canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

Canada, Man. Canada!

by Steve Hansen

It's déjà vu all over again, as Calvin sits crumpled in the passenger seat, his forehead pressed against the glass, watching the silhouette of a moose on the yellow sign receding in the sideview mirror. Fucking welcome back to Canada. This time, though, it's not a torn anterior cruciate ligament that's got him down, it's a pair of aching balls.

"Apres le deluge," he recites disdainfully.

The effete snobbery of the French, mixed in with the descendants of the dirty, treasonous, North-fleeing Royalists! Fucking Canada! He glances at his wife as he leans forward and cups his scrotum through his jeans. "You-"

"That oil refinery on the other side of the river," says his wife, Claudia, one hand on the steering wheel whilst the other gestures vaguely with a chocolate Timbit. "I wonder, does that flame always stay lit?"

Filtered through the throb of scrotal trauma, Calvin calculatingly regards his wife and says, "I really, really don’t think so."

Yet the story does not begin here, but here:

Claudia, cakehole aficionado and consummate expert on everything, upon departing from the Avis lot of the Saint John Airport insisted Canadians drive on the left side of the road. Having been to Canada only by bus back during his hockey days, it seemed to Calvin that Canadians drove on the right side of the road just like their southern neighbors.

"They’re French!" she screamed, as they stood staring at one another over the matte blue finish of the Chevy's hood.

"And?" said Calvin. "This isn’t Gay Pahreee is it?"

"Dumb ass." Claudia reached for the door handle as she shook her head and looked at the ground, smiling, full of the bitchy confidence of a woman. "I can’t believe you’re so dumb."

Half to spite her and half because he didn't know -- Calvin started driving on the left side of the road. In France, how do you say, "Mommy!" he wondered, jerking the wheel right just in time to avoid the semi truck lumbering over the hill and a very messy left embankment menage a' deux.

Seeing as how the statute of limitations for any kind of female fuck-up is inordinately fleeting, Claudia’s faux pas afforded Calvin some leverage he’d have to use quick. A window of carte blanche opportunity had opened for him to go berserk and call her a "stupid snatch," but he was no dummy. Instead, he calmly reached out and turned the radio dial away from her preferred lite vomit rock and didn’t stop until he found the CBC.

"What’s this shit?"

"After that near miss," Calvin said calmly. "I need the gentle reassurance of the spoken word."

"Sssssssss," she hissed, but did not retaliate.

As they drove toward Saint John, they learned that Canadians can’t stand temperatures over 30 celsius (Not quite 90 degrees in common American parlance. Calvin always knew they were a bunch of fucking wimps!); that some citizens with government approval to grow a few medical marijuana plants were insisting they be given the right to now grow upwards of 300 (What shit! he thought as he merged onto the coastal highway. They just want to legalize pushing dope!); and that 80 percent of school-age Canadians believed America was an evil regime (All you kiddies just keep sucking Michael Moore's dick and have a nice hot cup of 'shut the fuck up.' We're more than happy to do the heavy lifting).

"Oh!" blurted Claudia pointing at the dense pine forest as they sped down the highway.

"Looks a lot like I remember it," said Calvin. "It’s pretty, but what’s the big freakin' deal?"

"That pine tree has two tops," Claudia said excitedly, poking the glass with her index finger.

"Oh!" Calvin blurted as if he was passing a particularly large kidney stone out his pee hole.

They zipped along the highway saying nothing as a Canadian broadcaster pronounced the word 'about' all wrong, and droned on a boat the dearth of good socialist doctors. Calvin wasn’t sure what Claudia’s silence meant for him, but he tightened up his stomach muscles just in case. After a few minutes, he relaxed, and that's when Claudia punched him.

"Oh!" said Claudia as Calvin swerved down the highway trying to catch his breath. "Never ever mock me."

Never let your guard down when dealing with women. Or Canadians. Not even for a second. Just when you think everything's fine, it isn't. Canadians, you know, they’re French. Napoleon ordered his cooks to have a chicken always roasting because there was no way to know when he would be galloping back into camp. Ah, Nappy, that you should never have to see the golden roasters your transplanted countrymen have become! And women? Please.

Calvin drove at a leisurely 100kph (62 mph) and figured the Chevy cavalier (At least it wasn’t a fucking Citreon) only burned up one or two litres (about ¼ to 1/2 gallon) of petrol (gas) on the drive over from the airfield. As they crested the rise up from the steel-tube contortions of the Irving Oil Refinery, the Saint John skyline surprised Calvin by how much it had changed. Or perhaps he just didn’t remember all that well, since it was a town he would just as soon forget.

It seemed a city of time warps plopped down willy nilly on that escarpment by the bay. A green, smoked-glass highrise butt-ended an ancient looking stiletto-spired soot-black church, and a lopsided brick distillery stood across the street from a concrete parking garage. There were many other time and space dichotomies to be seen in the contents of Saint John, and, perhaps, he was too preoccupied with them because soon -- as he tried to negotiate the numerous cloverleaf interchanges going over the Saint John River -- he found himself lost.

Claudia leaned over and switched off the radio and said, "You're lost, aren't you?"

"That damn donut shop was just on the other side of the bridge, wasn’t it?" Calvin said.

He thought they had entered some kind of trans-dimensional time loop. Each off ramp they came down from, into what seemed to be a new part of town, had them passing a (the same!?) square brick building with a big white sign with red letters on it reading "Tim Hortons." After the fourth goround of this temporal hokey pokey, Calvin hit the brakes and turned into the parking lot expecting -- with each rotation of his Michelins -- the ghost of Rod Serling to jump from the bushes and scream, "Boo!"

Canada wasn't Canada, anymore. Canada had become Tim Hortons.

"Ask them if they know where Main Street is, will you," said Claudia, "and you might as well get some donuts while you're at it."

"How in the world," said Calvin, sliding his fingers off the door handle, "can you think about donuts," he continued, as he turned to face her, "at a time like this?"

"You’re such a fool," said Claudia, trying to hide the smile threatening to overwhelm her disgust.

"Oh!" Calvin blurted, then bolted from the car like a moose in the crosshairs determined not to get slugged. He zipped across the parking lot, nonchalanted his way through the glass doors and almost hit his head on a hanging rhododendron.

"Hey!" he shouted to the kid behind the register. "What’s with the freaking flower?"

"Yah," said the kid. "It’s OK."

Apparently, Tim Horton’s wasn’t worried about tall Canadians patronizing their Canada-wide hundred thousand stores, and only seemed interested in the short-fat crowd. Not that any tall Canadians would be brazen or blatantly American enough to lay charges (file suit) for rhododendron-induced head trauma.

"Ecoute, pullet tete" said Calvin. "Could you tell me where Main Street is."

The kid scratched his chickenhead through his paper Tim Hortons hat and said, "Yah, OK. Sure. A boat one kilometre Est on Rue Charlotte, errr pardone em mois, street."

Sweat slithered down Calvin's back as he stood there trying to decipher the kid's franglais, earnestly wondering, 'What boat?' He was also intensely annoyed by the kid himself; and how the kid's top lip kind of stuck to his teeth when he talked. And before he had a chance, the French fuck blind-sided him just like Ogey LaRouche, that other Canadian villian from his distant past.

"You are Amer-kahn," said the kid, with extra insipid nasality.

"No I'm not!" replied Calvin, spinning back toward the counter, suddenly and strangely afflicted by the desperate and all-too-human urge to fit in.

'Holy St. Peter,' he thought as he heard himself deny his own nationality, 'it's contagious like a disease! Once you cross the border, there is no escape. Just like Brutus or Benedict Arnold. I’m a traitor!' Calvin glanced up and scanned the menu. "For Christ’s sake, just give me 30 Timbits."

"Very well," said the haughty Canadian. "It eez ayt dol-ars et twanty cent."

"Viola!" Calvin said, suddenly an adept and thorough bon vivant. Only after he’d laid the American $20 bill onto the counter did he realize that his treacherous denial was now utterly tendered, exposing him as an all-too-obvious international fraud. Part of him wanted to hum all four verses of "God Bless America," but the most influential part of him -- the plexus nexus of all his disparate parts -- stood silent and let the shame of being ashamed wash over all of his hims in silent amber waves.

"How dooz Poof Daddy say," the kid gloated, pushing the timbits across the counter to Calvin, picking up the American twenty with his other hand. "Eez all a boat zee Jeefer-sones?"

"Damn terrorist sympathizers," muttered Calvin, swiping his timbits off the counter as the kid made change. "If it wasn’t for us, well, you know, I don't--"

"Sank you for shoozing Tim Hortons," sniffed the kid, slapping a Canadian ten and a five on the Formica counter, splashing a few coins over the top. "Yahnkee imperialist dog."

"Yeah?" said Calvin, shoving the paper money into his pocket, then tossing the coins onto a tray of scones, not realizing he'd just thrown away a Tuney. "Keep your filthy coin, Canada boy."

As he turned to leave, Calvin had the misfortune of sticking his nose into the Adam’s apple of someone who, he realized, couldn’t very well avoid the hanging rhododendron either. He halted his forward progress and took a step back.

"Holy shit, man," said Calvin, trying to not pinch a panic load, trying to front bravery.

The immense Canadian smiled and pointed at the solid red maple leaf on his white t-shirt and screamed, "Canada, man. Canada!"

Later, he'd feel ashamed, but Calvin beat it out of there toute suite, figuring an indignant retreat was better than a pummeling at the hands of some Quebecois goon. The ignominious legacy of Ogey Larouche, even, could not forestall him. Halfway to the car, though, Calvin's righteous indignation kicked in, and he jounced to a full stop. A patriotic impulse -- or perhaps the belated guilt of a turncoat pussy -- made him burst into song.

"Oh-hoh say can you see! …"

"Oh Canada!" boomed a contingent of outraged French Canadians who spilled out of Tim Hortons, led by North o’the Border Gigantor.

Calvin tried to ignore them and started screeching the anthem like a recent and still bleeding castration. "BY THE DAWNS EARLY LIGHT!"

But damned if he could compete with them.


"Ahhhh," said Calvin, stopping his singing and raising his timbits. "Stick a baguette in it!

He was about to launch his cluster bomb of delicious snack cake, when, just as his arm shot forward, the box was snatched away. He’d put everything he had into that fling, and -- thanks to the nefarious machinations of his wife -- found himself following through with nothing but a fist: a fast-moving, eight-knuckled bludgeon tracing a fatal arc through time and space, that blasted him gonzo in the pants.


From the bluff you can see the whole city. The Hilton sign glowing 'HI TON'-red mingling with the muted brick and smoked glass office buildings smoldering in the fading light, and the black metal spires of the churches stretching indefatigably toward heaven. This modest skyline of old and new stands watch as a container ship slips through the calm waters of Saint John Harbour toward the wide expanse of Fundy Bay, itself dwarfed by the frozen promise and ominous uncertainty of the ocean beyond the southern tip of Nova Scotia.

In the corner of the top of the ScotiaBank building an orange flame dances, and -- though he wants it be the progenitor of a devastating fire that will consume all of Saint John and everything Canadian -- he knows it is only the pilot light of the Irving Oil Refinery about a mile on the other side of the city. He and Claudia had passed the monstrous maze of burnished pipe and behemoth holding tanks earlier on their drive into town – Claudia had even commented on the flame. That eternally-lighted metal torch is being blocked by the Scotiabank building, so that only the orange tip flaring from the pipe is visible on the top of the building, creating the illusion that the bank is on fire.

After he's looked to make sure no one else is around, Calvin pushes himself out of the steel-tube and fabric lawn chair, and stretches his arms out to his sides, holding a beer in each hand for symmetry's sake.

"Yahoo!" calls Claudia from their window on the top floor of the three-story bed and breakfast. "Two fister!"

Wondering if she'll pick up on any of the crucifixion symbolism, Calvin holds his pose.

"Are you still mad at me, Calvin?"

He drops one beer in the grass in order to pop open the other. He takes a drink as he vaguely shakes his head.

"Oh Cal, I didn’t want you to get into a fight," says Claudia. "And I didn't want you to throw away all those donuts! You're not still mad at me, are you? Now that I've explained everything and said 'I'm sorry,' now at least a hundred thousand times?"

His mind drifts back to that unfortunate scene: his lips had puckered and his cheeks had sucked in as if someone had stuck a heavy duty suction tube up his ass. He recalls the hoots and big laughing and what he's positive were French epithets and unkind sports made at his expense as he lay gasping in the parking lot, rolled up like a bug. Claudia knelt beside him, holding the Timbits like a box of precious jewels. And as he sits there drinking Budweiser and remembering his earlier humiliation he sarcastically thinks, 'What the fuck do I have to be mad about?'

"How could I be mad at you," Calvin says lugubriously, sucking down some beer, "when I’m so mad about you?"

Claudia giggles. "I’m ready for you, lover boy. Are you too drunk to …?"


"Just wondering if you can get-"

"Of course!" he blurts, raising his voice just enough to waylay her. "I’ll be right there."

Cars zoom across the bridges and cloverleaf interchanges spanning the harbour below Calvin's promontory. The moon rises, a rounded oval, almost full, over the city and the bay. He steps forward, stumbles dangerously close to the edge of the cliff, just barely righting himself. Then he blinks and focuses his bleary eyes, and can just make out one corner of Harbour Station arena. Mon Deux! He takes a giant step back, then gazes down to the mouth of the harbour where the ship bellows mournfully its entrance into the deeper waters of the bay.

"Adieu, la grande bateaux," he says, cobbling together a sentence from the meager vocabulary recalled from high school French and the Frenchies from his amateur hockey days. "Je ne comprende pas la claire de lune."

"Prochaine zee leviathanne," he continues boldly, squinting at the moon dust-grained Sea of Tranquillity. "Prochaine la ban de soleil and stars invisee-abla."

He gazes back down at the city, and in a flash the "L" less "HI TON" sign metamorphosis into a picture of the strange circumstances that have brought him back to this fateful city where he was HIT a TON. Fate or just dumb luck that Claudia happened across a Web site lauding the Fundy Bay coast as a haven for whales and heaven for those who watch them. And that she should book a bed and breakfast in the city of Saint John.

"Je pense, jusqu’a, je suis," he gargles, remembering Des Carte and his nonsensical proclamation. Then he steps to the very edge of the cliff, fancying himself le nombre un linguiste du Francophone, and says with the gravity of a philosopher, "Quel t'appelle mon cherie?"

What is your name, my dear wife? he muses desperately, then makes the mistake of looking down instead of keeping his sight focused on the ship and the water.

"Mais Non!" he gasps, jaw a’dangle as he stares down at the street below. "C’est impossee-abla!"

The irony center of his brain reprocesses the brick building, the white sign and the red letters for the ten thousandth millisecond snapshot of time and reconfirms that these impulses have not been incorrectly directed.

"Damn you!" he screams, in anger and in awe. "I hate you Tim Hortons!" He shakes his fist and rails, acutely unaware that, at the same time, he is falling in love.



Being so close to climax, Calvin had rationalized the metallic groans as the -- albeit louder and more strained than usual –- metronomic accompaniment of such voluptuary fait accompli performed with springs. And until the big bang boom sent him ass over proboscis, he never would have guessed that his powerful thrusts were compromising the structural integrity of the welded frame. It is a defect, he thinks as he does a flying Walenda over Claudia onto the hardwood floor, landing on his back with a thump. Or the extra weight accumulated here, he thinks (even as the air has left his body and he can no longer breathe), palming the dome of blubber his belly has become.

"Okey?" cries Claudia, ass-half on the tilted mattress, breasts pressed against wood. "Do you want to butt fuck a red neck?"

"Nuhuh" says Calvin, spent and breathless. "Want you … finish … first."

To try and stop himself from coming, he'd been recalling his darkest moment. It had worked before, and what better place to invoke the dastardly deed than in Ogey Larouche's own city?

"Stupid, stupid, stupid bed!" Claudia yells.

"S' OK," gasps Calvin, "Pull mattress off-"

"I want to have an orgasm!"

Calvin breathes deeply for the first time since his header and says, "Let the good times roll, baby."

"It’s too late!" says Claudia, slapping him away and his crude advances. "Stop it!"

Fucking Canadians can’t even make a bed strong enough to withstand one American screw, stews Calvin as he helps Claudia pull the mattress, then the box springs from off the broken metal frame.

"Who the hell is Okey?"

"Dunno," says Calvin. "Someone from Oklahoma?"

"Dammit, Cal," says Claudia, not distracted by his half-assed attempt at diversionary humor. "Who’s Okey?"

"Old news," says Calvin, flopping down on the mattress and box springs. "Now come to papa."

Hands on hips, Claudia looms over her husband like an ancient Greek sculpture of the Goddess of No Fucking Around and says, "Remember the deal, Calvin. No secrets."

Calvin stares up at her au natural defiance and thinks of clams. He sighs then breathes her in, the metallic tang of a sweaty handful of nickels, dimes and quarters. He closes his eyes and smiles, 'Oh, how I long to bury my face in all that change!'

"Calvin," insists Claudia. "For the last time, who the fuck is Okey?"

"Ogey!" shouts Calvin, sitting up. "Not fucking Okey, Ogey! Ogey! Like 'Oh Gee' minus the long 'G'! Ogey! OK?"

"Oh Gay," says Claudia.

"His name was Ogey LaRouche," says Calvin, combing his fingers through his hair and standing. "He busted me up." He walks to the window and pulls back the curtain. "Down there in Saint John's Arena."

"Oh!" blurts Claudia, whacking her palm against her forehead. "You never told me that!"

Quelle t'appelle ma mari? Calvin slumps his shoulders and walks back to their stumpy bed. "He ended my career."

"You told me you quit hockey so you could go to college."

"I sort of lied," continues Calvin, sitting down heavily on the mattress. "I had prospects."

"Really," says Claudia, hugging her stomach and sitting down next to Calvin, but not close enough to touch. "So what does that mean about--"

"I’d scored 50 goals that season with Wilkes-Barre," interrupts Calvin. "It was only a matter of time before I made the bigs. Then one night … kaput." …

That night the Harbour Station arena ice was making love to Calvin's skate blades. He'd already scored 2 goals and was breaking in all alone to make a bid for one more. The goalie was back in his crease, down in his butterfly before Calvin had even skated across the center line. The Saint John team had been on a powerplay, had been working the puck down low when one of the Wilkes-Barre defensemen made a wild stab at a clear and the puck squirted out of the zone, ending up on Calvin's stick with nothing in the way of his hat trick but open ice and a mind-fucked goalie he’d been terrorizing all night long.

As he flew over the blue line into the Saint John zone, he’d made up his mind to go stick side low, and was about to deke hard left to pull the goalie out of position, when everything went black.

Ogey LaRouche had been defending Calvin during all his regular shifts, but had been on the Saint John bench during the powerplay in question -- Calvin's last ever professional time on the ice. Since Ogey couldn’t stop Calvin fair and square, he’d determined to take him out by hook or by hip check or any means necessary. The way it was told to Calvin later is, the second the puck connected with the blade of his stick and he was on his way to a shorthanded breakaway, Ogey LaRouche jumped over the boards and onto the ice, zeroed in like a torpedo, and cut the unsuspecting Calvin clean at the knees.

"My head was the first thing that hit the ice," says Calvin, finishing his tale of woe. "Besides the concussion, both knees where fucking shot."

"So then I came along," says Claudia, inspecting her nails, "and we lived happily ever after."

"Why not," says Calvin, glancing at her sidelong with a half smile.

"Sure, pal," she says, cracking her knuckles.

Calvin warily folds his forearms across his belly and says, "Je ne comprende pa quoi." Smooth sounding words he hopes will break the somber tenor of the conversation, but which he knows she probably will not understand.


It is 5am in New Brunswick, but his watch still reads 2 am Mountain Standard Time. Glass jars of granola line the breakfast bar, separating the dining area from the kitchen’s black, wrought-iron stove and deep sink. Claudia is still upstairs. Calvin's eyes drift shut. He partially misses his mouth with a forkful of gooey Eggs Benedict, then swipes his napkin across his chin to remove the Hollandaise sauce.

Beatrice the proprietess of the manor, bustles behind the bar, pokes her head above a mason jar, and says "Your wife, yah. She is coming?"

"Perhaps," deadpans Calvin, annoyed to be stating the obvious. "Though late. That woman is always … late."

Claudia shuffles in, the sallow queen of pretreated undeadness. "N’late." She underhands a sweatshirt to Calvin and points her gnarly finger in his sticky face. "Too early!"

Beatrice hurries to the table with Claudia’s plate of eggs, her clogs striking the wooden floor like ceremonial cannonades. "Do tell me if the eggs are cold."

Claudia screws her fists into her eye sockets and slurs, "S’ok."

"Are you excited about the whales?" asks Calvin.

"Sh' yeah," says Claudia as she sits and forks up some egg and English muffin drenched in Hollandaise. "I'm exciting."

"You know the Grand Manaan Ferry leaves at 7:30."

"Yah. You two should be leaving toute suite."

"C’est vrai," says Calvin.

Claudia furrows her brow and pouts her lip.

"Hurry up, darling," he amends, "or we’ll miss the boat."

At the pier, the boat, more appropriately a ship, Calvin estimates, opens up its steel maw like something in a James Bond film and cars drive down the ramp and disappear inside. Fifth wheels towed by Escalades, giant Winnebagoes and monstrous Mac eighteen wheelers: nothing is too big for the voracious sea monster. Calvin stands above them on the forecastle, having already boarded topside, and counts. Beside him, Claudia stands by the rail and puts cotton in her ears. The wind off the water licks their cheeks with salty tongued vigor as the seamen in orange reflective vests below stop the flow of traffic and ready the vessel to sail.

One truck bomb and we're all visiting Davy Jones' locker, Calvin says to himself, scanning the decks for swarthy Middle Easterners. He hearkens back to the Achille Lauro and Abu Nidal and that poor Klinghoffer schmuck the bastards executed in his wheelchair then threw overboard.

"C'est la vie apres le seicle."

"What?" says Claudia.

"Fifty cars and some big trucks," yells Calvin. "Zero Muslims."

"How many cars do you think this thing can hold?" screams Claudia, pushing the cotton deeper into her ears.

The good ship Grand Manaan V bulls crosswise through the scalloping waves and glacial head winds. Calvin leans forward against the rail and pushes his fists together inside the monopocket of his black fleece. His knees ache, and he wonders how Toulouse Latrec and his poor, recalcitrant bones managed to make it as long as they did. Now there was a man with some knee trouble.

In the distance Grand Manaan Island straddles the horizon, a hazily glimpsed variation upon the theme of endless and vast. The sightseers have retreated to the shelter of the galley and their hot cocoas and coffees, but Calvin is determined not to experience this passage through glass. To beat the cold, he keeps in motion, viewing the Atlantic from all parts of the ship: the aft deck, from port and starboard and now finally from the front view deck in the bow.

"Damn you LaRouche!" he bellows into the freezing wind, pinching his cheeks to stave off numbness. A spray of mist jets from the waves in his peripheral vision and he spins around toward what it is he thinks he saw. Only seconds pass before another atomized V breaches the rolling sea. Calvin pounds the steel rail with his fists, jumps up and down and points and hollers, "Thar she blows!"

His words are lost on the wind and to the steady thrum of the giant diesels, and no one hears and, as far as he knows, no one else sees the glistening hump arcing above the surface. Even from such a great distance, he can make out the bumpy, barnacle-encrusted skin as it slides slowly between the whitecaps. If only Claudia was here, he muses, she’d forget about the cold and the wind. You can’t think of this as a hardship, but as an opportunity to do something you’ve never done and, perhaps, see something you’ve never seen before. Another V bursts from the waves, and, before it dissipates, the wind pulls and stretches it into a wordless, comic-strip balloon.

In the distance, the leading edge of Grand Manaan Island materializes from the haze: a lighthouse beckons from the tip of a rocky peninsula and a fishing boat pursued by a smear of white gulls putters just off the coastline. Dumping guts, Calvin surmises, just as the huge whale tail flaps straight up from the surface of the waves and stands there on the water a moment before it, seemingly grudgingly, sinks into the sea.

"Did you see it!" shouts Claudia, startling Calvin from his solitude.


"The whale!" she says, pulling the folds of Calvin's watchcap over his eyes.

"You saw the whale?" says Calvin, folding back the black-dyed wool cap so that he can see again.

"Yes!" shouts Claudia.

"I thought, I was the only one..."

"From the window!" exclaims Claudia.

"Through the glass?" says Calvin.

"Duh," says Claudia as she hunches her shoulders and grasps Calvin's arm. "For God’s sake, it’s too fucking cold out here!"

The ferry rounds the peninsula and the light house, and the pier in the distance is painted green and buoyed with bunched pilings at the corners that the ship compresses as it docks along side. Calvin's teeth chatter as he puts his arm around Claudia’s shoulders and pulls her close.


"Let it all out," says Claudia, rubbing Calvin's back as he leans over the side and gives his Eggs Benedict up to the sea. "Don’t hold back."

Who the fuck is holding back? Calvin's wonders as twice-brewed java sprays out his nose, rerouted to that alternate sinus cavity in deference to the Hollandaise and the acidic sops of egg and English muffin cascading from his mouth.

Shortly after getting underway, Calvin had started feeling green. What had been a slight tremor aboard the epic Grand Manaan V is a gut-juggling pounding aboard the 36-foot converted lobster boat.

Adrift with engines off, Capt. Gordie drones valiantly from the doorway of the bridge about the historic plight of the endangered Right Whales, as Calvin calls dinosaurs off the stern.

"… they were so named, OK, because they were the 'right' whale to kill. They are slow swimmers, float when dead and produce large quantities of oil and baleen."

The dark rollers advance and recede as the lobster boat rides the chop and Calvin spits away the thick cocktail of bile and saliva clinging to his lips. Jesus God take me now! The lady on the dock had said there were mako in these waters. Calvin prays to Poseidon to send one of those sleek killers to break the surface, take him in its jaws and pull him over for sweet mercy's sake and the love of God!

Instead, another bout of gagging convulses his body and he roars a dry heave at the sea, then limply lies there, exhausted and miserable, with his arms dangling over the side of the boat. Despite his death wish, he's mostly happy Poseidon wasn't listening. Then suddenly, in the valley between two swells, the dark waters beneath Calvin are parted by a row of very white and spikey teeth.

"Shark! Ahhhhh! God! Sharrrrrrrk!" he screams, jerking his body backward and flopping onto the deck.

But what he sees soon registers otherwise, once the sleek grey body tapering to a bottle nose has finished its acrobatic arc and returned to the deep with a splash, as the people on the boat are either laughing or sighing, "Ohhhhhh!"

"Yah," says Capt. Gordie. "Porpoises are pranksters, folks. They love to surprise people."

Claudia covers her mouth as she stares down at Calvin squirming on the deck like a giant spermatozoa.

Claudia: "Are you all right?"

Capt. Gordie: "The presence of porpoises often means…"

Calvin: "Swell."

Capt. Gordie: "…whales aren’t far behind."

"I got it all," says Claudia, wiggling her camcorder hand. "The whole thing."

"The chunk of English muffin bursting from my nostril, too?"

"You’ve had a rough trip, sure," says Capt. Gordie, leaning over Calvin, holding a wicker basket. "How’s about a muffin then?"

Before Calvin says 'Boo,' a collective gasp escapes the crowd as a loud V of mist bursts from the ocean 60 degrees hard off the stern to the starboard side. Camera shutters click and people on the wrong side of the boat hastily do their best to step over Calvin's prone body, but, in their rush to record the surfaced whale, some dispense with common courtesy. After taking some shoe soles in the solar plexus, Calvin rolls over and pushes himself to his feet. Claudia is front row, her knees pressed against the back corner of the boat as she hangs over the ocean, too busy adjusting her camcorder frame to be concerned with falling overboard.

"That’s a Right Whale folks," says Capt. Gordie, having forgotten all about poor Calvin once the whale came on the scene. "They rarely get this close."

Calvin wraps an arm around one of the steel supports holding up the beige canvas canopy. On the downbeat of a roller, he glimpses the immense black body skimming alongside Capt. Gordie's boat like a manhole-encrusted submarine. Then the boat pushes skyward and his view is blocked by the crowd again. Calvin assumes the whoosh he hears is the same whale blowing spray, but the exaggerated cries and coos of the massed watchers and the distinct, terse, "Oh!" of Claudia give him cause to reconsider.

"That’s a calf," narrates Capt. Gordie. "It’s a mother and her calf."

The boat descends into a trough just in time for Calvin to see the huge tail wave goodbye before it slips into the sea. The spectators jinx each other with a collective, "Ahhhhh."

"Mom’s going down to feed," says Capt. Gordie.

A square flipper the size of a newspaper waves on the surface, then the calf spins lazily on its back and waves the other flipper at the boat.

"That’s a big baby," continues Capt. Gordie. "The mothers leave them on the surface while they dive and might be gone as long as half an hour."

"Sharks," blurts Calvin. "What about sharks? Your wife said there were makos up here."

Capt. Gordie removes his baseball cap and scratches his bald spot. "I’ve never witnessed an attack, but I'm sure it happens, sure."

The people massed starboard for to see the big baby of the sea, glance over their shoulders at Calvin with scowls on their wind-burned faces.


Calvin leans an elbow on the red Formica table and shakes his head. Canadians walk around the rhododendron without protest or the slightest perturbation, as if such an obstacle is natural and to be expected in the doorway of your local donut shop.

Calvin swishes his last swallow of coffee in its styrofoam cup, then tilts the cup to his lips and gulps. Claudia's cheeks bulge with masticated donut and cream filling. She wants to say something, but gives up halfway between the thought and it's actual verbal execution.


Eyes wide as St. Patrick's Day Timbits, Claudia points at herself and shakes her head as if she doesn't know what Calvin is talking about.

"You were going to say something."

"No," says Claudia once she's swallowed. "No. It's just that, well, since hockey didn't work out for you, I'm glad I, at least, did."

"You sure did," says Calvin, nodding. "I'm sort of happy life didn't turn out to be just a boring bucket of pucks."

"Or a bowl of cherries," says Claudia, sizing up the remaining bite of donut tweezered in her fingers.

"Do you know," says Calvin, unrolling his Canadian money flat on the table, "that the exchange rate is almost exactly the same ratio as kilometers to miles?"

Nonplussed by her husband's petty randomness, Claudia flips the donut remnant in her mouth and chews.

"About two thirds," continues Calvin, nodding and smiling, strangely proud, not exactly sure why he feels this way, or how to go about putting this modest discovery into any kind of practical use or perspective. "Deux-troisment: d'argent Americain au Canadienne avec kilometres a milles."

"Oh Cal," says Claudia, biting her lip and shaking her head slowly. "I don't know French, but I know you don't speak it worth shit." She slinks her arms across the crummy Formica table, closes her hands around his ratty collar and bypasses all of his defenses with her impenetrable, sea-green eyes. "All I really want to know is, do you love me?"

Mind-fucked and brain-locked, Calvin sits there with his lips forming a perfect O, seemingly in anticipation of the deposition of a fat Timbit. A door opens. Calvin is presented with a choice and a decision, a guilty stay of execution or a chance to finally break what has already been broken long ago. The man wearing a Dallas Stars jersey steps over the threshold and cracks his head on the wooden rhododendron planter.

"What the…!" The man touches his forehead, then glares at the cashier. "Hey!"

Calvin is there before the man can make his same mistake twice. Behind him, Claudia is sprawled on top of the table where Calvin dragged her before she had realized she better let go of his collar or be dragged onto the floor.

"Don’t try and make sense of it," gasps Calvin, slicing the air between them with a hail of karate chops, hoping to radiate a bold and definitive aura. "Because it-"

"Who the hell are you," drawls the knot headed man, "Bruce freakin' Lee?"

Calvin drops his hand self consciously and tries to think of a new approach to defuse this unimaginably possible Situation Volatile.

"And who the hell hangs a gol'dern flower pot," he says, peering menacingly over Calvin's shoulder at the paper-hatted Tim Hortons clerks milling about like automata amongst the stacked donut trays behind the steel counter, "in a public freaking doorway!"

For one moment, the man's indignation sounds so righteous, so sensible to Calvin, he almost turns to join the fight with his new found brother-in-arms. Then it hits him like a punch in the gut. He grabs the stranger by the shoulders and traps him with his eyes.

"You're American, right?"

"Damn straight," says the man, rubbing his forehead with the heel of his hand. "What's that got --"

"Don't try and make sense of it," says Calvin, his eyes darting briefly before he leans in close. "It's Canada, man. Canada!"

The man takes a step back from Calvin, brushing his shoulders as if Calvin was made of lint.

Calvin stands back and smiles, gesturing him toward the counter. The man tugs on his collar, nods solemnly and proceeds formally to the cash register and the paper hatted Canadian lad waiting there behind.

Calvin sighs, then turns back to where Claudia waits for her answer. He twists his wedding ring with his right hand as if he was cracking a safe. Why is it so hard now to say it? Claudia looks over and smiles. We have three more days in New Brunswick, thinks Calvin, and after that … the rest of our goddamn lives.

"Are you OK, Calvin?"

Calvin shakes his head as he walks to the booth. With each step back, he sees the whale’s tail sinking into the ocean. And he wonders about flames that burn forever and the constance of love, unsure if he even loves her now or still or ever. Does she ever think such things, he wonders? It is her insistence that they keep no secrets that makes him sure she has as much to hide, and her smile that confounds him so his questions remain unsaid.

All he really knows for certain is the warmth of her touch at night, and when he holds her close and whispers that he will love her always and forever because that is what she needs to hear … and the one thing he has to believe. Marriage is a fait accompli with strings. Attached. Oh Christ, it's not like this was written in the stars! Is it? Why should I make it such a hardship when for here and now and all of this, Ogey LaRouche has made me l'homme tres bonheur?

"Cal?" she says, as he slides into the booth and takes her hand.

"Je t’aime," he says, leaning over and kissing her fingers. "Jusqu’a, je suis."

Claudia bites her lip and rolls her eyes. "But do you--?"

Pressing two fingers against her lips to stop them, Calvin says, "Yes."



Steven Hansen is a contributing editor for and Ink Pot literary journal. He grew up in Iowa, served in the Navy in California and now finds himself in New Mexico with a beautiful wife who loves whales. He's had stories published on the Web in Samsara Quarterly, FRiGG Magazine and The Paumanok Review. You can contact him at







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ISSN 1494-6114. 


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