J.J. Steinfeld is a fiction writer, poet, and playwright who lives on Prince Edward Island. He has published two novels, Our Hero in the Cradle of Confederation (Pottersfield Press) and Word Burials (Crossing Chaos Enigmatic Ink), ten short story collections, including three by Gaspereau Press — Should the Word Hell Be Capitalized?, Anton Chekhov Was Never in Charlottetown, and Would You Hide Me? — and the most recent, A Glass Shard and Memory (Recliner Books), and two poetry collections, An Affection for Precipices (Serengeti Press) and Misshapenness (Ekstasis Editions), along with two short-fiction chapbooks by Mercutio Press, Curiosity to Satisfy and Fear to Placate and Not a Second More, Not a Second Less and three poetry chapbooks, Existence Is a Hoax, a Woman in Fishnet Stockings Told Me When I Was Twenty (Cubicle Press), Where War Finds You (HMS Press), and A Fanciful Geography (erbacce-press). Over 200 of his short stories and nearly 500 poems have appeared in anthologies and periodicals internationally, and over forty of his one-act plays and a handful of full-length plays have been performed in Canada and the United States, including the full-length plays Acting Violently, The Franz Kafka Therapy Session, The Golden Age of Monsters, and A Television-Watching Artist, and the one-act plays Godot’s Leafless Tree, The Waiting Ends, The Entrance-or-Not Barroom, No End in Sight, Flowers for the Vases, The Word-Lover, Laugh for Sanity, A Murderous Art, Back to Back, Freesias in Whiskey, The Heirloom: An Evidence Play, and God’s Work.
You dreamed you lived a day longer than Methuselah, some sort of record, an accomplishment of inertia. It was the clearest, sharpest, most memorable dream you have ever experienced, and it took you several minutes to believe you were awake and had actually been dreaming. With blithe indifference you outlived friends and enemies, outlived the kindest soul and the cruellest creature, even the swiftest runners and most brilliant thinkers—outlived them all, a noteworthy marvel of agedness, a living artifact of parchment skin and worldly woes. In the dream, which you claimed was more real than daily life, your face was on the cover of every magazine and tabloid on the racks at the grocery store check-out line, and you looked old, older than Methuselah, without once being mentioned in the Bible.
DRINKER CHOKES TO DEATH ON WORD
Magnified under your empty shot glass, halfway between epiphany and hearsay, is the tiny newspaper headline, DRINKER CHOKES TO DEATH ON WORD, the cruelty and unfairness slapping you like a forgotten morning or an erased night. You refill your glass, simple ceremony, slight piercing pain of dislocation, and wonder what the lethal culprit was—perhaps fear or pity or shame, or, you reflect, it could have been a longer weapon, polysyllabic bullets, vengeful projectiles, like betrayal or unredemptive or meaninglessness. Death by word is a sad concept that impinges on your lonely afternoon. Another refill, a duel with the patient gods of memory and awareness, and in a shiver of tidiness you pat the newspaper dry. Oh my, you misread the tiny jittery headline, just as you have misread the curved text of your life, the incompetent downwardness: DRINKER CHOKES TO DEATH ON WORM. Squinting—where are your glasses?—you read of a nameless imbiber in a far-off land, the prose sombre and disjointed: “Mezcal drinker meets his end choking on a worm in notorious public house…” You would have written, were you so inclined: "One morning fate tripped him / and he choked on a merciless creature / disguised as a taciturn worm.” You use your old fountain pen to change a single headline letter, M to D, proofreader craving redemption, and feel a little less uneasy about the dangerous semantics in the world.
“DRINKER CHOKES TO DEATH ON WORD” and “Longevity” were first published in the short-fiction chapbook Curiosity to Satisfy and Fear to Placate (Mercutio Press, Montreal, 2003) by J. J. Steinfeld, copyright © 2003 by J. J. Steinfeld.
“In the Face of Unexpected Brilliancy,” “The Parenthetical Poet’s Failure,” “Ideas to Fists to Bloodied Psyches,” and “The Most and Least Disturbed Residents Embrace” were first published in An Affection for Precipices (Serengeti Press, 2006) by J. J. Steinfeld, copyright © 2006 by J. J. Steinfeld.
Used by permission.