Dead Martin Club

New Work

By Su Croll, winner of the TWR fiction contest 

−Every family has a myth.

−Myth? You mean lies.

−No, the story you tell each other, which may or may not be true.

−I guess our story, our family myth, is that Marie Claire is a shattered genius.

−Shattered how?

−Shattered, you know. Destroyed. Distraught. Genius manqué.

−And where are you in this picture?

−I’m not. In the picture, I mean, unless you count the pictures she took of me. I’m nowhere.


−Listen. There are people who the world moves towards, who everybody is attracted to. People who draw other people to them, with the force of their −

−Personality? Personal magnetism?

−Yeah, personality. Marie Claire was one of those people. Smart, beautiful, talented.

−Is that right?

−Oh, yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. She was a golden girl everyone said, forgetting that she was fucked up right at the beginning.

−You’re losing me.

−Are you even listening? I’m talking about my Marie Claire, I mean, my sister. I’m talking about my sister.

−Slow down. There was something else.

−Are you reading off that goddamn paper again?

−I thought it was the tape recorder that upset you.

−Thank Christ that thing is gone.

−You said people had forgotten she was fucked up in the beginning. What did you mean by that?

−Aw, you know.


−I meant when her brother died.

-But you are her brother.

−Not me, goddamn it. Her first brother. Her precious twin. Not that a person could remember something like that.

−Like what?

−He died at birth. Haven’t I told you? Haven’t we been through this?

−No, Martin. We haven’t.

−Isn’t it time to go? Isn’t the time up?

−Not yet. What about the brother?

−Born right after her. Born dead. Marie Claire says she remembers, but I don’t believe anything she says. She is just so full of herself. Stop looking at me like that, Frenko. I know you want to make some comment.

−Yes, I do. I just want to say that he was your brother too.


−The dead brother was your brother as well.

−But he was her twin. Martin was hers.

−He had the same name as you?

−The way she tells it, I have the same name as him. See what I mean about fucked up?

−Let me get this straight. You were given the name of a dead sibling?

−And my uncle, the priest. Now he’s dead too. “Dead Martin Club”, I call it.

−Except you. You’re alive.

−More or less.

“Tell me about the other guys.”

“What other guys?”

They were at Mira’s place. Martin had stuck his hand into the deep pocket of her dad’s old coat, which she’d barely taken off since his funeral. Martin fished out her key, unlocked the door, and strode in ahead of her, flicking on the overhead light.

“Other boyfriends.”  He was walking around the place, checking out the new drawings, mostly of him, pinned up on the walls.

“Leave me alone,” said Mira, half laughing as she put on coffee.

Martin poked his head into the bedroom, and then walked in once he had seen there were more drawings in there. “OK, OK, but tell me something, Mira. What’s the wildest thing you’ve ever done? With a guy, I mean,” he called from the bedroom.

Mira ignored him, and pulled down two mugs from the cupboard. She opened the fridge, but no milk. It would have to be black.

Martin, hands thrust in his pants pockets, came towards her. “Where’s the craziest place you’ve ever done it then?”

“Piss off.” Then she remembered that Martin liked it sweet, and reached up for the sugar, kept in a small covered plastic container to guard against the ants.

He turned her around, then pulled her towards him. “Don’t be that way,” his voice a hoarse murmur. “Tell me. In a park? Outside somewhere?” He was squeezing her shoulders now. “In a movie theatre?”

At a distance from Martin, she was usually able to direct the visual conversation of you stand there and exist as a mass in space, and become light and shadow and gesture for me. But this close to him, with the insistent heat of his hungry questioning, with the look of him and the intoxicating smell of him, Mira felt this delicious slipping away of all resistance, and she just wanted to give him whatever he wanted.

“OK, yeah,” she said.

He released her. “What? Where?”

“At the movies.”

He stepped back, beaming. “What did you do?”

Mira shrugged.

Martin was taking off his coat. “Come on, Mira. What did you do? Give him a hand job or what?”

“You could say that.”

He gaped at her. “What was the movie?”

“What does it matter?”

“Because I’d want to watch that particular movie and imagine it, imagine you. Would you tell me which scene too?” He wasn’t even pleading. Just teasing in a way she liked. “Which scene, ‘cos I bet you’d remember.”

Mira did remember one particularly persuasive grease monkey who had worked at her dad’s garage. She had to laugh. “Like I’m going to tell you anything.”

−I’m a different person with her.

−Different how?

−Nobody would recognize me. You wouldn’t. Marie Claire wouldn’t. Marie Claire especially wouldn’t recognize me.

−Why is that?

−She practically begged me, Mira did. Begged to draw me.


−It’s, well, it’s sort of weird. I mean she doesn’t start right away. She stands there staring at me, then she walks around me, checking me out or something, I don’t know. Feels sort of −

−Sort of what?

−I feel like sort of an asshole or something.


−Yeah, maybe. But it’s this other thing. Mira’s face when she looks at me, when she draws me. It’s the same thing when I’ve watched her in a gallery. The look. The way she looks at a painting. It’s how she studies me. Just eating me up with her eyes. How’s that for a cliché?

−You mean her intensity?

−Yeah. It kind of freaks me out.

−The loss of control?

−I don’t know.

−Having Mira control you with her desire?

−Is that how you see it?

−Do you?


−And what does this remind you of?



−Not a goddamned thing.

−What about Marie Claire?


−What about her photographs?

−No. I said no, Frenko. It isn’t the same.

−You’ve been objectified once, and I just wonder −

−Fuck it. I’m outta here.

“I won’t get undressed unless you give me something good,” Martin said.

Mira had prepared for this. “Did I ever tell you,” she began. “Did I tell you about my grandmother, the murderer? Murderess, I suppose.”

Martin’s face lit up. “You know you didn’t. Tell me. Who’d she murder?”

“Take off your clothes.”

“First you’ve got to tell me,” He was fingering the top button of his shirt.

“My grandfather,” Mira answered.

“No way.”

“Yeah, in his own bed. She did it one night after he had been on a bender and was passed out.”

Martin grinned and slipped off his shirt. “You’re joking. Your grandmother?”

“Take off your pants. My grandmother did it after she came in from Bingo.”

“After Bingo? Oh Mira, I just love your trashy family,” he said as he stepped out of his pants.

Mira felt herself re-coil from Martin’s snide laugh, from the sight of him even, as he stood in front of her in his underwear. What am I doing? The thought struck her. She remembered Bruno’s terrifying mother with her frizzy black hair, the long grey ash always slipping off the Sweet Caporals that eventually killed her. Why am I giving this to Martin? she wondered. But there he was, naked now, and waiting for her to tell him what to do. Then she could look and draw for as long as she liked. But for the moment, there was the distraction of the clothes that had just come off his body. They would still be warm, and if she were to burrow her face in them, she could forget all this story crap and blank out everything but the mingling scents of his expensive clothes and the now familiar smell of his skin.

“Mira.” His abrupt voice. “Get on with it. What happened with Granny already?”

“Stand over there. Raise your arms,” she said.

“So how’d she do him?”

Mira began to draw. “My Grandma Matilda took her husband’s hunting rifle and aimed it at his back and fired.”

“Yeah?” he said, impressed.

“Bring that shoulder down,” she gestured. “It’s true. She picked up his gun and went upstairs. I always think she must have been afraid the creaking stairs would give her away.”

“And did they?”

“Hold still. No. She also said she thought the noise of the gun going off would wake him up, and he’d come after her. My dad said even after she shot him, she was still worried he could get her. He was a mean old bastard, and she was afraid of him. That’s what my dad always said.”

Martin snickered. “Did he get up or what?”

“Oh no,” said Mira, pinning another three sheets of newsprint to the easel. An hour’s worth of drawing was what she was hoping for. She didn’t know if she could extend the story that long, then felt ashamed that she was thinking of it as just a story. “No. She shot him again. Two more times, I think. But he was probably dead already.” She adjusted a line, and smudged a shadow on his leg. “Anyway in the end, she got off.”

“Got off?”

“No jail time,” she said. “Acquittal.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“I don’t care.”

Martin stepped forward. “C’mon, don’t be mad.”

Then, without being asked, he stood in the centre of the room again. Mira let the finished sketches fall to the floor, and nodded for him to take another pose. She drew without talking. Martin held completely still for her. Telling the story had reminded her how Bruno would take her up to his mother’s flat, where she would feed Mira hard candy from a white plastic bucket on the floor by the couch, push a chair in front of the cartoons on her big colour TV, then take Bruno by the hand and lead him into the kitchen. In the seconds between the end of one Bugs Bunny episode and the commercial break, Mira could always hear Matilda speaking imploringly to her son. Mira had been told more than once that her grandmother was crazy. Had been crazy since the night she finished off the grandfather Mira had never met. No pictures of him in the place, of course.

“I’ve been doing this a long time,” Martin said. “I’m getting tired. Tell me what happened next.”

Mira got that sudden gone feeling, like when the credits roll on a black screen at the end of a movie and you’ve got to prepare to re-enter normal life outside the theatre. “She didn’t try to hide anything” Mira said, dropping her stick of charcoal onto the easel ledge then rubbing her blackened palms together. “My grandmother phoned the police. She just sat there on the couch until they showed up.”

“She admitted it, and she still got off?”

“Yeah, battered wife syndrome, which was new back then.”

“Nothing happened?”

“Apparently not.” Then she said, “We’re done here, right? You got your story, right?”

“Yeah, and you got your drawings,” he said, lighting his smoke.

Mira stuffed the papers into her portfolio. “So we’re square, right?”

Martin smoked for a bit. Then he grinned. “Right.”

−You felt like an object?

−You say that like you understand what it means, and I know you don’t. Nobody is looking at you, making up their minds about you. Nobody is writing down little notes in some book, or taping every frigging word that comes out of your mouth.

−You’re making the connection between being photographed, and what we do here?

−Which is?

−That’s for you to decide.

−Give me a break already.

−You were talking about objecthood.

−No, you were.

−What was it like to be photographed?

−You have no idea. Those pictures. After they were out there, in galleries, catalogues, in newspaper reviews, later in that book, I was this creature, this invention of my sister’s. Everybody staring. Expecting great things.


−And you know the story. I couldn’t deliver. Objecthood. What a load of crap.

−What about the actual photographing? What was that like for you?

−You really get off on this shit, don’t you?

−Martin, you don’t have to come here, and you don’t have to tell me anything. You know that. Being here is a choice.

−Not really.

−You are somehow compelled, dragged to the door?

−Now who’s dramatic, Frenko? You know as well as I do that I come here so that I can get through another few days out there. You want my little story? Here it is. Pencil at the ready? When I look at those photographs, all I can see is Marie Claire. How she barely took her eyes away from me, away from my face. And I couldn’t look away from her even if I wanted to. Which I didn’t.

−Well, didn’t you have to break eye contact when she looked through the, what do you call it?

−The viewfinder, for Christ’s sake.

−When she looked through the viewfinder?

−Marie Claire photographed with a twin reflex camera. You know, another one of her affectations.

−Go on.

−She’d focus on me. Hold me still with her looking. Then she’d peer down into this black box of a camera, and find me on that bit of ground glass inside. She’d slowly raise her head. I remember the slowness. She didn’t have to tell me to keep still, because I was always holding my breath. I think I was. That’s what it felt like. While we were looking at each other, she’d release the shutter, and catch me in her box.

−Her box?


−But you said –

−You know what I mean, Dr. Freud.

−What about the photographs?

−I remember all those pictures, every single one. I remember how she was when she took them. I remember the rooms we were in or what street or stoop she posed me on. The photographs never looked planned or posed but they were. I was immobilised. Mesmerised. But mostly, I remember Marie Claire. How she spoke to me. The sound of her voice. What she said as she coaxed me into position. It didn’t feel like coaxing then, but now I know it was.


−She forced me into her viewfinder where I would wait for her.

−I don’t get you.

−Listen. I remember what music was playing during the photographing. I remember her perfume. I remember what her hair was like, what she wore. In those days, Marie Claire had all these little 1950’s sweaters with buttons up the front. Pearl buttons. Meant to be some sort of ironic retro thing, I think. Mira wore a sweater like that once, though without the sense of élan that my sister had. Mira said she’d picked it up at some second-hand place. I hit the roof. I made sure to rip those buttons open so hard they popped off when I bent her over the couch to do her. I couldn’t tell if I hurt her or not. I can never tell.

“So what about your father, Mira?”

“What about yours?”

“I’m going to talk about my father while you draw my dick? I don’t think so.”

“I’m drawing your shoulder.”

“Well, you’re looking at my dick.”

No, Mira thought. I’m looking at your face. I’m looking at your mouth. “Open your mouth,” she said.

“What for?”

“I want to draw it.”

“My open mouth?”

“I want a picture of the mouth.”

“What are you a fucking dentist?”

“You know,” she said, “Francis Bacon was obsessed with mouths. He had a book he loved. A book about teeth and mouths. It had hand-coloured plates of oral examinations, of infected and diseased mouths. He was haunted by images of open mouths.”

“What? You think I’ve got something wrong? Some kind of disease in my mouth?”

“No. I think you have a beautiful mouth,” she soothed, and took a step forward so that she was almost touching him. “I just want to look.” He was covered in sweat from the heat of the spotlight she had positioned beside him. “C’mon, open up. Let me in.”

He really does have a beautiful mouth, she thought after he had gone. Sharp and furtive. That slightly crooked upper lip. And its interior. She had made him bend his head right back so she could peer down into it. The stained smoker’s teeth, the raw gums, the glint of silver fillings deep inside. A horrible beauty, she thought. That mouth that inflicts so much ruthless pleasure on me.

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Su Croll

"Dead Martin Club” is from a work-in-progress called Image Hungry. Croll's first book, Worlda Mirth, won the Kalamalka New Writers Competition and was short-listed for the Gerald Lampert Award. Her second book, Blood Mother, was short-listed for The Canadian Authors' Association Poetry Prize and Alberta’s Stephan G. Stephansson Award.