The Story Goes On

9th July
written by amber

Famous T.V. Semi-Automatic Rifle

Friends, I want to tell you about the FAMOUS T.V. SEMI-AUTOMATIC RIFLE. This is no ordinary rifle, folks. Yes, it does all the things an ordinary rifle does, but the FAMOUS T.V. SEMI-AUTOMATIC RIFLE does much much more. Most rifles contain a great deal of wasted space in places such as the stock and carrying strap but the FAMOUS T.V. SEMI-AUTOMATIC RIFLE makes efficient use of every square centimetre of space. We’ve packed everything you’ll need for an extended campaign – you won’t need to take another thing with you.

This looks like an ordinary shoulder-strap such as you’d find on any semi-automatic rifle but just undo these two little snaps and presto – a space age ultra-thin ground sheet and sleeping bag guaranteed to shield your body heat from detection by whatever high-tech equipment your enemy might possess.

And who would guess this little stock could possibly hold so much? Just slide the convenient panel open to find a complete set of concentrated rations for three days, an ultra-miniature communication device, a compressed roll of white fabric for sanitation, first aid or surrender, plus a stainless steel manicure kit.

But the FAMOUS T.V. SEMI-AUTOMATIC RIFLE has even more surprises. You might say a bayonet is nothing new but this is no ordinary bayonet – it’s the FAMOUS T.V. KNIFE! Yes, folks, the same knife you’ve used in your kitchen to slice dice grate grind cut carve and whittle is perfect for hand-to-hand combat, torture or execution. And without losing its famous ever-sharp edge.

So why not order the FAMOUS T.V. SEMI-AUTOMATIC RIFLE today? Just call the number flashing on the screen and send your cheque or money order for only $659.99 to this address. COD charges not included.

But wait! There’s more! For every order for the FAMOUS T.V. SEMI-AUTOMATIC RIFLE received before July 30, we’ll include our famous imitation spare ammo clip. This handy device actually contains super-concentrated fuel perfect for cooking or keeping warm, and with the flick of a switch – presto! – you have an anti-personnel unit packing a whopping 25 tons TNT equivalent.

And that’s not all! We’ll also throw in a suicide pill identical to the vitamin tablets contained in your ration pack. You’ll want to carry it everywhere, it’s so small and convenient, and you never know when you’ll need a final alternative.

Now, how can you refuse, folks? Write or call today to order the FAMOUS T.V. SEMI-AUTOMATIC RIFLE!

This tale was published in On Spec magazine in the Fall 1992 issue.

7th July
written by amber

Tomorrow I’ll be posting a story that I had published in On Spec magazine Fall 1992 issue, called “The Famous TV Semi-Automatic Rifle,” followed by one of my favourite stories from Story 365, “Pink Gun.”

Why gun week? I don’t know. Maybe due to the piece I heard on CBC about a city woman who moved to Bend, Oregon and learned how to hunt.

I’ll also be challenging my readers to come up with a gun story of their own.

6th July
written by amber

For the first time in the entire ordeal, Maria couldn’t keep herself from crying, and her tears flowed all the faster when she heard Blind Ric say, “Certainly, Dona Maria. You tell me the number and I’ll call her. I’d believe you before I’d believe Fat Paulina, any day. You just wait here and don’t worry.”

She waited on the porch, hearing Ric’s whistle grow fainter as he descended. He hadn’t needed to tell her not to worry – a calmness was washing over her like the warmth of a soft blanket on a chilly night. Ric’s reappearance in her life was the closing of a circle. Back in the Pelhourinho, she’d kept to herself, sure that her neightbours looked down on her for her dark skin and nordestina roots. She’d looked down on them, lazy, immoral, prone to gossip and superstition, but in fact she’d been afraid of them and the city, all the dark corners where danger could lurk, all the things she didn’t understand.

In Rio das Secas, people were as they seemed and the open landscape hid nothing. Bahia was layer upon layer of deceit and confusion, yet she had never been afraid of Ric. He couldn’t see her to judge her appearance, he couldn’t see his own face to learn how to hold it in a facade of sincerity. She trusted him and was kind to him, and in the way God’s balance was supposed to work, but rarely did in so obvious a manner, her kindness had come back to her.

Now that she was relaxing, the raw desperation which had fueled her journey departed, leaving her feeling weak and slightly dizzy. Hunger no longer churned in her stomach but the lack of sustenance was a buzzing in her ears and a sensation of transparency, as if the morning sun could shine right through her. She leaned against the wall of the shack, too tired to pay much attention to the aching of her legs, nearly too tired to focus her eyes until her attention was caught by a little gecko streaking across the boards to snap up a fly. The gecko’s tail had been lost in some escape manoeuver, but a paler section showed that it was growing back.

“Hello, Stumpy,” she said. “You and I, we will recover, won’t we?”

Swallowing his fly, the tiny lizard looked at her and seemed to grin.

“Stick with me. I’m sure I smell bad enough to attract lots of flies,” she advised him, but he darted away as a shadow swooped across the porch.

Maria looked up. A young boy stood silhouetted in front of her, holding out a paper bag. “Ric told me to bring this up to you. He has to wait down there for your daughter.”

She took the bag. It contained a small banana and some bread. “Thank you.”

He fidgeted, frowning, as he looked at her. “I have to go now,” he finally announced, turning away, then jerked back toward her. “Are you okay?”

She realized he’d seen her talking to the gecko, or possibly it seemed that she was talking to no one. She smiled. “Yes, I am fine. Tell Ric that I am fine.”

Maria is one of my favourite characters in my novel, “The Healer.” She’s gutsy and, despite her flaws and disadvantages, she developed into a strong supporter of her daughter and granddaughter.

Stumpy, the gecko, is a real lizard who I encountered on a writing trip to Costa Rica. I was very happy to let him enter the pages of my novel.

5th July
written by amber

In the morning, Maria was unable to get up.

She’d hardly slept, her legs a torment, an agony, and the roaches on the shack’s floor considerably larger than the bed bugs in the sheets at Fat Paulina’s. As soon as the sky grew barely bright enough to see by, before she heard anyone stirring in the shack of her reluctant benefactor, she tried to resume her journey. But not by using the canes nor by pulling on the loose boards of the shack’s wall, not by crawling to the door and manhandling her legs until they dangled limply onto the porch so that she could try to haul herself upright in the doorway, not by any manner could she stand up.

She was trying again, for perhaps the thirtieth time, when she heard someone come down the stairs with sure steps in the early morning dimness, whistling. The tune was familiar, from the past, a happy time in the Pelhourinho neighbourhood. A whistled tune she’d heard whenever she went to the market – Blind Ric, seller of naked wooden dolls.

“Ric!” she called. “Senhor Ric!”

The sure steps paused, then resumed. Soon he appeared on the level where she sat hostage to her infirmity. “Where are you?” he asked.

“Over here. Watch out for that board!” she called out, but he was far more mobile than she had been, tapping with his slender cane, avoiding obstacles.

“Say something else,” he said, when he stood in front of her.

“No, I’m right here,” she answered, supposing he needed her voice to guide him to her. “You’ve found me.”

“Dona Maria Novaes!” he exclaimed. “Can it be? Dona Maria in the favela?”

“You know me by the sound of my voice, after all these years,” she marvelled.

“A voice to me is as a face to you. And voices don’t change much. But what are you doing here?”

“I don’t belong here,” she said, without thinking, then added, “Oh, not to say that anyone does. It’s a disgrace, that people are forced to live this way. I didn’t mean to offend.”

He laughed. “Don’t apologize. Of course you don’t belong here. But it seems your life has not been as fortunate since your husband died.”

She thought of the events of those years, the loss of so many of her children, and of Vera, so sick and with such a terrible man for a husband. Then she looked around at the favela, and said, “My life hasn’t been that bad. My daughter has a nice apartment and a new baby. But her husband brought me here when she was in the hospital. He paid Fat Paulina to keep me.”

“Oh, you’re that one. And now the wretch won’t pay anymore, I heard.” He added, gently, “They say your daughter is dead.”

Firmly, she replied, “It’s a lie, Senhor Ric, if you could just telephone Vera. You made her a doll once, do you remember? She’ll send a taxi and pay you for your trouble. We’d be so grateful.”

4th July
written by amber

By the time Maria got to the bottom of the fourth descent, the black of night had fallen and it was impossible to keep going. Six flights still lay beneath her. She was exhausted and hungry too, having eaten nothing that day besides a banana and a cup of rain water she’d collected outside the small opening which served as a window to her room. A gusty wind sprang up, pressing her wet skirt against her wildly trembling legs.

Her hands trembled too, as she renewed her grip on the canes and approached the nearest shack. Because favela shacks were frequently too flimsy to withstand the force of a knock, people clapped to announce themselves when they came to call. If she clapped, Maria knew she’d fall so she called out, in a voice which frightened her by its weakness, the voice of a frail old lady. “Excuse me, can you help me?”

She heard voices within the shack, but no one answered.

She took a breath and called again, “Please help me, for the sake of Jesus!”

The scowling, scarred face of a man appeared in the open upper half of the doorway. “What do you want?”

She answered, afraid but determined. “Where I was before, they threw me out. Can you help me, please?”

In answer, the door was closed in her face. As she moved doggedly toward the next shack, cane and foot, cane and foot, each step slower than the one before it, on the edge of losing her balance each time she shifted her weight, she heard two women talking, very near by. She looked up and saw them in windows that faced each other from the shack she’d just been at and the one she was going ever so slowly toward.

“There she is,” the first woman said. “Can you believe it? To go begging in a favela?”

The second woman said, “That’s the old lady staying with Fat Paulina. A man gave them money to keep her there.” She leaned further out her window and asked, “Did you run away?”

Certainly, Maria thought, doesn’t it look like I’m running away, on my last legs as I am?

“My daughter doesn’t know I’m here,” she told the woman. “It was my son-in-law who took me to Fat Paulina’s. If you phone my daughter, she’ll come for me and I’ll make sure she gives you money.”

The first woman made a sign, to indicate that Maria was crazy, but the second one said, “Oh, what can it hurt?” and opened her door. Maria started forward, nearly falling in her eagerness to enter the shack, but the woman blocked her way, saying, “Not in there. My Everaldo wouldn’t allow it, but the place next door is empty. The guy who lived there died. You can wait there for your daughter.”

The place next door was meaner and barer than Fat Paulina’s. Perhaps once the shack had had wooden boxes to sit on and scraps of fabric at window and door to keep the wind out, but everything removable had been removed. It smelled as if someone had been using it as a toilet.

“Can you write you daughter’s number for me?” the woman asked.

“Yes, but I don’t have any paper.”

The woman stepped into her shack and returned with a page torn from a glossy magazine and a stub of a pencil. After Maria wrote the number for her, she asked for a coin to make the call.

“I’m sorry. I had to give Fat Paulina everything I had.”

“It’s okay. You wait here.”

Unable to stand a second longer, Maria allowed herself to slide slowly down the rough wall until she was sitting on the floor, legs straight out in front of her. She thought, for a moment or two, that when she heard the woman’s tread on the stairs it sounded as if she went up instead of down to the Pineapple Grocery whose pay phone was the main outside contact for thousands of favelados. But she was sure she must have been mistaken.

Twenty minutes later, she discoverd she hadn’t been mistaken. Angrily, the woman entered the shack’s dingy interior, only the sharp flash of her eyes visible. “Fat Paulina says your daughter died months ago.”

“That’s not true,” Maria pleaded. “All I ask you to do is call her. You’ll be rewarded, I promise.”

The woman ignored her. “You can stay here tonight. But tomorrow, you’d better be on your way.”

Alone in the black stinking darkness, Maria tried to cry out to the Lord to rescue her from this predicament, but the same thing happened which happened every time she’d prayed, back at Fat Paulina’s.

The life of the favela was lived in public, thin walls no barrier to everyone knowing everything about each other’s business. And so she knew that many of the people who lived in such misery had deep faith in God. She’d seen them on their way to Mass, wearing cotton skirts and blouses produced clean and starched in the midst of such straitened circumstances, their bare feet treading sturdily through the mud while they carried their shoes so as to enter God’s house without defiling it with favela soil.

Did they cry out to the Lord for deliverance? She couldn’t imagine that they didn’t – who’d be content to live this way? Yet deliverance was never granted. Why should she, sinner that she was, be given more than any of them? Instead, she prayed for Vera. She didn’t believe for a moment that Vera was dead, although the lie explained why, when she’d made the same offer of a reward to Fat Paulina’s neighbours, they’d refused to make the call.

Poor Vera, at home with a new baby, after such a terrible pregnancy – how was she getting along without her mother’s help?