Lorette C. Luzajic
Lorette C. Luzajic is a visual artist and writer from Toronto, Canada. She uses collage, poetry, and flash fiction to process the barrage of imagery and information around her and contemplate it in a way that means bearing witness. Poetry and literature are major themes that surface in subtle or overt ways in her artwork, and art history is usually the starting point for her stories and prose poems.
Lorette's new book is 'Pretty Time Machine' [Mixed Up Media Books, 2020]
Honky Tonk Women
Yes, you were telling me, of course I do, of course I miss my mother. There were those bygone patios of Rochester when you smoked cigars and shared tumblers of whisky. Your hair and hearts were big and bursting, and the country ballads you swayed to on your last foothold was velvet. You used to blaze through Avon catalogues, and jewelry counters at the CNE, sorting our caches of glitter and glow with glee and abandon. Well, there were those moments where your tears soaked right through her red satin blouse: Mother would hold you, and wave down a server for more sherry. Once, you confess, you threw up in the joint parking lot between a few rigs, and Mother pulled a perfumed tissue from her pocketbook, wiped your face clean as if you were a toddler with spaghetti on your cheeks. Pull it together, kiddo, she said, patting the seat beside her in the van, taking the wheel, opening another bottle with her free hand.
(from my book, Pretty Time Machine, Mixed Up Media Books, 2020)
Everyone has small secrets, you said once when you wanted to back away from prying. I almost told you everything right then. You had a hand full of Twizzlers, ever since you quit smoking, and I watched you methodically chew one branch after another. We were dappled in sunlight, lolling gently along in a small boat. The scenery was idyllic. I didn’t apologize for a delicious cigar, made a ceremony of tapping the ash onto the lights on the water. I wished that you would draw me, paint me, outline my contours in charcoal. I wanted that fleeting sense of permanence, imagined the strokes and gestures of your pencil and your brush. But you wouldn’t do it. Said it would make you feel too naked. Well, there were times I almost asked you what was behind those closed doors. But I felt compelled to allow you the dignity of a mystery. When everyone else was desperately hawking their secrets to anyone online who would gasp, you were cool and contained, held the weight of whatever it was with a kind of integrity I’d never possessed myself. I somehow wanted to honour that. So I held my curiosity the way you held your secrets. And if I imagined them unravelling in the lone dark when I wasn’t with you, I never told you anything about it until now.
Mr. Jones is sick of solanine: by now, craggy spurs and creaky knuckles from the dark bursting eyes of his spuds are weary nuisances. Still he pares on, with Saint at his side. The room’s musk of dog and potatoes is a hallmark after all these years. Sometimes they’ll both be rattled from reverie by the racket of teacups when the train rumbles past behind them. Mr. Jones might put his knife aside, summon Saint to the backyard for a sniff and a woof among earthworms and the falling night. He might light a pipe for a few swift puffs, stub out the nest of tobacco with the tip of his finger when he turns in. The whistle way off sounds like a song he used to know.
You asked about Marie and I didn’t know what to tell you. I’d last seen her wedged atop my bookshelves, her sly smile up there blank and all knowing, and it hadn’t dawned on me until that moment that I hadn’t seen her for some time. Marie, the long-necked Madonna of disco. I would have guessed her sultry vintage stare was painted on just as Abba hit their stride, but she was as aloof and flawless as Nefertiti, another incarnation. Nah, you said when you gifted her to me- she’s a real redhead, like me. I had to agree and ended up spray painting her russet when she got dusty. I heaped her in swathes of little disco balls that bloomed pink and baby blue when the last light fell through the blinds. Her neck grew as long as our friendship. Once you strapped Marie to the front of your boyfriend’s Bronco, and she rode unblinking through Wyoming and Michigan to land back home. When you left again you placed her at the topmost shelf in my library and she’d never gone anywhere since. How long had it been since Marie’s discreet disappearance and now? I had no idea where she’d gone or who had taken her. Sometimes it’s like that, a small mystery, like how the day I met you, you were long and thin and orange like the cat I loved who had fallen fatally from the balcony that very morning. I named you after him, a moniker you wore from then on forward. We never agreed on anything but “Suzanne” by Leonard Cohen, thrift store oddities, and New Orleans. It didn’t matter, nothing did, in that kind of friendship, easy as Sunday morning.
after Andres Roca Rey
The matador is a fey little slip of a thing. His smallness is not disguised by the dazzling pale green spacesuit made of light. I’m about to the take the bull by the horns, declare that he needs mothering, but none of the ten thousand ears in the rings would hear me. Kleenex are waving like proverbial ballad lighters in stadiums back home, chins thrust back, braying for blood. My date nudges me, tells me the boy is currently famous for being the worst bullfighter in the world. Just nineteen and already been gored, more times than they can count. I thought I’d read that meeting your maker in a losing match was a badge of honour for a torero, the only way to die. That those never wounded have nothing to show in a game where scars are the currency of manhood. Matteo muffles a guffaw, cups his hand to my cheek with uncharacteristic softness. Yes, hermosa, he says, that is true, but first you have to fell a few bulls.
The Peanut Butter Yarmulke
My Dad admitted it, readily, cheerfully. That he’d been praying for me, that the Lord would send a nice Jewish boy. Couldn’t you have been more specific? I bawled at him, and at God, holding you up in the door-well by the scruff. You calmly removed your glasses and polished them while I ranted and raved, then reached for mine and went at them with your hankie. Dad was getting more gray by the day. He was almost translucent. But he loved for us to crank up the bed and fluff his pillows so he could join, asked for a plastic tumbler full of ice and a few fingers of white wine if it was after five. He had a birdfeeder set up right outside, told us if the window wasn’t there, he would shoot the grackles and the squirrels that took everything from the hummingbirds he was luring. The dreaded grackle was staring in at us just then, all tut-tut bravado and beady insolence. Dad was patting the sheet beside him for us to join him on the bed, reached for his wine and for his Bible. You turned on your phone to record his faltering recitation, and I would thank you for that later when he was gone. But right then I was too busy pressing Reese’s peanut butter cup wrappers to your shiny pate. Look, Dad, it’s his yarmulke! I pointed, and we all laughed. I was thinking about licking the sugar from your skull and I know you felt my pulse quicken. I marveled how your teeth arched white right back into the gum, where mine were grimy yellow hollows from too many years of cigarettes. Dad never laid in on me about settling down, discreetly held his regrets and hopes for me close to his skin and never imposed them. I was just happy he could see me carrying on and laughing with you. I took that, even if I don’t know if we were forever, or what that even meant. Never held anything this long without breaking it.
after Ruby Wallick
“I will say that in 26 years of law enforcement it’s the worst thing I have ever seen.”
- Police Sgt. Aaron Pomeroy
Nine decades under her belt, but there was still room to spare. Ruby was spry, sharp, and sure of three more years. Even with porcelain bones, light as air. She’d seen it all before, but not this. Who could guess their last supper would be tonight, with Ruby the main course? Her daughter dropped by to drop off fresh rhubarb and some green beans, hoped her mother had the back burner simmering with bacon and spuds. How a crumble of biscuit sopped on steaming top would melt her troubles away. You were never too old to need your Mama, were you? she thought as she climbed the old steps. The cities were in flames around her, and the deadly virus of 2020 was felling her neighbours like branches snapping away. She heard the sounds of struggle, a low and guttural rumble, as if a wild animal had gotten inside. Her call was answered with a strange silence. There was a scuttling noise on the floorboards above. She picked up pace, came face to face with a nightmare: a vampire straddled over Ruby, tearing handfuls of meat from her carcass with both hands. His mouth was stuffed full of fat. He licked his chops, crooked a greased finger her way. Ruby was long gone, emptied into dark pools seeping through the floorboards, eyes fixed on the ceiling. Her slippers were obscenely asunder, red and fuzzy and floating in blood. The sirens were already singing on the outskirts, circling the unrest, scooping up the casualties and injuries. She must have called someone, because they came closer. It took four cops to pry Ruby’s grandson from her corpse and a taser for him to release her entrails from his teeth. How do you bury a nonagenarian who has been eaten alive? How do you tell the others that the wolf in the attic was your own?
Karen and Karen
We were cut from the same cord, a few years apart. Sisters unknown. Rose up in the same wheat fields, same Manitoba snowstorms, and we didn’t have a clue. My sister, named the same name. At sixty, helping a dying great aunt look for her daughter, I found the secret that would soon have been buried with our mother. The sister I’d grieved as stillborn all my life. A girl out there. Our mother stayed married to my father for 70 years. It was a rare commitment, a long road of till death do us part, and there was a fork in the road: a mistake and a miracle. Karen. From another father. Karen is half me. She does not come into view for many more years. I have found out the secret, but have not found her. She is real but not real. When I don’t hear back, after that first surge of hope, I forget I have put my bottle out to sea. But today, an email. Inside of it, my beating heart. A woman who is also named Karen. We will meet, clandestine like furtive lovers, in hopes of not breaking anything. We will both have lives behind us and sturdy shoes beneath us. We might be sewn together, we might return to life apart, we do not yet know how it is, or how it will go. We only know, we are Karen, two sides of the same coin. Is there something in me that knew I’d been severed from myself, something in her that said so? I do not know. I do not know whether I will click with her or she will click with me. It doesn’t matter. Too much time has turned to dust already. There is only blood and rust, there is only the sun setting over the prairies, shorn of brambles and brick by the pioneer women in wagons who came before us.