canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999


by Melia McClure

You nearly kicked in the door and I slept right through it. One of those peach pills on my tongue, tastes like cream gone off in the heat. I lick my front teeth after I swallow it.

Your sheets are dirty, always dirty, but I like that. Pillowcase smells like lamb. There are coins by my feet, shiny quarters from your pockets that empty themselves when you toss your pants on the bed. I tuck them between my toes and wave my arms and legs across the cold sheets, like Iím making a snow angel.

I tried to stay awake for you.

Contact lenses out, my eyes sting in the dark room. I should have left the light on, stupid me. I mustíve been falling asleep by the time I saw the green flashing. My heart paused, and then bloomed large in my chest. I thought someone was in the room. (You know Iím sure Iíll die that way.) I canít see him, but I know heís coming for me. Faceless, with hands like shovels that smash my face in, skin peeling back and the sap wells like tears.

Youíre paranoid, you say.

It was only the light from the VCR.


I cut out articles from the paper and show them to you.

I say: Look. A girl was raped in an underground parking lot. It happens.

You say: You have a better chance of being hit by lightening.

Statistics. My feelings are mathematics to you.

I save those articles. I have a filing system. Abbott, Carol. Raped and stabbed four times. Bled out on her kitchen floor. Blair, Bonnie. Shot in the face. A lot of them donít have names, so I use the dates. November Eighth Woman, walking her dog in the park, attacked from behind. True, they are not all local, not all die here. But still, it happens. I search them out. I am thinking of modifying my system, maybe sorting by city.

Lately itís been the Asian girls on my mind, the exchange students. You know my grandmother was Chinese. Smooth as pearl face, eyes beetle-black and tilting. She stares out at me from dusty photographs, an innocent.

So these girls come here, alone or sometimes in twos. Fragile English quivering like the plucks of a lute. Walking home from the grocery store to a rented basement suite, dingy curtains and scummy shower, dragged into the bush, cans scatter on the sidewalk. Or the worst, a Japanese girl tortured for two days in a bathtub.

I lie awake some nights (forgot to take the pills again) and think of these girls. Every muscle in my neck kinks like a garden hose, shoulders nurse my ears. Shadows uncoil on my walls, grow teeth. I invent histories for them, dream up relatives. I want to know their middle names. I wonder what they were doing the hour before.

The bloody details obsess me. I need to know how.

I canít stop.

I watch forensic science shows on TV. I like the entomology parts best. Seasons of rotting flesh attract different bugs. Maggots are guileless, they donít keep secrets.

Youíre a ghoul, you say. And then you turn away.


I remember on our first date I didnít like you. You didnít hold the door open, and bobbed ahead of me on your endless legs; I had to stride long and hard to keep up. Your hard round eyes the colour of marsh blinked less than the average personís, lizard-like. I was stranded on the other side of the table, listening to you say You think? every time I made an observation. I watched a curtain of rain over your shoulder, dark and shiny. I felt like a refugee, the border patrolled by impossibly hard white dinner rolls and butter with a Dairy Queen swirl in it. No asylum there.

And later, at the end of the night, after I had maddeningly discovered that I loved the smell of your skin, you said goodbye and shut the door and I stood alone in the cold night air touching my fingertips to the wood. I walked to my car with my fists clenched tight, eyes darting up and down the deserted rain-slicked street looking out for a man with shovel hands. A fog started to roll in, and I knew no one would hear me scream.


I see the Scottish doctor once a month. She has a straw-coloured shag and pancake make-up. I tell her about the dead girls, the murdered girls, the raped girls. I tell her I know my turn is coming. She tries hard not to yawn, prescribes the miracle salt. She suggests I try hiking.

The night you almost kicked in the door I was dreaming. And when the fat man from downstairs threatened to call the police, and you went back to your car, swearing, to sleep on the back seat, I was dreaming still. You should have remembered your key.

I dreamt I had no skin, the way I imagine my face will look if the man with shovel hands gets a hold of me, except I had no skin at all, anywhere. Fat and muscle (more fat than muscle, I was dismayed to notice) were layered like trifle. My eyes were the cherries. I looked like a bit player from some horror movie, one of the no-budget ones with the boom dangling in every shot. I looked like a butchered fox. I walked down the street at lunchtime, oozing innards. The smell of sushi was in the air. Across the street, half a pig hung in the window of a Chinese market. I sympathized. All around me, people rushed past, the sharp corners of smooth leather briefcases and shopping bags with curling letters pushed into me, taking bits of my ooze with them. No one saw me.


I stay in the bathroom at lunchtime, eating my cheese sandwich. I am thirteen. I have a favourite stall, the one furthest from the door, against the wall. I put the toilet lid down with my foot (I am aware of germs) and climb on top of it. I crouch there, listening. I like to guess who is beside me based on her shoes. A girl with brown oxfords and skinny ankles comes often. Once she dropped her tampons on the floor. I think she must be a cat person. I rearrange the graffiti to make stories. I have learned that fuck is a versatile word. I listen to the sound of myself chewing, the auditory equivalent of eddying water. After school, in the kitchen, I measure milk, crack eggs. I am making a chocolate cake, from a mix. I decorate it with scrolls of whipped cream from a can, foamy flowers. I am trying to impress my father.

At dinner, he hangs low over his plate, staring at his food. His tie is pulled too tight: the hanging man. The frozen dinners are bad, vegetable detritus. He doesnít complain, says nothing.

Lying in bed, I see my motherís face. Her lips were full, satiny red. Cheekbones high, calcium jutting like Dover. Warm hands.

You canít trust the beautiful.


She rolls her cigarettes at the kitchen counter late, and I am warm in the hot salt. My father comes through the back door, hangs up his coat. My mother lights a cigarette, smoke winds to the window where a streetlight funnels back its glow. There is a silence, a wooly face-muffling quiet. They stare at each other from across the room, measuring. Unsmiling. They have just married. Shoulder cramping, I turn over.

Babyís moving, says my mother.

Wonít be long now.


My father is an accountant. He always wears a striped tie. Sometimes in his briefcase there are orange lollipops for me. I wait at the back door for him, watch him come up the walk on his long legs. He always looks at the ground when he walks. Bobs up on his toes ballerina-like, always in danger of falling on his face. Comes through the door, pats me on the head, says nothing. He looks around the kitchen bewildered, as though heís never seen it before. Eyes goggle behind thick glasses, doesnít know where to sit. Bobs to the sink, leans over it, groaning. Faucet runs full blast, stream sliced by his hand scooping water to his face. He tilts toward the window, counter cutting his waist.

Whereís your mother, he says.

My mother comes up the front walk, high heels tapping a syncopated rhythm. Her arms are long like branches, twig fingers clutch the shopping bags. She always wears dark colours. Comes through the door, slim body flutes to a face.

Where have you been?


You left her alone again.

Sheís not a baby.

My mother stands in the entryway, fingers clamped tight on the drawstrings, knuckles white. My father is across the room, eyes narrowed.

Whatís for dinner?


At dinner my fatherís jaw cracks when he chews.

Stop it, my mother says. Thatís annoying.

My father doesnít look up. He is busy arranging his food into neat patterns, mixing colours, contrasting shapes. My mother hates that, too. She eats very little, slicing deliberately, spine fused to the chair. In between bites, she drums her fingers on the table. I kick my chair leg, hoping someone will notice.

I hate sausages, push them around on my plate. The tableís so shiny it hurts. I listen to the pattern we make, the only sounds in the room.

Crack, drum, kick, crack, drum, kick, crack, drum, kick.


My mother and Mr. Macgregor sit in the sunroom many afternoons, sipping clear drinks. Mr. Macgregor has wrinkly knees and a sagging neck. He always wears a white golf shirt that brings out his dark tan. He calls me cutie.

Dance for me, he says dramatically, and my mother laughs.

My hair is pulled back into a small round bun, pulled so tight I look full Chinese. I have just returned from ballet class, feet soaked and leotard riding up. My shoulders hunch when I dance. I think if I lean forward far enough no one will be able to see what my feet are doing. The lessons are wasted on me, I know so and the teacher has said. But my mother insists. No heifer daughters.

She is happy when Mr. Macgregor comes around, smiling big well-capped teeth and touching his shoulder when she makes a point. She throws her head back when she laughs, like a snapped dandelion, long thin neck arcing. Apparently he is a very funny man. He hasnít met my father.


After awhile he doesnít come back. My mother tells me he moved. She is at the sink peeling potatoes with a far-off look. Water pours from the faucet and the sink is blocked with peelings, itís starting to fill.

Want to see me dance?



She takes off like a spooked horse. Or that is what I imagine: suddenly and without warning, black mane flying. Someone left the gate open, and my mother escaped.

My father comes home from work with a frozen dinner.

Your motherís gone, he says.

Then he microwaves it and sits down to eat, patterning the vegetables.

I quit ballet.


Eventually, I stop making cakes. I eat crackers for dinner. Deep in the night, my father will appear at the edge of my bed, breath full of gin, a sweet varnish. Heíll heave and cry, and I can see his heart through his pajamas, a fat red burst. I just want to talk to you, he says. Talk to your old Dad.

Watch where he puts his hands.

So I experiment. I push my big heavy dresser in front of the door and listen to his fingernails running up and down the wall outside, scratching like a stray dog at the back of a diner, nosing for scraps. I can see his tongue wet and sloppy, a limp hurdle in his mouth. He slurs.



We lie in the wide bed. A strangled snore vibrates in your throat. I look over where you are, thin and white, mouth open to swallow the night, twitching in your travels.

I think: He canít protect me.

Somewhere now, flesh is peeling back and bleeding out. As I stare at the spot on the wall where the paint is flaking, I know some woman is in a parking lot someplace, and some man with shovel hands says sheís done for. The wall has cracks in it, like hairs. I stopped the pills. I canít sleep.

I move to the kitchen, where the streetlight seeps through the window. I stand still, breathing slowly.

I am skinless. Overexposed.

See me.


Melia McClure is a Vancouver-born writer and actress. She is a graduate of Simon Fraser University's Writer's Studio Creative Writing Program and has completed her first novel, entitled The Delphi Room.







TDR is produced in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. 

All content is copyright of the person who created it and cannot be copied, printed, or downloaded without the consent of that person. 

See the masthead for editorial information. 

All views expressed are those of the writer only. 

TDR is archived with the Library and Archives Canada

ISSN 1494-6114. 


We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts. Nous remercions de son soutien le Conseil des Arts du Canada.