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I have recently learned and taken command of the art of short story writing. I now plan to write a book of short stories ... because I need to start getting paid. I now plan to investigate how I can get published and get paid. Unless, I realize that it is hopeless I cannot publish many poems here, since when the subject story gets published I would like the paying buyer to get the first "printing".

However, since Stephen Speicher has posted the information on Ayn Rand's library auction, I must pay such a gesture with a gesture of my own, i.e., a short story. That such an even (auction) is taking place is spectacular and I only regret that I'm still a poor twenty something unable to take advantage of such a thing. However, it is such a grand coincidence that such an event is coming just after I finished a story (not the one below) about a writer addicted to used books who is eventually wooed through his commitment to his addiction.

I hope you all enjoy the following story. It is about the daily torments of a struggling novelist.

Jose Gainza.


Michael Brickley stood in the morning sunlight at his balcony looking at the twenty-four hour supermarket below. At Bloor and Spadina Streets there was a Confederation Supermarket. This intersection of Toronto was a special one; it seemed like the heart of the city. Spadina was the longest of three streets where a streetcar line ran north to south. And it was there on Bloor where the subway Greenline found a midpoint station.

Including the descent on the elevator, the supermarket would take a mere three blocks to reach. Like many other obligatory moments, he wished that he could send “someone” to do his shopping. If only he could afford such a luxury. Michael did earn money, though. He could afford his rent, he usually ate well, he rode a skinny green motor scooter, he went out every Thursday for drinks with friends, and he had an adequate collection of clothes.

Michael was succeeding in his career, slowly, but succeeding. His short stories had found a moderate syndication around several North American magazines. He was not world famous but the publishing world would soon begin to notice him.

But inside the big red refrigerator there was only a one-month-old bottle of beer and an almost empty tub of cottage cheese. It was appropriate that there was no light shining on his naked chest from the refrigerator, for there was no food to shed light on. Michael closed the refrigerator and added the word “bulbs” to his grocery list. His hunger was suppressed by the smell of a rotting tuna can in the trash, a trash overflowing, all because a man with a pen could not will the trip down the common hallway to dispose of it.

He had not woken up hungry but exhilarated and anxious to return to the writing taken away from him by the black out of the exhaustion of the previous night. He woke up on the floor. His pen had made a small green stain on the carpet. He drank a glass of water and went immediately to continue work on Chapter eleven of his novel, working title: The Ghost Liberator of America.

The month was a hard one. He felt himself speeding down two treacherous roads at the same time. There was the part, in fiction, where the ghost chides Jefferson for owning slaves; he could hardly wait to reach Washington to receive the surrender from the red coats. There was, in ethics, the approach towards the kernel, the key, to the validation of the concept of human rights. In his mind art was clashing with philosophy. It was a consolation that art was a part of philosophy and that rights was a central theme of his novel. The really difficult operation was the jumping from one task to another like a jungle man might swing from vine to vine.

While philosophy and fiction duelled, household chores waited patiently and with assurance.

He looked around at his apartment. His baby blue tracksuit was the crest atop a layer of denim jeans, atop scattered patches of undergarments, and multi-coloured t-shirts. The reality of this magnificent man-made mountain suddenly struck him. For a moment he felt dread. He checked his laundry cupboard. He added “detergent-bleach” to his shopping list, and “get roll of quarters”.

He saw himself in the mirror and smiled at the definition of his chest but grimaced at the realization of an expanding stomach. He marched to his clothes chest and opened his shirt drawer. All that was available was a flimsy white tank top. “This will do,” he said with a smile. A month earlier he had been turned away from the supermarket by a security officer for attempting to enter shirtless. “But sir,” the security officer then explained, “how would you feel if a hairy, fat, hunchback attempted the same thing?” This placated Michael.

His shirt on, he went to the bathroom to brush his teeth. The tube of paste was at its last and final fold and accessible spot of paste. It was a relief to clean his teeth; it loosened his jaw. He washed his face and hands but there were no clean cloth towels with which to dry himself; there was no toilet paper. He dried his hands on his black hair thus combing it somewhat but sufficiently, and let the air take care of his face. More items were added to the shopping list.

He sat down on a chair to put on his running shoes on bare feet, legs prominent because of denim shorts. Suddenly he began to muse about his story –“ just a few hours and I can get back to it!” He wanted to get back to the agony and the ecstasy—to the struggle for proper characterization—to the scenes on the Potomac River, the rich plantations of Virginia, the bustling town of Richmond, to Governor Jefferson, to Lafayette and Washington, to the enticing debate throughout eighteenth century America. Then it struck him. He decided that he would need to add the Constitutional Convention. The whole plot would have to be redesigned. The ghost would debate with so many more men, and he would live for so many more years.

Then Michael saw his running shoes again and remembered his immediate purpose. And he was caught by such a violent anger that almost brought him to his knees, because his body had previously suffered a sudden fatigue when the value was to just go shopping. But he soon found strength and thought it silly to let his passion overwhelm him. He would have to wait about one half hour and then, during laundry, he could think about his novel’s re-organization. And in a few hours he would be free to travel back three centuries into fiction.

He left his apartment but soon returned after reaching street level already because he had carelessly and unnecessarily forgotten his accurate list. And he made himself re-ascend ten stories because memorizing the list was a task that he just preferred not to do and didn’t. He would need that list to avoid an extra trip later in the week or even that same day, depending on the missing item.

The supermarket was on the south side of Bloor Street. Michael waited on the north to cross. It would be easier to make an illegal crossing than to walk a block to the next set of traffic lights. Because it was morning rush hour, and Bloor was one of the busiest streets in the Canada, there were hardly any crossing gaps. Michael bit his lip in anger because a gap seemed impossible. In that moment he damned city planners for failing to build a bridge right there on the spot where Michael was impatiently standing. He spoke thus to himself, “This anger must stop! … Face the facts … open your eyes and find the gap.”

Once the orange Cadillac passed him westward and the soda pop truck passed him eastward, he galloped forth before a blue Ferrari or a black mini van could hit him. He landed on the South side to find a solitary old man with eyes closed as if meditating. He wore a well-worn brown suit, with a cream shirt with wide-open collars. He may have been a vagrant. He passed him intent on the immediate desire to fetch a shopping cart. Searching in his pocket for a quarter dollar coin, he only found five nickels. But the lock mechanism could only be released with a quarter coin deposit. He damned the engineer for not making the cart lock mechanism versatile enough to take his nickels too. And then he damned the thieves of history, the archetype-thief, for making society such that precautions must be taken as safeguards against them, i.e., locks on shopping carts.

The old man had finished with his meditation.

“Excuse me, sir, I’ll trade you five nickels for a quarter.”

“Sorry man, I’ll trade you five dollies for a fin.”

“I just need a quarter to get a cart!”

“So use two baskets!”

Michael then looked at the man with eyes of scorn, squinting, “Thanks for the advice,” but he said it in a tone as if he was calling the old man a blackguard.

He entered the store and marched past the security officer who had refused him entry that once. Michael smiled. The guard noticed that though the tank top revealed much of Michael’s form it just passed the standard of acceptable. Michael walked towards a young male cashier with long golden hair.

“Give me a quarter for my nickels,” ordered Mr. Brickley.

But the cashier was not one who took arbitrary orders with an obedient smile and bow. The boy smiled. “Sorry, sir, but I can’t open the register except if you purchase something.”

“But I need the quarter so I could make a very large purchase.”

“Presumably sir—but still …”

So Mr. Brickley resorted to buying a packet of gum. When he was at the exit door, he caught in the background the following exchange:

“Hello, son. I’m sorry, I know that you can’t open the register unless I buy something but can you please make an exception?”

“No I can’t Mam! What I can do is trade you four of my own quarters for your dollar. Here.”

“Why thank you so much. That is so nice of you.”

Michael uttered some vulgarity under his breath and exited to fetch his shopping cart. The old vagrant was at this point preaching some sermon to the passing cars. Michael grinned at his sight. He achieved his shopping cart. On his way in his eyes met the old man’s. The man stood staring at him like a bull would to his matador. Michael had no time to fight; he went inside and began to shop.

Michael let himself feel his appetite. He recalled the smell of bacon (it was soon added to his cart). He would then need pancake batter, eggs, milk … orange juice … He fetched his laundry supplies and light bulbs … Fruit were necessary as a quick meal, along with vegetables, cookies, ice cream … Coffee! … Spinach for his energy drink …

When he reached the checkout lines, he was puzzled at the length of the lines that stretched from seven to nine carts each. It was as if his time tormentors had sent a swarm of pests out of secret doorways. Only three cash registers were being used, and only two were available to Michael because he did not want to deal with the smiling boy again. And he damned the free market for its law of the profit motive. As he waited in line he did not even dare to think about his story as to not further stretch his stress.

Finally his turn was approaching, just as soon as the old woman in the walker was finished. But every item she placed on the conveyor belt seemed to Michael like a cosmic eternity. And every stretch of her arm seemed as if it would take the time a rock would take to reach the sun if thrown by the hand of man. Michael helped the woman empty her filled cart onto the belt. The woman expressed excitement at this gesture and the speed of his hands. She gasped and placed her hand to her heart in admiration, and it seemed as if a tear might roll down her cheek. “Thank you! Thank you, so much.” Michael merely smiled.

And he remembered her voice. This was the woman who took his quarters from the golden haired boy. Fortunately it was now her turn to pay. She counted the one hundred fifty-two dollars and sixty-three cents as if she were counting one million dollars. And then the female Asian cashier spoke thus on the speaker phone, “Can I get a bag carry out at cashier number two … just wait a moment, sir, until her help arrives.” He merely smiled.

Eternal minutes passed, then the phone rang. It seemed to Michael the Asian girl was speaking to the store manager, “Yes, Mr. Bob … a big shipment? Now? … I’ll do what I can.” She did not have to say anything to Michael; he knew.

He asked the old woman where she needed the bags to be taken. There was a taxicab waiting outside. Suddenly, Michael took all ten bags with both his hands, with a rare Herculean might. He walked fighting the strain in his face. His arm muscles showed prominence, his chest seemed like steel, and a few drops of sweat appeared on his temples.

He grunted at the cashier, “Ring my things through—I’ll be right back.”

He saw the taxi. A woman came out and opened the trunk. He placed the old woman’s bags inside. He wished the beneficiary a good day as if he said nothing, and rushed back to the cash register.

The preacher in the brown suit was still facing the passing cars on Bloor with the excitement of an Evangelist. Mr. Brickley walked to the man with an air of surprise as he began to comprehend the man’s words:

“Damn the politicians but damn the teachers! Damn the professors! These are the surgeons and nurses of the mutilations of the minds of our children. Look at all of you! You are losing the memory of your best—you are even killing the concept, it’s possibility. Jesus is not the devil—he is not the answer either. I preach neither side. I speak the creed of truth, I speak from human identity …”

Several minutes ago, Michael had had the urge to punch this man in the face, and now he felt the need to embrace him in brotherly sympathy. Michael stood by the man facing east, and the man was unaware of him because he faced there too. Though preachers in the streets were not uncommon in Toronto, the only ones Michael ever heard were those speaking about human salvation through Christ.

“ … I will admit that I fear one thing. I fear the rejecters of cities—they who flee into the lonely mountains. They are the cowards! Know! Open your eyes! See! That there is so much to fight for, so much to renovate, so much to build anew. How many geniuses have left our cities? They hoard their creations all for themselves! They hold within their souls the fire to burn away mediocrity and error, and enlighten our children. But they are leaving those children orphans, orphans from their eternal father: the guiding light of reason via the teachers among men. Do you know what I hate the most? I hate the artist! …”

Up to this point Michael was very much interested in the man’s thoughts. But with the last four words he felt a sudden stab of revulsion and began to cross the street to the north side. At that moment the man caught sight of our exiting writer.

“ … I hate that one right there, fleeing away, now in the middle of the street. He hears me! Look at that. Look at him frozen at his will on that yellow line, cars rushing by. He’s not scared. He knows that if he sticks to his spot, no car will hit him. But he does not cross back to listen to me closely, to study my teaching further. He thinks he knows it all already. But he listens. How do I know he is an artist? I’ve seen him walk these streets conscious of nothing but his purpose and his life. No one but an artist walks with that look. He’s happy but he’s not smiling; he won’t step on dog ###### but he won’t notice you. How selfish! I’ve seen him doodle in his notebooks at coffee shops’ windows; I’ve seen him in the park. And I know because I was a writer too … I can spot the pencil lead stained fingers. I wore them too…”

Michael stood in the middle of the street, still, and staring at the man with an amused smirk. No cars would hit him because no car can travel safely on that middle line.

“ …But I realized just in time that the artist has no right to pursue his passion … because we live in the era of the preacher. Let my grandchild paint pictures but make my brother teach my son. This is not the era of the happiness of the artist. This is not the time for ecstasy—it is the time for toil. Look how blind they become, these artists: walking the streets, hiding in their hovels, indulging and giving birth to beauty but pass me by—me!—me, the preacher of the truth, the prophet of the streets. Damn you! Damn you, you selfish misanthrope, hating mankind so much as to claim the right by your selfish action, to plot a story of struggle, deliverance and free will. But deliver your themes, spread it in our schools, but forget about the heroes that you paint!”

Michael Brickley laughed aloud for a long moment. It was the release of the tension of the previous hour. The bags of groceries seemed much lighter as his chest heaved and his throat let out the proclamation of human glory. The man looked at Michael speechless, but with tears in his eyes, the type of eyes of a schoolboy who is not allowed to join some clique. Michael secretly and privately accepted the man’s ironic admiration. While standing there, motionless, watching the preacher from the middle of the street, no car stopped in fear. But when they saw him laugh, all cars stopped in sequence. Indeed it is unusual to find men laughing aloud in the middle of the street, with bags of groceries on each limb. He turned around and crossed north by the gap left to him by the stopped cars. He screamed across the street to the preacher:

“I have no guilt … I love my work …” he purposefully paused to allow the man to hear his words, “… I will talk with you tomorrow.” Michael stopped damning those obstacles to his simple goal—because he had written agonizing volumes in the past and past those obstacles of present were small necessities that served his central purpose—and his hatred for household chores disappeared for the time being. Forty quarters jingled in his pockets, the sound of imminent cleanliness, as he walked swiftly towards his apartment building, the shrine of his creativity.


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My apologies:

"Admirer" is not spelled "Admirerer"

And the subject is "short stories" and not "poetry" when I say what I cannot readily publish here for free (in the preface).

(I just realized there is not editing function)

Jose Gainza

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