AN ANNUAL REVIEW OF SHORT FICTION Volume 6, Spring 2017
Produced at Victoria College in the University of Toronto with funding from Victoria University Studentsâ€™ Administrative Council
Goose Spring 2017
MASTHEAD: PRESIDENT & EDITOR-IN-CHIEF: GeneviÃ¨ve Smith VICE-PRESIDENT & EDITOR-IN-CHIEF: Carl Christian Abrahamsen CREATIVE DIRECTOR: Shuiyao Wang MARKETING & COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTORS: Victoria Alvarez & Victoria Butler TREASURER: George Ren
EDITORIAL BOARD CONTRIBUTORS Victoria Alvarez Hannah Brennen Victoria Butler Logan Bright Isobel Carnegie Ben Berman Ghan Miranda Cullen Amy Kalbun Elena Djordjic Victoria Liao Tristian Lee-Hyman Yasmine Shelton Giselle Wenban Jaroslav Eliah Sykora Daria Petrovic Harrison Wade Nikta Sadati Alisa Severina 2
ILLUSTRATORS Sydney Vennin Shuiyao Wang Nikki Watson
TABLE OF CONTENTS Letter from the Editors
A Grocery Story Swell The Knot Nectarines Respire Cheechmoonda The Appointment The End of History Biographies
6 13 23 26 32 40 49 52 63
Geneviève Smith & Carl Christian Abrahamsen Logan Bright Harrison Wade Yasmine Shelton Hannah Brennen Victoria Liao Jaroslav Eliah Sýkora Amy Kalbun Ben Berman Ghan
Letter From The Editors It is always an honour to be asked to write a letter to the readers; we like to think someone somewhere actually reads these. The stories in this issue are all grounded in the language of every-day experiences. Some are set 15 minutes before the apocalypse, others in scenes more lyrical than realistic, but all stem from the things we live in and around: places, memories, bodies, and communities. Most of all, these stories are interested in dimensions of morality and resilience, agency and survival. They show us how the constructs and rhythms of the charactersâ€™ lives can buckle, strain, and even break; yet through this fragmentation, they persevere. We would like to thank the authors, editors and artistic contributors for adding to this chaos, pulling from its pulsating madness this particularly poignant assemblage of letters and shapes, those which make up the tenacious stories and experiences bound and printed before you. We hope that in reading this collection of stories, you will feel sometimes like a guest, a voyeur, and even an accomplice, but always witness to these vast human landscapes.
Long live the printed word.
GeneviĂ¨ve Smith & Carl Christian Abrahamsen Editors-In-Chief
A Grocery Story By Logan Bright The giant steel box of Ronald Goffman’s Cash-Save Superstore dominated the block, rendering the squat brownstones on either side diminutive and powerless. Mrs. Ramachandran paused while the sliding glass doors waited, expectant. The scent of bleach and synthetic lemon assailed her from within, but she thought of her grandson’s tears, his hitching sobs, and went inside. The store was bright orange, lit by dozens of round fluorescents high in the ceiling. Hidden loudspeakers piped dull music over the din of clanging carts and voices, punctuated by rhythmic beeps and chimes from the registers. She pressed through the steel arm of a turnstile and came into the produce section. Ronald Goffman’s giant smiling face, with its wire-brush moustache and double chin, was plastered onto the wall. Under a marquee of on-sale items, it greeted her with a speech balloon that read, “Welcome to Ron’s Cash-Save!” The frozen smile, captured years ago, seemed to bear more malice than warmth. A camera, like a globule of oil, hung over the face. Amid the vibrant stacks of produce, customers squeezed and smelled each piece, leaning over one another’s shoulders to find the best and freshest ones. Mrs. Ramachandran shuffled through the throngs of customers to the aisle with a hanging sign that read “Ron’s Cash-Save: Baking”. Hundreds of glossy boxes and bags, splashed with primary colours, clamoured for her attention. Making her way down the aisle, her eyes ranged over each in turn, seeking her prize in all the dizzy variety. A stock boy stood in the aisle, lank and tall, with a pale, pockmarked face twisted in perplexity, tapping at a price gun with one narrow finger. It beeped at him with a simple, authoritative tone. 6
“Excuse me, sir,” she said, looking up at him. The difference in their heights was such that he held the price gun level with her head. He flinched at the sound. “Huh?” he said, blinking. “Sorry ma’am, thought you were my boss for a second. Something I can help you with?”
“Please,” she said. “I am looking for tapioca powder.”
“Tapioca powder?” He ran a hand around the back of his neck; glanced at the floor. “Please. It is for a dessert for my grandson, to cheer him up.” He crouched to the very bottom shelf, eyes skimming the tags. “Looks like we’re all out,” the stock boy said.
“You are certain?”
“Well, maybe not.” He thrust a long arm deep into a hole in the wall of goods. He felt around, eyes squinting as though he were solving a complicated puzzle. “I thought this is where it should be,” he murmured into the empty space. Removing his arm, hand dusty but empty, he fished the tag out of its plastic slot in the shelf and showed it to her. “We never seem to have this stuff in stock.” “Perhaps you could check your device,” she said, nodding at the price gun. He tapped, it beeped, and he said, “Very weird. It says we should have a bunch left. This thing is screwy.”
“Perhaps,” she said, looking at the tag.
“What did you say you needed it for? Toast?”
“Toast?” She gave him a quizzical look.
“Yeah, the boss here, Mr. Goffman, he puts that stuff on toast, like, all the time.”
“I have never heard of such a thing.”
“Yeah, it smells gross. But he likes it, I guess.” The stock boy replaced the label in its slot. “Sorry we don’t have any, ma’am,” he said. “That stuff is hard to get.” Her eyes flicked up to a camera, blankly staring from its perch above a rack of eggs. “Thank you for your help, young man,” she said. “Before I go, may I use your restroom?” “Actually, the public washroom is out of service right now.” He added in a whisper: “Leaking pipes or something.” “I see. I hate to trouble you, but I would not ask were it not urgent. When you get to be my age...” She trailed off and the stock boy’s face reddened. “Uh, sure, ma’am. I’ll let you into the back. You can use the employee washroom.” He glanced quickly around him, but the other customers took no notice. “Just be quick, okay?”
“I will be as fast as I can be,” she said, and smiled.
He led her through the back aisle, and unlocked a red door marked ‘Employees Only’. “Thank you again, young man. Mr. Goffman is lucky to have an employee such as you.” The stock boy grinned and thanked her, and in a flash he was gone. Mrs. Ramachandran slipped through the red door and closed it soundlessly behind her. The back room was dark and cluttered with stacks of rough blue pallets and cardboard boxes. Uneven steel plates made up the floor, and the place smelled of old dairy. To her right was 8
a closed plywood door with a plastic restroom sign, and just beyond that, a particle-board computer stand with a CRT monitor. On a hook hung an orange uniform shirt. A deep vibrato hum came from inside the gaping maw of a trash compactor. A black iron staircase, wrought like a fire escape, lit by a flickering fluorescent that snapped and buzzed like a bug zapper claiming victims, went down into darkness. Two girls’ voices and the popping of bubblegum came up the stairs, growing more audible as they approached.
“I can’t believe he’s making you work a double.”
“So not fair.”
Mrs. Ramachandran crept over the creaking plates and grabbed the shirt from its hook. It was oily to the touch and smelled of rank produce but she draped it over her forearm, flattening its deepest wrinkles, and smiled as the girls came into view. They could have been sisters, with frizzy hair practically pulsing with static, reaching away from their skulls. They wore Cash-Save orange with sleeves rolled up to their shoulders. They saw her and their talk stopped. One blew a big, pale blue bubble. “Hello girls. Could you please point me to the changing rooms?” They stared for the duration of another bubble blown and burst. The one without the gum said, “You’re new here?” “Yes, dear,” Mrs. Ramachandran said, offering the soiled cloth on her forearm as proof. “I am Sita and it is pleasant to meet you both.” “So not fair,” Bubblegum said. “Ron hires more people and I’ve still gotta work a double.”
Her sister rolled her eyes. “Downstairs,” she said. “Through the kitchen.” The girls started away, and she added over her shoulder, “Nice to meetcha.” Mrs. Ramachandran took each step in turn, the rich drone of the metal stairs echoing in the small space below. Her left hip began to protest with its too-familiar grating squeak, but thoughts of poor Ajay drove her forward. She came into a hallway crammed with tagged lockers, bent and battered. To her left was a door, slightly ajar, marked ‘Manager’ and to her right, the hallway opened into the staff kitchen, cramped and furnished with third-hand folding chairs and a plastic patio table. She heard an angry, reedy voice berating someone who didn’t reply, but her eye was caught by a glimpse through the ‘Manager’ door: on a card table next to the desk stood an ancient toaster oven, covered in petrified black bubbles, like a frozen, sooty froth. She pushed the heavy door open and stepped inside. The mounds of sediment gave off an acrid odour. The little office shuddered from the motor of a walk-in freezer above, and water stains crept down each wall from the low panelled ceiling. The floor steadily thrummed along with the stuffy air. Beside the toaster oven stood a stack of plastic-wrapped cases, each bearing a dozen jars of Halnisam’s tapioca powder. The case on top was savagely torn, the plastic warped and wrung like scrap from a car crash, and a few jars were missing. Taupe powder was sprinkled all over the case, smeared by eager fingers, left to settle where it would on the floor. Mrs. Ramachandran took a sealed jar from the case, dusted the powder from it, ignoring the sticky note that read, without the proper apostrophe, ‘RONS!’ She noticed then the round camera above, an unblinking Cyclopean eye. She peered up into it and said, “My grandson, he is crying,” and headed back upstairs. As she rounded the bend in the staircase, the voice from below called out, full of frustrated rage. “I said back to work, Louisa! Back to work!” A door banged. She kept climbing, reached the floor of 10
the back room, when she heard, “Hey, who took one of my tapiocas? Louisa, hey! Hey!” Mrs. Ramachandran hurried across the dim room, hip shrieking, and let herself into the employee restroom as a fuming Goffman rushed up the stairs two at a time, heavy shoes clunking. She clicked the door shut behind her, and drew a deep, quiet breath of fetid sewage. She kept the light off and stayed motionless, the thick stench cloying, groping at her skin, her clothes, her hair. Goffman banged four times on the plywood door, filling the rancid room with noise, but Mrs. Ramachandran didn’t make a sound. She heard the red employee door slam behind him. The old dairy smell came as welcome relief when Mrs. Ramachandran emerged from the restroom. She shut the door and fell back against it as her heart rate slowed and the spinning in her head settled down. Somewhat more collected, she stepped out of the back room into the glare of the store, each orange shelf shining, each item begging for her attention. She moved with the flow of the crowd, until she found herself in a winding queue toward the checkouts. Each of the frizzy sisters was staffing a lane, chatting with customers, so she chose the one operated by a fat boy with glasses and dangling, spaced earlobes. He checked each item in a daze, unaware of his actions. Mrs. Ramachandran caught sight of Goffman behind her, puffing in his orange shirt, stalking through his clustered customers, looking into carts and baskets to spot the missing tapioca. To obscure his view she moved closer to the tall, elderly man in line ahead of her, who wore a boxy beige coat covered in pockets, shuffling with the line as Goffman came nearer. She counted out exact change into her palm while Boxy Coat paid for his oatmeal and soy milk. When he was gone, and Mrs. Ramachandran exposed, the cashier passed the tapioca over the scanner without a second look, and handed her a receipt. Goffman pushed past the people behind her, saw the jar in her hand. Goose
His face bloomed red and his eyes flew open, impossibly wide, fine webbed lines weaving through the milky whites. He stammered a few consonant sounds, chins quivering, as Mrs. Ramachandran turned to smile at him. “Oh, Mr. Goffman, yes? I would like to thank you for a wonderful shopping experience. Your staff is rather knowledgeable. I am sure you will be happy to hear that I am a very satisfied customer.” Even the comatose cashier cracked a smile. Mrs. Ramachandran didn’t wait for a reply from the flustered Goffman. She walked through automatic doors into warm autumn sunshine.
Illustrated by Nikki Watson
Swell By Harrison Wade I stole a sea otter once. I didn’t mean to do it — my college girlfriend had just broken up with me. So I went to the Vancouver Aquarium. I wandered through the dark halls, avoiding tour groups and school kids pointing and laughing at the fish. I watched the beluga show through the gaps in the crowd. At the otter enclosure, an otter pressed itself up against the glass and barked at me. I couldn’t stop myself; I reached into the pit, my hands dangling, and the otter jumped and scampered up my jacket into my arms. It curled into a ball and cooed gently. I started to run. Shoving the crowds of people out of my way with my elbows, I hurried past the towering tanks of water. Security stood by and watched in disbelief. Tears flew from my eyes as I burst through the entranceway and ran deep into Stanley Park. We spent the afternoon hidden from the walkways, playing catch, wrestling, and talking. Eventually we settled down together, the otter asleep in my lap, napping in the sunbeams that broke through the curtain of trees. From my dream, I woke to the otter nudging me with its head and cooing. It looked at me, now with tears in its eyes, and barked once. I stood up slowly, trying to drag out the time we had together, while it hopped and hurried through the trees, stopping every now and then to make sure I was still following. At the seawall, I sat on the edge and watched it slip into the water. Floating, it looked back at me and barked. I waved. It dove and disappeared. Goose
The sun was setting as I began to walk home. Near the aquarium, security spotted me and ran over to arrest me. A guard held each arm, but I didn’t want to escape. My heartache, first for my ex and now for the otter, made me nauseous. They brought me into a homey room and offered me tea or coffee. There were books, a TV set, and a miniature kitchen in the back. The walls were plastered with framed cut-outs of newspaper articles celebrating the aquarium. One of the guards caught me staring.
“We’re very proud of her.”
I nodded. They communicated with each other mainly through facial expressions — nostrils, eyebrows, and mouths. How long had they been working here? I tried to find a date on a cut-out, but the other guard brought me my tea and sunk into a leather armchair across from me. Together, they started questioning me. I maintained my defence. “No, I didn’t steal a sea otter. You must be confusing me with someone else.”
They said they knew it was me.
We continued on, arguing for half an hour, until I was on my second cup of tea and one of the guards had left after receiving an especially large flaring of the nostrils from the other. He came back with a laptop and put it on the coffee table in front of me. On the screen was security footage. From the camera’s view on the ceiling, I looked like an agitated fish surging through the crowds of people. But it was impossible to make out what I was carrying. “Oh yes. That was me,” both of them raised their eyebrows, “but that’s my son in my arms. I was stealing him back from his mother. My ex-wife. She’s a drunk.” 14
They looked at each other and twisted their lips. Goose
“And she hits him.”
They left. Before I could decide if stealing your own child would get you in more trouble than stealing an otter, they were back with the door open behind them.
“You can go,” one of them said, though I couldn’t tell which.
At the entrance they asked me to never come back. The last I saw of them was curled eyebrows and open nostrils. They must have decided that it wasn’t their responsibility to deal with marital discord. For the next couple weeks, I worried about getting a call from the police, but it never came. My file must have been lost, which was good, because my mother would have been shocked to find out her oldest son had a criminal record. On the bus, I realized how much my clothes stank from the stain of the sea otter.
On Sea Otters: Their Habits, Nature, and Mysteries Revealed When baby otters — pups — are still too small to swim, a mother will wrap them in kelp to hold them in place while she goes off to get food. The pups are held securely, their newborn fur keeping them buoyant, unaffected by the current.
Since my mid-twenties, family dinners were the same every holiday. My mother would call me up a month in advance and plead with me to come, and I would comfort her and let her know I was trying to get the night off work. When I arrived at the house, my father would greet me gruffly at the door. My brother and a new girlfriend would be sitting at the table, and my mother would pour us large glasses of wine. Eventually my brother got one girl pregnant — they married and flew back to her family in England to raise the child. I knew that I met her, but I couldn’t exactly remember when, or how, it happened. Goose
It could have been Christmas or Thanksgiving or Easter or maybe a birthday. But the night wouldn’t have been particularly different. Could I remember her? A pointed nose and a birthmark around her elbow. Her stomach was flat; but the possibility of what could be — would be — radiated from her.
“Have you met any girls lately, honey?” my mother asked.
“No, I’m comfortable right now.”
“No one really likes being alone.”
“What happened to Sophie?” my father asked.
“Mom, he’s a fag, get over it,” my brother said.
“No, he just wants children,” mom would begin, “I remember he would play with his toys and pretend to breastfeed them...”
“I didn’t know you were gay,” the girlfriend said.
“He is. A cocksucker and he doesn’t know it.”
“Stop that Chris,” mother said.
“It must be hard to have children being gay,” father said.
“You know we support you dear, if you need help adopting.”
“I knew some guys that adopted and they have the cutest little African girl now.”
“He needs to get a boyfriend first though. Good luck with
“You’ll bring him to dinner, won’t you?” Goose
“Just make sure he’s not too fruity.”
“I get uncomfortable around them.”
I scraped the crumbs from my plate as they kept chatting away. I’m not sure if I noticed it then, or only in re-visiting my memory; the girl rested her hands on her stomach and smiled at my brother. She tried to reach for his hand on the table, but he pulled it away into his lap. I looked down at my own stomach — bloated with food. I pushed away from the table and told them I had to get back to my cat. She didn’t do too well on her own. The girlfriend would be pregnant within a couple months. My father and brother shook my hand. My mother cried and held me. The girl smiled and I told her how nice it was to meet her. Her stomach would grow larger and larger. I hurried out to my car and drove home, the noise of the engine drowning my thoughts. On Tools: Sea otters are one of the few mammals that use tools. Under each leg, sea otters have excess skin stretching from their paw to their stomach, which they use as pouches. Each otter carries a uniquely selected stone (usually in the left front pouch) to use as a tool to break open mollusks and urchins to eat. The year Chris knocked my birthday cake onto the floor, one kid invited the entire second grade class to his birthday party. He lived in one of the big houses up on the hill and even had a pool, some of the kids told me. My house was chaotic as I got ready. Chris was going through a phase where he would cry whenever I left the house and I refused to let my mother pick out clothes for me. Eventually she snapped and forced me into a long-sleeve polo. She wished me luck and dropped me off outside the house. Their house was like a castle. The birthday boy, Vincent, was out back with everyone, his mother explained to me. With her hand on my back, she led me through the bright living room. She took my present Goose
and put it on the pile on the sofa which cascaded onto the floor. She smelt like cinnamon. I found it hard to believe that she had ever been pregnant.
“Vincent will be so happy you’re here.”
She put her hand on my back again as she led me into the backyard, filled with my screaming classmates running around. There was an inflated castle in one corner and some kids were swimming — splashing each other with pool noodles. There were balloons everywhere. Suddenly the mother’s hand was gone. She walked off and poured herself a drink with the other laughing adults. I meandered through the party. Vincent ran into me and looked me up and down, a gaggle of children behind him.
“Oh, you’re here.”
And they ran around me.
I spent the party at the pool’s edge, dangling my feet in the water. I talked to a girl that was too scared to swim. She would alternate between standing and staring at the bottom of the pool or sitting by the edge with her back turned to it. She told me that her uncle had drowned and that her name was Madeline. I watched Vincent run around the garden, hitting people with his pool noodle. I told her that she should take off her glasses if she was ever going to jump in and that I didn’t know anyone who had drowned. Madeline and I ate cake separate from the rest of the party, but we had to herd into the living room to watch Vincent open his presents. He left wrapping paper all over the room. Afterwards he told 18
us that we were all going to play an adventure game. We tried to slip away, back to the pool, but his mother caught us with a laugh and brought us back to the other children. We each had to take on different roles, Vincent told us. He started pointing at kids and telling them what they would be. A knight, a magician, a pirate, and so on. By the time he got to us, he was giving out roles like baker or janitor. He pointed at Madeline and said, “Mother” and gave her a balloon as her child. She shook her head and hid her hands behind her back.
“You have to be.”
She didn’t answer.
Vincent pressed the balloon against her, “Take it. This is your baby.”
The girl started to shake.
“I’ll do it,” I said and grabbed the balloon from him. I took it and shoved it up my shirt, stretching it out to cover the entire thing. The balloon squeaked and scraped against my skin, but when I was done, I was full. It stuck out jarringly from my body. I tried to fix it with my hands. There were a couple snickers from the group. Ignoring them, I let my hands explore the new curve of my body. Under my shirt, it was soft. Imagining it was a child, I felt a warm flush pound through me. I didn’t hear what some of the other kids were saying, but I felt their eyes on me. For the first time at the birthday party, I felt safe. I felt as though I was human.
“You can’t be the mother,” Vincent said.
“Because you’re a boy.” Goose
“So you can’t have a baby!” Vincent screamed and the rest of the children took a step away from him. I didn’t know what to do, so I held my balloon tighter with my hands. I wasn’t going to take it out.
“Give it to her.”
I shook my head. Vincent turned bright red and then spun around. He pushed through our classmates and picked up the scissors he had used to open his presents. There was a hush, and he walked back to me and stabbed. I pulled my hands up and away and felt the bursting of the balloon ripple against my skin. It exploded and dropped from my shirt into a crumple on the floor. Some kids screamed at the pop. Vincent dropped the scissors. Madeline reached down and offered me the withered and shrunken balloon.
“I’m sorry. I should have just done it.”
“It’s not your fault.”
The air gathered in the space where the balloon had been, my shirt loose and stretched away from my body. I wanted to hit Vincent and sob into Madeline’s shoulder. Instead, I ran out of the front door before Vincent’s mom could catch me. My mother yelled at me for walking home, stretching my shirt and poking a hole in it, but stopped when I didn’t say anything back. She put me in a hot bath, where I tried to work up the courage to sink under the water and away. But I couldn’t — I just ended up with shriveled skin. On Caring for Their Young: Sea otter mothers are fiercely devoted creatures. Besides giving their pups constant attention, there are cases of mothers adopting orphaned pups. 20
Tragically, some mothers will carry a dead pup for days before letting it go. Just before I turned forty, I met Madeline again. My co-worker had brought me to a barbecue, so she wouldn’t be teased about being alone. Madeline was there, standing a good way away from the pool and staring at it with a beer in her hand. I didn’t realize it was her until she introduced herself. We laughed about Vincent’s party and made plans to meet up again, which turned into a first date. The next summer, we drove up the coast of Vancouver Island in a rented van. There were only a few other tourists along the highway. Most of the drive was just between us and the ocean, roaring alongside us, up the coast. It sprayed us with its breeze. We slept in the back of the van, trying to see stars when we were lucky enough to have a clear sky. One day, Madeline pulled into a rest stop at an inlet, and we sat in the trunk of the van eating lunch, looking out at the sea. The black rocks that curved out and formed the inlet broke the waves as they arrived, leaving only gentle leftovers. We made sandwiches and lounged and ate oranges and cherries. After eating the fruit, we raced to try and tie a knot in the cherry’s stem using only our tongues. Neither of us could do it. Laughing, we pulled off our clothes. We had sex in the trunk of our rented van with cherry stems all around us, sandwich crumbs underneath, and the silence of the inlet. The sun’s beams crept over our bodies as we lay naked. I ran my hand across her flat, unchanging, stomach.
She knocked it away and said that it tickled. I got up.
“Do you want to go in the water?”
She shook her head. “But you go.”
Madeline was still scared of bodies of water. I pulled on my Goose
swimsuit and climbed down the rocks onto the short stretch of sand. I hurried into the frigid water, quickly past my knees, and wandered around the inlet. The sun warmed me as I looked into tide pools and at the tiny fish darting around. I jumped when something grabbed my leg, but it was only a piece of kelp. It must have stretched out deeper into the ocean. I couldnâ€™t remember which book it was, but I had read that kelp could hold you in place if you wrapped yourself in it. The van was still up on the hill, and Madeline wasnâ€™t watching me. I walked deeper into the water, letting the kelp ease around me. Piece by piece, I wrapped my legs until they were covered in green and then I lay back in the water. The tide pulled at me, first trying to drag me out to sea and then to beach me on the shore, but I was held firmly in place. I was swaddled by the kelpâ€™s sun-kissed hands. Closing my eyes, I floated, half-submerged in the ocean.
Illustrated by Nikki Watson
By Yasmine Shelton
Thin, twisting cords run through themselves, holding down the ivy and the moss. They are lined with wire and needles that hush and whisper as they catch me and rip. And it’s more of an itch than a burn that pulls on my skin. It’s a wire or a root, a bear trap with limestone incisors that crush me. My muscles, already strained, let loose, driving me out before my fall reigns me in. I taste dirt, and a numbness hums and fades with a sting and ache; roots like sinewy hands grip my ankle, cradling me in the arthritic fingers of an oak. And the oak wears a smile like a mask. So patronizing. My ankle is dented. And the numbness laid down on cold quiet, dims then rises up. Toes, knees, hip, diaphragm, chest, chest, and a torn throat; growing old, dying in a sob. A roar that calls out sad and raw and tired. I run with a stuttered limp, a wild gasp that like the rip, got a thrill from the tear. The air is dry and sluggish. And my chest strains to pull it in, like water behind an oar, but my muscles are tired and they don’t want to row. My legs don’t want to run and my ankle is Goose
crumbling, but I keep beating it to the ground. A palm and a fist and a palm and a fist. I just want it to stop. I’ve always had this fear that one day a man would hit me. I can imagine the panic, heavy on my chest, as his anger grows too big to live inside one person. And then there’s a hand landing on my face, a snap to my neck, a movement not made by me. It will fall down hard on the soft of my cheek, but the real pain, the hard corner of a wooden table, will find me a moment later. When the world clears to sleepy eyes, the hot that burns cold skin, the aftershock that stands up a second after the impact. This real pain will bore into my cheekbone, crawl down my jaw, to dig into my chin, while anchored up, carrying the numb of a nose that will bleed with the smallest of bumps. Sometimes I imagine a backhand but usually an open palm, rarely a fist. In my head I’ve made someone angry, I’ve built this knot that he doesn’t know how to unravel, that I can’t expect him to know how to unravel. The coils are thick and narrow; they jut out at odd angles, not made to fit inside him. And when they lash out I feel it, I regret it, I regret being the cause. I imagine this man’s guilt, strong, always a second too late, short breaths like hyperventilation. And I imagine that he despises himself, despises the thick oil that now coats him. And I’ll want to comfort him, share a bit of the golden that he gave me, untie the knots. And I’ll know that I should leave him. And I’ll be trapped like an ankle in the roots. But it’s not a him, and her rage is a scary thing. Neon yellow. It’s hard not to wonder when she hits the wall if she’d rather it were me on the underside of her palm. The next time her knuckle swells to garnet, I won’t be grabbing the rubbing alcohol. 24
Rage is a scary thing. The human beetle that thrives in a knot. And Iâ€™m running through the brambles letting the needles leave their mark, while sheâ€™s swathed in linen, choking on the coils.
Illustrated by Nikki Watson
Nectarines By Hannah Brennen
When Avery first met Tom, she thought he was from Colorado. That’s what he said. He was born there. What he didn’t say was that he had been living in Toronto for the past 16 years—his family moved when he was two. When it was her turn to introduce herself, Avery thought too hard, choked on her words, and stumbled through an apology. She’d moved often, lived everywhere in small town Ontario, and still rolled her eyes at anyone who became sentimental speaking of where they grew up. Three days in a new city and already she’d broken the “keep in touch” promises from her high school yearbook. Coldwater, Feversham, Stayner, Palgrave. It didn’t matter what the towns were called or who their schools were named after. She didn’t want to think about it. Looking back, she can only recall what a few people said on that first day. Claudia was her roommate, Tom was from Colorado, 26
and Ora was too gorgeous to forget. When it was her turn—name, program, hometown, that was all—Avery decided upon the place where she, too, was born—a place that felt as untapped and intimidating as the age-old architecture around her. She said Toronto. About a month later, on an October evening in an oak-panelled common room, Tom, Avery, a boy named Edgar, and Ora sat on a couch together, talking. For some, university was still unfamiliar (and unfamiliarity was repellent), but others devoured the environment. Avery fell into the latter category. A phone buzzed. Tom’s. The screen lit up his face, made obvious the darkness below his eyes, flush creeping into his cheeks. Ora got quiet watching him, and Avery had a moment to notice his wrists: wrapped in white. He fiddled with a knotted camp bracelet, pink and blue, on the left. His wrists were wrapped in bandages. The stagnant air, bearable until now, was suddenly oppressive. She shivered at the sweat beading in the small of her back. Ora whispered something to Tom, who got up with her to go for a walk. He took his phone. The air would be cooler outside. Only Avery and Edgar were left in the room. After a moment, Avery asked. “Did you see the bandages?”
“He’d tell us if he wanted us to know,” Edgar said.
Avery looked out the window, trying to be casual, even though Ora and Tom were around the corner of the building. Somewhere outside, an ambulance came and went, sirens blaring. She stopped herself from thinking about it by asking Edgar enough questions that he joked about being on a quiz show. Tom and Ora had been gone for almost an hour. She didn’t see either of them for the rest of the night. The winter brought turbulence. Tom and his girlfriend broke up in December—his doing—after a brutal on-again off-again summer—all hers. They’d been together two years before all that started; it Goose
was serious, how things in high school always are. Avery had met her twice. That was enough. Lying on their backs on his bedroom’s hardwood floor, basking in the last notes of a Pink Floyd album, he talked about her. Sarah. His pauses hung in the air like smoke until they filled the room completely. Avery could not find any words for him. She counted the seconds until Ora got back to their floor with the takeout they’d ordered for dinner. The room was silent, but not quiet; the whirring from the fridge seemed to grow until it was all Avery could hear, and intermittent shouts made their way up through the dewy windowpane from across the quad below. Only Tom’s eyes were moving, following a spider along the wall and across the ceiling. The fridge stopped. A moment passed. Another. The silence was louder than before, harder to ignore. Finally, Tom filled the emptiness, and Avery listened. When Ora opened the door, chest rising and falling, Avery sat in the corner, quiet, knees hugged tight. By the time they got to it, their miso soup was cold. Tom didn’t take off his bracelet—the pink and blue one, the one Sarah had made for him—until the threads untangled enough for the knots to come apart on their own. Just over a year later, when they all got ready at Ora’s for the February formal, it was Avery who took the photos of Tom and Noelle, Avery who posed them, made them laugh. Tom took more instruction than Noelle did. After, when the air in the room became too thick to breathe, she stepped out onto a balcony and rested in the sounds of open city and altitude. She looked to the traffic heading downtown, watched it for a while. The winter air stung her skin, and her body tightened against the cold, leaving little spaces between the fabric of her dress and her goosebumps. Through the glass door, she watched Tom watch Noelle, glowing dark in velvet. Edgar bit into a fruit, light caught in the juice that ran down his fingers and into his sleeve. She slipped back inside. 28
She hadn’t eaten that day, but avoided the camera regardless. Ora finally convinced her, but there were barely any photos she liked. Her favourite is of her and Tom, taken in black and white: the pink from her champagne, her lips and his tie replaced by a shade that failed to take away from the bubbly delight in her eyes. He had his arm loosely around her waist, and she was holding the champagne in a toast, raising an eyebrow at the camera. Laughing at the camera. It wasn’t posed. In less than two years, Noelle was gone and Tom was hurting. He was the one who ended it, but it hadn’t been his choice. He believed her when she told him to trust her. Brandon had been the guy’s name. He wasn’t wearing tape on his wrists that day (there in the first place, Avery learned, thanks to late puberty and too many push-ups) and when he punched the wall he fractured his hand. He wouldn’t make that mistake again. Tom and Avery filled their next summer afternoons with American stand-up and British sitcoms, slept late, drank a lot of beer on patios. After asking how they were paying, the waitress would put the bill down in front of Tom. “Actually, we’re separate,” Avery would say, and then the waitress would apologize. They started alternating three weeks later. She had her second one-night stand, this time with an art critic from Chicago; Tom kissed a pretty girl at a party and didn’t stop until they were together. For his birthday, months later, the girl surprised him with a custom-tailored jacket that had been too big when he found it at a thrift store. When he got home that night, he called Avery to tell her about the girl, to tell her he was in love with her.
“I know,” she said.
In August, she sat alone in waist-high grass, watching the lights from distant trains illuminate traffic as they passed. She didn’t move when a chill crept through her jacket, damp seeping into her Goose
skin. Instead she shivered, stood up, and walked the long way home, passing Tom’s. He was sitting on the roof, dangling bare feet from the porch awning, her favourite spot. She’d showed it to him. He stopped her. “I don’t like him,” he said. He meant the last boy she’d introduced him to. They hadn’t spoken since. The street was still and ugly, power lines throwing shadows across orange streetlight. She tasted something bitter and didn’t answer right away. Something flickered.
“You don’t get to say that.”
As dead leaves were ripped off trees and rain turned into something colder, the days fell together: indistinguishable, marked by the calendar instead of conversation. Tom and his girlfriend talked about the same few things—the same dull, repetitive things—and when even kissing lost its appeal, so did the girlfriend. Avery wondered why he even bothered. Ora—away until November—knew her by name only. On a warm afternoon, Avery and Tom, curled up on cracked leather couches, sipped coffee from ceramic mugs. Outside, shadows grew into giants. Avery sat with a book open on her lap, watching Tom, who stood up to gaze out the window. She knew the look on his face. She’d seen it so many times—but it’d been months. She knew what to ask him.
“She smells like nectarines,” he said. The sun reached through the glass. She waited.
“Do you love her yet?”
Illustrated by Shuiyao Wang
Respire By Victoria Liao
Content Warning: Depictions of sexual assault
“Have you tried yoga yet?” The seventh time your mother asks, you sign up for classes at the college athletic centre just to prove it won’t work. On the first day, you hear a song titled “Yoga” on the radio and decide this moment of ironic serendipity is worth all the effort spent wading through schedules and registration paperwork, all the while with a cesspool of concerns about ethics and appropriation hanging in your periphery. Is yoga cultural appropriation? Maybe, but it’s also supposed to help with your brain, and isn’t Self-Care the New Big Thing? You’ll borrow a book on the subject later for the purposes of self-education, and you’ll forget it under your bed all term. The library fine will eclipse the price of your weekly yoga classes. * “Namaste, and welcome to Yoga One. My name is Catelynn, and I will be your instructor this term. Let us begin by lying flat on our backs, relaxed, arms by our sides. Feel the lengthening of your spine — 32
welcome! Please remove your shoes at the door, and come join us on the floor.” You’re late, as usual, and the rustling of your bag is amplified in the bright, airy room. It seems to echo back at you from the wall-length mirrors, reflecting your embarrassment. Why are you here again? To prove your mother wrong, and for what? She’s still not going to support other forms of therapy. It’ll just have been the wrong kind of yoga, or the instructor was unclear, or — and she’s watching you, that instructor, eyes kind and crinkling like a stock photo and voice soothing as an audiobook. As you unroll your mat and settle on the floor, catching the way these too-small pants hug your calves, you become aware of the quiet breathing and shuffles from the other six students in the room. Now you are lying flat on your back and staring at a warm oak ceiling, feeling very stupid. “As I was saying, feel the lengthening of your spine as you breathe deeply. Notice your breath. Inhale, exhale. Feel the relaxation, and the energy moving throughout your limbs and torso. Inhale… exhale.” You should’ve just gone with the DVD your aunt pityingly lent you. Then you could tell your mother that you gave it a valiant try and found nothing of value. Instead, here you are, claustrophobic in a huge dance studio, uncomfortably wobbling on your haunches, which have taken issue with the too-thin tacky mat beneath them. Desperately trying to approximate a sensation of “energy” “moving” “through” “limbs.” You try to wipe the frustration from your face as the instructor paces over towards you, her face looming in the golden backlight. “That’s it. Notice how the breath is entering your nose, following your windpipe down into your lungs. Breathe deeply with your diaphragm; let it fill your abdomen. Inhale… and exhale. Take your time. Close your eyes if it will help you concentrate.” You do, in part so you don’t have to look at that too-sweet smile, but you can’t actually relax until she floats away to correct the Goose
form of the man adjacent. As she moves on down the line, you try to focus on this diaphragm-breathing thing. What’s the difference between that and how you normally breathe, anyway? As if she has heard your thoughts, she drifts to the front of the class to alight upon her own mat, asking that you all sit up to observe her abdomen as she breathes. ‘Yes, I learned how to breathe properly in yoga class from a woman with the whitest name imaginable.’ Is this what you wanted, Mother? As you lie back down, your wandering mind takes you back to the last time you were in a room with this many people, lying like logs on a cool basement floor. You seem to recall being a lot more inebriated. And certainly aware of a body, your body? And the slumbering forms of your drunken friends curled up in sleeping bags. And— “Notice each finger, wiggle them if you can’t feel them, understand how they’re intimately connected to your hands, and your wrists, and your arms…” Yes, you had your fingers on his arm, stroking sparse hairs in the quiet dark, inhaling the stink of beer and pizza and was that his cologne? Why the hell was he wearing cologne? You are fifteen, or maybe sixteen, and what does that even matter when he’s got his arms around you and his hot breath on the nape of your neck? “Make sure to relax your every muscle, even the ones in your face!” She manages to chirp this suggestion soothingly, and you find yourself unclenching your jaw, half aware of your quickened breaths. As Catelynn instructs you to notice the gentle rolling of your eyes in their sockets and to imagine a ball of glowing light at your forehead, or your toes, or whatever, you return instead to that night, the memory unbidden. The glowing light becomes an effusive, all-encompassing bodily state, becomes the dizzy grog in your mind as you shift away from, or towards, his warmth. You had never been this drunk before. But who better to test the waters with than your very best high school friends? Your chosen family of wild children? Your brethren, who — all the movies say — will keep you safe in this, the best time of your 34
life, your elusive youth. He’s figured out at some point that you have a sensitive back, he’s running his own still-nimble fingers up and down your spine and everywhere he touches glows too, glows hot and pleasurable and wrong, wrong, wrong. You’re making a noise, or maybe you aren’t — you can’t remember — or what it meant, but you probably made a noise, and he probably took it as encouragement — must have — because next he’s got his hand under your shirt and skimming the bottom of your still-developing breasts with the tips of his nails. His other hand is still on your arm, a steady weight shifting your limb (intimately connected to your hand, to your fingers, which are still stroking his arm mindlessly) out of the way for easier access. “Don’t forget to keep your arms and legs relaxed too, while you focus on the movement of the glowing light! Wherever it goes and touches, feel mindful and connected to that part of your body. This is your body, present and breathing. Inhale… Exhale.” His hand is done shifting your arm and is now pushing your legs apart, and you’re still in the haze of sleep and cheap lager, but this is probably wrong isn’t it. You can’t remember for sure but didn’t you push him away earlier that night when he leaned in for a kiss, leaned over you like this — and of course it’s not him at all, but just Catelynn, just Catelynn leaning over you like this, Catelynn correcting your form, explaining in her calming tone how this exercise requires you to keep the legs slightly apart, and the arms down by your sides, not clenched up and fetal around your full breasts.
“Just relax. That’s all you need to do.”
And you can’t tell anymore who’s saying it, except that your yoga mat has become uncomfortably rigid against the small of your back, but you in your cloud of post-finals inebriation only shift slightly so that the shape falls between your thighs, rubbing at the thin cloth of your underwear. When you regularly go camping with a group of people, you get very blasé about each other’s bare bodies — and anyway, Goose
the summers are hot even in Emily’s dark basement.
“I’ll show you how to do it. That’s what I’m here for.”
Somewhere far away you hear a canned, collected voice announce to the room that the next pose requires you all to stand — but slow! — by rolling up with each vertebrae, and she’ll demonstrate what that means, that’s her job. But all you can think is you would’ve preferred if he’d rolled on a condom, if he had to do it so bad. Maybe he didn’t have one. Maybe he didn’t think he’d get lucky that night. Maybe he didn’t want to wake anybody. Everybody else rolls up. Everybody else was still rolled up; it was early, or very late, and you follow suit in the way you followed suit three years ago, a few minutes late, like nothing happened but a small bout of drunken insomnia, clumsy stumbling. And if you woke up a few hours later than them all, and he was sweet and plying you with water and Advil, well, nobody would think that was strange, just as the instructor’s concerned glance in your direction and gentle suggestion — “You see, dear, the tree pose requires you to raise that leg, you’ll have to stand on the one foot…” — seem perfectly ordinary. Wobbling on one foot shifts you out of reverie, just slightly, just enough to understand that this isn’t Emily’s basement at all, and it’s certainly just an unfortunate coincidence that he lives a half hour walk away from your apartment in this new city, and anyway you’re friends so why would that be bad? You’re shifting to the other foot now, glow long gone, haze clearing. Is this what you wanted, Mother? You spend the rest of class settling into a rhythm of breathing and poses, still lagging behind, more claustrophobic than ever as the instructor hovers worriedly around you and the rest of her flock. As if they belong to somebody else, you feel your shoulders roll and your muscles contract, you feel until “feel” isn’t a word anymore and “relax” doubly so, just meaningless sounds like the ones you may not have made, lying still underneath him as he entered you over and over. Just muscles, contracting and relaxing. Contracting and relaxing. Inhaling and exhaling. 36
In and out. In and out. In and out. Breathe. An hour later, Catelynn has wafted back to the front of the room, her smile serene. “You’ve all done so well for your first time! I’m excited to see where we’ll go together on this journey of connection between mind, body, and spirit. And now, for the last thing.” Towards the latter half of the hour, you had even begun to enjoy the process. Stretching and lunging, exploring the full movement capacity of your limbs, the control you pleasantly discover you have over your bodily autonomy. You should have known this would be shortlived. Catelynn is seated again, indicating that you should all do the same. “We’ll do the same exercise we started with in order to unwind and “relax,” as a sort of cooling off to contrast the warm up. I’m sure you all still remember what to do, right?” You freeze, midway between standing and sitting, in an awkward crouch-bend. You feel stupid as the rest of the class turns to look. You wish they had turned to look, that early-or-very-late moment in the dark, or do you? Wouldn’t they have said something? But nobody is saying anything now. “So… In case anybody needs a reminder, we’ll be lying back down on our backs…” Catelynn is nothing if not a professional at defusing tension. After all, that’s what she’s here for. That’s what she teaches. As the others recline on their relatively sweatier mats, you only sit, and hold your knees into your chest. Catelynn doesn’t comment, and the mirror is echoing embarrassment once more. You may as well go put your shoes on and leave, because you aren’t going to lie flat on your back again, but Goose
that would be too much of a disturbance, and you can’t take any more attention. Is this what you wanted, Mother?
Contract. Relax. In. Out. In. Out. In. Out.
Illustrated by Shuiyao Wang
Ten long minutes of quiet breathing later, sitting hunched over and small, you take your already-rolled mat and turn to go. The other students are slower to rise, their faces now sharing the same serene glow as the instructor when they murmur Namaste. As you put your shoes back on by the door, bemusingly cheery chatter reaches your ears, accompanied by Catelynn’s chipper-calm tone directed at the small crowd forming around her. “For back pain, you might find it helpful to fold over a second mat under your back in order to create an incline, rather than laying flat as if asleep.” She catches your eye from across the room as she says this, before turning her attention to the next student.
“And as for your ankle…”
You leave. Tremors have infiltrated your bones, rendered your teeth metronomic, double-time to your steps out of the gym. Flat. As if asleep. * Next week, you arrive with a second mat and lie at an incline for the warm up and cool down.
Cheechmoonda By Jaroslav Eliah Sýkora
“That’s the house!” Jerry parked his yellow Mercedes with his firm logo of Bernezie’s Glass in front of 12677 Stuyvesant Avenue, switched off the radio, and opened his notebook. It was a thick diary in a black cover with a strap and a buckle. The corners of the diary, unprotected with any metal shields, suffered damage as Jerry wore it on his back tucked in his weight lifting belt. Bent in the shape of a bread roll, the diary looked like the pages might fall apart the moment he opened it. But they held firm in the binding although Jerry stuck his nose into it at least thirty times a day. Jerry put the notebook on the wheel and licked his thumb and index finger before he opened it in the middle. He browsed to the last two pages, leaned his elbows upon the wheel and bent over. Both pages, the left and the right, were densely filled with dates, names, and addresses of customers whom he had arranged to come and do the job they requested. He drew his brows together, and a brief moment of concentration filled the space of the truck. After some twenty seconds, satisfied with what he found, he closed the notebook again. “So much to do!” he sighed. “Jan, I can’t stay longer than one hour here. I got more work to finish this afternoon. I really have to hurry up.” He did not make any eye contact when he was talking.
Whomever Jerry had in his truck, may it be Timmy, Gene, Kian, Oozie, or me, he never used the plural form in his verbs. It was only he who did the work, not us. Although we were his helpers who he was dependent on, his collaborators and team members, he never included us into his diction. In his verbalism it was he who did the work—from the start ‘til finish, from the initial call of the customer ‘til the last minute when the work was done and we were leaving the working place. In his business vocabulary we didn’t exist; we were him. Jerry headed out of the truck not bothering to tell me a word either about the work we came to do or what tools he wanted. He somehow expected that I would figure it out by myself. But I usually didn’t, and then he got mad. I learned I had to squeeze it out of him. “What do you want me to make ready for you, adoni?” I asked. He turned his head to me, bewildered. “What’s that supposed to mean?” He never heard me address him that way before. His Hebrew that he’d learned more than thirty years ago at the Solomon Schechter Institute was rusty.
“It means ‘my master.’”
His bewilderment faded.
“Take the usual stuff—my pouch, garbage bin, two drill guns—the second for you, the bag with the insulation, the four-foot ladder, the caulk gun, two bronze caulks, the paper roll, the compressor and the baby-nailer. Leave it in the hallway on the first floor. You’ll work on the second screwing the window brackets to the frame and installing the blinds.” He jumped out, locked the car door on his side and rushed to the house to ring the doorbell. After some two minutes a heavy African-American woman in her early sixties opened the door. She had a round face and her curly, bushy hair was slicked backwards. The upper part of her face was covered with a pair of oversized glasses sitting on her broad nasal bridge. Goose
It made her look sophisticated and learned. She was dressed in a dark blue cotton T-shirt and yoga pants with a silver contour waistband. “Hello, Mother,” Jerry greeted her loudly. “How are you today? Ready for me?” “Hi, Bernezie,” she answered. “Of course, I’m ready for you, of course. I’ve been awaiting you like a doe longing for water streams. You’ve not showed up for ten days. Come in. Hopefully you finish the work today. I can’t wait any longer for you to have it done—am losing money on the rent every day, Bernezie. You hear me? Every single day!” She fought to control her voice and sound casual, but she was too upset to hide her emotions. “Calm down, Mother. I’ll finish everything today. Promise. I’ve been so busy and tired all the time, couldn’t come earlier, just couldn’t. Tell you later. I’m really sorry about that.” Jerry whispered apologetically. His voice was humble and weak. “If you finish it today, that’s fine,” said the woman forgivingly. “Come in.” Jerry and the homeowner disappeared inside of the house, leaving me outdoors. I unlocked the side door of the truck, took the tools out and one by one laid them behind the fencing. Then I closed the side door, locked it, went around the truck and checked whether the other two doors were locked. I didn’t hurry after Jerry; instead, I let my eyes feast on the nicely structured design of the brown façade of the house. It was a four- apartment residence set into a row of historic brownstone buildings. It had all the classic features that characterize that architectonical style: rusticated pilasters, lintel stones above the windows, the three-part entablature, and the cornice sitting on the walls like a royal crown on the head of Queen Victoria. More than a hundred years ago Bed- Stuy was a neighborhood of middle to upper class inhabitants. Despite the major change of homeowners in the thirties, when the white rich people left and the poor blacks from Harlem 3 moved in, many houses, including 12677 Stuyvesant Avenue, retained the memory of the time when those residences had been built. 42
Jerry appeared in the door again. “Why are you wasting my time, Jan? How long should I have been waiting in the hallway for the tools? Why haven’t you made them ready yet?” He wasn’t angry, just impatient as he often was when he was under stress. Then he saw the pouch with the tools at his feet, grabbed it and vanished into the house again. I followed him. The interior bore recognizable traces of the opulent style of the Victorian gothic which the new occupants didn’t manage to preserve in its original form. The ornate dark woodwork of the wall with the trefoil ornaments was scratched, and the molding with hand carved roses was twisted; a result of excessive humidity. The craftsmanship of the décor suffered a hard blow of time which made me feel sorry for the house as if it was decaying living organism. I brought the tools inside, placed them in the hallway, took my drill gun with one hand and the ladder with the other, and went up into the apartment on the second floor remembering Jerry to have said that the brackets and the blinds had to be installed in the living room only. I got up and felt the deteriorated lumber under my feet squeaking with my every step. The mahogany door was open. The homeowner claimed that the apartment wasn’t rented out yet but somebody obviously occupied it. There was a sofa-bed in the living room, a coffee table, a Samsung 65” plasma TV, a DVD-player, and a letter-format picture of Jesus Christ framed in gold on the top shelf above the fireplace.
It took me two minutes to set up my tools.
I was working alone there and I enjoyed it. I felt I did something creative, a piece of work that had a beginning and an end. For a moment I stopped being a cheechmoonda, Jerry’s unskilled helper, required only to pay attention to his commands and be ready to hold, pass, take away, bring, put, lay down, press, fill, close, open, pitch, and turn around whenever he commanded. He worked in the living room downstairs, and I was free, out of his reach, and had a task to accomplish. I put headphones on my ears and listened to the BBC news to Goose
learn the latest about the presidential debate between Donald Trump and Ben Carson. My happiness didn’t last too long. An intruder broke into it and the bubble of freedom burst. The daughter of the homeowner came in. I took notice of her not earlier than when she was already standing in the doorway. “Hi, what are ya doing here?” she asked. Her voice was deep and strident. “Hello, Miss. I’m Bernezie’s helper, finishing the windows. They didn’t tell you?” “Nope, mom hasn’t told me ya’d come today. What’s ya name?”
“Jan. And yours?”
There was a pause before she answered. “Alice.”
“Hi, Alice. Nice to meet you.”
“Ya too,” she said. “I’ll stay here and watch ya.” She plunked herself down onto the soft cushions of the sofa-bed and, breathing heavily, she folded her arms. She was much bigger than her mother. And shorter. They wore the same outfit, only the contour waistband wasn’t silver but gold. She had a girlish face but she was certainly in her late thirties. A set of meticulously braided ponytails with ladybug-clips made her look younger but the effect of it was off-putting. It looked as if she refused to become a grown-up and was suppressing her biological growth and maturity, masking it with her hairstyle. She had a strong bull neck and stiff curly hairs on her chin. It gave her girlish face a masculine frame and an unattractive look. I wondered if she ever had sexual intercourse. I picked up the first bracket and two screws from the floor, tucked the drill gun in my belt, climbed up on the ladder, and attached the bracket to the frame. There was a massive chunk of caulk in 44
the corner making it impossible to pin the bracket squared. I fought with my balance a bit too; the wobbling ladder made my stance dangerous, and the drill-bit was sliding off the screw-head. Alice watched me ardently, wheezing as she breathed. My struggle excited her so much that she began to sweat. I searched for a razor blade in my front pockets and accidentally felt my testicles. Alice’s aroused breath grew stronger. The sour odour of her sweating body filled the front of the room and hit my nose. It made me nervous. I didn’t find the razor blade so I quickly pinned the bracket askew and climbed down the ladder. “Hallelujah!” Alice, seeing that as a success, exclaimed so loud that she scared me. I turned to her with reproach. Tiny silver drops popped out on her forehead and her dark eyes were covered in a shiny foil of moisture. With one of her hands she was pressing her breasts and with the other she was rubbing her lap. I looked at her. She pulled her hand away seeing my disconcerted face. I quickly pinned the second bracket to the frame and in the corners of the room I searched for the blind. Alice noticed my helpless effort. “What are ya looking for, Johnny?” She changed the position of the laryngeal cartilage which raised her voice pitch a fourth. She sounded much softer and warmer than when she came in. “Sweetheart, do you happen to know where they put the window blind?” “There it is, honey!” She pointed at the blind thrown behind the sofa-bed. Buried in cushions she struggled to turn her body around. The blind was wrapped up in a bundle. I picked it up. I heard her whisper, “Thank ya, Jesus.” The blind was a piece of junk. Jerry called it shit, fake, garbage: proof of American superficiality. It looked nice but worked bad. The unpainted wood shades were kept in their natural hue, but because they lay untied on the threads only; they tended to slip free no matter how cautiously they were treated. I unfolded the bundle and rolled it up. At that moment the rows of shades tore apart. Goose
“Damn!” I cursed loudly. The shades collapsed like a tower built of cards, and rattling, fell on the wooden floor. “Grrr,” Alice grunted from the sofa-bed. I raised the relic of the blind and climbed up on the ladder. Alice’s growl gave me a kick. I put the ends into the brackets and locked the blind. Done! Then I picked up the shades and placed them on the ladder to have them ready to be drawn back through the threads. I drew the first shade on the bottom of the blind. It was slow and patient work to put the shades back in their place. I did the second, third, and fourth. With each returned shade, Alice’s breath grew louder. I didn’t dare turn my head. I cared only for the shades. I did the fifth, sixth, and seventh. Alice’s nasal wheeze vibrated in slow intervals. I did the eighth, ninth, and tenth. Alice opened her mouth and moaned. I did the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth. Alice screamed with a suppressed voice breathing heavily. I did the fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth. There was but one shade left on the ladder. I took it with hesitation and drew it slowly through the threads. The intervals of Alice’s screaming voice increasingly intensified. I waited some ten seconds longer until I heard Alice’s joyful cry-out: “God is good, yes, He is, all the time! Yes, He is, all the time, all the time, all the time!” I was staring through the open shades of the window at the row of old oaks running along the sidewalk. The street was empty; only some teenage boy dressed in PUMA hoodie and black saggy pants stood at the intersection eyeing the passing cars approaching his spot from left and right. The afternoon sun was still strong and cut into my eyes with sharp beams. Instantly a set of rainbow-colored blotches blinded me, and the solid contours of the trees, buildings, cars, and the teenage boy turned into a blurred canvas of a Homer Winslow-like water-color. Suddenly a new sixty-five thousand silver Ferrari appeared on the road and stopped at the boy. The window-glass rolled down and a dark hand with a gold bracelet slid out. The boy put several hundred-dollar bills in the opened palm and took from it two dime bag of heroin. The boy pulled the hood over his head and rushed away from the scene. The Ferrari, in a flash of a light, acceler46
ated and continued in its ride down the street. The whole trade didn’t last longer than fifteen seconds. I felt like I was cast in some creepy movie. A woman masturbating behind my back while I was installing window blinds, and a dealer distributing drugs freely on the street in the daylight. I wondered what could possibly come next. I packed all my tools, took the ladder and the drill into my other hand, left the room, and went down the stairs. Jerry was working in the living room. “I’m done!” I shouted. “Me too,” he shouted back. “Take the compressor and the baby-nailer and get your stuff back into the truck.Wait for me there, I’ll only be a minute.” In ten minutes he appeared in the car. He threw himself heavily on the seat and tossed his notebook on the dashboard. His eyes seemed to gleam with relief. “Do you want to hear how much cabbage I made for this job I’ve just done?” I shrugged my shoulders. ”Eighty five hundred bucks.” “You deserve it,” I said with a light tone of irony emphasizing the pronouns. “You toiled for that woman like a beast!“ He noticed the ironic color in my voice but wasn’t sure if the emphasis was just the result of my Slavic accent stressing the first syllables of any word, so he preferred to just change the subject. “And with you, everything all right?” I told him about Alice. He looked at me sternly examining my expression for a while before he asked, “Did you screw her?”
I shook my head. “She wasn’t exactly my cup of coffee.”
“Good. Never do that. Remember: Don’t shit where you eat. Never mix up sex and business. You came to her to satisfy her needs with work and get her money. If you screw your customer, she may give you less or nothing. Got it, Professor?” I nodded. “Of course you Goose
do. You have a PhD.â€? He grinned cheerfully at me, pulled his car onto the road, and drove his Bernezieâ€™s Glass truck to finish another job in the Brooklyn neighbourhood.
Illustrated by Sydney Vennin
The Appointment By Amy Kalbun
Mrs. Kanditsky marched into the doctor’s office in a feathered, slate grey hat and brown French-heeled shoes. She strode towards the reception desk, cutting in front of a man who’d been hovering by the hand sanitizer dispenser, and glared at the receptionist until she hung up the phone. Setting her clasp purse on the desk, she stuck two ringed fingers inside and withdrew her red leather continental wallet. The man by the dispenser coughed and tapped his foot as Mrs. Kanditsky’s fingers dipped back into her purse and removed a tiny, shiny key, which she inserted into a small keyhole on the wallet’s face. The lock clicked and Mrs. Kanditsky pulled out her health card, handing it to the receptionist without meeting her gaze. After she’d taken back her health card and tucked it into her wallet, Mrs. Kanditsky found a seat. Stiff-backed in her chair, she folded and rearranged the pleats of her coat across her knees. Cradling her hat brim between her palms, she lifted it off and used it to crown her thighs. Running a hand through her thick black hair, she came away with a strand between her fingers. Uncoiling it, she extended her arm and let the hair fall. It twisted to the scuffed beige floor and settled by the feet of the man sitting beside her. The man was bald. He blinked, glancing at the hair, then at Mrs. Kanditsky, who was dusting her hat brim. The bald man mumbled something and shuffled off to find another seat. Mrs. Kanditsky placed her hat on his now empty chair. Goose
The nurse called Mrs. Kanditsky’s name and Mrs. Kanditsky bustled after him. He led her down the narrow hallway into a room with a cluttered desk, a wheeled chair, and an examination table covered in wax paper. When the nurse left, Mrs. Kanditsky settled herself in the chair and refolded her coat pleats. Planting her purse on the desk, she leaned forward, grabbed one of the framed photographs, and held it up in front of her nose. She traced her thumb over the image of a young boy, his face smeared with a grin and chocolate cake. When Dr. Bernardo entered the room, Mrs. Kanditsky stood and dropped the photo on the desk. Smiling, Dr. Bernardo gestured to the examination table. Mrs. Kanditsky patted her hair and placed her hat atop her purse. Gripping Dr. Bernardo’s arm, she wobbled up the small metal steps and eased herself onto the table. Dr. Bernardo started with her eyes, cupping her chin in his hand. Next, her ears, a tilt and tug for each lobe, after he’d asked her to take off her dangling diamond earrings and place them in a plastic tray. Then came the reflex test: knees, knuckles, feet. For that she had to hitch up her skirt, remove her rings, and kick off her French heels. He told her to lie back and take off her coat before probing her abdomen and asking if she felt any pain; her ringless fingers ripped the wax paper. He felt her neck to track her pulse, and slipped his stethoscope up her blouse to listen to her lungs. After removing the stethoscope, Dr. Bernardo said it was time to see if there’d been any regrowth. Mrs. Kanditsky swallowed. Dr. Bernardo cleared his throat and ducked his head. Mrs. Kanditsky’s hand hovered over her hair. She stroked it once, twice, before slipping her fingers up under the cap and pulling off the thick black wig. A single hair came loose, twisting to the floor. When Dr. Bernardo was finished, Mrs. Kanditsky gathered up her belongings; her rings, her earrings, then her coat and shoes. Last was her wig, which she adjusted in front of Dr. Bernardo’s full-length mirror, and topped with her feathered, slate grey hat. Straightening her 50
lapels and pursing her lips, Mrs. Kanditsky nodded to Dr. Bernardo without meeting his gaze, and shuffled out of the office.
Illustrated by Nikki Watson
The End of History By Gen Berman Ghan
“Whoever you are, I fear you are walking the walk of dreams”
- Walt Whitman “Life is a coco-banana pants crazy kind of bitch, and then you die.” 10 hours until impact.
Who said that? You aren’t sure. The words are scrawled in green chalk on the board above your kitchen table. The handwriting is nothing at all like your own. Neat, prim and proper, letters curving into each other in a lithe calligraphy. You don’t know who wrote it.
Does it matter?
Your side stings. Someone has been sick in the kitchen, the puke a peculiar brown pool on the floor next to the sink. You can’t help but feel disappointed—would it have been so hard for them to 52
aim for the basin? You know you’re never going to clean it up. You’re thankful the concussion seems to have damaged your sense of smell. In the bathroom, you peel off your sticky mess of a T-shirt. Over the left side of your ribcage, a rocket has been tattooed onto your skin. It looks like a child’s drawing of an old fashioned space-ship, something from a cartoon. There are words written along what must be the hull of the ship in the same poised, graceful writing as on your wall, but you can’t make them out. The script is too small. It must have been a sloppy job; you are bleeding along the line work, so the rocket is bleeding as well. You stare at it in the mirror for a long time. You’ve never had a tattoo before. You don’t know how to feel. There’s no hot water, no soap or towels, but you do your best to wash the blood and dirt that has enveloped your body. The water is colder than the air outside—your cheeks go numb as you let it run across your face; you feel your testicles retract as you begin to shiver uncontrollably. The rocket on your side becomes angrily red as the icy stream slips down it.
The cold makes you feel alive. 9 hours until impact.
The phone lines are down. This doesn’t bother you. You know you’d just ignore any calls that came in. To your surprise and dismay, the Wi-Fi is still intact. Even now, you can’t escape Facebook. You scroll through the list of events you’ve been invited to for tonight, feeling nothing. Final Party: The Drake Hotel (1150 Queen St.) Going – Interested – Not Going. Pray-in: Cathedral Church of St. James (65 Church St.) Going – Interested – Not Going. Farewell Tour: The Jazz Bistro (251 Victoria St.) Going – Interested – Not Goose
Going. Ritual Suicide Party: The Masonic Temple (888 Yonge St.) Going – Interested – Not Going. End of World Orgy: Alex’s House (27 Acores Ave.) Going – Interested – Not Going. You toss your phone away. It clatters against the wall and disappears behind the crack of your bed. That’s okay. You don’t want to own a phone anymore. It looks like someone has taken an axe to your closet. You managed to pull out a shirt that hadn’t been too badly torn. It’s a red long sleeve, with the words ‘I like it on top!’ over a picture of a mountain. It doesn’t embarrass you today. You wear the same pants you woke up in, halfheartedly dusting off most of the motley brown blot on the left-back pocket. Mismatched socks, the only two you can see. One is blue and yellow. The other is white. Little green bobble-headed figures are printed into the fabric. You don’t remember the people who’ve destroyed your house. Twitter had warned of riots last week west of the city. You can only assume that they passed through the neighborhood yesterday. All your posters have been torn from the walls. Your glasses are stomped to oblivion; the bedsheets are gone. That’s all fine. You aren’t sure what anybody could do with those things now anyway.
But the books.
You stand in front of the ruin of your bookshelf. So far as you can tell, nobody has stolen any. They’ve just torn it all up. There are papers everywhere, covers torn from the spines, old paperbacks shredded at your feet. None of your books have been left alive. For some reason, more so than the theft of your things, the destruction of your home, or even the desecration of your body, this hurts. You pick 54
up the shredded, sopping wet spine of poetry, the cover hanging off. It looks like someone might have pissed on it. You can barely make out the words; the atoms on the pages are scattered. It’s the end anyway. You can’t understand why someone would come to destroy your books. You want to cry. You don’t. You stand there, in pages that don’t speak anymore.
Does it even matter?
From behind your ruined mattress, something is buzzing. 8 hours until impact.
J: Hey. I just thought maybe we could talk.
J: I can’t believe we still have Wi-Fi.
Seems like the only thing left.
J: Did riots move through ur part of town?
J: U okay?
J: Yeah it does. They hurt my books. J: I’m sorry. Goose
Doesn’t matter. 55
J: Yeah it does. What about you? J: I’m okay. Hid most of the night. Cat got out though. Can’t find her. What about Mum? J: Don’t know. Haven’t heard in weeks. Still can’t believe it, 8 hours to go, And we’re all still on fucking Facebook
And all my books are gone
J: Yeah. I’m sorry. J: It’s okay bro
I love you
7 hours until impact Snow becomes ash, drifts down from a world that will keep turning, a universe that won’t notice when all of this—the streetlights, shopping centers, strip clubs, and hot dog stands—is finally gone. You find it doesn’t bother you. You walk in the middle of the road. There’s hardly anybody left in this part of the city anymore. Everybody is gone, convinced they can outrun the end of everything. You wonder if anybody will make it. 56
You’d left your phone at home. After your brother, it had Goose
started beeping again, old friends and non-friends seeing you online, reaching out the only way anybody knew how anymore, without sound or tone, or movement of face. All of them only repetitions of the same message, a shallow reaching-out.
Kal: Wanna fuck? (seen 3:15)
Robert: Hey, I miss you (seen 3:17) Steph: I always hated you (unseen)
Em: What are we going to do? (seen 3:19)
Teddy: Please help me (seen 3:21)
You answer none of these messages. You canâ€™t seem to make it matter to you anymore. You barely remember the voices and faces that go along with those little digital bubbles. You wonder if the battery will last right until the end, if the messages will keep coming in, though you will never open them. You wonder too, if after the planet breaks apart leaving only space and dust and irradiated rock, if these signals will remain somehow. Maybe, in a thousand years, some other species who fared better, will drift across the space where Planet Earth had once hung in the milky way. You wonder if somehow the internet will survive the end of history, that when those aliens search for any signs of life in the universe, the only evidence left of humans will be floating around on Facebook, the little meaningless dots of: Goose
U: Hey, u up? (unseen) You hope that somehow this isn’t the digital trace you’ll leave. You hope at least, the aliens find the eBooks. You never owned an eBook. You could never bring yourself to love anything that could be taken from you by a removed battery. You couldn’t bring meaning to any of them. But now, with the memory of your ruined library burned into the insides of your retinas, you hope some digital copy remains of something, somewhere, floating in the Cloud for something new. You look down, realizing where you are. On the corner of your brother’s street, where you have not been in almost three years. You’ve stepped in dog shit. 6 hours until impact. You’re amazed by your little brother. You’re amazed by how tall he is; the photos don’t do it justice. You must look up to meet his eyes now. You knocked awkwardly on the door and were shocked by the hug he gave when he saw you, lanky limbs wrapping around your shoulders. You’re unsure what to do. You hug him back. He invites you inside. You watch him as you climb up the stairs. This isn’t the home you grew up in. Everything is different. Everything is alien. There are no bookshelves on the walls. It makes you sad. He’s wearing a faded yellow shirt; you recognise it was once yours. That old childhood instinct rears up inside you, pettiness reserved for siblings, dulled by years of lack of use. 58
Don’t touch my stuff!
It makes you want to laugh. You are painfully aware of the disaster that is your person. You can feel your side has begun to bleed again, staining the cotton of the last T-shirt you thought you’d ever wear. He suggests you take a shower, that he has something you could throw on, that it might make you feel better. The sound of his voice is astonishing; it throws your whole world away; you realize finally, that your little brother is the first human being you’ve heard out loud since you checked Twitter two weeks ago, to be told in only one hundred and forty characters that the world was coming to an end.
You ask him what the point would be. You say it doesn’t matter.
He asks if you want to die smelling like dog shit. 5 hours until impact.
It’s only as the hot water finally runs off your body that you remember you’ve already done this, only five hours ago. The repetition, such wasted time with no time left to waste, makes you want to laugh. You don’t. It doesn’t matter. Your bare feet leave little traces of you on the hallway carpet. Your brother is waiting for you, holding a shirt and jeans. He points at your side, which still stings.
“When’d you get that?” He asks.
“Don’t know,” you croak. Did your voice always sound this way? “What’s it say?” You ask, lifting your arm up out of the way, offering a line of sight to the last written words on you. Your brother leans down, squinting. He pulls a small, square pair of glasses out of his pocket, hanging them on the end of his nose. He didn’t need glasses the last time you were in this house. Goose
“Grab a towel,” he says. For a moment, you’re unsure if he’s reading it or just saying it. “Cuz it’s the end of history.” He frowns, his brow furrowing in confusion. There are lines that appear around his eyes you don’t remember.
“Grab a towel,” he repeats. “I don’t get it.”
But you do. You’ve started to laugh. Real, gut wrenching, full laughter, until little tears appear around the edges of your eyes. “Grab a towel,” you repeat, and just keep on laughing. Your brother looks at you like you’ve gone insane. Maybe you have. You explain. Someone in your house had wet themselves. They wanted you to clean it up. 4 hours until impact.
You tell him about your job. He tells you about school.
You tell him about the writing on your wall. He tells you about the man he saw singing naked in the street. You tell him about your books like they still exist. He shows you his photographs, blown up on a projector. He says he wants to open a gallery with them. You notice he’s talking about the future like it’s something that still exists. You want to tell him there is no future. You don’t. It doesn’t matter either way. 3 hours until impact. You play a game of chess like when you were little. You think you’ve let him win. Did you? Would he have won anyway? Your brother’s phone starts to ring; you marvel at the way he ignores it, at the lack of devotion he feels to his digital life here at the end. 60
You watch a movie. Goose
1 hour until impact. You’re sitting on the roof, sunset turning the city red and orange. Not at all like the grey you know. He offers you a beer. You hate beer. You take it. “The end of history,” he says. Is he saying it to himself? To you? It’s hard to know. He tells you he likes that. You ask him why. He says that the end of history doesn’t have to mean the end of the world. You’re not so sure. 30 minutes until impact. He told you to stay here, he went back inside. You feel incredibly alone when he returns. He’s holding something you recognize, bound in leather. You want to cry. He asks you to read it to him, like you did when he was little, and you were the only ones in the house.
You don’t cry.
You read him the poetry he always said he didn’t understand. He’s sitting next to you. What was that in the sky? Are those the clouds or the rockets? You wonder if this is all real, if it’s just a dream that you’re walking through. 1 minute until impact. You wonder if anything will be here after you, if your digital lives will outlive the end of history. It occurs to you, if your civilization is dug up, that this, the end with your brother, won’t be recorded anywhere. Your last day together will leave no digital footprint. You want to tell him what you think the poem means. you.
He’s looking up at the sky. There is something falling towards
“Hey,” you say.
There is no seen or unseen to signal his acknowledgment. He turns his head. You wonder again if you’re dreaming.
You want to say “I love you.”
Illustrated by Sydney Vennin
Biographies Hannah Brennen is a third year English specialist at Victoria College. When she isn’t reading books or staring at blank Word docs, you can find her climbing plastic rocks or buying more notebooks than a reasonable person should own. This is her first U of T publication, and she’s very grateful for the opportunity. Logan Bright is a vegan writer in Toronto with a bachelor’s degree in linguistics. He enjoys political discussion, home cooking, daily exercise, and meditation practice. He is broke and could really use a job. Ben Berman Ghan is a writer from Toronto, Canada. He has been working in the Toronto literary scene since I was a teenager, with a focus on literary and speculative fiction. He thinks that even when stories are dark and sad, they should still find time to tell a joke. He finds writing about himself in the third person very strange. You can find him @wychwords on twitter Amy Kalbun is a third year Victoria College student studying history and English. Her creative work has previously been published in Volume 5 of Goose, and in Volume 1 of The Soap Box. Victoria Liao is an English and Sexual Diversities student in her fourth year at Victoria College, and she is grateful and excited to be published in this edition of the Goose. She is the current nonfiction editor at The Spectatorial as well as a fiction prose reader on the masthead of Looseleaf Magazine. Her writing typically involves themes of racialized identity, queerness and sexuality, and mental illness, often with a speculative element thrown in. Some of her other work can be found in volume IV of The Spectatorial and in the Nostalgia edition of The Strand Magazine Goose
Biographies Yasmine Shelton is a 2nd year philosophy and poli-sci major. She enjoys loud classical music as well as loud non-classical music. Her favourite book is The Name Of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss and she really misses Leonard Cohen. Jaroslav E. SĂ˝kora was born in the past century in Prague, the Czech Republic, the great city of Charles IV, the Golem story, Jan Hus, Franz Kafka, and VĂĄclav Havel. For the last twelve years, he has been living with his wife and daughter in the United States (Brooklyn, NY). In the past, his restless mind and curiosity have led him to many occupations. So he is an experienced software developer, university professor, scholar, and a self-taught enthusiast in many other activities (writing, gardening, photography). He finally ended up as a Math student at NYCCT, CUNY, to become a high-school teacher one day. Harrison Wade writes fiction, poetry and film reviews. He likes words, and their arrangement into sentences. Sometimes he just likes their shape or sound. He does most of his work on a large red desk from IKEA, facing a vaguely purple wall. He likes coffee and all kinds of strange films. He left the sprawl of Vancouver to study English and Cinema Studies, and still enjoys being consistently surprised by Toronto.
An Annual Review of Short Fiction from Victoria College at the University of Toronto