PUBLISHER KEAGAN PERLETTE COPY EDITORS MARIAH DEVCIC DERRICK GRAVENER ALYSSA HIROSE JENNA MANN KARA SCHURINGA LAYOUT KEAGAN PERLETTE RICKY CASTANEDO COVER CHELSEA O’BYRNE COVER TYPOGRAPHY MARIN PERLETTE WITH THANKS TO ALEYA ABDULLA SHERYDA WARRENER
We acknowledge that we are guests who have had the privledge to work and learn on the traditional, ancestral and unceded Indigenous territories of the wməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and sel̓íl̓witulh (Tsleil-Waututh) First Nations.
SOPHIE BENDER JOHNSTON
6 Intimate Frontier
MATT CARDINAL 15
BRI DEMPSEY 18 MARIAH DEVCIC 22 CECILY DOWNS
MIKIKO GALPIN 31 HALLE GULBRANDSEN 36 CHRISTINA HU 42 GENEVIEVE MICHAELS 46 RAVEN NYMAN 50
KARA SCHURINGA 66 LÉA TARANTO 72 CONTRIBUTORS
Waawaashkesh Seven Grandmothers Kristen Stewart whispers a montage in my ear. How It’s Made @ 4:00pm EST The Fragile Bark of Flesh Jargon of a Field I Might Never Know Elegy Fox Fairyland Some Guys some days And Still We Keep Living Perfect Lightning Like Your Shape How Do You Like Your Eggs? Traces Six Mile When I Stopped Going to Church Domestic Dream Alligator Hussy White Auguries of Extinction Wangshen
PUBLISHER’S NOTE Over the last two years, I have had the privilege of writing and working among extremely talented peers. For a young artist, there is something life affirming about encountering a bunch of strangers who, like you, are looking to dive headlong into the chaotic, mercurial, occasionally treacherous ocean of creative work. Tucked up on the 4th Floor of Buchanan E, it’s easy to feel like the world has forgotten about writers, or that the world is so full of writers that there’s no room for another. As this class of 2017 graduates and leaves our lookout nest, I’d like to say: writing is vital. It’s kept all us alive all these years, it’s been with us through bad grades, breakups, mental health issues, loneliness, fear, insecurity and trauma. It’s brought us together and it’s also helped us find the language to create healthier boundaries. I’d also like to say this: no voice I’ve read in this program could replace any other, and the ideas and stories that I’ve been lucky enough to experience here have already changed me. I want to say thank you to all the contributors to this anthology, and to everyone in the program who embraced vulnerability and dared to share their fledgling words. I’d like this anthology to act as a charm of good luck in writing. May you be heavily awarded and thoroughly book deal-ed. -Keagan
SOPHIE BENDER JOHNSTON Intimate Frontier AFTER PENELOPE EDMONDS
your bed is familiar these blue sheets, the sounds of the alley outside your small window, your childhood on the walls We’re both on our phones when I find the name the latest murdered girl her name, her baby face how long it took to identify her body washed up on the shore In this bed we compare tans and tattoos your ink healed quick and clean you love flowers on my arm and thigh nidoodem on my hip you’re confused about the keloids I tried to kill something with language comes easy to you and you say you’ve never fought to survive In this bed you touch tender and I think about my textbooks museums my mother and grandfathers haunt are you going to measure my cranium? count my teeth? put my skull and bloodstained blouse in a cardboard box, frayed beadwork behind glass? when you take my clothes off I put my carved silver jewellery on your bedside table my nice dresses I drape over your chair so they won’t wrinkle
SOPHIE BENDER JOHNSTON
in these blue sheets I don’t speak of the suicides, 99% of my territory fenced off for zhaaganaashwag, how it seems like everyone back home is dying, and we’ve only got a few speakers left. I know our child couldn’t have status what’s left of my blood’s not enough but at least there’s no smallpox in this blanket in the morning my clothes are creased anyways my bracelets and earrings start to tarnish I will leave this bed.
SOPHIE BENDER JOHNSTON
Waawaashkesh AFTER â€œDEER MEDICINEâ€? BY KEVIN PHILLIP PAUL
a wet, angry summer, and I felt alone on that island. I exploded again at twilight and retreated to the porch. swaddled myself on the white wicker couch watching the rain breathing into the drizzling blues, greens, greys bleeding into each other, and he appeared All summer I watched their antlers grow breaking through velvet, sloping upwards the quick flick of their tails, a white warning I watched at twilight they sail over the fences nibble marigolds and wisteria waited in the shadows of ditches froze when I saw them I looked into his eyes he did not move in my mouth the taste roasts and stews braised with rosemary and juniper rich and strong tender game that fed my girlhood a wilderness that gives itself up hunger I forgot to feed hunger I am tired of denying I stood and crept blanket trailing behind me, gathering dirt barefoot in gravel puddles his elegant body, his power,
SOPHIE BENDER JOHNSTON
his gift full of life. no predators on that island, waawaashkeshwag arenâ€™t afraid I came as close as he allowed.
SOPHIE BENDER JOHNSTON
Seven Grandmothers I know I should’ve listened to all their warnings to stop playing tricks, but holy, is the look on the nun’s face ever worth it! She comes into school stinking of the dead raccoon I left in her mailbox, sweltering in the last heat of the summer. I don’t say anything, just giggle with my pals. But she knows it was me. Even after the thirty-fourth strap, her eyes look like they are bursting out of her skull, like when you push on a fish eye to test if it’s fresh. I start laughing into strap thirty-five, thirty-six, all the way to forty. The old bag gets tired by then and puts the strap back in her desk and grabs me by the chin. “You’re wicked, Randolph.” “And you’re useless. That’s not my name! It’s Minonegig-inniw, and don’t act like you don’t know that just cause you’ve been with us much longer than any of us cared to have you!” She slaps me and tells me that she’s called the Indian Agent, Blockhead, and tomorrow I’m getting paddled over to St. Agatha’s. And me, cause I’m real stupid apparently, I say I’m surprised that they’re gonna paddle me over, that’s so very heathen of them. Another slap. I’m twelve years old. My name is Minonegig-inniw, Happy Otter Man, and I’m getting sent away because I can’t keep out of trouble. My pals are waiting outside the schoolhouse for me, hiding from the nuns. When I see them I show off my red and stinging hands and I say, “None of you would be a real warrior in the old days. Look at you, hiding like a bunch of women!” They crowd around me and touch the edges of my hands. My best friend, Baapi-mukwa, has wide and shiny eyes. “You’re so brave,” he whispers. I shrug. “Wasn’t that bad. She’s just an old cow.” I wish my girl was here, my beautiful Zhaawani-noodin, but she’s probably at home picking another fight with her mother, or doing chores with her little eyebrows pushed together. When I tell my pals I’m getting sent to St. Agatha’s they look at each other, real quiet. We all know the stories. My sister hasn’t been the same since she came back last summer, her hair all short, speaking like a white girl. When she speaks at all. But only the kids who cause the most trouble get sent there so I gotta act like I’m proud. And I am, a little. My chicken friends? They’ll be here, with the nuns, on the reserve, learning like good little Indians.
SOPHIE BENDER JOHNSTON
But me, I’m not scared. Like my Nokomis always taught me, you gotta be brave. She had these seven little stones she kept in a medicine bag and took everywhere. They were perfectly round, and she said she found all of them at the bottom of that sacred river on the other side of the bay. One for each of the Grandfathers, or Grandmothers, as Nokomis calls them. They’re the seven teachings that tell us Indians how to live in a good way. Each of the stones, they had a Grandmother teaching, and I guess Nokomis learned from them all her life. My sister, she’s Minaadendamowin, she knows respect. A little too much respect, if you ask me. Me, I’m Zoongide’ewin. I’m the brave one. Nokomis said Zoongide’ewin means you got a strong heart. And that’s me. Nokomis is dead now, and she was buried with those seven little stones. But when I walk home through the bush, I keep telling myself that I got a strong heart. I got a strong heart. When I tell Nigashi about St. Agatha’s, I expect her to hit me. Instead she just sits down. Nigashi, she’s Gwayakwaadiziwin. She’s honest. She says: “Well you musta gone and done something real stupid.” But she puts cool medicine on my hands and doesn’t say much else, which is strange for her, so I know she’s hurting. Nhoos has gone moose hunting and my sister just went back to St. Agatha’s a few weeks ago, so it’s just me and Nigashi. She tells me not to worry about my chores, with my useless hands, so I just sit at our table and drink milk. Finally, she says something. “Miskosipii says you won’t get no milk over there. Hardly no meat either. Mush, she says. Alls you eat is mush.’” Miskosipii is my sister, but we don’t say her real name when she’s around. She says we gotta call her Virginia now. Stupid name. None of us know why she got sent to St. Agatha’s anyways. She’s a good kid, not like me. Never talked back to a nun, never looked one in the eye, always speaks perfect English, keeps her clothes neat and clean, never complains. She’s real pretty though. Maybe the nuns got jealous and decided they didn’t wanna teach her no more. I wish Nhoos was here. He’s Nibwaakaawin, wisdom, he’s real smart. Whenever I’m out in the bush with him, he’ll point out any old plant or tree and tell me everything about it, how it grows, and what it gives us. He’s old-school, like my Nokomis, that’s his mom, he knows how to get the animals to offer their lives for us. He knows everything about medicine, too. He made the medicine that soothes my hands now. If he were here, and he knew I was going to St. Agatha’s, he’d tell me exactly what to do. But I won’t even get to say goodbye to him.
SOPHIE BENDER JOHNSTON
Maybe by the time I get back, at the start of next summer, I’ll be like Miskosipii. Short hair. Quiet. No more speaking Indian, no more pranks, no more tricks. No more Minonegig-inniw, no more Happy Otter Man. Just Randolph. Maybe I am a little scared. But I watch Nigashi make dinner and I tell myself I gotta be brave. I got a strong heart. I have to have a strong heart for her. Be a warrior. So I say, “Well at least I’ll get to see Miskosipii. Tell her the news. I bet she’ll laugh when I tell her how I got sent there!” Nigashi shakes her head, softly, her little silver earrings tinkling. “She says they keep the boys and girls separated.” I try again: “Well, maybe I should just go hide in the bush then. Maybe go over to that sacred place across the bay. I bet Blockhead won’t look for me there. Nhoos can help me set up a camp. It’ll be real old school.” “Minonegig-inniw,” she says. “Blockhead will send your father and I to his jail.” I guess that’s that then. Well, how bad can St. Agatha’s be? I’ve survived the nuns at the day school. Miskosipii changed so much because that’s just who she is. Not me. I’ll be the same. We have supper and Nigashi tells me to remember how fresh meat tastes. I say I will and I make myself remember everything: her long black hair tied in a bun, her dark eyes, the steady light of the candles on the table, how full and warm I feel. After supper, I think about going to visit Zhaawani-noodin, but I know she’ll cry and I guess my heart isn’t strong enough for that. Zhaawani-noodin, she’s Debwewin, she’s the truth. Her heart is true and she listens to that above all else. Why her heart tells her to go with me, I’ll never know. She’s determined and stubborn, you can never tell her what to do if she knows it isn’t right. I get worried that the nuns will get fed up with her too and send her to St. Agatha’s. I imagine her telling the nuns what a flock of geese they are when she goes to school tomorrow and sees I’m not there. That makes me laugh, but I don’t want her at St. Agatha’s. I don’t want nobody there. Nigashi lets me sleep in her bed and sings me an Indian lullaby. I fall asleep to her soft voice, wrapped in her strong arms. That night I have dreams of Nokomis’ stones and the river on the other side of the bay. I guess those dreams are gifts from Gzhemnidoo, so when I wake up at dawn I put out a little asemaa, tobacco, in thanks. Nokomis and Nhoos would be proud of me. Might be the last time I get to do that. I let Nigashi brush out my hair and braid it. When she’s done she rests her chin on my shoulder, her soft cheek pressing against my neck. She’s so warm, and I
SOPHIE BENDER JOHNSTON
grab her hand. For the first time I feel like crying. I want to stay with her. “Minonegig-inniw,” she says, but I hear a car humming and she stands up. I let go of her hand and I try really hard not to grab at her skirt. Someone knocks on the door and Nigashi answers. It’s Blockhead. I can see his fat, square face. He looks bored. He talks to Nigashi, tells her I’m too much trouble, I’m going to St. Agatha’s. She doesn’t invite him in. She doesn’t say anything. All she does is stand straight and cross her arms over her chest. Blockhead sighs, all dramatic. He lowers his voice and whispers something I can’t hear. It’s quiet for a minute, but then Nigashi steps aside. He walks right up to me grabs my wrist. So I punch Blockhead in the gut. He twists my arm. “Come on, Randolph. Time to go.” I start swearing at him in Indian, ‘cause I know it makes him mad. I punch him a few more times but my hands start stinging and I see Nigashi’s sad eyes. So I shut up and stop fighting. She looks me in the eyes. She says my name and another word: “Minonegig-inniw. Mashkawiminjimenim.” Remember. Remember strongly. Blockhead drags me out of the house. I yell: “Giwaabimin!” See you later, my beautiful mother. I’m standing on the beach. The water is glass, the stillest I’ve ever seen it. Blockhead and his crony Eugene are pushing the canoe into the water. Me and my pals stole the motorboat last week and no one’s been able to find it. We dumped it right in the middle of the bush, tore off the motor, smashed it with hammers, and hid the pieces in hunting stands, way up in the trees. Did that ever take a long time! Stupid heavy thing. But Blockhead will never find it or fix it. Next to the raccoon, that was probably my best trick. Now they have to paddle all the way out of the bay and to the other side of the lake. The bottom of the canoe scrapes against the ancient rocks. His other crony, Hector, is holding my arm tightly. I look at all those rocks. I gotta remember them, remember the water, remember the Grandfathers and Grandmothers in the rocks, remember those powerful Underwater Ones at the bottom of the bay, remember everything my parents and Nokomis taught me, remember my name. I think of an otter playing and splashing in the water, not a care in the world, not listening to anyone, and that’s me. I’m Minonegig-inniw. I will always be Minonegig-inniw. The canoe is in the water, and Blockhead yells at Hector. We walk to the edge of the shore and I look down one last time. I see a little stone, almost black
SOPHIE BENDER JOHNSTON
and perfectly round, as if shaped by the waters of a sacred river. I twist out of Hector’s hand and pick it up and put it in my pocket, then run to the canoe. As Blockhead paddles away, I put my hand in my pocket and rub the stone. A little Grandmother to keep me safe, to help me remember. My Nokomis, Zaagidi’win, so full of love. Nhoos, Nibwaakaawin, who knows everything and shares it with everyone. My sister Miskosipii, Minaadendamowin, so quiet and gentle in her respect that the nuns wanted to hurt her. Nigashi, Gwayakwaadiziwin, who’s probably braver than me because she’s so honest. Zhaawani-noodin, Debwewin, a little woman with the truest heart I know. Even my chicken friend Baapi-mukwa, he’s Bekaadiziwin, he’s humble and patient, even with me. And me. Minonegig-inniw. I’m Zoongide’ewin. I got a strong heart. I’ll need all of the Seven Grandmothers that Nokomis taught me, but I’ve got a strong heart. The canoe glides across the water. I’m stuck between Hector and Eugene, Blockhead steering behind me. By dark I’ll be at St. Agatha’s. They’ll cut my hair, get rid of my clothes, maybe I’ll lose my little Grandmother, and they’ll start calling me Randolph. But I’m gonna be a warrior. I’m gonna remember. I got a strong heart. I got a strong heart.
SOPHIE BENDER JOHNSTON
MATT CARDINAL Kristen Stewart whispers a montage in my ear. Kristen Stewart puts down her script and says, “She’d never say this”. Kristen Stewart gives me a minute to think of something else. Kristen Stewart shrugs it off when I can’t. Kristen Stewart and I reach for the same muffin at the craft table. Kristen Stewart splits a lemon-poppyseed with me. Kristen Stewart gives me the big half. Kristen Stewart hides behind her menu while I order dessert for dinner. Kristen Stewart steals a bite of my cheesecake. Kristen Stewart orders us two more slices, one to go. Kristen Stewart forgives me for forgetting the second slice at the diner. Kristen Stewart says maybe she’ll celebrate Canada Day with my parents next year. Kristen Stewart wonders if my family likes her or if they just say so to be polite. Kristen Stewart asks why we haven’t used any of the gift cards my folks keep sending us. Kristen Stewart asks when I called my mother last. Kristen Stewart calls my mother. Kristen Stewart holds my hand like only Kristen Stewart could at our first Oscars together. Kristen Stewart doesn’t let me go back on the matching turtlenecks. Kristen Stewart kisses me like a winner when I lose to Spike or Wes again. Kristen Stewart assures me that we can do the turtlenecks again at Cannes or TIFF or our living room, wherever. Kristen Stewart watches The Runaways in bed with me. Kristen Stewart takes the role of big spoon when she sees herself singing on screen. Kristen Stewart nuzzles my back. Kristen Stewart turns the movie off so I can draw a bath and sing Love is Pain back to her. Kristen Stewart
disowns it as her favourite song since meeting me. Kristen Stewart sticks her tongue out and calls me a phony when she mixes up our copies of The Subterraneans. Kristen Stewart writes her name in both. Kristen Stewart writes my name in both. Kristen Stewart hopes I’ll make time to look for a bigger bookcase together. Kristen Stewart calls me on my shit. Kristen Stewart reads my needy tweets back to me. Kristen Stewart throws out both of my portable chargers and my phone. Kristen Stewart admits the phone is an overreaction. Kristen Stewart lets me post a few pictures from our weekend road trip to Sonoma County. Kristen Stewart puts a post-it note in a baby name book near the start of the J section. Kristen Stewart closes my laptop and tells me Janis wants us to take her skating. Kristen Stewart takes several candid photos of me lacing up Janis’ skates. Kristen Stewart clenches her fists, bites her lip as Janis lands on the ice. Kristen Stewart wipes the snow off Janis’ bruised knees. Kristen Stewart doesn’t get competitive over who’s the cool parent. Kristen Stewart doesn’t think much of growing old, with me or in general. Kristen Stewart is just pleased knowing we’ve made it this far.
How It’s Made @ 4:00pm ET Today paper cups and seat belts, tomorrow hockey pads and light bulbs. What a time to be alive with cable. What a time to be cable itself. Next week we’ll see how cables are made. Then everything will make sense. Tequila, waterbeds, flip flops, silver - in one episode. God’s work isn’t just about saving babies or dolphins. Sometimes water cutting through steel or a whirlpool of paint in an industrial mixer is enough.
BRI DEMPSEY The Fragile Bark of Flesh This time wasn’t like those before. The cool, static din of the pulse machine filled the empty air between them. Bloodied stitches ran along her skin like the grain of wood, irregular yet uniform, head to toe. Hollow sockets of bruising weighed beneath her eyes and down her neck. Scanning the medical paraphernalia of the room, he tried to distract himself but his eyes inevitably fell upon her still form, battered by choice. Her skin had the aftereffects of a sandstorm: powdery, uniform perfection. He hated the softness of her skin, the spiraling, implanted eyelashes, how her smile lines disappeared. Even mottled with bruises, she looked meticulously contoured and unquestionably youthful. Susannah had always healed up perfectly. It were almost as if she were meant for such procedures, the doctor joked, a man who made a business of women like her, women like line drawings. Her lips had once been peachy, the color of raw salmon, with a sloping, thin curl like a fiddlehead. Now, fleshy, pigmented globs sat like fingers along her face. Hair, once consumed in languishing, glossy curls to smell and touch forever, had been slapped into submission. He would give anything now to see her tiny, peachy lips. Like in the aftermath of a tornado, each day he took in the unfamiliarity of her landscape. Sculpted shoulders: better for hugging; Clipped eyelids: better for ‘waking up to you with.’ Each post-surgery he would rediscover her. Postpartum stretch marks and dustings of freckles replaced with the subtle but heartbreaking slashes of scalpels, shiny like cellophane. He thought about the first time. He had found her and held her as she sobbed on the bathroom floor, smelling of bronzing cream, having thrown up diet pills. Their son –his age still counted in months- mewed from the other room, waking and wanting. The first time. The sting of again and again. Once more, her wounds reopened. Their first fight had been about dieting. To him, she was beautiful in a way that stopped him short. She was uncommon, asymmetrical, completely unique. At first, he simply thought she made a killer salad. Soon, he realized nothing passed her lips without being measured in tablespoons and weighed against a calorie
counter. She would starve until she fainted. He had thought, “Maybe she’s one of those women, sad after their babies.” But she didn’t hate her baby. She hated her reflection, writhing and obsessing in a cloud of smoke. At first, she had only wanted Botox. “I worry too much,” she said. “Smooth out those lines so that you have someone who looks happy.” “Can you feel happy too?” He had wanted to say. “You are beautiful,” he said instead. “Is that a yes?” Of course, it was never going to only be Botox. When she asked for collagen, he said ‘no’, not even because it was his to say but because if he didn’t, no one would. She had her skin resurfaced, her ears pinned, her brows lifted. Each moment was a pivot of a telescope, cosmically incremental and seemingly undetectable. But when she returned from her lip injections, he saw all the changes at once. Mid-prep on dinner, he had walked into the laundry room and pressed his fingertips against his eyes to stop the ragged leak of tears. Like he was waiting at a bus stop, he had assumed that eventually she would come back around, return the way she was. The lips he had kissed, the lips that laughed at Mad Libs, that read the classifieds aloud. “But now her lips.” He thought to himself. “Now it’s too late.” “Better for kissing,” she winked. She would do anything for the pictures they would paint for her. And he was addicted to the promises she needed him to make. Addicted to being needed. Anything left between them resonated the moment he said no to her. His one last grasp at her was to help her chisel away at herself. The only way into her was by scalpel now. Susannah agreed to have another baby when he’d agreed to pay for abdominal sculpting. She wouldn’t breastfeed. What about her boob job, she had asked him. “What about all that money you spent?” From deep inside the corroded, vacant jar of Susannah’s personality, grew a human who took what parts of the proto-Susannah still remained. Selene, with her wet chocolate eyes, was petite and simple, and flesh and blood. After that, Susannah focused on cutting herself apart. Each second on the clock exhaled deeply, impatiently. It told him that he had sat there, staring in silence at his wife, for an hour. Fifteen minutes down the road, in a building he could see from the recovery room window, Selene would
be taking her curtain call. She had danced her first principal role. Coppelia. The man falls in love with a doll. He doesn’t realize she can’t love him back, that he can only long and stare at her forever. Maybe across a hospital room perhaps. Selene had Susannah’s posture, impeccably long with an apostrophe between her shoulder blades, pinching them back slightly and tilting her chin up. Regal, almost. Perfect for ballet. He wanted to be there tonight. He wanted his voice to drown out Susannah’s, the voice that said, “Stand taller,” “You look boyish,” or “You really shouldn’t be eating that.” Their son, Ryan, was there with her tonight to record the performance. Later, they would replay the pirouette Selene had agonized over for weeks completed with effortless precision. They would all then head to bed, kissing Selene on the forehead. After that Susannah would dismantle herself in the mirror and plan her next surgery because her knees didn’t look like her sixteen-year-old daughter’s. For the next time, she told him, she wanted to go to San Bernadino. In San Bernadino, she could have lipo on her inner thighs, have her implants taken out and replaced, and have her neck sculpted all at once. In San Bernadino they wouldn’t put her on a risk list. But there wouldn’t be San Bernadino. There wouldn’t be a next time. Her pulse danced on sound through the air, written in neon hiccups along the heart monitor. She could die here, he thought. He tried to shrug at it, to make it seem less real. His tongue shuddered into a strange stillness, paddle-flat against the roof of his mouth. Railroad track markings like burnt, bubbled sugar crawled along her jawline. In the light, she looked chalky, a complexion of limestone. This was the consequence of helping your wife destroy herself. You had yourself to blame when she looked like this. The infection had spread from her cheeks down her face, cradled in her threetimes perfected jawline. If it spread to her neck, the doctor said, they would have to “re-evaluate their options”. The infection could lace its way through the veins of her neck and dance with unceasing efficiency towards her heart and down to her toes. For years, he had watched her pulse scale back in coyness and then return for a big showbiz finish before her recovery stay was up. But this time, with the embroidered scarring tracing every curvature of her face, her pulse had an eerie steadiness, slow and growling. The air snapped. Whimpers of impending pain clawed from behind her lips. Her hands spasmed into rigid claws along the bedside. Pupils rolled back, her eyes had the frenzied, tacky glue sheen of an animal backed into a corner.
He sat forward. All sound bled away as bodies popped through the door, throwing cables and clipboards. They ushered him out, encouraging him to go for a walk, to get a coffee. His last look was of her strapped down like an asylum patient. All around him were wan, polished furnishings, decorated with bonsai topiaries and rock gardens. Hallways for the surgeries of vanity. Not a soul around. No music. Not even the jittery sounds of Susannah’s rescue. He never encountered anyone that made him feel bad for forking over a quarter of a million dollars on his wife’s body. No men by the bedside of a woman recovering from a mastectomy or hushed family gathered around a burn victim. The quick-skidding squeaking of running shoes echoed through the hallway. “Mr. Eggert.” Hemorrhaging due to infection. “You’re wife has lost a lot of blood.” This was where they would ‘re-evaluate their options’. Along the cuff of her scrubs he could see delicate splatters of what was likely Susannah’s blood, embroidering her sleeve with a Rorschach Inkblot for him to guess. It all seemed… rushed. So many lilting questions crashed against his brain. He never said goodbye before, when she first disappeared. When she stopped cooking and eating and wearing purple and laughing. There was too much to say goodbye to now, all at once. “I’ll check in on your mom, make sure she’s good. I’ll meet you at the doors after the show, take you out for ice cream.” His promise to his children hovered in front of him, like a tension-set diamond. They were expecting him any minute now. His cell phone vibrated. Glancing down, Ryan was calling in. Hospitals had notoriously bad reception and he was tempted by this excuse. But then again, this wasn’t a hospital and the phrase that roamed fiery hot through his tight throat wasn’t going to get any easier to say out loud. “Hello.” He managed to choke out. “Dad.” Ryan’s voice was raspy over the white noise. “We’re finished up.” “How’s Selene?” “She’s happy. Says she wants to go on a diet because she sounds heavy. Whatever that means. You still with Mom?”
MARIAH DEVCIC Jargon of a Field I Might Never Know Only baby birds experience authentic smoothies With love from my gullet, Mama Bird How do we measure adequacy? Not in lemon trees or dirt but mattresses and shiny juicers. Hell-bent me, up replicating, I reach against the woman.
Elegy No rock shines like the throat of a hummingbird. A hummingbird’s secret
does not lie behind its eyes.
This I can account for
as I’ve seen a hummingbird without its eyes.
At the beach
the water breathes into the shoreline.
At the beach
I scout for rocks that hold no secrets.
A hummingbird’s secret
is between its wings – the sound one hears as it approaches.
At the beach
I lay my hands upon the foam, push my face into the water.
At the beach
the water breathes.
CECILY DOWNS Fox You do not know this furtive guy, or why he says that you are like a fox: in fact, a picture of a fox he found online tattooed onto a naked woman’s back. It’s tough, this fox. It tore a crimson rose between its teeth—a symbol of romance or blood. Perhaps you’re in a secret gang of cunning girl foxes. Maybe you make fires with your sisters in the night: in blazes bright burn poppets of police patrols, and Wildlife Control. Or else devour bones of patriarchal mice. Howl naked at the rising crescent moon— whatever it is that foxy girls do.
Fairyland Tom and Gertrude’s love had been the kind that poets used to write about, Peter always thought, right up until that fateful November night when Tom’s body had been found stiff with death on a park bench. They were a common sight on West 73rd Street: Peter would see them strolling through the park arm in arm, see Tom buying bouquets from the florist at the end of the block. Ordinarily Peter might have disapproved of such syrupy behavior on principle, or pretend to himself that he did, but there was something disarming about their carrying on in this way after all these years. His nephew Simon would tease him if he caught him thinking such things, shake his head and say that he had gotten soft in his old age. “Peter Hart,” he’d say. “Seventy-nine and a secret romantic all this time.” Peter would pretend to be offended, as Simon expected. Simon teased him about everything, these days, with just enough loving to tell him he didn’t mean anything by it. Lately Simon said he was forgetful, that he was losing his mind, badgering Peter about moving somewhere he would be less alone. Like he had anywhere to go. Simon visited every Thursday, except the ones he forgot, crowding into his apartment room with his noise and his life. It got to be too much sometimes, but Peter missed him when he was gone: then the loneliness crept in, solitude dripping from the walls, and he would count the days until Thursday again. Maybe the real reason Peter couldn’t get Gertrude and Tom off his mind was that he was lonely. The empty white walls did a funny thing to a man’s mind, left too long to its own devices. In the stillness one got to thinking about the bitter aftermath of such an event as Gertrude had endured. How much harder tragedy like that was to bear in the cold months. It was hard to do much walking these days, with the growing ache in his joints. His leg, as usual, was grating at him, but lately he ached everywhere: his shoulder, his back, his hip. If he couldn’t make it further he’d trek to the corner store to buy a can of soup for fifteen cents, lingering as he deliberated which kind. It was something to do, at least, and the clerk, Harold, kept him apprised of the local gossip.
“Gertrude isn’t taking it well,” Harold said one day, shaking his head. “Who can blame her, poor thing?” “Is that right?” Peter said. “Anthony in 134 says he saw her wandering around in the park with her clothes inside out, seams all showing.” “Gosh.” “There’s to be a service next week, for anyone who cares to attend. Not that Gertrude’s in any state to be thinking of arrangements, but their daughter’s taking care of everything. Perhaps it’ll give Gertrude some peace.” * The church’s grand spires struck ghost-like through the pale winter air, piercing the accumulating mist. The fabric of Peter’s suit hung limp from his shoulders; he’d brushed the dust off that morning when he dug it out from the back of his closet, and he had to keep one arm at his side so no one would see the tear he hadn’t bothered to repair. Inside, cold light drifted from the stained glass high above. He shuffled along to a pew by one of the columns, taking comfort in its solidity. Peter glanced around at his fellow mourners as he waited. Practically everyone from West 73rd was there, solemn faces stark against black clothes. The pastor hovered at the podium as he prepared to deliver his remarks. Still there was no sign of Gertrude. Peter wondered if she was going to miss her own husband’s service, if they would carry on without her, but finally the front door swung open and she stepped through. Heels click-clacked as Gertrude’s daughter pulled her down the aisle. At last they got settled at the front, and the pastor began, his booming voice echoing skyward to fill the arches high above. When the sermon was over Gertrude made her way to the front to deliver her remarks. “I know I am expected to speak,” she began. “I will be brief. I would like to thank the pastor for his lovely words, but I must correct him on one point. My husband is not in Heaven.” The hiss of whispers echoed through the hall. “Nor is he in Hell. He has been taken by a power much closer at hand, and is at this moment trapped in Fairyland. But do not grieve him, my friends, for I intend to bring him back.” Gertrude didn’t wait for a reaction—fortunate, perhaps, as no one knew what to do. Her words were still ringing when she flung off her daughter’s horrified
arm and swept out of the hall with all the quiet devastation of a winter wind. * The stories about Mrs. Gertrude Hewbert ran rampant after that, traveling with such velocity that even Peter got word of them. The neighbor he scarcely ever saw said that Gertrude had taken to scrawling maps on her walls in her quest to uncover a path to Fairyland. The man at the florist heard that she had been seen running through the bushes in the park, caked in mud with a shovel slung over her shoulder. Everyone agreed her troublesome Irish blood was to blame. Snow fell, covering the world in white. Peter tried not to think of Gertrude so much. He sat for hours in his chair by the window, watching the people on the street below. Everyone wore thicker coats now, bundled into them, faces turned red in the snowy air. Thursdays Simon came in a rush, filling his walls with noise. Just as quickly he was gone. One day when the ache in his joints relented Peter ventured to the park with some seed for the pigeons and settled on a bench in his hat, mittens, and three coats. The pigeons cooed around his feet and flapped their excitement, the distant hope of summer in their heartbeats. The quiet, Peter reflected, was useful sometimes, to think but also to let oneself not think. The pigeons reminded him of John and of the day he introduced Peter to the birds a lifetime ago, and all the days after that they sat together and fed them. Peter didn’t dwell on bygones often but on a day like today he found himself indulging. So wrapped in his dreams had he become that the crunch of a boot in the snow made him jump. Gertrude stood there—pale and unexpected as a phantom, beige coat drooping to her knees. He couldn’t tear his eyes away, not even when she turned and saw him staring. “It’s me,” she said, smiling unhappily. “Be sure to tell everyone what a mess I’ve become.” “Pardon me, ma’am,” Peter said, bowing his head. “I didn’t mean to stare. I was just—just feeding the pigeons.” She looked at them cooing around his legs. “Greedy buggers, aren’t they?” “They recognize you, after a while,” Peter said. “They’re pretty smart.” “Crap everywhere.” She wrinkled her brow. “Good fertilizer.” He paused, cleared his throat, felt the need to explain. “They used to have to guard dovecotes to stop it being stolen.”
“Lord,” she said, squinting at him, “you’re mad as I am.” “I don’t think you’re mad.” “Then you’re twice as mad yourself.” She laughed. “Wait until you hear what I’m here for.” “What’s that?” “To find the door to Fairyland. Don’t try to stop me—I’ve quite made up my mind.” Peter considered. Even in his younger years he would not have dared try to stop such a very determined woman. Anyway, he never liked to interfere in other people’s lives; perhaps, after all, this was part of her grieving. He worried for her, though, out here in the cold, and he felt it would be ungentlemanly of him to leave her alone. “Would you accept my assistance?” he said. There was a pause again as they considered each other. “You want to—” “If you’d let me.” The pigeons cooed at his feet, seemed to urge him on with their persistence. Truth be told his desire to accompany her was more than chivalry: a strange throb of excitement had taken root in his belly, twitching through each of his limbs in turn. It was the first time he’d done anything so unpredictable. She shrugged. “Come if you’d like. But you mustn’t slow me down.” So there he was, starting the only real adventure he’d ever been on in the company of a woman bound for Fairyland. She looked back at him several times as they went, as though she might regret accepting his help. Peter, for his part, was still deciding whether or not he regretted offering it. “Mrs. Hewbert—” he began, panting to keep up. “If you don’t mind my asking—how do you know that your husband is in Fairyland?” “It was when I saw his body,” she said. “I daresay it would’ve fooled anyone else, but I know him better than anyone and I know it wasn’t him.” “Wasn’t—” “It was an imposter, left by the fairies to trick us.” “Oh,” Peter said. “I see.” If this was a strange part of her grieving, Peter figured, the most charitable thing to do would be to play along, and he was enjoying himself more than he wanted to admit. Anyway, he liked the notion that old Tom had been stolen by fairies far more than the one of him being dead, and a part of him yearned to believe in this fairy story they were spinning together. Maybe a very small part of him did believe it.
The path they took was deserted, its edges blurred to nothing by the snow. They came to the lake, watched the little figures with bright coats sliding across the ice. Made their way around it. Before she could drag him into the woods again he insisted they stop at the little cart selling pretzels for five cents by the lake-edge. The pretzel was hot in his mouth, burning almost, and he savored each bite of warmth in his throat as they moved from the path to the untamed forest beyond. He wasn’t sure how much more walking his leg could take in one day. He hoped they would found Fairyland soon. * “This is it?” he said. “You’re sure?” They stood before a little hollow under the roots of an oak tree that didn’t seem to lead much of anywhere, but Gertrude had insisted it was a door to Fairyland and Peter supposed she knew what she was talking about. His joints throbbed at him as he eased himself down, huddled in his layers, but he was glad for the break from walking. The biting cold worried him and he thought of suggesting they return some other day. “Thanks for letting me come,” he said instead. She patted his leg with a smile, as though they were already old friends. “Hush now. We wouldn’t want to scare them off.” Darkness fell early that day. Hours passed—or what he thought were hours; out here it was hard to be sure, and his watch had inexplicably stopped. In the stillness, the memory of the human world faded and the silent oaks expanded to encompass everything, twisting in Peter’s imagination far beyond the confines of the park, layer upon layer of interlaced boughs casting many times the amount of shadow they ought to have. Snowflakes began to fall from the blue-grey sky, cascading white onto the world, and the snowbanks glittered silver even in the growing dark, brighter, it seemed, as the time went by. Gertrude faded, leaving only the snow, the gleam, piercing emptiness. The twilight became a window to another world and Peter felt that the quiet trees were watching him back. * Shivering in early dawn Peter became aware of the world around him again a little at a time. Snow-laden branches, hung with spears of ice. Gertrude on the
snowbank beside him. Sleeping, he thought at first, but her stillness gave him pause. Her skin when he touched it was cold. Ice crystals glinted on her forehead. He brushed the frost-stiff hair from her face. Peter had never been much good at detail, or at remembering faces, but Gertrude’s lips appeared thinner than they had been and her cheeks more hollow. Some change of course could be expected after death. But as he looked at her he grew certain that the changes, though subtle, were more than that. * Simon came on a Tuesday that week, talking brightly of the Christmas family dinner he drove Peter to every year. Peter had enjoyed the ritual of it once but the thought tired him now: next to Fairyland the brightest domestic scene became hazy. He thought of the Christmas tree dressed in all its ornaments, of the lights twinkling and the star on top—but the memory woke something deeper in him: a glimpsed world of twisting trees beneath the cold starlight, the twinkle of fairy lamps in their boughs. Simon left, leaving Peter to himself, and again he thought of the trees and the haze of Simon’s life and how Simon didn’t need him. None of them needed him. They thought of him fondly when they thought of him at all, and were kind, would miss him when he was gone, deliver aching speeches full of sorrow at his funeral. Still it would not make much difference in their lives—not the way Tom’s departure had for Gertrude. There was no one to brave Fairyland for him. He sat in his old chair by the window. He’d been doing a lot of that lately, drinking tea when he remembered to make it and watching the dark umbrellas passing down below. Some of the stores put up ribbons or garlands in an attempt to be festive, though they were frozen white now. Pigeons clustered on the edges of buildings for protection, feathers puffed against the cold, and sometimes they fluttered to the windowsill and kept him company there. He thought of John then, sometimes. He wondered if there were pigeons in Fairyland. One day he saw Gertrude on the street corner, her arm linked with Tom’s. They were in the distance, obscured by faint fog and the swirling flakes, yet the figures were unwavering and Peter knew as much as he’d ever known anything that he was not mistaken. Then, just as quickly, they were gone, swirling into the crowd like snowflakes themselves.
MIKIKO GALPIN Some Guys Blood drips into the water and I tear viciously at the toilet paper, ripping off a generous piece. I scrub at the red stain in the crotch of my briefs. More paper, more scrubbing, repeat. I’m going to be late for class. Abandoning my futile attempt to lift the stain, I grab more paper and wipe between my legs. The tissue comes back glistening with blood. I toss it into the toilet bowl, swallowing hard as I let my hand hover in the gap between my thighs, fingers just shy of touching this skin that’s supposed to be mine but feels alien. Three months on T, the doctor said. Three months and I’d be free of the bullshit that was shedding my uterine lining every 25 days. The sticky warmth of blood dripping onto my fingers makes me inhale sharply while my lungs simultaneously constrict, tight and painful against the influx of air. Grabbing for more toilet paper, I clean my hand as best I can, trying to ignore the rusty stains around my nail beds, jaw clenched until the joint in front of my ear aches. In an attempt to make this process as painless as possible, I rummage in my backpack for a tampon and come up with a crumpled doodle from math class and a few quarters instead. “Fuck.” There’s a box in my gym locker but that means I have to get out of the stall and across the vast rows of lockers in the changing room to the far corner. At the beginning of the school year, I tried to nab one of the lockers facing the toilets and showers to avoid this very situation but was unsuccessful, unable to think up a plausible excuse when my hawk-eyed bully, Jason, snagged the locker instead. I glance at my phone in the pocket of my backpack. If I hurry, I can be in and out before my gym class is excused to change at the end of the period. Pulling up my loose soccer shorts, I charge out of the stalls and into the changing area. I pass two rows of lockers to get to my own, fumbling with the combination lock before I tear into my belongings, pushing aside shin guards and cleats in search of the coveted box. My fingers close around its cardboard sides, nearly folding them in on each
other with how hard I’m squeezing, and I pull it out to find it… empty. My shoulders slump. My forehead presses into the cool metal of my locker door as I attempt to will a new box of tampons into existence or, at the very least, will the soggy cafeteria nachos I had for lunch to stay in my stomach as a wave of panic rushes over me. The locker room door bangs open as the hum of conversation from the hallway follows the crowd of seniors that tumble in. Voices echo off the walls as students file in around me. A group of boys open lockers to my left as I hurriedly bury the empty box under my soccer jersey. Shit. I forgot about the other gym class, packed full of older boys who I had never seen outside of accidental shoulder bumps in the packed hallways between classes. Someone laughs. At me, maybe. I slam my locker shut and whirl around, back pressed against the unyielding wall of metal, but no one notices me. Lockers clang and sneakers are dropped to the floor with muffled thuds. Gym shorts are tossed over shoulders as jeans zip closed. “What the hell? Someone left their backpack in this stall.” The voice cuts straight through to me, over the laughter, over the conversations, straight to the lump of dread in the pit of my stomach. Backpack-less, tampon-less. I slam my locker shut and shove my way past a few rowdy boys, coming up short when I catch sight of another guy peering into the bathroom stall I abandoned. He’s staring. At my backpack still hanging on the hook. At the toilet. At the toilet paper and the blood. I turn to disappear into the crowd but he looks up and catches sight of me, sees me watching him. He’s tall and tan with his blonde hair pulled back in a bun, a fashion trend I would find ridiculous in any other situation. I can tell there’s a thousand and one questions working their way through his brain but all he says is, “Dude, you okay?” Nothing comes out when I open my mouth, which is actually lucky considering how nauseous I feel. He shifts and the movement sends me dashing past him into the safe haven of the bathroom stall, ripping the door from his grip and slamming it behind me with enough force that the flimsy partitions shake. I watch his runners under the door, the white Nike swoosh standing out against crisp black. He turns, hesitates, and then retreats with a squeak of rubber
soles on tile. All the air whooshes out of me in a sob and I clap my hand over my mouth. Warm blood oozes between my legs into my briefs and I want to tear off the soiled clothes, and scrub until I feel clean again. I’m probably going to have to change schools. I’m going to be back to playing second-string on some other soccer team. I’m going to have to make new friends. Someone slams a locker just outside the stall and I start, fingers fumbling with the lock on the door to ensure it’s shut tight. A minute. Another. Footsteps file out. Voices fade. It’s quiet, save for my erratic breathing. When I turn, the pink-tinted water leers up at me, screaming a secret I try to hide from myself as much as I try to hide it from the rest of the world. Hot tears of shame blur my vision as I reach out towards the toilet handle, fingers shaking so much it takes me a second to grip it properly. I’m about to press down, erase all evidence of this mistake, when the sound of footsteps return, a single pair this time. I freeze as they pace closer and the door to the stall next to me complains with a loud squeal as someone opens it. No, not someone. The white Nike swoosh smiles up at me. I hear the lock slide and he knocks softly on the wall separating our two stalls. “Hey.” I don’t move, hardly even dare to breathe. There’s a rustle of movement and suddenly there’s a tampon being offered underneath the wall. “My sister borrowed my backpack the other day and left some in there.” A tear trickles down the tip of my nose and drips onto the ground. I can hear him shift in the other stall and the tampon is shoved closer to my calf, his fingers peeking under the divider now as well. “She always hates getting her period. Says it’s not fair guys don’t know what it feels like.” I take the tampon and his fingers retreat almost instantly. “I guess some guys do…?” He sounds like he’s smiling, and not in a malicious way. There’s a beat of silence, like he might be hoping for a
response. Then the lock slides and the door squeaks as he exits the stall. I sniff and the shoes with the scuffed up toes pause, just in front of the door to my stall. “I- I like your Nikes.” My voice is strangled and higher than I would have liked, cracking in the middle with a gentle rasp. I hear a rush of air leave his lungs as he laughs. “Thanks,” I add, voice firmer this time and punctuated by a crumple of plastic as I gripped the tampon a little bit tighter in my palm. “Anytime, dude.”
HALLE GULBRANDSEN some days some days made invisible by suns, the moon, left behind, tucks like origami into a peach horizon. I am ten thousand stars blistering into dust. our friendship, it balances in a brief email every few weeks, a photograph of us at Centennial beach drying out slow in the sun. I am ten thousand blades of grass reaching for any trace of warmth. some days I look back and realize he was only in love with me. couldn’t have really fallen in love with her. still, that plane took off on time. he was already hanging in someone else’s sky that plane took off on time, he was already in love with her. couldn’t have really fallen in love with me. some days I look back and realize he was only reaching for any trace of warmth. I am ten thousand blades of grass drying out slow in the sun. a photograph of us at Centennial beach a brief email every few weeks. our friendship, it balances.
ten thousand stars blistering into dust tuck like origami into a peach horizon. I am the moon, left behind, made invisible by suns.
And Still We Keep Living Before we were ghosts, the man across the street was always naked. We could see him through the window most evenings. His ceiling light was this bright white, like he had stolen it from a hospital. Occasionally it would flicker; not the best mental image to have in your head after all these years. “He’s not unattractive,” my sister said one evening. He had a belly the size of a basketball. Dark hair grew on it and reached all the way up to his chest. Could easily be mistaken for a sweater. He was vacuuming that night. “You have weird taste.” He took the vacuum to the walls. A couple in the street had stopped and pointed up to the man’s window. Their laughter spilled through the crack in our window and I wanted to turn on my own vacuum to drown it out. “Do you think he’s alone?” Her mouth was full of popcorn. When she talked, one piece projected onto the carpet by my feet. “Isn’t he always?” “What a life.” She handed me the popcorn. “You ever going to tell me about the funeral?” she asked. “Or do I have to ask?” We had scattered Tim’s ashes that day. Off the bridge over the slough. In the rain. Ducks below us pecked away at them, like bread crumbs, as they fell. I broke out laughing while his brother read the eulogy. What a send off. He deserved it. “Fine.” I shrugged. Despite the duck story, the ceremony was sitting prettily at the top of a long list of things I didn’t want to talk about. “Wish I could have been there. Would have spat right in the coffin before they lowered his sorry ass to the ground.” “He was cremated. No burial.” “I would have spat in the ashes then. Was his new girlfriend there?” “Stone cold in the corner. Didn’t speak, didn’t move. Nothing. Sort of weird, actually.” “She probably did it. I still can’t believe you went.” I shrugged again. Everyone in my life had a habit of viewing of my relationship with Tim the way one would view a disease-- like I was infected. And by
some miracle I overcame said disease and now I’m expected to harbor hatred toward it, toward him. Except I don’t hate it. And I don’t hate him. I think it’s all about how you view it. I like to look at my relationship with Tim from backwards to forwards, an old VHS tape in slow rewind. Seen backwards, it would look something like this: me, thin and crying, on some beach in the middle of the night. His car reserves down the gravel path and he gets out to help me up from the ground. Every place he touches me, bruises on my skin vanish. He hands me the blanket and we lie together, watch the sun engulf stars. The more evenings we spend together, the less he needs to heal my skin. I gain weight. He joins a soccer team and brings me flowers before the games. Actually, in reverse, we were quite beautiful. I hadn’t spoken to him in at least three years when I got the call. I was getting ready for a blind date. It was his therapist that called me. I hadn’t even considered not going until Mom had expected me not to. “Damn. Naked man shut out the lights.” My sister was propped up against the couch, her breath made clouds on the glass. The lights across the street were out now. Did he know we watched him all of these nights? “I wonder if he gets lonely,” my sister said. “You going to go over and keep him company?” She laughed as the front door of our home opened and Mom hurried inside, bringing in both the cat and the wind. She was bundled in a heavy coat and scarf that covered half her face. I knit her that scarf in high school. It’s two different colors because I ran out of yarn halfway through, but she still wears it. “What are you girls doing?” She started taking off all of her layers. My sister held up the popcorn. “Want some?” Mom took a handful. She was watching me. I could tell she wanted to ask. “What’d you girls do today?” My sister jumped in with some story from her class that day and how she wasn’t sure she was really cut out for university. “Don’t say that, one bad class doesn’t mean anything.” “I guess so.” “And your day?” She was still looking at me. “Fine.” “That all? Just hang out here all day?” “No, I went into the city.”
“Oh?” “Tim’s celebration of life.” “You went.” Her voice carried a tone of hurt. “How was your day?” “How could you go?” “What do you mean how --” “To that horrible boy? He wouldn’t have gone to yours if it were you.” “That’s not --” “What did I do to deserve this?” She broke down crying. “Did I not raise you to be strong?” She walked out of the room and my sister, who always sympathized with my mother, hurried after her. I didn’t understand. I did feel strong. Strong as tea that steeps overnight. She thought I was weak? I put on her jacket and the scarf I knit and left the house. Frost was already forming on the grass and car windows as I walked down to the beach. The gravel crunched under my boots. The beach was in a bay, so the water moved lazily. The waves were always small and tired. A handful of old crickets scraped slow songs from their legs for the ghosts to dance to. The sand was so cold that it felt wet. The stars were outshining the moon, which was just a dim sliver. I laid back, sand clung to my hair. Tim and I used to come here to watch the stars. He was fascinated by them, more than anything else probably. He used to say they carried a resilience, the way they continued to burn long after they were gone. Sometimes I feel that resilience burning inside of me. It must be somewhere in my fingers. they felt hot each time I stood up to Tim, each time I stood up to my mother. If I were a star, she would be able to see it. She would see just how brightly I could shine. When I got home that night, Mom was already asleep. As weeks came and went, she didn’t have much to say to me and we came and went as well, passing each other quietly. One morning, as she was brewing coffee and I was spooning cereal into my mouth, she turned to me and said, “Don’t you have anything to say to me?” “What?” “Don’t you think you should apologize?” It was the first time we had spoken in weeks. “I’m sorry.” “For?”
“For not talking to you the last few weeks.” She shook her head. “No.” “No?” “Apologize for going to that awful boy’s funeral.” “You’re kidding.” She shook her head. “It was wrong of you.” “It was my choice. It had nothing to do with you.” “It had everything to do with me. You are my daughter.” I am her daughter. I am Tim’s old girlfriend. I am always something in relation to someone else. “I am more than that.” “After everything that happened with you two, sometimes I wonder.” My fingers were hot. “Well, sometimes I think you’re no better than him.” She dropped the mug and it thunked to the floor. The handle broke and coffee pooled in the creases of the laminate. I moved out by the end of the month. I finished my growing up on my own and became a counsellor and married a teacher and we had three beautiful children and lived across the street from people that always shut their blinds before undressing. My sister would tell me about my mother’s new husband and her new vacation home in Mexico and how the lizards would climb right up to the window, but my mother never called me. She met her grandchildren and made appearances to all of their birthdays, but never mine. Each time, she would give me a sad look before leaving, she wanted to say something, but there was resilience burning in her as well. And each time, I would think, so that’s where it came from. In the end, none of it mattered much. We’re all ghosts now and we still don’t talk. I hear from my sister that Mom is still waiting to see a strength grow from me. Tim’s healing skin on someone else now. That man is still walking around naked, still vacuuming his walls. And I’m spending my nights watching the stars, picking at my fingernails, trying to get the light to break through.
CHRISTINA HU Perfect Lightning Today you take a trip, your mouth tastes of backwash, dirty martinis, and the carpet you laid the flat side of your face on, absolutely too drunk to move. Someone out there is very proud of you for leaving. Your boyfriend, tall as mountains, leads you out of the apartment--the party still a cacophony behind him. “Can you get home?” You are already calling the cab. You wave, two fingers, like an infant, and wrap your dirty fur jacket closer around your shoulders. “I’ll see you.” He shuts the door. Outside the night drops fat rain on the backs of your legs, runs under the soles of your tall stilt boots. The street smells like a wet dog. The cab driver pulls up and you give him your card without thinking. He drives you away. You lean against the window, your hair wisps across the cold glass. The inside of the cab is slick black, and you slide forward in your seat on the velvet of your dress. Something low and soothing plays on the radio. You pop a Tylenol, drink from a bottle. You take something for motion sickness. You’ve done this before. The cab veers left on your street, right on your driveway. You pick up your purse and leave the car. On the way up you spill over the sidewalk, skinning knees, your hands on the pavement, dirt in your system, blood on the gravel. San Francisco can be precarious. Your skinny town house stands at a tilt, the bottom floor sheared in half by the slope of the street, and this is the lean you trip on. The streets are damp and when the fog rolls the cold bites at your wet hair. This was not your idea. Your boyfriend led you here, by the hand to the moving truck. In the back with the breakables safely folded in your lap, you didn’t know how far away you’d go. “Surprise, honey,” he said to you when you stepped out. His teeth glinted blue by the mothlight, his smile wide like the savannah. Your house looked regal in the night time: Doric columns, turrets and a bay window. Powder blue like a Tiffany box. On the inside it was all leaky faucets, hardwood that left teeth in your slippers. There were six people living there, two to a floor. In the floor beneath you, Mrs. Glasgow lived in a converted office with her infant
son, and on the first floor, two men and a black dog. You and your boyfriend lived in the slanty attic apartment, a bed and a sink, an unfinished room where the air tickled of fiberglass. “We could make a life here.” Now you climb the long steps up, hands on the railings, rubbing them red. You hunt for a bandaid, find one masquerading as a bookmark. You slice it in half with toenail clippers, stick two sides on two palms. The raw on your knees is too big to cover. Lying down on the bed, the room whirls around you like a wipeout. He was your high school sweetheart; an art-freak band-geek kind of pairing. Your mom always said you had such a pretty brain. Back then his eyes were the only ones looking out of your little rural town, and he promised he’d take you with him. Everyone else looked to the sky, checking weather, fingers in the air, feeling for wind. Their mind on the harvest. In the fall, on the winter-wheat, sheared to grass in the farmlands, he’d serenade you, pale hands on his black guitar. For years those hands held yours, guided you down the stairs of the bus, shifted your hair against the wind. They were steady, those hands. He needed steady hands to play good guitar. Your hands used to shake. They shake no longer. You work 9 to 5 as a model, the nude kind, arms poised over your head in an art studio with the floodlights on. With your legs crossed, you suggest a pirouette. With your knees bent you are tai-chi freeze-framed. You are paid twenty dollars an hour, not bad for excessive stillness. When you are home you practice the art you went to school for. Two silhouettes liplocked in a wire sculpture. The text of Beowulf embroidered on dinner napkins. You leave your projects half done on your nightstand, you do this for fun. He is the one with art as an occupation, recording in a cork room, plugged into his guitar, his cymbals on the side. The wind picks up and the cymbals sway next to the open window. You get up, sit them flat on the floor. Last time they fell, they clattered and bounced. Mrs. Glasgow from downstairs crashed through your door with her bathrobe on, tomato sauce dripping from the spoon in her hand. “Shut the hell up, my baby’s sleeping.” He froze. Your fingers wrapped around his hands. His steady hands around your neck. You were sitting on the bed in a dress made out of oil slick. He was leaning over you, curved like a C, bloody where you scratched. Crickets. Then, a mumble: “That dress coulda been our rent.” He loosened. Mrs. Glasgow backed out without turning around.
Louder: “An eight-hundred dollar dress.” She closed the door. Of course he apologized. Rubbed tiger balm where his fingers had been, tucked you to bed. Promised he’d never do it again. Of course. You were rolled in the sheets with the dress bunched against your spine. With his blood on the hem they wouldn’t take it back. That dress lies in your closet now, and you reach for it. It still gleams, even wrapped in crepe paper with the insides out, even with the black-red stains, drops like jewels on the neck. It’s sickening to look at it. You wear it. Spin in the mirror. That night he left the house with his good suit on. “Where are you going?” “I’m going busking. I’ll make up the money. Consider the dress a present.” He didn’t. That’s the way it goes with a city so big. Everyone comes to capitalize on their talent. Hard to tell his hopeful blaze the world is chock full of people with acoustic guitars. You bit your tongue when he came back quarters. You softened your mouth. “I can work overtime. It was my fault.” Overtime meant the stillness settled, and when you got back to your house it was hard to shake out. You spent long nights shifting against the jumbles of your body, the kinks in your bones, the twists of your tendons. He was out with his guitar on his knee, with buskers and barmen. He was always out. Before San Francisco, you lived on a cul-de-sac, everyone since grade school only a few streets over. You had more, then. Your town was the kind to center on a strip mall. A Safeway and a Dairy Queen surrounded by miles of grass. “Don’t you get sick of it?” he used to ask you. “Don’t you get sick of him?” Betty and Polly used to ask you, too, first in the shake shack over Neapolitan ice-cream, now over Skype, both faces crammed on one screen. “He’s not so bad.” “He’s a deadbeat.” “He’s my deadbeat.” He always spoke like he held something brighter than your little town could afford. Hard not to moth over to his light. And he was always so hopeful. Almost naïve. To him, San Francisco would be like sailing in a skiff among the stars, weightless and free and beautiful. He thought it would be easy. The hope never tore, just sat alongside fear when he came back from a show
with a six person audience. When he couldn’t sell his CDs he gave them out at cafes, hoping for recognition. Your dollars ran short, and when they did, he bit. You grew to watch for a shake in his steady hand. When he hit you again, you were not prepared. And he did not apologize. “You made me look bad.” You were sprawled sideways, on the floor with your eyes on his shoes. The tall mountain wearing them, hands as red as your cheek. “That was my chance. You blew it.” You were in a bathroom, one door away from the stacked pile of champagne, tequila shots topped with orange and lime, the kind of vodka that comes in a skull. “You’re a disgrace.” This was a classy party. Black tie optional. You were going to wear that oil slick dress. You bought it to impress. With so many bowties in one room how were you to know which one belonged to who? “That was Jackson James. He could have jump-started my career.” This was at a friend of a friend’s apartment. He finally made it big. He had a musical lined up for West Coast Broadway. Jackson James got him there. “I’ll never find him again. He’ll never hear me play.” You threw up on a black suit. The room was packed tight with the art world. You, a figure, not an artist, could drink more easily than speak. All you needed was a jostle. A kick. Another martini, extra dirty, please. Jackson James took it kindly. “Dry cleaners exist for a reason, my dear. Do take care of yourself. I was looking to make my exit soon, anyways.” When Jackson James left, no one noticed but your tall mountain. There was iron in his grip on your shoulder. He took you to a lockable room. Raised his fist in the air. You trace the line of his hand on the side of your face, still steaming. This is not what you were promised. In the moonlight the oil slick glows. You fold up your velvet dress with the throw-up on the front, leave it on the bed. Alone, the tangle in your spine drops. There is safety in an empty room. The rain beats so hard it mists on your windowsill, leaks through your ceiling. It clangs on the surface of his cymbals. You reach over to dry them, automatically. Your hands hold dinner napkins, the thin text of Beowulf embroidered on its edges, rubbed wet. Was this what you wanted? The clock reads, fuzzy, 1:30 am, and outside it breaks into perfect lightning. This is your cue. You pack your bags. There’s much to do. Credit cards to cancel. Buses to find.
GENEVIEVE MICHAELS Like Your Shape “I feel weird in this,” Stella said. She stood sideways in front of the mirror that was leaned up against the wall. She had on a bright yellow tee shirt and a sweater with black and white stripes. Turning to face the mirror, she pulled the hem of the tee shirt down to meet the top of her jeans. She sipped some rancid vodka and OJ out of a plastic juice bottle. “You look good,” Linda answered. She was sitting on a small pink rug in her basement bedroom. A mosquito net hung from the ceiling above her and arranged on the floor around her were stuffed animals, a blue and silver ghetto-blaster, and an pile of pink stationery from a Japanese discount store. A Sailor Moon poster hung on the wall beside her. “I know what you mean, but I think you just look, like, very indie.” Stella shifted her weight to one hip, pulled the two sides of her cardigan forward. “It’s too weird.” Linda leaned over and dug through the transparent plastic storage chest beside her foam mattress. She pulled her hand out draped in a swath of black. “Maybe try this.” The shirt was made of stretchy, slinky black material. It gathered up on either side of Stella’s waist and at the neckline was a twisted band of cloth that slung around behind her neck. It had little tubes for sleeves that wrapped around her arms above the elbow without cutting into her flab. Looking at herself in the mirror, Stella nodded. “Simple,” she said, and ran one palm down the side of her torso. “Wear it,” said Linda. “You can take your clothes home with you tomorrow.” The shirt looked good with Stella’s dark jeans and the little white ankle boots she had gotten in Sweden. European ho boots, Sonya had said in biology after she got back. Linda looked at Stella in the mirror. She nodded slowly. “I predict magic will happen tonight.”
* Earlier that week Stella had phoned her father to ask if she could spend the night at Linda’s. “I’m home, sweetie,” he had said. “I’m in my room.” “Can I come ask you something?” “I’m resting.” She realized she could hear the TV, muffled, from upstairs in his bedroom. “Can I sleep at Linda’s Friday?” His voice was strained. “Sure, honey. But I have to go lie down.” When she hung up the phone in the tidy silence of the living room, one eye tearing up from the blue glow of the computer screen, she realized that she hadn’t even had to ask. “I’m going to introduce you as my friend from Sweden,” Linda said, passing Stella the metal water bottle full of peach-flavoured cider her older sister had bought them. Stella laughed, looking down at the ground. She was concentrating on navigating the rough asphalt of the alleyway in her tiny-heeled boots. Her arms were crossed across her chest. “I was only there three months,” she said. “People from school will recognize me. I already won’t fit in.” “No they won’t. You never party. You’ll be exotic. Plus – “ Linda said, glancing back at Stella scandalously, “you look hot.” Stella grinned widely. She wrapped her hoodie tighter around herself from the cold. Linda walked ahead of her, breaking into a skip past the run-down carports and stacks of cinderblocks and abandoned furniture. Her shimmery green tights were shredded in the back. “Maybe we’ll lose our virginity tonight.” Kids spilled out the front door of the house party. They stood on the lawn, smoking, talking, arranged in groups and circles. Linda held Stella’s hand behind her as they wove towards the door. “Should I take my shoes off?” Stella asked. Linda smiled and shook her head, her cheeks dimpled, rough with acne scars. She had a pink scarf tied in her hair. She pointed at Stella. “You’re from Sweden!” she mouthed.
The party was dusty gray and brown, roiling, kids covering the floor and every surface, tangled up on beds and floors. Leaning on the floor against the couch a blonde girl crying, face contorted in a grimace, hair damp from the air outside and twisted into strings. With the heel of one hand holding a marijuana pipe she wiped her eyes and left a faded black skid mark of eyeliner. Her friend squatted on the floor beside her, hunched over, one hand on her shoulders. “Lily!” Stella heard her say. “Lily! He’s a piece of shit. Try to have fun.” Beside Stella on a bench by the door a girl and boy were dumping out cocaine onto the back of a package of cigarettes. The girl had bangs flicked to the side at a perfect angle, dull brown hair teased up into a square around her crown. Scene kid hair. “Do you have a card?” she asked Stella. Stella smiled. “A card… oh! Um, yeah! I do.” It was her International Student ID card. By the time the boy asked Stella if she wanted some and she shook her head no, the pile was already gone. He held up the card and the brown-haired girl licked it, kneeling on the floor, pink tongue curving out and white neck bared, holding eye contact with the boy. * “I’m Jet,” said a girl with round blue eyes smudged in black. “This is my party.” She was standing with Linda, who had reappeared and was dragging Stella towards the kitchen. “I like your shape,” said Jet. She ran her palm down the side of Stella’s torso. Stella opened the freezer in the kitchen and took out a bottle of fireball. “Is that yours?” Jet asked. “No,” said Stella. “Want some?” Her and Jet and Linda each took a sip. Jet put her hands on Stella’s waist and they walked towards the bedroom. “Want to make out?” she said. Dreambabes, Stella would comment later on the picture of her and Jet and Linda on the bed. * “That shirt is great on you,” said Linda. She was peeing on the toilet while
smoothing her hair in the bathroom mirror. “I can do whatever I want,” said Stella. “He doesn’t care.” Now that she’s gone, bubbled up in her chest, but she wasn’t drunk enough to say it. She turned her head and her cheek got wet a little; there was a small puddle of water in the bathtub where she lay. She drained the last of the stale juice and vodka from the little plastic bottle. “Sonya said I’m anorexic,” she said. “She said that I’m an alcoholic.” “Sonya is a fucking grandmother and she doesn’t like Asians,” said Linda. “You’re just skinny and you like to party.” You’re skinny and you like to party, said Stella in her head as they walked home, woozy, trying it on for size. You’re skinny and you like to party. “Was it a magical New Years?” she said out loud to Linda. Linda exhaled roughly, rolled her eyes. “That party was awful.” “Yeah,” Stella answered. She smiled. “So not fun.”
RAVEN NYMAN How Do You Like Your Eggs? Show me where it hurts: drag a pointer finger from your navel to the hollow dip of you. Paste your body to bathroom tiles, drink in cold from the floor, steal shivery numbness. Resting cheek to porcelain, fog up the window with your moans. Invisibly you feel it go; a small seed migrating, ruddy smear across your underwear, fire blade ripping through, dark, damp clump of you, swirling sick scarlet red round the bowl. Inside the biter clamps down, sets flesh aquiver. You are bitter, tart; unsweet. The twisting ache crawls past your cervix towards the crypt, tastes your blood, loops in further, sinks hooks through skin, wriggles up your fallopian tube, digs deep inside, slinks back down. End ometrium My ometrium plop.
Hysteria: exaggerated, uncontrollable, feverish, dramatic, deranged, volatile, attention-seeking, emotionalâ€” Ova are produced and flow away. Cysts grow benign, burst. Scarred, torn tissue, openings stitched closed. Hysterectomies run in the family, cracked yolks are genetic. Is it out yet? Is it over easy.
Traces In the house where doors divorce their hinges at the pressure of a fist, we live without mirrors. Pan burn bread at midnight, wash soiled sheets in the bathtub, sleep only once the sun comes. There’s a right way, you say, to suck the high inside: start slow, pull the smoke, don’t let it loose. But I am coughing crickets, spewing spider skin out of desert-thirsting lungs. We coat ourselves in wheezed-up wetness, spitting sickness onto carpet, retching splinters from our throats. In the soft spot where you strike me I make faces grow from purple flesh. Push fingers to break skin. Could it look like an angry person to you, can you see it? I inquire again about the poison ivy on your forearms, why it touched you in tracks like razors catching skin. Straight lines don’t lie but you do. Knock your burning embers against me. They sizzle there, die out. I am one side of the palm print, you’re licking silver dust from the other,
tongue slick edging fingers, mouth closed over pipes. When we merge, I disappear; slip above your body in darkness, dive dizzily to earth. I am on the floor singing songs to queen ants that carry off the lint of your socks. I am calling from the tunnel. Wrap my voice in two cents, sling it up to you: come down here with me, but you wonâ€™t.
Six Mile Hartley was about two inches shorter than Samuel and had a shiny crop of strawberry blonde hair that made you want to run your fingers through it. He stood on the hillside, surveying the alfalfa fields with wide brown eyes. From a bit higher up, Samuel watched him, imitating the way Hartley wove a barley stem through the gaps in his teeth. The sun perched between a pair of thin clouds above the two boys. There hadn’t been a drop of rain that summer and their shoulders and cheeks were tanned from full days spent outside. Their skin sparkled at the temples. Samuel scratched at his chin and adjusted his cap, then made a soft noise in his throat. Hartley turned to face his friend, “Getting hot, isn’t it?” Samuel nodded, wiping the sweat from his neck with the back of his hand. “Why don’t we build the dock today?” Hartley asked. He’d been talking about building a dock at Six Mile Lake all summer. “I’d like a swim, wouldn’t you?” Samuel’s lips were cracked and salty. “Course,” he said. “Today’s a good day to do it.” Hartley smiled, his eyes bright. He turned back to face the field for a moment and Samuel waited until he was through. The day was windless and sweltering. The air thick with sweetly rancid silage and traces of fresh honey. Samuel wondered if Hartley was trying to spot the hives again, somewhere in the treeline on the far side of the field. The stacked boxes were hard to see now that the grass around the perimeter had grown so long. Last summer this had been their favourite spot. They’d tucked themselves deep into the forests of Burdock and Couch grass, talking together and watching the clouds roll by. Hartley’s mother gave them trouble when they came back into town. She’d pluck the burrs from their shoelaces and pant legs with filed, coral fingernails, telling them to “be more careful next time”. But the boys always tumbled back into the weeds, collecting lady bugs and stalking grouse chicks that nestled near the warmth of the earth. It still sounded like fun to Hartley, but Samuel thought they might be too old for those games now. He watched his friend, trying to place what Hartley was looking at, but there was nothing out of the ordinary in the pasture below them. Samuel’s father, Mr. June had just finished the first cut, and the rough ends of alfalfa shoots stuck up all over the field like splintery teeth. There was no walking bare-foot in the fields now, they had tried. Samuel remembered a few weeks ago, when some of
Mr. June’s steers had broken the fence and stampeded into the pasture, sniffing wildly so that their eyes crossed, their purple tongues lolling from their mouths. They ran straight for the field, anxious for the tender alfalfa clusters. But the hay had just been bailed. The luscious green was now pale and lifeless, the blue and purple flowers decapitated, cut and compressed into two-strand square bails. The cows were not enthused. They shot straight up the mountain while Samuel and Hartley stood watching the commotion from the backyard. Mr. June had emerged from the machine shed, his voice booming. “Get off your ass, Samuel! They’ve gone right up the cut, those bastards. Go after them, will you? Bring Hartley.” The boys dropped their baseball bat and gloves. Samuel whistled for Mr. June’s Border Collie. They hopped the yard fence without another glance at Mr. June, who scowled after them before returning to the machine shed. They were back within a few minutes, bare feet sliced and bloody, the cattle long gone. After Hartley had gone home Mr. June made Samuel pick rocks in the field until dark. He didn’t get supper that night. On the hillside, Samuel wiggled his toes inside his sneakers, thinking of the day the steers got out, remembering what a thousand tiny papercuts felt like. It kept them out of the lake for a week. Hartley still eyed the field. The forest stood to the right of them and the empty highway to the left. Not far in the distance was the ranch house, where Mr. June was no doubt fixing something broken, beer in hand. “What are you looking at, Hartley?” Hartley smiled and the dimple in his chin deepened. “I like days like this. The highway’s quiet. The sun’s out. It’s peaceful around here, at least when your old man isn’t roaring at us.” Samuel nodded. “I hate going back home after being here,” Hartley gestured to the pasture below them and seemed to swallow something. “You’re lucky, you know.” Samuel tucked his thumbs into his fists and bobbed his head again, “Yeah.” Hartley knelt down and tightened his laces, then sprang up with a new expression. “Well, come on then! Race you back?” Samuel paused to watch him stretch. Hartley’s legs hadn’t been bothering him lately, and his Mom had mentioned that all the exercise visiting Samuel on the ranch was good for him, but Samuel wasn’t sure. Hartley seemed to read his mind. “I’m fine, come on!” And like that he was off,
Samuel stumbling forward to catch up. The boys launched themselves down the hillside, arms flailing for balance, hopping over rocks and dried turd mines without having to look. Hartley hit flat ground first, and adjusted his stride accordingly, tucking his arms to his chest. The air felt cooler against Samuel’s face as they ran. The heat of the day seemed to evaporate as the treeline blurred into an emerald sea around them. Samuel overtook Hartley with less than a hundred metres to go, and the two of them staggered to a stop outside the back gate, dazed. They dropped down, panting. Dust swirled then settled around them. Samuel sat with his arms draped over his knees, taking in deep breaths and feeling the heat return in his cheeks. He sideeyed Hartley, who was massaging his legs with both hands. Samuel waited, but his friend seemed alright. Hartley had always had the spasms in his legs. They were similar to shin splits, the Doctor said. When they came Hartley would fall down wherever he was standing. The bathroom, the baseball field, on the school bus. Samuel felt a burning in his cheeks and a tightness in his body, watching his friend twitch and clench his teeth in the fetal position. Hartley would lay there, straining to keep calm then hammering at his legs with balled fists. He writhed on the floor or the ground or wherever he’d landed, and Samuel didn’t leave, or do anything really. He just waited for it to pass, thumbs tucked securely in his palms, eyes averted. It made him uncomfortable to see Hartley that way, and he always feared it happening in front of Mr. June. He knew his father would be critical, not concerned. “You win, again,” Hartley said, standing up. He brushed the soil from his jeans. “Did your dad finish building that chicken coop?” “He finished the frame and got a roof on it.” “What’s he gonna do with the rest of the wood he’s got?” “I don’t know. He’s got plenty to finish the coop but he’s been fixing equipment since we stopped haying.” “Plenty of wood left?” Samuel nodded. “Perfect.” Hartley tucked the front of his t-shirt back into his jeans and started off towards the barn. “Come on!” They left the bike pump next to the chicken coop, where Mr. June had forgotten his hammer and a crescent wrench. Hartley decided they’d need to borrow some of Mr. June’s wood if they were going to build a decent dock, and they’d need his hammer, too, so Samuel strapped the hammer to Hartley’s bike with
black and red bungee cords, then stuffed a handful of nails into his pocket. “How are we going to get enough boards to Six Mile to build this dock?” Hartley asked, kneeling over the pile of scrap. Samuel shrugged. He didn’t think they could. It wasn’t a long bike ride, but they needed good, strong boards. They couldn’t get them onto the bikes and Mr. June wasn’t supposed to know about the project yet, so they couldn’t ask for help. “What about the wheel barrow?” “That won’t work.” Samuel knit his brows together, thinking of Mr. June. Hartley smirked. “Wanna bet?” The sun had fallen behind the mountains when Samuel and Hartley finally made it to Six Mile Lake. The lake was more of a pond really, but kids at school often said it was one of the deepest lakes around. There were rumours of old cars at the bottom that no one could ever find, and Samuel had heard one boy say that a train was down there, too. It was awfully cold where your toes hung down deep, Samuel thought, so he figured the kids might be right. The boys parked at the edge of Six Mile and stood with their bikes steadied between their legs. The lake was stiller than usual, its glassy surface reflecting a now cloudless sky. Spruce trees tipped upside down in the reflection like emerald stalactites lowering themselves into the water. Samuel wondered how deep it really was. Hartley swung a leg over his bike and flicked the kickstand into place. Attached to the back end, dragging like an overworked horse, the wheelbarrow had seen better days. Hartley had fastened its handles to the seat of his bike, so that it was hoisted in a similar way to how one might normally push it. Except it was going backwards as they travelled so that the wood inside bounced along all over the place and scratched the red paint of the wheelbarrow quite severely. The steel joint extending from the handles to the body had done a bit of smashing against the pavement, too, but it was still intact. Other than that, Samuel had to hand it to Hartley. They’d found a way to transport the wood, and had only lost two or three pieces along the way. Hartley seemed impressed with his contraption, and Samuel decided it was a pretty old wheelbarrow, anyway. Mr. June might not notice. The dock didn’t take long to build, though Hartley did most of the work while Samuel handed tools and nails over to him or steadied a board in place. Samuel didn’t mind. He had tried to put a few projects together himself but always end-
ed up cracking boards in half or crushing his fingers. He was content to help, and Hartley was content to lead, even if he didn’t quite know what he was doing. When they had finished, they rolled up the legs of their jeans and carried the dock into the shallows. “It doesn’t look much like a dock,” Samuel noted. “Shouldn’t there be legs?” Hartley examined the top side of the thing, which looked more like a raft. He dropped his foot back into the water and pulled it out again, testing the depth. “We don’t have enough boards left to make legs. It doesn’t get deep here anyhow, see?” “It’ll float away without legs. We can’t even dive off.” Hartley dragged his hand through the water in a swirl. “We should have asked your dad to help us.” “No,” Samuel said quietly, watching Hartley’s whirlpool shudder and dissipate. “Why don’t we just push it out farther?” Samuel sighed. “We need to make an anchor.” A while later, the boys sat shirtless atop their float in the lake, satisfied with their achievement. They shivered, their bodies drying slowly in the fading light. The sun was hidden, and Samuel thought of diving in and heading back. They were only a quick swim from the water’s edge, but it was colder now. Across the lake a whoosh cut through the quiet and the boys looked up to watch a large bird descend on white-blue wings, landing in the shadow of a pine. Its head capped black, it stood observing them, craning its neck down for water before popping up again. Hartley squinted his eyes. “What kind of bird is that?” “It’s a great blue heron,” Samuel said. “I’ve never seen one before.” Hartley flicked the water with his toes. “They’re rare around here.” “How’d you know what it was then?” “My dad showed me once. He’s got this old bird book with lots of pictures.” Samuel picked at a scab on his knee. “I wonder if my dad liked birds,” Hartley said, his eyes still on the heron. “I bet he did.” Hartley was quiet again. The heron took off, stretching its great wings so that the long plumes of its head and neck swept behind it. It peaked, then dove swiftly toward the lake’s surface. There was a quick splash and the whoosh of
wings beating fast, then the heron was nearly out of sight, a small, wriggling fish dangling from its beak. “They’re beautiful. Aren’t they?” Hartley said, but the bird had disappeared against the darkening sky. When Samuel biked home, Mr. June had the newspaper spread out in front of him at the kitchen table, flipping the pages with rough, oil-stained hands. Samuel eased the door closed and tried to pass unnoticed. “I couldn’t find my hammer today, son,” Mr. June said without looking up. He licked his index finger and turned the page. “Did you make off with it?” “We wanted to build a dock—” “That’s not what I asked.” Samuel looked at his feet. He’d forgotten to wear socks again. “Where’s my hammer, Samuel?” “I forgot—it was bungee’d to Hartley’s bike. He can bring it—” “Did you think I wouldn’t notice you took the wheelbarrow, too? And all that wood. Do you know how much lumber costs these days?” Samuel stared at the ceiling light and forced his eyes to stay open until the shape of the bulb seared itself into his retinas, lingering there when he blinked. “Well?” Mr. June closed the paper now, and he sat in the kitchen chair with his ice eyes fixed on Samuel. “I don’t know.” “What don’t you know?” “Nothing,” Samuel said. “You’ve got that right.” Mr. June scooted his chair closer to the table and unfolded the newspaper, mumbling under his breath. Samuel was dismissed. He headed up the stairs to his bedroom, careful not to listen for the mumbles coming from the kitchen. The next day, Samuel biked to Six Mile again to meet Hartley. He pulled the fishing gear from his backpack and Hartley unzipped his own pack, drawing out two fraying towels. Mr. June would be busy stacking bails all day and Hartley’s mom had errands to run in town, but would be there to pick them up at five. The boys swam for hours, racing each other at the back stroke, the butterfly, the breast stroke, and perfecting their front flips, too. Samuel was best at the front crawl, but Hartley was the better diver. The dock had turned into a float, but it
was perfect for cannon balls and flips. After a short, failed attempt at casting, the day was nearly gone. They laid with their backs against the rough wood of the float, watching the clouds slide across the sky. “It’s got to be almost five,” Hartley said, sitting up and rubbing his stomach. “I’m getting hungry.” Samuel looked to the sun. “Yeah, pretty close. Should we swim back?” “Let’s race!” Hartley launched himself off the float in perfect form before Samuel had a chance to respond. Samuel staggered to his feet. “Cheater!” He laughed then steadied himself and dove in clumsily after his friend. The water was perfect. Now that the day was cooler the lake seemed almost warm. Samuel pushed his arms wide into a breaststroke and stirred his back legs like a frog. But Hartley was already halfway back to shore, so Samuel transitioned into a forward crawl, chipping away at the water with his eyes closed. He tried to be graceful, but the sound of his own splashing was distinct. Then it was too loud. He couldn’t make out anything else. He stilled his arms and tread water, catching his breath and clearing his eyes with the palms of his hands. The lake ahead of him was smooth. Hartley wasn’t on shore, and he wasn’t ahead of Samuel. Samuel shot a glance behind him, flailing in the water again. A ripple formed a few feet ahead of Samuel, and Hartley’s blond crown burst to the surface, then crashed below again. His hands emerged, clawing at air. Samuel tore through the water. He grabbed hold of Hartley’s reaching arm but his friend thrashed violently as though he’d forgotten how to swim. His skin was slippery. Samuel reached for a shirt or shorts to clench onto, but Hartley felt like a sinking stone. There was nothing else to hold; he gripped Hartley’s hair and yanked up, submerging himself and gasping. He leaned back and tried to float, pulling Hartley on top of him. They bobbed that way for a few seconds before Hartley took in a panicked breath and made a gargling sound. “My legs—” He cut off, wheezing and sputtering. “Kick! Just kick your legs!” Hartley’s body shook violently, and Samuel clutched him closer but he convulsed again, sliding free of Samuel’s grasp. He was slipping, slipping under. Samuel grappled underwater for an arm and got hold, but he felt Hartley’s body seize up below him, tensing into stillness, dragging them both deeper underwater. Hartley’s legs had cramped. It was obvious and impossible to comprehend all at once. He would pull them both under.
There was no splashing now. No sound but a ringing in his ears. Samuel couldn’t feel the water, just a tightening in his throat and a squeezing pressure behind his eyes. They were underneath, sinking. Samuel’s arm still gripped Hartley’s neck, fingers locked in his hair. But the light was gone above. He tried to breath but could only gulp water. He loosened his fingers, and Hartley’s body drifted down as Samuel floated up, finding air again. * “There’s more to life than playing, son,” Mr. June said solemnly as they drove home from Hartley’s funeral. “You’re about old enough to start pulling more weight around here, anyway. The ranch’ll be yours when I’m gone. We’ve gotta make sure you know how to run things straight by then.” Samuel nodded and leaned his head against the cool pane of the passenger window. “You’re lucky. Some boys your age don’t spend any time outside. Don’t know how to fix a fence or run a piece of equipment or smell a change in the weather. Don’t have dads to teach ‘em things. Like your friend.” Samuel stared out the window at the grass on the side of the highway that didn’t belong to Mr. June. He wondered where Hartley’s father might be, and if he knew how to fix things, how to build a fence. Outside, the overgrowth swayed and surged like flowing water. But it was dead and thirsty, only moving as though alive. “Do you hear me, son? What are you looking at?” Samuel nodded. “Nothing.”
KEAGAN PERLETTE When I Stopped Going to Church I grew up late because my teeth were crooked, but I’d never broken a bone. At the temple, the cloth ripped in two and Jesus Christ told me “Shave your hairy armpits.” So I left my child’s body at the wave pool and waved palm fronds with fingers crossed behind my new round ass, forgot the Act of Contrition. They pulled my molars out, put my dog to sleep. Insomnia became a real problem when I began to pray for true love instead of piety. Inside my mouth things shifted I lost faith in my retainer. I tried to Hail Mary, reassure my mother of God but I fell out of grace. Now, when my hands bleed, blessed is my mother who cries glass tears like the Virgin in her blue shroud.
Domestic Dream In the kitchen cut the nipples off of lemons, drag fingers though fresh butter, dig the feet into the black back garden soil, let it stain the sliver between the nails and the toes. When there are tears, wipe them with the backs of the hands, when there is rain collect it in galvanized pans. When the garage door opens and the dog barks at the door stand up greet the face that comes in covered with the day. Kiss the wounds that come through the threshold hang coats in the closet. Set a place for love at the table next to the doorway to the stairwell that leads to the rest of the house. Give birth to the baby who brings divinity into this dining room, polish silverware with the spit up. Slice meat over running water, let the blood from the cut stain the seams of the counter tops. Remember the recently living things that grew out of the ground now sit in the seat of the belly.
In the foyer let leather soles crack dry by the heavy grates, the ghosts slip them on and trail dust through nightâ€™s hallways. Fold linens in threes pressed into the chest of drawers still warm to keep crisp so they snap over the mattress. Set the coffee by the kettle, kiss each limb lest they are lost in a dream. Wash the body in white tiles with soaped palms, line the teeth up in the mirror. Soak cotton in blue fluid, clean the skin into being. Siphon sweat down the drain, split pills and swallow. When sleep floats out of reach, tie the hair behind the ears and tenderly coax the eyes closed.
Alligator Hussy The week after Howard died, I went to sit poolside down at the club. The lawyer told me that I should rest, that the money and the house and all that would still be around, waiting for me, after I took some time to grieve. It turned out that some young celebrity had rented out the whole pool so she could take her new pet crocodile for a swim. I’ve been coming down to this pool going on a decade now and I wasn’t about to give up my spot under the big umbrella for a little spoiled starlet. I marched right in there and threw my towel down on a sun bleached reclining chair. When you’re old like me it’s not too hard to fake senile when you want something, so I ignored the pool boy when he suggested I have a cocktail in the lounge first. I let my head wobble feebly and made my gaze drift in and out of focus, looking just past his left ear. He began gesticulating, hopelessly, so I stepped into the pool, waded right to the center, and stopped when I was waist deep. My palms stretched out wide, my crooked fingers skimming the water’s surface like low hanging branches. I drifted back into the cool water and let it fill up my ears. I heard the water shift around me. I turned onto my stomach. The little hussy was ankle deep on the steps, her cinnamon legs gleaming, not a pock of cellulite on her round thighs. Behind her came the crocodile. It slithered like a silk scarf over the edge of the pool and wound its way over the water’s surface. My arrhythmia didn’t take well to the circling lizard, so I pulled myself onto the pool’s edge and watched as the girl dove deep. The crocodile blinked, placid, waiting for her to surface. Girl and crocodile circled each other in the pool. They looked like my gold satin slippers and Howard’s crocodile skin cowboy boots dancing on the marble floor.
KARA SCHURINGA White Peyton stands in the sun between the corn and the dusty lot. Someone built a fence, once, but it’s smacked down and rusted over now. Peyton’s face is burnt dark in lines across his forehead and between his eyes. “Peyton,” says Mark. Peyton holds up a hand against the white light and coughs. “Yeah?” “Here.” Peyton takes the smoke, blows away from the corn. Eli bounces. He swings at the corn, thumbs tucked into his fists. He squats, bounces up, runs his tongue over brown teeth. “Gonna dislocate your thumbs like that,” says Peyton. “Oh yeah?” says Eli. “Fuckin’ try me.” “Shuddup.” Mark flicks ashes on Eli’s toes. “Fuckin’ try me.” “Don’t tuck your thumbs in,” says Peyton. “Shut the fuck up,” says Eli. He swings at the corn. Mark drops the butt, fumbles it out with his toe. They pat their pockets. Peyton squints at the sun, the rough horizon of shit-coloured corn. Mark smells of damp dirt and Eli smells like matches. Mark is wearing his smoking jacket, so his mother won’t smell it on his other clothes. Peyton says, “We could go to Ralph’s.” “Fuck that guy!” says Eli. “He’s good for a joint,” says Peyton.“Fuck yeah,” says Eli. “Shuddup,” says Mark. “How d’you know he’s home?” “His mom came by,” says Peyton. “Looking for an egg or something.” He doesn’t tell them she was crying. And pulling out her eyelashes. He doesn’t like Ralph, but he doesn’t think that warrants telling the guys about his mother. She’s got money and Peyton doesn’t think Ralph knows where she got it from. She sucked rich dicks, that’s how Peyton’s father put it. “She’s a sick woman,” said Peyton’s mother. “Be compassionate.” Peyton’s sister said, “She’s a hooker.”
Ralph is sitting on his front steps when they show up. His head is turned to watch his little sister biking up the road. There are pink streamers on one of her handlebars and she wears white sunglasses shaped like a heart around each eye. “Hey,” says Mark. Ralph stands up and folds his arms. “What’s up, motherfucker?” says Eli. Mark socks Eli in the arm. “His sister’s here.” “Yeah,” says Ralph. “Don’t talk dirty in front of my sister.” “Your mom in?” says Peyton. “Nah, she’s working,” says Ralph. He grins. “Hey, wanna see somethin’?” “You gotta smoke?” “Huh? Y’wanna roll a joint? I got some grade A pot. Hey, you gotta see this thing my mom got me.” They follow Ralph around the corner of the house, over the yellow lawn and patches of dirt. It looks as though a dog’s been digging holes, dropping cigarette butts in them instead of bones. On the west side is a strip of broken chain-link fence and a square of cracked cement crowded with white plastic chairs. Ralph says, “Stay here,” and goes down concrete steps to the basement door. “Fuck, I’m jonesing,” says Eli. “Shuddup,” says Mark. “Dumbass.” “You wanna fuckin’ go?” Ralph comes back with a helicopter the size of a basketball. He sets it on the ground and grins at them, clutching the controller. The helicopter is shiny black with thin silver propellers. Eli snorts. “Kid’s stuff!” “Shut up, Eli,” says Peyton. “It’s neat, Ralph. Real neat. Does it take batteries?” Ralph is looking at Eli like he wants to piss on him. His hands shake a little, the controller’s antennae shivering. “Ralph,” says Peyton. “Can we see it fly?” Ralph bobs his head, pulls the controller up tight to his chest. He pushes at the levers, but nothing happens. Eli barks a laugh and Mark socks him. “You wanna fuckin’ go?” says Eli. He bounces, forward and back. He tucks his thumbs into his fists. “YEAH I WANNA FUCKIN’ GO,” says Mark. He swings, sinks his fist into Eli’s gut and kicks his feet out from under him. Eli smacks down on his tailbone and curls up. Mark laughs, digs a toe into Eli’s ribs. “Now, shuddup,” he says.
KARA SCHURINGA V
Peyton watches Ralph, who stares at Eli gasping in the dirt. “Hey, where’re your papers?” says Mark. He steps forward and claps Ralph on the shoulder. Ralph jerks. “I’ll go start rollin’ while you guys get this thing off the ground.” “It wasn’t on,” says Ralph. He blinks. “It works, I just forgot to turn it on.” “Alright, let’s see,” says Peyton. Ralph shoves at the controllers and the helicopter stumbles into the air. Looks drunk, weaving as it rises. Eli sits up and laughs, spits murky brown, laughs again. They watch it teeter towards the house, veer in an uneven circle. Ralph’s got his tongue out, concentrating, slowing it down to land in the dirt a few feet from their dusty shoes. “Woo-ee,” says Mark. “Yeah,” says Ralph. “Yeah, must’ve cost her a goddamn price. I’m glad my mom works, not like those lazy fuckin’ single mothers who don’t pull their shit—” “What’s that?” says Mark. “Glad my mom works, is all. Lotta single moms got it way worse, but my mom keeps busy, she takes good care of my sister and me, real fuckin’—” “What’s that?” says Mark. “Whassat?” says Eli. He bounces to his feet. “What?” says Ralph. “What?” He glances from the helicopter to Eli. “I can’t be proud? Can’t be proud of my fuckin’ mother?” “Watch it,” says Peyton. Ralph’s little sister comes around the corner of the house without a shirt. “You think my mom’s lazy?” says Mark. “His mom’s got asthma,” says Eli. Ralph’s little sister gets up on one of the white plastic chairs. She starts singing Hit Me Baby One More Time. She cups her hands over her nipples and drags them down to her hips. “I didn’t say that,” says Ralph. He looks at Eli again, arms jogging at his sides. “Hey, you guys wanna smoke?” “Do we wanna smoke?” says Mark. “Yeah,” says Peyton. “Yeah,” says Ralph. “Yeah, here, I got some grade A pot.” Peyton watches Ralph’s sister. She turns around and shakes her butt at them. “Oh, baby baby!” “Yikes!” says Eli. He grins at Peyton. Waggles his eyebrows.
“Yeah,” says Peyton. “Hey, guys, I gotta go.” “Where you going?” says Mark. “You don’t wanna smoke?” says Eli. “You don’t wanna smoke?” says Ralph. He holds the controller against his abdomen. “Naw,” says Peyton, “Something I’ve gotta help my dad with.” Ralph’s sister gets off the chair and walks over to them. She stands very close to Mark, frowning up into his face. “I wanna turn,” she says. “What’re you-? Fuckoff,” says Mark. “Watch it!” says Ralph. She turns to Ralph, reaches for the controller. “Stoppit,” he says. “I have to go,” says Peyton. He walks towards the side of the house. “Bye, guys.” “You don’t wanna smoke?” says Eli. Ralph’s little sister rushes past Peyton in her white sunglasses and white terry-cloth skirt. She holds the controller with both hands, turns to look back at Peyton with her mouth half open and the sunglasses bouncing down her nose. Peyton reaches the driveway, but turns back when he hears her shrieking. Ralph stands over his little sister, who clutches the controller against her chest and screams. Ralph snatches the controller back and grabs her sunglasses. He snaps one of the arms off and drops them on the pavement, stomps away. “Hey! HEY! You asshole!” Ralph’s little sister screams. Clouds coat them in shadow. Peyton turns to go. “Hey! Wanna jay?” Peyton looks back at Ralph’s little sister. She squats against the white metal garage door, panting. Her little chest heaves. She stands up and says, “What?” “What?” says Peyton. “Wanna jay?” She puts her hand in the pocket of her skirt and takes out a joint, torn at one end. The clouds pass and everything is lit white-hot again. “Shit,” she whispers. She twists the end back up and wipes dull green flecks onto the front of her white skirt. “Here,” she says. “Where’d you get that?” “Ralphie gave it to me.” “Naw,” says Peyton. “Uh huh! He’s always givin’ me stuff,” says Ralph’s little sister. “Here, it’s for you.”
Peyton holds out his hand and she snatches the joint to her chest. “First!” She holds up a finger. “I wanna try.” Peyton puts his hands in his pockets. He looks down the street, past pale houses to the wall of corn and sky. He pulls out a lighter and holds his hand out. Ralph’s little sister passes him the joint which he lights, puffs, and flips to hand back. Ralph’s little sister holds the lit joint tenderly, glaring at the bright coal on the end. She sucks as though from a straw, snags her wild eyes in Peyton’s gaze, and coughs a small cloud of acrid smoke. Peyton watches her bend to hack wetly against the pavement. He rescues the joint from her pudgy hand and turns left at the end of the driveway. “Hey!” she shrieks. He hears her coughing, voice rising. “Hey! I’m not… done!” Peyton takes the first right on Maple, right again on Clarence, crosses and leaps the ditch at Highway 11 to walk against the fields. Somebody honks and Peyton waves, unseeing, into the sun. He blows smoke into the corn. He turns his chin to his toes and closes his eyes, walks by the cornstalks grazing his fingertips. When Peyton eases through the sliding door, his mother calls, “Where’ve you been, Peyton?” “Nowhere. With the guys.” She enters the kitchen and sweeps towards Peyton in her long, pastel skirt. She takes his shoulders in her soft, white hands so that he looks at her. Blue eyes, dark hair. She sighs, loosens her grip so her hands slip down into her son’s. “No smoking,” she says. “No smoking,” says Peyton. His mother sighs again, releases his hands. She fingers the heavy gold chain at her throat. “I saw Ralph today,” says Peyton. His mother stands with both hands on the granite countertop. “His mom bought him a helicopter.” Peyton’s mother clears her throat and turns to open the fridge. “I’m thinking of chicken for dinner. How does that sound?” Peyton watches his mother’s eyes, tugged away from him by clean stacks of carrots and asparagus. “Good.” Peyton takes off his shoes and walks into the den. He opens the cupboard beside the fireplace, slides out wicker boxes. He shovels past dinky cars and legos. In the third box he searches through, he finds two pairs of sunglasses,
red and black. Hearts and a batman mask. “What are you looking for?” calls his mother. “Don’t make a mess.” “I won’t.” Peyton pockets the sunglasses.
LÉA TARANTO Auguries of Extinction To see a world in a grain of sand And a heaven in a wild flower, Hold infinity in the palm of your hand And eternity in an hour – William Blake Gliding through galaxies in galleons past stories of stars cast in images far different from ours. prodigal pilgrim returned to a sphere of ochre rusted dust: Welcome to the Kingdom of Man. Bleeding radiation listless in orbit, cold neon currents buzz. Clasp ash, humbled shards, Promised land. To see a world in a grain of sand Brave New Nothing back at base; harnessed to mothership’s titanium hips, umbilical cord of carbon tube fibres. Protein packs nourish child-hearted hopes, Gaia in her glory. A blue green dream drilled, drained pumped raw power. As ancients cooed over crude oil, prophetic scientists predicted Apocalypse. Hell in every transmission tower, And a heaven in a wild flower Images in cornea cortex collected for The Collective. One cell of a hive mind with history of the species inserted in circuit
at base of the wrist. Witness greatness; Giza, Ming Dynasty, Lady Liberty, World War, humanity’s historic span. All that’s left, the sum less than the crescent of a fingernail. Just some, part of a greater plan. Hold infinity in the palm of your hand Weightless in dark matter dreaming first of the species echoed universal in yearning for safe haven. Home, memories woven in DNA strands. Software of soul short circuits past light year long meteor shower, past Milky Way to primal time Where oxygen ends in 59:59. Yet so much earth specks left to scour, And eternity in an hour
Wangshen Today is your 15th birthday. You’re getting too old for candles on your cake, and the fact that there are 11 more candles than there are people makes you cringe with shame. Under the floral print tablecloth, your right knee jiggles, tailbone stiff as you sit at the head of the dining room table. It’s only ever used for special occasions. Your parents and older brother Marcus are there too, but they’re all family, so they don’t count. Not even Melanie, your middle school bestie, showed up. Last year she’d stopped calling you her friend in public (her other friends thought you were too weird), but she still partnered up with you in class. If her boyfriend wasn’t in town you might’ve stood a chance. Dad brings the traditional DQ cake to the table. With a quick head toss you shake ex-bestie out of your brain. Inhale. Try to look happy. Mom thumbs up from her position behind the camera. “C’mon sis, smile. Think about that new iPad you’re getting, and the new piano, and the stupid purse.” Marcus’s voice turns sour, listing off the presents. To him they’re just another reason to hate you, Mom and Dad’s favourite. Too quiet for her own good, but no trouble either. You wish you were anywhere else, even school. In school, you are learning about Ancient Rome. Fire was sacred to the Romans, and the goddess of the hearth fire was Vesta. In her temple burned the eternal flame of Rome, tended by the Vestal Virgins. Their job, keep the fire burning. Fire was holy, fire was power. You need some of that. Your hand hovers above the outer ring of candles, moving by millimetres. Everyone poses as the camera goes flash. Your fingers dip, caressing pinpricks of heat. Today is your 25th birthday. Instead of cake you bought yourself eight cartons of Camels. Each inhale brings tarry bliss, enough warmth to keep that cold, dark place in your chest toasty for a few moments. Like the way you used to feel after the last furious keystrokes of Chopin or Rachmaninoff. The smoke pretty, the rain more a symphony of patters on your hood than a disturbance. As soon as they leave your lips, those exhales could belong to anybody. Even somebody who’s made it big as a pianist. Something you’d always assumed you would be at age 25, when you were a kid. Recall dragons, phoenixes; how you drew them on your notebooks. Flames flickering across fields of algebra, their inked out tongues eating the space of 8 1/2 x11 inch lined paper.
One smoggy August night you’d seen a fire-eater at a folk festival. Mosquitoes had feasted on your blood as you watched, instinctually knowing it was the fire inside her that made words burst forth in such vibrant streams. Her voice so full of life and heat as she’d described the practice’s origins, performances put on by Hindu mystics hundreds of years ago. That same fire lies latent in you. But the cigarette isn’t enough. You need an outside spark as a pick-me-up. So you flick the Bic and cradle the flame in your palm. Pain laps up layers of skin, blistering your brain. You smell burning. Today is your 35th birthday and John’s still working late like usual. You twist the band you’ve taken from your left ring finger, watch it spin on the kitchen counter. Switch the burner as high as it will go. Fingers tap, tap, tapping the stove. Already, pins and needles set in at the tips, fuzzing out to numbness. Soon they are disjointed, less and less a part of you. Icarus burned. Before he drowned, he burned. You lean in, drawn to the heat infused in the air above and around the element. Widows did too, and witches and monks. Most of all, you think of monks. Between the pages of mildewed library books lies sanctuary, tomes where your hands trace Tibetan wisdom from Rinpoche’s, the Precious Ones, whose original scrolls have long since turned to ash. There is a satisfying hiss, a sssst as you take your index finger, that same finger that traced the word auto-cremation, and place it gently on the steel coil. It sears the tip, which flexes of its own accord. The whole thing is timing. You know this by now. Buddhist monks will endure self-immolation in order to burn through Samsara, the karmic cycle of death and rebirth. In the burning, they reach a state where their very consciousness melds with eternity. It is not that they wish to suffer. In fact, most monks choose self-immolation only after full comprehension of the great Sutra teachings. Minds full of powerful knowledge and an urge to abandon the physical world, their act is one of spiritual devotion. It is a joyous thing, to escape the cage of flesh, bones and blood. The word you like best for self-immolation is wangshen, Chinese for “lose the body.” It helps you feel less like you’re losing your mind. That one of these library books keeping you company might even hold salvation. “Wangshen.” It comes out, a smoldering coal of a whisper. You aren’t ready yet. Not for the whole thing, or even for the renunciation of a finger. But you are ready for something more. Steam seeps into your nail beds and you move your whole hand down, with purpose.
CONTRIBUTORS SOPHIE BENDER JOHNSTON/OOKISHKIMAANISII is a member of the Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation and an uninvited visitor in Coast Salish homelands. She graduates with a double major in First Nations and Indigenous Studies, and Creative Writing. She is still struggling to hear the difference between iambic and trochaic feet, pursuing a path in birth work, and writing endlessly about her homeland, Neyaashiingimiing, occasionally in pentameter. MATT CARDINAL is a poet and screenwriter from Brampton, Ontario. His humour has been published in The Syrup Trap and featured in Geist Magazine. His poetry has been published in The Feathertale Review. The pleasures he finds in 50s pop music and the movie Clueless are anything but guilty. BRI DEMPSEY is a freelance writer, based in Vancouver, BC, where she lives with her husband. Her work has been seen in the Ubyssey and Nineteen Questions. Bri is currently working on a travel memoir. MARIAH DEVCIC is a poet headed up North. She was the recipient of the Write on the Lake poetry prize in 2016. CECILY DOWNS is a Creative Writing and English Honours double major. She is currently finishing a children’s fantasy novel that she started in the program, about a witch who enjoys baking but is terrible at doing magic. She also intends to continue writing fiction for adults in a variety of genres. MIKIKO GALPIN works in a variety of genres, including fiction, songwriting, playwriting, and graphic forms. Their play, Go For Broke, was produced in the 2015 Brave New Playrites Festival and their comic, Monster, was published as part of Room Magazine’s No Comment project and will appear in Grab Back Comics’ anthology this June. They are currently an editor at Mana Comics and are working on their debut issue as a co-writer.
HALLE GULBRANDSEN is very excited to be finishing her university degree (victory lap included). She is grateful for all of the wonderful support of her creative writing friends and teachers. She now plans to spend her time avoiding long bus rides, hiking the mountains and writing about her adventures as a pilot. CHRISTINA HU got a fancy art degree in creative writing and is planning on spending the rest of her life as a corporate monkey deep in the recesses of tech-oriented Silicon Valley. Come say hi. GENEVIEVE MICHAELS is a writer of fiction, nonfiction and poetry. She completed the Creative Writing BFA with a minor in Art History and works in art communications. She was born and raised in the Vancouver area. RAVEN NYMAN is a writer of many genres, and an introvert in disguise. Based in British Columbia, Raven is also a columnist for 24 Hours Vancouver. After graduating from UBC, she plans to retreat into the wilderness with her diploma, her dogs, and a cat or two. You can find her articles on Twitter @RavsWritingDesk. KEAGAN PERLETTE is a Gemini born and raised in Calgary, Alberta and is now based in Vancouver, where she reads tarot cards and writes poems. With her double major in English Literature and Creative Writing, she hopes to become a journalist and a Real Poet. She believes in keeping rosemary by the garden gate and planting lavender for luck. KARA SCHURINGA is a writer of fiction and poetry returning to Brampton, Ontario to find more words. LĂ‰A TARANTO is a student and writer living on unceded Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh terrority. She has been published in various literary journals such as The Parenthetical Review, Zouch Magazine and Miscellany, Untethered, and Transition Magazine, as well as had the honour of performing several poetry readings with Pandoraâ€™s Collective. She is inspired by myth, nature and the human condition.