A short story by Mark Fenton.
By Mark Fenton
Published February 26, 2007
Fisk is remaking his apartment, cause the last job they sent him to to prove he was eligible for UI when they don't have a job to send him to - well it wasn't a good fit and he's not going back and sit in that chair at the UI office again for a while since his UI ran out anyway -
So Fisk has got time to fill up in his day so he doesn't get into trouble, doesn't get into more trouble than he's already been in I mean - so we give him an old home decorating magazine and offer support like friends do, but Fisk's way ahead of us as usual, been out looking at buildings because there's a lot of brickwork in this town -
'- from when there were craftsmen took real pride in their work' Fisk says like he's teaching a history lecture, you don't know with Fisk whether you should take everything as a joke or take it tragic, with his missing thumb, with his missing eyebrow, with his missing some smarts - I mean OK we're all missing some smarts - but he's missing the ones that keep you from getting hurt
Got only five teeth too and none of them molars - so he's gotta cook everything down so that it's all soft - cooks a lot of soups and cooks up cheap, two-day-old bread from the Portuguese bakery that tastes like cigarette ash even when it's new cause Sophia is always smoking when she works the dough - cooks the old bread under the broiler, and then puts it into a metal bowl and some plastic over it, crunches it up fast with a big rubber hammer, and pours it in the soup, gives it some texture and he gets his starch that way -
he's not a bad cook really, for what he has to work with, anyway he's gonna focus himself on home decorating, to make him feel better with himself, after this job thing falling through, poor Fisk never quite figuring out how to make sure you have a place to sleep if you have a bad few months, and not be forced to shove your thumbless hand under people faces for their change cause that's below the level your dignity can go -
can't feel good about yourself because of what you're doing because you don't have a job and can't get a job because you don't feel good about yourself; don't get me wrong, Fisk has good brains but something keeps screwing it up, like a car with the best engine in the world, but some bad wire keeps shutting it down, or shuts a couple of cylinders down so it just shakes back and forth and overheats and doesn't go anywhere, and no mechanic can diagnose what the problem is, that's Fisk, great engine and one bad wire,
but for all that Fisk isn't anyone's idea of a loser, Fisk, when things get bad will just level out, like a hawk not moving a wing, gliding and positioning himself against the wind so he's just floating, thinking, and then some twitch to him you can't even see and he goes into a dive - and WHAM - he's got a mouse or a worm or a fish or whatever hawks eat - that's Fisk alright - swoops down on what he can get, and the bad times don't faze him, even when he loses a body part or another tooth, he's up soaring again in no time,
he's actually on a kind of lucky streak right now, since no one can find his landlord, which means there's no hot water or fridge that works, but one thing Fisk likes is using his ingenuity, keeping some water in a glass pot in front of a window that gets a lot of sun so he can pour it through a filter and make something that tastes a bit like coffee, hiding his food in the basement behind a rusted out washing machine, but he needs to fill up his days, that's why we suggest he do some charity, like giving blood, and they may need extra help at the blood bank anyway - volunteer work leads to paid work sometimes is what they tell us at the UI office - and he's already got a connection at the blood place - that's where he panhandles,
cause he says the kind of people who take time out of their day to open up and bleed so that others can stay in the game are an easy touch for change - and if he gives blood there's free cookies and coffee to dunk it in to make it soft enough for him to eat, and he's got an 'interest' in this woman that works there, sees her coming out at lunch always by herself, so she must be lonely - stands in the lobby one time in front of a mirror so she doesn't know he's watching her and reads her nametag MILLICENT PINCHBECK backwards in the mirror but he figures it out cause he's trained himself to read backwards -
goes up to her and says 'I might just do a donation myself sometime,' and she says, kind of snippy, 'well make sure you've had a full meal before you come, you wouldn't want to get light headed and faint - do you know your type?' 'you're my type,' he says, leering, and she shudders, and we all just about bust ourselves because we can all see the big grin he would have given her with three teeth on the top and two on the bottom - so Fisk knows the blood bank and we each of us tell him in our own words, 'Fisk, you gotta get a routine - get up in the morning same time every day - one day give blood, another day pick up garbage in the park with a spike, anything, people out there see you got motivation, sooner or later someone gives you a job,
you see all those guys walking around with suits and briefcases, you think they're all going to a law office or to sell someone a fund - no siree - a lot of them are combing the streets looking for some standup guy who can take responsibility and WORK, hire them on the spot and take them back to an office, and we hate to tell you Fisk, but you ain't cutting it right now, they'll see you just sitting on a bench or watching a TV show through the bars of a stereo shop window, they pass you by, you may not have hot water, but there's something in those pipes so run it until the sediment gets pushed out and heat it up on the stove and wash yourself up and go down to the blood centre,' - he's excited now about a new start saying 'I'll go in Thursday because for sure I'm gonna see Millicent -
one thing I've noticed, she never misses working all day on a Thursday, she must belong to one of those religions that got it backwards, not so there's one day you always gotta take off and rest, but instead one day you always gotta work all day cause that's the day God cruises for slackers' - Fisk just knows this stuff cause he reads all kinds of magazines he finds in recycling, that's why some guys call Fisk 'The Preacher' because he just goes into such depth about things outside what most people can imagine, except like I said sometimes he thinks too much for his own good 'and look at this' he shows us all these bricks and a half bag of cement he's been collecting 'I just need a few more bricks and I can build this special window and make the room more fancy - see I'm looking at some of the old houses, down in Westdale, got what they call 'bay windows', I'm gonna knock this window frame out with a rubber hammer,
make it a bay window, and maybe even make this a more desirable rental unit for the next tenant when I've moved on to better things,' that's the kind of talk we like to hear, so until Thursday Fisk scrounges bricks, pulls loose ones out of buildings and out of little rows of bricks people use as a border around their front garden, and goes up a roof and knocks down a chimney and lucky to get away as fast as he does because there's his landlord up on top of this building with some girl and he's half mad because Fisk is smashing up one of his slum-housing units and half mad because the noise scared off his girl who's gone running inside and down the stairs and back to her job at the video store but Fisk gets away and even has two bricks and hoping the guy won't evict him, but probably he won't cause that would mean coming back and dealing with the place - if buildings start collapsing all over town
it will be due to Fisk pulling bricks to make his bay window, and so Thursday comes and he even uses some hair product samples that come through the mail slot - they must think there's someone other than just Fisk living on the top floor - and he goes downtown and sure enough there's Millicent Pinchbeck, and he says 'Hi, I'd like to do it today'
'do you mean you'd like to make a donation of blood?'
'yeah that's it'
'alright then please read this carefully, and check off the ones that apply to you, it's strictly confidential, - this process should in no way be used as a screening test - we will make no attempt to contact you based on the results,' looking down at some pages she's filling out like to indicate 'are you still here'
'why so cool?'
Fisk says 'I ain't even asked you to go out with me yet although if you'd be into it, I can make a good stew and we could have some dinner,' says Fisk
'if you continue to talk to me in this manner I'll have to call security and have you escorted out - now will you please go over to that table and fill out the form and fold it as indicated, so we do not infringe on your privacy! Thankyou'
and he goes over and reads it and he's just stunned like, cause basically Fisk, he's a conservative guy, and he's reading things like has he ever done intravenous drugs with a needle that's been in some other person's arm, he ever had weird sex with prostitutes in weird countries and he's getting kind of shocked and goes back to Millicent and says 'you got me all wrong, I ain't done none of this kind of thing, that Number 7 is disgusting I wouldn't do that if someone paid me!'
and she closes her eyes and says 'Mister Fisk, would you please check NO to all of them then, we are not trying to make any insinuations, this is the same form we give to everyone - it's designed largely for people who feel pressured to give blood with a group of friends and don't want to admit they might be in a 'risk' group' and she winces when she says 'risk' is how Fisk described it,
'ain't no risk when you's with Fisk' he says back because, in his own way, Fisk is kind of an emcee, and she winces even more - but his flow doesn't stop 'and no worry about any of this - I ain't in a group I'm just Fisk'
' - look Mr. Fisk if you won't fill out the form we will have to reject the generous offer of your blood and ask you to leave,'
' - aright aright' Fisk says and goes and fills out the form, and then this big nurse takes his blood to figure out what type it is and she writes B+ on the card she gives him, and the nurse tells him that's quite rare and he beams cause he thinks he's special and then says 'B+ that's pretty good, I mostly got C-s and Fs in school,' and she laughs at that, she's not stuck-up like Millicent, but she also doesn't make him raise his one good eyebrow the way Millicent does when she walks past
'I'd probably have a better chance with the big nurse' he says 'but isn't that the way urges always works,' Fisk says, 'always points you to a dead end dream,' and he's right we think, 'man, Fisk has the fate of knowing all the truths about the world and no power to do anything with that knowledge,' when we're talking about Fisk we're always saying stuff like 'bet in his previous life he was an evil politician or a guy who shot a bunch of people in a restaurant and god punished the guy after he died by turning him into Fisk in this life,'
the nurse takes Fisk and has him lie down on a cot, 'I was thinking maybe Millicent Pinchbeck was going to take my blood,' Fisk says to her and the nurse says 'she's not qualified, she's just a student here for the summer,' and Millicent hears that and looks up irritated and says, 'actually I'm starting university in the fall and I'll be studying to become a Doctor,' and the big nurse rolls her eyes and sticks the needle, which is attached to the plastic tubing, which is attached to the plastic bag, into Fisk's arm, next thing he knows he opens his eyes and there's doctors and a bunch of people standing around and shouting in his ear asking his name, and then there's Millicent walking back and forth telling everyone 'stay calm, this happens sometimes and giving blood is really very safe,' but everyone actually seems calm except Millicent -
Doctor tells him 'some people pass out at the sight of blood, it's good to know that you do, so you aren't surprised by it next time you come to donate,' and Fisk realizes that he's only ever seen his own blood when someone was working him over; or the time that guy walked in when Fisk was working door to door as an exterminator
and sure enough Fisk is in the guy's bed with the guy's wife and the guy grabs his wife's nail scissors and starts cutting Fisk up; or that worst time of all when they took his thumb with a butcher knife because he'd been grifting a lot of guys in the organization and he's in so much shock before the knife goes down he can't even tell them to take the right thumb because he's left handed - and so we're sitting around at his place after he gets back from giving blood and fainting - he's sipping some of yesterday's soup out of a cup for strength -
and he's talking about this Russian doctor who figured out that a dog would slobber over everything if you dangled food above his head because dogs slobber when they're hungry and the doctor rang a bell at the same time he gave the dog food, 'and then when the doctor stopped feeding the dog and just rang the bell, like to torture the dog I guess, the dog still slobbered, cause he still made the connection with food when he heard the bell even though there wasn't any food and he was just gonna starve until the Doctor became famous, and that's what I think it was with me, my mind's making a connection to seeing my blood when really bad abuse happens to me,' telling us this so we'd know there was a scientific reason he fainted, not just that Fisk is some sissy - and then we're looking at this window he made, and we tell him that usually with a bay window you have one window looking straight out and then two thin windows at an angle one looking down the street
one way and one looking up the street the other, so you can keep a better eye on what might be coming at you from either direction, but Fisk gets defensive now saying 'didn't have no other windows, just had bricks,' so what he's done is the bricks sit on a steel plate he's just balanced flat on the sill and then he's set the new three part window on the plate and it's held there by the weight of the bricks glued together with some tubes of caulking Fisk found a whole box of out behind a warehouse, and it's still kind of setting and the whole wall looks like it's starting to sag down and the new brickwork's buckling under it but Fisk says 'no problem it will all go back up when the caulking dries because caulking shrinks as it hardens,'
and that's what saved him that same night when the fire started, Fisk'd been asleep for hours, worn out from bleeding into a bag and fainting, a cop who got there first couldn't even make it out but Fisk did, they said there was so much ventilation from the holes he put in the wall that the smoke didn't get trapped, see the building caught fire on the first floor, cop ran in before the fire department could get there because they say that's the kind of cop he was, put down his own life to save civilians any time, didn't know there weren't no civilians living in this building only Fisk - cop hits a pocket of smoke on the second flight of stairs and gets cancelled instantly,
Fisk says 'I don't think he actually died - cops made it up to make me feel guilty cause they think I'm just a bum - cause I heard banging on the door and someone screaming 'fire'' but police say Fisk's hallucinating from all the blood he lost, anyway the stupid window saved him, he'd never have probably survived the smoke without all those holes in the wall and he probably couldn't have got the window open fast enough with one thumb, but Fisk says he called up some engineer he knew who used to build ships before he developed his drinking problem to investigate and give a report to the police in case there was any way Fisk could collect insurance and who told them:
'here's what I infer from what remains: the pressure from a weight of roughly 780 lbs standard imperial units, above the window-frame, overcame the not quite solidified ... um ... caulking (an extremely poor medium for bonding bricks I might add) and caused the window frame to shoot inwards and downwards towards the floor (a meter and a half shy of Mr. Fisk's bed, thankfully, or he would have otherwise been killed instantly) the window frame hit the floor forcing three two-metre pine boards downward at one end at, I would estimate, a speed of 60 nautical miles per hour thus making a fulcrum of the joist beneath them and forcing the opposite end of the boards, on which Mr. Fisk was reclining, upward at the same velocity, essentially turning the boards into a catapult and making Mr. Fisk a projectile striking the edge of the now rather large opening which had, moments before, been what Mr. Fisk generously described as a 'bay window,' miraculously Mr. Fisk was able to catch himself by grabbing the edge of the partially demolished wall with his one good hand on his way out, to steady himself and wait crouching, immobile, in shock, injured and bleeding for the rescue team to deliver him back to life,'
'yep, that's how it happened,' Fisk tells us when we show him the newspaper article in the hospital which says the same thing in not so many words, the accident cut up one of his eyes pretty good but it'll be OK when the patch comes off and he can still read out of the other eye, and the cops come around ask him some questions and then figure he's too messed up to have caused the fire and why should he as he'd spent the day unselfishly giving blood so little children who need operations can have a second chance, and trying to make his dump he called home just a bit nicer, even though that wasn't how it worked out, they actually started questioning him in the ambulance on the way to the hospital until Fisk passed out and didn't open his eyes until about 5:00 the next morning which is about when people in the trauma ward wake up and scream -
first thing he knows is he's hurting cause the pain killers are wearing off and feeling kind of sick cause he's lost a lot of blood by now, and the Dietary Aide is putting ice-cubes in his jug and it turns out it's Millicent Pinchbeck - guess she has to take all kinds of jobs to make money for university tuition - and Fisk smiles with only four teeth now and says 'It must be fate Millicent - Do you think they'll give me the same package of blood I gave you guys yesterday? I mean, it's my type. B+!'
and she looks like she's seen a ghost and runs, and we're sitting there with him that afternoon and talking with him and he says what gets him the most burned about this whole thing is how the glass cut up his one good shirt he was wearing when the window shattered and he shows us all the places on his chest where they extracted glass and stitched him up - he's on a whole lot of drugs in the IV bag so he doesn't feel anything right now - and we're all laughing so loud and having such a good time the nurses make us leave because we're too rowdy - but Fisk, he'll heal up, get released, get people coming after him for money he borrowed, or for revenge at a grift, or for wrecking something, or for being with the wrong person's wife - and then get away someplace new.
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