First Assignment

Winter, 2017–2018 / No. 40
Illustration by Matthew Daley
Matthew Daley

“Hi, I’m the new race reporter from Taddle Creek.

Taddle what?”

Taddle Creek. National magazine. Big readership in the Annex. My editor sent me out here to write about your race-based steaks?”

“Who’d you say?”

Taddle Creek. You haven’t heard of it?”


“‘Crick,’ maybe? Not sure how you would say it out here.”

“And you’re here for what?”

“Race-based steaks. Or, wait . . . Racist steaks, maybe? Just a second. Let me check my assignment notes. Yup, yup. Uh-huh. Race-based steaks. Write it up so it reads like some guy named Cathal Kelly. Something about a handicapper and a groom. Or maybe a handicapped groom? That mean anything to you?”

“Handicapped groom?”

“So you know him. Perfect. Would you say he’s old-man racist or more alt-right racist?”


“Let’s not complicate this too much. Just show me to the guy with the steaks.”

“Sir, this is a barn. What’s your magazine again?”

Taddle Crick. It’s all over newsstands. Glossy, like the New Yorker.”—Sigh—“Listen, I got a deadline here—”

“I think your nose is bleeding, sir.”

“Jesus. Not again. Sorry, one minute. . . . Damn it. . . . Do you have—? . . . Thank you. That should hold it. I just . . . There we go. . . . Oh, for God’s sake, your shoe. Let me— No, no, I insist. I’ll rub it in for you.”

“Please, sir, I—. That’s enough. You got it all. That’s good. Honestly that’s . . . that’s good.”

“Hey, who’s that kinky little guy with the whip over there?”

“I’m sorry?”

“Bit bold, don’t you think? White pants this time of year.”


“Ah, a Spaniard. That explains the boots.”

“Sir, I’m going to have to ask you to—”

“Oh, don’t say that. No, no, don’t say that. You don’t know how bad it is out there. I need this story. I just gotta taste the steaks, get a few quotes from the handicapped guy or whatever, and I’m gone. Maybe, actually, can I just interview you?”

“I’m not supposed—”

“So, tell me, what exactly do you do here?”

“I . . . you can’t . . . I’m a hot walker.”

“Ha! Cute, cute. But seriously?”

“Sir, what— Wait, is that a recorder?”

“This? No. This is just a . . . Listen. I get it. You don’t want to be quoted. No problem. These big steaks, though. Would you say they offend Eduardo?”


“Hmm, so Eduardo’s not the victim here then. Interesting. O.K. So what can you tell me about the groom? How long’s he been handicapped?”


“Charlie . . . just a second . . . let me write that down. Now we’re getting somewhere. . . . Does he prefer Charles? Chuck? Just Charlie? O.K. So was it Eduardo who crippled him? We talking paralysis or more like a limp?”


“Hmm, O.K. ‘No comment.’ Smart! I’ll just stick with ‘Handicapped.’ And Eduardo, is he . . . you know . . . ‘legal’?”

“Sir, I think you’d better leave.”

“O.K., O.K. I get it. You already said too much. You got a job, I got a job. Nobody needs to lose their job. How ’bout I just ask yes or no questions, and you either look away for yes or stretch out your face for no. O.K., here we go: Would you say the big steaks are a direct result of the increase in race-based tensions in America? I’m sorry, you seem to be contorting your face . . . is that a yes?”

“Security! Security!”

“Whoa! O.K. All right. Back the way I came. No need to scream. I’m moving, I’m moving. Hey, what’s this horse’s name?”

“Sir! Don’t pet the horse! Sir! Sir!”

“Say, what kind of steaks you guys selling here anyway?”

“Sir! You mustn’t approach her like that! She . . . she won the derby!”

“Oh wudgy wudgy woo.”

“Your hand! You mustn’t so close to her mouth!”

“Oh wudgy wudgy wudgy—”

“Sir, please! She’ll think your fingers are carrots! Oh my Christ! Get her— Argh! Get her off!”

“Holy! Jesus shit! That’s a lot of . . . are you—that’s a lot of blood!”

“My hand! Argh! I can’t feel my hand!”

“Hang on, I gotta write this down.”

“Sir! Please! Grab the bridle!”

“Just a . . . I . . . wow. She’s really chewing on your bones.”


“Oh, God, this is good stuff. Although . . . hmm. How would you describe her colour?”

“My thumb. Can you see my thumb?”

“One second, I— O.K., O.K. I’m going punch her in the throat.”

“No! Argh! She won the derby! Just grab—grab the bridle.”

“Whoa! Hold that pose for just . . . I just . . . Let me . . . Lens cap, check. Aperture, yep. Light, good. O.K., O.K.”—click-click-click—“Hang on . . . I’ll stab her in the eyeball with my pen.”

Brett Popplewell is the bestselling author of someone else’s book, and the editor and publisher of Canada’s most-decorated small illustrated literary humour magazine, the Feathertale Review. Last updated winter, 2017–2018.