He’d sent each story to himself in the mail. A trusted friend had told him that it was an acceptable, perfectly legally valid way to copyright your work. Then he sent himself a draft of the chapbook, a draft he’d thought was final until he started reading one of the one hundred folded and stapled copies he had printed and Kinko’s. On page 29 there was a typo. He found other typos after that, and stayed up all night before the zine fair making corrections, went to Kinko’s sometime around four a.m. to make one hundred new copies. He finished around five. He’d only stapled fifteen copies before he had to go to sleep.
His alarm went at ten. At 10:27, exactly, he sat up, threw his legs over the side of the bed turned off snooze and saw the pile of unfolded chapbooks. He folded ten more before showering, shaving, throwing the folded copies, the unfolded copies, his stapler and his ziplock of toonies into a duffle bag and running to the subway station. He was two stops into his ride when he remembered that he hadn’t sent himself a copy of this new draft of 13 Stories, by Mark Peerman. At the next station, Mark got off the train and waited for one going the other direction, back to the post-office in his neighbourhood, which he knew would be open on Saturday.
He’d been waiting for five minutes when he decided he should just go ask whoever was working the booth at ground level if they knew where he could find the nearest open post-office. Mark was nearly at the top of the stairs when the train’s rumble had him running back to the platform; it wasn’t his train he’d heard and he was getting ready to curse when he saw dusty yellow light against the walls of the tunnel to his left. The train he was waiting for arrived within a minute.
It took twenty minutes to buy the special envelope and mail the zine to himself because Mark was behind an old Portuguese man and his daughter/translator trying to send a package that maybe contained maybe, more or less, the exact same things the old man had sent in a package before, but that were somehow heavier this time or, if not heavier, more money to send now because rates had changed since whenever he’d last sent them or whatever. Anyway, it was more expensive than he expected and it was causing him distress and his daughter distress, because she was trying to sort out what it was he was gesturing and shouting about so she could translate, but also because she was clearly embarrassed. Mark wasn’t sure if they’d sorted anything out by the time the postal worker—who was not the lady who worked the counter during the week—had them fill out some customs forms off to the side.
When Mark handed the postal worker the envelope, the worker thought Mark had made a mistake because the return address was the same as the destination. “I’m mailing it to myself to copyright it,” Mark explained.
“Does that work?”
“That’s what I’ve been told,” Mark said.
“Hunh,” the postal worker said.
“You’ve never heard of that?”
The girl working the door at the zine fair tried to charge Mark admission. “I’m a vendor,” Mark said, pointing to his duffle.
“Oh. You’re late,” she said, and from the way she paused and kept her mouth open, Mark could tell that she felt bad about sounding judgmental, that she’d just been surprised, that’s all. “OK. Come in.”
“Where’s my table?”
He had to ask someone else and she was actually upset about how late Mark was and Mark really apologized and thanked her when she pointed him to the back corner of a basement room where there was, as far as he could see, no place to put out his 13 Stories.
Mark stood in front of the table. A guy wearing sunglasses who almost certainly described himself as a dude or a bro, sat smiling behind a pile of small publications, the most eye-catching featuring a photocopy of someone’s buttocks, the right cheek washed out, the left cheek in hairy shadow, the words Waxing Half Moon, written in white out down the crack. “Can I interest you in a ’zine about male hair management?”
“I’m supposed to have a table around here.”
“Oh. OK. Hey, brother,” he said, sweeping his zines from the table space in front of a chair with a backpack. “We wondered where you were. Uh,” the dude stared at the backpack.
It was covered in buttons and patches: “Trans inclusive feminism always”, “Smash the patriarchy”, “Bikini Kill”, “Feminist”, “That takes ovaries”, “Cat calls won’t get you pussy”. The woman in the seat next to the chair had a set of publications arranged in a circle. One cover had a “HELLO my name is” sticker with “Murdered and Missing” written into the blank space. There were flames drawn around the tag. She turned to Mark and smiled.
“I think that’s supposed to be my chair,” Mark said.
“Sure thing. Sorry,” she threw the backpack onto the floor beside her.
Mark looked to both ends of the row of tables, looking for the proper path to his seat.
“I think under is the only way, man,” the guy with the butt zine told him.
Mark nodded. The woman smiled at him. He put his duffle bag on the table and got on his hands and knees. He wasn’t proud of himself, but he did look at the woman’s pinched-together knees and her poodle skirt with “Boner Kill” written in looping script. To be fair, he also looked at the dude’s jeans—unremarkable, fraying, smelling of sitting too long in a car and maybe Cheetos or Doritos at the spot just above the knee that he clearly used to wipe his hands. Mark wanted to emerge from under the table quickly, but the space between the seat and the table edge was small and he had to take his time to consider how best to shimmy up. He tried facing the table, but his back caught on the wooden edge of the seat. When he faced the seat, he knocked the table and he could hear a cascade of small publications hitting the floor by his feet.
“Here,” the woman said, moving her chair and her bag and offering her hand.
“Thanks,” Mark said as he emerged.
She waited for him to sit, then said, “Now, if you’ll excuse me,” and slipped under the table. She picked up a pile of zines with a photograph of one of those Easter Island heads on the cover. The title was, Saying Aliens Did It Is Racist.
“Could I take a look at that,” the dude asked.
Mark put his duffle bag in his lap and unzipped it. He lay out the 24 folded copies of his 13 Stories chapbook.
The woman crawled back under the table as Mark straightened his wares. He felt something brush the outside of his leg and jumped sideways nervously before looking down to see the woman holding her hand up to him for help. “Sorry to startle you,” she said.
“Oh, no problem,” Mark said. He helped her up. If he’d been more comfortable, he would have told her that when he was younger he had had this cat, his parents cat from before he was born, who would brush by your leg like he was trying to be friends with you then if you petted him he would slash your hand or arm, claws out. Mark was still considering telling her about the cat when he sat down and stared out at the room full of vendors and realized that the story could totally be interpreted as anti-feminist, as a warning he was giving himself about the woman sitting beside him who he actually thought was good-looking and kind and, based on her zines anyway, pretty interesting.
“I’m Hannah,” the woman said.
Mark introduced himself.
Not to be excluded, the dude said, “Hey guys. I’m Tyler.”
Soon, Tyler started arguing with Hannah about who had made the pyramids, an argument Hannah won easily by asserting over and over again that humans did it and that humans everywhere and at all times are possessed of the same amount of genius, just that they don’t always apply it to things that we, now, here, recognize as brilliant. Tyler repeated a lot of arguments from a lot of shows on the topic of Alien involvement in grand human constructions. There was really no resolution before customer traffic started to increase in their corner of the basement. Mark couldn’t tell if anyone was doing booming business, but he could see all the seated sales people straining desperately towards each potential buyer like hungry baby birds. Mark noticed a lot of trading between vendors. One of the editors of shameless magazine came up to their table and asked Hannah about her work. Hannah gave a copy of each of her zines to the editor.
During a lull in the browsing, Tyler asked Mark to watch his stuff, explaining, “I gotta piss.” Mark asked Hannah if he could see her red-covered Enthusiastic Consent: Erotic Tales zine. Hannah asked if she could trade him for one of his 13 Stories. Mark agreed.
He was reading a “CisPorn” story about a recent university graduate and his former prof making love in her office. The former student was sucking his former prof’s toes when Tyler brushed against Mark’s leg while crawling back to his seat. “Sorry, bro. Hey, is something wrong?” Mark shook his head and kept reading until the moment of penetration, when he had to take a break.
Hannah’s reading was interrupted by a pair of girls who told her about their own zine, PERVS, which they eventually just pulled out and handed to her. They bought a copy of each of her zines and asked if her contact information was in there because they had this super-cool teacher who was going to do a zine unit with them and maybe she could come in and talk to their class? When they left, Hannah smiled at Mark.
Mark said, “I’m sorry, I had to stop reading because, I . . . ” He gestured towards his lap and made an embarrassed face.
Hannah laughed. “They’re working then.”
“Which one were you reading?”
“I’m glad you like it. I’m almost finished ‘Story 1’,” she said, turning back to 13 Stories.
The five minutes it took Hannah to get through the last pages of the story Mark spent trying to perfect a smile that was welcoming, but not pressuring. He figured it would be superior to whatever expression he’d been wearing while trying not to seem desperate.
“I like it,” Hannah said. “I really like it.” She said she thought it was brave of Mark to write female characters so intimately and that he’d done a really good job of avoiding making them stereotypical. She asked if he’d done much research. Mark explained that the story was inspired by something that had happened to his sister, that it was loosely based on that. They talked about his sister for a bit, then Hannah talked about her siblings—a much older brother and two younger half-siblings.
Hannah had to start packing up early. “My friends are playing a show tonight,” she told him. “They want me to sell some of these.”
“Nice,” Mark said. “Your friends are in a band?”
“They’re called The Oblititrons,” she said. “Maybe you’ve heard of them?”
Mark made a face like he was checking his mental filing system for any reference to The Oblititrons even though he knew right away that he definitely had not heard of them. Eventually, he shook his head. “I don’t think so. Great name, though.”
“You should come,” she said. She told him the venue.
“Maybe.” He felt so tired.
Hannah held up her copy of 13 Stories. “I can’t wait to finish these. Is your contact information in here?”
“I’ll let you know what I think.”
Mark smiled. “That’d be great.” He touched the cover of Enthusiastic Consent. “I’ll let you know what I think of these,” he said. “Though, I’m not sure I’ll be able to talk about them in any detail without sounding like a creep.”
She laughed. “I’ll see you.”
Later, as everyone else was packing up, Tyler said, “I only sold ten things, man. Slow day.”
Mark said, “Yeah.”
On his way out, Mark overheard some of the other vendors talking about getting a drink. Mark went home.
He put his duffle bag in front of his closet. He only unzipped it to pull out Enthusiastic Consent. He read a few of the stories, pausing periodically to abuse himself. No, Hannah wouldn’t call it that. Pleasure himself. Masturbate.
It was still early when he went to bed. Mark stared at the clock. Hannah wouldn’t have invited him to the show if she didn’t want him to go, right?
He turned on the light, got dressed and left before he could change his mind about it.
—Duncan, BC/Toronto, ON, July, 2015
Emoji sequence: Braden Labonte
Story: Lee Sheppard