"Canada" by Callum Angus

I’ve had only coffee to drink and the back of my throat tastes like garden hose left out in the sun. I realize, as I normally do late afternoon with the sun slanting in, that I haven’t said a word since waking up. I clip my toenails, put on a new shirt, turn left from the driveway to reach the fields outside of town, but the only farm stands I find are locked plywood boxes relying on faith in slots for folded bills. I choose two tomatoes: one for the veins peeking through reddish-green skin, the other for the pucker where vine meets fruit. On the radio, archipelagos. I can’t see them from here, but the announcer says they’re out there, new islands made by rising water, like kneecaps in a bath. 

I pass the greenhouse where Jay works a double shift. Forty-two acres tented over by white canvas. Jay and the others are torching the tomato plants row by row because of too many whiteflies. It’s a sterile environment and I’m not allowed inside. Inside they still call him Jenny. 

At home in front of the sink I say god damn it after cutting my finger trying to filet the branzino. Bleeding, I cut off their heads and leave them whole but gutted in a casserole dish on top of thyme and stuffed with lemons. The kitchen smells briny, garden-ish as I eat them, along with tomato slices floating in oil and vinegar.

A single Canada goose flies low overhead, squawking in the late evening, mid-March, 80 degrees, Massachusetts. Most birds have left, but I still look to see where the geese are going, hoping what’s left of winter is enough for them. I can’t tell which direction she’s heading in the growing darkness. The squawking lingers like she’s doing loops; she’s looking for the others, she’s circling the town, she’s a mixed up squawk of feathers and loneliness trying to get to Canada. Maybe earth’s magnetic fields have flipped, scrambling the tiny crystals in her head like microwaveable popcorn.   


I always knew I’d enjoy the plague when it came. Bugs—tiny, flying—devouring everything in their path so all that’s left are hundreds of brittle seastars bearing shriveled fruit. These I pull gasping from their plastic pots, throw their stems away to be trucked to the landfill. The tops of the plants, where the tomatoes grow, I pluck and place into big metal coffins. They’ll go to the landfill, too, but we have to keep the infested harvest separate, we have to marvel at the wilted balloon of each tomato, its red sucked away. It’s an even trade: the whiteflies take my job and I get to watch their devastation unfurl row by row. I try to look sad like my coworkers drawing out the day for a few more cents before they’re unemployed, moving slow from plant to plant like zombies. But I won’t miss it. What’s money when they still call you Jenny? I want to tell the whiteflies not to stop at the fruit but keep going for the heads, not as juicy as the tomato but riper, more rotten.


Still no Jay when I wake up at eight. The goose is back a little after ten. In between I do the following: masturbate, check my email, fry eggs and sausage, brew coffee, read a violent book by a Portuguese writer. I sit down to write but nothing comes. 

Instead of writing I go to the bedroom and open the top drawer of the dresser. On my side, bras in nude and black. On Jay’s side a collection of thick lycra tank tops. I pick one out, shiny like a bulletproof vest, and scrunch my torso inside it. The bottom pinches the skin just above my bellybutton. My breaths become shallow puffs. I pull on a pair of straight fit jeans and a button-up. Finally, one of his caps.

Avoiding the mirror on the closet door, reflections from the kitchen windows and the chrome fridge, I climb into the two-door where the fuel gauge reads almost empty. I don’t fill it because I’ve decided the most interesting thing for me to be doing is driving a new road, not pumping gas, unleaded or diesel. It’s the sun setting across that field. It’s the way the power lines cut a hole through the oak trees. It’s the yellow film of pollen on top of a stagnant pond. But then it’s also keeping my eyes on the road so I don’t crash; survival often becomes the most interesting thing.

I park at the college and walk down to the lake, an oblong amoeba carved from the dirt by backhoes in the middle of campus. A flock of geese hollow out the afternoon with their honking. The closeness of their feathered bodies makes me horny and I start to count the string of 80-degree days since Jay and I last had sex. I stop when it exceeds one equinox and a solstice. Jay’s binder is itchy under my shirt and the hot-cold sweat collects in my armpits. 

Wanting to see them take off all at once I watch the geese awhile, but they make no move to fly. I’m the only one standing by the water looking at the birds, and even though I don’t have anywhere to be I start to feel conspicuous and sad, like I’ve lost a game I don’t want to be playing. 


The bugs are gone or burning now, the last paycheck’s been collected, and I’m sitting in my truck wondering where to go. After hosing down the greenhouse we sprayed a chemical foam over everything the whiteflies might have touched, and now dead, dried meat is the only thing that appeals to me, so I stop off at the gas station and buy two packs of jerky before going home. 

Out front the rhododendrons bloom the third time this spring like nothing’s wrong. The rain gauge is Seattle-full. Lawn moldy, worms drowned and decomposing. New England has lost its shit. On the kitchen table junk mail piles up: debt collections, library fines, student loans, all auto-mailed in cellophane windows to my old name, husks of my former self collecting like the papery exoskeletons of dragonflies. I hear Nina’s car pull in while I’m chewing jerky and it’s with the salty-sweet tang in my mouth that I see her, chest flattened, dressed in my clothes. I pull her into the bedroom and tear them off of her. It’s been so long since it’s been this natural, since I’ve seen my hands, stained green from the tomato plants, cling to her body like she’s an ancient ruin in jungle country. I want to erode her stone by stone, make her fall apart.


Driving home I hit five green lights: Moss. Seaglass. Celery. Mouthwash. New leaves. I park at the quick-stop down the block from home and get fluttery in my chest as I walk in. DING goes the welcome bell. No one looks at me. I’m pulling a ginger ale from the cooler when I see him, two aisles over, hair sweated flat, the hint of a beard starting on his chin. He passes by me on his way to the checkout, but I don’t call out and Jay doesn’t see me. He buys his miserable lunch and leaves, looking haggard from sleeping not at all or just in his car. 

My invisibility feels like a passport. Suddenly everything feels open like I could adapt to anything. 

When I get home Jay’s truck is in the driveway. I walk into the kitchen and he sees me. At first I think he might get angry. He’s never said I couldn’t wear them and we shared clothes before. But then a familiar spark in his eye. It’s been since before the sap stopped flowing, before I worried about losing the geese, that I saw that spark. 

We go to the bedroom and I expect him to protest when I climb on top because he’s tired, but the hormones make him hornier and his green hands are on me. It’s disturbing to watch them creep like vines around my areola. After we finish I think about this coming back together, what it will look like for us with so much different and still the same.

Then I hear the squawking. Louder now, and even inside I know it’s a flock. I rush to the window and their dark swarm appears in the triangle of sky between the barn and the sugar maple. North. Their V is pointing north. They no longer want our winter warmth. I run to the kitchen to warn Jay that these last signs of seasons are fleeing us, but he’s already heard. He’s pulled out the bottle of champagne we were saving and popped the cork, saluting a birdless state, toasting the last of them with big gulps, their last squawks petering out as they head away from this unseasonable heat. 


After sex I like to water the houseplants, share with them my body after fruitless mating and feel the heat of their little blossom breaths on my skin. Then the geese start up. I go to the kitchen window and there they are: going. Nina comes out looking like she’s about to cry, and part of me wants to go to her and tell her we’ll be fine without them. But these days all she cares about is that she’ll never see a goose again. She goes back to the bedroom and shuts the door. The last goose passes over our patchwork of scorched fields, our dried up lakes, our barren greenhouses. If geese can’t hack it here, good riddance. Good riddance to the delicate snowberry, to black-footed ferrets, to salamanders that can’t deal with rising water. I want nothing incapable of change. I want cowbirds and milfoil. I want kudzu and knapweed and snakeheads and cheatgrass and bark beetles. I want the false webworm—I want plants that can withstand a flood, insects that won’t apologize for taking up space, things that shouldn’t thrive but do because conditions are finally ripe. 

Callum Angus is a queer trans man living with his partner in western Massachusetts, where he's working on The Book of New Fish, a novel. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Offing, Wilde Magazine, Cactus Heart Press, and Queen Mob's Tea House. He is completing his MFA at University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Posted on June 29, 2016 .