Gary Michael Dault


2005 03 30


Transit Stories - Cake


image“A guy got on the subway today”, Tom tells his wife Prim and a couple named Priti and David with whom they’re having dinner, “and he’s carrying this big white box, which clearly has a cake in it”.

“How did you know it was a cake?” Priti asks.

“It was a cake,” Tom says. “There’s a certain kind of bakery box, you know?”

“With bakery string”, adds Prim.

“Anyway, it’s rush hour and the car is packed and the guy is beginning to get pushed and jostled and is beginning to grow seriously defensive about his cake. He’s holding it as delicately ass he can, as if it’s a time bomb…”

“Or a baby”, says Prim.

“But people keep bumping into it, you know? At one point you can hear this dry ‘thunk!’ sound which was probably a chunk of the icing breaking off and falling to the bottom of the box…”

“One of those big, hard turquoise roses”, Prim suggests.

“Yeh, that’s what it sounded like”, Tom says. “And then, a minute or two later, there’s another cracking sound and now the box rattles when the guy takes it in his other hand, and just as he thinks he’s finally got it pretty well protected, a couple of teenage kids get on, shoving each other around and yelling and of course they smash right onto it, first denting the box and then knocking the thing completely out of his grasp and onto the floor of the subway car. And whatdyathink happens after that?” Tom asks his wife and their friends.

“He starts to cry?” Prim suggests.

“Nope, just the opposite!” says Tom, with something like triumph in his voice. “He stoops down and slowly picks up the box, looks around at all the other subway riders—who are staring at him now as if he’s a madman—raises the box over his head, and hurls it with all his might the full length of the car. Just as the box bounces to a stop, spilling out the remains of his cake onto the feet of the rush hour passengers and showering bits of icing all over everybody, the train pulls into a station. The guy backs towards the door and yells at everyone in the car, “Take it then! Take it!!” and backs onto the platform. And the doors close after him.”

“And that’s it?” Asks David, intensely engaged up until now with his Crème Caramel.

“Yeh, that’s it”, says Tom.

“Good story”, says David, spooning up the last of the caramelized sugar in his dish.

“I wish I’d been there”, says Prim wistfully. “Me too”, says David’s wife, Priti.

“Well, I was there”, says Tom, “and it was no picnic.”

2005 03 31


Transit Stories - Fish


imageIt was the coldest day I can remember, and it’s settling in to be the coldest night. The air is bladelike, and it jimmies itself into the streetcar which is rumbling up Spadina Avenue, and wedges in around the windows and doors. The passengers are yawning in the cold, and their eyes are small and hard. Eight-thirty.

The frigid air baffles every sound and makes noises sharp and clear and close enough to be constantly surprising. When you open your mouth, you end up talking too loud. And so everybody’s keeping mum. The streetcar sighs along through the freezing blackness.

But there’s one young woman, unabashed by the silent cold, who breaks the ice with her cell phone: “I’m on the streetcar!” she yells at somebody, her voice splintering the night.

Having awakened her vocal chords and found them whole, she begins to address the assembled passengers. She is a big girl, heavy and physically eventful, like a fruit loaf, with a wide happy face and eyes like wet raisins. And she has this dog on a leash, a rubbed little blur of a dog I had not noticed before, blackish, greyish, dishwatery, and shaped like a bottle brush. George Johnson’s poem leaps into my mind: about a man who’s got a dog that‘s “long and sort of pointed wrong”.

This wrongly pointed dog sniffs petulantly at a woman sitting in a single seat across from the door—sniffs and clearly finds her wanting. “He’s starved for attention”, the big girl explains happily, even pridefully. “See, I was unemployed, and I used to stay home with him all the time and I’d be with him, like ten hours a day! But now”, she looks at the woman with something like a plea for understanding in her eyes, “I’ve got this job, and he’s alone all the time.”

“Oh”, says the woman dully.

“His name is Fish”, the big girl says.

“Fish”, the woman repeats, trying to look out into the night and seeing only the big girl’s reflection sailing along over the dark houses.

“Would you like to buy him? The big girl asks. “I’d want five hundred dollars for him”. Then she turns to the rest us of us. “I wanted to put this, like outrageous price on him”, she explains to us all, “so like nobody would buy him? But I guess five hundred’s not really too harsh, right?” and she winks at us.

“His collar’s too tight”, says the seated woman.

The big girl laughs long and loud. “Not as tight as my fucking bra!!” she replies.

2005 04 01


Transit Stories - Out of Order


imageWhenever Horace was out of sorts, he found it was a certain contextless self-consciousness that irritated him most. Probably he saw this ostentatious self-awareness—for it always was ostentatious—as weakness, or, at least, passivity, an offering of excuses for what was.
He was forced to feel this way the morning he turned into the subway station and saw a neatly fitted black cloth cover thrown over the transfer-dispensing machine. It reminded him of the black shroud-like slipcover that came with his first typewriter—to keep the dust out, presumably, though it also offered a prideful noli mi tangere warning to strangers.
“Out of order”, read the careful white letters distributed across the face of the transfer dispenser’s cover—in the sort of print that attempted to trade simultaneously in imperiousness and obsequiousness.
It was good of the transit commission, thought Horace, as he headed for the alternate machine, to come right out with the news that the damn thing wasn’t working. There’s nothing more enraging than to have it swallow your quarters and toonies and smugly refuse to give you a token in return. But why not just say so straight out? Out of Order. Fine. Thank you. Why the fawning quotation marks around the words? Why the special pleading? Why try to convey the feeling that the message “out of order” was a cute, even rather racy colloquialism? The thing is either OUT OF ORDER or it’s not. It’s not, you should forgive the phrase, “out of order”! How unwontedly cozy and insinuating quotation marks make everything, thought Horace.
How “cozy” and “insinuating”.
Horace stepped into his subway car feeling exhausted. He felt wearied by his unsought dialogue with the wounded transfer machine. Now everything seemed pointed and vectored. He spotted a guy who also worked at the paper and found it already too late to head off his being spotted in return. His fellow-worker moved along the car to within speaking distance.
“Good morning!” he said. Horace felt himself wince. Who had the right, after all, to address him so particularly, with such embarrassing directness? Suddenly quotation marks seemed to be everywhere, a toxic black rain falling and falling and falling to earth.

2005 04 02


Transit Stories - Bad People


imageI’m on the streetcar, settling back for a long Sunday afternoon long ride out Queen Street east, wondering whether or not I have enough energy to attend to a paperback copy of Gide’s If It Die nestled in my overcoat pocket, when a young man and his toddler daughter get on and take the seat directly opposite mine.

The young man, who seems very young indeed to be the father of a little girl of perhaps two, notices right away something I had not noticed: that there is a small but graphically forceful graffiti tag sprayed in white on the metal back of their seat and, now that I am looking for it, on the backs of all the seats on his side of the streetcar. I can’t make it out. It’s one of those characteristically gnarled, centripetally arranged glyphs that, as far as I can tell, is more shape than script.

The little girl sees it right away and asks her father something—probably what it says or what it means. He glances at it with elaborate distaste and tells her that “bad people” did it.

The kid of course reaches out with her hand to touch the graffito and inevitably gets some of the white paint, or whatever it’s made of, on her dainty finger.

“There!” the young man cries in alarm and anger, “You see? Now you’re just as bad as they are!!”

2005 04 03


Transit Stories - The Feral Reader


imageThere was something mostly feral about him.

Perhaps not really, probably not really, but he had small prune-pit eyes in a spreading marzipan of visage, and a mean little mouth, clenched like a dog’s anus, a kind of mouth that was quite alarmingly out of scale, opening out of his flaccid face.

He was sitting across from me in the subway car and he was contending with a book. As he concentrated on his page, which happened only sporadically, he pursed his mouth into a tense little knot. His eyes, already lost in the uninflectable vastness of his face, grew somehow smaller and tighter. He skulked and scowled over his book, as he were a dog just given an old bone: his book seemed not so much a prize as simply a possession. It acted as if he didn’t want it very much, but now that he had it, why goddammit, he was going to keep it close.

I was naturally curious about what he was reading, and shifted and leaned a bit in my seat in order to try to spot the cover. He seemed somehow to know that I would do this and looked up angrily, his eyes narrowing, his eyebrows raised, quickened by something like alarm. He was like a hungry but guilty animal maniacally guarding its kill. I quickly pretended to be looking at something else, and, mollified, he returned to the agon of his book.

Intent now upon knowing what he read, I tried once again to see past his beefy fists to read the cover. He looked up again just as I craned my neck to get a better view.

Then he stared at me malevolently, knotted his features, tightened his mouth even further. His eyes grew small and yellow like peanuts. And he growled.

2005 04 04


Transit Stories - Token and Taboo


imageIt’s not that I disbelieve my son exactly, but by the same token, it was pretty hard to imagine that the Toronto Transit Commission’s drivers can be quite as malevolent as he often described them to me.

He would tell me about bus drivers simply deciding not to stop at all to pick up a gaggle of kids his age—he’s fifteen—and go sailing on past instead, leaving them shivering in the winter twilight. He would tell me about drivers closing streetcar doors in their faces, leaving them nonplussed at the curb. He would tell me about getting into a bus and, once in, being told to get off again. And not because he was being unruly or obstreperous, but just because he was a kid. A male kid.

He has told me about how, while trying to transfer from a bus to a streetcar or vice-versa, how he’d walk across the intersection, making for the streetcar, only to watch helplessly as the driver of the streetcar, after shooting him a smug and icily demonic look, would then pull slowly and perversely away—see you around, ya little bastard!

I know my kid, and I know that while he can rise to almost sublime heights of righteous indignation, he is entirely innocent of bouts of paranoia.

The truth of his tales of transit woe was forcefully driven home to me one freezing night last winter while we waited forlornly for a Bathurst Street car heading south from College Street. The car came too, after what seemed a frigid eternity. It came looming and scraping through the night, blazing with warmth like an ocean liner underway. The car slowed down—thinking back it was this slowing down, this pause, this mechanical intake of breath, that seemed so ugly—and we stepped forward, eager and grateful for the comfort, indeed the rescue it seemed to proffer.

And then the driver looked directly into our eyes, acknowledged our presence and our desires and our need (there was an interchange of consciousnesses, you could feel it, the way you could feel the snow settling on your nose and forehead), and directly picked up speed again, leaving us to the blackness of the cold.

I watched the streetcar’s taillights disappearing into the night, listened to its attenuating clank and clatter until there was nothing but silence and snow. I looked at my son in disbelief.

“You see”, Dad?” he told me. “I don’t make these things up.”

I almost wished he did.

The next week it was announced that there would be a rise in the price of the fares.

2005 05 10


Transit Stories - The Feral Reader Reprised


imageThere was something mostly feral about him.

Perhaps not really, probably not really, but he had small prune-pit eyes in a spreading marzipan of visage, and a mean little mouth, clenched like a dog’s anus, a kind of mouth that was quite alarmingly out of scale, opening out of his flaccid face.

He was sitting across from me in the subway car and he was contending with a book. As he concentrated on his page, which happened only sporadically, he pursed his mouth into a tense little knot. His eyes, already lost in the uninflectable vastness of his face, grew somehow smaller and tighter. He skulked and scowled over his book, as he were a dog just given an old bone: his book seemed not so much a prize as simply a possession. It acted as if he didn’t want it very much, but now that he had it, why goddammit, he was going to keep it close.

I was naturally curious about what he was reading, and shifted and leaned a bit in my seat in order to try to spot the cover. He seemed somehow to know that I would do this and looked up angrily, his eyes narrowing, his eyebrows raised, quickened by something like alarm. He was like a hungry but guilty animal maniacally guarding its kill. I quickly pretended to be looking at something else, and, mollified, he returned to the agon of his book.

Intent now upon knowing what he read, I tried once again to see past his beefy fists to read the cover. He looked up again just as I craned my neck to get a better view.

Then he stared at me malevolently, knotted his features, tightened his mouth even further. His eyes grew small and yellow like peanuts. And he growled.