Time Traveller ANNE MCEWEN
as it smolders behind me LINDA M. CRATE
Barn Fire EUGENE CORNACCHIA
The Chaos of Life KYLE CLIMANS
Occupy the Present KEN ALLAN DRONSFIELD
Compassion Fatigue GARY GLAUBER
Fear JOAN MCNERNEY
He really did quit drinking FERRIS E. JONES
My Cat is an Asshole E.C. FLETCHER
Windfall Apples INGRID BRUCK, JULIE NASLUND, LESLIE MCKAY & SUSANNE MARGONO
Chaos BRUCE KAUFFMAN
Lost Pleasantries ANN CHRISTINE TABAKA
Chaos Theory ADELAIDE CLARE ATTARD
Chaos and Tragedy ELIZABETH BANFALVI
Unwarm ANNMARIE ROSELLI
Saints and Sinners EDILSON A. FERREIRA
Sick GALE ACUFF
Godless Grass and the Gift of Childhood ALEX DAWSON
Chaos KAREN GUTHRIE WHITE
CAROLINA ROJAS 2 FREE LIT MAGAZINE
Inside Back Cover
FREE LIT MEditor-in-Chief AGAZINE Ashley Newton
Literary Editor Eunice Kim
Kyle Climans, Alyssa Cooper, Bruce Kauffman
Jaclyn Acre, Gale Acuff, Adelaide Clare Attard, Elizabeth Banfalvi, Ingrid Bruck, Eugene Cornacchia, Linda M. Crate, Alex Dawson, JJ D’Onofrio, Duska Dragosavac, Ken Allan Dronsfield, Edilson A. Ferreira, E.C. Fletcher, Gary Glauber, Ferris E. Jones, R.M. Kozan, Susanne Margono, Anne McEwen, Leslie McKay, Joan McNerney, Mathew Nagendran, Julie Naslund, Alexandra Po, Carolina Rojas, AnnMarie Roselli, Ann Christine Tabaka, Karen Guthrie White, Bill Wolak
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 photogrphers to practice their passion in a medium that anyone can access and appreciate.
Chaos is one of those things we all would like to think we understand, but the very nature of it forces us not to. And, although we have seen how chaos manifests at one point or another, one truth remains: it never appears the same way twice, and never affects everyone equally. Because chaos exists in many forms, we can never be prepared for it. We can never know how best to defend ourselves when things go wrong. We can be as prepared as we possibly can, and that’s about it. Chaos will always have other plans. But with chaos brings an appreciation for stillness and peace. Chaos forces us to remember just how precious that quietness truly is. It makes us take a good look at ourselves and our lives to uncover what’s important. As much as we all hate it, chaos is a teacher that sits us down, tells us to pay attention, and to learn something. What has chaos taught you? Ashley Newton Editor-in-Chief
The Seasons Issue November 2018 VOLUME 4, ISSUE 5 - THE CHAOS ISSUE 3
Time Traveller ANNE MCEWEN
hen they admit you, you have to give away your razor. You can’t have shoelaces either, sometimes. I am with you. Words in her head that she can’t shake. Her mind is cracking with ideas. She is pacing the ward, blaring music from her headphones. She is electric and no one can touch her, or so she believes. It won’t be long now, though, until they are surrounding her letting her know otherwise. The ones behind the glass, safely locked in the nurses station, laughing, sharing donuts and drinking coffee will show her who is boss. Of course, they are only doing their jobs; observing and administering. She doesn’t want to be someone else’s job. She wants to solve puzzles. This is the interesting side of the glass to be on, but it is the dangerous one too. The doctor has an engineer’s ring on his pinky. How did he end up here, she would like to know. He is not apt to tell her, so she doesn’t ask, but she makes a note of the ring and wonders if he is trying to reverse engineer her. She’d rather he didn’t. She would like to heal herself, but that is not likely to happen under these circumstances. Instead they chat, mirror each other’s postures and search for mutual solutions. It is a dance that can’t lead anywhere, but they do it anyway. The needle feels like betrayal. The doctor is gone for the day and the nurse has the security guard with her in anticipation. Cornered is the last place she wants to be and that is where she is. He’s kicking the door down. She doesn’t have a proper lock and can’t hold it tight anymore. They need the bed. She can’t stay here forever, that wouldn’t be fair. “Sit down!” he snarls hands on her and forcing her towards the chair. She throws it back from under her shouting “No thanks, I think I’ll stand.” Cold stares exchange for a second that lasts an eternity. “You don’t love me,” she cries. “You don’t care about me at all.” Nothing leaves his lips but a curse. “God Damn it!” He turns and exits the room leaving her in tears. And Mother says,“In a year you will be gone, you are almost out of here, just hang on.” Discharged. The house is in shambles when she comes back. No one’s fault but her own. She shouldn’t have left so abruptly, not that she had a choice in the matter. Everything told her to go. Every fibre said leave. Now she has a mess to clean up. She has a husband and children. She swallows herself whole because there is no other way to do it. *** The kicks are coming one after another and she thinks they don’t hurt that much. There are blankets covering her body, muffling the blows. She is lying in her bed waiting for him to leave. Her and that smart mouth. There is screeching involved - his not hers. She is saying nothing. Whatever came out of her mouth a minute earlier was enough. No point in adding to it now. Mother is pleading in the doorway and no one is paying any attention to that. Please, stop, please. Manners are not a consideration right now. 4 FREE LIT MAGAZINE
Afterwards, she falls asleep and dreams of her own execution. In the dream, her father is the one to stop the firing squad. He is the one who has all the say. You’re almost out of here. Just hang on. *** She’s in the heart of the city with a lost mind. No one knows where she is. There is no plan and the pain is not a good guide. The story hides everywhere: in public restrooms, on license plates and in bank machines. The clues are everywhere to be collected and considered, all snapping together in connections, but without edges or corner pieces. There is no frame. No containment. The puzzle is endless and takes her in circles further out then she should travel. She is walking around Toronto and hearing voices. Being brilliant in that halfway, deeply lonely way. It’s early November and it’s cold. Snow filling her air - should she keep the jacket or give it away? “Keep it, you need it.” But so do they. Lost, lost, lost. So many lying lost on sewer grates. Coatless. “But, you live in a body too.” Don’t want to. “But you do - we’re trying to teach you that.” I want out. Can’t I just go with you? “That won’t work.” No matter how hard I try? ‘Cause I can try real hard. She is composing in iambic pentameter, outside Futures Bakeshop on Bloor Street. She is laughing and pacing and laughing and no one knows why. But the timing and cadence are perfect. So funny. So, so funny. If only someone else were there to share the joke. To understand it. “We’re sorry we have to break you. Break you down, Little One. Love at the core. We have to break you.” Sirens. Her senses are perceiving things that others don’t. Distortions. Darker colours. Impressions. Everything has an idea attached to it. The cars, the signs, God help her the signs, are everywhere to be read and interpreted. Words, reformatted, repurposed. That magical trick of her mind, the creative capacity, has been unleashed on the cityscape. “One false step, and you’re dead. We know that, but don’t worry. We’re rooting for you, Little One. And we’re getting it all down. Don’t worry, it is all being recorded.” Maybe Hell does live on Earth. And Heaven too. *** Her brother can’t save her, but he comes when she calls. She watches her brother working. Always working, tinkering, fixing something that the old man bought second hand or third. No one has shown him how to do this. He just can. He’s ten and she is eight and they are talking while he rebuilds a water pump. She asks if he believes in God. “Yes.” She wants to know why they are here. Not just on this farm, but in these bodies. He doesn’t know but lets her talk. She tells him they need to find a way to stop time. He listens to her VOLUME 4, ISSUE 5 - THE CHAOS ISSUE 5
mind shuffling through its ideas. She wants to know what she will become. He wonders too. Father beat this one last night while she watched from up a tree, screaming for it to stop. Witnessing. Today mother is baking cookies and hanging out the laundry to dry. Today is not yesterday. Today they are small and curious and in this thing together. Can you come and get me? Can you come? *** This isn’t normal. It never was. She is in the barn rafters walking along the beam a twenty foot drop from the floor. One false step, and you’re dead. No one is there and she is talking out loud to the air. Perhaps God is listening, perhaps He isn’t. She has split herself into two parts: the one who speaks and the one who waits for the words. Nothing important is being said, but she can’t stop doing it. This is how she protects herself. This is how she passes her time. This is what I think you should do… She is waiting for something. She is waiting for the voice to tell her what comes next. *** She is not convinced that her stay is necessary, but the door is locked. Some things are mandatory even if you don’t think you need them. There is the boy who was brought here by his parents because he wouldn’t get off the roof. He was playing his guitar and singing songs for a girl in Colorado. The passing airplanes were carrying the music for him. He is in love and needs to get out of here to make a YouTube video for her. He has never met her in person but knows she is the one. There is the time traveller. He wears sunglasses constantly to protect his eyes from damaging alpha rays and has a notebook with drawings and information on antimatter and trajectories of time showing future possibilities and pitfalls. He asks her to write a poem for him and she does. She calls it “I Want to Murder Time” and she likes the poem but does not give it to him. She doesn’t think it would help him. You can do it. You can move through time. I’ll teach you how. *** It is winter and the evening is perfect for sliding. She takes her crazy carpet to the top of the field and surveys the ice crust. It will hold her. She barely weighs 70 pounds. She flings her ten year old body onto the carpet and is flying down the slope. The river lies at the end of the field, frozen but not entirely. She is gaining speed. No one knows she is doing this. The moon is glistening on the snow and she is full of love. The ride takes her farther out then it should. Finally she slows and rolls onto her back. The stars are bright tonight and she lies there for the longest time. She is the only one in this moment. No one else in the world is doing exactly this. The walk back up the field takes a long time and her shadow keeps her company. You are free. You only need to see it.
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EUGENE CORNACCHIA somewhere far away a barn is on fire there is a horse trapped within you are powerless to save the horse you will never know if the horse escapes now: let go of this
VOLUME 4, ISSUE 5 - THE CHAOS ISSUE 7
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Occupy the Present
KEN ALLAN DRONSFIELD Whatever be the season, perhaps you are the reason, for the shadowed man whom limps down the narrow lane. With help of a burled cane, or such unequivocal refrain within the wispy glow of twilight dawn I bare silent witness to the spark. As the gauntlet was dropped on the old dirt floor, I clenched it with wrinkled hands in horror and saw the light echo in a brackish sky. Blink once for yes; twice for no, thrice to answer within a fallowed tear as your ears woefully bleed; silently, muffled steps unheard as butterflies flutter in a stellar haze. Waltzing to the symphony of a super novaâ€™s sonnet, emblazoned insanity perched on the rim of a black hole whilst I blissfully rule the absence, we beckon to occupy the present.
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JOAN MCNERNEY Sneaks under shadows lurking in corners ready to rear its head folded in neat lab reports charting white blood cells over edge running wild. Or hiding along icy roads when day ends with sea gulls squalling through steel grey skies. Brake belts wheeze and whine snapping apart careening us against the long cold night. Official white envelopes stuffed with subpoenas wait at the mailbox. Memories of hot words burning razor blades slash across our faces. Fires leap from rooms where twisted wires dance like miniature skeletons. We stand apart inhaling this mean air choking on our own breath.
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He really did quit drinking FERRIS E. JONES
Puzzling how faith is relative And Lies simply slide between the shadows. Only to seep out with tongues, That can never forgive and always doubt. The garbage will never be old And the mind will never see it discarded. Feeling only sleep without sound, When a marriage falls still with dreams so guarded.
VOLUME 4, ISSUE 5 - THE CHAOS ISSUE 11
My Cat is an Asshole E.C. FLETCHER
er name is Lucy. She’s a pearlescent white long hair who has eyes as blue as the ocean. I got her when I finished my second year of university, and I’ve had her for a few years now. She loves to sprawl on my couch, and run around the house at 3:00 am, screaming her little kitty head off. I love her, and I can’t see my life without her. I’ve started a job in a new city. It’s a company larger than I’m used to, and has levels of hierarchy that make my head spin when I think about it. I’ve got my team and we’re learning to depend on each other. On the first day, as we’re introducing ourselves, I come out to them. I tell them I’m non-binary, my preferred name, my pronouns. Everyone’s a little awkward, but accepting. I take the awkward easily, if nervously. They use my proper name, and when I get misgendered for the first time, my co-worker comes up to me later to apologize. I get home that day, with a smile on my face, and fragile hope in my heart. Lucy greets me at the door with a meow and she head-butts my shin. The next day, my coworkers greet me easily, and I get into the flow of work and training. At lunch, we decide to eat together. It’s then when I first hear it. “Charlie’s on her way.” My heart thuds in my chest, my hands tremble holding the cardboard box full of cafeteria food. They notice me walking toward the table. A few smile in greeting. I don’t want to cause a scene. Just the thought of bringing it up makes me feel drained. No one else seems to notice. Perhaps it was just a slip of the tongue? I smile back and sit down, digging into a lunch I no longer hunger for. At home, the entry way is empty. Lucy’s curled on the couch, cleaning herself. Noticing me watching her, she pauses, front paw raised, tongue half out of her mouth. She gives me one slow blink and resumes what she was doing. I could have used an enthusiastic greeting, but cats are independent creatures. I can’t blame her for needing to bathe. I’m just too needy. Who needs the comfort of a cat for after a day that was completely normal? Weeks pass. And my coworkers still talk. “I’m working with her on that project.” “Ask Charlie. She would know.” “She’s staying late. Ask her if she’ll join us for dinner after her shift.” Did I ever mention my pronouns to them? The doubt gnaws at me. Yet every use of a feminine pronoun is an attack on the shields that protect my sanity. Constant and unrelenting. Others have it worse, I remind myself as another barrage hits me. They use your preferred name. You hear that more often anyway. This isn’t a big deal. I know who I am. I can present the way I want and my coworkers and my boss don’t treat me differently. I shouldn’t get caught up about the small things. Over the weekend, I curl on the couch, and Lucy sprawls next to me. I go to pet her absently as I watch a movie on Netflix. My fingers touch soft fur and teeth sink into my flesh. Surprised, I pull back. She bites hard enough that my knee jerk reaction is what causes the skin to tear. Tears spring into my eyes, and an irrational betrayal seeps into my chest. I look from my cat to my bleeding hand. Lucy still has her mouth open as if she’s going to hiss. “What did you do that for?” I demand, voice thick. 12 FREE LIT MAGAZINE
I don’t expect her to answer. She doesn’t. She turns back to fall asleep. I stand, pulling myself from the cocoon of my blankets to deal with my wound. It’s a month and a half later, and I’ve built calluses against the wrong pronouns. I find if I’m expecting it, it hurts less. They use my preferred name, after all. It makes it easier to pretend they accept me for the right reasons. One of my coworkers’ friends comes by our department. He’s going to join us for lunch. I go over to meet him, smiling in greeting. My co-worker introduces him to me. Moments later, he’s introducing me to him. He introduces me using my deadname. My heart stops. I can’t breathe. I’m still smiling, but it’s pure muscle memory, a survival instinct I ingrained in myself. He’s asking me questions and I can tell I’m responding, but I feel like I’m no longer in my body. I’m floating, yet burning from the betrayal. Using my proper name is an unspoken compromise I made with my coworkers. Then one of them goes and slaps me in the face like this. We’re in the cafeteria next I know, and my consciousness slams back into my body with a painful beat of my heart, and twist of my stomach. I have a rock in my throat and I’m staring down at my lunch as if I’ll throw up if I take another bite. My eyes are burning. Yet the only thing going through my head is don’t cry, don’t have a panic attack. Not in front of all these people. The thought repeats in my head like a mantra. When it’s socially acceptable, I remove myself from the group and rush to the bathroom, the women’s bathroom. That makes it worse. I stumble into a stall and collapse against the door with a wet heave. I don’t come out until the tears dry and I can breathe and I can smile as if nothing happened. Turning the lock to my front door, my limbs feel like lead and I feel ready to collapse into bed and forget that dinner is even a thing I need. It’s the kind of exhaustion that comes from having a good, ugly cry. Only that it’s more of a crying marathon, than a onetime event. Opening the door, my eyes are drawn to the top of my TV cabinet, where I have all my keepsakes and photos. It’s meant to be too tall for Lucy to climb. Yet there she is, sitting regally in front a porcelain doll I painted when I was a kid. I love that doll. I painted it with my best friend. We both switched dolls halfway through. It reminds me of her chubby grin and mischievous eyes. Lucy has one immaculate white paw reaching out towards it. “Lucy…” I say, voice low, glaring at her. Her ear twitches toward me, but she doesn’t move. I repeat her name. She turns to look at me this time, staring. Her paw reaches a little further forward. “Don’t you dare.” There’s the scratching sound of porcelain on wood. “Lucy, please.” Another push. I immediately run forward and her paw moves in a smooth, sweeping motion. I’m caught behind the couch. “Lucy!” I scream. Crash. I collapse to my knees, staring at the slaughter of my childhood, of my friendship on the ground. There’s a muted thump-thump as Lucy jumps down. She walks around the wreckage and me, tail high. VOLUME 4, ISSUE 5 - THE CHAOS ISSUE 13
My eyes burn and I stare and stare and stare. Between my ribs, it feels like there’s a black hole trying to consume me from the inside out. I want to scream. I want to cry. I want to reach out to someone who will comfort me. I don’t do any of those things. I wrap my arms around my waist, and bend forward, just trying to desperately hold myself together. If I don’t I’m going to blow apart at the seams. I take serrated breaths and dig my nails deep into the sensitive flesh of my sides. I have the fleeting thought to take a piece of shattered porcelain and drag it across my flesh, softly at first, just to watch it create a line, first white, then soft red. When that wouldn’t be enough, I’d drag harder, breaking skin. With the pain, I’d center myself. Nothing else would matter. Everything would be alright. But I don’t move. I wake up the next morning on the floor, the doll’s murder right before my eyes. I work from home the next week. And the next. The doll is still shattered on my floor, but I can barely find the will to leave my bed, let alone clean. Guilt gnaws at me for taking advantage of the ability to work from home. But I can’t go to work. I can’t pretend to be okay. I can’t pretend to be someone else. I can’t even pretend to be myself. I don’t even know who I am are any more. I’m just a husk. Empty. Lucy stays downstairs on the couch. She can stay down there, for all I care. I hate her. Why couldn’t she be a nice, normal cat? Yet, twice a day, when I manage to pull myself out of bed to go to the bathroom or remember to eat, I feed her. The next time I leave my house, it’s to travel home to visit my family. It’s always a conflicting journey for me, ever since I came out to them. They love and care for me, I know this, but they don’t accept my identity. Not truly. I never thought there was such a grey area about acceptance, before it happened to me. I never realised there was a difference between accepting something, and embracing it, because they refuse to meet me half way on anything, my name, my pronouns, wearing a binder, how I present. It’s hard to pretend they’ve fully accepted me when I’m running into wall after wall. Yet when those topics don’t come up, our relationship is no different than before. They still take care of me, and I still enjoy talking to them. This trip home is no different. Times of enjoyment tossed and torn with dual obstinateness. But they love me. They haven’t kicked me out. Haven’t been anything like some of the horror stories I hear from my friends. I should count my blessings. Yet, never the less, after a full weekend I’m anxious to leave. When my parents make mention of missing me, and never getting the chance to spend enough time with me, I feel guilty for it. The twisted, black hole in my chest is still there, and as I sit in the bus to go home, I feel like a snake ready to shed its skin, but can’t. I want to squirm and scratch. In my head, there are two people. There’s the girl I was, front and center, and in the back of my head, there’s the non-binary person who makes me feel right, trapped in the darkness where she won’t let them escape. With a backpack that sits heavy on my shoulders, I let myself into my house. I freeze in the door way. My backpack, already pulled off one shoulder, falls out of my frozen hands, hitting the ground hard. Lucy sits in the middle of the living room, the eye of the storm. Around her, the couch cushions are torn, the stuffing pulled free. Papers I had in piles on the side tables tossed 14 FREE LIT MAGAZINE
over the floor. Some crumpled, others ripped. A lamp is knocked over, my shoes are scattered across the small foyer. I…I can’t even find the words within myself to react to the mess I’ve come home to. I want to cry, to scream, to punch and kick. I want to cease to be. My throat is dry; my hands are shaking. Standing before the mess that looks like it would take more than just myself to clean, I feel so utterly and desperately alone. I have the brief, dark thought to run across the street as a car drives by and hope it hits me hard enough so I won’t wake up. Then I get a message, in a group chat. Have any of you spoken to Charlie? They aren’t answering my texts. It’s such a small word, but chases away my intrusive thoughts. It brings relief and comfort in the calamity I’ve found myself in and I collapse with it. I read the sentence over and over again. They aren’t answering my texts. They aren’t answering my... They aren’t answering… They aren’t… They… They… Something soft rubs against my trembling hand. I look from my phone down to my hand, resting on my knee. Rough sandpaper travels the length of the back of my hand as I watch Lucy give me a few tentative licks. She looks at me, and nudges me again. With a shaking hand, I reach for her head and pet her. She purrs. It’s enough to give me the strength to stand, to close my door and walk to my room. I order delivery as I lie in bed, Lucy curled on my lap and respond to the group chat. There’s still Lucy’s mess downstairs, and I still need to face my coworkers. But for tonight, I’m happy to just be.
VOLUME 4, ISSUE 5 - THE CHAOS ISSUE 15
BRUCE KAUFFMAN mismatched multi-nothings everythings rolling over themselves floating colliding with other and wall eyes attempting to capture even one in their flight their ricochet
the buzzing noise of motion the small booms and blasts this traffic of thing the music somewhere somewhere else lost in this must close my eyes move myself become one more piece in the chaos whizzing toward other through other over myself then through into and there forgetting forgotten the music comes
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ADELAIDE CLARE ATTARD These days, I’d do anything to break away from routine. Everyday looking like the last Time gathering in a jar like ballots But nothing to win My name will never be drawn, So it seems. I never thought writers block would be so frequent I feel like I need a prescription to have a sense of normalcy again Brain functioning at lowest creative level. Routine brings both safety and security But right now I’d welcome chaos like it has beauty written all over it. In physics, there is this theory called the “Chaos Theory.” The theory’s main premise is that small changes in initial conditions could result in vast differences of final outcomes. So Chaos, my dear friend, bring me a handful of small changes. Break me out of this tightly tied rope with your knife of disarray Let me pass the key to all that has locked me in And out. Choas, tempt me Bring all your unease I never thought I’d ask you this But I’d do anything Bring all your small changes Affect my final outcome. I never thought I’d ask for this. Chaos, My old friend, I wasn’t built To use my mind On things I do not love.
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ANNMARIE ROSELLI was it a choice choosing sleep to die in I watched them watched them dad in your mint green bedroom trying to make your chest say something while your mouth was bound with elastic and a pump shoved down your throat screaming in my head PLEASE stop
leave him be it goes on like this for an hour or nearly so not pronounced dead until the white sheet in the emergency room was that for us was that for you maybe for them still unsure I kissed your cheek not entirely unwarm you look good dad not dead not cold just quiet
VOLUME 4, ISSUE 5 - THE CHAOS ISSUE 19
FEATURE STORY Chaos KAREN GUTHRIE WHITE
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was admitted to the hospital three days ago. There was concern my spleen might be punctured, but it was only bruised. I’m being released today. There is a space for me at the woman’s shelter and it›s time for me to go. There’s no denying it, I’ve been a victim for too long. You’re probably wondering why? I have always found a reason why I shouldn›t leave. They were never good reasons. I suppose it came down to one thing; I didn’t think I deserved anything better. My self-esteem was non-existent, I was non-existent. That’s what he wanted me to be, and that’s what I became. I became nothing. Everything I thought I was, I wasn’t. The girl I was ceasing to exist, stamped out a long time ago. You might find it hard to comprehend, but that’s what happens to women like me. Somewhere along the way I lost myself and what’s even worse, is that I allowed it to happen. I gave him control, and he abused it. I had blinders on. I couldn’t see. I didn’t want to see. I couldn’t admit to myself that I’d made a mistake. I couldn’t accept that the person I loved, my husband, didn’t love me back. It was not love; it was control. He destroyed me, and I let it happen. When you are brainwashed the way I am, or was, it takes a long time to find your way out; to come to grips with it, and accept the truth. It has taken far too long to find that decision. But I have found that strength. I’m ready to walk away. I’m tired of being a victim. I’m ready to believe in myself again. Do you want to understand? I know what people say. I’ve heard it all… “If it was that bad she would leave...” “Her boots aren’t nailed…” I can only tell you it›s not that simple. It was such a gradual thing, a loss of self, of perception, of reality. I was naïve, and I was in love. He was my funny Prince, he was charming and caring. He looked after everything, and that impressed me. He made me feel safe. He was the life of the party and my friends loved him. Everyone loved him. We were inseparable for three romantic, wonderful months. He said he couldn’t live without me and asked me to marry him. He told me I would be his forever, and I thought that meant he loved me. He wanted children right away. Our son was born, and I was pregnant again, our daughter came along that next spring. I didn’t go back to work. I wanted to but he wouldn’t hear of it. He said people would talk. They would say he couldn’t look after his family and he wouldn’t have that. After Jane was born I was depressed. I tried so hard to be happy. I cried a lot. I was weak. I had two beautiful children. What was wrong with me? He called me crazy. He said I was a terrible person and a failure as a mother. Every day he told me I didn’t deserve the home or the family he had provided. He threatened to put me on the street. He promised I would never see my children again. He had become a monster. That’s when I lost myself. I’d lost the friends I used to have. I tried to stay in touch but he would ruin any plans I made. He controlled everything. I lived under his rules. If I left the house without his permission, if I didn’t do things the way he liked he would “punish” me. On a good day, he would back me into the corner of a room and scream at me until I apologized, for whatever it was he said I had done. The children would cry but he didn’t care. I learned to agree with him, no matter what. VOLUME 4, ISSUE 5 - THE CHAOS ISSUE 21
I became what he wanted me to be although I still can’t tell you what that was. I didn’t have my own opinion, if I did he would hurt me. My life was a nightmare, and I lived inside it. Why didn’t I leave? I’ve asked myself that question so many times. When he was drinking the abuse would escalate. Christmastime was bad. He would arrive in the early hours of the morn, loud and stinking of rum. Smashing glass is what I remember most. If we could, we would escape, find a taxi and make it to the shelter. Why didn’t I leave? I could have taken my babies and ran far away. That’s what I should have done. Instead I went back. He would beg me to forgive him. He would make promises, buy presents for the kids and for a while we could smile. It would never last. I can’t believe how stupid I was, but that’s not fair either. I had become this other person, someone who wasn’t me, if that makes any sense. And now, here I am, almost an old woman. I have three beautiful grandchildren. My Jane married a wonderful man, and she has a career of her own. She has a happy life. Sean, my little boy, died in a car accident at seventeen. He was drunk. Sean was always angry, mostly at me. It’s time. The doctor has signed the discharge papers and I have a taxi waiting. My Jane wanted to pick me up, but I told her no. There is something I need to do. There are words I need to say. *** “Ma’am, where can I take you?” The taxi driver helped me to the backseat of the cab. I gave him the address, and we chatted about the weather. “Supposed to be a storm coming in this afternoon. Yes, ma’am. Might even shut down the highway. Do you remember that one we had back in 2010? Now, that was a doozy!” His identification photo smiled at me from the headrest, behind the cracked plastic of a vinyl holder. He had a friendly face. His eyes twinkled with youth. He had a gap between his teeth. His name was Robert. “Are you all right, ma’am?” His voice prodded. “Yes, I remember that day.” My mind drifted as it so often does. Robert pulled the car to the curb, in front of the house that had been my home for the last thirty years. Pillows of snow gathered on the gables, and covered the porch roof, an enchanting, picturesque facade. “Would you wait for me? I won’t be too long.” “Of course, ma’am.” He turned off the ignition and gave me the thumbs up. A surge of hope flickered quietly in my mind. I took my time and climbed the stone steps. A wreath hung on the door, a pine bough shaped into a heart and decorated with berries and sprigs of holly. My granddaughter gathered the best ones from the bushes in our backyard, just last week. I dug into my bag for the house key and turned the lock. The door creaked as I leaned into it. I stood for a moment. My shoes left droplets of water and crystals of still frozen snow on the gleaming tile floor. Frank was in the living room, an episode of Seinfeld sounded on the television. I stood in front of the television. I was shaking inside; my anger held back for so long coiled like the tail of an enraged cat. I tamped it down, and I spoke with a calm I did not 22 FREE LIT MAGAZINE
know I possessed. His eyes flashed with darkness. I had seen that look before. His voice smoldered with what I could only call disdain. “I’m leaving, Frank. I can’t stay with you anymore.” He said nothing. I left him there, alone with his television and I walked out, closing the door on what had been my life. The storm had begun. The sky sat heavy with cloud. Silent flakes of snow kissed my face. I stuck out my tongue and tasted the icy caress. I had never seen our street, so quiet, so at peace. Robert glanced towards me and smiled. He had a lopsided, happy grin. I felt my soul flood with sunshine. That’s when I heard it. That’s when I knew. Pachak, Pachak - metal on metal. Frank’s shotgun made that sound. Every season, Frank would clean that rifle. The aromatic fragrance of gun oil would fill our home, permeating the air with the stink of impending death. Frank would lie in wait, camouflaged behind a screen of deep forest and each year an unsuspecting buck would die, its last breath expelled with a desperate thumpth. I saw Robert, staring back at me through the passenger window. His face paled, a muscle in his jaw twitched, his eyes, those kind blue eyes, screamed in horror. I have never been a church going person, but I have spoken with what I felt was a spirit, a guiding light, perhaps of my own making. If there is a greater being out there I would ask forgiveness for the wrongs I know I have committed. Sadness clouded Robert’s features. I don’t know how long it takes to pass, likely not long. I can feel you, Frank. I feel your rage, smoking like that old shotgun. You think you’ve won, but you haven’t. I hope one day you will remember how I walked out that door and closed it behind me. Those few moments were mine, and I was free. I made the right choice. You know, I thought it would hurt, but there is no pain. The snow is still falling, each flake dancing alone but together wrapping me in a blanket of warmth. A cradle of sleep whispers to me. If I could speak to my children one more time, I would tell them I’m sorry. I didn’t protect them and I’m ashamed of that. So many memories are flashing through my mind, swirling in shadows. Hidden, in chaos.
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as it smolders behind me LINDA M. CRATE
an ocean of chaos washed over me, a wreckage of pain and misery; the dirt of yesterdays past flung into old scars making new wounds—suddenly i was that little girl drowning again when your rage cut through like a chain saw, and i hope that it was worth alienating me to lose your temper; when you showed me your true colors i believed them—everyone says you’re a good man, but good men don’t wound their daughters with their own pain; you fractured me with your own misery instead of breaking the cycle because it was easier to repeat everything you were taught rather than
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finding a better way—i love you, but i resent you, too; all the chaos you planted in my life was wholly unnecessary and melodramatic—everyone says that you are kind, but they haven’t seen your fangs and your claws; i have and i can reassure you that you are noting less than unkind—sometimes, they say, the truth hurts; but you were the gilded cage that broke me, the ornamented lie masquerading as truth—one day i will go back to this place with honesty and burn it to the ground so that i can be free of the past as it smolders behind me.
The Chaos of Life KYLE CLIMANS
The hour-glass shatters, And the sand bursts free, The storm blows across the world, Innumerable grains of sand swirling. The glass hits the floor, From which it cannot survive, Shatters into fragments Like all mortal plans, dreams, and lives, So fragile, so delicate, Where do all the fragments go? The stars shine in the sky, These burning balls of brilliance dazzle us, Amaze us, Because they show us how little order means There is no order in the life and death of a star, That miraculous fireball, Inspiring life to form on a small rock, With a name like Earth A tale as old as Greece, When shepherds and tribesmen told the tale, Of a world created by Chaos, From which order eventually sprang Titans and gods and heroes and men, All born from Chaos, and beget more chaos, The strive for order makes us half-blind To the life which somehow produced us. The desperate race for life, Millions and millions battling to be first, Through dark chasms and narrow tunnels, On the path to life that only one can take. It starts with disorder, This muddled life which mocks the simple, A life lost in loose ends, Until we die as chaotically as we were born.
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Compassion Fatigue GARY GLAUBER
Welcome to the post-truth era where deceptive illusion blurs into semblance of semi-genuine and news is cheap and plentiful, a ceaseless bounty that exhausts and plagues the overtaxed brain. This avalanche of endless chaotic chatter has worn out two thirds of the populous, its drivel of headline noise and nonsense, the overwhelm of overload, point of pointless saturation left long ago in distant rearview, where information may appear larger or truer than it really is – hindsight and foresight newly interchangeable, panels of so-called experts yelling to get their Warholian fifteen across in five. Alleged facts fly fast and loose, essential questions go unanswered by the outspoken all out and speaking, tweeting, talking points poking viewers in uncomfortable ways, cycle after cycle, as breaking news becomes forever broken and Leary’s chant takes on new meaning for a media-plagued generation eager to “turn on, tune in, then drop out.”
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Visiting Hours R.M. KOZAN
married Beth late in life, and when we had Diane it was an unexpected bonus. We doted on her, and raised her like the little genius she was, breezing through school work plus dance lessons, piano lessons, voice lessons. The kid was a dynamo, an engine of creation. Her school years were a blur of awards nights and lead roles in musical productions. The first inklings of trouble came in high school when she suddenly developed an interest in tattooed and pierced boys. We had our eyes and hearts set firmly on a local college with an excellent arts program. We thought Diane’s natural abilities and interests would lead her there, but we were mistaken. Teenage hormones intervened, and before we knew it our child had mutated into a fighting, swearing holy terror. By the time she graduated high school, Diane’s educational plan was in disarray. She blew up a music program audition with a performance of some atonal rock dirges that required an unnatural pallor and an all-black wardrobe. It did not go over well with the academics and classical music purists who were her judges. A pregnancy followed, and she married her unshaven lothario, Stan Unders. They moved close to his family, for no discernibly rational reason, for they were an undependable, lay-about bunch. There, she and Stan sunk into a paycheque-to-paycheque rut which allowed a further deterioration into mediocrity and despair. Our angel had descended into the mud. Stan’s family carried an attitude of complacency and hedonism which sparked a vast anger in us. For years we had very little contact with our daughter. Our granddaughter, Dana, was a series of pictures we affixed to our refrigerator door. Every few months we would swallow our anger and telephone Diane. Her lifestyle left us very uneasy, and we feared for the developmental normalcy of our granddaughter. There was, however, little we could do other than listen to Diane’s tales of Stan’s dangerous debauchery and her own odd adventures with her bizarre band. We would praise any glimmer of sanity in their actions, and bite our tongue the remaining ninety-nine percent of the time. Inevitably, her tales of difficulty and deprivation would inspire us to send some money. Often we would receive in reply a thank-you message with an explanation why this month’s circumstance was so extraordinary, as well as assurances they would never again need our money. We would set aside the hollow explanation and claim the real prize, the updated pictures of our granddaughter destined for our refrigerator shrine. Years flew past and Diane raised Dana in a haphazard and chaotic manner. Stan became abusive. Diane moved back home to us for a month at one point, but her anger and fear of Stan did not last. Soon they were together again, but no one can tell me they were happy. Poor little Dana began to have trouble at school, and finally Diane agreed to let us tutor her. Beth and I are both well-educated and grounded. We have a wide variety of interests, especially in arts and culture. We took Dana under our wing, gently encouraging her as we had encouraged Diane. Our influence steadily grew as did our hopes for the likelihood our granddaughter would reach her potential. Whereas Diane had eventually rebelled against us, Dana had Diane to rebel against. Hard-partying Stan and Diane’s Goth rock band were the establishment that Dana would turn against. And Bach and The Beatles were where she could flee in reaction against her parents. As Dana progressed through high school, she thrived and our attitude towards Stan mellowed. All of our lives stabilized, improved. Perhaps each generation is one half pendulum swing away from its predecessor. Perhaps patience can conquer all. I remember Dana’s high school graduation. She looked so much like Diane did at that age, except she was neither pregnant nor sullen. Stan had filled Diane with a glum, ill-defined VOLUME 4, ISSUE 5 - THE CHAOS ISSUE 29
anger toward the world, but Dana has none of that. Her eyes are full of wonder and hope. As I lie in my hospital bed, I see Dana beside me, stroking my arm. Why am I here, and not at home? There was something in my blood work, I think. Or was it pneumonia? But I am breathing easily. I am thinking that it was very kind of Dana to come all the way to this hospital room when my situation is not very serious. I know she is very busy in college. Diane and Stan come in the room and they are smiling. This is unusual. They are middle-aged now and usually very dour. I joke about their smiles and ask if I am dying. They laugh this off and show me the new CD of Diane’s band. She has gone retro, finally utilizing the amazing vocal range and control she had cultivated over years of adolescent practice and then wasted for twice as many years whispering non sequiturs into a microphone with a breathy monotone. On the new CD, Diane is singing jazz standards, and Dana accompanies her for one track on viola. I want to hear the music and when the CD is inserted in the player and spinning out its magic, I feel very good indeed. Beth puts her hands over her head and does a hilarious wiggle dance followed by a pirouette. She is still very spry and has a terrific sense of physical humor. A pain in my chest commands my attention and the room has suddenly gone dark. I hear the beeping of a machine beside me. Where did everyone go? Now only Beth is there, but she looks old, sad. It is very difficult to breath. There is someone else. A nurse on my left side. She adjusts something and then leaves the room. Now I remember everything. Diane died when she was five. She was on her way back from a piano lesson just across the street, but it was rainy and the driver did not see her. They said it was instant and painless but for Beth and me, it was not. The devastation never diminished. I know now it wasn’t fair, but I blamed Beth. A five year old should not cross the street by herself. But where was I, Beth had asked me. So we blamed each other, at least a little, and went our separate ways. I sought understanding in a bottle. Beth joined her parent’s insane fundamentalist church. Now I am forced to concede that Dana does not exist. The fact that she looked identical to our young Diane should have clued me in to the unreality of my dream. How I wish it were true. I would gladly accept even the unsettling parts, Diane’s teenage rebellion, Stan and his dysfunctional family, if only I could see my little Diane grow up. If only I could see my wife slyly pirouette, one hand on her head in my hospital room. But I know the truth now. We are old. I have terminal cancer. Beth can hardly stand, much less pirouette. I have not seen her for decades. I am awake now, finally. She has come to say goodbye.
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INGRID BRUCK, JULIE NASLUND, LESLIE MCKAY AND SUSANNE MARGONO civil war colors bluebellies and butternuts birds fly south land of the wilderpeople red toadstools in leaf mould wind in the aspens tracery of yellow crosses the blue distance high above the treetops gather sight of mountain ranges wisps of gold and crimson stone backs of granite stoop windfall apples ferment a horse devours the new scarecrow birds line bare branches
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ANN CHRISTINE TABAKA It very well may be â€Ś If you allow me â€Ś The politeness of words continue. A riddle, a game. They are all the same. We have not come so far. Is the answer the question, or the question a ruse? We all abide our time. There is no reason or rhyme. In the beginning, the end is near, yet that is what we all fear The page, dog-eared and marked, turned so gingerly. The journey on which we embark, Is not for all to see. And, words once so polite, now crumpled on the floor, while correctness and etiquette go flying out the door.
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Chaos and Tragedy ELIZABETH BANFALVI
ur lives will never be without some form of chaos. It is what pushes and changes us forever. It also shows us how we survive or transcend them. So what chaos has changed my life recently? It was a bus ride on April 6th this year. A bus ride full of young hockey players and their coach and staff heading for a playoff game in their opponent’s city. Their bus was hit by a truck and 29 lives ended or were changed forever. It also changed Canadian hockey. Chaos is also a chance to see our values and how we honour them. This event showed the world how much they cared. $15 million was raised in honour of the survivors and the surviving families of the deceased. The world and Canadians opened their hearts. Humboldt, Saskatchewan has a population of just under six thousand people but the world became their friends and family through their generosity and outpouring of love. They held a memorial just after the crash and our prime minister, Hockey Canada representatives and the NHL family came and were a part of it. We wore a green ribbon in honour of them and the NHL coaches wore the green ribbon till the end of the season. At the beginning of the first game after the tragedy, NHL teams paid tribute to the Humboldt players and stood in a circle on the ice – players, referees and in the stands, the crowd all stood quietly. The players who were in the hospital were put next to each other for comfort. One was released and refused to leave the hospital and his fellow players. So much was happening that was heart rendering but they were a team and what was left were a team in the greatest way. September 12th was the beginning of the 2018-2019 hockey season for the new Humboldt Broncos. Two players were still playing and eight players some still suffering from injuries dropped the puck. They were all there because they wanted to be. The hockey game was played and then the ice surface was prepared for the honouring of the players. Scott Thomas, the father of the late Bronco Evan Thomas, spoke on behalf of the victims’ families and gave a very touching speech to thank everyone who supported them. If you walk into any arena, banners are hung from the rafters honouring the achievements of the teams who played there. The Elgar Petersen Arena will now have 29 banners representing the players’ name and either their life span years or the word “Believe” for the survivors hanging from their rafters. Before they unrolled each banner, a short group of photos was shown about each of their lives and families to honour them. They were real people with families and other interests. They showed the stands full of people who were watching and you could see how they felt. All were quiet and watching the unveiling of the banners. Many were wiping their tears but they stayed no matter how hard it was for them. 34 FREE LIT MAGAZINE
Life goes on now. So how does this affect me? My grandson played hockey for many years and even bleached his hair blonde like the players had. Every photo I saw of the team smiling and laughing, I saw my grandson in them because I had the same type of photo of him. My grandson has never been in Saskatchewan but it didn’t matter, I saw him in the photos and the videos of the players playing on the ice. Life is so precious and when it goes wrong, it can be so life altering that we are in total chaos – what do we do now? I remember just after the accident a father who lost his son talked about him like they were best buddies. They watched hockey games together and he remembered his son coming home and dropping his hockey bag at the front door. Now he would watch hockey alone and the front entrance wouldn’t hold a hockey bag anymore. Chaos isn’t in the big things but the small memories that are just memories now. It is the moments when we see others still living their lives and going on and eventually getting married and having a family. But not their son – their memories ended on April 6th.
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Saints and Sinners EDILSON A. FERREIRA
We founded churches, schools, hospitals, we created priests, teachers and physicians; some of us we acclaimed kings and judges, some others, beggars and prisoners. We care for our children, instilling in them those dreams we were not able to fulfill. We have changed our course many times, both on the road and in our minds, so little different from those primitive hordes, turning to the wind like a ship of old sailors. We have never had even that natural gift of birds, who know from birth their journeys and returns in each season of their lives. Saints and sinners, side by side, we write our history, which, some day, will be read, and they will know that, if we lacked wit and sapience, there has been always a plenty of love. A love full of disappointments, but blended with the joy of alone colonizing a planet given to unknown ancestors, which, despite lifeâ€™s scars, has been always handed to welcome hopeful new generations.
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GALE ACUFF I’m six years old and sick a lot. A lot. I’ve missed so many days of school Mother says I may have to repeat first grade. That means I have to do it over but if I never did it the first time through then how could I do it over again? That must be what repeat means. Oh, sure. There’s that joke: Pete and Repeat were sitting on a fence --Pete jumped off. Who was left? Repeat. Okay: Pete and Repeat were sitting on a fence --Pete jumped off. Ha ha. Or maybe it’s spelled RePete. But jokes are meant to be heard, so it doesn’t matter how you spell it. It’s when you try to write something, in letters, I mean, on pages, I mean, with pencil or pen, I mean, that big things don’t make sense. And I’ve missed so much school this year I can’t write very much at all--my name, for one --or two: I have two names, first and last, and a middle one, too, and I’m a Junior, but I can’t spell all those yet and I don’t use them anyway . . . . Only Mother does, when she’s real mad: Gale Gordon Acuff, Junior, she yells. But not as often now I’m sick. Four names. 1, 2, 3, 4. Four names. Add them up and they’re, let’s see, don’t tell me, 10. 10. 1 + 2 + 3 + 4. That’s not too shabby. I knows lots of other numbers but not all in a row like that and not just how to get to them, and I’m only six and have missed so many weeks of school but who’s counting? The President is Jack Kennedy. Washington was the Father of Our Country. Lincoln wasn’t handsome but if he’d looked like Elvis Presley or Ricky Nelson or Rex Harrison then he wouldn’t have been assassinated dead. We won World War 2. Superman is Clark Kent. It’s funny his identity 38 FREE LIT MAGAZINE
is secret--I know it. Some people are blind and they use blind dogs to help them see, I don’t know how, and I don’t have to know everything, but I’m willing to learn. If Lassie’s so smart, how come she’s always lost? We don’t have indoor plumbing, whatever that is, and no central heat, ditto, and I’ve got what the animal doctor thinks is exposure to the elephants, but I guess they ran right over me and knocked me out so I can’t remember a thing, or they were hiding and infected me somehow. And now I’ve got ammonia, too, is what Father says. Last night we got drunk and I felt like a new man--well, new boy --but threw up again this morning. Mother helped us off the floor. Teacher visited a little while ago and yelled at them. I don’t like your attitude, Mother said, nor your dress, neither. Attaway to go, I hollered to my folks. You tell her good. Then I threw up again and it was red. We’re waiting for a Social Worker to show up. Father’s gone to my uncle’s and Mother’s sipping the Mogen David and trying to find a pair of stockings that don’t have runs, whatever runs are. It’s good to be loved. I wouldn’t trade my folks for all the tea in China and that’s heaps. I’m too smart for school anyway and too good to live. That’s what they say. They should know.
Godless Grass and the Gift of Childhood ALEX DAWSON
he children acted as their nature accorded, dancing in the spurts of water that shot from the metal mouths of the park fountain. Glistening in the sun, the water reached upwards to the tree branches where the birds too acted as their nature accorded. To the side, sitting on benches, the parents chatted and nodded their heads, keeping their eyes on their child; and this too was their nature. An open field adjacent to the metal fountains was centred in an equally wealthy suburb where everyone knew the nature of their neighbour and his neighbour next to him. In this field two men in the conclusion of their lives were shuffling along, laughing and twirling, calling out to each other the things before them of which the years never seem to have stripped of awe. One man, Herman, had been a chemist in a lab. The other, Henry, had served in the military and rose to the rank of Captain. “Henry! Henry!” the chemist called. “Can’t catch me, can’t catch me!” “Henry! Look at the swallow. Hello, mister swallow.” “Can’t catch me, can’t catch me!” The captain turned around wide eyed, pulled at the skin below his chin like a lizard and stuck his tongue out, his dentures slipping in and out of their allotted place on his gum line. “Let’s make a fort out of grass,” he decided. “Henry! Henry!” The captain moved toward the swallow at the bottom of the tree, grass blades on his shoulder. His back hunched ever closer to the earth with each step, one foot slowly overtaking the other, again and again. “Be careful, Herman. Oh, look at him. Be careful, though.” With the captain a few strides behind the chemist the two men advanced toward the tree as though in it’s very nature held what they had been searching for their entire lives. Their eyes were locked in place, eyebrows manic, smiles wide with gaiety. One of the parents sitting in the bench clicked her tongue in a sigh and thought with sympathy how after ten years those poor wifeless men still frolic in the park searching for meaning in things before they die. But the things in which they search are godless, and their homes without wives. It was common for old men to return, with a merciless ease, to an infantile state of mind. Especially the men who weren’t inclined to have children. And why wouldn’t they? She thought. The woman turned back to her child running in the water spurts, looking to her and yelling mommy, mommy! with no power not to laugh and twirl. The woman eyed her husband who sat beside her, waving to his child’s upturned and joyous face. He met her gaze and gave her a wink.
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DUSKA DRAGOSAVAC & JACLYN ACRE
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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:
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