from a conspiracy site. Petri-dish Infant Escapes. There was Eric’s drawing, recreated with blurry stock photos. Right down to the overalls. Soon seasoned journalists reported sightings, warned the public against approaching. Online, people were divided. Some vowed to shelter the little one. Others set out bowls of poisoned milk. Eric pressed his ear to the door, waited for a purr.

(written by Claire Tacon, read by Chioke I'Anson)

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Episode Three - On dives, the headlamp made the water blacker

image by Timothy Knepp

image by Timothy Knepp

On dives, the headlamp made the water blacker. There was nothing with sizeable teeth in this Ohio river but it was unnerving, the lone illuminated tunnel. Eric thought it must be some deep human fear, shadows on the periphery. Some ape thing like the hypnic jerk before sleep. He was here removing tracking cameras, the funding dried up on his paddlefish study. The population was down, no hiding that. A new dam, lax sport fishing regulations, the zebra mussel’s steady paving. Paddlefish were a barometer species. Eric couldn’t help but romanticize their plight. Imagine outliving the dinosaurs—Eoraptors to Triceratops—only to be squeezed out by twerpy homo sapiens. As he unscrewed the recorder, he was pinched by the anxiety that he might be to blame for the decline, simply by mounting cameras. It didn’t matter your intention, did it? Consequence seeped out just the same. Nothing could sandbag against it.

(written by Claire Tacon, read by Chioke I'Anson)

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Episode Two - Who would she sleep with now?

Who would she sleep with now? He had shared the same queen- sized mattress for eight years. An Ikea futon for a decade before that. She didn’t want to be the kind of person that keeps stuffed animals or body pillows. Perhaps she would sleep on the couch, allow herself to be spooned by the cushions. How quickly would her weight make an imprint? How soon would guests know? And would they stop visiting, afraid to seat themselves on the mold of her bereavement? She didn’t want to make a spectacle of herself but grief felt like a third limb, something people’s eyes couldn’t help but seek out. A chipped tooth slowly remapped by the tongue.

(written by Claire Tacon, read by Chioke I'Anson)

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