Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Wallace's Urn

This short story is based on a conversation I had with a recent widow. Enjoy!

According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, one of the most commonly stolen vehicles is the 1995 Honda Civic. The organization’s statistics, which are proudly based on accurate police reports and not inaccurate insurance claims, believes that the high incidents of Honda Civic theft are due to the fact that the car’s parts are easily interchangeable.

That’s why Jed stood outside of this particular Honda Civic, parked in the Yorkdale Mall parking lot. With arm’s length coat hanger in hand, he fiddled the metal wire into the Civic’s door searching for the sweet sound of the pin latch.

Carl stood by, cool as a cucumber, smoking the remains of someone else's cigarette. Carl imagined the sucker rushing into their retail job, selling, who knows? Rogers Wireless plans? Back Massagers? The sucker took their last – and first—few drags and quickly dropped the smoke to the ground, wishing they had time to finish the damn thing. Carl looked at the cigarette, assessing the found object. Lipstick. He imagined kissing the bitch’s lips covered in the stuff, magically, through the moist filter.


“In your face!” said Jed. Their trick was to do the theft in broad daylight, not in the underground parking lot where security – if they were sober – was supposed to patrol. As anyone knows in crime shows, criminals, like moulds, like to lurk in dark places. So when Jed heard the pin latch onto the end of his coat hanger, he simply opened the car and entered it as if it were his own. If security were to even see the skid breaking into the Civic it would look as if Jed were simply searching for his car keys, opening up the door and entering as any legit car owner would do.

It was like clockwork. Carl tossed the cigarette filter and hopped in while Jed hammered a flat head screw driver into the ignition and turned it like a key. While this technique worked with cars made before the mid-90s it didn’t work with all of them. They were in luck. The engine hummed into action and they were off.

“I need a double-double,” said Carl, searching the glove compartment for coffee change.

“Fuck off. You said Wayne won’t be there after noon.”

“Think hard, retard. Look at the fucking time.”

Jed drove in silence for a brief moment.

“Well? What time does it say on the dashboard?”

Jed mumbled.

Carl slammed his fists on the dim LCD clock. “It says 11:12. Okay? So just calm the fuck down. If I can find enough change for you to have a double-double, then we’ll buy you one too, okay, you big suck?”

“I want an Iced Cap.”

They drove to the nearest Tim Hortons, following the stink of cardboard and mass produced coffee beans. Jed sliced the Honda into a parking space.

“Remember not to shut the bitch off. We’ve ruined the ignition.”

“I know!” said Jed. “Jesus Christ. It’s like I’m a kid or something.”

Carl gathered the change he found and walked into the establishment.

Jed watched the fuel gauge nervously. The needle hung dangerously close to empty. They needed enough juice to get to Wayne’s house which was all the way in Scarborough and in order for Wayne to even take an interest, the car would still have to be running. Jed looked at Carl progressing ever so slowly towards the cashier. With each passing minute, the needle sank lower to the letter E. Jed imagined his and Carl’s silhouettes somewhere, against a brick wall, in the darkness of someone else’s apartment parking lot, enjoying a hit before heading to Carl’s house to watch the game. But this could only happen if, if, if, the fucking car were to make it.

“Carl!” Jed screamed out the window. “CAAAAAAARL!”

“What the fuck is your problem?! I was almost done you shit head.”

“The fuel. Look at the fuel.”

The needle, once hovering one notch from danger was now right at E. It was a gas-guzzling piece of junk.

“Fuck,” Carl took off his Blue Jay’s baseball cap to scratch his head. Once he replaced the hat and felt the warm of the polymesh against his scalp, he came up with plan B. “Pop the trunk. We need an oil can.”

Judging by the spotless appearance of the car, the Honda’s owner would be the kind of person who would have wet naps in their purse. A travel sized bottle of hand sanitizer in their pocket. A gas can in their trunk. But when Carl lifted the trunk door what he found was an urn.

“What the fuck is that?”

“What are you doing? Get back inside! You have to keep the engine running!”

“I can keep the engine running when it’s in park you asshole!”

“Get inside the car!” Carl screamed unable to take his eyes off the silvery container.

“Is that one of those –“

“Get inside!”

“Holy shit! There’s a dead guy in the trunk! Holy shit!”

The manager of the Tim Hortons approached the two men with caution. He watched the two men for a while argue at the top of their lungs. This was typical. If it wasn’t two cars colliding in the drive through, there would be two adults splashing hot coffee at each other over stealing the last two sugars in the condiments section.

“Excuse me, sirs –“

Carl and Jed were suddenly frozen.

“Is there something I can help you with?” This was a standard greeting according to the manager’s training. Don’t accuse. Offer help.

“No sir,” said Carl calmly.


Wallace was a simple man. Born in Trinidad in the 1940s, he also enjoyed simple pleasures. One of his greatest pleasures was sitting one of his many grandchildren on his lap.

“Do it, Gramps!” the wee buggers would say as Wallace would use his tongue to disconnect his dentures. He would move the dentures far down enough in his jaw to look like a ventriloquist puppet, only in reverse with its puppeteer sitting on its lap. His woolly-haired grand kids would squeal with delight as Gramps would snap at their tiny fingers.

This was the image that ran through Denise’s mind as she finally emptied Wallace’s denture cup of water and tossed both cup and dentures into the garbage. She was too embarrassed to keep the things in her memory chest. Once she too would go, what would people think finding a set of dentures?

This was part of her process, she told herself. One item a day. She knew she would slowly shed all traces of her dead husband until she felt light enough to finally travel. Do some sightseeing. Make friends. It was not an easy task by any stretch of the imagination, but she knew that she had to let go, one finger at a time.

The one thing she couldn’t let go of, though, was his remains.

“We need to talk about it, Denise,” Wallace had said many times, trying to halt Denise’s usual puttering about the hospital room. “Please. Put those clothes down. What am I gonna do with clothes when all I wear all day are these gowns?”

Denise finally slumped, faced Wallace and the truth.

“I want to be cremated. I know what you think about that but I really don’t give a care. I don’t want some big box of me to become a big worm hotel.”

Denise got up in frustration but Wallace had enough strength to hold onto her arm.

“You will do this for me?”

What Wallace never discussed was what to do with his ashes after the fact. There were many things like this. What kind of flowers at his memorial. What items to give to which of his brothers. The list was endless.

So Denise kept the urn in the trunk of her car. She didn’t have the heart to keep it in the house. It was too creepy. She secretly enjoyed driving with him in the back. Like she was taking him places. Showing him around in the land of the living. Of course, that meant that the trunk was reserved just for him. All groceries were placed in the back seat, no matter how crowded.

This morning, she did her usual routine: Greeting him by opening the trunk door and placing her palm on the cold marble, then driving off to Yorkdale’s Sears store where she worked. Once she was in the parking lot, she locked the car doors, headed inside and looked forward to placing her palm on the marble upon her return.

Today was different. There were no customers. Sears was a ghost town and all the sales associates ran around with spring fever, laughing and yearning to be in the sunshine rather than in retail hell. To distract themselves, many of the workers decided to just pig out.

“You want something at A & W?” asked Jose who worked in the electronics department and was the designated staff gay. Denise, who was buffing the cribs in the baby section shook her head no.

“You sure?” Jose looked at her meaningfully. “Come on. I’ll need help with all the take out bags.”

The journey from the store to the food court felt like miles. Good miles. The mall air even smelled fresh. She enjoyed Jose’s company since he seemed fine to take the conversation by the horns and leave little room for Denise to awkwardly join in. This made her happy.

“You know, I think about you a lot,” he placed a hand on Denise’s shoulder while they waited for the apple turnovers to be made. “I know it may not be my place but my mom died last year. I know the feeling. People come into work complaining about traffic and you want to tell them, ‘yeah, but my mom is dead.’ You know?”

He hugged her.

“And you know hugging for too long is completely normal, right?”

Denise nodded yes. Jose knows her too well.

Jose left Denise back at the cribs, only this time with a Mama’s burger in a paper bag.

“Enjoy,” he left with a wink.

Denise unwrapped her burger and made her way to the exterior store doors to check on Wallace. She dropped her burger. The car wasn’t there.

“Jose! Jose! Wallace is gone!”

Jose ran to her thinking this was some kind of emotional break through.

“Yes, Denise,” he said embracing her. “Wallace is gone.”

“No! No! He was in the car.”

Jose looked so confused. Denise ran outside and looked around frantically.

“Someone stole my car. It was right here. And Wallace was inside! Oh my good lord. Oh no!”

“Wallace wasn’t inside, Denise.” Maybe this wasn’t so much an emotional breakthrough but an emotional breakdown.

“You don’t understand.”

“I do understand.”

“No you don’t! I left the...I left the...Oh God! I LEFT THE URN IN THE TRUNK!”

In Home Alone fashion, the two stood looking at each other, hands smearing down their cheeks hoping that someone, somebody would jump out and tell them this was one big joke.


“I fancy myself a bit of a singer,” Wallace had said to Denise on their first date. He said it over-emphasizing his Trinidadian sing-song lilt.

Denise pursed her lips in a way that said “Prove it.”

He did. Under the shade of a tree Wallace sang to her. It was beautiful.

“You know, I am not the youngest man around here,” Wallace said. “And you are not the youngest woman. We must have been waiting for each other.”

Denise rested her head on his shoulder. A promise.

“If you let me, I’ll make you smile every day.”


The police officer opened the cruiser door for Denise and she slowly and solemnly approached the Honda hung in an angle attached to a tow truck. There were numerous dents about its exterior, but it seemed, according to the officer, that all parts were untouched. The perpetrator or perpetrators had just gone on a joy ride until the gas ran out. Only thing that had to be replaced was the ignition.

“I need to open the trunk door.”

Wallace remained in his urn, as peaceful as ever. Denise cried at the sight of him, unsure if she was happy the urn still existed or unhappy her husband no longer did. She placed her palm on the cold marble.


“You promise?” said Denise under the shade of the tree, her head resting on Wallace’s shoulder. Wallace extended his pinkie finger. Denise interlinked her pinkie with his. A promise.

Wallace's Urn By Catherine Hernandez, Copyright 2011

Sunday, May 15, 2011

I have my two sisters. I'm good.

I grew up in a house full of women: my mother and two sisters. Our synchronized menstrual cycles coupled with our family history for hormonal mayhem had my father taking suspiciously long strolls during our monthly cat fights. As our claws would be unleashed, so would my dad don his walking shoes.

“Where are you going, dad?” we would ask, hoping he would fetch us something chocolaty to sooth our screaming uteruses between cat fights.

“I’m a...I’m...” he’d stammer struggling to get his shoes on. “I have to buy some groceries.”

Our hormonal bitchiness is where the similarities end. I am blessed to be the middle daughter between two strong women who, according to many friends, look like my twins but are so incredibly different.

My older sister, Christina, can be summed up in two words: exact and determined.

It was moments before my niece Kai was to be unleashed into this world, and Christina decided to baptize the occasion with a good dose of drugs. Before she drifted off into Epidural Land, I asked her if she needed anything.

“There’s just one thing you can do for me,” said Christina, her eyes at half mast.

“Sure! Anything,” I replied, ever the eager birthing assistant.

“Can you go into my purse?” I obliged. I rifled through the pockets as she sleepily explained further. “Go into the front pocket and...”

My hands started sneaking into said pocket.

Suddenly she was wide awake, looking at me intently into my eyes ensuring that every word was heard. “Can you get the comb and brush your hair because it’s messy!” With that she said her peace and was out like a light. With a scowl, I fixed my offensive hair and waited for the kid to be born.

Another story, and perhaps one she may not recall herself: There were these little Assholes in Training who made it their life’s purpose to knock down snowmen, kick small children in the head etc. You know the type. Anyway...they would often come by our Brampton townhouse and tease my sister. About anything. Her teeth were crooked. We only had one pair of roller-skates. Our clothes were donated from the church. Whatever.

One day, they came by to – big surprise – make fun of our snow fort that we were building in our front yard. I was so quiet back then, I just listened while the Assholes in Training said their shit, then continued to build the fort as per Christina’s blueprint (i.e. picture drawn in the snow). But Christina had another plan. The fort was demolished and she decided we were going to build a network of snow tunnels in this massive mound of snow, the likes of which have never been seen by anyone this side of Bramalea. Fuelled by nothing more than Liptons Chicken Noodle, we began tunnelling through the snow pile. For hours. And hours. I remember having snow in my So-en undies, snow in my collar, snow in between my toes. But we did it. Those Assholes were so amazed they never knocked it down.

It’s this determination that has made her the successful co-owner of East Village Yoga and the number one sugar waxer in Durham region (which means, of course she has seen the vaginas of every woman east of Victoria Park). For the last accomplishment we are most proud.


When Charlaine was born, my dad arrived at my school in his leisure suit to tell me the baby had come. Charlaine squirmed inside the incubator with scratches all over her face and one eye closed. She was like a wee pirate. While the nurses could remedy the scratches with socks over her tiny fists, they couldn’t get her other eye to open.

I spend the next several minutes singing to Charlaine a song about opening her eyes. It included complex choreography. I believe it was the song’s improvised lyrics that made her open them. That or she really wanted me to shut the hell up. Not sure.

In the first few months of her life, she sat there watching me, her birthmark on her forearm moving to and fro while I interpretatively danced to St. Elmo’s Fire on the radio.

Cut to the eve of her 27th birthday. She, a soon-to-be hairstylist, is cutting my hair on the porch of our parent’s house.

“I need to sweep the clippings to the side of the porch so that the racoons don’t shit near the dryer vent.” Classy.

I can see her birth mark, the same birth mark on the arm of that wee pirate I knew so long ago moving to and fro as she makes my lesbo haircut look less Slacks and more Henhouse. But now, she is a woman. She is the proud mother of two, partner to an amazingly loving man, and hairstylist extraordinaire who imparts, with the ghetto flava that only someone from Scarborough can do, the simplest tidbits of wisdom.

For example:

After my heart was broken Charlaine’s response to this was to tell me “She wasn’t hot enough for you. Find someone hotter.”

When I told Charlaine I couldn’t hold my drink she said “You have to look into that. Don’t embarrass yourself. Buy yourself some booze and get started.”

The wisest phrase Charlaine has ever uttered was when she talked about her lack of friends outside of her immediate family. “I have my two sisters,” she said before taking a swig of beer. “I’m good.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Motherfucking Turkey Buzzards and Killer Bees

A post-natal aquafit student of mine once told me about her experiences eating humble pie after the birth of her daughter. “You’re the perfect parent until you are one.” I couldn’t agree more.

I always balked at those parents who would brace their school –aged children each time the playground swing would descend and ascend. God help us all if their therapist-aided rug rat were to feel the pull of gravity before the age of ten.

But believe me when I tell you that when you become a parent, when you look into the eyes of this helpless creature, you believe that every lollipop has a razor blade in it. Every turtleneck sweater is a booby trap. Complete disaster will follow if your child dares to let go of your hand in the shopping mall. This is no joke. My partner, who is now co-parenting my daughter, Arden, often laughed at me and all my neurotic beliefs re: arms out car windows. But then, when Tita Pavey graduated to Mommy Pavey, suddenly my daughter was passing by me, heading back to her bedroom to re-jig the outfit she chose for herself.

“Why are you changing?” I’d ask her.

“Mom says my top is too low,” she’d answer nonchalantly. Her stepmom’s prudence has become quite natural to her. If my partner would have her way, Arden would be wearing a nun’s habit with hunting gloves. Sure, she lets Arden ride real fast on an ATV (with subtle adult supervision fit for small town Ontario). But when it comes to revealing the body, Pavey’s discretion is laughable. This applies especially when it comes to all conversations that deal with anything most adults would find difficult. This is my territory, it seems. This includes conversations like the following:

Arden: Mama, why is there a naked lady on the side of that building?

Me: That’s called a strip bar. That’s where people go to take off their clothes when they need to make a lot of money real fast.

As soon as difficult conversations arise – and you can almost smell them coming on – Pavey suddenly starts wandering off, knowing it’s best to leave it to me to make a mess of things with my honesty.

I know this may sound strange to some, but as soon as I found out I was pregnant, I knew I needed to smarten the hell up about the birds and the bees talk. There was no way I was going to be the fool with the business tie showing my kid what intercourse is using a banana and a donut. I imagined I was going to be cool. Understated. Clear but not graphic.

This was not the case.

At the ripe old age of 5, Arden suddenly asked me about genitalia. It was during our weekly “Mama Spa” time and I was in the middle of filing her nails. Now, I could have just simply answered her question like anyone else would have. But the last 5 years of mental rehearsal about this particular conversation resulted in verbal diarrhea. And you know what they say: great rehearsal means disastrous performance. I mean, this wasn’t just the birds and the bees talk. These were motherfucking turkey buzzards and killer bees.

In about ten minutes, I gave her the impression that sex of any orientation is basically stuffing every known orifice on your lover’s body with anything and everything. That somehow, this was natural, no matter who you were and who you were sleeping with, and that I knew that this sounded very strange but it would make sense when she’s older and would want to have sex herself, say around 34 years old.

“,” Arden said calmly, releasing her hands from my grip since I almost filed her nails down to nubs. “I will never have sex.” I couldn’t blame her. The way I described it, sex sounded more like putting her clothes away. Men and men put this in that. Women and women put this in that. It was a fucking disaster.

Why couldn’t I have brought her to a petting zoo and let her see the pregnant goat like everyone else does?