Mayor Cass Tamburlaine was stretched out asleep on a huge turquoise divan running along the east side of his baronial office at City Hall.  It was four-thirty on a Thursday afternoon.  His long-term and long-suffering mistress, Joy Pommery, sat behind his desk, leafing disconsolately through a pile of less-than-current issues of Canadian Business, Toronto Life, Condo Life, The Economist, Penthouse, Car and Driver, Motor Trend, Lowrider, and Zoomer.  She sighed heavily and put down a particularly cloying issue of Condo Life.
    “Condom Living,” she thought to herself.  “Living Safe.”
     His Worship stirred.
     “Yes?” she answered him, her gaze fixed on a seagull gliding with an almost wearying grace past the office windows.
     “What time is it?”
     “After four.”
     “What are you doing?”
     “Looking at old magazines,” she told him.  “Why don’t you have at least a couple that are up to date?”
     “People take them,” Cass told her crossly, heaving himself into an upright position and adjusting his tie.
     “Nice tie,” said Joy.
     Cass looked down. 
     “You like it?  It has race horses on it.”
     “I know, I gave it to you.”
     “Did you?  Well, I do like it.  I wear it a lot.”
     “All the time, as far as I can tell,” said Joy.
     Cass looked down again at the tie lying snugly on the epic curvature of his belly.
     “It has Russian dressing on it,” she told him.
     “It does?”
    “I think that’s what it is.  Incontrovertible evidence of your recently have ingested a Reuben sandwich.”
     “You can hardly find a good one anymore!”
     “And so when you do,” sighed Joy, “you sort of hang onto it a bit, is that right?”
     Cass scowled.
     “I don’t know how you can nap in the middle of the afternoon,” she added. 
     “Being Mayor of Toronto is an exhausting job,” said Cass irritably. “I need my rest.”
     “You certainly seem to” said Joy.  “I wonder,” she grinned, “if a photo of you slumbering on the office couch would be worth anything to the tireless workers in the media?”
     Cass laughed.
     “Not as much as a photo with you lying here beside me! Sex is way more sensational than sloth!”
     “Or the appearance of sex,” added Joy, dyspeptically.
     “The suggestion of it,” said Cass.
     “The remembrance of it,” said Joy wistfully.
     “Oh I remember it,” grinned Cass.
      “Well, I scarcely do,’ said Joy.  “As a matter of fact, that’s something I meant to talk to you about.”
     “Aww c’mon,” said Cass, stretching languidly and heavily, like a fat lion, “You can’t talk about sex.  Nobody can.”
     “Well we ought to try.”
     “Because we don’t have any anymore,” said Joy.
     “And whose fault is that?” Cass asked her.
     “Yours,” she replied.

     Just eight or ten blocks west of City Hall, Michael Moskos and May Tan were trying slowly and carefully to rouse themselves from a heavy afternoon nap—which had overtaken them both immediately following  a particularly intense and wondrously protracted bout of lovemaking.
     Michael woke first.  He lay there, studying the Le Corbusier lithograph hanging over his head.  Corb’s mighty Modulor Man figure stared back at him.  It seemed to Michael, in his post-tryst fogginess, that it bore an almost sweet expression of male complicity and sensual admiration.  “Well done, my boy,” it seemed to say.  Michael felt like winking back at it.
     May stirred.  The duvet into which she had snuggled just before sleep had fallen away, leaving her naked to the waist.  Her long, glistening black hair lapped over her shoulders and around her breasts like a dark mountain stream rippling its way pointedly to the plain below. 
     “Hi, Beauty,” said Michael.  “Your Modulor Man and I have just been having an amiable chat, and he wishes to compliment you on your stupefying loveliness and to point out in particular that he thinks you have the prettiest breasts since Venus de Milo.”
     The old lecher!” laughed May.  “And here I thought he was mostly just a logo.  I’m going to have to drape something over him from now on while I’m getting undressed!”
     “Or dressed,” added Michael, placing us hand meaningfully on her belly.  “Lust never sleeps, y’know.”
     May yawned broadly and thoroughly, like a cat.
     “But we did.  I always sleep deeply after you.”
     “Give me a second or two to decide if that’s a compliment or a complaint!” said Michael 
     She squeezed his arm and lightly bit his ear.
     “A compliment,” she said. 


Violet Dollop now has two passions in her life: writing and Indian food.  Oddly, the one, Indian food, seemed like an extension or continuation of the other, the writing.  Indian food seemed to Violet to be so directly about life’s processes—the challenge of heat, the silky consolations of cool pudding-smoothness, the unprepared for eventfulness of sudden big encounters with spices: cardamom seeds, as black and present as insects.  Indian food, thought Violet, is terrain.  Indian food is a silent movie.  She loved it with an accelerating fervor so intense she knew that, despite her non-Indian-ness, she would someday have to write an Indian cookbook.  Or at least a book about the proliferating excitements generated by the Indian Food milieu: Indian Food—The Long Metaphor.
     It had been her husband Tom who had first encouraged her forays into Indian food—and who had then, curiously, begun to retreat from them.  For Tom, eating at their favourite Indian restaurant was just a night out.  A brief holiday from cooking at home.  For Violet it was the very stuff of literature and life.
     That’s what cars had become to her as well.  Violet had begun writing casually about automobile design—about taillights in particular (she loved the desperate changes wrought by car designers in the essentially banal object that a taillight is: infinite variation visited upon a fixed function in a fixed location).  Now her car-scribbling had taken her into the study of automotive history, into the larger-than-life personalities that were the fixed and galvanizing points of that history (Louis Chevrolet, Karl Benz, Gottlieb Daimler, Louis Renault, Ransom E. Olds—as in “Oldsmobile”—Henry Ford, Andre Citroen, Ettore Bugatti, Virgil Exner, Harley Earl…), into the arcanities of styling and marketing, into the symbolism of the car, its archaeology, its joys and poisons and runaway cultural implications, its weather-vane-litmus-paper delineations of cultural health and weakness.  It seemed to Violet like a lifetime of work.  It seemed to the increasingly disaffiliated Tom—who wanted his wife back—like a gathering threat.
     “You must have been keen on cars when you were a kid, weren’t you?” Violet asked Tom one night over a vegetable biryani she had made herself.
     “When I was about twelve,” Tom told her, “but I got over it.”
     “But I’d never noticed cars before,” Violet replied.  “They were invisible.”
     “Until that taillight study of yours.”
     “Yes, and then I extrapolated myself from the taillight to the whole car, its history and culture.” 
     “And now you’re in love with Harley Earl and Virgil Exner.”
    “Beautiful names, aren’t they?” sighed Violet. “Why do car designers always have such beautiful names?”
     “They all don’t.  Look at Henry J. Kaiser.  Imagine naming a car the Henry J!”
     “Henry J. Kaiser was an industrialist, not a car designer.  He founded Kaiser Aluminum.  Cars were a sideline.”
     “A sideline that failed,” said Tom.
     “Still,” said Violet wistfully, “I wish we owned a 1954 Kaiser Manhattan.”
     “What colour?”
     “Turquoise Green. The only Kaiser colour that mattered.”
     “Wow, I didn’t realize you were so deep into your fantasies,” said Tom.  “A 1954 Kaiser Manhattan.  What specificity!”
     “In turquoise or Green,” Violet added.

     Michael and May were sharing a table at the New Sky with poet Rory Pendrift and his shiny new Muse, Bongo Bearance.
     “We like it here,” Michael told them, as Rory and Bongo looked around and settled in.  “This was the first place I ever took May for dinner.”
     “Coals to Newcastle,” laughed Rory who immediately after winced theatrically from the pain of Bongo’s having kicked him smartly under the table.
     Mat smiled.  “I know. Michael thought that too.  He also assumed that I’d be slighted or something by being invited to dine at a Chinese restaurant.”
     “Because, see, I ate here all the time before I knew May,” said Michael, “and I just thought of it as a cozy place with good food!  I never gave any thought at all to its Chinese-ness.”
     “Same as when you met me,” giggled May.  “I don’t think my being Chinese was the first thing you thought about.”
     “I can assure you it was not,” said Michael, squeezing her hand.  “But it did occur to me when you spoke to our waiter in Chinese!”
     “Can you order our food tonight in Chinese?” Rory asked her.
     “You can be a real dork,” said Bongo.  “How can you ever hope to become a real poet if you’re always acting like a dork?”
     Rory looked chastened.
     Listen, Rory,” May told him, “if it’ll make you feel happy and…uh…sophisticated, I’ll speak nothing but Chinese for the rest of the evening!”
     “Do it!” said Michael, delighted at Rory’s discomfiture.
     And May did that.  And it was a very international evening indeed.     


Rory Spindrift felt he was beginning to learn something real and useful about poetry.  And he attributed this continuous enlargement of his sensibility to the energies of the muse he had so casually—almost accidentally—acquired.  Bongo Bearance was a gift.  A gift that, as beautiful as she was, he was not being encouraged to unwrap.
     “In order for a Muse to be effective,” Bongo explained to him one sunny Saturday afternoon as they nestled in adjoining voluminous red leather chairs in the Hart House reading room, “she has to remain pretty much aloof from her supplicant.”
     “Pretty much?” repeated Rory, trying to rise above his momentary enjoyment of the way Bongo’s breasts rose and fell so prettily beneath her partially-unbuttoned denim shirt.  Her legs, tucked up beneath her in the chair, were so achingly svelte he had to look away.  Bongo, who was one of those people on whom nothing is ever lost, noticed his enjoyable discomfiture and was amused.
     “Yes, pretty much,” she said, her big grey eyes dancing.  She shifted in her chair, striving to achieve what she hoped was a more studious, less encouraging position.   “I don’t suppose you’ve read The White Goddess?” she said.
     Is that a Rider Haggard novel?” he asked her.  “Like She or The Virgin of the Sun?”
     Bongo laughed.  “You’re like a ten year old,” she told him.  “No, The White Goddess is a book by the English poet Robert Graves about muses and mythology.  It was written in 1948.  The White Goddess is an ancient pagan goddess of love, birth and death.  She still moves among us and now appears to us as the moon.  She is what Graves called the “Ninefold Muse.”  He refers to her as ‘the patroness of the white magic of poetry’.”
     “You think I should read this book?”
     “No, I’d be surprised if you could!” Bongo answered him gaily.  Graves even warned potential readers away from it.  He writes in the book‘s Foreword that it’s a queer book—he uses the word in the old-fashioned sense—adding that it ought to be avoided by anyone with a “distracted, tired or rigidly scientific mind.”
     “I guess the ‘distracted’ part that applies to me,” Rory told her.
     “Yes, you don’t really seem tired,” Bongo agreed, “or ‘rigidly scientific’!”
     “Listen.” said Rory suddenly, “do you want to go for a beer?”
     “A beer?”
     “Well, I know it’s probably not as very muse-like drink,” said Rory.  “Not like the juice of fresh flowers, or 
a tipple of over-proof moonshine….”
     “Well, okay,” said Bongo.  And she unfolded herself prettily from the big red chair.

     Just as Rory and Bongo were leaving Hart House, Michael and May were strolling Philosopher’s Walk, in order to head south on St. George, and then make their way over to Spadina Avenue where, in a few hours, they had planned to have dinner at the New Sky restaurant where they gone for their first meal together.
     “It doesn’t seem very long ago that we were first there,” said Michael.
     Well it really wasn’t that long ago,” replied May.  “You were so funny,” she added, squeezing Michael’s hand, “being all nervous about whether taking a Chinese girl to a Chinese restaurant smacked of racism!”
     “It just seemed a bit too obvious to feel sophisticated,” he replied.
     “And you were of course trying for high sophistication” she observed.
     “Trying and failing,” said Michael.
     “Maybe we ought to have found a Greek restaurant to honour the Greek in you.”
     But I loved hearing you speak Chinese to the waiter at the New Sky,” said Michael, “whereas you’d never get to hear me speaking Greek to a Greek waiter.”
     “Why not?”
     “Because I don’t know any Greek,” laughed Michael.  “My father was Greek and he took off when I was just a year old.  I was raised by my grandparents—my mother’s parents—and they were from England.”
     “I wish you did speak Greek,” said May wistfully. “My Zorba!”
     “I guess I could try to learn.”
     “Oh I don’t expect that much of you,” May giggled.  “Besides, then I wouldn’t understand anything you said.”
     “We’d have to have recourse to the international language of love,” said Michael.  “An Esperanto of Pure Eroticism!”
     “Sounds okay,” said May, lifting he face to be kissed.
     The kiss, which may well have become a lengthy one, was interrupted by someone’s calling May’s name.  She and Michael looked around awkwardly, almost as disturbed as if someone had abruptly entered a bedroom where they had been making love.
     It was Rory Spendrift, calling her from the other side of St. George Street.
     “Rory?” said May, pulling herself together.
     Rory and the young woman on his arm crossed the street and came up to Michael and May, Rory’s hand extended in greeting.
     “You remember Rory Spendrift, Michael?  My poet friend?  You met him one day at the bookstore.”
     “Oh sure,” said Michael rather laconically.  “Dragon’s Breath.”
     Rory looked embarrassed.
     “I’ve left all that behind me,” he told Michael and May. “And this,” he said, pulling Bongo closer into the conversation, “is the reason.  This is Bongo Bearance!”
     “Hello,” said May and Michael simultaneously.
     “My Muse,” Rory added proudly.

TORONTO: A NOVEL: Chapter 56

 Coal decided to call Linc before Bliss Carmen turned up to reclaim her dog Fish.  He answered the phone, but he was way out at the beaches.  Coal could hardly hear him over the wind whistling off the lake.
     “What’s the shoot?” she asked him.
     “Mens’ Windbreakers!” he shouted into the phone. “Lacoste, Fred Perry, Adidas, nothing special.”
     “When will you be back?”
     “Three, four hours,” Linc told her.  “Another two hours here, and an hour trying to buck the traffic home.  Why?”
     “You remember that Bliss Carmen character?  The one who owns Fish?”
     “Hard to forget,” bellowed Linc over the tumult of the onshore breezes.  “I hope she’s taking Fish home with her?”
     “Apparently she is.  I’m actually more concerned though about her role in those murder threats the Mayor was getting.  It was her lunatic boyfriend that painted them, remember?”
     “You think she’s dangerous?”
     “Well, I don’t know” said Coal. “I’m pretty anxious about her coming here.”
     “I’ll be there as soon as I can,” Linc told her and hung up. 
     Half an hour later the intercom buzzed.
     “What kind of a dumb, pansified place is this anyhow?”  roared Bliss into the speaker.  “Mr. prettyboy Security guard here seems to think I’m some kind of goddam intruder or something.”
     “Let me speak to him,” said Coal quietly.  When he came on, Coal explained the situation as well as she could, knowing Bliss was standing right there listening to every word.  There was a authoritative buzz and decisive click and then an oppressive silence which stretched out like cloud cover over what Coal knew was Bliss’s progress to the elevator and her silent ascension up to Coal’s penthouse. A minute or two later there was a thundering knock on the door.
     “Open up in there!” Bliss bellowed.  “I’ve come for my dog!”
     “Why hello,” said Coal to Bliss’s enormous bulk that took up most of the doorway and blocked out the light.  “She’s like a cloud bank,” thought Coal, “or something more immovable—like a concrete wall.  “Please come in,” she said to the wall, quickly standing to one side so that Bliss, moving slowly and ponderously, could attain the hallway.  Bliss took a dyspeptic look around.
     “It’s like a damned Ikea store in here,” she announced—a remark that puzzled Coal, whose tastes ran more to chairs by Mies van der Rohe and Alvaar Alto  than to democratic objects bearing names like “Hendriksdal” and “Nils.”
     “We like it,” Coal murmured.
     “Who’s we?’ asked Bliss.
     “My partner, Lincoln Ford,” said Coal.  “He’s a photographer.   I’m actually expecting him any minute,” she added—with what she recognized as undue nervousness.
     “Where’s Fish?” bellowed Bliss, suddenly spinning around and narrowly missing an Alvaar Alto vase on the side table.  “You still got him, I hope?”
     “Oh yes,” Coal assured her.  He’s been well cared for.”
     “Probably too well,” sneered Bliss, turning an incendiary glance upon the stuffed bookshelves and the Corbusier sofa in the living room.
     “Ever give him candy bars?” Bliss asked Coal accusingly.
     “Dear me, no!  They can’t be good for a dog surely?”
     “Well that’s too bad” boomed Bliss, “cause that’s what he likes.  Especially the hard ones like Skor bars and Crispy Crunch!”
     “Oh,” said Coal.  “Well,” she went on brightly, “I’m afraid he’s been out of luck. 
     “Figures,” replied Bliss, now positively annoyed at—among other annoying things—the sight of the huge Harold Klunder painting hanging on the far wall.
     “What’s that?” Bliss asked Coal, pointing to what she considered an abominable maelstrom of paint that had mistakenly found its way up onto the wall.  “Or that?” she asked again, pointing at Coal’s Roy Lichtenstein painting of what seemed to be a drowning girl.  Coal tried to explain both paintings, fervently wishing, once she had began, that she’d never got into the whole thing.
     Bliss listened with barely suppressed contempt.
     “My boyfriend paints way better than these guys!” she announced.
     “Does he?” asked Coal, remembering with a shudder the beautifully repulsive old master paintings Bliss’s clearly demented partner had sent to the Mayor, each one of them despoiled by aggressive red scrawls promising mayhem and murder.  “What does he paint?”
     “Old masters,” said Bliss, looking as if she were searching for an available spittoon.
     “Odd for a young painter.”
     “Homer isn’t what you’d think of as young.  He never was young.”
     “That’s his name?  Homer?”
     “Homer Rubik.”
     “Like the cube?”
     “That’s what everybody says.”  Bliss looked around the penthouse again.  “So where’s Fish?”
     “I’ll get him,” said Coal. 
     While she was gone, Bliss assessed the mighty living room.  Books everywhere.  She picked up a handful from a coffee table.  The Real Real Thing: The Model in the Mirror of Art by Wendy Steiner.   The Fashion System by Roland Barthes.  How to Have Style by Isaac Mizrahi.  Steve Martin’s novel, An Object of Beauty.  “Bullshit,” she said out loud—just as Coal re-entered the room, leading a diffident Fish on a red leather leash.
     “I beg your pardon?” asked Coal.
     “I was just saying that your books are bullshit,” said Bliss.
     “Kind of you.”
     Coal unsnapped Fish’s leash and waited for the joyful reunion.  Which didn’t come.  Instead, Fish sat down on one of the highly figured carpets and looked strangely weary.
     “Hey Fish!” boomed Bliss.  “It’s me!!”
     Fish looked away disconsolately.
     “He doesn’t seem, very happy to see you,” observed Coal.
     “Sure he is,” said Bliss.  “Anybody can see that!”


Coal Blackstone was home from her Lolita fashion shoot.  She was feeling extremely old. 
     She dropped her briefcase in the hallway and proceeded wearily to the kitchen, extricated an icy bottle of gin from the freezer, fetched a martini glass, sluiced a half-capful of vermouth across it and topped up the glass with the crispy Icelandic gin she has begun to like so much.  Then she plopped a couple of black Calamata olives into the gin.
     She felt considerably better already. 
     “God bless the Juniper berry!” Coal said aloud as she took her first sip of the searingly cold, astringent liquid, “and,” she added pointedly, “to hell with teenage girls!”
     Coal was thinking to herself that cold gin tasted like silver, and was just about to admonish herself for being needlessly lyrical—how the hell could  she know what silver tasted like, especially in liquid form?—when the phone rang.
     It was her friend, Joy Pommery.
     “If somebody asked you to tell them what gin tasted like—right off the top of your head,” Coal asked her, “what would you say?”
     There was a brief pause.
     “Liquid silver,” Joy said.
     “That’s what I thought too,” Coal told her, “but it doesn’t really make any sense.”
     Joy sighed deeply. 
     “Well, hell, what does?” she said.
     “How’s his Mayorness?” Coal asked, “speaking of not making any sense.”
     “Well that’s really what I’m calling you about.”
     “Really?” Coal reached into her drink and ate an olive.  Then she took another freezing sip of her martini.  She never did understand what her friend saw in the coarse, vulgar, mountainous Cass Tamburlaine. 
     “Yes.  Do you remember those horrible death-threat paintings I showed you that somebody was sending to his office?”
     “Not easy to forget,” said Coal.
     “Well, yesterday, Cass met the artist!”
     “The artist?”
     “The guy who made the elaborate paintings with the death-threats scrawled on them.”
     The Raphael of intimidation!” said Coal.
     “The same,” said Joy.
     “How on earth did Cass ever find this guy?”
     “Under pretty odd circumstances.  Apparently he was having lunch at this grotty diner in the west end and the cook just comes right out with how he’s not really a short-order cook but how he’s actually a painter, and when Cass asks him what kind of a painter he is, the guy shows him a couple of his old-masterish things on paper and then admits that he’s the one who made the death-threat pictures.  Cass said he seemed sort of proud of it!”
     “So did Cass call the police or anything?”
     “No.  And such restraint is really odd for him.  No, what happened is that they got talking and Cass ordered a piece of pie and another coffee and they sat and talked for a while.  The guy said he had eventually sort of lost interest in the death-threat business anyhow.  He said he’d made the pictures at the request of this woman he was kind of with…”
     “And did he mention her name?”
     “Yes,” said Joy.  “Really funny name.  Bliss Carmen.  Like the poet.” 
     There was a long silence on the line.
     “Coal?  Are you still there?”
     Coal took a big cold gulp of her martini and ate the second olive.
     “I’ve met her.”
     “You have?”  Joy was dumbfounded.
     “Yes, she lost her dog—a scruffy little thing she calls ‘Fish.’  I picked him up when he wandered into one of my photo-sessions about a month ago.  He seemed hungry and miserable so I took him home with me and fed him and tried to clean him up a bit.”
     “What did Linc think of all that?”
     “Not much,” laughed Coal.
     “No, I bet not” said Joy.
     “This Bliss Carmen creature is supposed to be coming over to retrieve Fish sometime soon,” Coal added.
     “Yes? Well, just remember, Coal, that ‘this Bliss Carmen creature’ is the brain—if we can put it that way—behind the death threats directed at my Cass!”
     “Yes, I understand.”
     “I think you better have Linc there with you when she comes over,” said Joy.
     “I think so too,” said Coal.


While his two spiffy subalterns were poking gingerly at their hot hamburg sandwiches, Mayor Cass had been tucking into his western omelette, and was now swirling the last fragment of egg into a rivulet of dusty ketchup that edged his plate on its eastern side.
     “No sirree, not a bad western omelette!” boomed Cass.  “I guess you make a ton of these things in a day, right?” he asked Homer. 
     Homer shrugged.  “They’re pretty popular.”
     “Ever make a Reuben sandwich?’
     “I don’t think so.”
     “Oh, you’d remember if you had.  Smoked meat—like pastrami.  Sauerkraut.  Russian dressing.  On dark rye.”
     Homer shrugged again.  “Uh huh,” he said.
     “So what do you do when you’re not frying up the chitlins here?” Cass asked him.
     “I paint.”
     Cass was rather taken aback.  So were the two subaltens, who looked at one another in something between bewilderment and amusement.
     “You mean like houses?” said Cass.
     “No, I mean like paintings,” Homer replied in a distinctively stony voice.
     “So what do you paint?” asked subaltern One.  “Like clowns on velvet or something?  Or children with big eyes?”
      Homer looked as if he were going to the kitchen for a meat cleaver.
     “Old Masters,” he said.
     There was a bewildered silence. 
     “But haven’t the Old Masters already painted the old masters?” Cass asked him, grinning at his luncheon companions.
     “Not my way,” said Homer.
     “And what’s your way?” asked subaltern two.
     “Smaller, usually.  But just as good.”
     “So you copy the Old Masters?” Cass asked him.
     “I copy them to start, and then I sort of bring them up to date.”
     “How?” Cass asked.
     Homer was beginning to chaff under the rubbing of all these questions.
     “You guys want more coffee?”
     They all did, so Homer passed from uplifted cup to uplifted cup, pouring out refills.
     “You don’t by any chance have any of your things here with you do you?” Cass inquired.
     “I got a couple in a portfolio out in the kitchen.”
     “May I see them?”
     “I’ll show you one, I guess,” said Homer, without much enthusiasm.  He sauntered out to the kitchen and came back a few seconds later with a small painting on paper, clearly based on Raphael’s Saint George and the Dragon.  He held it up for Cass to see.
     The Mayor was dumbfounded.  He stared at the little painting for a long time in total silence.
     “What’s the matter, your Worshipfulness,” joked subaltern one, “you like this thing or something?”
     “Or hate it?” asked subaltern two.
     “Or are you afraid of it?” suggested Homer helpfully.
     Cass’s face had turned an unhealthy shade of beige.  He looked again at the little painting and back again at Homer’s oddly impassive face and then back to the painting again.
     “And you painted this?”
     “Yep, I did.  This and a couple hundred others.  You oughta see my Boschs.  They’re my best ones. Very nice and creepy! Organs and body parts everywhere!”
     “This one’s creepy enough,” said subaltern one.
     “But this looks just like the paintings I was getting in the mail with death threats scrawled across them,” said Cass, his voice anguished enough to alarm both subalterns at once.
     “Yeh that’s right,” replied Homer.  “Those were the ones!  They were my paintings.  Well, okay, photocopies of them.  And my death-threats.”
     “Jesus,” said Cass.
     “Scared you, huh?”
     “”Fuck, they scared the beejesus out of me!  What do you think?!!”
     “I think they scared the beejesus out of you!”
     “But why?  Did you really want to kill me?  Do you now?”
     “Well, to tell you the truth, it sort of wore off—as a plan.”
     “I’m glad to hear it,” said Cass, beginning to perspire profusely.
     Subalterns one and two looked at one another in dismay. The Mayor seemed distressed, they observed, but not panicky. 
     “Should we call the police?” subaltern one asked Cass. “Or an ambulance or something?” suggested subalten two.
     “An ambulance?” said Homer.
     “No, no of course not for chrissake!” Cass barked at them.  “Why would I want an ambulance?”
     “Well, you know…for him,” said subaltern two, pointing at Homer.  “You know…like with straightjackets and all that stuff!”
     “Restraint,” muttered subaltern one.
     “Balls!” said Cass.
     “That’s right,” said Homer, grinning broadly. “Balls!”
     “I don’t understand,” said Cass.  “What‘ve you got against me?”  The two subalterns glanced quickly at one another and tried to suppress smirks.
     “Well, I dunno,” Homer replied, “where do you want to start?  First of all, everybody hates you, not just me.”
     Cass looked unhappy but not angry.
     “Yeh,” he said wearily.  “I suppose so.”
     “So lots of people probably want to kill you, not just me.”
     “You really think so?”  Cass turned to the subalterns.  “You think that’s true?”
     “No question,” replied Subaltern one.
     “No question at all,” agreed subaltern two.
     “Listen,” Cass said to Homer.  “You got any pie or anything”
     “There’s one slice of cherry left and two slices of apple,” Homer told him.
     “Fine.  I’ll have the cherry and they,” he said, pointing to the subalterns, “can have the apples.  With ice cream,” he added.  The subalterns looked trapped.
     “We don’t have ice cream,” said Homer.
     “Without then,” said Cass. 
     “Okay.  I gotta tell you, though,” Homer added, “they’ve been sitting there for a while.  They’re not real fresh.”
     “What do you care?” Cass asked him.  “You’ve been sending me death threats!!!  And now I’m supposed to be frightened of stale pie?”


Homer Rubik was slid the 68th western omelette of the day onto a plate and toted it the length of the counter to the only customer in the place—officer Brice Sweetman, who was perched heavily on the stool nearest the window.
     “Where’s Bliss today?” he asked Homer in as affable a voice as he could manage, now that he was actually thinking of Homer’s gigantic female friend.  “I almost miss not having that stupid dog of hers piss on my pantleg!”
     “Fish really is a dope,” said Homer.
     “And Bliss?”
     “Back in her subway station, I guess, hanging around the payphone in case somebody calls her about the dumb dog.”
     Office Sweetman lifted a great forkful of fraying omelette to his mouth and washed it down with a swallow of cold coffee.
     “I’ll give you this, Homer,” he said.  “You make a pretty decent western omelette.”
     Homer nodded moody thanks and thought about how much he disliked cops—including Brice Sweetman—and Bliss and Fish…oh gawd especially Fish…and omelettes and the dishwater that Nick’s restaurant had the balls to offer up as its daily soup, and the gypsum pies that lay about calcifying in glass cases, and the vat of soy-based gravy mix on the back burner of the stove, with which Homer would glumly anoint the innumerable plates of fries and the Hot Hamburger sandwiches (a ground beef patty, white bread, gravy all over everything, french fries and a spoonful of dead canned peas) which had remained steadfastly popular since Nick’s had first opened in 1946. 
     What Homer hated the most about cooking up all this stuff was that for some cruelly perverse reason, it reminded him of painting.  And painting was all he really ever wanted to do. 
     Homer was just blue-skying increasingly impractical ideas about how to blow Nick’s to Kingdom come when the door swung open and in walked the Mayor of Toronto, the fatter-than-life Cass Tamburlaine.  He had two guys in suits in tow and, much to Homer’s annoyance, the three of them seemed intent upon scoring lunch.
     “Gentlemen,” muttered Homer.  “What can I get you?”
     The mayor looked quickly at Officer Brice Sweetman and his western omelette.
     “I tell you what,” said Cass Tamburlaine, stuffing himself into a maroon naugahyde booth, and gesturing that his two subalterns should join him there, “that omelette the officer’s having looks alright.  Make me one of those.  With white toast and coffee.”
     The other two looked slightly panicky and, in a momentary reversion to childhood dinners they had both endured with estranged fathers in southern Ontario bus terminals —circa 1972—simultaneously ordered Hot Hamburger sandwiches and diet cokes. 
     “You going to drink something, Mister Mayor?” Homer asked Cass.
     So you recognize me!”
     “Pretty hard not to,” said Homer.
     “Sure, I’ll have a Tab,” Cass told him.  “No wait, make that a Fresca.”
     “Fresca, right,” said Homer, repairing to the kitchen to extricate two frozen beef-like patties, a plastic bag of frozen fries, and two eggs from the refrigerator. 
     “I’m normally in search of a perfect Reuben sandwich,” Cass told his companions, “or even an adequate Reuben sandwich,” but they’re so fucking hard to find now!” 
     The two men nodded in a vaguely understanding way.
     “You know what a Reuben sandwich is, right?” Cass asked them.  They both looked mildly embarrassed.  They looked identically embarrassed, as a matter of fact, like Tweedle-Fucking-Dum and Tweedle-Fucking-Dee.   Cass sighed.  He decided not to bother explaining.  “Anyhow,” he told his luncheon companions, “There’s no point in trying to get one here.”
     The two nodded sagely, full of sense of appropriate regret for the losing of a sandwich neither of them knew anything about.
     “Well, be seeing you, Homer,” said Officer Sweetman, mopping his mouth with a paper napkin and throwing eight bucks onto the counter. 
     “See you,” Homer called out from the kitchen.

     Across the city, in the penthouse of a stunningly transparent condo building near the waterfront, Coal Blackstone was slowly readying herself for an upcoming photo-shoot.  This time it was for a magazine layout, a deliberate ripping-off-of-or-homage-to—depending how bitchy or charitable you felt—of editor Stephanie LaCava’s recent and influential insistence, in her magazine, Elle, that the “Lolita look” was back.  “You can be Lolita forever,” La Cava had written—or words to that effect.  Coal felt she had never encountered a more exhausting idea in her entire life.
     The photographer for the shoot was not to be her inamorato, Linc Ford—as she had hoped—but a guy named Gregory Ehrenburg, whose work Coal detested.
     Coal idly wondered if LaCava has ever actually read the Nabokov novel, or whether Ehrenburg had.  She doubted it. The book was sad and funny and wise and dispiriting and incandescently brilliant.   She knew the opening by heart:  “Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.”
     Lo. Lee. Ta.
     Just then, Linc strolled into the bedroom, holding a slice of last night’s pizza in one hand and a can of Orangina in the other.  
     “Going out?”
     “It’s that ‘Lolita Look’ shoot,” she told him.
     Linc smiled.
     “It’s sort of a compliment to you, wouldn’t you say?”
     “You think so?”
     “Well,” said Linc, biting off a chunk of pizza, “Lolita was supposed to be pretty young, wasn’t she?”
     “Well, there you are!”
     “Being able to pass!” grinned Linc.
     “Maybe with makeup and banks of lights and judiciously arranged shadows.”
     “Ah c’mon, Coal, you’re the very essence of Lolita!”
     “Linc, I just hate that idea!  I’m two decades older than Nabokov’s nymphet, and I want to look like that!”
     “Geez, Coal,” Linc sighed, “it’s only fashion!  Lighten up.”


     Rory was coming to regard this long walk he was taking through Toronto with Bongo Bearance—his newly-acquired muse—as a genuine journey of discovery.  It was a rather compressed way, he decided, both of getting to know Bongo better, and of learning an awful lot about writing in a remarkably short time.  Bongo, he decided, was a good bargain.
     She was also cute as heck.  They were walking east along Hoskin Avenue, drifting past Trinity College and, at Bingo’s insistence, were about to turn north and stroll up Philosopher’s Walk to Bloor Street. 
     Rory reached over to take Bongo’s hand in his.  Bongo smiled sweetly and gently disengaged it from his tender, proffered grasp.  Rory looked unhappy about this.
     “It’s just that I don’t think muses ought to hold their authors’ hands, or…” she giggled, “anything else belonging to them.”  Rory looked crestfallen.
     “How come?”
     “Because if I’m supposed to be your Muse,” she told him, “we have to keep the channels clear.”
     “Yes.  I guess it’s sort of like what happens in a séance.  We can’t permit any sort of interference between us!
     “And you think erotic attraction would count as interference?”
     Bongo punched him playfully on the upper arm.
    “Oh my, yes!” she laughed.

     Violet Dollop found to her dismay—as well as to her delight—that writing was beginning to take over her life.  What was both absurd and beguiling was the pressure—an intoxicating pressure but a pressure nevertheless—to get everything down: everything she saw, heard, tasted, felt, read about and pondered.  She had never experienced this kind of archival imperative before.  It bothered her a little, but not as much as it infused her with joy.  What was so compelling about being a recording angel, she wondered.  Was it really about leaving a trail behind you made up of everything you were and continued to become?  Was it really, in the end, about mortality?  Was she building a stout wall around her own vulnerability--as if the grim reaper might not recognize her if she were disguised as a bulwark, as a fortification.  
     What a strange image this Grim Reaper figure was, she suddenly thought to herself.  So pastoral.  The harbinger of a leisurely country death, cutting you down as if you were bloomed wheat.  She made a note to herself to write an essay about the Grim Reaper.  She would call it “The Old Man and the Scythe.”
     But was the figure really a man?  How could you tell?  It was mostly black cloak.  With a skeleton’s hands.  What  would today’s version be?  A skeleton in guerrilla fatigues, waving around a…what?  She took a moment to google for help.  “Newest machine guns?” she typed into her laptop.  Then she continued to write in her notebook: “a skeleton in guerrilla fatigues wielding a Korean Super Aegis 2.”  Cumbersome, she noted, but probably accurate.
     Violet wrote and wrote and then read and then wrote again.  She became so utterly dedicated to her labours that she didn’t even hear Tom come in.
     “Still at it?” he asked as cheerfully as he could, trying to mask the slight irritation he felt by passing it off as mere surprise. He hung up his coat and rubbed his hags together—a peculiar gesture, when you really look at it (as violet immediately did), that apparently announced a genial and hearty “what’s next?” kind of inquiry.
     “I’ve been at it all day,” Violet told him.  “I rather lost track of the time.”
     “So there’s no dinner?”
     “Well, not yet anyhow,” replied Violet, “but there soon could be.”
     “Like what?” asked Tom suspiciously.
     “Well, I could make a pasta,’ said Violet.  “And a salad.”
     “Okay.  What kind of a pasta?”
     Violet thought for a moment.
     “How about a nice spicy Fettuccini Puttanesca?” she asked him.  “Tomato sauce, onions, red peppers, chillies, black olives, anchovies, artichoke hearts, capers, oregano….”
     Wonderful!” said Tom, cheering up somewhat. “You got all that stuff?”
     “I think so.  So listen, I’ll start getting things ready and you put on the water for the fettuccini, alright?”
     Tom rather sullenly out down the newspaper he had just picked up.
     “Violet, I’ve had a really long, demanding day,” he told her.
     She looked at Tom, sitting heavily in his favourite chair. “Fettuccini Puttanesca, which is to say, fettuccini as the whores like it,” Violet thought to herself.
     “I know dear,” she told him.  

     May was sitting in her workspace at the School of Architecture, trying to come up with a more elegant solution for the design of a central atrium for a Mediterranean summer home than she had managed so far.
What he had done was pedestrian, heavy, without nuance.  
     Her T.A., a gaunt young man wearing severe Le Corbusier spectacles, hadn’t been very impressed either.  His name was Hugo Hayden and he was still, in this new age of architectural détente and “healing,” an unregenerate post-deconstructivist.
     Your scheme is too resolved,” Hugo told her.  “What you want,” he insisted, “is something that seems more unsolicited.  Your idea shows too much agenda,” he insisted, taking a pencil and scribbling “TMA” across the bottom of one of her drawings.  May looked at the three letters and then at Hugo and then down at the three letters again.  “TMA.”  Thanks Mister Asshole! she thought merrily to herself.
     “Do you understand what I mean?” Hugo asked her, looking for just a second too long down the front of her blouse.
     “Oh yes,” said May, in a tone so steady you could check it with a spirit level.  “I think so.”  She immediately felt a little better to think that the lofty Mr. Hayden had merely been reading the back issues of Volume magazine again.  ‘Unsolicited’ indeed, thought May.


Rory and his suddenly acquired muse, Bongo Bearance, were strolling east on Queen Street—past the street’s viral breakout of semi-chic restaurants, and its scattering of fast food outlets and clothing stores.
     “There used to be used bookstores all along here,” Rory observed. 
     “Tons of them!” said Bongo. “I especially miss Abelard Books.  I miss it very much.”
     “Me too.”
     “I once bought a really gorgeous three-volume set of Boswell’s Life of Johnson there.”
     “Nice,” said Rory, thinking it was a pleasantly odd sensation to be walking through the city with a woman who had read Sam Johnson.
     Bongo suddenly smiled rather puckishly at him. 
     “Do you know Johnson’s definition, in his Dictionary, of ‘sonneteer’?”
     “Johnson wrote a dictionary?”
     “He did.  In 1755.  All by himself!”
     “And so what is a sonneteer?” Rory asked, feeling he really didn’t want to know very badly.
     “Sonneteer,” writes Johnson.  “A small poet.”
     She laughed merrily, as if this revelation was the most amusing thing she’d heard for a long time.
     “Why is that funny?” Rory asked her.
     “Because,” said Bongo, poking him sharply in the chest with her right index finger, “that’s you, my poetaster friend!”
     “A small poet?”
     “Not in stature of course,” Bongo giggled, looking at him admiringly from head to toe, “but in poetic ambition, aspiration, vista, and all that, you are, so to speak, housebound.”
     Rory sighed.
     “Housebroken,” he added.
     Bongo smiled.  “So what are we going to do about it?”
     “Well, I’m supposed to be your muse, aren’t I?”
     “I was half kidding.”
     “Well I wasn’t,” said Bongo gaily.  “I’m on the job.  I’m taking this muse business very seriously!”
     Rory didn’t know whether to be pleased or apprehensive.  He decided to allow himself to be both.
     They had reached University Avenue and turned north.
     “I hate this street,” said Rory.  “It’s wide and civic and hard and impersonal.”
     “I bet you’d like it better if it had a big whacking Arc de Triomph straddling it somewhere.  Then you’d think you were in Paris and you’d feel all noble and exhilarated!”
     Twenty minutes later they were turning into the University campus.
     “Let’s go to Hart House and have tea!” said Bongo.
     “Hart House?  I haven’t been there for years.”
     “I go there all the time,” said Bongo happily.  For me, it’s still fragrant with the effluvia of Lawren Harris and A.Y. Jackson and Emily Carr and Carl Schaefer and Northrop Frye all those brilliant, larger-than-life people!”
     “The last time I was there,” said Rory glumly, somebody had backed a chair into a painting by E,J Hughes and put a dent in it.”
     “That’s awful,” said Bongo.
     “What’s more awful is that nobody seemed to notice—or care.”
     “Well,’ replied Bongo, “that’s where you have to locate your poetry.”
     “What do you mean?”
     “In the realm of damage and remembrance—among other carefully chosen locales.”
     They had their tea.  Rory ordered a cinnamon roll, but it was stale, and he threw it in the garbage.
     “More poetry,” said Bongo.


Rory Pendrift swilled the last of his cafe latte—now ice cold.  The cup was stuck all over inside with recalcitrant bits of crema, hard now like the stubborn, mussy snowdrifts of early spring.
     Rory made his way out into the glare of a sunny Queen Street morning.  It was shaping itself into another aimless day, he thought to himself, as he paused a minute to ponder whether to walk east or west.  He chose east.
     It was part of Rory’s contention, as he proceeded to pick up the threads of his fitful, fragmented but ongoing analysis of the causes and meanings of his rudderlessness, that everything would be different if he hadn’t been saddled with his absurdly ambitious father, the Old Artificer, who was now throwing up condo buildings all over Toronto. 
     “Ivanhoe!!” he said out loud as he walked, thus considerably unnerving a middle-aged woman passing in the other direction.  “Why call a condo Ivanhoe?  You may as well call It Classics Illustrated!! 
     In fact the whole idea of naming was causing Rory distress.  How, for example, could he ever have titled his first—and so far only—book of poetry Dragon’s Breath? It was so fucking quaint.  So goddammed Arthur Rackham!               So gruesomely Edmund Dulac!  Every word in the stupid book seemed to Rory to sprout elves ears.  Every thought came equipped with little pointed leathern shoes curled up at the toes.  He fervently he wished he could recall all 250 copies that had been printed—at his own expense.  Well, maybe he still could.  It wasn’t as of any of them had sold.
     Six blocks further east on Queen Street, he went in to another coffee shop, sat in the front window—the chair now broiling with the blanketed heart of the midmorning sun, and—stupidly, he knew—ordered a second latte.  It came promptly, far too promptly somehow, and by the end of the second sip, Rory knew it wasn’t a latte he wanted at all. 
     He wanted a muse. 
     But where did you get a muse
     High-powered fashion designers had muses, he knew.  Like Valentino.  Like Yves Saint Laurent.  Maybe Karl Lagerfeld.  Alexander McQueen sort of did.  But did poets have muses?  Real ones, he meant, not remote Robert-Graves-White-Goddesses lounging about in the night sky.
     It’s what I need,” Rory said in a loud voice over his latte.
     “What’s what you need?” asked a young woman he hadn’t yet bothered to notice who was sitting a few seats over from him in the greenhouse-hot front window.   She was toying with an espresso and gazing at Rory with something like bemusement.
     “A muse,” he said, scarcely glancing at her.
     “Why?” she asked him.
     “So I can write better poetry.”
     “How does this muse person help with that?” she asked. 
     “I’m not really at all sure,” replied Rory, taking a sip of his unwanted coffee.  “She just helps you be a better writer somehow.”
     “But how?”
     “I told you,” said Rory, beginning to grow agitated, “I don’t know how.”
     “But you expect this muse person to know, right?” she said.
     “Well, I think they’re trained to know all that stuff,” replied Rory weakly.
     “Oh yeh?  Where do they get that kind of knowledge? The girl asked him.  “Is there s school for muses?”
     I know you can get a museology degree,” Rory said.
     The girl smirked.
     “That’s for studying museums!” she told him.  “Are you sure you’re a poet?  You don’t really seem very bright!”
     “Oh I guess I’m not, really,” Rory told her.  Not knowing what to say next, he them decided to gaze out the window onto the street and stay gazing until a certain number of people had strode by.  He watched them with little interest, just letting them settle into time like beads on a string.  After a few moments, he turned back to the girl.
     “Twenty-six.” She said.
     You let twenty–six people go by before you looked at me again.  An entire alphabet!”
     “Really?  Twenty-six?  I didn’t do it on purpose.”
     “Well, not consciously, anyhow.”
     “You counted them?”
     “Oh, not really,” she told him.  I just looked up when it felt as if an alphabet’s worth of people had passed by our window!”
     Rory was becoming intrigued by this strange girl, despite his best efforts not to be.
     “Who are you?” he asked her.
     “Who are you, first?” she asked back.  “I don’t want to be first into the fray.”
     :My name he is Rory Pendrift.”
     “A contradiction in terms,” she laughed.  “Rory is fierce like the roar of the MGM lion, while ‘Pendrift’ is tentative and goalless, a scratchy pen meandering across the paper, looking for completion, for closure, for haven, for rest.  You don’t know where the hell you’re going do you, Rory Pendrift,” she smiled.
     “No,” he answered quietly. 
     “So what‘s’ your name?”
     “Bongo,” she told him. “Bongo Bearance.”  
     She took a final sip of her espresso.
     “My father named me that—after a little cartoon bear in the funny papers when he was a kid.  Bongo rolled around everywhere on a unicycle.  He was a Disney character, but he was never very popular, and Disney finally dropped him. My real name,” she added sweetly, “is Bailey Bearance.  But Bongo sort of stayed with me.”
     “I like it,” said Rory.

     “Me too,” grinned Bongo.