What It Profits a Man
Today I didn't go to Sunday School
but to the cemetery above and
behind it and hung out on my father's
headstone, not that he's dead yet but when he
is then he'll be all set and death won't have
to wait any longer than it has to
which was awfully nice of Father but
then he's a nice guy, he's a plumber,
they don't come any nicer even though
some folks complain about the high bills but
he just smiles and shrugs and says that he's as
fair as it's possible for him to be
and still make the least little profit and
that usually does the trick, Mother's
headstone they're still saving for but it looks
good for them in the afterlife and lead
-ing up to it and all the time that comes
after it, eternity it's called, one
day I'll die, too, and meet up with them but
I'm only ten years old now and I want
to live a while longer, I'll be ready
after my team wins the World Series and
the way things are going that won't be soon
so I guess when I'm croaked and wake up dead
I won't worry too much about how much
life I missed, it'll all be behind me
and I won't get to go back and after
Sunday School last week I told Miss Hooker
that sometimes I think about just killing
myself and saving God and Jesus and
the mortician and for that matter both
Mother and Father some time and worry
but she told me not even to think it,
that's a sin as sure as really doing
it and that whenever I think such thoughts
that I should pray for forgiveness right off
the bat and not delay for a moment
else I might die right then and here in sin
and find myself in the furnace of Hell
and then I asked her what I thought Father
would ask, Would that be gas or electric,
and then she laughed and laughed and it was good
to see and hear and when I got home I
asked Father what would be Miss Hooker's fate
if she dropped down dead at that moment of
sin--would her immortal soul head up or
down and he said I'm not sure, son--let us
pray, then he smiled and closed his eyes and fell
asleep. That son of a bitch is crazy.
After Sunday School I slink back in
the classroom to see Miss Hooker one more
time before I never see her again
until next Sunday. Could be her red hair
draws me back to her fire again. I'm just
10 and I don't know why I feel this way
but I like it even though I hate it.
I mean, she's a grown woman and I'm not
a man yet but one day I will be and
be a husband to boot and get married
and start a family, which means babies,
and though I don't know where they come from yet
I'd like to learn and Miss Hooker's a swell
teacher and I'm a decent student if
I'm interested. And she has green eyes,
one of them lazy, wandering like God,
if God wanders--I sure would if I was
God. I'd get pretty bored up in Heaven
just sitting on my throne all day. Maybe
that's just me, whether I was made in God's
image or not--I think that's the Bible.
And freckles, she's got freckles, Miss Hooker
has about a million freckles. Sometimes
I try to count them but have to give up,
it's like counting stars and of course there are
the ones you never see, far away or
behind the clouds like Miss Hooker's freckles
underneath her clothes. If we get married
I could count them on our honeymoon if
there's enough light in the dark. I suppose
that my eyes will adjust, or maybe they'll
shine like real stars, even twinkle-twinkle,
to make my summing easier. I'll use
a calculator to keep track of them.
And I'll hold her close and kiss her and then
we'll fall asleep and wake up pregnant, or
she will, and nine months later name our son
after me or our daughter after her,
but for now I don't know Miss Hooker's name,
her given name, I mean. Her Christian name.
I guess I'll find out at the latest when
we get married. She'll wear a long white gown
sort of open at the neck to show off
her chests, or the tops of them, and I'll wear
a tuxedo, which I'll rent and take back,
or my best man will, whoever he'll be.
Right now it's a tie between my father
and my dog. I stand in the doorway and
watch Miss Hooker stack the hymnals, and think
of stacking dishes in the kitchen sink.
I should help her, or at least help her dry them.
I think I've seen enough. Maybe I've seen
too much. Now I'm feeling like her red hair
made me feel. I'm sort of looking forward
to, and dreading, something at the same time.
It's like thinking of Jesus, too, Who died
on the Cross, Miss Hooker says, to save us.
All I can say is I'm glad that He did
but sorry that He had to all the same.
Maybe if I die to save Miss Hooker
she'll fall in love with me. But that's too late.
I don’t want to die but I may as well
is how I look at it, death I mean, death
is the end of life or at least of mine
no matter when it comes, I’m only 10
now and my Sunday School teacher tells us
that God can call us back at any time,
call us back to Him, that is, He has such
power, nobody gave it to him, He’s
always had it, the power to call us
back to Heaven where, I think, He made us
and then shipped us out, our souls I mean, in
-side our bodies and between them and out
mothers’ labors, that’s the mysterious
part, the in-between-ness of it all--well,
I forgot what I was trying to say
and yet I believe every word and yet
I never even knew it, the start, save
I went through it myself but I’m damned if
I remember what it was like. I told
Miss Hooker so after Sunday School this
morning, she’s our teacher, and that damned slipped
out, another sin and a heinous one
because I said it in church, Sunday School
is a kind of church, an affiliate,
like the local NBC station to
the larger network, I like TV and
we don’t have cable, cable’s a sin says
Mother but I think she just means the cost
but anyway that slipped out of me
and so Miss Hooker had to sit down right
on both hips I mean, buttocks I think they’re
called, that’s a funny word and like I say
she plopped smack down on both at once and made
that sound like an inside-the-armpit poot,
another sin I guess, but I helped her
up again, no damage done that I could
see though of course I couldn’t see much nor
to the chair, neither, it’s that tough plastic
that will never rot in a million years
and if you try to torch it it likely
only melts, but anyway after she
got her legs back, so to speak, Miss Hooker
told me to run on home, she knows I walk
and yet that wasn’t a figure of speech,
she wanted me the Hell out of her hair
so I said, Yes ma’am--see you next Sunday
but she just grunted, I guess I hurt her
after all but if we ever get hitched,
forget her age, which is 25, we’ll
both grow into husband and wife if
only for a few years, there’s free cable
down at the County Motel, just perfect
for our honeymoon, unless I’m dead first
or otherwise bored. And remote control.
Carson Pytell is a poet living in a small town outside Albany, NY. His work has appeared in numerous venues online and is currently available or forthcoming in print from such publications as Vita Brevis Press, The Virginia Normal, NoD Magazine, Blue Moon Lit & Art Review, Spank the Carp, Crack the Spine, Futures Trading, Down in the Dirt Magazine, Gideon Poetry Review, and Children, Churches & Daddies, among others. His debut collection, First-Year (Alien Buddha Press, 2020), and his first chapbook, Trail (Guerrilla Genesis Press, 2020), are available on Amazon.
Horsemen held, sleeping scroll,
stumbled still into judgment
from a fickle christ who coughed:
"Depart, I know you not."
Reticently I returned
to a clean room, big windows
meant only for looking in.
It is no dream.
Nineteen and the men are buying
me illegal drinks in a smoky pool
hall the city will shut down within
the year. I’m wearing my navy blue
airline uniform. I’m told the shade
is a color people trust. I don’t
acknowledge him until he won’t
stop. Desperate to get my
attention, I give in, sipping
from my fishbowl of a cocktail,
buzzed but still sober enough
to know better – even at that age.
Later, when I leave with him,
I see the empty child’s car seat
sitting in plain view in the back seat
of his Subaru. I see the crumbs
of graham crackers, boxes
of juice, the finger paintings tossed
aside by a working mother, hurried
to get somewhere on time, to get to
the grocery store, to get through
another long day. I don’t
question him about his life or his wife
because the answers will illuminate
my own guilt in this crime. I look
for evidence in the front seat, clues
that other fatherless boys have been in my
place before. The night soldiers
on. In a rented motel room, the military
career comes up. He tells me he was a hero
once. I ask him who he saved. He can’t
remember their names but don’t worry
because his wife is getting on a late night
flight for Baltimore to give a speech
in a carpeted hotel ballroom, waiting
for a text or a call – reassurance
that everything is fine at home, that
she’s missed. In the motel bathroom, I wash
him from my skin, knowing a passenger
is fastening her seat belt, preparing
for takeoff, going over her speech. In her mind
she is safe and fearless and wise.
For more great work check out:
Three of t.m. thomson’s poems have been nominated for Pushcart Awards. She is co-author of Frame and Mount the Sky (2017) and author of Strum and Lull (2019), which placed in Golden Walkman’s 2017 chapbook competition, and The Profusion (2019). Her passions include kickboxing, playing in mud, and savoring art.
Saw a photo of him holding a cat.
He wore an old smock
and his hair was artist-wild
except in the center
where his scalp held one little
He wore a slight smile and his eyes
were earnest and almost crossed
like the eyes of the masked cat
in his arms.
If he and his homely but kind face
were to show up
at my house
I’d check his ribs
to see if he was too skinny.
I’d run a comb through hair
and beard to chase out
I’d say there there
you can live here
among the poppies and sunflowers
reposing under the apple tree
when it gets hot.
They are undoubtedly much like
the ones you’ve sown elsewhere
on other canvases—bold
and clustered with baby’s breath
and sun and shaded
by a green and gold mosaic
I’d give him the run of yard and field
the shelter of eave and even
my house with an open door policy.
He’d rub against my ankles
smile up at me
speak a language
I could not understand
and soon miss
his rambling ways
his starry-haired mermaids
his wild-eyed Athena.
I’d send him on his way
with a kiss
and a hope he’d be back for dinner
What a holy day--
drift of hydrangea mud
the color of an eye
grey pearl sky brindled
Wind stirs me--
sigh of still-bare branches
pulsing others weighed down by magenta-
opal-vermillion an embarrassment
of petals then raised sharply
by snaps of gales.
That shock of gardenias--
a holy ghost
fern fronds— supplicants
and the leaves of daylilies--
breeze thaws them
so that they ripple
And all those years ago
on a day such as this
you and I sat at Perkins
and you charmed me
by knowing the name
of the table’s pattern--
you said. Something
holy in the red
always turning back
as if chased by breeze
amid a roseate
Exotic delights touching skin
like soft roses blowing kisses.
the brushing of love’s tender wings,
the tingling of their romantic touch,
the feeling of heaven on earth,
creamy liquids in their soothing,
their lovely touching and probing,
rolling down the breathing hills,
seeping down into the crevasses,
cooling off the fiery nerves,
rescuing the screaming desiccation,
the abandoned moisture that once was,
the comfort of a rose like feel,
the soothing breath of the rain
like a rainforest in the desert,
the tears in the soil,
the flowers in the sun,
the embellishment of the naked earth,
the glistening of the reborn skin,
the fruited limbs that shine in the sun,
the glowing that reaches into the groin,
the racing of the heated blood,
the flaunting of the undulating hills,
the secrets of the forbidden valleys,
the words that get lost in the viewing,
the sensual lines that parallel the rivers,
the oils that drip down the banks,
the softness that calls for a touch,
the nervous fingers with lusted eyes,
the thunder that runs with passion,
the taboo that lost its voice,
the sensual rites of the exotic oils,
of beauty that emerges in the sunlight
and shines into the heated loins
and the craving to keep that feeling.
Skyborne magic approaching
from the corners of the east,
embers drifting in space
in the wake of the journey of the sun,
the daughter of the blazing sky,
a rendezvous with the
tides of yesterday,
when she ventured forth,
racing along the firmament
in a fiery chariot,
cursing the sting of the darkness
and chanting hymns of the Sun Gods
on her pilgrimage to the western lands,
her adorning the clouds
with colors of a deep crimson,
an artist with sensual strokes,
turning herself into a
cool globe of orange
before she dove through
the cracks of the earth
into the bowels of its home
in search of the lava field,
the same one she found last night,
to thaw her frigid hands and feet
and sleep in its comforting warmth,
as morning came and her eyes opened,
she rose again through the cracks
of the eastern corner of the earth
with her fiery body igniting
the wooden clouds that formed above,
peeking through the smoldering embers,
the charred sky riddled with
pink and yellow holes,
the beauty of the new day,
the journey of the daughter of the skies,
the dancing with the winds of time,
and the way she chose her colors
that embellished the face of the firmament,
her handiwork of the earth and sky.
I’ve owned five vehicles at different times of my life, all trusted companions. The first was a cough syrup green 1971 Toyota Corolla, but for me, it was verdant, a two-door standard sedan, four-speed manual with a radio and a large trunk. I adjusted the seats and viewed the world through a clear windshield.
As the story goes, my parents had left me a few thousand. I walked into a Toyota and talked to a salesman. Now I had to drive back to my apartment by crossing the Whitestone Bridge, but had only driven a few times before then, including the test to get my license. Somehow, I managed. Shortly afterward, I packed up my things and drove across the United States. The Corolla took me to Pennsylvania down to Cape Hatteras, through Appalachia and into Atlanta, Hannibal, Gunnison, Four Corners, the Rockies, and Las Vegas, almost like I was inside Woody Guthrie's head. I drove my two-door years more until the floor in the back seat rusted out. The car registered 200,000 plus miles on the speedometer. My neighbor bought it for $200 and crashed it several months later. I thought she deserved better.
I know, I know. She was just a car, but we’d spent so much time together. Newer cars had automatic windows, not handles that you had to roll up and down like a store awning, automatic shifts, and cassette decks. My old car was no longer. Buying a new one was out of the question. I scanned Craigslist and located a cheap Honda Civic Wagon four-door automatic with low miles, not green, but a sparkling cobalt blue. I made an appointment and eyed the owner suspiciously, strolled around the car to ascertain if the doors wouldfall off the moment I pressed the gas pedal. The man read my look. “The car’s in good shape,” he said, and handed me the keys for a test run. I got inside, the car was beautifully clean, not a fingerprint on the steering wheel, not a speck of ash in the cup holder. It drove without a hiccup and sailed like a blue flag. I handed the man my envelope. So began the blue Honda period of my life.
I’ve owned three other cars since then, all sedans, pre-owned, or as we used to say, “used,” four-door automatics with low mileage, hunted down on Craigslist, car lots, or dealerships with their guarantees of free maintenance. All cars were in it for the long haul. A few had names. One of them was Lucinda named after Lucinda Williams, a black beauty that I’d bought in the South where I visited Louisiana bayous and ancient Indian mounds before driving back to California. Within miles of home, smoke rose from either side of the hood in nasty-looking wisps that exploded into flame. I exited the highway. Workers in a machine shop opened the hood and used a fire extinguisher; my mechanic did the rest and got her running. I became protective, kept dirty tissues on her front seat to discourage a growing tide of break-ins thinking that people don’t like to wade past germs. I believed that cars are imbued withresonant life: if we take care of them, they do the same. Now I’m hearing about self-driven cars powered by robots. That would change everything: I want to have a peer relationship with whatever is driving me forward.
Emily Strauss has an M.A. in English, but is self-taught in poetry, which she has written since college. Over 500 of her poems appear in a wide variety of online venues and in anthologies, in the U.S. and abroad. She is a Best of the Net and twice a Pushcart nominee. The natural world of the American West is generally her framework; she also considers the narratives of people and places around her. She is a retired teacher living in Oregon.
Meanwhile on the edge of a mountain
in the middle of Gale Crater a solitary
human device crawls for five years
the only inhabitant, the last survivor
alone on a planet of debris-strewn
buttes, river-washed sediments under
a red sky. Lonely might not fit. Tread
marks appear on the dusty plain below.
There were two. They never spoke or
crossed paths. The planet is vast. But
one stopped working. The second one
is climbing now. Tire tracks disappear
on smooth rock. There are no voices
or echoes. The sound of electric motors
is lost in the thin atmosphere. It's a dead
world. The machine doesn't know that.
It climbs stone, stops to snap a photo
of the crater rim for distant humans.
From Somewhere Else
As her head fell farther into her collar, leathery neck
always wrapped in thick wool scarves, tremored hands
clutching the arms of her favorite wingback chair,
at the end she kept mumbling, I don't live on this planet
I don't live on this planet.
Where, we wondered, did she come from then,
but we never asked. She was too far gone already.
Had she floated down on gossamer sleeves
from a ship passing in an outer orbit,
a comet on a hyperbolic path never to return
and she fell like the Little Prince
onto a tiny planet among the elephants and foxes,
landing in a soft pile of leaves
that blew in her face and settled in her hair?
From there she stood, lived, then retired to this chair,
always waiting for the next body of dust and ice
to catch her raised hand, a white beacon.
Then she would tell us, see?not from here,
a temporary guest, a rainbow through rain
a spider web blowing, her frail body
a dusty tail searching among the planets.
Skulls, I’ve heard, have stories to tell.
I wish I could interview mine:
learn why it lacks
the smooth globular shape
shown in biology labs,
doctors’ examining rooms.
Why a dysmorphic groove
runs the brief length from my crown
down the saggital suture--
a trough providentially hidden by hair.
Why it produces a pleasant sensation
a satisfaction akin to my fingertip’s search
for the point of a leaf or sharp corner of paper.
that the skull’s outer surface
conformed to the purpose and shape
of the brain-part beneath.
That the crown of the head,
the closest to God,
was related to reverence--
an odd echo of Eastern conception
of the crown chakra as nexus to the Divine.
So what of this gutter of mine?
This bevel between embankments,
crown to the back of the head?
As if my cortex reacted at birth
like an anemone shrinking away
As if where the parietal plates
should have closed to a smoothness,
a moat developed to safeguard my brain
from the impulse to worship.
If there’s a moral North Star
that flickers above any storm,
my compass needle was skewed:
pointed not to the magnetic pole
but to what I believed my true north.
Landlocked but longing to sail
I embarked with no chart
but the love I considered my right,
fell afoul of wind gusts sweeping us south
to a zone of white squalls.
Devastation at sea and on shore:
connections as fragile as corals,
muddy secrets like mangroves unroofed,
the future washed out and reshaped
like a tropical coastline.
Storms pass. Marine life returns.
Mangroves sprout new stems and leaves
out of still-living trunks.
Time wobbles the earth on its axis,
the moral north shifts.
Natalya Sukhonos is bilingual in Russian and English and also speaks Spanish, French, and Portuguese. Natalya has a PhD in Comparative Literature from Harvard University. She teaches Spanish at Ramaz School. Her poems are published by the American Journal of Poetry, the Saint Ann's Review, Driftwood Press, Literary Mama, Middle Gray Magazine, The Really System and other journals. Natalya was nominated for the Pushcart Prize in 2015 and the Best New Poets Anthology of 2015. Her chapbook 'Parachute' was published in 2016 by Kelsay Books of Aldrich Press.
Theater of Bones
Mama, why do we need bones?
What if we didn’t? Would we roll through the dark
like tiny skin animals, and never get to dance?
What about that skeleton?
He is entirely made of bones.
I like my glowing yellow ring. Keep it flashing.
It’ll ward off the skeletons. They only come in your sleep
when you can’t hear their limping rattle,
see their mouths open and close
like the dolls of a Christmas clock.
I’m not scared, mama. But they are watching me
with their crimson eyes, drumming on my bed
with their knuckles and kneecaps.
Once their music reaches me, I’ll be like Grandma.
Or worse: turn into one of them
and make scary theater for other little girls.
So I won’t ever go to sleep. I need to lie
in the little house papa made with the blanket.
I don’t want to take off my mermaid dress.
Am I the prettiest mermaid?
I have to put on another skirt to sleep
in case the skeletons are coming.
That way they won’t know it’s me.
They’ll come for another little girl.
I’m afraid of the dark they bring
under their tongues and eyelids.
Does the dark have elbows? Does it have
bones? Can it sleep?
My Body Is a Map of Someone Else’s Life
Rivers, mountains, and continents
threaded silver with my name.
A globe that quivers with my breath,
opens into the night and all of its stars,
listens to itself turning on an axis
like a ball of light.
A compass pulsing with my breath,
it spells out: to be human,
you must first be a fish, then a frog,
fingers curling inward at an awkward angle,
their webbing fragile and alien
like Dutch lace from another time.
A pattern that wants to be held. To feed
from me at all hours with little
animal paws and a pinching mouth,
then fall into the voiceless dark
until hunger pierces it like a thread of light.
Its contours change daily in my fingers
until one day, it wriggles free
and protests: “I’m a Mama too, now.
I can put on my own dress,
feed myself princess-mama food.”
But at night my daughter --
once a trace of the future living inside me --
still climbs into my bed,
reaches for my arm as if reaching
for the dream I’m having,
tries to slip into my slumber unawares,
to slip back into my body,
to find that quiet all maps possess
before the start of the journey.
Robert Hoare is a Canadian musician, lyricist and writer. He is a York University and Humber College (Toronto, Canada) graduate. Over the last 24 years he has collaborated on over 45 albums for major and independent record labels. His music and lyrics have been performed at festivals in Canada and Europe. His first book, Music Basics was published in 2017. Currently, he is a teacher for English in Music Media and songwriting at The University of the Popular Arts in Berlin.
might even be
a better place,
if there was a lot more
is all around us,
but we don’t see it.
We don’t see it
because it's empty.
That makes us feel better
The back line, the bottom line
There's no exceptions made here
A line which is drawn
From one end to the other
Going back past your mother
A line leaving no trace
Which is far beyond time and space
Is it crooked or curved
Thick, thin or straight through
A line stretching directly from me to you
Lines are joining, some never meet
Front lines or on the side
Borderlines are there between us too
Broken lines and those of fire
There are lines of duty and desire
The party line, red, white and blue
Maybe powered, fine and clean
Getting in or out of line
Read carefully in between
That's the yellow line
Waist, water and air
Lines spreading above your feet
Bee lines and tree lines
Lines to communicate through
Piped like water and oil
Coastal and global lines measured in soil
Headlines and deadlines
Lines to tow and go through
All those lines out there
Getting a line on you
Packing my tool bag, I checked the weather again. The television in the kitchen ran a news and weather station. Tightly packed onto one little screen was an endless stream of human misery, ad nauseam. The big story was that after too much alcohol two teenage girls decided it was a good idea to throw a chair off a high rise balcony onto the highway below. They posted a video of the act on social media. Nothing surprised me any more.
The cold snap would continue and there was more snow on the way. Mountains of snow and ice already clogged the streets and it was nearly impossible to park anywhere. Rule number one for a mattress inspector was never to park in a customer's driveway. It seemed absurd, but it wasn't about courtesy, it was about liability and responsibility.
I found the mattress inspector job online. The job posting claimed it was possible to make a couple
of hundred dollars for six or seven inspections per week. One bold sentence really caught my eye. It stated, "You might say, our responsibility is to take no responsibility." I thought, "Wow, that's a job for me!" As it turned out, being a mattress inspector was going to be a little more involved than I initially bargained for. Aside from things like punctuality, appearance and company protocol, there were also repair techniques and a list special names for mattress defects that I needed to learn.
Filling out inspection reports was half the job.
My first time out was a training run with another inspector. She worked outside my 25 kilometer work radius, so I had to drive to the east end of the city. There I found tight little Victorian row houses hidden behind the snowplow icebergs. The sidewalks squeaked under my feet, mocking me with each step.
Jamie was in her late twenties and spoke with a hint of a Caribbean accent. She was all smiles and happy to help me learn the ropes. As we marched up to a wooden porch, she began to explain how she did the inspections. She emphasized, it was best to place your work bag and tools strategically, somewhere that blocked the customer from getting too close to the bed and to you. I was soon to discover the wisdom of her method. A grey haired man in his sixties answered. He was scrawny, unshaven, wearing a half-open flannel shirt. He began talking the second we were in the door and it was clear that he wasn't going to stop. Before we had our boots off we knew all about his knee operation, his working wife and their daughter who lived on the other side of the country. He was a real chatterbox.
The three of us hobbled up a cramped staircase to the bedroom. It was a claustrophobic space with the musty smell of grandmother's closet. As soon as we were in the bedroom, Jamie handed the customer a waiver to sign and then placed her tools and level between him and the bed. The waiver was important. It stated that no matter what happened M&M Mattress Company inspectors had absolutely no influence over the outcome of the inspection. Her tool placement method didn't work. The customer squeezed by and stood at the foot of the bed. Jamie did her job throughly, but the customer's tireless banter was making it difficult for her to concentrate while explaining to me, what she was doing. We both wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible, but everything about the mattress needed to be documented. It was best, she said, to always take the pictures in the same order. This made sorting them out for the online documentation more manageable. She checked the mattress labels, measured depressions, inspected the frames and the floor. She also checked with a flashlight for ‘soilage’. A mattress that was soiled meant that any warranty claim was null and void. In this case, company policy was straight forward. It dictated that inspectors should take a few photographs and then get out. Inspectors were also advised to not mention this policy to the customer. It could end in lengthy discussions and time was money.
As we moved the mattress aside and off the frame, dust bunnies under the bed started dancing. The customer decided this was a great opportunity to clean up under there. Out came a broom and clouds of dust spun up into the air. I thought I'd choke to death.
Once outside Jamie filled me in on what actually happened in there. The customer claimed that the mattress was sagging on the sides and it was bulging in the middle. This was called 'crowning'. It's typical for king-sized mattresses. Sales personnel rarely mention this little detail and surprised customers watched a hill growing down the middle of their mattress with no claim for a new one. It turns out every mattress tells a story.
My area covered a vast and desolate piece of suburban real estate. The region was once a lowland plain with drumlins, moraines and broad leaf forests where First Nation peoples roamed. Those forests were cleared for farming and orchards and now in turn they were being leveled for a sprawling suburban city. Bulldozed flat, the land was featureless and navigating the streets was like driving on a plate of cooked spaghetti. Most of the homes were cookie-cutter style, built on small treeless lots. This was the promise of a new life for the flood immigrants who were being welcomed to come and spend their hard earned savings. Some of the neighbourhoods were so new that there were not accurate street maps. My area boasted of over a million of mattresses. There would be no shortage of work. My appointments were in the late afternoon or early evening hours, sometimes on the weekends.
How I introduced myself when I called to set them up was carefully orchestrated. I had a script to follow. Before calling I'd rehearse every sentence. Often, the phone was answered by someone who didn't have a clue what I was talking about. They'd shout some name over their shoulder, "Hey, there's someone here on the phone about a mattress."
My first solo run was on a bitter cold afternoon. The car had to warm up for ten minutes before I
could clear the ice off the windshield. I had three inspections and I organized them into one big 60 kilometer circle. I headed north through rush hour traffic. Rush hour was all day long and people drove as if thirty seconds would change their lives. Watching the daily news feed, I knew that sometimes it did.
I arrived at a small cluster of high rise apartment buildings set within a triangle of highway intersections. The view from the top of the building would have looked like salt crystal snakes stretching out over a sea of snowy strip malls and vacant land. My customer was a regular and when I called to make the appointment, she inquired about my predecessor using his first name. She seemed sad that he'd left the company. She owned a therapeutic bed with a hydraulic system and she thought it was making a funny a noise. Her apartment was small with one bedroom and an open kitchenette. It didn't feel overcrowded, but there was a single pathway around the sofa, coffee table and armchair. On a shelf, there were photos of a young woman and a dog. With the television running in the background, she told me she'd retired early because of an injury. I began inspecting the hydraulic frame, but I didn't have a clue what I was doing. Trying to look good, I pulled out my manual and went through the electronics checklist. I was new on the job, but she didn't care about any of that. My predecessor had been there often enough that she could tell me how to get the covers off the hydraulic cylinders. My visit was the highlight of her day. She was pleased to have someone to talk to for a hour or so. As we talked, her voice was even and calm. It was as if her words were coming from a far away place. She told me that she'd suffered some kind of a breakdown she spent time in a clinic.
After removing the hydraulic covers and raising and lowering both ends of the bed several times, I decided that the faint grating sound was the Velcro-Fasteners slipping over the mattress covers. I assured her that the bed was in perfect working order. As I stood in the front room filling out the inspection report, she began telling me about her dog. It had passed away only a few weeks earlier and had been her companion for fifteen years. Her eyes welled up with tears. I put the report down and listened, it was heart-breaking. I would have liked to stay longer, I liked her. As I laced up my boots, her lips flattened to a smile, but her eyes reflected the formless days with a faint glimmer of hope that something might change.
My next inspection was further north into a tangle of streets with white brick homes sitting on square lots. They looked expensive, but they were all the same, stretching just high enough to block out the grey horizon. I parked as close as I could and skated up the driveway. A well-groomed, middle-aged man answered the door, He welcomed me into a large entrance hall. It was ornate, but a little austere. An oak staircase was at the other end and our small talk about the icy weather continued as we mounted them towards the bedroom. Upstairs sat his pregnant wife and he was concerned about her. It was an unexpected late pregnancy and her doctors demanded she get plenty of bed rest. The sagging mattress was was killing her lower back. He asked me to lie on it and see for myself. In the politest possible way, I explained that company policy forbid me from lying on a customer's mattress, but I could test it with my hand. With a slight amount of pressure my fist felt as if it was sinking into wet dough. I handed him the waiver to sign and began the inspection. The mattress looked new and I threw the plumb line across it. Our measuring device was a plastic ruler mounted on a circular plastic disk. I could see right away that the natural depressions would not be deep enough for a claim. His wife watched, sitting in her armchair with her feet raised. She was dressed in an orange saris and her hair showed traces of grey. She looked uncomfortable. I placed the plumb line at either end so that the weights rested on a higher point in the mattress. This increased the depression measurements a little. After that, I removed the mattress from the bed frame and checked it. The floor was level. It all checked out.
I explained that I had no influence over the results of the inspection. The company I worked for had nothing to do with the mattress retailer. In a way, that was a pile of baloney because the company that sold him the mattress paid for the inspections. I told him I'd pass on their complains, but I couldn't say what would happen. I knew that a middle-aged immigrant was an easy mark for a smooth talking mattress salesman looking for a commission. He thanked me in the kindest way as we went back downstairs.
I sat in the car for a few minutes, lost in empathy. It had started to snow again and I just wanted to
get back home. I had one more run in a a less affluent area of my region. The houses were smaller and squeezed together for maximum usage of space. In twenty years the area would be a ghetto, I thought.
It was dark by the time I arrived and the porch light was on. The walkway hadn't been shoveled since the last snowfall and now the snow was matted down into uneven footprints of ice. My feet crushed the sharp edges. A woman answered the door in a state of confusion. Her hair looked as if she's had her head in a blender. She was probably in her mid-thirties, but she could have easily passed for someone ten years older. I was not expected. "Mattress?" she said, she didn't know what I was talking about. She was getting ready to close the door, "Ah wait, my husband. Come in, come
I stepped into a narrow space. It was full of shoes, boots and winter garments. The floors and walls were smudged and caked with dirt. She started on about how she'd just got home from work and she was trying to get dinner ready. I heard a child's voice and the woman barked back over her shoulder. Once beyond the threshold, I was in an open space living room and kitchen area. There was stuff scattered everywhere, toys, clothing and scraps of paper. The little girl was sitting on the floor with streaks from dried tears on her grimy little face. She glared at me and then started whining for attention as her mother apologized for the mess. We went up a staircase to a small rectangular room and then she went back downstairs. There was no furniture, but there were children's clothes and paper tissues all over the floor. It was impossible to enter without stepping on something. Two mattresses were on the floor. They were both filthy and soiled in large patches and left little to the imagination. There was no claim here. I just followed the mattress man manual. I took a few photos for proof and then stood there for several minutes looking down at a child's belongings.
I didn't know what to do and it felt like an eternity. I could hear the television downstairs and I remembered the job posting sentence that caught my eye, "our responsibility is to take no responsibility." I walked downstairs and handed her the waiver to sign, then I quoted the manual. When I got home, I watched the news and the young woman who threw the chair over the balcony had turned herself in. A spokesperson for the police said she showed no remorse for her actions. The next morning, I started looking for a new job.