Volume 5 Issue 4 - The Humanity Issue

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Reach Out and Touch Me BOB MACKENZIE


Us and Them SASHA HILL




In Defence of Goldilocks JOHN TAVARES




Heartstorm ERIN BOYCE


Birth or Death LYNN WHITE




Sharing a home brought us closer... the second time around RICK BLUM


A Tale of Two Birds


Brief Moments KYLE CLIMANS


Goodbye, My Friend MILTON P. EHRLICH




august SAM DAVID


An Act of Defiance LISA SANDMANN






Fortuitous Crossroads JAMES KENNETH BLAYLOCK




Gloria’s Dance and the Baby Doll WILLOW SCHLEICH




A Notre Dame Cathedral Lament RICHARD M. GROVE






Humans Feed on Humans HASAN ZIA


Strawberry Solution JOAN LEOTTA


A Calculated Chaos SIOBHAN LOCKE







Front Cover


Back Cover


FREE LIT M A G A Z I N E Humanity Editor-in-Chief Ashley Newton

Literary Editor Eunice Kim

Staff Writers

Kyle Climans, Alyssa Cooper, Bruce Kauffman


Jaclyn Acre, Adelaide Clare Attard, Luis Cuauhtemoc Berriozábal, James Kenneth Blaylock, Rick Blum, Erin Boyce, Jacob Butlett, Andrew Case, Shannon L. Christie, Sam David, Duska Dragosavac, Ken Allan Dronsfield, Milton P. Ehrlich, Edilson A. Ferreira, Meg Freer, Richard M. Grove, Sasha Hill, Max JohanssonPugh, Joan Leotta, Alexander Limarev, Siobhan Locke, Bob MacKenzie, Sajeda Manzoor, Heather McLeod, Joan McNerney, Mathew Nagendran, Joseph S. Pete, Rachel Rodman, Iris Russak, Lisa Sandmann, Ann Christine Tabaka, John Tavares, Lynn White, Hasan Zia


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.

There are so many facets to being human that a mere few paragraphs simply aren’t enough. But humanity is all of us: you, me, and other people. How we contribute to this world is what defines us; how we feel creates shifts and inspires change. Sometimes our mistakes take us down, but only before showing us a better way. It’s all of these things and more that make up humanity. How we all come together despite our differences also sheds a light on humanity. When we work together toward a common goal or reach a collective understanding: that’s real. It’s not something unattainable or part of a fantasy. It’s part of a reality we both create and inhabit every day. In this issue, you’ll see a number of pieces that reflect on these ideas and so much more. Part of humanity is the messiness of it all, and hopefully that’s an experience you can take from it and use on your own path.

Ashley Newton Editor-in-Chief



Next Issue

The Happiness Issue November 2019 VOLUME 5, ISSUE 4 - THE HUMANITY ISSUE 3

Burning Solstice

KEN ALLAN DRONSFIELD In my early days of wandering; July’s violet haze stirs from within. Of wanton youth with many queries; long in the tooth with misplaced piety. Odiferous pleasantries of rose petals; while lilacs speak with heavenly flair. Children scamper through cold sprinklers; laundry hangs waving in warm breezes. Butterflies and bees dance upon flowers; songbirds and robins bounce across lawns. Blessed are days of the burning solstice; memories smolder through sands of time.


Reach Out and Touch Me BOB MACKENZIE

Reach out to caress my thoughts, For here people are unreal Building their novel castles, Heavy stone-walled memories And no matter how I reach I can’t leap the moat between. Except that one small thought gropes Searching this deviant room, How do I know you seek me? I know now we must soon touch To break the spell this room holds, And connect realities. Reach out and touch me For I want to be.


LUCA the Pooh



n a primitive sea, 4 billion years ago, there lived a little creature under the name of “Sanders.” Which is to say: the molecular letters, S-A-N-D-E-R-S, were written above it, in the form of a polypeptide chain, and the creature lived under it. But the creature’s real name was “The Last Universal Common Ancestor.” Or luca, for short. luca had two babies. And four grand-babies. And eight great-grand-babies. And eventually–eventually–a few of LUCA’s descendants gained the trick of acquiring energy from light. And, from these, a jumbled subset–the “plants”–came to comprise a comely stretch of forest called The Hundred Acre Wood. Others of luca’s descendants became animals. Some were boneless, like the bees: hardworking and humorless, and fiercely protective of their honey. Others had bones. Among these were the dinosaurs that lifted their heads one momentous morning, long enough to cry, “Tut! Tut!” But, while the darkening sky might have seemed to presage rain, what it revealed, in fact, was the approach of a massive asteroid. “Oh Bother!” cried the dinosaurs, post-collision, as debris filled the sky, and they died and died and died. But they did not all die. Because one lineage–a winged lineage, in particular, called birds–survived. Among these was another resident of the Wood: wise old Owl, who echoed, with each ruffle of his feathers, the poise and gravity of his dinosaur ancestors. Out of the shadow of the dead, other things emerged, too: scruffy, pint-sized things, called mammals, who were delighted, now that the T Rexes were gone, at the opportunity to become much larger. Mammals had many fine things. Hair, nipples, and four-chambered hearts. But the thing that really set them apart was a clever–or not-so-clever–invention called pregnancy. There were many different ways to engage in this strange new practice, and the mammals of the Hundred Acre Wood experimented with most of them. At one extreme was Roo, a marsupial. Roo was born from his mother, Kanga, as an immature little nub: wriggling and larval. Then he crawled his way up and over Kanga’s abdomen, and into her pouch, where he nursed his way up to a more cuddly size. Other mammals, called placentals, took things a bit farther. One was Rabbit. As a foetus, Rabbit enjoyed an extended period inside his mother, coddled by her uterus. This extra care set the stage for a fussy and fastidious adulthood, and a lifetime of behaving in a snitty, selfish, and spectacularly entitled fashion with regard to his garden lettuce. But, even among the placentals, there was one creature–Rabbit’s human friend and evolutionary cousin–who took the practice to a true extreme. I am speaking, of course, of Christopher Robin. Before birth, Christopher ate from his mother with a singular greediness. He drained her, drained her, profoundly and horribly, in order to fuel the growth of his immense brain. As he grew, he distended her belly, too, leaving her seamed with awful scars. Luckily, though not inevitably–for he was very greedy indeed: far greedier, in fact, than a certain bear ever was for his honey–he did not kill her. 6 FREE LIT MAGAZINE

Two other placentals, shy Piglet and sad Eeyore, were not so greedy. They were set apart, instead, by something more innocent. Deep in the past, these creatures’ ancestors had acquired hard caps on the ends of their legs. These structures were called hooves. And in the Hundred Acre Wood, they served their owners well, by turns, for the purposes of skittering about fearfully, and for striking a sluggish pose: sad, sad, sad, while engaged in a perpetual mope. Two other placentals–the “carnivores”–also lived in the Wood. They had evolved to hunt. Or, rather, their ancestors had, even if they themselves had more or less left off doing it. The first was Tigger, stripy and exuberant. His claws were adapted to slicing flesh... even if he preferred to use them for bouncing. Paired with Tigger was a second carnivore: fat, lovable Pooh, who sat, dumpily, on the top of it all, the pinnacle of evolution. Silly old bear.


A Soul is Unique SAJEDA MANZOOR The earth is green Many cast and creed Pride and prejudice We are all human indeed Mind, body and colors Every soul is unique They all are universal With twinkling wide eyes Pearls like tears inside Pure soul angelic Angels sing around A baby soul is here With soft curly hair Let it smile and cry To give the sign of life The nature sings The green earth shouts A tiny plant is out It needs to flourish With sunlight, rain and lovely breeze It is a soul angelic Without wrinkles inside It is fragile It says, Lift me up with hands around I am a gift in the universe To laugh, play, jump and breathe Kiss me with two lips Hug me tight I am a little soul unique I make you smile and cry I need to grow into a human With a cheerful smile With no pride and prejudice A human indeed To enjoy the rainbow colours I want to camouflage in it To keep it evergreen A beautiful heart Is an amazing soul indeed Without any pride or prejudice 8 FREE LIT MAGAZINE

Birth or Death LYNN WHITE

Death begins at birth for pro-lifers. The birth day is when interest is lost lost in those post foetal post natal moments which move us crying into hours smiling into days crawling into months running into years walking into decades slowing toward our death day. They’ve long lost interest these pro-lifers. They say that life must be lived according to the law of God as it is written and dispatched to them in nightmares and dreams. Only break it and they’re back with interest and concern those pro-deathers. VOLUME 5, ISSUE 4 - THE HUMANITY ISSUE 9

Sharing a home brought us closer... the second time around RICK BLUM


few weeks ago my niece threw a surprise 70th birthday party for my sister, Bette. The celebration was in Arizona, too long a haul for me and my wheelchair. Fortunately, due to the magic of Skype, I got to “attend” the festivities from the comfort of home, and even say a few words to the fifty or so guests about the wonderfully caring person I’ve come to know and love. I say “come to know” because it wasn’t always so. The truth is: Though we are close in age (she is sixteen months my senior), we were never that close growing up in our suburban New Jersey home. She was into “girl stuff,” dolls and dress up. I was consumed with sports. Sure, she once taught me how to knit, which lasted for all of one afternoon, and I got her to take up baseball, which also fizzled out in short order. And admittedly, I’d hang around occasionally when she tuned into soaps after school – usually on rainy days. But otherwise, we mostly lived in separate spheres. Even through our high school years, we never shared friends or activities. She was on the twirling team; I joined the golf team. Her circle of friends was drawn mainly from the Jewish community, mine primarily from kids who liked to hit balls and party – not necessarily in that order. We were in the same math class one year, which I had completely forgotten about until she reminded me recently that I aced the course while she struggled to get a passing grade. Apparently, even in intellectual pursuits, we didn’t do much sharing. Bette moved to Maryland and married while I was still in college; I stayed in New England after graduating from unh. Though we still saw one another on major holidays, we didn’t have the time or, perhaps, inclination to deepen our relationship. Unfortunately, her marriage dissolved, and she, along with her two children, moved back home, then to Florida when our parents retired there. Ironically, her struggle as a single mom to keep her head above water in a distant environ began to bring us closer together. Sympathetic to her challenges, I started to call regularly just to talk – the result of which was a suggestion that she relocate to Massachusetts for better schools and job opportunities, which included an offer for them to live temporarily with my wife and me to ease the transition. Four months later (after we finished the upstairs of our small Gambrel to make room) we became an extended family of five. And unlike childhood days when we could go our own ways without much concern for the other, we now had to learn what made each of us tick in order to keep things running smoothly. I began to appreciate her bottomless instinct to help others, as well as her need for order. She got some insights into my values about life and family, including my need for order. We managed to share our home (mostly amicably) for more than six months, before she and the kids secured their own apartment in the next town over. But get-togethers were now frequent, and our bond continued to grow – until, that is, a few years on when a new romance (eventually new marriage) took her to Arizona, where she’s resided for the last two decades plus. But the connection we formed while she lived with and nearby us has endured. We continue to speak regularly on the phone, and my wife and I, along with our two daughters, often visited her and my younger sister in Arizona. Additionally, a half dozen years back, we started playing Scrabble online, typically making 2-3 moves a day each, along with comments like “At PT later” and “My letters stink!” which isn’t as informative as, say, a 20-minute phone call, but still gives us a sense of being close despite the 2,000 miles separating us. In fact, it’s my move now. Wonder what word can I make out of S-H-A-R-N-I-G? 10 FREE LIT MAGAZINE



Brief Moments KYLE CLIMANS


he groom walked down the aisle, arm-in-arm with his parents, wearing a smile that seemed to be made of rubber. Crawford found it uncomfortable to even look at the groom, but that’s because he was fully aware of just how much tension there was between Reid and his parents. Ever since he’d begun dating Carmen, a rift had opened where there previously hadn’t been. Reid had never been a very strong-willed person, but Carmen certainly was, and she quickly had Reid wrapped around her little finger. That might not have been so bad if she hadn’t been so determined to isolate him from his family, severing ties that had previously been, if not fully healthy, normal by most accounts. Crawford hadn’t been there for any of that. He’d never been close with his cousin, but even he could sense tension in the room when Reid spoke barely two words to anyone at family gatherings who wasn’t Carmen. And it would certainly have been an improvement if Carmen had said as few words to members of Reid’s family. As the groomsmen and bridesmaids came down the aisle, Crawford couldn’t stop thinking of all the stories he’d heard. Of Carmen screaming at Reid’s parents that they would be cut out of their lives if they didn’t toe the line. Of Reid backing her and turning on his parents, who had never denied him anything in their lives. Crawford ground his teeth recalling the stories he’d heard from his cousins April and Joss, or Reid’s sister Brooke. What made it worse wasn’t just that Carmen had become a living wedge, splitting Reid from his siblings and parents, but that Reid had made his decisions and was going along with Carmen’s hostility. He had always been spoiled, and he had taken a lot for granted. Now he was at arm’s length from everyone in the family. He was besotted with her. That was the truth nobody wanted to admit. His rubbery smile lit up, if that was possible, when she came down the aisle. It didn’t even matter that the wind blew her veil off when she was halfway there and blew out the candles lit for the outside ceremony. Reid didn’t notice anything amiss. Crawford sighed, ignoring the speeches, or the words of the registrar as she married Reid to Carmen. Glasses of champagne were handed out to the guests while the documentation was being signed, all to get things ready for a toast in the bride and groom’s honour. Once again, the lake shore’s wind made a mockery of the pomposity, and several glasses were knocked over or spilled before they could even be handed out. Crawford took a moment in the confusion to empty his own champagne deliberately into the ground. He wasn’t going to touch a drop of alcohol tonight, not in celebration of this unhappy union. If the ceremony was drab, the speeches were worse. Carmen didn’t say a word, not even a word of thank you to her new in-laws for paying for the wedding. Nor did she even thank her own parents, who only seemed a bit less subdued than Reid’s parents. Perhaps because they’d been through this wedding business with Carmen before, as they even noted in their wedding speech. Carmen remained seated while Reid took the responsibility of the couple’s speeches concluding that part of the night. He clumsily thanked his parents, his new in-laws, and all the guests for attending his wedding. Sitting near April, Crawford couldn’t help but notice that she had been omitted. A skilled baker, April had been the obvious choice to provide desserts for the wedding, but that responsibility became a burden very quickly. April had confided in Crawford and his siblings that Carmen had constantly changed her mind about the desserts, giving April less and less time to adjust and prepare the final order. Reid had been no help at all, but 12 FREE LIT MAGAZINE

April had been loath to abandon the cause out of familial duty and her own professionalism. Now she looked on in surprise at the omission of even her name during the speech that Reid was giving. As if Crawford and his siblings willed it, someone in the crowd of family and friends gathered in the room, suddenly interrupted Reid’s speech during a pause. He called out that April ought to be thanked for her part in preparing the wedding. Jokingly, April turned and responded, “You’re welcome!” But her voice carried so far that everyone heard her, and anyone who knew about her trials and tribulations laughed. Others squirmed awkwardly, while Carmen threw April a nasty look while Reid quickly resumed speaking. Crawford sighed and decided that he needed to get as high as possible to survive this farce. After dinner was served, and the guests watched the bride and groom make their slow, awkward dance together, Crawford slipped out and filled his lungs with weed, embracing the high which filled his mind. Oblivious to how he smelled, he returned inside to witness an incredible change. The music was blaring in full earnest, and while it was alternating between country and rock and dance pop, people did their best to adjust their movements to whatever rhythm was awkwardly blurted out by the inept DJ. Crawford burst out laughing helplessly, convinced that the universe had conspired to make this wedding as cringey as possible. Nobody was more alive on the dance floor than April. A circle formed for her almost by instinct as people made way for her wild, yet carefully controlled movements. She was perfectly in sync with the music, whatever song was playing, and no matter what dance partner she chose for herself, whether it was Crawford’s sister, her husband, or even her uncle, she managed to coordinate her dance with their actions as well as the music. As this was going on, Crawford suddenly noticed something out of the corner of his eye. Turning, he saw Reid, hovering anxiously, the look of a lost animal in his expression. Without a second’s hesitation, Crawford suddenly wrapped an arm around his cousin and pushed him gently but firmly into the circle. For once, Reid did not protest, or maybe that was just because the music was so loud that Crawford didn’t hear him. Immediately, April approached Reid and danced enthusiastically with him as other members of the family cheered Reid’s presence. For a moment, Crawford regretted his split-second decision as he saw Reid make slow, half-hearted movements keeping up with April. But then Reid began to dance. Truly dance. Uninhibited movements of fun that Crawford hadn’t seen from Reid in who knows how long. The cheers raised in volume as Reid and April’s movements coordinated, arms and legs swinging in time with the beat as a few other members of the family hurried forward, eager to dance along with the cousins. As this was going on, Crawford turned to look for Carmen. She was standing on the far side of the dance floor; her family and friends had been pushed to the side by the sheer force of Crawford’s family dominating the dance floor. Even for a woman whose gaze radiated hostility, Crawford couldn’t miss the glower which formed in her bright eyes as she watched the formerly snubbed April steal the show. And now she was also making Reid dance for the first time that night. But it wasn’t just April. Brooke joined in, dancing with Reid as another throwback party jam blared over the speakers. And then Reid’s mother entered the circle of the dance floor, to great fanfare. Mother and son danced with more enthusiasm and emotion than had been shown in the entire ceremony. That stilted, awkward procedure felt so alien compared to this moment, Crawford thought. As though the previous events had been performed by mannequins given some bizarre half-life, but this was where they truly came alive. VOLUME 5, ISSUE 4 - THE HUMANITY ISSUE 13

Then, the party jams stopped, replaced with a bizarre country song that Crawford couldn’t believe had been approved for the playlist. The fire which had burned across the dance floor fizzled out at last. Satisfied, April wearily swaggered off, while the rest of the circle dispersed. Crawford didn’t pay attention to where Reid had gone. He was already leaving the room for another one of the joints that he’d brought with him. For a brief moment, however, Crawford watched as the wedding once more devolved into a subdued affair, with Carmen’s faction shuffling along to bad music, even as his own family gathered into groups and exchanged depressed glances over what had happened. For this was, as they all knew, just the beginning. Reid and Carmen were married, and so they’d remain until one of them gave up on the marriage or died. The rest of them would have to accommodate the situation as it got worse. But for once, Crawford wasn’t bitter or detached. He had seen a spark of life, of hope, when Reid had remembered himself. His dancing hadn’t been half-hearted or weighed down with his usual diffidence. Although the visit hadn’t lasted more than five or six minutes, all who bore witness knew amongst themselves that the prodigal son had come home.


Drink the Sea

LUIS CUAUHTEMOC BERRIOZà BAL Who drinks the sea of paradise? Who imbibes the sweat of desire? There is a thirst that can’t be filled. Life drowns every one of us. Who tastes the last tear we drop from winter to spring, from summer to fall? There will be no rolling tears on our cheeks or in our sad faces. Everything must pass. I know it now. I must find sleep to get through this day. My work shirt hangs upon the closet with a stain where the heart goes unprotected. The night is near. The eyes grow heavy. There will be no more weeping for the loss of love. There are no small victories here.


An Act of Defiance LISA SANDMANN


ou have kind eyes,” he told me, “That scares me. It means that the world hasn’t broke:”n you yet. I don’t want to watch the kindness leave your eyes.” I just smiled and said, “I love you,” before changing the subject. In my drunken state I couldn’t find the words to explain how a boy had ripped the last of my innocence away from me along with my virginity at seventeen; how the memories haunted me so intensely that I could still feel his hands holding me down and hear his voice whispering in my ear, making me feel as worthless and used as I had then. I didn’t know how to tell him that even before I had met the boy who hurt me, I had been broken. I didn’t say a word about the years of constant hunger as I tested the limits of my own starvation in the name of being thin, or how the scars on my arms weren’t as accidental as I had lead people to believe. I never mentioned the letters that I had carried around for months, or the bottle of pills I kept with them. I didn’t even let myself think about the day I had emptied that bottle onto my tongue and swallowed, only to find myself crouched over the toilet ten minutes later forcing myself to vomit, praying that it wasn’t too late to reverse what I had done. I didn’t know how to explain to him at the time, that the world had already broken me into a thousand different pieces and I had put myself back together. I was purposefully kind as an act of defiance against the world that had caused me so much pain, and I wore that kindness so openly and proudly because I was determined to give others what I had been denied and yet so desperately needed. I could only hope that by throwing a little bit of kindness into the world that I could save someone else from breaking as completely as I had.


This body

ALYSSA COOPER This body is a bulb, waiting to be planted in cold earth. This body is a seed, anxious for spring and thirsty for rain, this body is impatient, ready to set aside the past – this body barely remembers winter, even as it remembers winter perfectly. This body is a contradiction; we remember forgetting, we destroy creation, we yearn for life and wish for death, but mostly, we are ready. This body is ready to lift its head to the sun, to sample spring, this body is ready for fresh starts and clean slates, this body will learn to swim in the middle of the ocean, this body is not afraid of sinking. This body is more afraid of breathing. This body is ready.





SHANNON L. CHRISTIE How do people learn to hate? By being herded like worthless freight. By being locked up behind a massive gate. By falling for the Capitalist, I mean Fascist bait. The world may have already sealed it’s fate, Having already lost one of the G8. How do people learn to rage? By being locked in an overcrowded cage. By being treated as just a number on a page. By separating families, no matter what age. The world may have already tipped the gauge. Having already set the stage, For the coming war with no rules to engage. How do people learn to fight? By not trusting in their Government oversight. By crossing raging rivers in the dark of night. By not being afforded their basic human right. The world has ignored too many a peoples plight. Having already extinguished the freedom light, For those who’ve gathered up all their might, To leave home and follow the path of Starlight.



EDILSON A. FERREIRA Blessed be those who are opening paths without knowing if they will have the strength to conclude it; who put themselves to the test without further ado than the love for a cause and the fervor to fight the good fight; who believe that people are made to accomplish one for the other, performing generous a mankind; who are full of projects for the next years even fearful by the ones of next week; who fall in love and are not afraid to demonstrate it; who plant a tree fully aware never will reap its fruits nor sit by its shadow, but fully contented for, someday, it will serve for a fellow one, indebted to a past kindness.




ANN CHRISTINE TABAKA Talk to me. “What should I say?” Anything, just talk to me. Tell me about your day. “There is nothing to tell.” What did you do? “I did what I always do.” Don’t shut me out. I need to talk. “I need to be alone with my thoughts.” What has happened to us? “What should I say? What do you want me to say?” Just tell me everything is okay. Please talk to me! “What should I say?”




Humans Feed on Humans HASAN ZIA

Visions obscured, in the fog of lies The thoughts evolve, behind closed eyes In greed, the vultures revolve Humans feed on humans, into animals as they evolve The death dances in the streets, Upon prey the terror celebrates The rain of tears, in torrents fall The rivers of blood flow in tides The sorrows dwell within every heart, upon corpses as the vultures revolve Hell on earth, for every soul awaits, as the greed becomes their religion Humans feed on humans, into animals as they evolve The sorrows dwell within every heart, Upon corpses as the vultures revolve




March 4, 2012 My classmates and I are woken up by the roosters in the backyard at Camp Esperanza in Jalapa, Guatemala. The sun creeps behind the mountains. The small pink, plastic analog clock on the roughly painted white wall reads 6:05. I walk into the kitchen with my bunk mates. Mariam, the co-founder of Wells of Hope, a nonprofit organization that provides the people of Jalapa with clean water and better shelter, fills the extra large coffee pot with heaping scoops of ground beans for all fourteen of us. I wrap my arms around my knees as I sit on the uneven surface in the back of the Wells of Hope pickup truck. Dust and dirt clouds off the road and covers my unshaven legs. My classmates squish together to stay in place as we travel up a steep, gravelly mountain. I look down at my white flip-flops, now brown from wear and rubble. Ted, the owner of Wells of Hope stands up as the truck drives eighty kilometers an hour up the steep hill. His white tank top is covered in mud and sticks to his chest in the morning heat. “Thank you all for waking up so early this morning, St. Marcellinus students. I wanted to get an early start to this day so we have time to visit this important place. We’re on our way to an all girl’s orphanage. Most girls are there because of difficult home and family situations. The owners of the orphanage are Americans. Be gracious to the people living here,” Ted preaches as we wind up the mountain. The truck pulls into a gated community. A property with brown grass is caged off with barbed wire. A worn sign reads, “Casa Hogar, Nuestra Señora de los Remedios.” Casa Hogar, Our Lady of Remedies. We pile out of the truck. I extend my hand to help my classmates out. As the March sun beams, we walk in clusters to Casa Hogar’s kitchen. “This is Esmeralda. She is the head chef of this orphanage. She is going to show us around,” Ted informs us. The kitchen smells like rubbing alcohol and corn. Esmeralda has my Nanna’s hands. Soft from years of cooking with oil. Her red shirt has patches of flour in the same spots as Nanna’s does: on her stomach and her shirt’s sleeve, where it is the easiest to dust off your hands. I look at the stone oven behind Esmeralda. The small chimney stands behind the wood burning oven. Rows of perfectly round corn tortillas lay atop a black tray being heated by the fire. They glisten as the sun peers through the torn, yellowing lace curtains. I follow my classmates and teachers as we begin touring Casa Hogar. We march up the winding stairs to see one of the bedrooms. The orphanage looks like a cement hotel. In the middle of the complex is a concrete fountain. No water comes out. A tattered plastic sheet covers the top of the fountain. Dust cakes the four identical lions with spouts in their mouths. Esmeralda knocks on the first door she sees. A young girl in a red and navy plaid kilt and white blouse opens the door. The young girl extends her leg to hold the door open as she brings her French-braided pigtails forward from behind her back. She wears scuffed Mary Janes and dirty white socks. “Esta sala pertenece a los niñas de trece años. Esto es Lourdes,” says Esmeralda. Ted translates, “This is Lourdes. This room belongs to the thirteen-year-old girls.” We enter a room with yellow stucco walls and rows of bunk beds. Each blue-iron bunk bed holds three beds, not like the one I had when I was little, which only held two. One for me. One for my sister. I remember hitting my head on the pine wood of my bunk bed if I got up too fast. I can’t imagine the pain of hitting your head on iron. I remember how scared I used VOLUME 5, ISSUE 4 - THE HUMANITY ISSUE 25

to be when my sister would make me sleep on the top bunk. I can’t imagine being on the very top of these beds, knowing that two girls sleep underneath. Each bed is covered with a white sheet. The room looks like it sleeps twenty girls. I look down at the speckled tiles as we leave the room and walk to the courtyard. Mr. Byrne, our school Chaplain puts his clammy hand on my raw, sunburned shoulder. “So, Addy, what do you think?” “I’m glad these girls are safe, sir.” I catch up with Ayla, a grade twelve student I made friends with on this trip. Her brownish red hair shines as we step out into the sun. We stop as soon as Ted sees a white woman. “This is Melissa. She owns this orphanage,” Ted introduces us to the white woman. She wears a pink sparkly t-shirt and her hair is dyed fire truck red. Her coloured hair sits on her shoulders in perfect French-braid pigtails. As Melissa begins to speak, a baby girl with a cleft lip runs toward her. She smiles, picks her up and rests the baby on her hip. Melissa explains how she and her husband founded the orphanage. She mentions that a lot of girls come to Casa Hogar because they lack support from their families. She mentions that many young women come to the orphanage pregnant. She tucks the baby’s black locks behind her tiny ear. The baby’s name is Maria. Her mom had her at fourteen, says Melissa. If I had a baby at fourteen, I would have a two-year-old. A deep pain forms in my stomach. Everyone goes quiet. I look at Maria as she nuzzles into Melissa’s chest. I look down at the crisp brown grass under my flip-flops. My classmates and I begin to play in the playground with the young girls. Mrs. Proust and Melissa start a game of soccer in a field of dry grass. Girls in uniforms huddle together. One girl holds a brand new soccer ball under her arm, just like the ones my sister would kick around during summer rec soccer. The girls begin to play in their Mary Janes. I choose to sit out. I walk over to find little Maria. My flip-flops clack and shuffle over dry grass. Little Maria sits on Melissa’s lap under an awning in the shade. They lean against a rusty support beam as they sit on the cement ground. I ask Melissa if I can hold Maria. I crouch beside them. “Go for it!” she says. I pick the toddler up as if she were breakable. Her pink t-shirt reads “Rock Star.” I adjust her tiny jean shorts and run my finger over her soft caramel cheek. She smiles through her raised upper lip and nuzzles into my chest. The hour slides through our fingers. We visited the cosmetology room on the ground floor of the orphanage. A girl around my sister’s age braided my hair in tight French braid pigtails, just like my sister does for me before first period in our school cafeteria. She was gentler on my hair than my sister ever is. After the girls got their hair braided, we had to say our goodbyes. I lock eyes with Maria. She hides behind Melissa. I scoop under Maria’s small armpits and rest her on my hip. Her small hand touches my cheek and she laughs. As I put her down, I adjust her tiny jean shorts again. I look at the ground as a tear flows down the same cheek she touched, knowing this little girl’s fate. When we got back to Camp Esperanza, I prayed for Maria. I can count the number of times I’ve prayed on both hands.



MEG FREER Some memories—best shattered like a glass dropped into a porcelain sink, more difficult to retrieve than those changed or repressed.


Us and Them SASHA HILL

We roam among the desolate To call them ungrateful We lick our silver spoons To call ourselves full We see tragedy To say our prayers We give our love To call ourselves saints


In Defence of Goldilocks JOHN TAVARES


hat we have, Your Honour, is a young, homeless girl, with beautiful golden hair, who has no parental support and who has become the object of some unwanted attention in the media. Your Honour, my client, Goldilocks, was merely walking through the woods of the urban park, playing with her beautiful golden tresses with her restless fingers. She had been forced to sleep in her filthy sleeping bag in the lakeshore park, at the edge of a small group of homeless refugees encamped there. Having no visible means of support, she has been steadily harassed by the police, but, for the most part, she is too young to work fulltime. She is also sometimes sick and dirty, because she lacks the cleaning facilities to wash herself and has no access to adequate washroom amenities to maintain her resplendent hair, which has received the undue and unwanted attention of Toronto’s notorious community of street photographers. Her gorgeous mane was even described on one immoderate blog posting as making Farrah Fawcett’s hair—and I quote—“look like a bull dyke.” My client has been homeless for the past year, Your Honour. She became homeless when her mother, a seasoned sex trade worker, a veteran of the rough and tumble neighbourhood in the downtown east end around Jarvis and Gerard, suggested she earn some money by providing services of a sexual nature to some clients she knew. These men preferred the sexual favours of younger prostitutes, and had become enamoured by her thick shiny hair. At the time, my client, a junior student at a high school in the inner city, in the decaying downtown core, took the moral high road. She became a teenage runaway, running away, fleeing home, a small apartment in a complex of high-rises, premises so cramped and decrepit she could often hear her mother having sex with her latest boyfriend in the adjacent bed. Her small apartment was located near a factory that manufactures hair care products, luxury styling gel, mousse, conditioner, shampoo and hair spray, where, during a visit in search of gainful employment, she was complimented repeatedly and to an inappropriate degree on the beauty of her hair. But she was ultimately told by human resources she could not work because she was too young. To add insult to injury, she was finally escorted out of the facility by a security guard. Afterwards, she fled from her mother, a single parent unsuitable for custody of a teenage child, rather than work as an underage sex trade worker. In fact, she went as far as to chop off her golden locks with scissors and electric clippers and shave her head, in what can only be described as an act of honour and courage. This drastic action she conceived of as a means of protection, which also demonstrated her street smarts. However, she found no protection from social services agencies. She was consistently detained by city police, stopped on the street, frisked by officers suspicious of her shaved head, her beauty and demeanour, and questioned and interrogated extensively. One officer told her she was one hipster princess they thought needed an attitude adjustment. She needed to be taught a lesson or two. In fact, later, after her hair grew back even more beautifully than ever, she was made to sit, handcuffed, locked in the back of a police cruiser, parked at the edge of a cement factory, by an officer mesmerized by her glimmering curls and who seemed intent on extorting sexual favours from her. She was even illegally jailed for a night and forced to share her cell with an HIV positive sex trade worker, of dubious gender, after she was falsely accused of shoplifting shampoo from a drugstore and a handheld hair blow dryer from a department store counter. Strange men, teenage boys, and, in a few cases, even women, allured by her hair and her attractive physical appearance, accosted her on street corners while she panhandled for pocket change. VOLUME 5, ISSUE 4 - THE HUMANITY ISSUE 29

For a short while, she even managed to eke a modest living singing songs, playing her harmonica, and sketching caricatures and drawings on the sidewalk in front of the Eaton Centre,butthenbylawenforcementofficerscracked down.Anarchitecture criticand urbanaffairs columnist from the local newspaper praised her sidewalk art for its grittiness, unique perspective, and sense of composition in one of his columns, which I gladly offer to the court as an exhibit, if it so pleases Your Honour. In any event, these men in business suits and boys in caps, t-shirts, bright pricy sneakers, and baggy pants–even women in designer business outfits–demanded she provide services of a sexual nature, sometimes for a pittance; work she steadily refused, an insult to her dignity. At one point, she was even attacked at knifepoint as she napped on a bench at Nathan Phillips Square on a midsummer’s night. She was forced to perform fellatio behind a sculpture near the arches and fountains. She subsisted on discarded leftovers–literally junk–she found in fast food restaurant wastebaskets and on tables after customers left. Ravished, she binged on the spoiled fruit and vegetables she salvaged from garbage bins behind supermarkets and grocery stores. A few times she was so hungry, Your Honour, she even ate dirt, rather than beg. Dirt, Your Honour! Dirt! On the day in question, she packed her sleeping bag and her meager hair supplies, and she left the park camp. She had received warnings from police she would be treated roughly. They threatened to charge her with trespassing, loitering, and vandalism if they found her again at her campsite in the park, even though she kept a clean and decent spot, picking up all the garage and waste for many meters around her tent. They even threatened–and I quote verbatim a transcript of her testimony–“to throw her in the lake,” “to smack her skinny butt all the way to the Don Jail,” and “to see how much of that bad hair day deal was real.” As she wandered through the bush on an undiscovered trail, she was distracted and lost in bleak thoughts. She was searching for a new place she could sleep without having to worry about sexual molestation by homeless men or people obsessed with her hair. Because she had not eaten the previous night, she was famished. Her food supply, always uncertain, dried up after the local restaurants agreed to crack down on the homeless to accommodate visiting officials from the International Olympic Committee. Then, however, Goldilocks literally stumbled into a pleasant, quaint borough, a neighbourhood she found serene and conceived of as almost an urban paradise. There she found herself led by a trail of a delicious scent to the sturdy brick house of The Three Bears, unique in its neighbourhood for its apiary. She found herself involuntarily entering the premises when she became seduced and entranced by the lovely smell of the porridge. Literally starving, she involuntarily ate the porridge belonging to Little, Small, Wee Bear. My client also admits she stepped over some stools and sampled porridge from Mama Bear’s bowl. She acknowledges, too, that in her uncontrollable hunger she then stepped on another stool, which subsequently toppled and broke, in the processing damaging a crystal mantelpiece: a honeycomb, a wedding gift from family relatives. My client says that, yes, she then sampled Great, Huge Bear’s porridge pot, but that is only because she has always been a finicky eater with numerous food allergies. And she admits some of her hair may have found its way into the porridge pot, but that is only after she was unable to wash her thick mane and properly groom her curls for so long. But she did not intend to create any waste. Her judgement was merely clouded. She was merely a wan, weak young girl sensitive to the hot and cold temperatures of the bowls of porridge she sampled. Your Honour, after Goldilocks ate, she felt full because she had not eaten in forty-eight hours. Compounding a sense of satiety, which led to tiredness itself, however, was her sleepiness from not having slept for forty-eight hours. Hence, she fell asleep in Little, Small, Wee Bear’s bed. Yes, she also admits, she may have called a friend over to keep her company, but that only underlines how lonely she had become. It’s also true that her friend hastily departed after the frame for the box spring mattress broke, but that only 30 FREE LIT MAGAZINE

emphasizes how undependable he was as a friend and how the bed came from a certain manufacturer not known for strength and durability of construction. Anyway, that, Your Honour, was why she moved over to Little, Small, Wee Bear’s bed. Having found a truly comfortable place in that bed, she admits she may have watched back-to-back episodes of “Law and Order” on the DVD player and that she subsequently fell asleep in the cute little guy’s bed. Awakened abruptly, she was seized by fright at the sight of the Bear Child, who was himself traumatized after discovering her in his comfortable little bed. Believing her life was in danger, she fled. After a foot chase through the bush and park, police easily captured the weak and tired girl. The officers recognized her from her past brushes with the law, easily identifying her through the distinctive trait of her appealing strawberry blonde hair. They charged her with breaking and entering and robbery. I think it is important to emphasize that she bears no grudge or nurtures no personal grievance against the Three Bears family. She feels no malice toward the decent and respectable Three Bears family and did not single them out or target them. This is simply not a case of racial bias or a hate crime, as some commentators in the media have suggested. She did not break into the house because she knew it belonged to The Three Bears. If anything, she broke into the beautiful residence because Mama Bear makes a delicious bowl of porridge with an alluring aroma. Your Honour, this is not a case for the criminal justice system; this is a case for the social services agencies and the local and provincial government child and family support branches. My client is a young girl who requires foster care, a surrogate family, regular meals, a stable and decent home, socialization with peers and classmates, freedom from fear and worry, and a decent hair stylist. She does not deserve incarceration or the stigma of a criminal record, which will lead to a vicious cycle of recidivism and turn her into a hardened criminal. I should also mention the avalanche of publicity my client has received in the media over her legendary hair. This unwanted attention from the media has been the source of much distress to her and has even resulted in her receiving unsolicited offers from shampoo companies for her to appear in television commercials. But even though these offers are reported as so-called news reports and eyewitness and live television news stations feel free to broadcast her image in various contexts, she has yet to receive any money. Your Honour, I respectfully submit that you refer this girl to a social worker and help her find a home through the appropriate social services agency, which should be at the court’s disposal. Please put an end to this insanity. We–society–must not permit the waste of the talent of a bright young woman, with artistic talents, a creative personality, and beautiful hair. She deserves an opportunity to make a positive contribution to society instead of becoming transformed into a criminal by a punitive judicial system. I respectfully plea that you simply find the young Ms. Goldilocks not guilty, or, better yet, simply drop the charges.


Heartstorm ERIN BOYCE

It begins with a distant rumble. More felt than heard. A flock of anxious birds alights in the chest with a familiar rush. Muscles tensed. Senses primed. Breath comes shallow on ragged gusts of bitter wind. Our words, the truth of love, reduced to a nearly inaudible whine. Something wicked this way comes. With the first drops we run for cover but there is no shelter from a heartstorm. Our golden sun obscured by dark clouds of fear and shame. Alone and wet with tears, we’re lost to one another. And invisible to ourselves. Why does our nature betray us? Our raw hearts ache for warmth. We are lost but must not disappear. Blind and numb, I reach for you where you last stood—the shape of you strong and clear in memory. And I find you, beside me still, blind and numb and reaching for me. Connection parts the clouds with a sigh. The storm ends. Our sun emerges patiently. Quietly. Without a rainbow.



BRUCE KAUFFMAN when we as a full race a culture a society an individual when we ourselves can fully sense we are wrapped humbly in each our own soft layers of flesh realize in it we are not apart from but instead a part of we will see the full beauty uniqueness and depth of any other object of every other living thing




here was a Tulip tree, older than anyone’s eyes could remember, that stole the valley. The old Tulip tree stood next to a river, who’s fervour had somewhat diminished in the current, torrid, summer months. Sounds of water lazily treading over the stones and the pebbles of the riverbed filled the air, only being cut by the irregular squawks and squeals of various animals. Occupying the sprawling, uppermost, branches of the old Tulip tree were perched two birds. Though sharing a similar exterior, the birds’ size seemed to directly correspond with their hubris; the larger of which having no regard for the tranquil sounds that filled the bucolic valley; the smaller enjoying the simple gifts the day provided. At its furthest point from the birds in its daily journey, the sun hung at the top of the sky, lavishing every alcove with unbridled sunshine and an amiable warmth. Heated words were being shared between the tree’s two inhabitants. The smaller bird, suddenly dropping from a branch of the Tulip tree, flew towards another limb, which were seemingly interchangeable. Clearly bothered by this change of affairs, the proud bird’s tumult only increased, as it fell into pursuit of its smaller counterpart. This dance was shared for a while. A sojourn to one of the Tulip tree’s many branches saw the smaller bird’s interests occupied by a bright, extravagant group of flowers. Crimson in colour, this flora (and anything for that matter) stole its attention away from its incessant pursuer. Curiosity got the best of the small bird however, as an inquisitive prod too many crippled the flower; the flower now permanently ostracised from the surrounding crimson community. But no matter, the bird’s attention quickly fixated on another quirk of the old Tulip tree, and it took flight. Much the same as ripples follow ripples down the river, the larger bird surely did follow. The light dimmed and took on a golden hew as mid-day turned to afternoon. Leaves fell from the old Tulip tree like a seasonal change into autumn, as the two birds tussled amongst the tree’s foliage. The larger bird clawed and pecked at the smaller; though it is uncertain if this was evinced by unrequited passions or, simply, anger. Terrifying squawks left both birds and filled the ostensibly peaceful landscape. Cunning moves from the smaller bird proved effective in saving itself from the onslaught, though not unscathed. A successful slash from the larger bird saw blood drip from underneath the victim’s left wing, colouring the surrounding branches, looking like some sadistically abstract artwork; granted, an installation no curate would find interest in. As if just realising the vileness of its actions, the larger bird abruptly took flight without looking back, leaving the valley and all its spoils. A restful silence fell over the valley; the rambling river no longer interrupted. Now alone, the small solitary bird found itself jumping from branch to branch with no obvious objective, though clearly with less finesse as the wound hindered its movement. As the sun continued to drop, lightly colouring the sky red, the old Tulip tree cast a shadow over the river. Red flowers and green leaves spotted the water’s surface as they slowly travelled downstream. For a moment, the bird stopped. Close by, a blood-stained branch acted as a reminder of the day’s trials, and as a distraction from the scene’s beauty. This did not seem to weigh on the bird’s mind. The bird resumed hopping from branch to branch as afternoon slowly turned to night. 34 FREE LIT MAGAZINE



Goodbye, My Friend MILTON P. EHRLICH

Immobile as a beached whale he waits on a Hospice bed for palliative care—no more upsetting treatments or meds. I ask him how he feels, and all he can mumble is—It’s curtains! I shake the hand of a living cadaver, and remind him to wait for me in the next world so we can resume our long talks and hikes again.



SAM DAVID I woke up today thinking about goodbyes and how I thought God forgot me so many times. Two names: look what I did Softer: now (like water) A used car once again becomes the end of the block and there’s no more parades unless there’s horses. No more ocean fear. No more allegory. Find a brother where you left one. Be bones like before. Kneel for sliding door glory and dreams marked by yellow borders. Stand for no one other than an air so hot it’s quiet. No narrator / No Sunday / All goodbye Be proud. I’ve got two names and neither are yours.



HEATHER MCLEOD As you deny the indecencies of age tell lies to yourself until lies are your truth scorn your own image your protection against insignificance a dull ache, a wave that pulls away from the shore your failings, your flaws enumerated now dog-eared as a book or a tea-stained cup what’s happening is outside of your control dullness in the eyes, joints creak like rusted hinges suddenly invisible you are disappearing, my girl you are the memory you are what’s left of the memory.


Fortuitous Crossroads

JAMES KENNETH BLAYLOCK selling your souls, for anything, or to anyone, seems ridiculous because we cannot barter with what isn’t ours, forgive us Lord, forget those fortuitous crossroads, folly comes to the fortune conjurers though, human misery can be wholly cultivated, atop any unholy dirty road





Gloria’s Dance and the Baby Doll WILLOW SCHLEICH


t’s suppertime in the CP ward at Valleyview Home for the Aged. Late afternoon shadows reach across the interior courtyard to the windows of the dining area. Barely audible voices carry from a TV talk show playing in the lounge next door. There is the shuff, shuff of slippers on the tile floor. Some women are already wheeled up to bare tables. Vacant stares; maybe they are waiting for the chicken pot pie. Gloria is wearing a white blouse sprinkled with purple flowers. She’s on the other side of a half wall that separates the dining area from the hallway and nurses station. She holds a baby therapy doll, hunching over it protectively. She has been caring for the doll all day, cuddling it in her bony arms. This is Gloria who raised four children after the Second World War and lost a fifth to measles when he was two. Doll or ‘nurture’ therapy has become popular in nursing homes and other senior facilities. Dolls can calm, help ease anxiety, distract, encourage social interaction, and provide an experience of responsibility among residents with dementia. A black-haired nurse in bubblegum pink scrubs tries to gently pry the doll from Gloria’s grasp. She shakes her head urgently, her watery grey-green eyes pleading. The nurse strokes Gloria’s hair and says, “I promise I will take good care of her.” Gloria loosens her grip a little. “See, she can rest right here beside you.” The nurse tenderly places Gloria’s doll on a table beside a stack of cloth bibs. Gloria won’t take her eyes off the doll. She seems lost without it. Just then, a personal support worker wearing black scrubs and sporting platinum blond dreadlocks clicks an iPod into a portable speaker and sets it down on top of the half-wall. Music therapy can help people with dementia reconnect with memories triggered by music. Music affects many parts of the brain and may touch areas not damaged by dementia bringing those pathways forward. The result can be an ‘awakening’ of sorts. Music has reduced depression, lessened agitation, and increased sociability, movement, and cognitive ability among people with dementia. The music starts... “Love love me do, you know I love you...” Gloria’s courtship with her late husband, Henry, played out to the sounds of Oscar Peterson and the Trump Davidson orchestra at the Palace Pier. But it was The Beatles that filled Gloria with the most joy because they defined her twin daughters’ teen years — a happy time. “I’ll always be true...” A smile of recognition and Gloria’s long arthritic fingers are tap, tapping. Dreadlocks is singing and clapping and Pink Scrubs has her arm around Gloria as they sway together to the music. The doll is momentarily forgotten as Gloria mouths all the words, punctuated with arm gestures and twisting hips. “So pleee-eee-eee-ease, love me do!” Gloria is back with her daughters in the Beatlemania of Maple Leaf Gardens in September of 1964. For this moment, she is free. Dreadlocks gives Gloria a kiss on the cheek—almost an apology—before pressing stop on the iPod, ending the impromptu dance party. Gloria reaches again for the doll, but the nurse guides her by the elbow into the dining area. Touching her white hair and grabbing at her collar, Gloria whispers, “What am I supposed to do now?” “It’s time to eat supper now, dear,” the nurse replies, gesturing to the empty table in front of them. 42 FREE LIT MAGAZINE

A Notre Dame Cathedral Lament RICHARD M. GROVE April 2019 Medieval Catholic cathedral French Gothic architecture Flying buttress begun in 1163 – 855 years ago completed by 1345 – 182 years later 12 million people visit Notre-Dame annually Tinder today. Years ago I stood outside Notre Dame Cathedral lamenting that I did not have time to stand in line to enter. I am one of millions over the years, that have only gazed in awe on mental bended knees with no time to enter. Now the dragon’s gasp has stolen my opportunity or was it I and my false sense of time, maybe I was hungry, maybe I was rushing to see another awe striking monument of glory. Now all I can do is lament.

Mourning with the rest of the world watching stunned remembering two towers falling spire engulfed swallowed while fire fighters pore the tears of nations over time-swallowing flames. They can rebuild, they will but can they rebuild the sweat and love robbed by the devil-tongued inferno? With modern cranes and hydraulics, computer C.A.D. design they cannot duplicate the hand hewn dedication that came with the almost century old technology of the time. Imagine, remember the dedication of muscle to construct and carry the fleche, the timber spire over the crossing marbled vaults below. Can steel possibly replace oaks that sacrificed their lives almost 900 years ago?


I love you

JOAN MCNERNEY …and I’ll shout it from rooftops. Chisel giant hearts through Mount Everest. Take out an entire edition of the New York Times. You love me and you’ll preempt the president. Send our rocket to Venus. Fly fluorescent banners over the United Nations. Let’s write our names on this perfect sky so even heaven knows we are in love.


Strawberry Solution JOAN LEOTTA

Cherokee lore says strawberries are the fruit tossed in the path of an angry woman fleeing home. Entranced by their beauty, she tasted one. Sweetness charmed away her anger. Tonight, I ponder this as I slice these heart-shaped treats onto ice cream for my dearest and myself. We argued this morning.


A Calculated Chaos SIOBHAN LOCKE

Your compulsion to tidy feeds your poorly crafted illusion of order Your scrambling arms snatch and slam and shove things into place Furniture, documents, daughters, and dogs all shuffled out of the way A clear path carved out only by the ceaseless demand to blot out all evidence of chaos, of uncertainty, of flaws in the everyday I’ve absorbed your yearning to organize and correct, but instead of order I seek shelter My compulsion to tidy is an act of self-erasure, a desperate attempt to shield myself by assuming the disguise of another meticulously arranged object Your approval of my tidiness rings empty. It only increases the enormity of the spaces between the neatly filed debris of a life scarcely lived Losing the patience to let you get to know me, I let the distance grow instead You’ve offered rehearsed affection too late, and too closely preceded by your unbridled anger Silences between us reverberate and collect rough static that scratches and erodes, leaving nothing but a swallowed aching breath in its wake So many years of tethering this burden of your shame and your volatile emotions to the edges of my being has left me convinced that it belongs to me, that I deserve its weight I move away from you, searching for solace in the interlocking tiles beneath my feet, searching for a pattern that might anchor me. I brace myself every time you come near You draw the air from the room, supersede every sound, and demand devotion even as you try to think of another, to offer kindness Not knowing how to tell you that I can’t shift the elements or withdraw any further to build a world that you control, I dissipate, I abandon my remorse, and I reshape myself in some uncharted place where I am allowed to exist exactly as I am







n both sides of the Wisconsin River there are hemlocks and red pines atop sandstone banks. Yellow warblers and barn swallows sit in and stare out of the holes in the surrounding cliffs while meadowlarks and bald eagles fly under the sun. Sailing downriver, a paddle steamer passes algae clusters and white pine boughs in the current. Many people in tank tops and sundresses are on the lower and upper decks of the steamer, sitting and talking to one another with glasses of red and white wine on their tables. Nick and Jackson are sitting together on the top deck, and while Nick glances at the river, Jackson drinks the rest of his glass of red wine. Nick’s glass of white wine is still full. “It was weird, yeah?” Jackson asks. “Not really,” Nick says. “He should’ve called. He can always call.” “Maybe he was busy.” “That’s no excuse. He said he’d show up at noon, and you know what?” “He showed up at quarter to one?” “How’d you know that he—?” “You told me. Last night, remember? Before we went to bed.” “No, I didn’t. I would’ve remembered talking to you about Harold.” “You’re always talking about Harold.” “No, I’m not.” “And?” “Don’t be like that,” Jackson says. “We’re supposed to be enjoying ourselves.” “What happened with Harold?” “Really want to know?” “If it’ll move the conversation along.” “Wait. If I already told you the story, then why do you—?” “I fell asleep before you finished.” “Why? Did I bore you?” “I was exhausted from work. And from remodeling the bathroom. Which reminds me, don’t forget to buy those matching his-and-his bath towels at Khol’s next week.” “I won’t forget this time.” “And the gold shower curtain. Don’t forget to buy that too.” “Sure.” Jackson clears his throat. “Anyway, with Harold, I considered telling him that I wouldn’t condone tardiness or—” “I might have to gut it out after all.” “What?” “We should gut it out.” “What? Who? Harold?” “No. The tub.” “What tub? What’re you talking about? I’m trying to finish—” “Sorry,” Nick says. “Just thinking aloud. I wanted to finish the bathroom renovations sooner, but with work, you know?” Jackson shakes his head. “If you don’t want me to talk about Harold, then we can talk about something else. You wanted me to finish the story.” “No, I just wanted the conversation to move along. The bathroom still needs—” “Well, to make a long story short, when Harold finally arrived to his appointment, I wanted 48 FREE LIT MAGAZINE

to say, ‘As long as you’re my client, you have to come on time from now on.’ ” “Why does it matter?” Nick says. “What does what matter?” “If he arrives late or not. You get paid either way.” “That’s not the point. It’s the principle. Being reliable and considerate and—” Nick laughs into his hand. “I mean it, Nick. As long as he arrives late to his appointments, I’d seriously consider—” “No. Not that. You said ‘come on time.’ Classic.” “What do you mean?” “Nothing. Forget it.” “Tell me.” “Just trying to enjoy myself. You know I love sexual innuendos, right?” “I don’t want you to try to enjoy yourself. I want you to enjoy yourself. As for the innuendo…” Jackson trails off. “Too soon?” Nick says. “Or too late?” “Another innuendo?” “No. Forget it.” Silence. “Want me to finish?” Jackson says. “If it’ll make you happy.” “It would, thank you.” Jackson clears his throat again. “I didn’t say anything about his tardiness to him. Instead, I focused on his reports, then he left when we were over.” “That’s… That’s it?” “No. Before he left, I slapped him. Threw him onto the floor. Yelled, ‘If you come—if you show up late next time, I’ll pluck out your eyeballs and force them down your throat. You understand?’ ” Nick doesn’t say anything. “I think he understood,” Jackson says. Nick looks at Jackson with a smile. “If only, if only.” Silence. “He’s not a bad guy,” Jackson says. “If I invite him over for dinner, maybe you’ll see what I see.” “Wouldn’t it be unprofessional to invite a client over for dinner?” “We’re old college pals.” “Then why are you suddenly fixated on his constant tardiness? It’s not weird for him to show up late. He probably doesn’t even own a clock.” “It’s the principle, Nick.” “No, it’s not, Jackson.” They look at each other in silence as a server walks up to their table. “Anything else?” the server asks. “I’m good, thanks,” Nick says. “No, thank you,” Jackson says. The server takes Jackson’s empty glass and walks away. Jackson reaches across the table and picks up Nick’s glass, which is still full. Jackson takes a sip of the wine, then sets down the glass. They remain silent while their table becomes shaded: they look up and see a rain cloud over the sun. “Not again,” Nick says. “Do you remember our first date?” Jackson says. “Regrettably, yes.” They laugh to each other. VOLUME 5, ISSUE 4 - THE HUMANITY ISSUE 49

“Wasn’t that bad,” Jackson says. “Oh, but it was.” They laugh again. “I didn’t know it was going to rain at the time.” “Me neither.” “And I didn’t know you hated fishing.” “You never asked.” “That’s why it’s called a surprise.” “More like a shock.” Jackson smiles. “Wasn’t my proudest moment. But at least I packed an umbrella.” “Which broke when we ran to your car.” “Now that was a shock.” Jackson looks at the water beyond the boat. “It was great for me.” “What was?” “The date. Despite being drenched, I loved our first date.” “Me too.” “Misty rain through the windshield. Humming drumbeats of rain against the top of the car. Steam on the windows. Glimpses of sun in the gray clouds.” “Unforgettable.” “Yeah. I still remember every word you said in the car.” “I wanted you to drive me home.” “Then why didn’t you say something?” “Don’t know,” Nick says. “Maybe I liked talking to you.” “And now?” “And now it might rain again, and we haven’t brought an umbrella.” “It’s just one rain cloud.” “You never know.” “No,” Jackson says. “I mean it: And now?” “Now what?” “Do you still like talking to me? Even after all this time? With what happened?” “We’ve been dating for three years.” “That doesn’t answer my question. Do you still like talking to me?” “About anything in particular?” “You know what I mean.” Silence. “I forgave you,” Nick says. “End of discussion.” “I don’t think it is,” Jackson says. “I forgave you.” “It wasn’t with Harold.” “I’m over it.” “If you say so.” “I forgave you.” “I met Mason before I invited Harold to be my client. It’s not my fault that—” “Don’t say his name.” “—that they look similar.” “I’m not blaming you for anything anymore.” “Anymore?” Nick looks away from Jackson. “I forgave you.” Jackson drinks the rest of Nick’s wine while Nick looks up and sees another rain cloud. “I don’t believe you,” Jackson says. “Sorry, did I say something?” 50 FREE LIT MAGAZINE

“Knock it off.” “I’m just trying to—” “I don’t believe you… What do you want me to say?” “Right now? Nothing. Let’s try to enjoy—” “It happened a whole year ago, Nick. I apologized. You forgave me.” “Exactly. So I don’t need you to tell me what I already know.” “Stop lying.” “About what?” “About whatever this is!” “Lower your voice.” “It was the dumbest thing I ever did.” “Lower your voice.” “I didn’t make excuses at the time, but—” “People are staring.” “—but at least I was honest. Mason and I were drunk at his place when we—” “Don’t say his name. Don’t ever say his name in front of me.” “I thought you forgave me.” “I did, but… It’ll take time, you know? I need more time.” “You think so? Honestly. You think so?” “Stop talking!” The server walks to the table. “Is there a problem, gentlemen?” “No,” Jackson says. “Nothing’s wrong.” “I heard you from the other side of the boat.” “It’s nothing,” Nick says. “We’re fine.” “Because if there’s a problem—” “I said nothing’s wrong,” Jackson says, and pulls out a pack of cigarettes from his pants pocket. “Smoking’s not allowed onboard,” the server says. “Can I have at least one drag?” “Would you like to speak to the captain?” “No. Thank you.” When the server walks away, Jackson puts the pack of cigarettes onto the table. “I should’ve asked for another glass of wine,” Jackson says. “Don’t,” Nick says. “Don’t what?” “Just…don’t.” Silence. “What do you want to talk about?” Jackson says. Nick says nothing. “If you want my opinion,” Jackson continues, “you’re doing a good job with the bathroom. Gutting out the tub sounds interesting. Were you planning on buying a bigger one? Big enough for the two of us? You like things big.” Nick says nothing. “Get it?” Jackson says. “ ‘Things big.’ Another innuendo.” “Don’t.” “What now?” “Don’t try to be funny.” “I am funny.” “No, you’re— Never mind. Let’s just stay quiet for the rest of—” “I bought us tickets for this boat ride so that we could talk.” VOLUME 5, ISSUE 4 - THE HUMANITY ISSUE 51

“Then you should ask for a refund.” “I wanted to redo our first date.” “I got that.” “I wanted to make sure everything’s fine between us.” “How many times do you need me to say I forgive you?” “As many times as necessary.” “Why?” “You know why.” “Jackson, I’m not a freaking mind reader. What’re you trying to say?” “Mason.” “I told you to never—” “He moved to a different state last April. I blocked his number on my cellphone. I unfriended him on Facebook.” “Good,” Nick says. “And?” “It was a one-time thing.” “It’ll take time to get through this.” “It’s been a whole year.” “Yeah, but if you love me…” Nick trails off. “Go on.” “Never mind.” “Finish your thought.” “If you love me…” Nick trails off again. “Forget it.” Jackson picks up his pack of cigarettes, stands up, and walks to the back of the boat, where there is no one else around. He pulls out a lighter from his pants pocket and lights a cigarette. As he smokes, Nick walks up beside him. Below them, there’s a large, rotating paddle. “Mason has blonde hair, Harold has blonde hair,” Jackson says. “Both are chubby, both wear identical glasses. “I’m not accusing you of anything,” Nick says. “It’ll take time.” “What can I do to prove that I’m still the man you love?” “Things have changed.” “Do you still love me?” There are tears in Nick’s eyes. “Why would you ask that?” “If you don’t love me—” “Don’t say that.” “—then what’s the point? What’s the point in talking about the past or the future? About Mason or your bathroom project?” “You think I’m jealous of you and Harold?” “Are you?” “No!” “You sure? Are you really, really sure?” “Yes, I’m really, really…” Nick trails off. He looks at the ground and takes a deep breath. Looking at Nick, Jackson takes another drag before flicking the cigarette into the river. “Do you love me?” Jackson asks. “I forgave you.” “Do you love me?” “I said I forgive you.” “Don’t lie to me,” Jackson says. “What’s the point in forgiving someone you still hate?” “I don’t hate you,” Nick says. “I hate what you did.” 52 FREE LIT MAGAZINE

“It’s been a whole year!” “I know! Stop reminding me!” Nick’s voice goes soft. “When you told me what you did, I wanted to go to Mason’s apartment and…” He trails off. “Talk to him?” “No,” Nick says. “I wanted to hurt him. I wanted him to feel my pain. Then I wanted to hurt you. I could’ve drove to Mason’s place and yelled at him, threatened him. I could’ve told his boyfriend what you said you two did while I was at work earning money for the renovations, for the bathroom I fear I’ll never finish. I could’ve gotten Mason drunk and hurt him the way you hurt me.” “But you didn’t. Right? You could have, but you didn’t?” “What if I did? What would you do?” “Don’t speak.” “Would you forgive me? Would you forget what I did?” “Tell me you didn’t do it.” “I’m not going to say. Figure it out for yourself.” Nick turns away. “Tell me you didn’t do it!” Jackson reaches out and grabs Nick by the arm. “Tell me you didn’t do it!” Jackson lets go of Nick’s arm while the two of them stare at each other. “I didn’t do anything,” Nick says. “Really?” “Do you think I would hurt you?” “No. But you said—” “I didn’t do anything. It took every part of me not to make you hurt.” “And now?” Jackson says. “What do we do? Do you still love me?” They look at each other in silence while the server walks over. “Everything all right?” the server asks. Nick nods. “We’re going to dock in the next ten minutes,” the server says. “Thank you,” Jackson says. The server walks away. “I’m going to sit down,” Nick says. “I’ll stay and look at the paddlewheel,” Jackson says. “You sure?” “Yeah. I’ll find you when the boat docks.” Nick walks away. Jackson looks at the paddlewheel and the churning mist below it. When the boat docks, the paddlewheel stops and the other passengers begin to disembark. Jackson returns to the table, where Nick is sitting. There are still rainclouds overhead. “Want to go to the store with me and buy supplies for the bathroom?” Jackson asks. “No,” Nick says. “I can drop you off at home. I can pick up the supplies.” “No.” “So what do you want to do?” “Let’s go home—and stay there forever.” “Sounds great. I might even ask you to come…to bed with me.” “That’s not funny.” “I thought you liked innuendos.” Nick smiles. “Only when they’re unintentional.” “If you say so.” Nick stands up and they walk away from the table together. VOLUME 5, ISSUE 4 - THE HUMANITY ISSUE 53

CONTRIBUTOR SPOTLIGHT: Michael Chin Michael is a former contributor to Free Lit Magazine and is celebrating the release of his upcoming book, You Might Forget the Sky is Ever Blue. In it, a third-grade teacher in Baltimore tries to make sense of the world to students during the 2016 presidential election campaign. A teenage sexual assault survivor makes his way through a permanently changed world. A boy is raised to believe he’s Hulk Hogan’s little brother. This full-length short story collection includes experiments in form with a social conscience, including work originally published in Iron Horse Literary Review, Prime Number Magazine, Bayou Magazine, Front Porch Journal, Waccamaw, Extract(s), Random Sample Review, Blue River Review, Hobart, and Drunk Monkeys. Author Biography Michael Chin was born and raised in Utica, New York and currently lives in Georgia with his wife and son. He has previously won honors including first place in the The Florida Review’s Jeanne Leiby Chapbook Contest, Gimmick Press’s Threeway Dance Chapbook Contest, Bayou Magazine’s James Knudsen Prize for Fiction, and Prime Number Magazine’s Flash Fiction Contest. Follow Mike on Instagram @miketchin or visit his website, miketchin.com




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 issue’s contributors: KYLE CLIMANS - Twitter SHANNON L. CHRISTIE - Instagram, Twitter ALYSSA COOPER - Website, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook SAM DAVID - Website, Instagram DUSKA DRAGOSAVAC - 500px Page, Instagram KEN ALLAN DRONSFIELD - Website, Facebook, Twitter EDILSON A. FERREIRA - Website RICHARD M. GROVE - Website SASHA HILL - Website BRUCE KAUFFMAN - Finding a Voice on 101.9FM CFRC JOAN LEOTTA - Website and Facebook BOB MACKENZIE - Facebook, Amazon Author Page, Reverbnation MATHEW NAGENDRAN - Website, Instagram IRIS RUSSAK - Website, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter LISA SANDMANN - Website WILLOW SCHLEICH - Website, Instagram ANN CHRISTINE TABAKA - Website, Instagram, Twitter LYNN WHITE - Website, Facebook

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