Contents From the Editor's Desk
Anna the Dissident by Charlie Britten
Fitzgerald’s Decision by Katharine O’Flynn
Maintiens le Droit by Norman A. Rubin
The Aquitania by Melissa Kuipers
Galileo’s Vision by Gwendolyn Edward
Ayah by K. A. Richards
The Honest and Absolute Truth by Tatiana Morand
Cover photo credit by Elenaor Bennett. Clip art courtesy of The Graphics Fairy LLC.
From the Editor's Desk Welcome to the inaugural issue of Circa! When Circa opened for submissions in January, I didn’t want to limit the types of stories authors submitted by stubbornly insisting on a theme. But as and the months rolled on and my inbox filled up, a theme emerged regardless: Journeys. Most of the characters contained in these pages embark on a journey, whether it be geographical or internal. Either way, I couldn’t have found a better metaphor for the first issue of this new endeavor. We begin with “Anna the Dissident” by Charlie Britten, which centres on a Polish dissident from Communism during the Solidarity era. After the death of her husband, a political radical, Anna finds she must tie up some loose ends. “Fitzgerald’s Decision” by Katharine O’Flynn tells the heartbreaking story of the Lost Patrol of the Northwest Mounted Police from perspective of its leader, Inspector Francis Joseph Fitzgerald. She writes, “The parallel to Scott’s fatal journey in the Antarctic is evident: both Scott and Fitzgerald fought their way back heartbreakingly close to safety, but, because of bad luck, couldn’t quite make it.” And as we’re on the subject, we have “Maintiens le Droit”, Norman A. Rubin’s nonfiction piece on the history of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Melissa Kuipers contributed “The Aquitania.” Taken from the opening chapters of her novel-inprogress, it was inspired by her own grandmother’s experience coming to Canada as a war bride after World War Two. “Galileo’s Vision” by Gwendolyn Edward takes us on a chilling journey into the mind of Galileo Galilei in the early days of his descent into blindness. “Ayah”, set in Northern India during the British Raj, is by K. A. Richards. She writes, “Simla, as it’s now called, inspired this piece. My first day there, I thought: I know this place, and I know the sort who lived here during the Raj. I didn’t know Elsie’s name yet, but I knew where she’d lived.” Finally, Tatiana Morand’s “The Honest and Absolute Truth” is a piece of speculative fiction set during the Second World War. Morand wondered, “What kind of difference would it have made if Rosie the Riveter was actually Rosie the Riveted? “ Special thanks go to Eleanor Bennett, who contributed the cover photo to this issue. So I welcome you all aboard as we set off on adventures through history and across the globe. Welcome to Circa! Jen Falkner Editor
Anna The Dissident By Charlie Britten It was on the day of the Holy Father’s visit to Krakow in September 1 979 that the D word was first used against Anna. Having just attended open air Mass outside the Wawel Cathedral, she and several thousand others were walking back to ordinary life. Passing historic buildings blackened by soot from the local steelworks and clutching her tiny red and white Polish flag, Anna was not exuberant - because she was too old for such things - but she was content. As she turned into the street where she had parked, she spotted a Westerner hovering beside her red Polski Fiat. “Bob Heine. South California Times, ma’am.” He held up a small card she was unable to read without her glasses. “I cannot speak with you,” she said in English, a language she knew a little, like most of her countrymen. Pushing him aside, she shoved her car key into the door lock. As usual, it jammed and would, she knew, require several painful twists of her arthritic wrists. “Let me-” It yielded to him at once. “Thank you,” she said, climbing into the driving seat. “Can I ask you, ma’am,” he asked, “how the Pope’s visit will affect morale amongst Polish dissidents, like yourself?” “Dissident? No dissident.” “But you’re the wife of Jerzy Krol.” “Widow.” She stared ahead, at the marks left by flies on the windscreen. “He died. In prison. In 1 968. Don't you know anything?” The car started first time for once, farting automotive disgust from its exhaust. “How dare he, Jerzy?” she cried, as she headed out of the city, towards the Tatra Mountains. “We’re radicals. Catholics. Poles.” * Twelve months later, Anna emerged from her home, sweeping the lane with her eyes, for an unmarked black car with one leather-jacketed man sitting inside. That evening, however, there was none. ‘Too busy running after Solidarnosc nowadays. Can't waste time on an old woman like me,’ she said to herself, as she panted up the mountain and into the forest clearing, where she and her ‘group’ met weekly to rail at the government, and at each other, unseen and unheard. On her way back, she was observed by Roman standing in front of the chalet, shielding his face against the reddening sun with his palm. “Mother?” She raised her arms then let them drop against her sides. “Here I am. As you see.” “All right?” He affected to adjust the sign on the fence advertising ‘All Polish Honey’. 1
“Yes.” She nodded at what he held in his hand. “Are you sure of that? Maybe our bees fly over the border into Czechoslovakia?” He grinned. “They wouldn’t. They’re proud to be Polski.” “Quite right. I’m going away for a few days, Roman. In the car.” “Where?” “Away.” “Mother-“ “I'm taking a holiday.” “Whereabouts, Mother?” Their blue grey eyes clashed like jousting swords. “To the coast.” “In September? Bit cold for swimming in the Baltic.” She held her glare. “Before I go, could you carry that old typewriter to my car? It takes up too much space in my room. I'm going to dump it.” He sneaked a sidelong glance towards his wife, Julia, lifting carrots from the vegetable patch. “To the coast? To Gdansk?” Anna said nothing. “Solidarnosc. That’s it, isn't it?” “Father would’ve been there. With the strikers at the Gdansk Shipyard last month.” “He would’ve been arrested, while Walesa hobnobbed with the government. I still can't believe it all happened.” Roman shook his head. “You knew about those strikes beforehand?” “No.” She would’ve loved to have answered Yes. “Solidarnosc’s appealing for office equipment.” Her eyes widened. “Like everyone else, I listen to overseas radio stations, Mother. They require... printing presses, copiers... and typewriters, which they cannot buy without being registered with the government.” “Don't believe everything you hear from overseas radio, Roman, although... you’re correct in this instance.” 2
“Why aren’t the young men in your group doing this?” “I volunteered.” She jerked her head towards the forest clearing. “They agreed, eventually.” “I wish you wouldn't.” “You forget, Roman, that I’m your mother and you’re my son. Not the other way round. Move the typewriter into my car, please. I'm going inside now.” “Wait-“ Her bladder required frequent attention, having been weakened by giving birth to him thirtyseven years ago, in a dingy room in Krakow. She’d watched from her window, as the Nazis corralled the Jews along the street, poor women in headscarves, clattering pots and pans behind them, dark-eyed children clutching their mothers’ skirts. Assaulted by pain every few minutes, Anna wondered when they would come for her and other Poles who opposed the Nazis. Following her delivery, the city was silent, the only sounds her own restless movements against stale sheets. After the war, Jerzy said, “Now we have peace, and a Socialist government, things’ll improve.” “Really?” she replied. They formed the group in 1 949. * Three mornings later, Roman carried the typewriter down the steep chalet staircase, wedging it in the well between the front and back seats of Anna’s car. It amused her that he now wore a Solidarnosc badge on his jacket. He’d never involved himself in her and Jerzy’s activities; even as a child, he knew where not to look, what questions not to ask. Waiting only to wave him off to work, she set off, the Polski Fiat whining its protest as she drove it along steep mountain roads, past chalets with corrugated-iron roofs dipping to the ground, where one tethered cow grazed on the front verge. White posters of the Polish Pope, John Paul II, smiled from every window, alongside the Black Madonna of Jasna Gora. This was her Poland, Jerzy’s Poland. “In the West, you could have a good job, Jerzy,” friends had said in the late 1 940s, sometimes adding, “You too, Anna.” “Who would care about Poland, if we all ran away?” he asked. Arrested in August 1 968, as Soviet tanks rolled into Czechoslovakia to crush the Prague Spring - a movement with which he had no involvement – Jerzy succumbed to pneumonia in a freezing prison cell. Anna cared still. * Scrunched up into a tight foetal position and her head pressing against the door handle, Anna tried to sleep in her car. In the darkest hours before dawn, she dozed, dreaming of arriving at Solidarnosc's headquarters to find typewriters on every desk... sometimes two or three. In the 3
kinder light of morning she drank more water, pleasantly chilled by the night air. * Gdansk was bigger than she anticipated, a city of towering, dun-coloured apartment blocks, every window-pane displaying a red and white Solidarnosc sticker, every lamppost, every road sign. “Look, Jerzy,” she cried. “Oh Jerzy, just look.” “Solidarnosc’s on the road to Sopot,” said the group member who knew somebody who knew somebody who’d taken part in the Shipyard Strikes. “You can't miss it.” She could. So much traffic, worse than Krakow. Drivers honked their horns when she slowed to consult road signs, to northern towns she’d never heard of. So many people. Whenever she stopped at traffic lights, they walked behind... in front... beside the car, and the typewriter between the seats. Was it still covered up by her rug? She daren’t turn her head back to check, for fear of drawing attention to it. The traffic moved off again, pressing down upon her. Anna glimpsed the Shipyard crane on the skyline, its jib bent like a bird’s broken wing, but, as when encountering someone famous in the street, she knew she mustn’t stare. Round and round she went, past the same shops and the woman in a flowery housecoat, smoking in front of a hairdresser. On being asked directions eventually, the hairdresser woman waved her cigarette towards the seafront, even before Anna formed her question. Had this woman been one of those who had stood outside the Shipyard, hour after hour, day after day, supporting her husband or son? Anna drove on, down strange roads, leading to more roads... and another road. Now the traffic was slowing again, and drivers leaned out of their open windows to gawp. Was it at the cars in the showroom? No. A dingy sign over the adjacent doorway whispered ‘Hotel Morski’. “I’ve found it, Jerzy.” Overhead, the handwritten banner, strung across several casements, screamed ‘SOLIDARNOSC’. Demonstrators blocked the right-hand carriageway. Another group - steelworkers according to their banners - milled about a speaker whose voice boomed distorted words through a loudhailer. Long-haired teenagers, who should be in school, stuck flyers everywhere, including Anna’s windscreen. She stretched her arm out of her window to remove the flapping piece of paper, but couldn't quite reach. The boy who’d put it there waved and grinned. With difficulty, she manoeuvred herself into a parking space across the road. The silence when she switched off her engine was deafening; that sound – her sound - had sustained her for a day and a half. Out of habit Anna cowered behind her steering wheel, seeking out uniformed police and their more dangerous plain clothes colleagues. A ginger-haired girl wearing a Solidarnosc t-shirt spoke, very fast and in English, at a gaggle of western journalists holding fur-covered microphones. “Press conference. One hour.” She held up her flat palm. “No questions now.” “And you are...?” they asked. “Marya Wieclawski, Solidarnosc spokeswoman.” 4
‘Don't give out your full name, you stupid girl.’ Anna didn’t even know the group members’ surnames. The reporters dispersed, brushing past her car, one of them knocking her wing-mirror. “Sorry,” he said. As he walked away, Anna recognised him, but Bob Heine wasn't pestering her now the big players were out. The teenagers stuck another flyer under her windscreen and the demonstrators were coming towards her in a wave, chanting “Solidarnosc, Solidarnosc...” Anna drew in her breath and held it. Her lungs filled to bursting point. There was not enough air in her small car. What little there was, she had used up over two days. She had to get out. Anywhere. Anyhow. She didn't care about the typewriter anymore. Grabbing her handbag, she dragged her stiff legs out on to the pavement, but then she had to press herself against the side of her Polski Fiat as the protesters brushed past her, the coldness of its red metal penetrating through her thin skirt. Once again, she struggled to lock the door. Tears welled up in her eyes on seeing Roman’s sweater on the back seat. No, no, she mustn’t do that here. Swallowing hard, she crossed the street. Where could she go in this strange city? Then she stopped. She swivelled on her heels. Yes, she did care about the typewriter. Very much. The Solidarnosc spokeswoman headed back towards the Hotel Morski doorway. Quickening her pace, Anna called, “Stop. Stop.” Anna’s voice dissipated into the general hubbub. Solidarnosc noise, not hers. The girl quickened her pace. “Stop. Stop.” She walked still. “Marya.” Anna didn't like calling strangers by their first names, even though this young woman appeared little older than her granddaughter. Marya stopped. She turned, although her eyes remained on her clipboard. “Yes?” “I've got a typewriter. For Solidarnosc,” Anna whispered, even though everyone else shouted. “Thank you,” Marya replied, without looking up. “If Solidarnosc still wants typewriters.” “Yes.” “It’s in my car. You... I mean... Solidarnosc’ll... have to get it out. It’s too heavy for me.” Then Marya did look at her, through pale grey eyes fringed with ginger eyebrows. “Oh... oh. Are 5
you all right... madam?” Before Anna had a chance to reply, she added, “I'll get one of the blokes. Can you wait here?” “Thank you. I'll stand by my car.” “Are you all right?” “Yes, dear. Perfectly.” Anna raised her eyebrows. “Are you going to fetch one of your... blokes?” “Er... yes.” Anna returned to her Polski Fiat. Now she had time to see everything, every slogan, every chant, every banner. And to drink it all in. This was what she had come for. As a dissident.
Fitzgerald’s Decision by Katharine O'Flynn On December twenty-first, 1 91 0, a four-man Northwest Mounted Police patrol mushed off from Fort McPherson, bound for Dawson City four hundred and seventy-five miles to the southwest. It would be an arduous journey, but one that Commander Frank Fitzgerald, long inured to the hardships of arctic travels, had no reason to fear. His two constables Kinney and Taylor were capable young men and their guide, Sam Carter was an ex-Mountie who, like Fitzgerald, had years of arctic experience behind him. A winter patrol like this was undertaken every year to carry mail and dispatches between Dawson, the northernmost station with regular mail and telegraph services, and the arctic post at Fort McPherson. This year they’d be running the patrol in the opposite direction, from McPherson to Dawson, but that should cause no problems. The route was the same. Estimating they’d cover the usual fifteen to twenty miles a day, Fitzgerald saw to the packing of a thirty-day supply of bacon, bully beef, beans, flour, lard, dried fruit, tea, sugar and tobacco for the men, and nine hundred pounds of dried fish for the fifteen dogs. That should see them through. Fitzgerald enjoyed the excitement of a sled journey; it made a change from the sometimes tedious routine of police work at the isolated post. “Hurrah, lads, we’re off!” he shouted, and the three sleds sped away. The trip started badly. The trail along the Peel River was unbroken by previous travelers and the snow was deep. Mist along the river transformed the landscape into a thick amorphous whiteness, and froze on the men’s clothes and faces, glueing their eyes half shut. In these difficult conditions Carter missed the turn off for the shortcut from the Peel over the flank of the Caribou Born Mountain to the Wind River. It was only thanks to a chance meeting with a Loucheux band that they discovered the mistake. They’d gone miles off route, and hard miles too, and lost a good two to three days. Fitzgerald hired one of the natives to guide them back to their route. The mountainous terrain and heavy snow made for slow going. Even with the guide, they averaged only twelve miles a day. That was not good enough, not if they were to reach Dawson before supplies ran out. When they reached the Wind River on their twelfth day from McPherson, Fitzgerald paid off the Loucheux. Carter was sure of the way from here. Now that they were off the mountain, they’d make better time, Fitzgerald figured. But travel conditions along the Wind were no better than on the mountain. The temperature seldom rose above fifty below. The snow was deep and soft, the river ice was blocked with piles of driftwood from autumn flooding so thick they had to hack their way through with axes or else move up on to the banks and cut their way through brush. Their daily mileage decreased instead of increasing. In seven days they covered only seventy miles. So it was that on their nineteenth day on the trail, when they should have been on the home stretch, they were less than half way to Dawson. Fitzgerald’s doubts began. Could they cover the remaining two hundred and fifty-five miles in 7
in eleven days? Ought they to return to McPherson to re-supply? Fitzgerald hated the thought of retreat. The men would be disappointed, humiliated. What fools they’d look turning up at McPherson, tails between their legs, saying: it was too cold, the snow was too deep, we got lost, we couldn’t get through. A cold spell like this one seldom lasted long. It must get warmer soon. Then they could make up for lost time. And now at least they knew where they were. Fitzgerald tapped the ashes out of his pipe. He’d see how things looked in the morning, make his decision then. The morning dawned fine. Doubts of the night before vanished as the temperature climbed to twenty-two below, ideal for sledding. The dogs ran well. The sled runners sang on the crisp snow and the men’s snowshoes swished in rhythm, each step sending up a little puff of snow. Fitzgerald trotted along easily. At this rate they’d be in Dawson in ten or twelve days. They might get down to tight rations towards the end, but what was a day or two of hunger to the hardened men and dogs of the Northwest Mounted? By dusk they’d made sixteen miles. “Now we’re sledding” the elated men told each other as they worked through the routine of setting up camp: tying the dogs and feeding them, collecting firewood, hacking ice from the river to melt for water, cooking their meal. The next day, despite a strong head wind and deep snow, they made fifteen miles. But on the following day, the weather turned against them again. It was too warm. Men, dogs and sleds sank in snow that stuck to runners, matted itself in icy clumps in the dogs’ paws, clung to the men’s snowshoes. They made only nine miles. Again that night the thought of turning back came to Fitzgerald. The dogs were tired and thin; two had bleeding paws. They needed a day’s resting up and feeding. But that was out of the question with only eight days’ food left. It now looked pretty much certain that they’d run out of food this side of Dawson. Unless – and there was a good chance of this – they met some Indian band up past Forrest Creek, or prospectors or trappers from whom they could buy food. They themselves might find game. With any kind of luck they’d get through. Anyway, considering distances and terrain, it would take about as long to get back to McPherson as to reach Dawson from here. They went on. After a morning of trudging through sticky snow and skirting overflow water from the warm springs along the Little Wind River, they took a long nooning while Carter went ahead to scout for Forrest Creek. He didn’t find it. “Could we have passed it already?” Fitzgerald asked. 8
“Impossible!” Carter said. “I’ve been keeping my eyes peeled all along.” By dusk Fitzgerald was almost certain they must have passed the creek. He should never have paid off that Loucheux guide when he did. The Loucheux never got lost. They knew this country better than any white man ever could. Carter was a good fellow, willing enough, but no damned use as a guide. He’d got them lost once and now it looked as though he’d done it again. He went on searching till the very last of the light, poor man, only to come back and confess, “You’re right. We must have passed it.” The next day was Friday the thirteenth and truly an unlucky day. They followed the creek Carter guessed was most likely to be the Forrest, but it wasn’t. They had to trek back to the river and camp. Another day lost. And the next day a gale blew so fierce they could not move. Their situation was now perilous. Fitzgerald put a brave face on it. “We’ll rest up today,” he announced, as if that had been part of the plan all along. Around their campfire, he told stories of narrow escapes he’d had in his eventful life. He’d come though the Boer War’s bloody battles without a scratch. He’d faced starvation on other patrols, survived a drenching among ice floes, been lost in a blizzard. Yes, he’d found his way through many a tight fix all right, for hadn’t he the luck of the Irish in him? They’d see this jaunt through. He spoke cheerfully, but his thoughts were sombre. If this gale continued, they were goners for sure. With hindsight, he now knew, he should have ordered a turnaround back when the doubts first came to him. At the time, though, he’d done what he thought best; he’d had his reasons for going on. And now what could he do but go on further? Once they got past Forrest Creek, the terrain would be easier, the route clearer, more-travelled, and it ran through good game country too. Surely they’d meet up with some party there who could help them out. The next day the men separated and beat up and down the river looking for the elusive creek. There were so many creeks. Which one was Forrest? What distinguished it from the others? They guessed twice, and both times they guessed wrong. Men and dogs were exhausted. They had food for only two days. “My last hope is gone,” Fitzgerald wrote in his diary. “We have now been a week looking for a river to take us over the divide, but there are dozens of rivers and I am at a loss.” On January eighteenth he gave the order: “We turn back.” That night he shot the first of the dogs and fed it to the others, who would not eat it. On January nineteenth they made nineteen miles and killed the second dog. This one the other dogs ate. On January twentieth another gale kept them stormbound. Luck veers like the wind, Fitzgerald mused as the four men huddled hungry by the fire, waiting for better weather and a change in their luck. You can see the change of wind in the trees; you can feel it on your face. But how can you tell the direction luck is tending? You go along thinking things may look grim, but with any kind of luck you’ll get through. You expect to, really, till the times comes when you know it’ll take a lot more than ‘any kind of luck’ to get you through; it’ll take a whole miraculous, impossible sledge load of blessings. When was the moment on this 9
journey when the balance shifted? Was there a stir in the air, a sign in the sky? And even if there had been, Fitzgerald thought, he probably wouldn’t have acted any differently. He and his men would still have believed in the braver course of going on. Even now they believed in the chance that they’d make it back to McPherson alive. They might do, if this storm ever ended. If the weather was kinder to them. If they met up with those Loucheux again. Next morning he rallied the men. They had to keep moving. They ate the last of the flour and bacon and went on. For twenty days more they mushed back towards McPherson through cold and snow such as Fitzgerald had never known in all his northern winters. Every day they, and the dogs, grew weaker. They cached one sled and tent. Their diet now was dog meat and boiled rawhide and tea. Their hands and feet were swollen and black with frostbite, the skin peeling off. They went on. On February fifth, they reached the Peel River. The rugged mountain terrain, the hardest part of the route, was behind them. McPherson was only seventy miles ahead. With luck, they might yet make it. On February tenth, Kinney and Taylor could go no farther. Fitzgerald and Carter left them in camp with a stew of rawhide strips and plenty of firewood. “We’ll send help from McPherson,” Fitzgerald promised. “Hold on. Stay warm.” He and Carter cached everything, even the precious mail and dispatch bag, and staggered off on snowshoes, carrying only blankets and the last scraps of meat from the last of the dogs. At their second camp, Carter died. Fitzgerald covered the corpse. He wondered if Kinney and Taylor were still alive. He prayed he would be able to get help to them in time. It wasn’t far to McPherson. Surely he’d make it. He’d just take a little rest here, and then move on. * In March a search party from Dawson found Kinney’s and Taylor’s bodies beside their rawhide stew. Farther on, only twenty-five miles from McPherson, they found Carter’s body, laid out, hands folded, and beside the remains of that last campfire, Fitzgerald’s, as if asleep.
Maintiens le Droit by Norman A. Rubin
A Lancer of the N.W. Mounted Police, Canadian Illustrated News, 1 875.
In the early days of my youth I was thrilled with the fifteen minute weekly radio program, 'Sergeant Renfrew of the Mounties' and his favorite dog 'Cuddles'; The program was all about the adventures of a Canadian Mounted Policeman as he searched for the outlaws through the Yukon and in the North West Territory of Canada through blizzards, blinding snowstorms and through all sorts of dangers; but somehow the programs never had him running about in good traveling weather. Yet he always got his man. I sat with baited breath when the announcer said...'Renfrew was sledding in an ambush set up by Dangerous Dan and his gang at the pass when his huskie growled the alarm' with a symphonic piece playing the mood of the action. Then the sound effects man got really busy, but in the end Renfrew said 'Throw down your guns, you are all under arrest!” Towards the end of the serial the producers submitted another clif hanger... “tune in next week when Sergeant Refrew meets new danger on the trail....”
My mom with two or three other mothers of our neighborhood went one pleasant afternon to the Saturday matinee at the cinema – they saw a film with Nelson Eddy when he dressed as one of the Mounties in the film 'Rose Marie' with Jeanette MacDonald. When he crooned 'When I am calling you oohoo...” they sighed and their hearts fluttered. Never knew if Jeanette ever got her man – I suppose she did. * Following the Cypress Hills Massacre of 1 873, when a number of Assiniboine Natives, men, women and children were massacred by a druken mob of white men calling themselves the Spitzee Cavalry, Canadian Prime Minister John A. MacDonald was forced to quickly organize a force of 275 men to ride west and establish the rule of law...The 'Mounties', as they were called, are the Northwest Mounted Police of Canada officialy organized in the same year. They were a brave and fearless group of men, willing and able in upholding the law despite their small numbers. Their police work at that time was mainly to patrol the Northwest Territories and the Yukon on horseback and dog sled. Dog sled patrols over the frozen north were then a new aspect of Mounted Police life as the Force established remote outposts throughout the territory. Canada's wild untamed regions were a haven for smugglers and outlaws in the 1 800's and there was a constant need of patrols. There were many exciting stories told about the days when the Mounties rode through the wilderness in all adverse weather conditions tracking down outlaws and enforcing the law. They had a reputation that they always outwitted and apprehended the outlaw. They gained the confidence of the Indians, and soon their scarlet jackets were a familiar sight to the aboriginal tribes, whose help to the Mounties in tracking and providing shelter was quite invaluable. 11
“A bunch of the boys were whooping it up in the Malamute saloon; The kid that handles the music-box was hitting a rag-time tune; Back of the bar, in a solo game, sat Dangerous Dan McGrew, And watching his luck was his light-o'-love, the lady that’s known as Lou.” 'The Shooting of Dangerous Dan McGrew'- Robert W. Service The word 'Royal' was added to the name of the Mounted Police by King Edward VII in 1 904 in honor of their outstanding service to the country and its citizens, but it wasn't until 1 920 that they came to be known as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, when the Royal North West Mounted Police merged with the Dominion Police. Then their authority was extended to cover all the provinces of Canada. Today, the Mounties are a modern police force with up-to-date crime laboratories with forensic facilities. Their regular uniform is a grey shirt with dark blue tie, dark blue trousers with gold strapping, regular patrol boots called "ankle boots", regular duty equipment, and a regular policeman's style cap. (Winter dress on top of their regular uniforms includes heavier boots, jackets and a fur cap.) They now travel in automobiles, boats, airplanes and helicopters, snowmobiles and in some instances dog sleds are called for. Their horses and scarlet uniforms are now reserved for ceremonial affairs and parades. The RCMP, dedicated at the turn of the twentieth century to establishing a system of horseback patrols became, a half-century later when times had changed with new methods of law enforcement, a national enforcement agency with responsibilities ranging from counting migratory birds to uncovering foreign espionage, thwarting terrorist activities and other national security duties. A visitor can learn more about the Royal Canadian Mountain Police, their duties, and the extraordinary police work in apprehending outlaws – 'they always get their man'– by a tour of the artifacts and written records at the Mounted Police Heritage Centre, located in Regina, Saskatchewan. The permanent collection, comprising over 33,000 artifacts, displays the NWMP/RCMP from their beginnings in 1 873 to the present. These artifacts depict not only the RCMP's history, but also the story of the West, of First Nations and Northern Canada. Visit rcmpheritagecentre.com for more information.
The Aquitania by Melissa Kuipers Somewhere, Alice thought, on this boat there is a woman writing her first letter to the mother she has never lived a day without. There is a woman nursing her baby, looking at his beautiful face and seeing her own resemblance, trying to remember what her husband looks like. There is a baby who will never have memories of his English grandparents. There is a woman in a life boat with a man, telling him to keep quiet, telling him to do what he will with her, remembering the roughness of her husband’s hands on her back, dreading that soon she will have to endure them again. But most of these war brides, it seemed, had been doing none of these things because they had not been able to hold anything down for the last three days. There was a woman who was five months pregnant who feared she would lose the baby from hours of violently vomiting. There was a woman who felt seasickness is one of the worst things that could ever happen to a person, and she wondered what it meant that her marriage was beginning this way. There was something about butter, the way it coated her tongue, its softness, which Alice would always associated with Canada. The captain came to each table while they waited to be served their first meal. “Welcome to the Aquitania. I’m Captain Johnson, and I’m honoured to bring you to your new home. Please keep in mind that, due to the constraints of your rationed diet in England, your stomachs are not used to digesting rich food. Enjoy the taste of your food and don’t eat too much. Thank you, and enjoy your meal.” He gave a slight bow and turned to the next table. The young silly girls squealed when the Red Cross workers began to serve the food. Mary began to cry when they brought out an entire dish of butter. Alice spread over her bread more butter than her family had been allowed over the course of a month. There were oranges from Florida for dessert. She stole one from the table and put it in her purse. In fact, most her meal she wrapped in napkins and put away for later—two dinner rolls, half of a baked potato, a leg of chicken, half of a raspberry tart. She reasoned that by bed time she would have enough room to finish the chicken before it went bad, but she was still feeling almost sick with fullness by the time the staff walked through the halls calling “lights out!” She hoped to gain a little weight on the trip over, hoped that after half a year apart, Warren would notice if her face was a little rounder, her thighs a little fuller. Being at sea didn’t bother her, but she had the constant feeling of floating through a middle space, a mass of water where no one had fought, from which no men had left. It made her uneasy, knowing she could walk the perimeter of the ship and not see any land. The GIs who took up the first and second floors of the ship ate their meals an hour before the women. Alice’s bunkmate Betsy smiled at one of the GIs as they went for lunch. He smiled back and said, “Now how are you lovely ladies enjoying being at sea?” Before Betsy could respond one of the wait staff came hurrying over. “Now, sir, let’s be on our way and let the ladies get to their meal,” she said. “I’ve missed that Canadian friendliness,” said Betsy as they moved slowly towards their table. “That’s the reason there are so many of us on this boat—Canadian soldiers always striking up conversation with everyone they see.” 13
The young brides would stand at the edge of the balcony and wave down to the soldiers on the floor below. “Please come away from the edge of the boat,” a Red Cross worker would say. “Let the poor men get some rest and don’t bother them any more.” One afternoon as they strolled along the deck, Mary nudged Alice and Betsy and pointed to a lifeboat hanging from a chain at either end, the bottom just at the level of their heads. Alice would not have noticed it had she been walking alone: this one was rocking a little more than the others moving slowly in the wind. They stopped there for a moment, watching the boat, trying to figure out what was going on inside. Betsy giggled, and Mary scowled. “I have half a mind to go tip it over, drop them into the sea,” she said as they continued to walk. “It’s disgusting. If a woman can’t remain faithful for one week at sea, what was she doing the months or years she was separated from her man?” How does a man manage to get a girl in a lifeboat with him, Alice wondered? Does he lurk around some quiet hallway late at night when emotions are high and strike up conversation: “You must be homesick, dear. I know what that’s like.” Does he risk missing a meal while walking up and down the stairwells until he finds a girl who looks at him softly, and then tells her he just needs to talk, to unburden his war-weary mind, in secret, where they will whisper sheltered from the cold gust above them, where he will lend her his uniform shirt and sacrifice his bare, toned chest to the ocean wind while he wraps his arm around her to warm her, to hold her, to brush her soft breasts, so long unnoticed? Does he tell her it’s been hard to keep his heart tender against the brutality of battle? That it’s been tough and he’s been changed, but he can still feel deeply, he can still recognize beauty when he sees it? Does she need to know his name? Does it matter that when she is reunited with her husband he will no longer be wearing the only clothing she has ever seen him in, so long as she can have this uniformed man now? As she walked back from breakfast the morning before disembarkation in Halifax, Alice could smell nail polish and perfume wafting from beneath the doors of the cabins. She pitied the poor seasick girls, but found when she got to her room even her bed-ridden cabin mates were trying to hold it together long enough to turn their yellow cheeks rosy and fatten their pale lips with lipstick. The air in the cabin was full of powder and the scent of stale perfume over the smell of dried vomit. Two girls were pulling brand new nylon stockings out of a package. They pressed the backs of their hands against the stretch of the material and pushed the length of their legs toe-first through the flimsy tunnel. They tugged gently at the seams along the backs of their legs, adjusting the black lines so they ran straight up and under their skirts. She realized she hadn’t had new tights since before the war. She suddenly longed for the feeling of them, of being closely surrounded by something as fragile and delicate as spiders’ webs. She imagined the thousand tiny strands wrapping around the point of her ankle, the curve of her calf, the fullness of her thigh. The way they pull along the groin, grasp the buttocks. She should have worn tights to her wedding. With so little time to plan, she had borrowed her cousin’s dress. But she should have at least had her own tights. And he should have had to pull them off without creating a single snag. These are the sorts of skills a man should develop before he gets to take anything else off his wife’s body. Alice watched Betsy deftly powdering her leg. When she caught Alice’s eye, Betsy said, “let me do yours. I have a steady hand.” She turned Alice backwards by her shoulders and bent down to reach a little under her skirt and drew a vertical line starting at the middle of her thigh. It tickled as she drew the pencil over 14
Alice’s calf and down to her ankle. She paused to sharpen her pencil and then did the other one. She stood up grinning. “What do you think? We’ll impress everyone waiting for us when we get off the boat. We’ll show them we’re not as poor as they think.” “Or at least we know how to make do if we are,” sighed Mary. Alice could not find her one wool coat, a going away present from her aunt. It was a beautiful long navy blue coat, the kind that no one could really afford to buy during the war. The coat had been in a suit bag, and now she was certain some unfortunate woman had snatched it. Still she waited till the other five girls had left the cabin to do one last search for it. There was no trace of it, nothing but napkins full of crumbs and long strands of hair all over the floor. There were a few others still tugging their luggage through the small cabin doors as she walked down the dim hallway. She heard moaning coming from one of the rooms. She followed the sobs to a cabin door. Alice knocked on the door. “Hello?” The voice came closer. “Hello?” it said with a hint of hope. “Are you stuck?” Alice asked. “Yes! Can you open the door?” Alice twisted the handle a few times, leaned against the door and rattled it. “I’m afraid it must be jarred. I can look for someone who can help.” “Yes!” said the voice. “Please do! Tell them it’s a misunderstanding. Tell them I want to see my husband, that I left everything to be with him.” “It’s alright—stay calm. I’ll find help soon.” Being stuck in a room after a week at sea would drive anyone batty. She told the Red Cross worker at the top of the stairs that someone was stuck in room 31 5. “She seemed quite worried that she won’t get out.” The gentleman shook his head. “I’m afraid some women are not allowed off the boat,” he said. Alice squinted up against him. The July light from outside was burning around him. “We can’t have women who have been unfaithful returning to their husbands. Her husband will be notified that she was found fooling around and he may contact her back in England if he wishes.” Then he nodded in agreement with himself and gestured for her to step out through the door. It was awful, really, to have left all you know only to go back and live with the shame of it all. But she couldn’t see another way. Mary would say, serves them right, all those whores. Pack them up and ship them back. She knew she was supposed to smile and wave as she walked down the gangplank. The band 15
playing “Here Comes the Bride” and the crowds gathered around waving told her she should. The woman at the bottom of the gangplank in front of her had stopped carelessly with her four children. She held one on each hip and the oldest stood beside her, clinging to her dress with one hand and waving rhythmically with the other while photographers knelt in front of her to get the boat in the background. “She must have jumped on the first soldier that came over!” said a voice behind Alice. She could see many women with their luggage disappearing into hugs and kisses and becoming one with the crowds of people. But most of them were trotting along slowly in their high heels, moving in a line towards the nearby train station. This was their short moment of fame, this walk from the boat to the train, and she should enjoy it for all it was worth.
Galileo’s Vision by Gwendolyn Edward The first time it happened he didn’t think too much of it. Ever since he was young and had been struck with repeated ophthalmic infections, his eyes had played tricks on him. Now it was 1 61 0 and he had just finished lunch in his apartment in Padua with a friend, fried fish accompanied by a melon tart, and he caught the man’s reflection in a Venetian mirror hanging near his door. Where his friend’s head should have been, there was merely a black spot. Galileo had been for years studying the black circles on the sun. He’d yet to say anything to anyone outside of his circle; the heavenly bodies were supposed to be perfect. But he’d witnessed the moving centers of darkness across the fiery surface—their expansions and retractions, imperfection contained within imperfection. Four days later, his friend died in the street; he simply fell down beside Galileo and never got back up. The second time it happened, Galileo took notice. It was almost a month later when he was entertaining another group of friends, when in that same Venetian mirror, a very pregnant woman’s face also appeared as a black spot. As he watched, the circle began to expand, blotting out her curling hair, then increasing in size until it encompassed her whole body and the chair she sat in. Galileo only looked away from the reflection when he heard a high-pitched screaming. He turned to see that the pregnant woman was slumping, her fingers twitching against the gold-leafed arm of the chair. Her dress was pooling red with blood, expanding at the very rate that the spot of her body had moments before. A terrible thing, to know when one is beginning to go blind. Compounded horror to realize that the loss of vision is the birth of another. Galileo removed the mirror from the wall, wanted to think he’d tainted it with his own imagination, the mind’s way of trying make sense of its own loss by supplementing failing vision with something that attempted to fill the holes. To give meaning to decay. He knew his problem was not logical, that it was not possible to foretell death. It did not help him though when he learned that his friend died on the street because of a stomach tumor or that the pregnant woman had in her womb a grotesquely formed child that never would have lived. Galileo told himself it all an unnerving coincidence, until the spots started appearing even when there was no mirror. It happened a total of seventeen more times over the course of that year alone. A child outside of a bakery and older woman in the middle of a church service, a young man who’d previously lost three fingers on his right hand in a drunken duel gone wrong. Galileo was there to witness every black sphere, every death, and he inquired after all of them. Imperfect bodies the lot of them, just like the first two. Because of the disturbing nature of this vision, he began to spend more time away from people, devoting more of his life to staring at the sky. He continued to unravel what in his childhood had held a certain mystery. He could deal better with the imperfections of an outside world than with 17
the deterioration of the bodies in the world he occupied. His eyesight continued to trouble him and when he did leave the house he found himself squinting. This way he couldn’t spy the black spots that appropriated bodies. Years went by like this and he tried as much as he could to stand fast against the Church, not only because he knew his theories were right, but because his own prophecy had taught him that taken altogether, the universe was not as people thought it. There is always the hidden explanation, waiting for someone to discover it. In Galileo’s later years, his daughter became increasing nervous about his ravings of the unseen. Years of exile at his home in Arcitre had made him quite vocal—he’d speak to anyone about anything, just to reassure himself that his increasing blindness was not the world foretelling its own death—the imperfections of religion producing a disastrous imperfection of our existence—a blot the size of the earth. In 1 638, when his world went wholly dark, he began to dictate to his daughter a final book, The Third Science. At first she truly did write. Galileo’s recounting of Anaximander’s discovery, his mechanical universe a giant circle, interested her. But when Galileo began to explain the science of spheres and light—how the evolution of man’s understanding of all things round was actually our own history completing its own circle of life, she scratched the dry pointed end of a feather against parchment, and it never occurred to him that there was no sound of moving papers, no tapping of a quill in an ink pot. He told his whole tale and when he was done, he made her promise to have it published. Any way it could be done, he said, without putting herself in jeopardy. She kissed him on his forehead, his eyes milky spheres, and regretted not writing it all down. If the darkness of a circle meant destruction, what did the whiteness of his eyes mean?
Ayah by K.A. Richards Perkins’ forays rarely netted anything, but this time he found something. “What is it now, miss?” “The usual: acting up.” “You’ll settle down, miss, sooner rather than later. Just don’t do anything rash in the meantime.” “Thank you, Perkins.” The porter ambled off but stopped two classrooms away to peer at a framed photograph of a visit by the Duke of York. Watching Perkins scrutinize the photograph, Elsie thought of a clown balloon with long, cardboard feet, and that led to a recollection of another man with a large potbelly; someone in Hindustan? Yes. That old man at the fancy dress party in Shimla: he was up on his toes to raise his voice. “All children to the rose garden,” he was calling. “All children to the rose garden please.” Elsie and Sybil were at the front of the crowd on the upper terrace. The toes of Elsie’s shoes had been catching on the hem of her milkmaid skirt, and Sybil was fussing: “Hold it up. You might fall.” When Elsie started on the stairs, there was no one in front of her but there was that boy—no trouble remembering him in the treetop alongside the garden. He was holding onto the branches as if on a swing, rocking back and forth, impossible to miss, but no one else saw him; at least, Elsie didn’t recall any shouts. They couldn’t have seen him because he stuck out his tongue before disappearing into the tree, and he wouldn’t have done that if they were after him. She remembered that but not other things. Why? Was it being so far away from it all? She could picture the rose garden on the lower terrace easily enough, could see herself making her way round a very tall ladder while a photographer on its top barked, “In the middle, please, milkmaid.” She could remember all of that, but did Nurse Baxter actually rush out of the watching crowd? She didn’t know anymore. However it happened, Philip appeared at her feet. “Pooh! What a smell. Does he belong to you?” The question came from a girl in the next form at Miss Barton’s. She was a popular girl, and Elsie felt ashamed for having a brother who’d filled his pants. And when Nurse made a show of dragging him away, Elsie felt even more ashamed. She followed them head down until her mother Sybil walked up and asked what was happening. Nurse turned Philip to show the back of his white, Pierrot pants: “This is what you get when a native raises children,” Nurse said. “Take him back in the tonga,” was Sybil’s answer, and Nurse and Philip disappeared, leaving Sybil to return to the upper terrace with Elsie. She pinched Elsie’s arm hard while saying with a nod toward the Punch and Judy show at one end of the lawn, “You stay with me.” She then 19
herded her towards marquees at the other end. Inside one of the tents, a woman next in line pointed her gloved finger at the food and said, “This damned war. Miserable offerings for a party.” Sybil shrugged: “We have someone on the Burma Front so we’re willing to make small sacrifices.” The woman twitched her shoulder to grant the point. Then she asked, “What’s this?” She’d been poking a spoon into a condiment dish and had wrinkled her nose like that popular girl from the sixth form. “Mango pickle,” Sybil said. “Nigger food,” the woman muttered. She said it like a man, the sort who hated Hindustanis. The kitmutgar waiting to pour their tea was looking into the middle distance so Elsie couldn’t show him that she hated the woman as much as he surely did. So many people in Shimla were like that woman, Elsie thought, and in England too, although the woman was right about one thing: the food wasn’t very appealing. But Sybil had said Elsie had to eat something if she was going to watch the show so she choked down some sardine toast and bought fifteen minutes of happiness. The next dictum ended that: they had to thank the Viceroy’s wife before leaving. The queue took forever, but eventually they stood before the wife who looked down at Elsie with kind, droopy eyes. Sybil gripped Elsie’s arm again. “Such a pretty child,” the wife said. Lady Wavell, the only aristocrat Elsie had ever met. Sybil pulled Elsie in close. “I’m afraid she’s a bit of a handful.” Lady Wavell’s droopy eyes moved from Elsie’s face to her arm. “A handful. Difficult to believe.” “She’s the bane of my existence, but thank you for thinking otherwise.” * Elsie looked down the passage: Perkins had moved on, and no one else had been banished like her. In the room opposite, the pupils were laughing; the first burst sounded like monsoon thunder. It didn’t storm much in Shimla, one of the reasons Sybil loved the place so much: moderate weather and a wealth of occasions like the children’s fancy dress party, the one with the cruel consequence. Since Nurse had taken the tonga, Sybil had to hire a rickshaw, and for the negotiations with the coolies at the gates of the Vice Regal Lodge, Elsie acted as translator. Six years in Hindustan and Sybil could only say hello and no. And thank you. “Shukriya,” she said as she climbed into the rickshaw. Elsie hoped the coolies understood her. 20
As the rickshaw bumped along the Mall’s dirt track, a family of monkeys raced the over the rooftops below, banging on the metal as they jumped from one roof to the next, and whenever they came close, Sybil looked the other way; disease carriers she called them: “It’s the one thing I don’t like about Shimla. Compared to Doon, there are so many more of them here. Filthy things.” “Ayah says monkeys are good.” “Ayah believes in rubbish, but what else can you expect?” A goose walked over Elsie’s grave then, and Elsie’s shiver made Sybil tsk-tsk: “We wouldn’t be out in this chill if it weren’t for Philip. I’ll have to keep an eye on him, even with Nurse in charge.” She appeared to speak to the bent backs of the coolies. “Imagine him doing that at his age. What will come next?” * He was huddled under a blanket in their room at the guesthouse; Nurse Baxter was in a chair. When Sybil and Elsie came in, Nurse stood and said: “I’d like to talk outside for a moment.” With Nurse and Sybil gone, Elsie lifted the blanket. Philip’s breath was shuddering as if he’d been crying. She thought about waking him, but that didn’t strike her as a good idea; it would anger Nurse and Sybil. Best wait until morning. She woke to his snuffling and to a steady tread behind the guesthouse: the servants of Shimla were walking to work. Philip poked his head out from under the blanket. “Why are you crying?” “Nurse hit me.” “Because of the job in your pants.” “Yes.” He sniffled again and turned his face into his pillow. “Did she hurt you?” He nodded without lifting his head. “A great deal?” He nodded again. “Where? Where did she hit you? On your bum?” He raised an arm and pointed to his bottom and his back. She got out of bed and lifted his blanket and nightshirt: he had strange red scrapes from shoulders to bottom. “Did she hit you with her hand?” He gave his head a slow shake. “Hairbrush.” 21
“Oh Pippy.” Lying next to him for hugs, she kept touching the spots where he’d been hit. He’d cry, “Ow, ow, don’t, Elsie, don’t,” and all she could think of was his little face the day he came home from Doon hospital. * To lean out and see the cantonment road, Ayah was holding a verandah support with one hand and Elsie with the other; they’d timed the journey and knew the tonga could appear at any second. Ayah saw it first. It emerged from the trees, and as it turned onto the track to the bungalow, a peacock began to chase the mali across the dry, thatched lawn abutting the verandah. The peacock jumped at the mali who lashed out with his broom, which made the peacock lunge again and the mali hit even more ferociously. On and on they went, making Ayah and Elsie laugh, and all this while, the tonga was coming closer, dust spraying from its wheels and the hooves of its horse. Elsie was still laughing when the tonga pulled up with its bells tinkling, and since she was laughing, she inhaled its dust and started coughing. Seeing this, Sybil’s proud smile petrified: Elspeth should have been waiting quietly, hair smoothed, clothes tidy but, as usual, she was sloppy and boisterous: that ayah had never reined her in. Jumping off the tonga’s front seat, Elsie’s father Robert went round to take a bundled blanket from Sybil before she was helped down. With the bundle returned, she walked up the two broad stairs to the verandah, crouched and delicately lifted a corner of the blanket: “This is your brother Philip, Elspeth.” Like a pod around a seed, the blanket encased a little face with squinting eyes and red, wrinkled skin. Was this the playmate she’d longed for, this funny looking thing no bigger than a baby monkey? Sybil said, “I suppose it will take a while,” and Robert put his hand on Elsie’s shoulder: “Philip will grow. It won’t be long before you’re able to play with him.” Sybil had spotted a carafe on a nearby table, and she walked towards it, handing the baby to Ayah. “Speaking of growing, he needs a bottle. Tell Ayah, will you?” Sybil sighed with great contentment. “I’d love a nimbu. I’m parched.” Ayah left for the nursery, trailed by an unhappy looking Elsie. They unwrapped the blanket, and the baby began to flex his arms and legs. As he flexed, Ayah pulled a short braid from the purse at her waist. She told Elsie to tie the braid on the baby’s wrist. “Why?” “There’s a bond between you. You are his protector as he will be yours when he’s bigger. The rakhi shows this.” Elsie tied it on the baby’s tiny wrist, and he looked around with half blind eyes. Finding her, he gave a loving smile but then pulled a face as if he’d been jabbed. 22
“What did I do?” Ayah smiled down at Elsie: “You did nothing. Some babies are angry. You don’t have to apologize.” “Colic,” the district medical officer said: “The crying will stop in three months.” And true to his prediction, the constant crying did stop at three months. When that happened, Sybil began to visit the nursery more often. Ayah was bathing the baby one day with the rakhi out in the open, not tucked inside the sleeve of his gown, and when Sybil saw it, she shouted, “Off! Take it off!” This happened in the hot season—even the bungalow’s cement floors were warm—and when Ayah pretended she hadn’t understood the order, Sybil marched to the sitting room, her heels clicking on the floor. Voices carried in that house, and she could be heard telling Robert that she wanted it off. “You want what off?” He sounded amused. “Whatever it is that Ayah has put on the baby.” “Whatever are you talking about?” “Come and see.” Two pairs of feet tapped towards the nursery before Sybil and Robert clattered through the bead curtain. Sybil crouched beside the tub and lifted Philip’s arm: “Look.” “What is this?” Robert spoke rusty Hindustani; unlike Elsie, he didn’t speak it all day, every day. Ayah said it showed the bond between a brother and a sister. Robert translated, and Sybil said it was a ridiculous notion: people would say they’d gone native. “Cut it off.” After Sybil left, Ayah pressed the rakhi into Elsie’s hand. She should put it in the biscuit tin where she kept her treasures Ayah said: “The bond is not broken.” Elsie looked over at the baby in his crib, and he looked back and smiled. There was a bond. How did that happen?
The Honest and Absolute Truth By Tatiana Morand Charlotte stared into the mirror, willing herself to focus. With a soft clicking, her eye narrowed in on her bright red lips, and she raised the brush to dab on the finishing touches. The colour was shocking, a fire burning against her dark skin; it was exactly as she wanted it. She dropped the brush on the counter, ignoring the stain of crimson that spread slowly over the granite. Spoilt, in this time of privations, yes – how many girls were making do with beetroot juice?– but it was also an act of rebellion. Let Annabel deal with it; let her have a final reminder of her recalcitrant stepdaughter before she left for the last time. The last time. The words smacked of prophecy. With a shiver, she turned away from her reflection and allowed her eye to refocus. The other girls were jealous of her impeccable makeup; when they'd demanded her secrets, she was unable to reply. How to explain that such a talent was merely the result of accident? A lady could hardly discuss her... other parts in polite company. She could imagine Annabel's reaction; either a prompt faint or a horrified glare, depending on whether or not there were gentlemen in the room to catch her. Her tendencies tended towards the Victorian, decades ago and corsets away. But she didn't want to think of Annabel. She'd have plenty of time for thinking later, trapped deep in the trenches; she'd need a distraction from the screams. Even lipstick could only go so far, when you were spattered in blood and your tidy uniform ripped. This early in the morning, the sunlight had yet to begin its assault against the shadow battalions that lined the room. Glancing out the window, she could see a spark of orange brushing against the treetops; red sky in the morning, sailors take warning. Was there such a rhyme for soldiers? Probably not. They were expected to be brave, not indulge in silly superstitionsI or so said the commanders with their shiny medals and buffed boots. They'd never had rats scampering across their faces; they'd never had to eat those same creatures. Somehow, she suspected that if they ever visited the trenches superstition might seem a whole lot more satisfying. The war had dragged on for years already, and Hitler’s troops showed no signs of flagging; superstition might offer the only way to make sense of a world spinning on its head. She turned back to the mirror, straightening her private's uniform one last time. It was so clean; returning home after her long shift of duty, the simple fact of baths had come as a surprise. The first time, she'd cried, salt mingling with soap as the water slowly cooled around her. She'd had to draw a second one just to be entirely clean. She washed her hands, simply to enjoy the feeling of soap – wasteful again. It stung as it cleansed her half-healed cuts. But she couldn’t procrastinate forever. With a stiff upper lip – something she’d learnt from the British troops, at least being constantly in company with them had taught her something other than snobbery – she turned away from the mirror. Down the hallway, down the stairs. Just a few more steps and she’d be home free. “Char?” Her heart dropped lower than her toes. She was only half-human; why couldn’t she have lost the 24
part that enabled her to feel such regret, engendered by such a little boy? "Yes, Martin?" she said, forcing herself not to look back. There was still a chance, if he didn't ask... "Were you going to leave without saying goodbye?" “Of course not,” she lied, manufacturing a smile as fake as her arm. “I couldn’t leave without saying goodbye to you.” A smile, far wider and far more real, appeared on Martin’s face. “I knew it.” Inside, she marvelled that such little lies could make him so happy. It was simply more proof of his belonging here, in this house of Victorian antiques and delicate vases, protected along with them. Even if they looked nothing alike – her thick mass of curls, his fine blond hair; her tawny complexion, his fairness – she would have liked to say that they shared that one trait. Even so, she needed no recognition to feel the pull of blood and bone. How had the hateful Annabel created a creature of such perfection? They walked down the hallway together, and he slipped his hand into hers – her real one. He’d explained long ago that he wasn’t afraid of the steel; he simply wanted her to feel the contact as he did. “It’s only fair,” he had said with the seriousness only a five-year-old can muster. Then, as now, she’d merely smiled, heart too full to speak. How could she leave him? “Come on, I’ll make you bacon.” Without looking down, she knew a grin had formed on his face. His hand quivered within hers and he pulled her forward, leading her to the ultra-modern kitchen in which she always felt slightly uncomfortable. She looked more like the newfangled refrigerator than she did a resident. This early, none of the kitchen staff were up; Annabel preferred her breakfast late, under the pretext that it was better for her figure. Charlotte had always believed that it was instead a way to sleep in later. Either way, she was grateful for it now. “Set the table, and I’ll start cooking.” Martin raced to obey her commands. If only the members of my unit listened so well, she thought with a rueful smile. The only reason she, a mere female, had her position at all was through the strength of her metal arm – fascination at such an experiment had won it for her, and her own dedication had kept her there. He caught her looking and brandished a butter knife like a pistol. “You said you’d start cooking! I’m hungry!” “You’re always hungry,” she returned, amused. Had anyone else said such a thing, she would have lashed out, listing the instances in which she’d had nothing to eat but hard biscuits and salt pork for weeksI but with Martin, she’d let anything pass. She took the bacon out of the fridge mechanically. With Martin momentarily silent, her thoughts returned to her imminent departure, like iron to a magnet. 25
Simply put, she didn’t want to die. But die she would. She’d heard enough about the latest technology – whispers of war machines, couched in clouds of mustard gas – to be certain of that. She was a sacrifice on the altar of Duty; someone had to be, after all, and it always seemed to be the beautiful young maiden. She was merely continuing the tradition begun in so many Greek tragedies. In that light, it was less painful and more of a bore. But of course, she imagined herself saying with an affected yawn, it was all the rage in those days, or hadn't you heard? "Char? The bacon is burning." She came back to herself with a jolt. Without turning, she could feel the reproachful eyes of a boy who had never known what it was to be truly hungry drilling into her back. How would he live if rationing didn’t soon end? Would even this house, currently a testament to his father’s position in the government, be forced to enter this modern age of privations? "Sorry," she said, catching her breath and flipping the meat. "You'll still be able to eat it. This way there's more... iron." She turned to catch his reaction, and saw him nodding. The simple motion left yet another crack in her heart. Why did he have to believe so easily in her every lie? She played with the spatula, pretending that she was doing something. Anything to avoid his gaze. But she couldn’t avoid his questions. "Why did they send you home, anyway? Will said he hasn't seen his brother in years." And there it was: the moment she'd been dreading. It was asked oh so innocently, barely looking at her as he finished devouring the bacon. How could he know it cut like shrapnel? What could she tell him? Certainly not the truth, that she'd been sent home for a final goodbye because they were sending her off to her death; a death that, admittedly, she had chosen. Martin was still too young to understand honour and loyalty as more than abstract concepts in adventure stories, things heroes on the radio – and now the television, with images of proud patrols and dutiful salutes – proclaimed and upheld. They weren't made for his sister. Instead, she said, "They wanted to tune up my arm." She held up her left hand with its glittering mass of gears and wires. "Make sure it wouldn't explode on the field." That he could understand. He'd accompanied her to enough doctors' appointments, shabby affairs that had generally left her in tears on the cable cars. He would always curl up in her lap like an oversized kitten, there only to provide comfort. After such love, how could she break his heart? “Can I come with you to the train station?” he asked, bouncing on his chair as he ate her last piece of bacon. “I could hide in your suitcase.” If she said yes, it would never end. Once there, he’d attempt to leap on the train and become the other soldiers’ pet. He wouldn’t make a scene, but his green eyes would fill with reproach and she’d never be able to leave him behind. Some things, though, she couldn’t confess. Instead, she said, “Annabel wouldn’t like it.” 26
He nodded, digesting the truth of it. Even to her son, Annabel made no secret of her dislike for her husband’s first child. “But you’ll come back.” He said it with such certainty that she couldn’t bear to contradict him. She smiled through her veil of tears. In that instant, she decided: she wasn’t going to die. It was as simple as that. She couldn’t leave him alone here, in this house where the only source of warmth was the fireplace. She couldn’t leave him to become another of Annabel’s trophies, married off as a source of political power just like she’d done. Like she would have done to Charlotte, if she hadn’t found her own deadly escape – and lost an arm for the privilege. She wouldn’t – couldn’t – leave him to fight as she had. “I’ll always be there for you, Martin.” She bent down and kissed the top of his head, holding his tiny body tight in her arms. “And that is the honest and absolute truth.”
Charlie Britten has had pieces published in Radgepacket, Mslexia, Linnet’s Wings, Every Day Fiction, Long, Short Story. She also enjoys writing her blog, ‘Write On’, at
http://charliebritten.wordpress.com/. In real life she is an IT tutor at a college of further education and lives in eastern England with her husband and cat.
Gwendolyn Edward is a master’s candidate in creative writing at the University of North Texas
where she is the non-fiction editor of North Texas Review and works with the American Literary Review as blog manager. Her historical fiction has been accepted by Lissette’s Tales of the Imagination, Jersey Devil Press, The Copperfield Review and the anthology Horrific History. Other speculative work has been published by Niteblade, Haunted Waters Press, Scareship, Blood and Roses (an anthology) and others. She also edits the literary genre publication Deimos eZine.
Melissa Kuipers grew up on an egg farm in southern Ontario. She taught high school English
and creative writing for a few years before becoming envious of her students and deciding to go back to school. She has recently completed an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Toronto.
Tatiana Morand is a grade 1 2 student from Ontario who intends to study literature. Her poetry
and short stories have been previously published in several anthologies. She hopes one day to become a published novelist and, until then, her general musings on life can be found at singingblue.blogspot.ca.
Katharine O’Flynn lives in Montreal. Although she hates winter, snow and ice, she loves to read (and write) about Arctic and Antarctic adventures. Her work has appeared online in Commuter.Lit, The Copperfield Review, and Arctica Magazine, and in print journals such as The Nashwaak Review and Kalliope.
K. A. Richards was shortlisted for the Ken Klonsky Novella Competition in 2011 and has a story forthcoming in the Masala issue of Descant.
Norman A. Rubin is a former correspondent for the Continental News Service. He has been a freelance writer for the past twenty years, writing on various subjects – Near East culture and crafts, archaeology, coinage, religious history and rites, and politics. An American citizen, Norman studied writing at Wolsley Hall, England, and currently makes his home in Afula.