Copyright 2018 by Susan Cormier
all in the way you turn your wrist. You'll need a plastic bag,
doubled or tripled -- and if they're transparent, a shopping bag or
box for carrying. You don't want any questions. Gloves against
disease and parasites. Set your plan of action and act quickly. Tie
the bags in a knot in case you screw up or lose faith. Faith: the act
of motion without contemplation. The body will remember.
all in the way you turn your wrist. Lay flat, smooth with open palms,
one arm across then the other, turn the wrists, bend up from the
bottom then again, flip over, and there you have it -- a perfectly
has a knack for folding sweaters.
and I are upstairs, searching through storage, pulling out product
and prepping it for the salesfloor in the store below. I sort clothes
into colourblocks, mentally plotting the alignment of textures and
patterns on displays, piling stacks of folded pants and shirts back
into boxes for him to carry downstairs. Only he can move our
twentyfoot shelving units and one-hand the heavy metal-based
mannequins; only he can build me a four-hundred-pound steeltop
stockroom desk from scraps. If I complain that our dumpsters are
overly full he'll climb atop and smash the piles down with size
twelve feet, rip reinforced cardboard with bare hands and cram it
into crevasses and corners. And I've never managed to match his knack
for folding sweaters, his perfect piles of knitted fabric with the
sleeves tucked just so.
all in the way you turn the wrists," he says, grinning down at
me from his sixfoottwo while I with my stubby fingers struggle to
match his finesse. Learn the motions, I tell myself. The body will
us outside the picture window, the first few evening crows fly past,
trailblazers for the daily migration of ten thousand wings from
nesting to feeding grounds and back.
the rooftop ledge over the store below, a black crow lies twisted and
shimmering in the heat, two feathers stuck to the window to mark the
end of its last flight. I noticed it yesterday, pressed palms against
windowpane, said a small prayer, and cursed myself. I multiplied the
heatwave weather forecast by the standard rate of biological
decomposition and calculated two days, maybe three, before the body
swelled, swarmed a cloud of flies, and cooked into putrescence
outside the window beside the staff kitchen. I cursed myself for
knowing only two unnavigatable routes onto the rooftop: one, just off
the alleyway, an ancient locked gate, rusted with decades of neglect,
the key long since lost. And two, embedded in the wall of a dank
steep stairwell, the thin metal bars of a ladder to the roof hatch,
intended for inspectors and emergency crew personnel and other such
men in uniform. I tried to climb it, once, but got no further than
the second rung before the stairwell beneath me twisted into vertigo
and my shoulders seized into terrified immobility.
folding of sweaters, like washing grease from dishes or bloodstains
from clothing, is a meditative ritual of calm distant focus. Repeat.
Repeat. Repeat without thinking. The body remembers.
we work, Jared tells me stories of action and adventure: the summers
he spent in the military reserve, the time he chased a shoplifter and
caught him, the boys who fought him in high school. He demonstrates
how to throw a fist, smash walls, smash jaws. "It's all in the
way you hold your wrist."
look up at him, smile and nod, say nothing, pull heavy dampscented
stacks of denim jeans, fold lopsided piles of sweaters and teeshirts.
all in the way you turn your wrist. Set a plan of action, act
quickly, avoid questions.
the salesfloor in the store below the girls glide and turn like
elegant fishes, flitting between colourful clothes displays and
customers. Their voices float up to us like bubbles through the air
the picture window, the rooftop of the store below stretches barren
and blinding whitegrey, shadowless and shimmering in the latesummer
heat. The crow's feathers are trembling. It takes me a moment before
I realize. We have had no wind, no rain in weeks. One wing lifts
slightly, spasms, and falls. A clawed foot reaches and grasps at
saw it hit on Monday," he says, tossing empty boxes to one side.
it's alive." He glances, grabs a taped-shut box, rips it open
with bare hands, and tells me of supermarkets with sparrows trapped
inside, balled-up nests of mice to be removed after the use of
rodenticide, the skunk that lived in his old garage.
saw it hit Monday. Today is Wednesday. The rooftop shimmers in the
heat. One wing lifts, spasms, and falls.
that bird is injured and in pain."
broken leg, or a wing." He shrugs. "It'll heal."
glare up at him. "That crow has been out there in the heat, in
the sunlight, for two days with no food or water. It is not a broken
leg, or a broken wing. It is not going to get better."
a long moment, he concedes. "I guess we could call a vet."
would pay for it?" I duck into the kitchen for a moment, gather
two-three clear garbage bags and the dish gloves, drop them by the
stairwell with the roof access ladder. "And what vet would take
it? Wild animals are covered in parasites and germs."
stomach twists and falls with the thought of wrapping my hands round
the rungs of the thin metal ladder and climbing to the roof. I calm
the nausea by swallowing, holding my breath, folding sweaters right
left flip and done.
crack open boxes, pile teeshirts, fold sweaters. Set a plan of
action, act quickly.
could call the Humane Society," he suggests.
just kill it anyways," my hands move in quiet rhythm. "That
bird...needs to be taken care of." Have faith. The body
we pick through boxes he tells me how he does it -- smashing small
skulls with shovels, swinging rats by their tails against walls.
shake my head, remembering the resilience of the body, the ability of
the heart to keep beating while guts lie spilling, skull cracked
open, how many beats until it's over. "No."
are you going to do?"
shake my head, do not answer. Between the thumps and slaps of
stacking boxes I hear the bright chatter of the salesgirls below. I
fold sweaters, flat smooth right left twist and done.
what point does pain supercede shock and become simply a state of
being. The spasmed scrape of open wing against cement, sandpaper
surface slowly pulling feathers from skin, scraping skin from flesh,
flesh slowly ground down to bone. For two days a crow turns slowly in
the heat, its awkward damaged dance leaving a mandala of splattered
blood, dripping crap. Red blood, white crap, black feathers -- the
spinning ritual of unfinished death.
all in the turn of the wrist. Learn the motions. The body remembers.
jeans and sweaters are folded, stacked into boxes for carrying down
to our store. We have done what we came here for.
stretch the cramps from my fingers, tuck the bags and gloves into my
waistband, open the stairwell door and peer up the ladder. My stomach
dives like a fish. "I can get up there," I say quietly.
"But I might need your help getting back down."
the window reflected in his eyes, the stunted fluttering of a dark
wing, the lightning streak of fluorescent bulbs illuminating the
windowglass between his hands and a distant gravel rooftop. Three
feet away, waves of suffocating heat.
fiddles with his keychain, extracts one key, heavy and elegant. The
gate. That rusted alleyway gate to the rooftop.
holds out the key, and when I take it he holds on for a second too
long. "Susan," he says, "Everyone deserves the chance
a moment he is a little blonde boy holding a carstruck broken
daschund pup, listening with wide blue eyes to the police officer
kneeling in front of him trying to explain. There is a myth about men
in uniform. The truth about kittens stuck in trees is they always
come down eventually; little old ladies don't really need a hand
crossing the road to the sidewalk; and death happens regardless.
deserves a chance to live," he repeats, as though chance were a
silver platter of brightly-coloured answers presented picture-perfect
by Santa Claus or a white-robed God.
deserves a chance to not be in pain," I reply.
are you going to do?" he asks again.
stare expressionlessly at each other, hard as boxers' knuckles and
vulnerable as peeled skin.
probably take out the cardboard and garbage after. I might need a
moment." I pause. "Please don't tell the girls. They'll
just get upset."
picks up a box half my weight with one hand, twists his wrist to lift
it to his shoulder where he balances it with impossibly long spider
fingers and says, "I'll see you downstairs."
have no ceremony for the death of animals in the city. We have
dumpsters in alleys, a shuffle of stinking dripping plastic bags and
flattened cardboard boxes. We have the moment when the sun lowers
obscene orange and the first few crows fly overhead, slow motion in
the heat rising from cement.
bird with broken wing will still stand. A bird with broken leg will
favour it, balance on its belly, try to fly away. The inability to
achieve some sense of bodily control is spinal fracture, or brain
damage. It is important to know the difference between repairable
injury and non-viability. It is important not to ask too many
questions lest you get distracted by moral decisions.
animals are filthy with disease -- beneath the feathers, a crawling
of parasites. Against the claws and grime, two or more layers of
plastic bags, and gloves if you have. The soft weight of a body of
feathers. Tie a knot in the plastic -- if you fail, or lose faith,
this will ensure suffocation. Find the pulse at the base of the
throat with your fingers.
you know the actions, your body will remember. Faith, the act of
motion without contemplation.
thumb on the breastbone, on the pulse, fingers wrapped around wings,
that soft sad weight -- other thumb and finger circling throat, hand
around head, it's all in the way you turn the wrist, a quick twist
all the way around until you feel the pop in your
keep going until your hand is twisted at some obnoxious angle then
hold. A broken neck will not kill -- a crushed trachea will. Hold.
Sound reverberates through flesh and bone more than through air.
Hold. Hold long enough for the wind to blow dust and hair past your
shoulders into your eyes, long enough for the traffic below to
grumble its way through a stoplight, long enough for the pulse
beneath your thumb to fade and grow still.
our upstairs window, the feathers and crap will wash away with the
next rain, but we have a two-foot-wide mandala, an inerasable halo of
blood burned baked into the rooftop, the last desperate sundance of a
messenger from the otherworld, a too-perfect circle of darkening
marks that years from now salesgirls and stockboys on their way to
the staff kitchen will walk past and ignore, or wonder, without
knowing the connection between it and the angle of sunlight and the
dusk-flying crows overhead.
the bright bubbling salesgirls, I let myself in through the stock
room door, sit at my four-hundred-pound steeltop desk on a too-high
chair with my feet dangling above the floor. I file papers, click
emails, staple things.
strides in from the sales floor, stands beside me. I hand him the key
and say nothing. He commends me overly-enthusiastically on a great
job taking out all the cardboard and garbage. He fiddles with the
safe, chatting brightly, his big spidery fingers twisting at its
tricky combination lock. I smile, nod, say nothing. I don't need to
remind him it's all in the way you turn your wrist. In a heat wave,
some things get sticky.
Cormier is a Métis multimedia writer who has won or been
shortlisted for such awards as CBC's National Literary
Magazine's Poem of the Year, Anvil Press/SubTerrain Magazine’s
Lush Triumphant, and the Federation of B.C. Writers’ Literary
Writes. Her writing has appeared in publications
and Aphorisms New Fiction, Atlantis: A Women's Studies
Journal, West Coast Line, Arc, and a handful of
including Rocksalt: An Anthology of Contemporary B.C.
Susan is the organizer of
Vancouver Story Slam,
Canada's longest-running monthly live storytelling competition. In
the past, she has been artist-in-attendance at the herland feminist
film festival, a founding editor of Rain City
and a Western Canada representative on the SlamAmerica national
performance poetry tour. Current projects include Back Down
Rabbit Hole, a research video essay about youth bullying.
of the message
won't know where to send it.)
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