7th Grade Party, 1969 LYLANNE MUSSELMAN
Use God as Shorthand SARAH B. SULLIVAN
Immersed in the Process JUDY SHEPPS BATTLE
The Stalk of a Lilac KEN ALLAN DRONSFIELD
Kind of Love EDILSON A. FERREIRA
Learning Massage JOEL LONG
Fade to White BOB MACKENZIE
The Christmas Treat LYNN WHITE
The Farmer Not in the Dell GRANT GUY
My Brotherâ€™s Favourite Pastime JONATHAN YUNGKANS
February Blues MEG FREER
Becoming a Better Person AIKO M.
seedling story MARISA ADAME
Magic JESSIE READ
Leaks in the Roof ANDREW KAI HANGSING
From An Earlier Summer BRUCE KAUFFMAN
The Modern Prometheus ALYSSA COOPER
White Bunnies ADELAIDE CLARE ATTARD
Counting Calories with JD BETH GORDON
My Anna ANN CHRISTINE TABAKA
Three ADRIANA GREEN
Justification for a Home Library DON KINGFISHER CAMPBELL
The Distance Between EUGENE CORNACCHIA
Exploits BEKAH STEIMEL
The Lost Inchworm JUSTIN PATRICK
DUSKA DRAGOSAVAC & JACLYN ACRE
DUSKA DRAGOSAVAC & JACLYN ACRE
Inside Back Cover ANDREW CASE
FREE LIT MAGAZINE Editor-in-Chief Ashley Newton
Literary Editor Eunice Kim
Kyle Climans, Alyssa Cooper, Adriana Green, Bruce Kauffman
Marisa Adame, Adelaide Clare Attard, Judy Shepps Battle, Don Kingfisher Campbell, Andrew Case,Eugene Cornacchia, Duska Dragosavac/Jaclyn Acre/Mary Dakota DaSivla, Ken Allan Dronsfield, Edilson A. Ferreira, Meg Freer, Beth Gordon, Grant Guy, Andrew Kai Hangsing, Joel Long, Aiko M., Bob MacKenzie, Lylanne Musselman, Justin Patrick, Claudia Pawlak, Jessie Read, Bekah Steimel, Sarah B. Sullivan, Ann Christine Tabaka, Lynn White, Jonathan Yungkans
Free Lit Magazine is a digital literary magazine committed to the accessibility of literature for readers and the enrichment of writing for writers. Its mission is to form an online creative community by encouraging writers, artists, and photographers to practice their passion in a medium that anyone can access and appreciate.
Bildungsroman is traditionally known as a literary genre that highlights important character changes, or a “coming of age.” We can read a novel and pinpoint when everything changed. Life isn’t always like that, and people aren’t always susceptible to seeing their own developments in real time. It isn’t usually until some rumination has occured that we begin to realize where the changes came from. Coming of age isn’t easy for anyone. It brings on new lessons, memories (both good and bad) that stay with us, and even has features of nostalgia for those who cling to what was or what used to be before ____ happened. Coming of age also holds different meanings for different people. I think you’ll find that this issue – the first of Volume Four – is a varied and special collection of personal moments in the contributors’ lives. And, hopefully, you will come to see that no matter how old we are, we can still come of age over and over again when faced with new experiences. All of those moments are worthy of our attention. Ashley Newton Editor-in-Chief
The Power Issue March 2018
7th Grade Party, 1969 LYLANNE MUSSELMAN It was a Friday night boy-girl party at Sharon’s house. She was a preacher’s daughter, so mom allowed me to go. Locked in her dark bedroom, Steve pushed me down onto the bed, laid on top of me and kissed me hard with tongue. Although others were outside the bedroom door laughing, I fought him off, not thinking it funny, I felt dirty and afraid. I felt sick. I left the party, walked down the alley to my grandparent’s house. My parents were working at my uncle’s restaurant. I found my grandparents in their normal routine. Grandma washing dinner dishes, drinking a Coke. Grandpa in his recliner, watching TV, smoking his pipe. I was not normal anymore. With guilt I asked my beloved grandma. Can girls get pregnant from kissing? Her usual loving tone with me changed: Why would you ask something like that? I shrunk. I couldn’t tell her a boy kissed me so hard it hurt. I worried for weeks in virgin territory....
Immersed in the Process JUDY SHEPPS BATTLE remembering easy meditation how sure I was it would never change I would never change just as it was changing just as I was changing insistent in-breath persistent out-breath feeling Taurus roots clinging and demanding craving static space where explanations thrive on day-old rationalizations served on cold brown rice. II Struggling with the practice the struggle practices me with loving kindness and deep acceptance of my insistence of my resistance urging intimate exploration honoring radiant smile deep in-breath deep out-breath An audible aha A nanosecond of enlightenment Buddha laughs.
Kind of Love
EDILSON A. FERREIRA There was once a summer, lost in the folds of time, where, no one knows, has existed happiness. It has appeared only for us, nobody elseâ€™s. Never affected by daily hardships, always shielded from worldâ€™s rust, has remained in our hearts and we know will not disappear, even by the collapse of our bodies. Nothing can end such a love, born in hot winds, baptized in fresh rain and crowned, as blessed by the skies, on stunning and mystical lightning.
Fade to White BOB MACKENZIE
Late one December afternoon in 1959, Mom and Dad packed our family of five into a small, green 1955 Renault Dauphine. The snow was falling lightly as we began our annual journey from Calgary to the small town of Coronation, 200 miles north, for our yearly Christmas visit with Auntie Shirley, Uncle Cliff, and our cousin Ronny, who was the same age as me. The car was crowded, perhaps more cramped than Dad had anticipated. I was crammed into the narrow back seat with my sister Shirley-Jean who, at ten, was two years younger than me. Marilyn, our three-year-old baby sister, lay bundled in blankets on Mom’s lap in the front passenger seat. This was not the way Dad would have planned it. Only days before we were to leave for Coronation, our Ford wagon had broken down and the service garage had given Dad the Dauphine as a loaner. As we drove across Calgary and onto Highway 2 North at dusk, we were all in a festive mood. For years our two families had alternated Christmas celebrations between Calgary and Coronation, so this had become a happy family tradition. It was bitter cold outside, but we rode in the warm protection of the car, and the gentle snowfall only added to the festive mood. Although it was the main route north and south in Alberta, Highway 2 had not been ploughed, though the strong cross-winds had blown away most of the snow. The same winds swirled the falling snow into deceptive patterns that severely limited visibility, so Dad had to drive slower than the 60 miles per hour limit. It appeared our usual journey of just over three hours might take much longer this time. As was usual on our family road trips, Mom created word-games that she played with Shirley-Jean and me while we rolled through the white curtain of snow. Mom’s games were always both fun and challenging for us, making our trips much more interesting. This time was no exception. Meanwhile, our baby sister slept through it all. As night came on, a chill was setting in and we all started to feel colder and colder. Dad fiddled with the heater controls on the dashboard, then stopped. This was perhaps the first time Shirley-Jean, SJ as we called her, and I saw our gentle artist Dad get truly angry. In the midst of a bitter Alberta winter, the service garage had given us a loaner car in which the heater was not working. We were too far from Calgary to go back and we had a very long trek ahead of us in the freezing cold. Dad was furious! On the prairies during the mid-Fifties, distances were long and there were few services available between towns. Most travellers equipped their cars for all eventualities, carrying a can of gasoline, spare water, oil and antifreeze, a tool-kit, a first-aid kit, extra blankets, and so on. Our parents were no exception. From this point forward, we travelled wearing our full winter gear and bundled in blankets. Even then, we shivered with the cold. Between Airdrie and Crossfield, we turned off Highway 2 toward Beiseker east of us. From here we would be the sole vehicle travelling on provincial roads past the rural towns of Acme, Delia, and finally Hanna, where we would turn north again to begin the last third of our journey. With ever-increasing snowfall and wind, visibility closed down to where we could only barely see the sides of the road and Dad could see only a few feet ahead of the car. He drove even slower. We were soon lost in a world without context, without a sense of where we were in time and space. Even Mom and Dad seemed disoriented. With no other option, Dad drove on slowly through the storm. The worsening weather became a full-blown blizzard as the windblown snow wove itself into a thick blanket that made it impossible to see more than a foot or two ahead. The effect of the Dauphine’s headlights was eerie as they cut into the white wall of snow, their reflected light washing back over the car, creating a dreamlike vision of a world not our own. 7
The baby was still asleep on Mom’s lap, blissfully unaware of what was going on. Dad was intense, his focus simply on moving us forward and not going off the road. Mom was equally intense, watching what little she could see of the road ahead while cuddling the baby and occasionally looking back at SJ and me to be sure we were alright. I’m not certain of this, but I think SJ may have fallen asleep on the seat beside me, her head resting on my shoulder. Everything seemed unreal, like some sort of slow-motion dream. Time stood still. I’m not sure how long we remained in that state of snowbound limbo or how far ahead we actually moved. I remember the car turning to the left, so northbound, then more of that wintery stasis in which we had found ourselves. Mom and Dad were talking about how they might have taken a wrong turn, about how we might be well and truly lost. This didn’t worry me. Mom and Dad would find a way, and we would have our family Christmas in Coronation. Meanwhile, the blizzard was getting worse, the snow curtain thicker, the wind more and more severe. All we could do was crawl slowly forward, the car bathed in the reflected yellow of our own headlights. In an Alberta winter, it could be fatal to stop at this point. At least the engine of the Dauphine gave us a suggestion of warmth and the car sheltered us from the bitter winds of the storm. Like a mirage in the desert, ghostly images began to appear out of the wall of snow ahead of us. Here, in the middle of a prairie blizzard, the shape of a ferris wheel slowly faded into view. Then a tilt-a-whirl and a roller coaster. Then, slowly, other shapes appeared from the haze. Veiled in wavering curtains of falling snow these silhouettes felt to me like visions in some mystical dream. This was The Twilight Zone. Dad drove slowly among these apparitions to the centre of what appeared to be a rural fairground. Neither Mom nor he had thought we were near any town. Now they speculated that we might be on the outskirts of Hanna or possibly Castor, nearer Coronation. They didn’t know for sure. Mom and Dad talked about looking for a road out toward town, but they had no sense of which direction to take. In the end, they decided rather than continue to wander blindly, we would stop where we were for the night. Bundled in blankets with winter raging around us, we slept in the car. By morning, all that remained of the blizzard was a crisp covering of new snow sparkling in dawn’s rising light. Perhaps roused by the brightness of the sun, Marilyn woke first and sat up on Mom’s lap. She was looking around in every direction and chattering excitedly. The toddler’s morning joy soon wrested us all out of our sleep to face a bright, sunny day. We found ourselves parked in the middle of nothing more exotic than an empty midway. The storm had cleared and the magic was gone. Dad started the Dauphine and we drove off looking for breakfast before continuing our journey to spend Christmas in Coronation.
The Farmer Not In The Dell GRANT GUY
He was a socialist in his heart A conservative in his soul He spread more chemical fertilizer on himself Than he did on his crops of wheat and barley He spoke often But amidst his boasts One pick out splinters of truth That were more useful In our daily lives Than a Sundayâ€™s sermon He had smells - no cologne Could mediate between us Calving the cow His arm up the birthing channel The cow farted He farted back He was the salt of the earth With both its beauty and sins
February Blues MEG FREER
A turquoise van brightens a dreary morning. A tarp leaves only one side fully visible, all swirling waves and clouds and sunset colors. The back offers a sexy, off-the-shoulder look where the tarp is torn, reveals a tease of bare arms, flowing hair: reclining “Birth of Venus”. Hand-carved tail light covers with cutouts of sunshine and anchors lure me back, camera in hand. Around the corner, the poetry fence sports Margaret Atwood’s pessimistic poem “February”, desperate for spring. But there’s been no real winter yet, and I don’t understand how there can be such a blue poem here when an ode to summer road trips is parked nearby. I’ll give postcards of my photo to anyone with February blues. Margaret, maybe you would like one too, for next time you’re blue.
seedling story MARISA ADAME bones of my resentment rest under loose dirt that cascades when i open my fingertips. ivory justice, buried after far too long; the rattling of not good enough shook my skeleton since i joined ranks with too-skinny girls. they live there, the bones, under soft soil aching to metamorphose into self-confidence. they grew from the teardrops that seeped in every day after school. the ground gurgles. my feet catch the vibrations. bones shift-catch rock // grow roots // shy shoots shiver in the blowing wind. at age 18, my first hook-up comments on my wide hips and the curvature of my shadow. i hear the bones rattle in the dry dirt of Texas and realize they are still there: tears well // earth shifts // curse, cry, shiver. the not good enough rattles my bone structure, goosebumps stick out of my skin. i thought i had paid off my dues but the seedling structures rupturing the ground tell me i still have far to go. some days are harder than others, but the growing has already begun.
Leaks in the Roof
ANDREW KAI HANGSING “Pa, we’re the only family in the whole colony, still living under a thatched roof.” I started my complaining again the moment my father stepped into the house. He had just arrived home from work, a work that was “work” by its truest and simplest definition. As he simply put away his tools without answering me, my three-year old eyes must have been still too young at that time to comprehend the weariness that must have engulfed him. I did not notice the sweat that soaked his ‘second-hand’ T-shirt as he peeled it off his body. Neither did I see his face that had darkened much from being exposed to the sun all day long. He quickly gulped down the glass of water handed to him by my mother and sank to the piece of matting on the mud-floor, closing his eyes in a bid to calm himself down as I watched. My father was a daily-wage earner, a Jack of all trades who was, I believe, best at carpentry although he had no qualms in taking up masonry, stone-cutting in the nearby stone quarry or any other odd job that could help him make ends meet. Every day, everywhere, wherever he went, he was always in search of work and when he did find work, he would start out early in the morning with the hope that he would be able to complete it early and be back home by evening. Sometimes, he’d be hired by people from other villages too, due to which, he had to be away from home for days on ends. There is a notion that daily-wage labourers earn every day. It may be true in certain cases. But, more often than not, there are times when they are paid only after a certain period of time, say a week, and in times such as those, my mother had to borrow rice and vegetables from our neighbours. Blinded by innocence, I could not understand all those. But I could see something else. I could see the growing difference in living standard between us and our better-off neighbours. I could see the expensive toys of their children, their better dresses, their better dishes and, above all, their better houses with shiny tin-roofs. I could feel the awkwardness with which I enter their houses whenever I go to watch TV. I could feel the comfort of the cool breeze coming from the fascinating fan in the middle of the beautiful ceiling and the spacious sitting room was nothing like our rickety little house with walls made of plaited bamboo, the roof of thatched dry grasses and the floor of mud and I could not figure out why it was so. Presently, Pa opened his eyes and, on seeing me, gave a smile that seemed to brighten him up more than me. I went up to him and sat on his lap. “What were you saying, son?” He asked. “Pa, why are we still having thatched roofs? Everyone in our colony is now living under tin-roofs. I want a tin-roofed house too.” A moment of silence later, he broke into a smile and told me how he was going to make a lot of money soon. When that happens, we will be living under a tin roof with a beautiful ceiling too, he promised. My obsession with tin roofs was not a surprise to my father. He knew better than me the need to have a more durable roof. The monsoon rains were not, in the least, friendly to roofs made of thatched grass and we had to replace them every year. Now, if you are under the impression that thatched roofs are extremely cheap, then you are wrong. They are, by no means, cheap; at least it was so for families like mine. The specific grass required, a tall golden grass, is not found in abundance everywhere and we had to buy it from a neighbouring Naga village for a considerable amount of money before the tiresome process of replacing the old 13
roof could begin. It cost a considerable amount of money, time and energy. However, it was not until one night when my father decided that he has had enough. On that night, the rain was literally pouring and, before long, the roof gave way to incessant drops of water everywhere. My mother had woken up and had placed utensils, buckets, bowls and anything that could hold water, below the leaks in the roof while my father tried his best to shove the bed with me still lying on it, wide awake, to a safer corner. The wind seemed to be excessively aggressive too as it lashed the rain at the walls of plaited bamboo and soon, a network of small streamlets covered the floor, digging away at the mud-floor. A hailstorm later that same night left the roof gaping at a few places and, in despair, Pa vowed that he would get us a tin roof as soon as possible. He did not sleep anymore that night. The next day, after eating his morning meal, Pa set out to fulfill his vow. I eagerly awaited his return the whole day but, much to my dismay, he came home in the evening empty-handed. Yet his cheerful countenance revealed that his endeavour had not been in vain after all. He was excited and called out to my mother and narrated in detail to her his day’s venture. Apparently, he had approached a childhood friend of his who was working in a government office. The friend, a Mr.Changsan, told Pa that there was a government scheme through which poor families would be provided with house-building materials such as roofs and bricks. Pa was delighted and, on the advice of Mr.Changsan, he had registered himself for the scheme. It would take about two months to get the benefits, he was told. I was excited and so was my mother. However, the question of how we were going to survive those two months with a damaged roof still remained. The monsoon had just begun and the rain and the wind were incessant, day and night. So, my father set to work. He found some ‘roof-grass’ to be paid for later and replaced the thinned and damaged layers of the roof with it, besides patching up the gaping holes left by the hailstorm. Although the new grass did not last for long and we soon had raindrops falling straight into our faces while sleeping and although the monsoon grew worse every day, the hope of having a tin-roofed house one day lulled me to sleep peacefully every night throughout the monsoon season. The monsoon got over and month after month passed by but there was no news of the scheme. Father would visit the government office every weekend to enquire but no one, not even Mr. Changsan, could tell him what happened to the scheme. Rumours had it that a top official had abused the identities of those registered for the scheme and had scooped all the money granted by the government into his own coffers; a rather common ending for government schemes. Father finally gave up on it and my dream of living below a tin roof remained unrealized. However, with each passing year, the need for a more permanent roof for our rickety house grew in prominence and Pa rose up once again to do something about it. On the advice of a relative, he finally decided to open a bank account to accumulate his savings. “It is not that difficult,” said the relative to my father, “Your daily wage is two hundred rupees which means that you make a thousand and two hundred rupees every week, barring Sundays. That amounts to about four thousand and six hundred rupees a month. Now, if you can keep a thousand rupees as savings every month, then, by the end of the year, you will have enough money to buy the tin roofs. It’s simple, isn’t it?” The idea seemed good to my father but it was not as simple as he thought. As I mentioned earlier, being a daily wage earner does not necessarily mean that you get paid on a daily basis. Father would sometimes get paid only when the work is completed or after a lapse of a specific period of time, say a week. He would not receive payments regularly and the day he did would often be the day the rations of the house get exhausted. Moreover, I had 14
started going to a school and the fees were an added hurdle to my father’s objective. As a result, what was supposed to take just a year took almost two years. Nevertheless, my father kept at it and, one fine day in Autumn, he triumphantly rode home in a mini-truck, at the back of which was a stack of shining tin roofs. My joy knew no bounds and I pestered Pa to fix them as soon as possible. Pa did not want to wait either and so, he called over a few of his friends that same night to see if they could help us. Help they could but they could neither help laughing at the absent-mindedness of my father because it was only then that we realized that, in the excitement of acquiring the tin, we had forgotten the need for lumber pieces and beams of wood for the frame of the roof. Pa was partly angry and partly amused by the whole situation. The tin roofs had to be stacked away in the outhouse for the time being and my dream of living under a tin roof had to wait, yet again. At last, a month or two later, the tin roofs were hammered firmly to a newly made wooden roof frame and we finally had a house with a roof of tin. My father was the happiest of us all, congratulating himself over and over again for the achievement which was, by no means, a small one for a family that was yet to step into modernity. However, he did grumble time to time about the great din made by the roof whenever it rained, especially at night. My mother was also glad to have a permanent roof above her although she was soon complaining about a leak in the roof. It must be due to the tin having been kept unused for such a long time, she said. I was happy too although it was not just because of the tin roof; I hardly noticed it anymore. I was happy watching in amazement, through my window, as labourers construct an RCC building for our neighbours. “How great it’d be to be living in one of those, Pa?” I remembered asking my father. “Someday you will, son, someday you will,” he replied as he picks up his tools and head to ‘work’ once again.
The Modern Prometheus ALYSSA COOPER
Bastardization of a human being, but I swear I used to be real, I swear I used to be pure, swear I remember drinking the moon like milk, and singing elegies to the wide night sky – but that was before. Heartsick with nostalgia, flipping through old journals with wind burnt fingertips, like my memory is a photo album, pages worn, edges faded, and I swear, I used to be that girl. I used to be the smile lighting up the dark, used to be the rays of the sun bringing life to murky forests, but now, I am the loam between the roots, instead. This clay-rich earth remembers being human – remembers being sun and drinking moon, these tree-root bones still love and this rain drop blood still yearns, and even the rewriting of my genetic code couldn’t change the stars that burn beneath my eyelids. And when I was human, I stitched a name like a prayer into my skin, sewed shut my lips to silence these confessions, but I still remember the taste of chocolate cake and whipped cream, still remember endless days and secret nights, I still remember breathing in your skin. I remember those smiles, all teeth, molars showing, and I don’t smile like that anymore, the smile of children, of innocence, because this new mouth doesn’t know the shape – but I can remember being human. I remember my before, and how can I be something new, when that old name is still embroidered across the palms of my praying hands? The world was old, and we were young, and when I am sick with the fever of memory, I will pretend that this is the reason.
Counting Calories with JD BETH GORDON
The doctor told me to drink 8 glasses of water every day. What she really means is that I’m drying up. She orders a bone scan with my yearly mammogram. Prescribes Vitamin D. All that water and bottled sunshine are cheap substitutes. What are you drinking I ask and he texts me a photo of a dirty martini. Look, I tell him, I’m not doing it, it sloshes around in my stomach, vomitinducing. 8 glasses of wine, ok, and what’s with this desire to prolong life? Which I shouldn’t ask I know, not when I’ve been to 7 funerals in 9 months and 1 was for my granddaughter. There are 300,000 people alive on earth older than 100, it’s not a surprise anymore. Yesterday’s news he says. And do I want to stay inside this body another 50 years? Not without her, I say, answering my own question. I baked an apple pie, he says, my mother’s recipe from 1963. Let’s eat a piece today and we can weigh our sadness tomorrow.
ADRIANA GREEN my personality split at the seams became three became three became three three times a charm three times looking back; hindsight would have done you well I think I said I loved you and I think you said i’m sorry and I think I should have said thank you when you left me even black comedies come in threes and I was gutted but I had my vices I forgot what it was like to wake up with a song in my head but I took my time with my inner child to see just what she’s like superego usurped lizard brain emerged walking straight into bedlam, but what’s a flame to a mind on fire? Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. And it’s all a spiral and it’s the land, sky and sea that keep this marble spinning, and we thought it was our love. we were friends we were fools we are strangers and I still keep the memories playing, there’s still negatives on film strips in my closet, but I still haven’t been able to find my ego To mediate the distribution of all this loss. to counterbalance the laments of my id and the judgement of my superego. I just can’t seem to do this well enough all alone.
Justification for a Home Library DON KINGFISHER CAMPBELL
This weekend my daughter and her husband pay me a visit. Actually sleep over for the first time. Sunday morning Jorge is talking with me about the music he likes. He says he’s really into Buddy Wakefield right now. I tell him, “I know Buddy. He’s featured at my poetry reading series. I’m sure I’ve got at least one of his early chapbooks handy.” I produce the book. Jorge pours over Run On Anything. Later leaves the micro-tome on the back seat of my Cube. That evening my son’s mother and her boyfriend pop on over too to see my new apartment. Lydia extols my “Anchor Steam” poem to him. I declare, “I’ve got a copy of the Midnight Mind Five anthology in one of my milk cartons. This is it.” They read the two-parter about our “Break Up” thirty six years ago, published thirteen. It’s resting on my little glass coffee table presently, got to put it back.
KYLE CLIMANS My mother claims that my first word ever spoken was ‘Opa’. This is a Dutch word for grandfather, and it is what I’ve called my grandfather all my life. My Opa and I have always had a strong bond, throughout my life, despite usually having an ocean between us. It would take too long to list the many memories I have of him in my life, but what makes it seem special for me is the fact that we only had brief windows of time to have these memories. Travelling to the Netherlands was always a special summer vacation that we would save up for, and it became the highlight of the year for me and my siblings. For the better part of the last ten years, Opa’s health had been in a slow decline, but things took a turn for the worse within the last two years. By that point, I had grown accustomed to the slow crawl, the warnings that things looked bad, and then the revelation that he had fought his way through the bad spell and seemed back to normal. Perhaps that is why I was less alarmed than I would have been even five years ago. A part of me always did wonder what would happen when it really did change, but for obvious reasons, I tried to not think of that inevitability. But an inevitability it was. The year of 2017 was the year it would happen, my mother would say in a sad voice. She kept up with her parents almost every day, and she was the best source I had regarding family news back in the Netherlands. It turned out she appeared to be right, and she flew back home to be with her family while the final weeks began to wind down. I will not go over all the details of that period, for it would take too long to do justice to the phone calls, the skype chats, and the simple, yet strange feeling of waiting for what was to finally pass. Though one memory which stands out was the fact that it was only when Opa had slipped into his final state of unconsciousness did I realize that I had not thanked him for everything he’d done in my life. It was a strange thing, for he would surely have no doubt of how I felt about him, but in that small moment of time, the lack of such closure was suddenly a painful thing to have to live with. In that strange frontier of time between fall and winter, whilst preparing for another early day of filming a web series, I received a phone call that was long anticipated, and oddly simple. I don’t really know how I was going to react when I finally heard the news. Perhaps because of where I was, and who I was with, I felt a muted response. It wasn’t until I witnessed the funeral over Skype about a week later that the full implications hit me. I was never going to see him again, or speak to him again. It was a hard truth to take in, regardless of any forewarning I might have had. When I visited my family for Christmas, my mother had several gifts for us. One of the ones I got was a hat which looked exactly like a hat that Opa had always worn. It was a nice gift, but I had misunderstood. Mom had brought back the very hat Opa had worn. It took a moment to realize that I was holding his hat, but I began to tear up as I looked at it in my hands. This was the same hat that he had worn on so many trips into the forest with me. He had worn it while we had gone shopping for groceries or visited one of the many war memorials in the Netherlands commemorating that ghastly time in Opa’s life. Until that moment, I had never truly understood the idea of a keepsake in the wake of a loved one’s passing. I’d always heard those clichés of always carrying said loved ones with you, but only in that moment, did I understand why those clichés exist. But now I have this hat in my possession. It’s a hat I can always keep with me as a reminder of that great man who taught me so much, and who did so much for me. I don’t really expect people to understand unless they’ve gone through this experience themselves. I certainly had no idea what it really felt like to put such an attachment on something so ordinary until I lost someone so close to me. That moment when I sat, surrounded by my wife and family, holding this hat which my grandfather had worn for years, being able to take it with me into the future, was filled with an overwhelming feeling of different emotions. It’s a moment that I shall never forget, just as I shall always treasure this ordinary hat. 21
The Distance Between EUGENE CORNACCHIA the distance between things can be deceiving depends upon your unit of measure the distance between a butterfly and a moth some would say is measured in hundreds of millions of years of slow evolution while i would offer that the distance between a butterfly and a moth be measured in a few short hours between night and day the distance between a ship and it’s anchor is a heavy rusting chain of iron the distance between a child’s hand and a balloon’s freedom a delicate length of string the distance between a poem and a suicide note a shaft of sunlight falling upon a crimson and gold leaf or a heart beating full of rusty razor blades the distance between life and death a false step a speeding car a bullet a heartbeat a mutated cell gone rogue
BEKAH STEIMEL Iâ€™m trying to turn substance abuse into substance a ten-year binge into a banquet of experience and insight that few have feasted on and lived to digest I am not lucky and no pulse was ever left to chance I am a poet who needed to first find my poems and live them before anyone else could ever love them.
The Lost Inchworm JUSTIN PATRICK
The sky was dark grey and starless over my hometown, just as it always has been on cold, empty nights after mostly everyone has gone to sleep, and the streets lay silent and tentative under the glows of tired amber streetlights. The river that divided the town into its east and west sides was shadowed by nearby trees and buildings so it appeared a melancholic black save for speckled reflections of streetlamps and the white alluring shine of the full moon that was for the moment, free of cloud cover. The pale circle of light in the water rippled with the waves, resembling a blinking eye that made the images of the lamps appear like the foul teeth of a great monster waiting for its prey in the night. In this silence, I suddenly felt the urge to run through the cool stillness of the park, and reach out to touch the bark of the great oaks with my fingertips as I raced by, but instead I continued at a steady walking pace on the lamplit trail, listening for the splashes of fish jumping in the water to my right. The way wandered over a small wooden bridge with high, metal railings, the green paint on the rigid bars indiscernible in the invasion of darkness. I stopped in the middle of the bridge to look out across the river at the west side lights illuminating the far bank with their colourful neon signs that glowed like the exotic flora of a fantasy garden. I wished for a few moments that I was over there across the water to behold the colours and possibly to join in the mirth going on underneath the bright squiggly shapes of broken, contorted rainbows, yet I had heard there were many poisons hidden in the garden’s shining brilliance, and so I merely proceeded along the paved path, which I had earlier discovered upon touching it with my hands, to be still warm from the late sunset. I looked up at the intricacies of the leaf covered trees that swayed with each gentle gust as the audience of leaves rustled in applause at what probably would be the success of the town to divide itself between fun and lonely, mindless chores that for many, would soon give way to doubly monotonous factory jobs. I often wondered if I was to end up in such a position where I would spend the rest of my life from dawn to dusk slowly losing who I am to become what I could never hope to change. On second thought, perhaps the leaves were laughing maniacally, and if they could speak, vengefully shouting, “That’s what you get for shrouding our view of the stars!” After a while, the park ends, and the trail turns east before a chain link fence that guards a crumbling old factory that once coughed up great swells of smoke from two towers that have since fallen to resemble dark cylindrical tunnels that appear foreboding to all but the rebels and graffiti artists who dare traverse the jagged rubble of a failed dream. I would have compared its remnants to the ruins of a majestic castle, yet the sight of it bleeds industrial haste and a gloom that makes the eyes grow weary, while three large pipes, like silver snakes in the moonlight, stretch to the river’s edge where they vomited their cancerous sludge as if in attempt to mar the reflections of the moon and lights in the water with their toxic murk. Something so grotesque would not be of a kingdom I wish to describe, but though I would like to hope time soon casts it away, it does stand as a warning that still goes much unheeded where I live. Many of my friends have gone to the west side, and have found for themselves the enjoyments hidden beneath the neon lights, through smoky air, and into hot rooms of sensory enticement filled with drink and dance, yet I had not been granted such a liberation, and could only stare in yearning from across the river, wondering what it’s like and dreaming of the many exciting stories they would tell me the next morning with giggles and twinkling eyes. “When will you come with us?” they would say, at which I would shrug my shoulders and confess my uncertainty while my gaze fell to the floor. I would try to imagine it, yet I could only visualize the plots and serenades without the feelings of exuberance and giddiness that accompanied 24
them; my thought creations could conjure ants interacting in their jovial community beneath the vibrant glowing flowers and bits of rainbows scattered about the great garden on the west side of the river, but not the feelings communicated through their antennae that were quivering with excitement. I, on the other hand had been ostracized from the garden’s colourful beauty; an inchworm so close in human terms, but so agonizingly slow that it would take ages for me to reach the abounding gleams beyond the river. I was about to follow the trail back toward what I feared was my fate, when in my peripheral vision, I glimpsed something so rare in all my journeys to the park that it has since stuck out in my memories like a single beautiful illustration in a novel of bland, unimaginative words. An old canoe had washed up on a sandy part of the shore. It was made from a light wood and its varnished exterior wore the white shine of the moon like a noble crest. A single wooden paddle rested in the bow. My heartbeat began to quicken. For so long, I had yearned to cross over, and now there was a way right in front of me. I could paddle the canoe across the river, and return it to the beach afterwards. As I stood there staring at the small vessel, I could vividly imagine the feel of the smooth paddle in my hands, and hear the gurgles after each stroke when air bubbles rose to the surface to escape the vortexes of the small whirlpools that had sucked them through the river’s looking glass. My heart ran and rejoiced, dancing across the grass and onto the coarse sand with a red ribbon of condensed emotions that exploded with excitement like fireworks over the river. This was my chance at last. Though my mind leapt up, my body remained resolutely still as if it had been cast in stone. I couldn’t budge; I couldn’t leave the now cool pavement of the path. Everything around me became an antagonist, pulling me back from where I wanted to go. The leaves cackled down at me from their lofty perches above, and the water became even more foreboding despite being my possible route to the garden, which made it appear even more so like a monstrous creature made of a liquid essence that was as seductive as it was frightening. Even time itself betrayed me. In the future, my parents would grow worried that I had not returned to my caged life. My past served as a precedent of giving in to others’ demands and living the town’s dream of the ideal life. The present was the most merciful, for it currently presented me the wondrous opportunity, but it was fading away fast. I sought so hard to take but one step off the path, yet my conscience burned a warning so intense that it barred me from moving my limbs further than was allowed. For what seemed like a long time, I stood there, crystallizing in the night’s coolness. I needed to make a decision; if I waited much longer, I feared I would turn to stone. Small, sleepy waves lapped up on the beach, and I wished that I could be pulled out with the undertow that swept them back into the river’s current. The canoe could serve as my exodus from the metallic grasp of the east side, and my salvation if it turned out that the glowing flowers were present only to cover a deeper darkness even more oppressive than what faced me now. For a while, I thought long and hard about where I was and where I needed to be. After an age had passed by and left me, I finally decided to do what any logical person would do: I turned abruptly on my heel and began walking back toward home, leaving the canoe and smooth paddle behind me. They were gone when I walked by the next night, and I never saw them again. Many years later, I would realize there were other ways to be free that were much more permanent, yet I didn’t discover this for a long time.
Use God as Shorthand SARAH B. SULLIVAN
That time your brother ripped the left arm off your Sunshine Family doll, the mother with the beautiful yellow hair. Irreparable. Irreplaceable. That time you moved from the little cape on the dead end street where you were queen of the playground, and then you were no one, in the rich town with the smart kids. The time you, alone on the swing set at your new school, realized you forgot your lunch money and your new phone number, so you couldn’t call home for help. That time your sister got to go to Dairy Joy for a hot fudge sundae with three cherries, you still at the table, your plate laden with eleven faded peas. That time you ate a whole package of Oreo cookies because you couldn’t help it, day after day, and your body changed, and you couldn’t help it. That time you drank so much you had to cry it, sweat it out, spew your inconsolable sorrows, sob almost endlessly, until the night ended. That time you don’t remember how the night went, but you didn’t wake up well. But by then, you knew how to act like you didn’t need solace.
The Stalk of a Lilac
KEN ALLAN DRONSFIELD Shattered heart of an unfulfilled love the imperiled song devoid of empathy blistered iced essence wafts at twilight dodging streetlamps off Second Street wipe bloody shoes on the back of pants patiently wait for a soiled dove parade Lick the shaft after a slice to the throat. voices in my head mimic a red vulture moving upstairs through paper dolls loving the blade as it devours another sharp is the edge of an obsidian knife stalking lilacs throughout the darkness. Damn how I love this serial existence, swirling songs end with silent screams, a rancid cities dance into sliced echoes blissful ecstasy during the stalk of a lilac.
Learning Massage JOEL LONG
I learned to give massages with my stepfather Phil when I was eight. This is not a salacious story, but it’s true. I started by giving him neck rubs. But on some summer nights after ten when it was finally dark and the screens let in the breeze, he would take off his shirt and lie face down on his and my mom’s bed—they slept in the same room then—and I would give him a massage. I picture him there, his back exposed, puffy but firm, his body, alive, slightly red. I learned to push hard with my small hands, to lean in, kneel above him and use my weight. I put Jergens lotion on my hands and rubbed it in, sliding my hands over his back, pushing hard beneath the shoulder blades, pushing hard on the ridges surrounding his spine, feeling his muscles in threads beneath the skin. Phil praised me for my work, so I worked harder, feeling pride that I was the good one, the one who could give the best massage. Now, it is hard for me to imagine that I really could give a good massage at that age. My frame was slight, probably 80 pounds if that, and my hands could not have been strong enough do much work on a 38-year-old man who had some bulk. It was 1972, and I still thought of him as a replacement for my dad, who had died just eight years before. My mom wanted a father figure for us four boys. She dated and dated and finally landed on Phil. With his sandy hair and blue eyes, he was handsome and seemingly capable. In those first years, he was even kind. He read to us from the World Book Encylcopedia, from books about Liver-Eatin’ Johnson, books about space aliens building the pyramids, stealing planes out of the sky near Bermuda. We were fascinated. We looked for flying saucers when the sun went down over the hills of Montana. For me, Phil instilled a love of football, college and pro. We watched football all day Saturday and all day Sunday. In the dark den in our basement, with the Zenith Color TV broadcasting the current game with the best picture of any TV ever, Phil grilled me on the names of the mascots for colleges across the country: Purdue? Boilermakers: Nebraska? Cornhuskers: Bama? Crimson Tide, etc. Of course, I knew the pro teams too. I started loving the Miami Dolphins with Bob Griese, Larry Csonka, and Mercury Morris, but followed Phil’s lead to become a fan of Fran Tarkington and the Minnesota Vikings, both of us disappointed with every Super Bowl loss the Vikings endured. I still watch football more than forty years later. I still love it. I can watch all day as we did then. That was Phil’s gift to me. It was that man who I massaged in the dim lamplight. I wanted his praise, and he gave it to me. It was the same when I learned to make him gin and tonics a few years later. He claimed they were the best gin and tonics he’d ever had. If he’s anything like I am now, he must have meant there was extra gin and not too much tonic. I was massaging the body of this man. His skin feels cool in memory, exposed to the air, tiny pimples rising. The back is rounded not defined. This is the body that will have triple bypass surgery in the 90s, that will develop Alzheimer’s in the last 12 years of his life, then throat cancer that he will think is a bad cold even when a doctor in Colorado tells him he has cancer and has six months to live at best. “This is the damnedest cold I’ve ever had, but I think it is getting better,” he will tell my brother Jon the last full day. This was the body of a man who proved to be a mean drunk, who couldn’t handle his liquor, at least that much liquor. Then, I didn’t give him massages. Then I didn’t make him 29
gin and tonics. I was in junior high. Jon lived in the other basement bedroom with the yellow bathroom. I lived in the den that we converted into a bedroom, the same room that we used to watch football, the same TV, the same brick fireplace. After any social occasion, my mom and Phil would come home arguing; Phil had made a scene. Phil accused the host’s husband of making moves on my mom, of having an affair with my mom. And the argument spilled into our house when they came home. He screamed at her, called her a whore, repeated accusations that she was having an affair. Anyone who knows my mother also knows that she would never, could never have an affair. I cowered in my bed wanting it to be over, wanting him to stop and go to bed, but it went on until I was delirious with fatigue and fear and cowardice. He never hit her, as far as I know, but what he said was terrible; the way he stomped around at three in the morning was terrible. My mother stopped accepting invitations. She stayed home on the weekends from her friends. I didn’t touch him again except for polite handshakes when I was an adult when I came to visit, and when I left for home, shaking his hand and saying, “it was good to see you, Phil,” before I stepped from our front lawn, into my car to drive to my own home. We wanted my mother to leave him then. We wanted her to leave him later when he slammed my brother’s friend Benny against the wall by the backdoor because he thought he made a snide remark, when he nearly hit my brother Jeff at Christmas when the sheep dog growled at our infant nephew and Jeff blamed the dog, when he drunkenly but willfully vomited on my mother’s open jewelry box. She did leave him for a while when I was in college. She had too much of his drinking and carrying on. She stayed at her old friend Diane’s house for months, but she told Phil that if he promised to quit drinking, she would come home. He quit. She went home. He drank sparkling water with limes in it. He walked around the house with an unlit cigarette in his mouth since he’d quit smoking as well. I imagine it was like being with a stranger on an elevator for 45 years, that awkwardness, always looking for the doors to open, making vacant conversation. She lived with him in a marriage like that: loveless but contained. She would not leave this man, this body I had my hands on, the cool skin, the man who was praising me for knowing the right spots before he stole 45 years from my mother’s life. I have had these hands on the bodies of women. I have massaged the body of the woman who massaged me before we knew each other well, but touch opened the door to knowing one another best. I have massaged two wives, learning their backs, learning where it hurts, how much pressure to wield, where to lift, where to break the knots into small fragments that fled into tissue like gnats I could feel with these hands. I learned their bodies, and their bodies slipped away. The last time I saw my stepfather it was Christmas time after he and my mother left Montana and moved to Colorado to live near my brother Jon. Phil’s dementia had developed such that he could barely find his way to the bathroom in their two bedroom condominium, every memory unraveling. He got lost taking the garbage out. He forgot how to vacuum the floor, how to shower, how to use the bathroom when the time came. He wondered whether my mother was the manager of this hotel. His voice had gone from a pleasant baritone with smooth articulation, polished to the sound of a stellar jay, raucous and nasal, a bad cold, he thought. When he made a precipitous drop in his cognitive abilities, Mom took him to the doctor thinking that Phil had had a stroke. The doctor asked first about his voice, how long it had been going on. They took an MRI, which verified what the doctor guessed: Phil had throat cancer, stage four, the growth wrapping around the windpipe. Days later a doctor told them he had between three weeks and six months to 30
live. A month later, Phil was taken to the hospital, and while my mom talked to the doctor in the hall, he passed. I had my hand on this body. I know the feel of his back, of his body, now no longer a body but ash. I knew where it was sore. The small hands inside these hands that I have now pushed on his body, made him groan with the feeling the small hand gave him. Perhaps it was an illusion he enjoyed, the dark blur of a UFO in the photo, the fields burned with the shape of the alien craft, the radio static with the pilotâ€™s voice just before the plane disappeared. When I had my hands on that body, I felt I was special, like I was his stepson, the place of my father filled. I can see the light in their room, the red skin of his back and my hands, so small, so soft, pushing down. There, that feels good.
The Christmas Treat LYNN WHITE
It was my first Christmas in school and we were getting a treat, something special, something nice. Paper serviettes were handed out and we placed them on our desks, our mouths watering in anticipation. And then came the cake, a splendid fruit cake coated with marzipan, iced and cut into slices, one for each child. What a treat! I didn’t like marzipan, so I ate the icing and the cake and left the marzipan to be thrown away with the paper serviette. But this was not allowed, the teacher said. All of the treat must be eaten. I didn’t want to eat it. Well, adults aren’t made to eat food that they don’t like, are they, so why should children? It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t just. The teacher disagreed. I must eat the treat, she said. So I threw it on the floor, and to make sure, stamped on it. I was made to stand on a chair in disgrace for not eating the treat. At four years old, it was my first encounter with irony. 32
My Brother’s Favourite Pastime JONATHAN YUNGKANS
The blast, your homemade-pipe bomb— just a small one—left ground a crater, a sliver in your middle that barely bled, about which you told only me. Was that before or after Dad pulled Grandma’s Philco radio from the wall—the walnut chest-of-drawers-sized cabinet stuffed with your fireworks stash? He was glad the house didn’t go up. You mourned. Cardboard-packed gunpowder was a thing whether fused green or black, that had you smolder as your eyes itched, fingers ached for its mixture of mayhem and magic that poised even time, the sparks holding it and us by their dance—before I started hoping the impish waft would fade, Dad’s temper not flare or immolate. Sparkle, flash, bang—you were always ablaze.
Becoming A Better Person AIKO M.
Looking back on this year has been a blessing, instead of a curse. The few years before have been filled with deep regret, and a lack of motivation. I didn’t have the strength to want to survive, or even continue breathing the same air as everyone else. I was losing myself, and I didn’t know where to turn to either. Luckily this year was a lot more productive, even though there were a lot of bumpy roads, but I slowly regained my composure, and reconnected with people to become the person I am today. This journey has not been easy. I have had to come in terms with a lot of grief, disappointment, and pain, and I wasn’t sure if there was going to be light at the end of the crossroad, or if my heart was going to be able to survive all this negativity. One of my biggest inspirations was listening to music from a band called Linkin Park, and that helped me go through my worst moments, and even to the present. This year, their lead singer, Chester Bennington committed suicide, and I was shocked to the core for a long time. I couldn’t handle the emotions that were going through my entire being, and I was crying almost all the time. Towards the end of this year, I have come to celebrate his life, and come in terms that although he may not be here, his legacy will continue to live on. I have also had to deal with being thrown under the bus from a workplace that I worked with for a good 3 years or so. It was pretty depressing, and I just couldn’t look at the coworkers the same way. No apology was given, and it was an atmosphere I could no longer be in. From these experiences, it taught me to rise above, and I grew to be bigger, and better. I learned that it just shapes me better, that I learned to toughen up, and be able to deal with anything that came at me. There were also some blessings such as finding a job that I could pour my heart and soul into, meeting people that I am attuned with, and learning that there is a lot of love out there, and all one had to do was grab it. I have met great coworkers, and anytime there is a problem, we just all talk it out. I see my friends when I am not working, and it’s great. I met a lot of people who also make me happy, and now I enjoy life a lot more. I am glad to be alive. The New Year is approaching, and I can’t help to look forward to it. It will be full of new journeys, new loves, and a lot of fun moments. It will be greater than this year, and I will continue to become the greatest version of myself. This is the goal I made as the great start of 2018. I thank everyone who has helped me on this journey on continuing on finding myself, and for many more years to come of greatness.
CLAUDIA PAWLAK 35
JESSIE READ the way you play my depression is a magic trick puppeteer the strings at the corners of my smile elevate all sadness you magician how our bodies slither like clock work, like longing like is there another word for home ? have you ever found home in a person? have you ever found home in a body? if not for a second but for a brief period of longing? did morning roll around bruised and angry? i know what it’s like to curl up in someone’s arms like a question mark before the morning sighs i too know what it is like to crawl into a person, not as a person but as a bombshell perhaps we’re all just hiding from explosions i have found home in people if not for a glimmer of hope but as a magic trick because i would do anything not to be depressed our bodies spring in the air like jack in the box, you magician slither snake like we can forget earthy pleasure like can lust be a sin if everything is lifted just for a moment? for a second we are reborn into each other’s arms and this sways magic our hips dance in the dirt all blood, sweat and whisky like magic like you don’t need to love to fuck or fuck to love but maybe we’ll get closer to love or fuck learn how to believe in love but its call making love so hold me immortal in twilight close to god lover let your skin soak me like paint thinner erase me till i am apart of something else, till this body is no longer mine i want astral projection, to feel out of this body out of this earth until i am no longer me, until parts of you have taken over if i can escape this body and step into a dream into a body into warmth then i am free from all longing and what is a home if not somebodies heart in sync with yours my heart strings break at the seams trying to piece me together and i want to be shook i want to be broken immortal in twilight, not tangible but for a glimmer of light like ventriloquist dummy, these strings puppeteering me don’t sway my body sweetly anymore this is what it feels like to launch yourself into the ocean so afraid of what is out there but but these hips swing in dusk give me gills, give me breath like is there a word for rust in your windpipe, Being caught in the crossfire but never wanting more? your lungs filling me up with air, and i balloon and i deflate, i shrivel and nothing is sprung upon us no level of guilt or trust because fuck it’s called making love because what is fleeting but attachment if only for a moment, for a magic trick if only fleeting for a second we really were magic 36
From An Earlier Summer BRUCE KAUFFMAN a very long time ago it was the summer before i turned 18 in that last summer at home on the farm and in those months before I would soon be leaving for university on the first day of september i look back on it now and think how odd it was then that i there fully believed i would die before school began that fall those then not just casual thoughts or instants of fear random and disappearing but instead daily prolonged conversations with myself of it coming not only inevitably that season but coming even most likely that day each morning i’d wake to that sense of doom a dread overwhelming surrounding me as i got out of bed and then carried the weight of the fear of it quickly coming up from behind as if a heavy shadow an imposing dark ghost coming from nothing silent of course i know even you know now reading these words that i was wrong had been wrong late that spring
and then all of summer at least a hundred times then september 1st the day finally came i was packing the car early on the morning of my last half-day at home getting ready to head off to a school in a city i’d only visited once i still clearly remember as i pulled out onto the highway turned onto the road and drove away how almost instantly the summer’s suffering had left me all of it and in it i noticed how my breath for the first time seemed both thinner and somehow in its easiness fuller and i realized in that instant then that sometimes its better to be wrong than right and know now sometimes its better to be wrong in any thing more than 100 or even 1000 times before you’re right i did lose something that summer but not my life i lost instead simply the belief that fear either enlivens or protects
DUSKA DRAGOSAVAC & MARY DAKOTA DASILVA
ADELAIDE CLARE ATTARD I wipe my feet on the mat in the front hall of Mum’s house. I zip my boots off and lay them on the vent. Setting my backpack on the bottom step of the staircase, I bolt down the hallway. In the living room, the happy birthday banner my little sister Lexi and I made Mum for her birthday last week still hangs above the window. The afternoon sun shines through the bubble letters roughly drawn in with pencil crayon. Sunny, our blonde guinea pig, bites on the bars of her cage. I kneel beside her and feed her a strawberry yogurt drop from the wicker basket beside her cage. Mum’s breakfast plate sits in the sink from this morning. A half eaten breakfast pita rests next to a glob of peanut butter stuck to the plate. She must have been in a rush, as she has been taking extra hours at the group home lately. I step into the washroom next to the kitchen. The air freshener the landlord left at the house collects dust on the wall outlet beside the sink. A faint smell of artificial berries still seeps out. I pull my Tuesday day of the week underwear down my knees. Yellow undies with white bunnies scattered across them collect around my feet. I notice something unusual. A dark spot like a paint spill covers half of the white bunnies, turning them deep red. “Mum!” I scream. I pull up my pants and run to the home phone in the kitchen. My hands shake as I dial her cell phone number. I sit back down on the toilet as the dial tone cuts through my panic. The grey Panasonic home phone slides out of my sweaty palm as drops of blood bloom red into the toilet bowl. “Hi baby, what’s wrong?” “Mum,” I whimper. “Ad, what’s wrong?” Warm tears fall down my cold face. “Ad! Tell me what’s wrong. Did something happen to Sunny?” “No,” I sniffle. “I think I got my period.” No way!” Mom shrieks. “Okay, don’t panic. I’ll leave work in about ten minutes. Just don’t panic. Go upstairs and mark ‘Day 1’ in your SpongeBob calendar. Handle it like I taught you and I’ll be home real soon, okay?” “Sure Mumma, thank you. You don’t have to leave work though, I’ll be okay.” “Don’t be silly. I’ve been here for almost ten hours. I’m itching for any excuse to get out of here.” She hangs up. I pull my pants up, plug the phone back into its port and run upstairs. I rummage through Mum’s bathroom and look under the sink. I pull out a yellow square from a blue box that reads, Always. How do you use this thing again? ~~~ My best friend Sarah and I walk toward portable number 2, where our grade six class is held. I walk with my thighs close together to minimize the sound of the giant diaper-like thing in my pants. I wonder if Sarah can hear it. 40
I step on the metal stair tread steps of our portable. The smell of deodorant, pencil shavings and cold March air pollute the small space. I wiggle into the wooden chair at my desk. The giant diaper-like thing sounds like a plastic bag being crumpled up. It folds inwards as I sit down. I cross my ankles and continue to press my thighs together. Ms. Rayner’s high-pitched voice discusses the Battle of the Somme in History class. I wonder what the soldiers’ wives did when they got their period. Did they have to wear this giant diaper-like thing? They probably had something worse back then. I pull a pack of fruit gushers out of the pocket of my purple velour hoodie. Slowly, I tear them open. Mum told me to keep sugary snacks on me today because of my blood sugar levels. I feel a kick on the leg of my chair. “Hey, pass me one.” Sarah whispers behind me. I put a Fruit Gusher in my palm and reach it behind me. Her long nails scratch my hand as she retrieves the candy. ~~~ The recess bell rings. I get up from my wooden seat. While tucking it in, I check for a puddle of blood on the seat, but I don’t see anything. Phew. Everyone gathers around their coat hangers. Mum let me borrow her long, black winter jacket today. It goes down to my knees and covers my butt, just in case I leak through. Sarah and I sit on the steps behind the portable, far away from the popular kids who gather on the soccer field. I wonder which one of the popular girls has their periods. The watery mush bleeds into the soft, brown grass below us. Sarah plays Cat’s Cradle with a string in both her hands. I play with the zipper on my hoodie to try and distract myself from the wet feeling in my Bluenotes jeans. I break the silence. “So, I got my period yesterday.” “What?!” Sarah tosses the string on the ground and throws her boney, tanned arms around me. “Congrats, Ad! Welcome to the club.” Her dark brown, curly hair and freshly shaved armpits cover my face. The smell of vanilla suffocates me. “Yeah I found out when I got home yesterday. I was scared shitless. I lost so much blood I thought I was going to die!” Sarah throws her head back and laughs. Her curly brown hair tousles in the almostspring wind. “You’re not going to die! There is no way you lose enough blood to die when you’re on your period.” I let out a nervous smile. “Thank God.” “So I guess those god-awful brown and pink plaid dress pants you wore yesterday are ruined now, huh?” The pants were a gift from my dad. He got them for me the last time I saw him when we went shopping two weeks ago. He saw them on the mannequin and thought they were cute. I don’t blame him. He wears business-y stuff like that all the time. I force a laugh. “Yeah, uh, I guess they are ruined. Kind of a shame because I really liked those. My dad gave them to me.”
“Well, maybe next time he can take you to Hollister to get you something less serious.” 41
“Sure, Hollister is cool. I’ll ask him next time I see him.” Sarah smiles, nods and lunges her white and purple DC board shoes into the squishy grass to grab her red string. “Hey, do you wear pads or tampons?” I ask. “Pads. My mom doesn’t want me wearing tampons until I’m sixteen. I heard they can get lost, you know.” I gulp. “Lost?” “Yeah, lost. I’m guessing you’re wearing a pad right now.” “Yeah. It’s the frickin’ worst.” ~~~ I sit on the toilet in the last stall of the David Leeder Middle School washroom. I unzip the pocket of Mum’s jacket, pull out a yellow plastic square and lift the tab open. It makes a loud tearing noise. Shit. I slowly rip the giant diaper-like thing out of the plastic. What if someone I know is in here? I don’t want them to know I’m on my period. I let out a fake cough as I drop the used roll into the tin container attached to the blue, chipped stall. More fake coughs escape my throat as I fold the plastic wings in my Wednesday day of the week underwear. The white plastic covers the little orange foxes on my underwear. Hopefully I don’t ruin these, too.
ANN CHRISTINE TABAKA She was short of stature and withered by age, but she was never frail. In fact she was as strong as hell. Surviving more wars than I could count. She hailed from the old country, across the sea. Poverty and abuse made her who she was. Her stern mouth never wore a smile, at least not that I could recall. Grandmom was not a name we ever used, she was always Babci to us. It would feel strange to call her by any other name. She spoke mostly in her native tongue and a few phrases of broken English for our sake. Vain in the beauty of her youth, her gray thinning hair dyed pitch black, pin-curled, and held in place by a net. Those loving hands mottled with age spots and twisted from arthritis. She was no stranger to hard work, and her hands showed it proudly. I can still envision her tiny, two room apartment, where we were always greeted with the aroma of stewed sauerkraut and kielbasa that had been cooking all day. Whenever I make those old Polish recipes, the memory of smell and taste take me back to those small rooms, and into my Babciâ€™s warm arms once again.
CLAUDIA PAWLAK 44
OUR CONTRIBUTORS... Without the submissions from writers, artists, and photographers, Free Lit Magazine would not be possible! Please take the time to visit other websites linked to projects our contributors have been involved in, as well as the websites/social media platforms run by some of this issueâ€™s contributors: MARISA ADAME - Website, Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram DON KINGFISHER CAMPBELL - Website KYLE CLIMANS - Twitter ALYSSA COOPER - Website, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook MARY DAKOTA DASILVA - Instagram DUSKA DRAGOSAVAC - Website EDILSON A. FERREIRA - Website BETH GORDON - Twitter ADRIANA GREEN - Website, Instagram and Twitter ANDREW KAI HANGSING - Website and Facebook BRUCE KAUFFMAN - Finding a Voice on 101.9FM CFRC BOB MACKENZIE - Facebook, Amazon Author Page, and Reverbnation SARAH B. SULLIVAN - Website ANN CHRISTINE TABAKA - Amazon Author Page LYNN WHITE - Website and Facebook
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