In Greedy Little Eyes, award-winning writer Billie Livingston explores the universal craving for connection, both emotional and physical. A Vintage Canada trade paperback original.
A young misfit is assaulted by a delusional homeless man and subsequently finds herself caught in the middle of two bullying cops who invite her to hit back; an impulsive and restless mother hungers for independence but wants company along the way; a middle-aged man who yearns for a life off the grid rejects his family and heads into the woods with a young bohemian while he slowly loses his mind; a journalist questions her scruples and complicity after she is invited to visit a friend in New York who is in the midst of an affair with a married man.
Fiercely independent, yet struggling to fit in, isolated but exploding with love and longing, Livingston's characters whisper and roar as they wrestle with the notion of "normal."
About the author
Billie Livingston has published short fiction and poetry in Canada, the U.S., the U.K. and Australia. She is the author of Going Down Swinging (Random House, 2000) and winner of This Magazine's 2000 Short Story Contest. Born in Toronto, Billie now lives in Vancouver where she writes, works in the film industry, and collaborates on various projects as a member of The Seven Sisters Writing Group(www.sevensisterswritinggroup.com).
- Winner, Danuta Gleed Literary Award
Excerpt: Greedy Little Eyes (by (author) Billie Livingston)
Before I Would Ever Hurt You
Gord came back from the bathroom and sat in the booth again. “I’m turning myself in.” His smile was lopsided. He scratched the back of his neck, and blinked rapidly as if trying to clear his head. “What’s the difference between locusts and grasshoppers?”
Rain fell hard behind me, battering the café’s front window. The place was more diner than café, one of East Vancouver’s kitschy attempts to recapture the ’50s.
A waitress fishtailed by, raising her coffee pot. I pushed my cup toward her and then waited until she moved on. When no words came, I shook my head.
“The brown ones. They’re locusts if they have the short antennas? Antenn-ae? It was bad. They were all over the kitchen, some jumped onto the stove and burned up right there. All over the curtains—in the dirty dishes even, floating in the water.”
I had been finding patterns in the table’s Formica, wondering again if I should have called someone. I looked him in the eyes now. “Am I the first person you phoned?”
“Everybody’s hiding, but you.”
“You’ve got your own apartment now.” He gave me that crooked grin again. “First Bernam in the phone book: A for Amy.” He reached for my fingers.
I slipped my hands under the table.
Wincing, he flicked grey eyes at the ceiling fan and then back. “I know I haven’t been really there, um, lately. But you and me are pals, aren’t we? You understand even when I’m an asshole, taking off like that into the woods. No phone, no toilets, no nothin’.”
Looking at his face some more, I tried to picture his girlfriend, Ruth, in that wooden kitchen of theirs. No phone, no toilets, no nothin’. I wondered at my lack of fear.
In the space between my big and second toe, I have a tiny brown dot. Not a freckle, it’s too dark, almost black. Had it ever since I was born.
My father pointed it out. “Jesus, look at that, Peg, she’s got Gord’s dot. Same place and everything. If you two didn’t hold each other in such low regard, I’d wonder.”
Mom shook her head. “If she got his brains, we’re in for it.”
That dot though, it bonded Gord and me. My father said that for Gord, it was love at first sight on account of our shared peculiarity. When Gord saw the dot, he told my father that he would understand me when no one else could. And vice versa. He called us Dotters.
My mother talked to me about Gord once. It was a rare night in Vancouver, one too hot to lie in bed, and the two of us were at the kitchen table, drunk with sleeplessness.
Gord was not right, she told me. In the head. She and Gord had had another one of their verbal slap-fights earlier that night, over dinner. “It’s none of your business,” she had railed. “You sit there shovelling in my food and—and then shitting your opinions all over the house.”
My father choked on his laughter. “Christ, nearly lost that beer out my nose.”
Gord thumped his brother’s back, laughing along.
Later, sitting at the kitchen table with me, each of us clutching our glass of iced tea as if hoarding it, her tone was almost pleading. “Everyone laughs it off. But it’s not funny. He has his own family. He keeps shoving his nose into ours while his own wife and sons languish on the other side of town.”
“He was a year ahead of you in school, right? Did he ever hit on you?”
“Oh for god’s sake.” She looked away and sighed. “He liked me. He was—I mean I liked him too but he was needy—pathetically so. Your dad told him to bloody well get on with things, make his own fun.”
“So he was hitting on you.”
“I was always in love with your father. I’m just trying to explain to you that I don’t have the same sort of camaraderie with Gord that you do. He’s an irresponsible idiot.”
The first time I ever heard the phrase if he had a brain he’d be dangerous, it was my mother talking about Gord.
I was ten years old when the principal of the school called my mother in and laid out his concern before the both of us: “She waited until he was alone and then slammed the boy face-first into the schoolyard gravel. I would call that abnormally aggressive.”
My mother looked at me. “Is that what happened?”
“Sort of. But he asked for it.”
“Irregardless, young lady,” the principal said, “you don’t bloody another child because of words. Sticks and stones may break your bones but names will never hurt you.”
My mother turned to him. Her expression soured slightly. “Well, he must have done something for her to have bloodied him, as you put it.” She looked back at me.
“I was on the swing,” I explained, “like, a few days ago. I had on a skirt and that kid, Brian, was standing there watching me go back and forth. Then, all of a sudden, when I swung up, like, with my legs out, he put his hand up my skirt. Right on my underpants.”
“He touched your underpants?” My mother jabbed a look at the principal. “So you pushed him.”
“No, cuz he took off. So I waited. Then yesterday, I was late from recess and that Brian kid was still outside too, and so I ran up behind. And I got him.”
A brief satisfaction showed in my mother’s eyes. She faced the principal. “I think that shed some light on things.”
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Bernam,” he said, shaking his head, “but you don’t actually believe that. Children, in my experience, do not wait to retaliate. They are simple creatures.”
“My child isn’t simple.”
“There is no such word as irregardless.” She picked up her purse. “Looks like you’ve got a sexual harassment charge on your hands.”
When we got home Dad was at the kitchen table with his brother, having a beer. My mother scowled.
“Hello, fellow Dotter.” Gord noogied my head.
I giggled and squirmed and jumped in his lap, took a sip from his bottle.
Mom plucked the beer from my hands. “For god’s sake,” she said, glaring at Gord.
“Oh, Peg, calm down; she had a sip of beer—not like it’s Scotch.” My father grabbed her around the waist and winked at me. “Wait’ll we get you into the Scotch, Amy, then you can start coming to poker night.”
“Not funny,” my mother said and removed his hand. “This is exactly the problem, this lackadaisical—this!” She told me to go change out of my school clothes.
Soon as I’d rounded the corner, she started in. It never seemed to occur to them how close my room was, that I might as well have been sitting under the kitchen table. Truth be told, though, I was only half listening until Gord hollered, “She did it cuz I told her to do it that way. No little sonofabitch sticks his hand up my kid’s skirt.”
“She is not your kid!” my mother roared.
“She’s my godchild. She’s my niece, for chrissake.”
She told him that part of my problem was him and his idiocy, his need to gratify every stupid urge that came upon him, and that he encouraged the same in me.
Gord bellowed, “Chrissake, she’s defending herself against a would-be rapist. What would you—?”
“You couldn’t suggest she tell a teacher. Or her parents!” she fumed. I could imagine her eyes bugging. “He needed stitches! He’s ten!”
“I’m teaching her to stand up for herself.” Gord’s chair legs rubbed the floor as he pushed his seat back and stood. “A man wrongs a woman—she should have his goddamn head on a platter.”
There was silence.
My mother whispered something.
“That’s enough,” my father said evenly.
“Why are you here? Why are you always here?” She sounded as though she might cry.
“Okay,” Dad said, his voice low and sturdy. “Take it easy.”
I heard Gord’s approaching footfalls over my mother’s strained whisper. “Me take it easy?”
My father’s voice lowered more, his tone easing into that hopeful lovey voice he used just before he wrapped his arms around her shoulders to keep her body from thrashing.
A moment later Gord was in my doorway. “Dotter.” He saluted.
I stared sombrely from my bed, threw a half-assed wave his way.
He pulled at the toe of my sock. “Is it true you beat a man within an inch of his life?”
My eyes rolled. “What a friggin’ baby that kid is.”
Gord sat and hoisted his back against the wall beside me. “Your mother’s just jealous. She wishes she had the guts you do.”
We each looked at our feet.
“Damn right,” he said. “Little bastard’ll think twice before he comes near you again.”
“You should try not to piss her off so much.”
Shortly before I graduated high school, my parents went to San Francisco for the long weekend. A second honeymoon, my father said. I drove them to the airport and my father attempted to get us all singing “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” in rounds. Too early in the morning for that, I was glad to dump them at Departures.
That night, I woke at 2:03 a.m., according to the neon of my clock, and saw dim light under the door. A little dazed, I wandered into the hall.
The house felt like its same old self, no strange breath in the air. I knew before I named it exactly who would be sitting in the kitchen.
He turned when he heard my shuffle, his eyes a little red and puffy. “Hey, Dotter, up already?” he slurred, and then shook his head, looking embarrassed. “Did I wake you, Amy? Sorry. I let myself in with the key outside there.”
I headed to the stove and put the kettle on. “So?”
He sipped his beer, stared into his hands. “Ah, you don’t want to hear this, all my shit.”
I leaned against the stove. “Your shit’s my shit.”
Smiling softly to his bottle, he wiped his forehead. He held his breath and let it go. “Lydia says she’s not happy.”
I took two mugs out, put tea bags into them. I couldn’t imagine what it might be like to be my aunt. He rarely spoke of her. He rarely spoke of my cousins either. It was as if he wanted to keep them separate from this part of his family. As if they were his job and he didn’t want to talk shop.
“And then this morn—well, yesterday morning—the company asked me if I wanted to transfer to Calgary. Promotion and another fifteen grand a year.”
Gord looked down, his head wobbling a little with each breath. “Lydia thinks it might be a new start. We might get to be a better . . . couple. I wouldn’t be distracted and my boys and me would bond. Christ, another couple years and those boys’ll be gone faster than you can . . .” His voice drifted off. “Swing a dead cat. Your dad says if I don’t give it my all, I’ll regret it.” He looked over at me for a few drawn-out seconds. “He would, wouldn’t he? I bet he wants me gone.”
“Don’t be stupid.”
“Stupid. They’re both pussies. He’s afraid . . . and she’s afraid to do anything about it.”
I looked at him. “You’re kinda looped there, Dotter.”
“You know. Damn well. Elephant in the room, eh? You know.”
I smirked as though I did know.
“Hey.” He shrugged, ducked his chin into his neck like a blasé Frenchman. “Peg’s beautiful. He knows it most of all. It’s old hat. She knows it. She should’ve kicked him in the balls like I taught you, but here she is. That’s who’s stupid.”
Heat rushed into my neck. I watched him another second. “Kicked him in the balls?”
“Lack of dedication. He forfeits. And she kicked me in the balls instead. I’m not impotent. This whole thing—” He raised his hands to his surroundings. “Mine. In a different plane: that’s mine, this is mine, you’re mine.”
Suddenly the room felt tight and heavy. As though, even in Calgary, Gord would be too loud and too close.
We still saw him two or three times a year but he seemed more distant each time, as though less and less of him were actually in the room. Then two years almost to the day that he had moved, Gord up and left Aunt Lydia and my cousins in Calgary. He was at work, in the middle of a board meeting with all the muckymucks of Gibraltar Insurance, when the feeling hit him. Apparently they were discussing different strategies to increase profit margins, batting around ideas of how they might feasibly make cuts to existing coverage without alienating the clientele. Someone had raised the issue of prescriptions: if PharmaCare could refuse to cover certain prescriptions, then why couldn’t they, as a secondary insurance provider, do likewise? In fact they should only cover what the government agencies would cover.
Gord’s rebuttal shot down the length of the table. “If we’re only going to cover what’s already covered then we’re providing fuck-all!”
When Gord told the story later, it took on biblical proportions. The men around him leaned in as they haggled, their gold rings and watches grazing the surface, teeth sharp, eyes craving. Gord slammed a fist down in the middle of the argument, and then rose from his chair and said, “From the days of John the Baptist until now, every time there’s something good or true or right, assholes like you gotta take it away.” Then he turned and left the building. He walked into the street, flagged a cab and headed to the airport.
He called my father once from Toronto and then there wasn’t another word until six months later, when he showed up for Sunday dinner with a girl named Ruth on his arm. She wasn’t much older than me; her hair was the same colour and texture as mine but it was centre-parted and hung down to her bum. She was an artist—an artisan, she corrected me from where she sat on the floor in our living room, leaning against the couch and Gord’s legs. Reaching into a tasselled suede purse, she pulled out two small white boxes, and passed one to Mom and one to me. Each contained a pair of earrings that she had made.
Sitting rigidly in her wingback chair, my mother held up a teardrop of silver wire threaded through three blue wood beads. Her eyes, though, were on Ruth’s smooth blank face. No eyeliner, no lipstick. Ruth’s thick hair draped to her lap.
“These are awesome,” I said. Seated on the ottoman near my father’s chair, I suddenly scooted onto the floor too, as though Ruth might look like less of an interloper if I were down there with her. “I love these.” Holding it by the shepherd’s hook, I dangled a slim slice of smooth wood, shark’s fin shaped and caged in silver wire.
“Right on,” she said. “They’re guitar picks. My old boyfriend loved wood picks. Most of them are plastic, eh.”
Earring still in hand, my mother appraised Ruth as if a one-way mirror separated them.
My father cleared his throat. “So how long are you two in town?”
“Just tonight and tomorrow,” Gord told him.
Mom put the earring back into its box but she didn’t take her gaze from Gord’s girlfriend. “You just look so much like my daughter. If your hair wasn’t so . . .”
“So damn long?” Ruth loosed a horse laugh on the room. “Me and my crazy-ass hair. Actually you and Amy, man, you two could be sisters.”
A rueful gurgle in my mother’s throat, then she looked down finally and set the box on the arm of her chair. “But for a few decades . . . Thank you, Ruth. I’ll enjoy these.”
“We’re heading to the wilds of Vancouver Island,” Gord interjected. “We’ve had it with stuff. No more stuff. We want to live the good life: all natural, no artificial preservatives.”
Ruth smiled as she hugged her knees.
I looked at Gord but he didn’t look back. He had hardly addressed a word to me all evening. Itchy and restless, I chewed at the inside of my lip.
“People,” he announced later at the dinner table, “are getting brain cancer from telephones, you know.” He paused with the last of his pork chop on the end of his fork.
“You mean cellphones?” I asked him.
“Cellphones, cordless phones, all of it. And Christ knows what havoc the computers are wreaking on us.”
“Come on, babe,” Ruth coaxed him and then winked as she chewed.
Gord winked back and shut up.
My father’s eyebrows flicked from Gord to Ruth. He glanced at his empty plate, and then at my mother. He took a long drink of water, his Adam’s apple cranking up and down. As he set down his glass, I searched his eyes for signs of envy.
Three or four months later, Gord phoned us from a gas station about a forty-minute walk from his new place, wondering if the three of us could join him and Ruth for dinner.
My mother would not go. “He deserted his family and he’s running around with some underage hippie. He’s a pervert and jackass and I won’t support it.”
My father cajoled her. “You might have a point, but he left her the house, two cars . . . and all the phones and computers she could ever want.”
She peered at him. “Is that funny to you?”
Dad and I took the ferry to Nanaimo and, from there, drove an hour through the rain into the middle of nowhere. A muddy dirt road with a skunk stripe of green down the middle took us the last fifteen minutes to Gord and Ruth’s place.
It was quaint, I guess: a beat-up log cabin right in the thick of old-growth forest. Smoke floated out of the chimney through the drizzle.
The front door opened and Ruth flounced onto the porch in a heavy, ankle-length skirt. She wore a woolly cardigan and her arms were folded against the cold. “Right on! You made it!”
“You weren’t kiddin’ about moving to the wilds,” my father said to her as he got out of the car.
She beamed. “It’s a hump, huh?”
Banging out the screen door, Gord bellowed, “Come in, you’re out!”
My father and I skittered up the wet steps, ditched our muddy shoes at the door.
A fire burned in the stove—an actual wood-burning stove—and the place smelled warm and savoury. I turned around and took it all in, feeling as if I were in an ad for country living though with a bit of a Haight-Ashbury feel: there were paisley curtains, dozens of candles, lighted oil lamps, God’s-eyes in the windows and, in the centre of the room, a multicoloured rag rug.
“Nice job, Ruth. You did this all yourself “”
She smiled. “My old man chipped in a little.”
“Chipped shmipped!” He squeezed her from behind. “Such a little bugger you are.” He glanced at me and then kissed Ruth’s cheek before blowing a raspberry into her neck.
I looked away.
“See those cupboards?” Gord said, releasing Ruth. “These babies are all mine!”
My father went to inspect Gord’s carpentry while Ruth walked me up the wood ladder to the loft that was their feathered nest of a bedroom.
No bathroom, no running water. They used an outhouse and well water.
Dinner was wild rabbit. Gord had shot it and Ruth had cleaned and cooked it.
“No hormones or dye or preservatives, just good food,” Gord reported from over his plate. He said there was no electricity out here to screw up your brains. He lectured us on the ill effects of power lines.
“Babe,” Ruth cut him off. “Mellow.”
“No. I won’t mellow.” His voice was sharp. “This is a dangerous world and when you know something you got to talk about it.”
“There goes Gordie, spreadin’ the gospel,” Dad teased. “How’re you living these days?”
“Look around! I’m living great!”
Ruth winked at me. The tight smile I gave her reminded me of my mother’s and so I mentioned again how good the rabbit tasted.
My father kept at him. “Gordie! What are you living on?”
“Don’t worry about us, brother. We got it covered. Ruth makes her jewellery; she takes in sewing once in a while—these are her curtains, you know. I do a little carpentry, that sort of thing. See this, this”—he waved his fork around—“is what the government does not want. They don’t want people living off the grid: killing and cooking their own food. They don’t like this one bit—no phone lines to tap, no cookies in the computer.”
“Cookies now, Gordie?” Coming from me, Gordie had a snide sound to it. The tines of my fork mewled against the plate.
“That’s right, Dotter.”
He hadn’t called me that in a while. Ruth glanced at my father.
“A little cookie attaches itself to your browser with every stop you make on the Web. Same goes for your television. Don’t kid yourself, that’s how they getcha. Here in the woods, the infrared is screwed. Can’t track you any more because of the warmth of the trees; the energy keeps the boys from being able to tell what’s tree, what’s deer, what’s man.”
My father stared.
I looked at my uncle. “What do they care what you’re doing?”
Gord looked at me with a kind of pained disgust, as though the shared dot between our toes surely must be fading.
Ruth glanced from me to Gord. “Speaking of cookies, guess what’s for dessert.” She added, “The way this is going I should’ve put a little weed into them.”
We didn’t hear from them again for another few months. Between starting a new job and moving into my first apartment, I didn’t have time to give Gord and Ruth much thought. My name was in the phone book for the first time.
Staring at my number on the grey-white page, I was in the midst of noting whose names sandwiched my own when the phone rang. It was Ruth. Calling from the gas station. She had tried calling me at my parents’ and they’d given her my number.
“I’m in the book now,” I told her.
The phone line rustled and crackled. It sounded as if she spat. “Sorry, the wind’s going nuts here. My hair keeps blowing into my mouth. Amy, listen man, I hate to lay this shit on you but you’re Gord’s niece and it seems like you guys have a connection and, you know, I got no one here. Except for Irene at The Store, but I hardly know her except for selling jewellery.”
Gord hadn’t had a real conversation with me since he had left Lydia, and Lydia never would have talked to me about their marital problems. Ruth had not really made any friendship overtures before now. I felt caught in the crosshairs of her effrontery and my own greedy curiosity.
“What’s going on?”
“He’s wiggin’ out. I thought he’d calm down out of the city, but he’s worse. He’s out hunting now and I’m supposed to be peddling my wares in town, whatever the hell that means. Anyone who wears jewellery’s already bought all they want and everyone else grows their own anyway . . .” She sighed.
“Grows their own what?”
“Weed? What does Gord know about growing weed?”
“I used to grow it in Nelson. Nelson’s a real town though, man. Not like this. I can’t handle being cut off from people. There’s no socializing. I couldn’t get a job if I wanted and he’s nowhere with the carpentry thing either cuz he got rid of the car. He’s on this trip about how a car can be traced.”
“What have you been living on?”
“His severance package, I guess. I don’t usually even talk about money, but this whole year has been so trippy and fucked up. We paid seventy grand to buy the cabin. He totally demanded it be in my name, which is cool. But it’s weird too. I don’t think this is my scene.”
She paused. I pictured her long mane whipping in the wind, round the phone cord, and her neck.
“And he keeps catching these goddamn grasshoppers—it’s like he’s relieved every time he gets another one. Keeps saying, ‘And his meat was locusts and wild honey.’”
I told my father about Ruth’s call.
“He never got a severance package. I thought they were renting. Are you sure that’s what she said?”
“Why would he put new cupboards up in a place he doesn’t even own?” I asked.
“Christ. The bugger must have looted Gibraltar. Sonofabitch. When they find out, they’ll have his ass. Or they’ll go after Lydia and the house . . . How’d you leave it with her?”
“By the end, she was talking about inviting some chick named Irene over for dinner. She said they’d get through it, that he was just having an attack of middle-age crazies.”
“You buy a Corvette when you catch that disease, you don’t collect grasshoppers.” My father sighed. “When we were kids, right after my father took off, your grandmother sent Gord and me to Sunday school. I guess she wanted us to fly right. Or maybe she just wanted Sunday mornings to herself. Anyways, Gord was fascinated when we learned the story of John the Baptist. He liked how this guy lived in the wilderness and his meat was locusts and honey—sounded full of principle or something, ascetic. And he liked all that King Herod stuff too: John denounced Herod for ditching his wife and taking up with his brother’s wife. You know, our dad had run off with his buddy’s wife. Struck a chord.” He breathed into the phone. “I used to think he was in love with your mother when we were in college. He never wanted to go out with his own girl unless it was a double date with us, and then he’d spend the whole night talking to Peg. Here we go round the mulberry bush, I thought.”
In the end we did nothing. Nobody told Aunt Lydia—if Gibraltar Insurance still hadn’t caught the loss, maybe they never would. Dad decided to let his brother and Ruth sort themselves out. He asked me not to discuss it with Mom. I did not need to be told.
A couple of weeks later, we got another phone call. I was at my parents’ doing laundry. It was Irene, Ruth’s friend from The Store, and she was in such a state that Mom couldn’t make out half her words.
Gord had shot Ruth.
Apparently, unable to take the mania any longer, Ruth had taken the fish tank filled with Gord’s grasshoppers from the closet. Tank on the table, she threatened to let them all go if things didn’t change. Without a word, Gord grabbed his hunting rifle and shot her in the leg. Irene was there. She saw it all, the fish tank hitting the floor, grasshoppers shooting around the room, lighting on the stove and landing on Ruth.
Irene held Ruth on the smooth wood floor of the kitchen, screaming at Gord to get an ambulance. Gord wouldn’t let anyone out the door. Irene begged, telling him that Ruth would bleed to death. It wasn’t that serious yet; they could get a doctor.
Instead Gord scrambled for his grasshoppers, zigzagging through the kitchen, slipping in Ruth’s blood. He told Irene he would cut both their heads off if she dared open the front door. There they lay, Ruth whispering, “Call your brother, Gord,” over and over, Irene begging, and all the while Gord tried to get the bugs into a paper bag, hollering for the door to stay closed.
Soon Ruth didn’t make a sound. Tears but no noise, just waiting. Eventually Gord’s frenzy ebbed. Shortly after Ruth stopped breathing, he told Irene to get out. So she ran, grasshoppers fleeing out the door behind her.
By the time police arrived, Gord was gone, the door was wide open and Ruth lay dead.
“Do you hate me, Amy?” The two of us in the diner. “I know how it seems, but I swear to God, I’m not crazy. Ruth was—I’d kill myself before I’d ever hurt you.”
“I know, Uncle Gord.” Felt strange to say Uncle. It had always been just plain Gord.
“You’re not afraid of me, are you?”
No. Not afraid. I couldn’t get a feeling sitting there with him, couldn’t get a vein. I listened as a new patron came into the café and remarked loudly about the downpour. I heard the wet soles of his shoes complain against the linoleum as he found a seat.
“I called the police,” Gord said, “when I went to the washroom. I couldn’t bear it if you were afraid of me. Just let me give you these things. Then you can take off before they get here. You’re the only one who’s really part of me.” His eyes were watery. He took out a narrow tin box and slid it across the table. It was the sort of tin that housed miniature whisky bottles. I pulled at the lid.
“No.” He stopped my fingers. “They’ll be here soon. It’s for you. You’ll understand.” Reaching under the table he wrenched a gym bag up onto the seat beside him and looked past me. “Oh, shit. No-no-no. I don’t want them here yet.”
I looked behind me and saw two squad cars out front. All lights, no sirens. Four cops started toward the door.
“I’m not ready,” Gord cried as the front door jangled open. Clutching the gym bag, he unzipped it and pulled out something long and brown and alive. A rumpled paper sack fell onto the table. Tiny bodies flitted up Gord’s arms, spitting from the rifle in his hands, from the gym bag, the paper bag, grasshoppers filling the room.
He stood and hollered toward the door. “Stay outside. I am not ready!”
Someone yelled, “Police!”
“Jesus Christ!” I looked for a way to disappear.
“Get out! Or I’ll do it,” Gord sobbed. He wrestled the barrel toward himself, trying to get hold of the trigger.
Screams careened, everything waving, dancing with kicking legs and flapping arms.
Gord’s name came out of me and then, “Stop it. Please stop it!” As I slid under the table I cracked my head against the edge, feeling the crunch of insects under my knees.
Drop your weapon! Place your hands behind your head!
I could see the barrel of his rifle now; he had let it fall forward away from himself.
Then an explosion, the smell of firecrackers.
He dropped, flat on his rump the way a toddler might. His face was big-eyed shocked before it crumpled and a long howl poured out.
Heavy leather shoes rushed his way.
From under the table I watched as he reached for his foot, blood oozing from the sole of his shoe, rifle abandoned beside him.
The cops slammed him down onto his back and Gord’s head smacked the floor before they turned him onto his belly. His howl was a wail now as they yanked his wrists behind his back, jammed cuffs into place.
I felt it running down my side, warm and sticky, and opened my eyes to Gord’s whisky tin, lid off, lodged between my shoulder and the red vinyl seat, honey lolling thick from my arm and onto a crippled grasshopper on the floor. A muscle twitched in my wet cheek as I gauged the length of the bug’s antennae, his legs pumping in the gold ooze. Shuddering, I picked him up, set him there on my shoe, about where my big and second toe would be, and rocked him with my heel.
Praise for Greedy Little Eyes:
“Dark, funny, graceful, witty: Billie Livingston's voice has an intense intimacy that evokes trust, almost confession . . . it only takes a few sentences' worth of the first story in Billie Livingston's collection, Greedy Little Eyes, to trigger that wonderful feeling that comes when you know you're about to have a really cool reading experience. This collection is like a tray of treats that you can have one at a time, or gobble up all at once.”
—The Globe and Mail
“Billie Livingston’s first collection of short fiction exhibits her trademark snappy wit while delving into the sadder aspects of life. . . . Livingston gets to the heart of human need, with all its confusion and messiness and she does so with textured emotion and blistering prose.” (starred review)
—Quill and Quire
“The stories are often dark and disturbing, but Livingston's sardonic wit sparks moments of grace and hope amid the dark.”
“This is smart writing in more than one sense: sharp, slick and hard-edged. It shows characters caught up in the maelstrom of modern urban life. . . . The prose dazzles. . . . The stories are vivid. They captivate with their suggestion that life easily spins out of control.”
—Winnipeg Free Press
“The true geography of these stories lies in the tortuous pathways of the heart. Their adventures rouse our pity and fear — the classic formula of literary effectiveness."
“Reading—any kind of reading—wakes up your mind to the equal and opposite extent that TV puts it to sleep. And that’s especially true when what you’re reading is as eloquent and insightful as Livingston’s work."
—The Georgia Straight
“It's a page-turning, heart-wrenching dynamic. . . . Livingston depicts not only the excitement, but the danger too, of exhibitionism. There's something about the voyeur that any book-lover can sympathize with. And Livingston's characters definitely strike a chord throughout, because, as one of Livingston's characters conclude: ‘People crave witnesses . . . we crave the eyes of others to know we are not alone.’"
—Saint John Telegraph-Journal
“Ideal Summer Read: The characters in this collection of short stories are a disparate bunch who have in common a dark sense of humour and dysfunctional family histories. Livingston's style makes the reader seem like a voyeur to the significant moments in their lives, a fly on the wall.”
“Greedy Little Eyes is an anthology of masterful character studies about the permutations of the abnormal — in the sense that all of us are a little off our beams. Livingston’s characters are gems of dysfunction, unassumedly flying their freak flags at full mast, but ultimately undone by their prosaic surroundings.”
“The collection is made up of beautifully crafted stories that briefly delve into various lives, exploring the ambiguity, disarray, and occasional solace of familial relationships while skillfully revealing the nuances and subtleties of human mind and emotion. The violence is often contrasted with unexpectedly poetic lines: the gruesome and the beautiful dance a fine line, honestly presenting the stunning and affecting qualities that exist in both."
“Livingston’s made a career writing about wonderfully messed-up people and she keeps it coming.”
“Vividly wild yet cleverly constructed, confident and riveting. . . . As a storyteller Livingston rides the Tilt-a-Wheel, gets lost in the Tunnel of Love and she rides the gigantic roller-coaster. Never a dull moment.”
—BC Bookworld (Staff Pick)
“Livingston leavens heartache with air and light, injecting the story of a daughter free-falling since her mother’s death with charm to burn. And her own little daughter, Dusty, is a particularly delicious creation.”
— Zsuzsi Gartner (on “Georgia, It’s Me”)
“Livingston’s writing is evocative and richly layered. Hers is a poetic voice, and each of her characters is deeply drawn with a minimum of words. Rather, actions characterize each, and those actions spring from what we feel is the essence of good writing: psychological and emotional truth.”
— Other Voices (on “Did You Grow Up With Money?”)
Praise for Billie Livingston:
"Livingston's characters are scrappers. They're canny and sharp and share a dark streak of humour that comes from the love of family and the communal understanding of knowing who is the enemy."
— New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal
"Livingston has made her rep as one of the most dangerous writers you will ever be lucky enough to encounter."
— Vancouver Review
"Livingston writes beautifully, even soulfully."
— January Magazine
"[Billie]'s a damn solid writer who will make your head spin and your knees buckle. . . . She has a way of capturing the push and pull of family dynamics, and demonstrating the way some fleeting events can linger with us like bleeding tattoos."
— Broken Pencil