January 26, 1988


The radio announcer sat in front of a microphone every day, and read the predictions of an anonymous astrologer for the benefit of an unseen audience.  It was his job to name the month and the ancient sky symbol that represented it, and then read a short statement on what the person born under its influence could expect for the day. The elliptical orbits of planets were not ignored, and the movement of invisible but tangible ethers were seriously considered.

The heavenly movements allegedly affect humans in a variety of colourful afflictions, calculated to leave each individual in an enlightened state of superstitious anticipation.  On a certain day, is it safe to spend money, to make decisions, or to love?  Is it safe, even, to get out of bed?

The announcer, who dutifully read these predictions every day, wondered if people were taking them too seriously. Suppose, for example, Virgo were to actually heed today's reading, which stated; "A dark phase makes love dangerous.  Avoid affectionate situations."  What if Virgo refused to kiss her husband goodbye as he left for work?  He might think that their marriage was over, and start an affair with his secretary. He might not come back home. Virgo would go on welfare, and sit at home, smoking and listening to the radio all day.
Well, the announcer thought, that was an extreme case.  Only an unbalanced person would take a horoscope so seriously.

Nevertheless, the announcer worried about the negative predictions he was reading.  So he changed Virgo’s reading to; “The conjunction of heavenly bodies makes every moment happy today.  Shower your loved ones with love.”

Of course, after making Virgo happy, he had to do the same for the remaining eleven months.  Just as well, for some of them were in a particularly wretched ‘phase.’  He read all the ‘improved’ predictions, and felt good, imagining all the happy people kissing their spouses, looking forward to their rosy, cloudless days.

After a while, the announcer did not bother looking at the astrological forecasts at all.  He just invented sunny phrases to go with each birth sign.

The announcer became famous for his positive outlook on life.  Thousands of people tuned in to his program to hear his cheerful evaluations of the day ahead.  Many listeners secretly wished that he would take over the weather and the evening news as well.

Eventually, the announcer was able to condense his predictions into one memorable phrase.  Anyone listening to the radio, at a certain time every day, heard him make his prediction in a tirelessly optimistic singsong:

“It’s going to be a great day!”

November 12, 1987


The man worked every day.  The constant use of his hands in delicate work, the playing out of complex mental processes, was his habit.  He considered himself an artist.

At first the stiffening in his fingers did not alarm him.  He had been working too many hours, he thought, and was tired.  He continued working, even when the stiffness became pain, because the ideas were coming as fast as he could create something with them.  His thoughts traced increasingly complex paths, recorded through his cramped fingers.

The doctors said that he must rest.

“But I have work to do.  What is wrong with me?”

“We are not sure.  Perhaps just a small thing.  We are looking into it.”  The doctors were evasive.  “Meanwhile, rest.”

The man held up his hands, and they trembled.  He felt a current of panic flash along his spine.  But he went home and continued to work.

“Just a small thing,” he repeated.

Ideas continued to flow, but they were more and more impeded by his failing hands.  Pain and numbness alternated.  Soon he was unable to do the finely detailed work that had been his pride.

Still, he worked.  He developed new techniques, adapting to his condition.

“What is it that I have?” he asked.

The doctors did not want to tell him.

“You must not be alarmed,” they said.

The man had read about a disease that takes everything away, and he felt a sudden horror that he must have it.

“I have to know,” he said.  “I have my work to do.  Tell me the worst it can be.”

“It is the worst,” the doctors finally admitted, and they named the disease.  “It would be best to stop working.  You must rest, for you will lose more than the use of your hands, eventually.”  They did not want the man to go home.

The man was angry.  Did the doctors think he would throw himself in the path of a car?  He did not want to listen any longer.  The doctors would not look into his eyes.

Outside, he looked at the traffic moving in front of him, quick and dangerous.  He held out his hands, already alien appendages.

“They won’t obey me anymore,” he said to the traffic that sucked at him.  But he pulled back.  He had work he must do somehow.  His brain was still working.  He went home.

He walked from room to room, looking at everything he had done with his hands, and he cried, “I will not stop working!”

Then he stood still and closed his eyes, and envisioned everything that he could yet do, and he whispered, “I will continue to work.”

When his hands shook uncontrollably, he incorporated the shaking into his work.  His work evolved, finding new ways to flow from his crippled fingers.

There came a day when his hands lay useless and benumbed, with the rest of his body, and the man knew that they would never give shape to his work again.  His brain still created, but his body could not produce.

“Then I will make words about my work,” the man said.  He spoke, and his thoughts were recorded.  Sometimes others read his words, and were inspired to use their hands.  So descriptive were his words that intricate structures seemed to take form from them, as if the man had actually made them with his hands.

Eventually the man could not move from his room.  His ideas came faster then, told to anyone who would listen.  When he could no longer speak, he continued to think.  His thoughts were as inventive as they had ever been.

“I will keep thinking, in case anyone can hear me.”  He believed he must be heard, just as he listened in his mind to others.  And he watched carefully everything that went on in his room.

At last a day came that the room was dark, and the light did not come back.  Then the man invented a light, in the place behind his eyes, so that he could still work.

The sounds and the room receded.  At first the man did not notice, because he was working on a new idea, a pattern his mind had not completed.

“He’s going now,” he heard a voice say, out in the room he remembered.

“Where would I go?” the man thought.  “I have work to do.  I am still able to place one idea after another...”
He thought one more thought.

And that thought hung suspended, and continued.

September 30, 1987


"You are unloved and unappreciated," the dentist said one morning to his reflection in the mirror.

He could not understand why he was not one of the more popular members of the community.  He was certainly successful in his work, being a scrupulous and expert practitioner of the latest dental procedures.  He was a member in good standing of the Canadian Dental Association, a generous supporter of Ducks Unlimited and a regular blood donor.  He attended a conservative church every Sunday.

But people always winced when they met him. They pressed their lips firmly together when they smiled, unwilling to expose their teeth to his scrutiny.  Patients entered his office with dread and left grateful that they would not have to return for another six months.

"Am I such a beast?"  He studied his own perfect teeth in the mirror, and gargled with medicinal mouthwash.

His first patient that morning was an artist. She gazed wordlessly at the ceiling, gripping the arms of her chair.

She thinks of me as a kind of mechanic, the dentist thought sadly.  In fact, he had the soul of an artist.  He longed for the opportunity to give shape to his creative inspirations.  He wanted to share his thoughts with the artist.  He asked her about her work, but she mumbled briefly, without looking at him.
The dentist sighed, and began working on her front tooth.

He was proud of the quality of his work.  He matched the colour of the tooth enamel, and carved and shaped carefully.  Then, in a moment of whimsy, he etched an intricate, joyful design on the tooth.  He paused for a moment to admire it.

I AM an artist, he told himself.  He buffed lightly over his etching, smiling at the artist.

"All done," he said cheerfully.  "Don't bite down hard for an hour."

He was still smiling when the next patient arrived.  This time the dentist was able to decorate the entire crown of a large molar.  By the end of the day, he was making freehand sketches full of complex figures and scenes, covering every square millimetre of available tooth enamel.

People began to notice his works of art in their mouths, in the morning as they stood in front of their bathroom mirrors. They marvelled at their teeth, as intricately carved as ivory jewellery.  Soon everyone was talking about the dentist's wonderful art work.  They smiled openly when they met him. Strangers stopped each other on the street, to gaze admiringly into each others' mouths.

Before long the dentist was taking orders for special occasions, such as baby's first tooth, and etched matching caps for couples about to be married.  He expanded his business to include the adornment of dentures.  His work became so popular that that local citizens were given dental donor cards, so that no works of art would be inadvertently buried with them.

The dentist felt fulfilled at last.  He was a popular artist, and his works increased in value, especially his earlier etchings, which were now a difficult to acquire collectors’ items.

One day the lady artist returned for a check-up.  With pride and confidence, the dentist asked her what she thought of his tooth art.

"Oh,” she said, tapping her front tooth, "they're SO commercial. Everyone has a mouth full of them. One could scarcely call them REAL works of art."

And without another word she turned her nose to the ceiling.

The dentist was upset.  He stared resentfully into the artist's mouth.

It happened that the lady artist had particularly bad teeth, and required extensive work twice a year. The dentist resurfaced her one etched tooth, this time with a very plain pale yellow, to match the rest of her teeth.  From then on, he carefully avoided any artistry when working on her teeth.  He saved his creative efforts for his more appreciative patients.

Meanwhile, the lady artist created quite a controversy in the community, denouncing the dentist's work to the art world. She appeared at public meetings, and was heard on the radio, rabidly protesting the acknowledgement of etched teeth as art.

“What next?” she raged.  “Collaged nail clippings?  Sculpted stool specimens?”

Soon the entire artistic community was boycotting the etching of teeth.  Artists marched in the streets, showing snarling displays of unadorned teeth.  It became a fad among many artists to avoid dentists altogether, and this inspired a certain admiration for the artists' fortitude.  One or two artists stopped using toothbrushes and toothpaste, but finding people less tolerant to their cause, were forced to compromise on that point.

The dentist found himself excluded from the artistic community, at the height of his public popularity.  During creative welding classes, he noticed, the artists seemed to exude their disapproval of him, particularly from their untended mouths.  Even Canadian Art, where all the dentist's ideas for tooth installations came from, published an article about the controversy, stating that suffering was at the root of all real art, and that true artists must gaze into the black holes of doubt every day.

Eventually the dentist stopped taking the welding classes, and cancelled his subscription to Canadian Art.  His patients preferred Maclean's and People, anyway.  None of them noticed when he removed all the fine art reproductions from his office walls and replaced them with posters of magnified plaque and gum diseases.

The dentist discovered that it was much more profitable to offer his etching services as cosmetic surgery, and he was able to retire young, a very wealthy man.  He devoted the rest of his life to his tooth art, becoming internationally known for his ‘Mammals of Canada Etched Tooth Series’, part of the Nature Canada permanent collection. However, such institutions of higher and greater things as the Art Gallery of Ontario and Harbourfront ultimately rejected the tooth etchings as too popular to be considered fine art.

The lady artist and her associates had to go out of town to get the un-etched dentures that they all eventually required.

September 21, 1987

Painting Dark

He took his time preparing the panel.  It was white, a large square.  He would paint on it sometime soon—something.  At the moment, however, he saw nothing there, only clean space.  It seemed as if there would never be anything there.  But he had been fooled by empty canvas before.
Unsure, he stared at it.  The panel gazed back at him under the studio lights, as expressionless as a white wall.
“It’s late.”
He rubbed his eyes.  Perhaps in the morning he would begin his painting.  He picked up a pencil and put it back down.  He turned away.

In bed, in the dark, he thought about the empty square.  He tried to sleep, but every dream ended in a blank wall.  His visions were white and dimensionless, with no repose.

Eventually he must have slept, for it took a heavy beating against the window screen to wake him.  He lay rigidly for a few moments, then heard rustling and scratching.
“There is nothing to be afraid of.”
But he wondered how strong the screen was.

Rising, he approached the window, trying to see in the darkness.  There was only the sound, and degrees of blackness.
Shapes formed.  He brought his face close to the screen, and was able to make out large black wings, and a round eye fixed on his.
The raven tumbled awkwardly against the window, dropped and flapped back again.  It clambered into the eaves trough and ducked under it, hanging.  As it clawed for a hold, it batted at the screened opening with one wing.
The window was a black square in the night room, and the raven, blacker, filled it.

The artist hesitated, still staring.
“It wants in.”
He could open the window.  Or the bird could pass through, one wing and its head emerging first, like a dark birthing.  He reached over and put his hand on the latch.  He thought of the white panel in the other room, waiting for the artist’s thought.  His hand looked detached and pale against the night, sliding the screen open.

He saw his painting begin to form.  The panel darkened.  A somber shape flew out of it, enlarging to fill the square, but never escaping.
A pattern emerged in deepest grays, red eye gleaming.

The next morning, the man woke exhausted from the night and his vision.  He remembered.  He went immediately to the studio to look at the panel on the easel.

He was afraid that the painting would not be there.

September 1, 1987


On opposite sides of a round pool there lived two creatures.

One was dusky feathered with small red eyes and big yellow claws.  She called herself Raven.  She spoke often and loudly about anything that interested her.  Her rough voice could be heard echoing across the pool through the day and night.  She was an artist who spent long hours building vast structures from ideas she found everywhere.
She became close friends with the other creature, who made fabulous art objects of his own.
He worked with the same care and originality as Raven, and as well was a graceful performer.  He had a melodic voice that ranged from a high, perfect trill down to a husky murmur full of strange secrets.  As he worked and sang, he moved his body gracefully.  In appearance, he was very different  from Raven, with his serpentine neck and brightly patterned wings, and tail covered with pearly scales that ended in a pleated fan.
This gorgeous creature had no name, for he changed often and hid in disguises so that few were able to identify him.  Raven had never met anyone like him; she called him Phoenix.
They became so fond of each other that they decided to make something together, a little Imp that would represent their combined arts.  Raven wondered how two such completely different creatures as themselves could join their work, for it seemed unnatural.  Phoenix feared that his delicate features might by overpowered by Raven’s loud blackness.  But because they were devoted to each other, they were determined to work together.
After many months of planning, their creation was brought forth in the misty place over the waters between their two homes.  Their offspring was a bright creature with many tiny wings and appendages.  Its dark body was highlighted with every hue and texture imaginable.  Soon the little Imp was moving everywhere with joy and quick assurance.

And when it spoke, it called out as artfully as Phoenix, and as loudly as Raven.  It flourished and became the voice of many things they wished to impart.