It’s a Keeper

Halloween, 2008 / No. 21
Art by Ian Phillips
Ian Phillips

The first time he talked about the new high-end cappuccino machine at his office in city hall, it was boring. The third time in the same week, at 3:30 P.M., over the phone, an hour and a half before the commute home, it was also boring. Just as boring? More boring? Hard to tell. Glenda says there’s a customer, and that she’s got to get off.

“I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

“O.K., later.”

At this time of day, on this day, cappuccino would only give the deadening fuzz a sharp, dull edge. Very dangerous if you’re cutting gourds, that kind of knife. And it costs way too much, a cappuccino, and is kind of stupid and small, even if delicious though nervous-making by nature. The money makes buying one even more stressy than the caffeine does.

Also, not the right time of the month to deal with too much caffeine or with stressy money shit. Especially when it’s a time of the month that takes three months to come.

Wicked cramps.

Glenda’s head feels like foamy milk that was steamed a little too much in a bad metal specialty milk steamer thing that probably has a name, but who on the planet could possibly give a fuck? Especially now? But there must be those who do. There must be people who right this minute have jobs dealing with specialty milk steamers. Who make them. Order them. Sell them. Buy them. Promote them. This bad specialty steamer results in over-steamed milk that tastes kind of burnt and tinny, with a rubbery scum on the surface.

That is the kind of frothy light milk Glenda’s brain is at the moment.

Finally, it is 4 P.M. The customer is rambling on and on about some shit she wants, like world peace in a pen that would make her husband love her again. For fifteen bucks. In a colour that doesn’t exist. She needs it now. Before it’s too late.

The shift ends at five. The shift ends at five. The shift ends at five. News on the store radio is that the polar ice cap is completely gone, though the news reader says what that means is still ultimately up in the air. Glenda thinks no, it’s in the water. In the sea. The last bit of melt happened all of a sudden, and some countries are already gone. California is pretty much doomed, and the shift ends at five.

It is a warm October. Strange birds are still around. Or at least their bodies. Strange birds are even worse than regular birds when it comes to high towers. Strange bird corpses cover the ground these days. Broken necks.

It is 5 P.M. on a warm October day. The dogs Glenda passes by look cagey. They pull at their leashes. They pull north.

The subway train is packed.

One teenager says to another, “So he asks me again what I said, and I tell him again, and he’s all, ‘What? What did you say? ’ Kind of laughing. And I keep telling him, and he keeps acting like he can’t hear, and meanwhile this is how I’m feeling and everything.”

“No way!”

“Yeah, I know. The ice is gone, I’m scared, and he’s all about making me look like an idiot and wanting a blow job. His stupid face is, ‘Get over it, Candace!’ He doesn’t have the guts to actually say anything—even just to ask for a blow job. Like I’m a surgeon. Like I should operate to find out what he’s thinking. You know, like, hello, you could tell me? But he’s, ‘What? Huh? ’”

“Unbelievable. Guys. Fuck.”

“Yeah, I know. So I say, I say, ‘O.K., nothing. It’s nothing. And you can drown while you suck your own dick. See you.’”

“Holy shit! You said that? ”


“Good one. Hey, are you coming over later? We’re carving pumpkins.”

“I don’t know. I’ve never carved a pumpkin.”

“No way! You have to. You are so going to carve a pumpkin. You are so going to carve a pumpkin. We have knives. Good ones.”

The station is announced. Glenda gets off. Glenda gets off at this station. She gets off, and she knows as soon as she’s home, she needs to deal with her Keeper.

The guy with the baby stroller full of Pomeranians is coming at her. The dogs are barking. One is loose and running in the opposite direction from the guy. Running away. The guy doesn’t seem to notice. Glenda says nothing. Makes sure not to make eye contact with the guy as he gets closer. They pass. Except the dog heading north. Quick as a tiny Pomeranian can go. Catching up with other free dogs.

How much of the city will be underwater? Maybe the shoreline will go back to what it was before all the infill. The condos will end up in the lake and the idea people will try to repackage the area like it’s a new Venice. Not that it’ll help with tourism much, what with the end of the world on its way and everything. Or, like everything else that’s interesting, will the whole drama somehow bypass Toronto? Will the drama for the city be the lack of drama, and how we cope with that?

Glenda likes no drama, but knows she is in the minority. Glenda is tired, always, and just wants to sleep it off.

In the house, a housemate is talking to the phone. He says, “Cocksucker! Why can’t I just get my messages? I just want to get these goddamned messages. Is that too much to ask? Jesus fuck. O.K., O.K., I am pressing fucking nine. It’s pressed. O.K.? Fuck. There, is that what you want? Did I do it right this time? Apparently. Fine. Another message! Fuck! Who is always calling me? What do they want from me? I have nothing. Jesus. O.K., yeah, don’t call again. Three, three, three. Seven. Fuck. Go away!”

Glenda hears Combo put down the phone. Pick it up. Put it down. Pick it up. Put it down. Each time he puts it down, he slams it harder. Combo shouts, “Why is it fucking impossible to hang up? Is it illegal or something? ”

Glenda doesn’t like it when Combo uses “cocksucker” as an insult. It’s sexist and homophobic. And anyway, she’s sure he likes to get his cock sucked—what guy doesn’t—so why use it as a put-down? It makes no sense. She will never figure this out. Glenda doesn’t really like thinking about Combo and/or his cock, in whatever state and/or activity.

She reminds herself she needs to check her Keeper. Things seem different. Things are vague and hazy. Numb. The cramps come in waves. Like something out of a Roman Polanski movie. Like a flood. Like nothing she’s ever felt before. A strange kind of pain.

Like she’s got a dog pulling in one direction inside her. Out.

Day 2 so sucks.

As she opens the bathroom door, the waves turn liquid. Her pants are soaked. Everything will be ruined. She has a double-thick overnight reusable pad on, but nothing could contain this mess.

Of course, Glenda doesn’t have a towel in the bathroom. She goes over to the toilet. It is a disaster. The last person to use it spewed shit, smeared the seat and lid, didn’t flush. Glenda throws up into the sink. She’s been throwing up a lot lately. Just the smell alone is enough. Without thinking, she rinses the sink out. It’s what she does.

Her socks are making bloody footprints everywhere. She takes them and her pants off. Where’d all this blood come from all of the sudden? Why is it so watery?

Oh, fuck, and what is that coming through now? Even Glenda knows this isn’t normal.

Her drenched, clotty, dripping panties and reusable cotton pad come off. She doesn’t consider the toilet. She goes back to the sink. The blood everywhere makes her think more blood won’t matter. She’ll clean it up when this is over. She always has to clean up the shitty, dirty bathroom. None of the housemates do. It is her chore. So she might as well relax for a change. Make it her own, first.

Her fingers pinch the base of the Keeper. There is a wet little pock noise, and she pulls it out. There is a gorpy mess right to the brim. She dumps it in the sink, deep thick red on white porcelain, then turns on the tap to wash it all down. Something won’t go. As the water runs over it, the colour changes. Details emerge. It is a human blob, bigger than an inch. How did it squeeze into her environment-friendly menstrual cup? This is crazy. Where did it come from?

“You, you idiot.”

The thing speaks, but not by moving its mouth. Glenda finds this hard to deal with. Something slides down her leg and plops on the floor. Glenda doesn’t notice.

“What’s happening? ” Glenda speaks out loud to it, though she doesn’t need to. Habit.

In her head, it says, “A bunch of us are checking out.”

“A bunch of you? What? ”

“Fetuses. We had a meeting. Nothing personal. Though you’re no prize.”

“You mean I’m pregnant? Fuck me.”

“Were. You were.”

“But we haven’t done it in a year.”

“All I’ll say is maybe you shouldn’t be so trusting when he gives you pills to help you sleep. Selfish prick.”

“What are you telling me? This can’t be happening. This is stupid. Fetuses don’t talk to each other.”

“People like you sometimes find Jung helpful.”

“People like me? What the fuck do you mean by that? ”

“While you’ve been staggering around half-stoned and oblivious, I’ve been stuck inside you 24-7 for three months. I have some idea what kind of person you are.”

“How did this happen? ”

“You didn’t know you missed your period for three months? This isn’t rocket science.”

“Yeah, well, you aren’t a woman—”

“Could you dial it back? Technically, I’m not a person. I don’t have feelings, true, but still…some basic respect.”

“Sorry. It’s not the first time I’ve missed, though. And no sex generally means something like you isn’t happening.”

“Sleeping pills and a creepy boyfriend sometimes does. Listen, if it means anything, I’m sorry, too.”

“Oh, fuck him.”

“We don’t have much time. I’ll get to the point. Go to high ground, Glenda. Quick.”

“What? ”

“The fetuses are checking out. Who needs it? But you born people, you’re committed. You want a head start before the others clue in.”

“What about you? I don’t think I’m set up for breastfeeding yet. I don’t fucking believe this.”

“Look, the plan was to go direct-to-toilet. I figured what you didn’t know wouldn’t hurt you. Then someone laid a shitstorm, and here we are. Do me a favour, just get me in there and flush me down. I’ll join the others. We have plans. Sorry about the mess. I know how much a clean bathroom means to you.”

The colourless pinpricks swamp her sight. They take control. The sickly white room slathered in brown and red is swallowed by them.

Outside, through the bathroom window, Glenda hears the Pomeranian guy. He calls. Cries. Shouts. He sounds tear-choked. “Chaos, Chaos. Come home, Chaos! Chaos! Come back. Baby. Where are you? Where are you hiding? Chaos. Come here. Come on. Come on. Come on! Chaos! Please!”

Chaos will come.

Jude MacDonald splits her time between Toronto and the former Huttonville, Ontario. She is the author of Jane (Mercury, 1999) and Grey (Arsenal Pulp, 2001), which she wrote when she was a “Judy.” She is working on a new collection of stories. Last updated Halloween, 2008.