Medium 9781927068151

The Maladjusted

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These urban, commuter-friendly stories capture quirky events in satisfying ways. Their dark undertones and sharp-witted ironies employ familiar settings such as apartments, lofts, studios, and city streets but use unusual and unexpected urban moments as backdrops to outré characters and their given idiosyncrasies.
Some of Hayes’ characters are on the social fringe, such as the mentally challenged narrator of the title story who finds his way through urban life with the aid of his seventy-year-old neighbour. Some obsess privately, such as the protagonist in “The Runner” who becomes neurotically repulsed by the hair follicles on his girlfriend’s upper lip, while others, like the proven street ball “cager” of the story “In the Low Post” stews over his eroding prestige and control on the inner-city basketball court.

Edgy, smart, and unpredictable, Derek Hayes' stories bend linear storytelling and shift the narrative voices with such an energetic frequency that readers will want to go back again just to them just to see how he does it.

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A Feel for America

ePub

A FEEL FOR AMERICA

WE’RE WAITING FOR MR. HOU, THE OWNER of our school and this building, to arrive. Adam’s striking a soccer ball with his right foot, aiming at meat-eating cockroaches that scuttle over unidentified particles on our red tile floor. A solitary, insolent cockroach clings to the bathroom door, one tenacious limb gripping a groove in the woodwork. With his toe, Adam takes a violent stab at the ball, which flies at the door, squashing the cockroach, leaving it dangling. The ball bounces away, but Adam remains where he is. Apparently he’s waiting for me to fetch it. Which I do, returning the ball with an insouciance that hopefully preserves some of my dignity. In our two months together, although I haven’t witnessed hostility, Adam has carried himself with a belligerent ferocity that reminds me of the glass-breaking thug in the movie Trainspotting.

Mr. Hou calls our names from the other side of the screen door. “You guys have a new housemate,” he says with a lisp. His hair has been dyed black, which looks strange considering that he’s over seventy and his face is wrinkled. He was probably attractive in his younger years. “No more funny business. No more drugs.”

 

The Maladjusted

ePub

THE MALADJUSTED

I CLIMB OUT OF MY FOURTH FLOOR window and onto the fire escape landing, where I look down the alley for Ming. Spring has come and it’s starting to warm up a little. I’m wearing a white robe and flip-flops, and carrying a basket that is attached to a long rope. Inside the basket is the exact amount of money for a medium vegetarian pizza, a bottle of Pepsi and a side order of garlic bread. This is the special from Tony’s. Like an old house-ridden Middle Eastern woman, I lower down the basket of money to Ming, who is standing below the fire escape. Ming is non-judgmental, waiting patiently on the ground, as if all his customers order in this way. He takes the money and places the food into the basket. I carefully pull my dinner towards the fourth floor, stopping just before it reaches the metal landing. I remove the box of pizza and bottle of Pepsi and the garlic bread and yank the basket over the rail. I lie down on the cool surface of the fire escape landing and rest my arm on the warm pizza box.

 

That’s Very Observant of You

ePub

THAT’S VERY OBSERVANT OF YOU

ON A COOL SPRING DAY, MELANIE TRUDGED into the Lucky Dragon Restaurant with a videocassette tucked under her arm. She ordered two portions of dumplings and pork fried rice and sat down at a small table. The place was empty until a group of people came in and sat at one of the big round tables. A waiter, newly hired, appeared with her dinner on a plate. Melanie sprung from her seat, and said, “No, I’m not eating here. I always get takeout.” She smiled nervously and said, “My friend is waiting for me outside. I’m sorry. This is my fault, but I need it wrapped for take-out.”

The waiter obediently put the rice and dumplings in a Styrofoam container. As he was handing it over, Melanie, her hand instinctively flattening a stray mousy clump of hair sprung awry, and then shielding three tiny craters to the right of her thin lips, said, “My friend really likes extra peanut sauce if you don’t mind.”

Outside, she stood on the sidewalk and peered through the window, staring at the waiter. Loose change in his pockets pulled his belt down so she could see the shape of his hipbone through his jockey shorts. His dark-brown, neatly trimmed beard complimented his handsome, Slavic-looking face. He deftly balanced a tray of squid and broccoli with one hand and with the other carried a pitcher of water. Melanie thought that it was the nicest thing for them to have hired a Caucasian man. She didn’t speak Mandarin after all, and although when ordering she could indicate her dish of choice by writing down the corresponding item number on a pad, she felt more comfortable now that she could communicate verbally with someone, with this nice man. What can I say to him?

 

In the Low Post

ePub

IN THE LOW POST

I HAVE THE BALL IN THE LOW post, my back to the basket. Adrian, a lanky eighteen-year-old kid, six foot six — his calves a third of this length — is draped over me. I pump fake and Adrian bites, leaving his feet. I dig my shoulder into his stomach and hook the ball over him, but even so he smacks it out of bounds. He knows better than to say anything. I grab his T-shirt and pretend like I’m going to slap him. “Just joking. Nice block, bro’.” All ten of us stand waiting for the game to continue, no one saying the obvious — that it is, of course, my job to retrieve the ball. I’m not going to make an issue of it. I might have as a teenager, but I’m twenty-five now. I follow the ball over a clump of grass to a chain link fence, where it rolls up against a leg. I jump back a step. The leg belongs to a kid, who is lying still. With the sun setting he’s difficult to see. His skin is lighter than mine. He’s dirty and he smells like vomit. His lack of expression and unwillingness to call out as the ball hit his leg is what trips me up the most.

 

A Good Decision

ePub

A GOOD DECISION

YESTERDAY, I RAN INTO RON, A MAN I almost ran away with forty years ago, at the grocery store. He asked me to meet him for coffee and for some inexplicable reason I agreed. This encounter has made me nervous and introspective. I’ve got a retired husband who deeply cares for me. I’m exhausted these days, but I still enjoy teaching. I’ve got one more semester at Norfolk Collegiate, and then we plan to downsize to a condo in central Toronto.

Why did I agree to meet with Ron? I don’t want to revisit my youth, but lately I’ve been confused: a young teacher, Charlie, reminds me of Ron. And Charlie has me evaluating whether, all those years ago, I made a good decision. I feel the same as, say, a scientist, when she’s studying a wolf in the wild. The classic wannabe alpha wolf is entering the cafeteria. Curly blond hair. Tall and thin. Charlie approaches us untucking his silk shirt from his faded jeans, the same way he does every day, as if he’s on holiday from his students and going to enjoy his lunch even if everyone else is dull. “Those little buggers in my period B keep telling me I’ve been gaining weight,” he says loudly. “I haven’t gained any fat, have I?”

 

Green Jerseys

ePub

GREEN JERSEYS

IT IS MONDAY, JUNE 10, A COOL morning. There’s just one more week of school. I’m fifty years old and I’m flashing cards, homemade, blue ink on white Bristol board, at Bobby Fenner, who has his head in his arms. Tiny red pimples dot his cheeks.

Soup Kitchen.

“What’s the significance of this, Bobby?” My deep voice resonates off the blackboards.

“I don’t know,” he says lethargically.

“Hey Bobby, cheer up,” I say, my teeth clenched, rubbing my knuckles against the top of his greasy blond head to motivate him.

“Don’t do that,” he says. “Oh — I don’t know. That’s where people got free food because they were hungry.”

“That’s right, Bobby. How about this one?” Bennett Buggy.

“They didn’t have enough gas, so they hooked their cars up to horses.”

“Bingo, Bobby. Five for five.” The room is boisterous. Kids are turned around in their desks, squirming. Tanya Simmons is painting her chipped nails an awful shade of pink. Sara Roberts is looking in a mirror, covering her acne with blush. These kids are unruly. I’m going to have to rein them in one of these days. I’m only the educational assistant in this class. Stan Wakefield is the actual teacher, but he doesn’t have authority, and he’s not here now because he’s taken Lee Hendry down to the office for throwing gum at Tanya.

 

Maybe You Should Get Back There

ePub

MAYBE YOU SHOULD GET BACK THERE

CHRIS AND I ARE LYING ACROSS FROM each other on a sofa and loveseat watching the Utah Jazz and the Los Angeles Lakers. I have a lot on my mind. We’re watching cable television that for the last four months I and I alone have paid for. Chris actually tidied this evening, but this was only the first time since he moved in with Nadia and me. He never cleaned when we were living in the same dorm room together as frosh at the University of Toronto and I wish he hadn’t tonight — cleaned, that is. That he’s picked up the sports section, lightly dusted the television and lackadaisically vacuumed around the coffee table, does little to change my opinion of him — that he’s not to be trusted.

Strictly speaking, his general dereliction of and sudden interest in household chores isn’t really what’s troubling me.

“Get the ball to Shaq,” Chris says. His wiry arms are flexed at right angles in front of his chest, and his wispy blond bangs are stuck to his forehead. “Shaq’s not getting any touches.”

 

An Empty Tank of Gas

ePub

AN EMPTY TANK OF GAS

IZZIE AND I SAT IN THE LIVING room, smoking and talking. I was slouching in my reclining chair, my legs resting on a coffee table. Candles glowed near my feet. I got up and gazed out the window at the concrete buildings surrounding our apartment. It was raining, so Izzie was reluctant to take me outside to explore the neighbourhood, Moda. Two weeks ago, Izzie had picked me up at the airport, and brought me back here, though not without incident. In a queue for the dolmuş, right next to the Blue Mosque, which looks curiously like the Rogers Centre in Toronto, I got in a shoving match with a young Turk who’d nudged ahead of us in line, my thinking being that no one took advantage of someone from Sarnia, Ontario. Izzie spoke to him in the native tongue and calmed him down until it came time for us to board the dolmuş. The shoving match resumed between him and me — with only two seats available, the boy unwisely thought he could snag Izzie’s seat.

Seda, a young woman with large brazen eyes, walked, hips swaying, into the living room. Her friends were giggling as they made manti, folding dough around meat, at the kitchen table. The right side of her mouth curled towards her nose and in a singsong voice she said, “The tank of gas is empty, Izzie.” She stalled on the “z” when she said his name.

 

The Runner

ePub

THE RUNNER

CAROL AND I ARE COMING UP THE stairs at the Eglinton subway entrance. A sweater is tucked under my arm. People are cheering and whistling. Horns are sounding. I grab Carol’s hand and guide her to an area on the sidewalk where we can see the race. A young, thin Kenyan marathoner is running effortlessly down Yonge Street. This gives the event an immediate, authentic feel. Like when I was up north camping and saw an owl. Another Kenyan, taller and with a high forehead, is behind him. These two are way ahead of all the other marathoners. A middle-aged man, short and pudgy is jogging by with a woman in her late twenties. She’s got a thin upper body and is congenitally heavy from the waist down. They’re obviously in a different event.

The weather is sunny and it’s a few degrees above zero on this October morning. At the corner of Yonge and Eglinton, the seven-km mark, Carol and I wait near Chapters for Jeremy, Ross and Wendy — all from my office at INCO — to come down the hill. They’re in the 10 km race. I observe the runners with reverence, thankful that I’m watching from the sidewalk. The last thing I’d ever want to do on a Sunday morning is run. It’s still early, and the pack of front-runners is tight. I don’t expect to see our friends for a while. Two speakers the size of closets boom in the background. Mad Dog and Billie, local DJs from Mix FM, are in front of Starbucks. Mad Dog yells into the microphone, “Go 103! Go 103!” Number 103 tilts his head toward the ground as if he doesn’t want the attention.

 

A Wonderful Holiday

ePub

A WONDERFUL HOLIDAY

RUSSELL LAY IN BED, STILL WEARING HIS light-blue pyjamas. He was watching Magnum P.I. T.C.’s helicopter had a bullet hole and Magnum was explaining to T.C. that he’d compensate him for the damage.

A solitary model airplane, a Sopwith Camel, hung from the ceiling of his room. This was a vestige of his childhood. He had cleared out all the other silly remnants two years before. The Sopwith Camel had been in such pristine condition that he couldn’t take it down. Were he to get a girlfriend — this winter, he hoped — he’d be sure to trash it. With his computer and printer, television and stereo system set up along the north wall, and with a proper queen-sized bed, and with beige paint covering the old wallpaper (which had been spotted with lizards), his life now was almost complete. He just had to find a girl. He would move all of his belongings into a two-bedroom condominium when they got married. He’d be nicer to Mom then. He’d even do the dishes here more often if he weren’t living at home, though on second thought, he’d probably have enough chores of his own to do. The trip he felt obliged to go on was getting in the way of all of his plans. He’d thought of nothing else for a while now.

 

Tom and Wilkie

ePub

TOM AND WILKIE

WILKIE SEES AN ELDERLY MAN BESIDE A run-down barbecue shack, next to the town’s community centre, looking out at the graveyard, his withering grey hair messed by the wind. He is seven years younger than Wilkie, but at seventy, old in comparison to most everyone else. His name is Tom. He’s still handsome, his jaw and shoulders manly and sturdy, whereas Wilkie lost his looks in his early thirties, if he ever had any. The muscles around Tom’s mouth are twitching. His wife’s funeral was earlier today so he’s grieving. He’d be surprised to learn that Wilkie is watching him, as he would also be shocked that Wilkie has observed him for the past fifty-five or so years. Tom underestimated Wilkie early on, dismissed him as someone of no consequence. Wilkie is Robert Wilkinson, owner of O’Brien’s Restaurant and president of the Harriers, a men’s group dedicated to the survival of the town. His ancestors, Scottish and English, have been involved in the Harriers for generations.

When he was a teenager Wilkie was an assistant coach of the local hockey team because his father was head coach and because he loved being around hockey players, even if they were young. And Tom was simply the best bantam hockey player to play the game. Wilkie’s dad had him pegged as someone who might make it as a hockey player and then return to become a community leader and contribute to the economic wellbeing of their bucolic, non-descript tobacco town, population 1800, two hours south of Toronto.

 

The Revisionist

ePub

THE REVISIONIST

JIM STEPPED ONTO THE SUBWAY CAR, BRIEFLY looked at the TTC map above the doors and then, to no one in particular, he said, “Is this going to Pape?” The only passengers within hearing distance were two elderly Chinese women, who stared ahead and continued to speak in Mandarin. Jim looked at them grumpily and made his way to the rear of the subway car. He felt tense. His neck was so rigid he had to swivel his entire body to look right or left.

He spotted an attractive woman who was wearing a business suit and sidled up to her. The woman, in her mid-twenties, held an Elle magazine in front of her face. “This is the first time that I’ve ever worn a tie,” he said. He rubbed the white bone-hard scar on his cheek.

The woman winced. “Oh,” she said, returning her gaze back to the magazine she was reading.

“This is the first time that I’ve ever worn a tie.”

“What did you say?”

He wagged his bony index finger at her. “God-awful thing feels weird. I own my own roofing business, so obviously I don’t wear it while I’m on the roof, though I don’t get up there much anymore because we’ve expanded and I’m mostly in the office these days.”

 

Shallowness

ePub

SHALLOWNESS

To: Rebecca (rebeccabrown88@gmail.com)

From: Jean

Cc:

Re: your replacement

I haven’t had the best week. I’m pretty sure I’m going to get fired because of the girl who replaced you. This new girl is something else.

She applies layers of rouge, coats her eyebrows and lashes with Maybelline and somehow perks up her breasts and buttocks. She wears garish earrings. The only accessory I have is a headband, and I strap this on only when I want to dress up. I think you’re the only other woman that could wear blue jeans to work and not give a rat’s ass.

There’s a fog of perfume that hovers over her desk. She hung a fuzzy pink Hello Kitty doll on the wall of your old cubicle. I told her this was sacrilegious to your memory and not really appropriate for an office. She whined that it gave her luck. She flaunts the fact that she’s a size two. She laughed when I told her that her waist was the same size as my thigh.

She doesn’t have an original thought in her head. She’s giddy about Will and Grace. She idolizes Ally McBeal. I was discussing the latest Alberto Salazar film a few days back. I looked over and I saw her puzzled look of incomprehension. In fact, she’s probably unacquainted with all foreign films. (Who do I have to talk to around here now that you’ve left?)

 

Inertia

ePub

INERTIA

I LIE IN BED FOR AN HOUR listening to 102.1, “The Edge.” Eventually, I get up and open the kitchen window. I take a bowl from the cupboard and fill it with corn flakes. There’s no milk so I eat the cereal with my fingers, then lie on the sofa and turn on the television. I flick for a while and then stop at a middle-aged woman doing yoga. She’s a little thick in the hips, but with leotards she’s got the legs of a twenty-year old. I light up, and take a drag from a joint. I watch the woman and stroke myself, but give it up after my prick goes limp.

A George Brown College pamphlet is open on the coffee table beside me. A few of the business courses on the page are highlighted in yellow, though not by me. My dad brought it over the other day and told me that I should take a look, which was strange because we haven’t spoken much the last two years. I thought he’d given up hope when I was eighteen and moved in with Rudy. It’s easy living here. Rudy’s the superintendent. It’s his father’s building. I guess I should be paying a little rent, but Rudy hasn’t mentioned that I’m here to his father, so I haven’t paid a cent. Instead I supply Rudy with weed. Lots of it. I buy it with the money I earn from working at a gas station in the west end of Toronto. Whenever he smokes up, I smoke up as well. I don’t want to be rude, right? We’ve been smoking up every other day for six years straight. It was good for the first five years, but lately I’ve been wondering if there isn’t more to life.

 

My Horoscope

ePub

MY HOROSCOPE

I DROP MY SUITCASE AND REEBOK DUFFEL bag on the single unruffled bed and massage my creased neck, a result of the twenty-minute walk up Union Avenue, duffel bag banging my hip, shoulder strap gripping the flesh under my ears. A print of Jupiter with its many moons covers one wall. Astrological maps and ancient Greek transcripts are tacked up on the left side of the room. Thick, hardcover books line shelves. The posters and books are immaculately organized. My half of the room is barren.

My new roommate, Cam, is sprawled on the floor. He’s tall and soft looking with brown eyes. We met briefly at a get-to-know-you social at Wellington Hall last Thursday. He’s studying a weathered zodiac chart. A manual of astrology, Life According to the Stars, leans against his leg. He smiles, and asks me when I was born, then consults his chart, and says, “So you’re Sagittarius. You don’t like to spend too much time in one place, right? Your planets are all in their sixth sector. Oh, but wait a sec — you have a moon in Aquarius, which means that you’ll soon be obsessed with something that’ll disturb your work, in this case your studies. But don’t let me scare you. This chart is usually off. You don’t mind if I use your information in a study I’m doing of every kid at Aberdeen Hall, do you?”

 

The Lover

ePub

THE LOVER

I GET OUT OF MY ’98 PONTIAC and walk up the dusty driveway to the front porch, where three of the Riverdale Group Home members sit, smoking hand-rolled, unfiltered cigarettes around a tiny pot of sand and butt ends. When they see my six-foot-six-inch frame bending to greet them, their eyes brighten. “Can we have macaroni and cheese for lunch, Mark?” says Jeremy, rising from his plastic lawn chair.

“Anything you want.” What a picture — me with hyper-manic, sunken eyes and distended nose, against Jeremy’s sedated, bloated, ruddy face and still eyes, the result of years of chlorpromazine.

In the living room I reach under the flap at the bottom of the sofa and pick up the kitten, which squirms in my arms. I rub the kitten’s belly, and place my nose on its forehead. “Hey, little kitty. You like to be rubbed, right?” The kitten hisses, and swipes. Scratch marks, like miniature red train tracks, appear on my wrist. “That hurt, cat,” I say. The kitten falls, and scampers from the room. I dab the cut with a napkin.

 

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