MNERVA A Literary Journal
The 2020 Blog Collection
Inside this Issue…
The Editing Team
The Darkness Comes, Silence Settles
Novembers and Airports
The Sky Cried Tears of Blood
Why I Don’t Read Books with Bad Endings
Fat Trimmings on the Edge of the Moon
Where Things Are Opposite
What They Were
The Wrong Kind of Love
Once I Walked Along a Country Path
Weapon in the Midst of War
The Editing Team Editors-in-Chief: Isabel Armiento Sana Moshin
Editorial Team: Athena Bucci Marissa Lee Isabella Quito Villanoy
Original Mnerva Illustrations by: Isabella Quito Villanoy
A Note from the Editors: Thank you to all the writers who helped make the launch of Mnerva Literary Journal possible. While we needed to make space on our blog for our next year’s contributors, we wanted to make sure that your pieces still had a place of their own. We hope you continue to inspire others with your creativity and contribute to Mnerva again. With love, The Mnerva Team
The Darkness Comes, Silence Settles Gaetana D'Amico The darkness comes, silence settles The sun dips down, the moon soars high The stars glow brightly in the dimming night They shine in perfect harmony and smile Mechanic hearts squeal to a stop The darkness comes, silence settles Doors fly on hinges, arms reach out in sheer delight Leave the day behind. Welcome to a warm and inviting home The final delectable mouthful, the last thirst quenching sip Faucets let out a cleansing farewell drip The darkness comes, silence settles Blankets and pillows jump with glee as you leap into bed The last chandelier flickers off wishing sweet dreams Eyes close in bliss to the arriving snores Drift off to well earned sleep, the day ends again The darkness comes, silence settles
Hostile Reunion Rachel Hughes Wicket Red Scarlet letter I see you, In our fort See the blank fourth finger Scantily unoccupied, By a round metal corpse. Jesus! On his high horse, Rules! Your vessel – a remorse.
Novembers and Airports Kayleigh Birch I have this image, and it won’t stop turning over in my head. We were all in Nevada. My lips tasted like they were evaporating (and blueberries and junior year). We were all stumbling back to the hotel room. I didn’t used to be bad on my feet until the rug was pulled from under them. Everyone was in the side room. I took a swig from the bottle, because fuck, I deserve the hedonism. I deserved something. If this was the softest way I could hurt myself, let it be. Everyone kept telling me to let it be. I didn’t want to. I ran barefoot across the carpet near the broken glass on the floor and put all of my might into the sliding glass door. Everyone looks small from the 35th floor. When I looked up, I saw nothing but the stars reflecting the city lights. In Nevada, the city lights aren’t like the ones in LA: they’re all the colors of the rainbow. They’re neon and artificial, like my bloodshot eyes and silk clothes and melodramatic slurred words. I think I started to scream. Names and places. Just so they could evaporate into the air with the smoke and water coming up from the streets. The desert winds picked up, so I don’t think anyone heard. I liked how the wind colored my throat bright red. I laid down on the balcony, turning to the side, curled up just how he liked. The glass was cool and showed me how all I needed was to turn to my side to tip the teapot tears. They were hot. Hot proper. I never liked that word. I’ve never been hot. Maybe I was hot that night? The artifice of the game was hot: the chase of bringing him, or whatever else he dragged with him, back to me was hot with malice and passion and other teenage afterglows that lingered into twenty. It was deep red lips and a tongue that wouldn’t treat anyone like a downer. It was hot. Everyone looks small from the 35th floor. The sliding glass door broke through the haze. J came out on the balcony and I cleared some space for her to sit with me, even though she wasn’t who I was thinking of. J was worried, as all good friends sometimes are. I wish I could remember what she said to me. This is why I don’t do things like this, I remember thinking. I’m so scared of forgetting. That’s why I write everything down. J laid down next to me. I wasn’t crying. The tears were just trickling. It was the only time I cried when I didn’t have to close my eyes, or wring out the sentiment. I don’t even remember actively feeling sad. Maybe I was so sad, so deeply and profoundly sad, so much of the time, that it didn’t feel different from anything else I was feeling. I got back to thinking of him, now that J was settled in knowing I was okay. I traced the shape of his face in the lights, desperate to remember every freckle. One above the left eyelid, right? I thought I memorized this face, I should know better by now. Or maybe I never looked at him like one day, he wouldn’t want me to. I loved that freckle, even if it didn’t exist. How did he take his tea? I can’t forget things like this. I don’t remember what I’m forgetting. Let’s say milk and honey and cinnamon. That sounds nice in a poem, if I ever write poems again. It sounds like how it tastes. Creamy and soft, like the lights when they’re blurred through my tears. God, I sound stupid. I like looking at the lights with J. I don’t know what we’re talking about, but I’m sure it’s making me feel good, even if she can’t see it in my body. I can’t see my body.
7 I don’t have a fucking diary. I don’t even have him. They say that a little after you’re born, you become aware of your body as a place in the universe, as opposed to a part of it. Sometimes I feel like I skipped that step. Maybe that’s why I’m on the ground and floating in technicolor and I don’t feel anything at all. The glass is cool and wet. Watch how much I like it. I’ll prove to him, to everyone, that I like everything, and I love even more than that. Everyone looks small from the 35th floor. I’m still not good on my feet, but I use them for better things now. They dance more than they used to, and floor gas pedals when the best part of the song comes on. The car was a dramatic place. I drove with my legs crossed and screamed at the top of my lungs until my throat was bloody and I took all the saltwater and rinsed the taste of every single name from in between my teeth. I drove down every street just to kill the inside of my mind. Let me numb it with something it knows. Streets can only do one of two things: they either take you home or far away from it. They seldom do both. I never knew what would happen if one day I woke up, and tried my best, and they did neither. The streets know which way he takes home. I don’t anymore. It’s November, and I’m in an airport again. I remember the first time was five years ago, and five is a very lucky number for me. I was sixteen and had no idea where I was going. I hoped somewhere to write things, wherever that place would be. I wore skirts and tinted pink lip balm, and liked that quite a lot about myself. Three years ago, I had just applied to college, sitting in the same terminal. I’m applying to college again right now. Every November is the sickly-sweet caramel of the “begin again” days, the feeling of when you’re young, but doing something grown-up. I think to myself, “Look how you’ve become the girl of your dreams. You used to take planes with him and read books by men that reminded you of him, and now, you take planes by yourself and all your favorite books are ones you’ve written. All of your tomorrows are somedays, and it makes sense that people change their minds. You’ve gotten up from the broken soil where you lulled yourself to sleep repeating, “if you want me, you can come and pick me up.” Look how nicely the moss grew over your bones. That’s why it brings out the green in your eyes: it’s messy and deep like the Earth you never learned how to separate yourself from.” Or something like that. Waiting. I hate that word. I hate staying somewhere until something else happens. I hate having the time to sketch your face in the crowd. J says that I see a lot of my past lives everywhere. Maybe that’s the only way I can find the freckle. But I know it was on the left side. I know every single good angle. I know when Head and Shoulders went on sale because my car stopped smelling like TRESemmé. I could walk to the cafe with the 115th dream all the way from Toronto. Bob Dylan never wanted you to know anything about him, too. Some people didn’t even know what his eyes looked like, because he always wore those sunglasses. I wonder if he had any freckles that some girl was keeping herself up at night trying to remember.
8 I’m in an airport again. It’s November. I’ll be in England by morning and Ireland in the afternoon. I’ll be on the soil that my family came from: my third-ranked home when the weird kids would ask me where I’m really from, and the only one I’ve never seen. I wonder if I’ll see where I got my nose or my upward inflection or my proclivity for some nights to taste like blueberry. I wonder if I’ll see the mermaids that my family used to dream of. Atlantic. That word doesn’t sound real. I think they wanted me to be a Pacific girl. Everyone’s best memories of me are in the water.
Photo Credit: Kayleigh Birch
The Sky Cried Tears of Blood Wilaa Bhayani On the flaming sand, Lay a cut body, a parched throat Desolate, between swords and spears He lay among lifeless bloody bodies Suckling infants, sons, nephews, brothers alike The bloodthirsty pulled the dagger Thru his jugular vein The last breath, the last spill, the last cry The earth trembled in pain Then the sky cried blood
The poem “The Sky Cried Tears of Blood” is about the tragic historical event Karbala. The pronoun “he” refers to Imam Hussain (as) who was mercilessly killed with his family and friends for refusing to pay allegiance to Yazid, a tyrant king, in 680 AD. His family was deprived of all necessities including water for days before being killed. After ambushing and slaughtering all his male relatives (including his 6-month-old baby), Yazid’s army captured his female relatives and treated them in humiliating ways. When Imam Hussain (as) was murdered, according to historical records, there was an earthquake and the sky turned blood red. The anniversary of Imam Hussain’s (as) murder, called Ashura, is commemorated every year in the lunar month of Muharram by Shia Muslims around the world by recitation of eulogies, poems, speeches, etc. For more information please see https://whoishussain.org/who-is-hussain/the-full-story/
Metamorphosis Madeline Corradi Timara signalled the woman behind the counter to open the exit door for her. Busy with paperwork, the woman failed to notice. She stepped forward and hit her knuckles against the glass. The receptionist looked up at her, smiled apologetically, and finally opened the automatic door. She walked quickly over the cold pavement of the parking lot, only breathing out once she sat safely in her car. She placed her head in her hands, and when she finally lifted it again, the small bronze rose hanging from her rear-view mirror caught her eye. Timara frowned. Her grandmother had bought the accessory for her the first time they visited Italy together seven years ago. For twelve days in the summer, they had explored her grandmother’s home town. It was called Spezzano Piccolo, and her grandmother had owned a small house close to the water. In the mornings, Timara oscillated between reading young teen novels and Italian cookbooks on the porch with her grandmother and slowly acquired the taste for strong coffee, and after lunch, they shared gelato on the beach. Some days her grandmother used the cozy, pale yellow kitchen in the beach house to teach her how to stretch homemade pasta or make tomato sauce. One night, while they trailed the cobblestone streets, Timara’s grandmother had seen a little bronze rose hanging from a store window and jumped at the chance to purchase it for her granddaughter. Timara had kept it on her keyring ever since, until she bought her first car a year ago and hung it from her rear-view mirror. It hovered there, taunting her with pain. Her grandmother had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s this year. The doctors told them the disease was early onset and aggressive. She would lose her memory, and then basic function, within the next few years. She was only sixty-five but progressing backwards. Each time Timara visited the nursing home, the new looming threat of her grandmother’s mortality appeared, suspended above her like a rain cloud. Now, sitting in the car with a tightening throat, she tried to erase the image of an Italian sunset that was replaying in her mind. The next day Timara realized she was falling apart. At first, she thought nothing of it, merely writing it off as the annual dry, cracked hands that appeared once December rolled around. It began on her palms, the creases slowly fading behind fleshy whiteness. She hardly noticed it, and so it didn’t mean much to her. But soon the tops of her knuckles had dried out and cracked, leaving them vulnerable to the cold and bloody if she moved her fingers too quickly. Soon after she noticed her hands, she showered, the hot water piercing her back sharply. She stepped out, barely covered herself in a towel, and stood in front of her mirror. She twisted and saw her entire back covered in bright red, patchy skin. It was dry and flaky in some sections, raw and sensitive in others. Timara reached around, terrified and curious, and touched her skin lightly. Two days later she sat on her best friend, Cleo’s, couch, trying to figure out how to tell her that her body was raw and peeling all over. Cleo placed a teapot on the coffee table and filled two
12 mugs with boiling water. A tray of cookies sat next to the teapot. Timara thought about the Christmas cookies her grandmother made every year. How the recipe only lived inside her grandmother’s brain and was brought to life by the muscle movement in her hands. How her grandmother would never get to make them again. Timara sat still with her back straight, weary of abrupt movements. Cleo took a sip of her tea and tried to continue the conversation, but Timara found herself unable to give anything more than blunt answers. “Are you alright?” Cleo finally asked. Timara shook her head hastily. “I need to show you something.” Slowly, she removed her thick cardigan, rolled up her sleeves — one by one — and extended her arms towards her friend. They shook, hanging limply in the air above the table. Neither one of them spoke for a moment. Instead, Cleo furrowed her eyebrows as she stared at Timara’s arms. “Timara.” She paused. “I don’t understand what I’m supposed to be looking at.” Timara’s eyes widened before looking down at her own arms again. “My skin,” she said. “Can’t you see what’s happening to me?” Cleo’s eyes penetrated Timara’s, filled with sympathy and worry. Timara furiously rubbed her arm. Little flakes zoomed into the air between them. Still, Cleo didn’t react. Instead, she reached over and put a hand on Timara’s right arm. “You don’t see anything?” Timara asked. Cleo shook her head slowly. Timara took Cleo’s hand and started roughly rubbing her hand against the forearm. “You don’t feel anything?” Again, Cleo shook her head. “Have you thought about going to see someone about this?” Cleo asked. Timara didn’t speak for a few seconds. She looked down at her arms and saw the rough patches of peeling skin. She didn’t understand. Finally, she nodded and looked back up at her friend. “Would you take me to a doctor?” At the doctor’s office, Timara lifted herself onto the examination table. His words floated from his mouth, but worry pounded against her forehead, making everything harder to hear. It was as if she were underwater. There were only so many things he could have said. Was he questioning the reason for her visit? Perhaps he asked about her last physical, made a cheesy joke, or commented on the weather. She swiftly explained her situation, shedding her clothes as she did. “Timara,” he began. “I understand this is a troubling time for you and your family, but I’m afraid I can see nothing wrong with your skin.”
13 It suddenly occurred to her that her grandmother had been in and out of this office for the past few months. She had sat on this table, or had blood drawn, or laid underneath the mechanical MRI dome. Timara wondered if her grandmother had felt as afraid as she did in the doctor’s office, waiting for him to explain the reason she was forgetting how to get home and no longer able to make changes accurately. Timara’s head fell, her eyes failing to focus as she gazed at the floor. “You have to see something,” she pleaded. He waited a moment before continuing. “I’d like to refer you to a psychiatrist, Timara,” Her body, seemingly independent from reason, pushed off the table. She shook her head. “I’m not crazy.” He put his hands up, remaining calm and stern. “You’re seeing things. I think it’s best if you speak to someone before this gets out of hand.” She stared at him desperately. Eventually, she swallowed the lump in her throat and surrendered. “Is there anything you can give me for my skin?” He hesitated before prescribing her a low dose, medicated topical cream. For a week, she applied the ointment to her body twice a day. Following the recommended instructions like clockwork, not once did she touch the orange plastic tube of pills. By day three, her pale flesh seemed to be mending itself. She cleaned her house. She went out to buy groceries. The sun seemed warmer on that winter day. But on day four, she awoke in excruciating pain all over her skin. In tears, she lost the will to get up from her bed. Around lunchtime, she stood for the first time all day. While the faint image of the city’s hospital flashed through her mind, all she did with the little bit of energy she could muster was take the tube of medicated cream and throw it into the garbage. She didn’t even shower. Instead, she put on a long-sleeve shirt and a hoodie and covered her lower half in tights and a pair of thick, grey sweatpants. She threw a large scarf over everything, placed a knit hat on her head, then returned to bed and buried herself under the comforter. She finally awoke — unaware of how long she had been in bed — to the sound of her cellphone. Its annoying, sing-songy tone went off three separate times before something inside her reached over and picked it up. “Timara,” her mother’s voice erupted on the other end of the line. “What’s going on?”
14 “What are you talking about?” Her voice was groggy. “Cleo told me you’ve been struggling with…” Her voice trailed off. “Well, she couldn’t really explain to me what was going on.” “You’re going to think I’m crazy.” Timara sighed. Her mother insisted she explain. “My skin is falling off, Ma.” Her mother remained silent for a moment, and Timara was tempted to hang up the phone when she finally spoke. “You need to come over. You need to show me this,” her mother said. “I really don’t want to—” “Will showing me make it any worse?” Her mother asked. Twenty-five minutes later, she stepped outside for the first time in days. On the subway southbound to her mother’s house, she stared silently out the window. Although the majority of the trip was clouded in underground darkness, at one point between two stops, the outside world shone through. She could see rows of houses. Decks and balconies caught her attention. Each house was ragged in some way, falling apart. A broken window on one, a crumbled wooden backdoor, a small balcony full of hoarded junk. As these images rapidly swept past her, it took a great amount of strength not to surrender to the lump in her throat and tightness in her chest. When she arrived, her mother looked at her harshly and wasted no time in asking the question. “Did you finally visit your grandmother?” She asked bluntly. Timara looked up, shocked. Her mother gently took her sleeve in her fingers and rolled it up past Timara’s forearm. Timara watched her mother’s eyes react to the wreckage and sighed heavily, a satisfying breath finally escaping her lungs. “How long has this…” Her mother trailed off, staring. “It started right after I went to visit grandma.” Timara rolled up her other sleeve. “No one else has seen it on me until now,” Her mother smiled sadly. “Sounds like how I felt after your grandmother was diagnosed. No one else understood how I was feeling… How much it tore me up inside. I never wanted you to see me when it was bad. But I guess you must have… must have somehow inherited it…” She paused. “I never thought you’d—” She stopped then, choking up.
15 Watching her mother open up, the beginnings of tears glazing over her eyes, Timara recognized pain. The two of them looked at each other knowingly yet said nothing. “Show me everything,” her mother finally instructed. Hesitantly, Timara removed the layers hiding her skin. She paused fearfully before unbuttoning the last piece of clothing. Underneath everything, she revealed her half-naked torso. In an attempt to prevent as much deterioration as she could, Timara had taped edges of her own skin to her body. Her torso resembled a poorly executed collage of newspaper clippings, except the only visible headline was a cry for help. Her mother shook her head as her eyes filled with tears. “Just tell me how to make it better,” Timara pleaded. “You have to go back,” her mother said. Instinctively, Timara shook her head. “Honey, I don’t think there is any other way.” Her mother reached out to touch her face, convincing Timara with a comforting caress. Timara signalled the woman behind the counter to open the door for her. As she entered, her hands clenched into fists on either side of her body. She approached the elevator and used the key card to access it. She stepped out of the elevator on floor two. The nurses recognized her despite the excess clothing, but Timara barely acknowledged them. When she found her grandmother, she rolled her wheelchair into the recreation room. Together, they sat in front of the television. Timara took her hand. Her grandmother turned her head and smiled, her eyes flickering with recognition like a dwindling flame. Timara smiled back and began to tear up, suddenly picturing her grandmother as a child. Her grandmother had been abandoned on the doorstep of an orphanage in Italy. Her mother had been impregnated by a married man. Perhaps she had lived her entire life harbouring that shame, and as the disease erased it from her mind, it simultaneously passed the memory onto Timara and her mother. Or maybe the loss and sadness was passed from one woman to the other. When the tears hijacked her body and crying turned into sobbing, Timara tried hard to keep her head forward. Glued to the television. She was unsure how long she stayed after the residents were fed dinner, yet when she left, Timara promised herself to return often, no matter how tough it was. Back home, Timara stripped herself of the clothing layers and stood naked in her bathroom. Without thinking, she shut her eyes tightly and pulled the tape off her body. She felt pieces of skin come off with the strips. Still, she felt around her body — from her chest to reachable areas of her back — and pulled the deteriorating pieces from herself. Ripped off pieces that were on the verge of falling away and barely touching ones that flaked off immediately. Her feet felt the rough fragments on the floor around them. There were only small pinches of sharp pain every so often. She kept her eyes shut long after she had finished.
16 Finally, she opened them, revealing skin brighter than it had been in weeks. A sudden gasp escaped her mouth. Her body was covered in small, white scars just as her mother’s was. Timara wrapped her arms around her body and cried softly over the bathroom sink.
Why I Don’t Read Books with Bad Endings Vikram Nijhawan My Aunt Vinay always used to say a person’s life was like a book – a quaint, if not particularly unique simile. “Every ten years is a chapter, and right now I’m on my eighth and last!” she would say, followed by the hearty chuckle of an octogenarian. Dark humour aside, I think her metric works well. A book and a life share a fundamental narrative quality, a forward propulsion. Each has their own peaks and valleys, with a healthy stream of drama running throughout. And if you look closely enough, you will find something admirable in both of them, even if the exact events weren’t exactly how you imagined them to be. In that same vein, I think we can judge the quality of both a book and a life similarly. The dilemma lies in determining what exactly constitutes a good example of either. If a book (or life) has a wonderful ending, does that excuse a lackluster middle? Or can an anticlimactic finale ruin what had been an enjoyable experience? This thought came to me after I finished one of the most difficult novels I’ve ever embarked on, The Heretics’ Guide to Homecoming. The words I used to describe my reading experience were “a beautiful trudge”, and that’s precisely what made this book so difficult to get through. I’ve put down countless other novels which failed to gain a chokehold on my attention and curiosity, paying little regard to them after those unceremonious disposals. But it’s the “beautiful” part of my encapsulation of Heretics’ Guide which put a snag in my usual routine. I had reason to believe my reading journey was worth continuing, that I would glean something valuable, perhaps life-changing, from this literary experience. Not that I could place a finger on it, but I felt some poignancy lurking beneath the prose. So I persisted. And was I right in the end? Yes. The conclusion was satisfying enough to justify the arduous, at times insurmountable climb. And that alone was enough to cast an entirely positive ray of reflection on the whole book. When contemplating this conundrum, my mind first jumped to a famous dialogue, written by the Greek historian Herodotus almost three thousand years ago. It was a conversation between Solon, a respected Athenian law reformer, and the Lydian king Croesus. The former was a guest in the latter’s grand palace, and the discussion began when the Middle Eastern ruler asked Solon whom he believed to be the most fortunate man he’d ever known. The Greek statesman was quick to respond, referring to a man named Tellus. He was supposedly a respected figure in Athens, siring good children - who by extension brought up good grandchildren – and dying in battle to protect his beloved city-state. Croesus was startled. He thought for certain that Solon, astounded by the luxury and seemingly endless wealth in the king’s possession, would declare him the most fortunate man he’d ever met. So he posed the question to his Greek guest once more, asking who Solon believed the second most fortunate man to be, and wistfully awaited his desired response. But Solon didn’t acknowledge Croesus on the second attempt either. Instead, he brought up the twin athletes
18 Cleobis and Biton, who sacrificed themselves to ensure their mother wouldn’t miss a religious ritual. Croesus was so furious at his guest’s responses, he expelled him from the palace. Solon’s answers reveal his larger outlook on life, that being a man’s life is defined by its end. He recounted the lives of whom he perceived as honourable men, and in the case of each, their respective demises were intertwined with some sort of altruism, whether dying for the city of Athens during war, or sacrificing oneself in the name of religious ritual. The statesman’s rationale perplexed his Eastern counterpart, a ruler who could care little for the thought of his own mortality, let alone how respectable his death would be seen by others. He was a conqueror first and foremost, a man whose very name evoked similar thoughts in the ancient Mediterranean world as El Dorado did to the explorers of the New World. Croesus had accrued so many material possessions, and achieved such an extreme level of comfort, that to him, whether or not the final chapters of his existence were favourable wasn’t of the slightest significance. I believe Solon’s philosophy of what makes a good life can also be applied to books. That no matter what happens, in life or in literature, a noble ending can make all the difference in the overall enjoyment. To borrow some wisdom from John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, there exists an unwritten contract between a reader and an author for the latter to conclude a story properly. Shattering this deal through an anticlimax will definitely affect the reader’s enjoyment of the author’s work. The way I see it, there are three broad categories into which one could place all stories ever written. Firstly, they can possess a bad beginning, but really gain momentum throughout the middle and end. Conversely, an alluring opening can deceive a reader, causing him to venture further into a story, only to become trapped in quicksand-like pacing, and praying for a good end to pry him from his trappings. And finally, a reader can smoothly traverse a story, as easily as a stroll through a lovely park peppered with flowers, only to be met by an obtrusive brick wall, marked in horrid black print with the words “DISAPPOINTING ENDING”. Of these three undesirable options, there is only one which is truly unreadable. And that’s the third. Back in Grade 7, I had an assistant teacher in my homeroom class named Mrs. Wright, who suggested a helpful rule-of-thumb for reading any work of fiction. She said if a book failed to engage her within the first fifty pages, she wouldn’t feel bad about dropping it. At least, that’s the principle she used to justify abandoning Yann Martel’s Life of Pi, which I was then attempting to make my way through. A story that doesn’t begin rolling on all cylinders, but which has true merit in its meat, feels like it was written by a criminal marketer. How could such a prize be hidden beneath a layer of thick, opaque mud, of stale characters and no intrigue? For readers like myself and Mrs. Wright, who adhere religiously to an arbitrary “first fifty pages” rule, a bad beginning can be a book ultimate downfall. Then, we have a story which captivates you at the opening, making you trek through its pages to arrive at a satisfying conclusion. In many ways, these kinds of narratives are gateway drugs – sure the end result may be wonderful, but often times it feels like the treacherous path isn’t worth all the struggle and hardship. I’ve recently returned from one of those journeys, Sienna Tristen’s Heretics’ Guide to Homecoming. From the start, I had an inkling of hope that this book
19 was worth reading through to completion, and thankfully I was right. It was truly unlike any fantasy novel I’ve ever read, combining intricate worldbuilding, beautiful prose, and a fresh take on a modern theme – mental health – within an archaic magical world. Although it may have felt like a chore at times, I don’t regret undertaking the challenge. Finally, in stark opposition to a poor beginning, a lackluster finale can leave a reader feeling cheated. It isn’t bad marketing, just incredibly deceptive. Yet while conjuring examples for the previous two possibilities was relatively simple, none come to mind for this one. Maybe this speaks to my own subconscious state more than anything. Perhaps I’ve created a psychological block for such stories, and the prospect of spending hours flipping through riveting pages, only to be disappointed, is too much for me to handle. This literary thought experiment strikes at the very core question of why we enjoy stories. There are numerous approaches to this question, and no clear objective answer. But I think Aunt Vinay had it right all along; we enjoy stories because they parallel our own lives. This is far from an original take, but rather a common one I’ve come to agree with. And if this is true, that life and a good book are one and the same, wouldn’t we all want good endings? The alternative is counting the days (or page numbers), waiting for the journey to end, dismal and in doldrums. A bad ending makes us feel that all we’ve strived and sacrificed for was pointless. It’s perhaps the worst of punishments, a hell before the afterlife. With this in mind, the solution to the initial conundrum becomes glaringly obvious. Either a poorly-crafted beginning or middle can be forgiven. After all, mistakes made in someone’s childhood, adolescence, or even during adulthood shouldn’t always be held against one. But the collective experiences of life, culminating in one’s twilight years, spur the necessity of wise decisions, the necessity to end on a high note. The same applies to stories, and we have a word for both books and lives which fail to do so. We call those tragedies. Thus, while the Croesuses of the literary world may believe that it’s the quality of the bulk of the work that defines it, I prefer Solon’s mindset. A good book, much like a man’s life is defined by its end. As authors of our own books, each of us has the ability to take the all-powerful pen in our hands, and write that good ending for ourselves.
Fat Trimmings on the Edge of the Moon Kayleigh Birch I. Restart, Woman I slept through May and woke up swollen and full of sun The flowers in the forest must have bloomed while I was asleep they have since grown into pink and purple orbs I was blue and red with hunger when I opened my eyes so I crawled up the fringes of the wind to gnaw on the fat trimmings on the edge of the moon I nibbled her down to a crescent small enough to notice from your windowpane and big enough to feed the starvation It felt so good to be a woman again Upon the return I slinked through my threads and tucked in my shirttail and fluffed up my bed before locking the door to the forest (once, maybe twice) and telling the voices to turn off the lights there is so much of the world that I must say hello to I walked to the market to buy some new stars the old ones melted like sandcastles when I pressed them into our ceiling and I bought stalks of Saturn’s rings shaped in a wreath I’ll be damned to turn this home back into a feeling so I’ll kick my shoes off at the door so all the stardust sifts when I arrive It’s time to pull the mess back together
21 II. Oracle When I woke I thought back to when I was gone when only the ground knew how I tasted I’d been asleep for years And the tide knew that it stripped me naked when the moon turned the world over and reminded me what I was made of But in that slumber I was busy lining up visions with dreams in chases of aces of trails up your sleeves in pride stitched together through fissures in pen strokes He kept me in the forest and I kept it all inside so we could keep something in common and after I wandered through every last brook and outran the darkness as best I could I cried every color of the rainbow until the oracle found me When we met I told her I was tired of hiding but I knew that the world was watching and she knew very well that if I cared what people thought of me I would have been dead long ago So I told her about the dream where in the light our bodies aged like paintings and she told me that oil melts in the water no matter how grand the engraving
22 of my shiniest medal or deepest battle scar skin is skin and skin is pulled apart And she knew I was ready to leave it all behind slinking like a fox for answers in the dark and I finally did too III. Prophecy In that dream I started running when you told her you loved the mountains she the newest woman was smart enough to ask why you climbed down the highest one and why at the bottom all you had left was bad poetry and a god complex and a silhouette shaped like me to fill with her And I wanted her lips because I knew that your skin hadn’t been pulled off her yet your body hadn’t been ripped and cleaned of her yet she hadn’t started running yet but our mouths and tongues were still the same and nothing else had belonged to me before your honey at the bottom of the tea your phantom sculpted in a sundress But she was new and right in ways I hadn’t been yet she was a nose job on Aphrodite a Calliope algorithm I couldn’t have dreamed up
23 the girl crush on God built just to smite me She had never seen the nightmares you had where I cut off every part of me that was round and turned the flesh into her soft edges And I wanted nothing more than to see her hands in my sky she was new and gentle and as rare as stepping in the same water twice and she looked better in your clothes than I did anyways I was better as a ghost than she was as a dream anyways IV. Hysteria When I learned of her dimples and read the news in a pile of soon-to-be laundry on your bedroom floor I had lines on my faces that the sun couldn’t smooth ironed in from pursing my lips to blow out candles and proportions and breathing in the smoke of their aftermaths So when my frame was burned to ashes and charred twice over and your name was fresh in the stanza know that I was too young to sift tea leaves for gold dust My wrists were tied with the end of my rope and my body was full of spaces that I wanted to fill with your name in a perfect couplet of my lucky number But I turned to stone before I could warn anyone else to stay away so you’ll be left in the space between the things I thought and the things I thought to say All to hell we’ll water it down and drink it straight
24 sitting down below the flames the mangled child in me who is afraid of kissing will snip up all the reins I took one last look and did the bravest thing I ran and ran and ran until my legs lifted And I trampled and stumbled and tried to turn the curse in The chains flipped inside-out and split behind my ribcage I’ll rip my hair out and try again I’ll shed this layer and try again all I’ve ever known of this is how to try again V. Clean When I woke from that slumber the light hit my eyes and it shocked me like an inverse memory of what the birds were singing all that time ago It was fresh it was new when the flowers bloomed upon my wake in tiny freckled globes that remind me that somehow I have lived this all before And every sun spot on my hand is a faint reminder that I know this world too well to just be passing through May is still young and I have done this all before And if I can’t be your silver lining let me be a golden something telling stories
25 of sunrises and other things that are full and stories of how I tied together everything sacred in ribbons stitched together from the bow I undid from your wrist and mine Let me tell the stories of how I washed myself in every river so I can live in everything Let me tell the story once more of how I learned that if the universe can feed on me I will never starve again
Illustration used: Spirit of the Pond by Hélène Béland
Where Things Are Opposite Athena Bucci Take me back To where things are opposite; To where things are thought of as Strange. But I don’t feel it; This place is not so Strange to me. I would rather live where The houses are all the same, And the train leads you back, And the River flows through, And the swans swim in peace; Take me back To where they would see me as Strange, But not really different from them. Take me to where Things are opposite, But not so opposite To me.
What They Were Aramayah Ocol Curling at convergence, the red wallpaper yielded to the heat as silence heavier than fog enveloped the space between the two brothers. The flame of the candle resting on the table flickered as steam rose like holy incense from two cups of coffee. Canaan watched Vincent lean forward over the candle setting his elbows on the table’s edge resting his head atop his hands. In the darkness of Vincent’s shadow, coolness crawled, and Canaan shivered beneath it. “Abel used to call that your mark of anointing,” Vincent smiled, slightly cocking his head at the mark above his brother’s left brow. Canaan met Vincent’s unflinching gaze. Canaan remembered what he saw behind the shroud that had lifted briefly from Vincent’s eyes; the incarnation of permanence, power, and pain. Yet, Canaan had been the one to depart. He knew Vincent wondered if he’d disappear again; recede back into another dark corner in the city. He rubbed the mark above his brow. “Pass the sugar,” Canaan stammered as if his voice, in a state of weary intoxication, staggered out of the hollows of his throat. Vincent slid the bowl of sugar beside Canaan’s cup as Vincent searchingly looked at his brother. Yet, why did he look when he could offer nothing? His failure had ordained him a loiterer. Who was going to tell him to leave? Anger was not pushing him out. Something was terribly wrong. As always Canaan ignored it. Plopping in four cubes, Canaan relentlessly stirred his coffee with a silver spoon. “Another sugar cube, perhaps?” Vincent asked, his eyes smiled. Canaan faintly laughed brushing his hand over the mark above his brow. Steadfast like the gongs of a church bell summoning the hour, Vincent, the youngest, was the steeple of strength. “Milk, Canaan?” “No,” Canaan said lowering his eyes. If for a moment too long he allowed his eyes to meet Vincent’s, Canaan knew he’d unfairly pry for solutions he felt unworthy of, and penetrate further into the damage he had created. “Mom and dad want you the same way they want Abel, “ Vincent said. “It’s been three years now. Come home.” Canaan wanted to obliterate the candle flame flickering between the two of them. Froth still swirled in his cup. He remembered how the stain had seeped through Abel’s shirt into his lap and onto the floor like a disease. Canaan dipped his pinky into his scalding coffee. Instantly he pulled out his finger. The tip was red. In every crevice and corner, heat lingered like a heavy smog. Vincent reached for Canaan’s finger, “Give it to me.”
29 “It’s not burnt.” “Mom always knew best how to care for burns. Give me your hand.” “Stop it.” “That’s what you always used to say. Give it here.” “I can handle it myself, Vincent!” Canaan said, jerking his body out of his brother’s reach. Vincent jolted. Canaan twisted the teaspoon deep into the palm of his hand. He was numbering his bones. Vincent rested onto the back of his chair. Canaan could hear Vincent’s exhaling breath and knew Vincent was watching him in agony. Leaning forward again, Vincent’s shadow was heavy on Canaan. Disentangling the spoon from Canaan’s fingers, Vincent slipped the spoon beneath his brother’s hand, placing his own hand firmly over. Canaan felt his hand tremble the way his body had overtop Abel’s. Vincent had pushed him off his limp bleeding brother. He had descended the staircase, where at the bottom, the door had been waiting to swallow him away. “I wasn’t there when the ambulance came,” Canaan whispered. Vincent was silent. Rubbing the mark, Canaan was being consumed by the monsters of his memories: pulsations of jealousy rippled across his body. Tingles commanding his fingers before he had seized Abel in his fists. Abel falling, hitting the crown of his head against a steel pipe intruding in the shadow of Canaan’s room. He had pushed Abel. Pressing his chest against Abel’s head, straining to prevent the life from seeping away, Canaan had wrapped his body around Abel. “What if Abel comes back?” Vincent pleaded in loneliness, feeling his brother’s presence slip away. “He’s been in a coma for three years, Vincent,” Canaan said. Standing, Canaan neatly tucked the chair back under the table placing the teaspoon into the coffee. The candle flame danced in mockery at Canaan.
The Wrong Kind of Love Jennifer Tang Love yourself, love myself. She chants it like a mantra in her head. Eventually, the truth seems less like a lie. See, the problem with society is that depression, mental illness, self-harm and low self-esteem are romanticized. They lie. They lie to her, whispering and slithering among the dark recesses of her innocent mind, feeding off of her vulnerability until she believes that sad, is beautiful. At the end of the day, there is nothing scarier than her knowing her worth, her willingness to love herself, her capability and intelligence, her flaws, and her comfort with solidarity. She wants to be loved. They say that Prince Charming only comes for his damsel in distress. So she weeps, she hates, she eats, she pauses with a razor posed over her skin, she writes suicide notes and teases Death, waiting, waiting for her Prince Charming to come to save her. Her darkness grows, they’re excited. The whispers in her head crescendo and suddenly it’s not their voice she’s hearing, it’s hers. He’s here. After years of loathing, loneliness and pain, he’s here. Her Prince Charming come to rescue her from them. She’s hopeful as she closes her eyes and leans forward. It’s almost over now. No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no! It’s wrong. It’s all wrong. He left, he can’t save her. It turns out, Prince Charming prefers happily ever after. She’s choking, crying so hard that she can’t breathe, can’t see, can’t feel. What have they done? She looks in the mirror but a stranger stares back, with lifeless eyes and a hard mouth. She wants to break something. Her chest is hollow, filled with breathy screams and curses. It wasn’t supposed to go this far. I was never supposed to fall for their lies. She’s alone,
31 left to pick up the pieces of her life. Gradually, she learns about the stranger in the mirror. She likes this girl, she thinks they have a lot in common. She’s a bit broken and there’s a darkness within her, but that’s okay because she’s still here. She thinks, He was never meant to love me. I am my Prince Charming and damn, I am beautiful. And she smiles.
Photo Credit: Jennifer Tang
Nomadic Thievery Tannaaz Zaraineh Iris could feel trickles of sweat sliding down her temples. She had just shot a man–multiple, actually–and watched the closest person to her dive down into swarms of people, right in the middle of Paris. Her anger was festering, among other emotions. At any given moment, she could fall victim to the strange officers who were trailing her down. And sometimes she'd glance down below the rooftops she was jumping over, and see Parisians and tourists alike, all pointing at her in apparent confusion. She'd do the same as them if she wasn't living this life. Dom, the traitor who left her to fend for herself, had come up with the crazy idea that coming to Paris for thievery would be simple. But the longer they stayed, the more problems started to emerge in the chase, and at this point, she was disappointed in her own stupidity. A symphony of police sirens resonated all around the quartiers. Bribing a taxi driver to take her to a small village, and keeping quiet about it, was excruciating with her broken French. This man had gripped his cellphone tight, shouting that he would call the police, and was receiving unneeded attention. Iris snatched the phone and threw it on the ground, screaming in her native Korean. He forfeited and allowed her to get in the back, fingers anxiously tapping the steering wheel. She took a pen from him and scribbled her destination, and the amount she was willing to pay, on her hand. The driver, who was snappish and wore thick-rimmed glasses, was hesitant to comply at first. He looked at Iris, mumbled something in French, scoffed, and started driving. The rest of the ride was silent; an abrupt contrast from last week. While in the village, she was able to stay at an inn for a couple of nights, trying to make little-to-no conversation with anybody she passed. A simple smile was off limits. Showing emotion would just help anyone describe her to the police. A small nod proved sufficient. The village's tourists weren't friendly to begin with. According to the papers that were coming in from Paris, Madrid had also become involved. That meant she couldn't go to Spain, either. One evening was spent contemplating Siberia. Her cousin's ex-boyfriend had a house when he went hunting. They weren't on the best of terms, but she thought it had some potential. Contacting people would help anyone trace her. Her best option was to either go home, or find another country to take refuge in. Her home was currently unavailable, and non-existent anyway, so trying to figure something out in a new location was her only option. The nomadic approach was something she was used to, after all. After promising to return a 'borrowed' car from someone in the village, Iris found herself on a small ferry leaving from Calais. The sun shone on the colourful pennant flags that flapped back and forth vigorously, and she smiled as she saw the port in Dover. She was enticed with thoughts of what would happen on the other side. This time, she wouldn't slip; not in London.
Untitled T Williams 1. The sea and storm All ripple and roar Up wash the wave And flutter the foam Sand go to silt 2. Much mud marches Onto our oarsman Weighing our wargear Further from faint Hope we held onto
Dry Tears Maria Kotob Let us not forget those who have cried before us, over the falling grains of sand. With voiceless goodbyes and not enough hellos. Tied in the back of our eyes is a memory we made ourselves.
Photo Credit: Maria Kotob
Furies Kushagrata Goel As she watched the house, it was slowly engulfed by the bright creeping hands of fire. It lit the once solemn night, the streets of this abandoned neighborhood now crowded with unknown faces. She was suddenly aware, every muscle in her body ready to run away from the man running towards her with outstretched arms. She turned, eyes wide in panic, when the man wrapped a blanket around her. Escorting her towards a nearby ambulance, he asked her if she was okay. Not knowing how to reply, she simply nodded, still wary of the man’s intentions. Once he was sure she was in good hands, the strange man ran back towards the house, picking up a hose along the way. Every strange face seemed to resemble theirs. She could see them everywhere she looked. The woman who was checking her pulse started to shape into someone whose face was burned into her every memory, every nightmare. The false serenity on her soft face, the long auburn hair that so closely resembled her own. She could see the blade in her hands, feel the metal cut into her skin. The man handing her a glass of water suddenly looked like the man who caused her so much pain, whose eerie stillness made chills run up her spine. Always poised but his eyes betrayed him. Even with her eyes open, she could picture the fiery licks of anger that only she could see. They showed no mercy, they did not know what it was. She was on edge, the slightest movement made her jump. Like a wounded animal, all she expected was pain. She was ready to shout out pleas, begging everyone not to hurt her. The minute no one was looking at her, she flew off her seat, ignoring the discomfort her wounds were causing her. She had to get away. She walked around aimlessly, ending up in front of the house in flames. The fire was mostly extinguished; the damage could be seen clearly in the midst of the smoke and ash. The walls of the ground floor were somewhat intact, but the roof and part of the second floor had caved in. She was not supposed to make it out. That was not a part of the plan. She was supposed to attain peace at last. She realized the irony behind it all; the end would be her first moment alive. A small sense of hope started growing inside her. Maybe, just maybe, they had not made it out in time. She quickly brushed it away. If she was out, what would have stopped them? Knowing her fortune, no good could have come of this. She sighed, knowing that it was only a matter of time before the torment began. The torturous blows that would fall on her, the pain spreading through her body, making it difficult to breathe. They would know it was her, that it was not an accident. They always knew. It made her wish she had just stopped breathing, that she had not made it out of the fire. Fear surged through her, aware that the moment they found her, they would take turns doing whatever they pleased. One freak, watching the other, loving the sight of her withering body. Suddenly she could feel herself choking. A sudden rush of anxiety filled her. Would anyone believe her? Would anyone help her? Of course not. No one saw past the sickly sweet pretense to see what lurked underneath. She had to be sure. No matter how much she wanted to run away, she had to see them, their veiled anger, their glee at catching her in the act. A fireman was talking to one of the doctors.
38 Two stretchers were being loaded into the ambulance. She moved closer to them, trying to hear what they were saying. “… in the kitchen it seems. Maybe the gas was left on, it has not been confirmed, but that’s probably it.” She knew all this. After all, this was her play, every last detail was of her creation. Her impatience grew, wanting to know. She needed to know if anything else had not gone as planned. “The girl was lucky,” the man continued, “near the exit, minor wounds. But the child was the only survivor. These two were long gone by the time we …” She did not need to hear any more. She could not hear it anyway. It was drowned out by the sound of her pounding heart. Suddenly the ashy air smelled fresh to her, she smelled freedom. There was a glint in her eyes that had not been there before. A smile had begun to make its way across her face but she quickly concealed it. She felt a foreign sensation of what she figured must be happiness, pure elation. She composed herself. She knew she had lost a roof to live under, she did not know where she would end up. She knew that she was not in the clear, but for now, she was triumphant. She had won over them. They had been hurting her for years but she had delivered the final blow. She had outsmarted them, sent them to their final resting beds. If only she could look them in the eye, knowing that she was stronger. She hated feeling this good at the thought of someone else’s suffering, but the malice in her heart was overpowering her moral compass. Deep down, she knew she was wrong to have done what she had. She could not even fathom what would happen to her if someone else found out. But even if she could take it back, she did not want to She could see the firemen approaching her, probably about to deliver what they thought would be devastating news. She would have to keep herself from exposing her joy to them. No one could know. She would mask her feelings, just like they had. In some ways, she had lost. But there was so much more to gain. As she was about to sit down, a realization dawned upon her; this was not her end. She was flawed but not wrong. Maybe she would finally join her sisters in Erebus.
Once I Walked Along a Country Path Jiaqi (Cindy) Fan Once I walked along a country path, I saw a man dressed in a nightgown. He was murmuring a childish folk song. A sigh grasped his throat and brushed it into pieces. And here He comes. Roses sting with grief, and lilies paint the sky as ashy. Cluster of melancholy sheep roams on waste land, scared of that wise man whose glowing winter bonfire through his hollow chest, that filled by blue silk ribbons, nightingale’s chill-sweet kiss. It is rainy. And a boat's adrift high. Dying women pray for opiate grace, and here He comes. Servant of the tomb sand, standing as an isolated island. (Worms dress up the dead like shells of white oyster; here He comes, and makes her his fairest daughter.)
Weapon in the Midst of War Mahum Masroor He sauntered through the city, gaze lowered and shoulders hunched. around him, everyone walked a sense of confidence infiltrating the air. He was like a sheep in a pack of wolves, ready to be devoured by any one of us. then he lifted his gaze, and I was met with his piercing eyes. He stared me down, knowing I was scrutinizing him. then, he gave me that charming smile and all of a sudden, He was one of us He knew when to bury his confidence or use it as a weapon in the midst of war. His back straightened, a smile swiftly slid across his face effortless sweeping like a broom and he approached me. He is one of us.
Illustration by: Shuchi Jain
The Echo Rebecca Wan (Written in the style of Clarie Lispector’s Family Ties)
I ascended the hill to the mansion that had been touched by death just two weeks ago. Today was a lovely day with lots of sunlight and fresh air, so the impressive mass of an estate that is the Fingir mansion stood out distinctly against the clear sky. The mansion looked out onto quite a view. Polished marble statues scattered across the grounds, and bright flowers bloomed all around the exterior, extending from the bushes which have been carefully trimmed as usual. It is respectable that, even in times like these, the remaining members of the family remembered to have the gardeners keep the grounds orderly. Even the path to the front door remained free of weeds with no stray pebbles to trip over. I tapped the knocker against the metal a few times before a servant, with his eyes cast ever-downwards, invited me in without words but with tears dripping down his face. The spacious foyer was dimly-lit. I observed the many guests that had arrived before me. Every single one of them was crying like the servant had, wiping away at their faces with handkerchiefs and not bothering to keep their voices down. The deceased Mr. Fingir, who used to be the head of the family, must have been respected and loved by many to call for such a scene at his passing away. Since, it was not only his close family of five children and a wife, but acquaintances and butlers alike who were all drowning in misery. The womens’ eyes were smeared with make-up and they didn't seem to care. A few men were rolling around, hysterical, on the ground, even knocking their hats off in the process and they, too, didn't seem to care. The foyer was abuzz with such noisy activity that one would never presume that they were at a funeral. But since everyone was wallowing in grief and eagerly displaying it, it was alright. Frederick, the youngest Fingir son, passed me by and stopped in the midst of his tearful wailing, only for a second, to give me a strange and almost accusatory look. Perhaps my way of showing sadness was too subtle and, in a funny way, it made me stand out in a room like this. I thought of the time his father and I shared a handshake at a business party, and managed to squeeze out a few tears in the young man’s direction. They were nowhere near enough but it must have been a good start, because Frederick’s frown of accusation turned into encouragement and he moved on to others. A woman dressed to the nines was choking on her own tears so intensely I worried she might die too. She did not have the iconic sharp features of the Fingir’s so I assumed that she was not a close relative. Perhaps she knew him in business. “How did you know Mr. Fingir?” I asked her. “I was in a lawsuit against him once.” Her reply came out sounding like suffocation. And then she wasn’t interested in asking me the same thing. I would not have known what to say anyway, because I would have been embarrassed that I’ve only ever shaken his hand when everyone else has had such personal relationships with the man.
43 Personally I would not have gone up close, but the gazes of everyone around the room prompted me to go see the coffin that held what used to be one of the best businessmen ever known. People thought of him like that because he was in every way born to dominate the world of business. He was manipulative, cunning, and always got his way by simply opening his mouth; words were his weapon of choice. He resembled some kind of predator, a fox, maybe, that was intelligent and never went anywhere without a glossy coat and sharpened teeth. As if his agile tongue alone wasn’t enough to get him far, from the guests’ reactions around me one would reasonably think he had a way with people as well, so much so that people were driving themselves to madness over his departure. Even with his and my scarce interactions, I’ve always thought that the man was sly enough to cheat even death. Yet, here I was looking down at his corpse and his eyes were unable to stare back. They had closed his eyes but I knew that the pupils were now soulless and were going to remain that way for eternity. Of course, he would have possibly preferred it this way because once they bury him, he was not the sort of man who would enjoy the accompaniment of darkness. His dry lips were slightly parted, like he hadn’t finished a sentence before he lost his breath. A sudden thought came to me that if Mr. Fingir spoke right now, the glass lid of the coffin would encapsulate his words and no one would be able to hear him but himself. Who would he be then without his tool of persuasion? How does a fox draw blood without its claws? When the housekeeper appeared, cage in hand, he was not crying. In the past, no one had ever paid attention to this man who was always silent and was blindly obedient like all servants were supposed to be. Of course nobody bothered to wonder where he was prior to this either. But now, as the little man stood there in front of the coffin, not doing anything in particular, his quietness commanded the attention of all. I had done the same thing merely a while ago, so I could guess the consequences. The guess turned out to be correct when the guests all began to glare at him and the Fingir children took turns shouting accusations at him. The housekeeper was strangely calm and waved his free hand. “Gentlemen, ladies,” he called out. “Listen to me.” Normally, this sort of disrespect would not be tolerated in the Fingir household. Today the Fingir’s simply stared at him in shock. “I present to you,” he lifted up the sheet that covered the cage, “the beloved pet of Mr. Fingir while he was alive. I apologize for being dramatic. He wanted the full theatrics.” The sheet drew away to reveal a colourful parrot, its feathers vibrant and clearly well-groomed. It looked around the room discerningly, as if sizing up his surroundings, and somehow gave off a majestic feel despite being only a parrot. I wondered if the “he” that the servant mentioned was Mr. Fingir or the parrot. “I see from the faces of many of you that you are unsure why I brought him in,” he continued. Some guests murmured their agreement through tears. “Well, you see, this is no ordinary pet, not at all. He has been with Mr. Fingir for many years, nearly every second of every day. Even during business meetings, he was at the back listening in as well. Having never left Mr. Fingir’s side, he has developed a skill beyond what any bird of his kind has. “Any parrot can imitate. But this one here was able to memorize Mr. Fingir’s way of speaking and behaving, even now that he’s gone. Furthermore, having been with Mr. Fingir for this long, he became familiar with the business affairs that Mr. Fingir was doing. This means that this
44 parrot will be able to fully converse with all the guests here. But I’m bringing him in not to show off, ladies and gentlemen, I’m only doing it to show you all why there is no need to grieve.” “It’s true.” The parrot suddenly piped up with the statement in a voice that was exactly like that of Mr. Fingir’s, proud and smooth, and a hush fell over the previously buzzing room. Then all of a sudden everyone was rushing forward to look at the parrot, and everyone wanted to say something to it. Whatever the assertion or question was, the parrot responded with an answer appropriate to both class and occasion. Businessmen crowded around to talk numbers with it, and it answered with a type of certainty that made me question if it was really only an animal. The housekeeper was right. No one was grieving any longer. It had occurred to everyone what the situation at hand was like. Guests were now cheering with champagne in their hands as if this was a joyous celebration. The parrot received all the attention, and it was handling it with superiority. I caught a glimpse of Frederick eagerly asking the parrot if it could change his share of fortune in the will. I saw the widowed Mrs. Fingir seemed to look at the parrot with attachment in her eyes. While its eyes were empty of emotion as it looked back at her, the words coming out of its beak were those of affection. Some, throwing social statuses out of the way, shook the housekeeper’s hands as if he was a hero. Candles flickered, shadows quavered. Behind the parrot, Mr. Fingir lay forgotten and abandoned.
Contributors Gaetana (Tania) D’Amico lives in Toronto, Canada and attends the University of Toronto. She is an experienced blog writer and a 4 time published author in an anthology series. She is a dedicated, talented, creative and smart writer. She has written for blogs such as delta, garden and happy, flags r us, hot cars, and more. Rachel Hughes is a 3rd year student at the University of Toronto, majoring in History with minors in English and Writing and Rhetoric. Kayleigh Birch, from Los Angeles, is in her final semester of her degree, graduating from the University of Toronto with a double major in English and Cinema Studies. She has been writing poetry, scripts, fiction (novels and prose), and songs her whole life: her other published works can be found in The Los Angeles Times, The Strand Magazine, and The Louisville Review. Her debut poetry novel, Love Letters Only, can be purchased on Amazon, and her portfolio can be viewed here: https://kayleighbirch.wixsite.com/portfolio Wilaa Bhayani is a 2nd year student studying Molecular Genetics, Math, and Writing at U of T St. George campus. She also works as a math & science tutor at Oxford Learning. In her free time, she enjoys reading books, discussing politics, and learning new languages. Madeline Corradi is a third year student majoring in English and Cinema Studies. She hopes to continue studying creative writing and is extremely excited to have this be her first publication. Vikram Nijhawan is a second year undergraduate at Trinity College, at the University of Toronto, studying English. He partakes in campus journalism, acting as a staff writer for Trinity's publication The Salterrae, as well as editing for other journals and organizing writing events. Originally from Ottawa, his first major writing accolade was a winning submission for the Awesome Authors Youth Writing Contest, hosted by the Ottawa Public Library. Athena Bucci is a second year student at the University of Toronto, studying English and Book & Media Studies. She has been previously published in the 2018 anthology book, Catch the Whispers, for her poem titled “You.” She dreams of writing more in the future and travelling the world. Aramayah Ocol is a first-year student at St. Mike’s College at U of T. She is planning on doing a major in Slavic Studies due to her interest in great Russian writers like Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy. Her favourite book is Crime & Punishment by Dostoyevsky, but The Idiot (also by Dostoyevsky) is a close second. Jennifer Tang is a second year student at the University of Toronto. She loves exploring the campus and the many fun interactive exhibits that pop up in the city. If you see her around campus don't be afraid to stop her and say hi.
46 Tannaaz Zaraineh is currently a first-year student at the University of Toronto. She’s published poetry and flash fiction for Young Writers of Canada, and has written for The Mike. You can find some of her work on her blog (@themouththatwrites). T stands for 'Tremble'. T is a student of English, Philosophy, and Finnish in their 3rd year at the University of Toronto. They write poetry, stories, and role playing games. You can read more of their work on dreamsandfevers.blogspot.com Maria Kotob’s roots lie in Syria and Lebanon, and yet she has managed to grow up all over the world. Having never lived in her home countries, she has found herself torn at the question of “home,” living in Canada, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates. She is in Rotman Commerce studying Management but has always been interested in poetry and photography, compiling her work over the last four years. You will see her eating chocolate with every dessert, taking videos of her friends, and admiring sunsets. Kushagrata Goel is a first year student in St. Michael's College and plans to pursue a double major in History and Political Science. She is an avid writer who has a page for her writing on Instagram as well as a blog online. She hopes to make people passionate through her writing as well as draw their attention to social and political issues that exist around us, playing an important role in lives that are just beyond our horizon. Jiaqi Fan is a fourth-year student at the University of Toronto. She’s majoring in Psychology and English, and doing an Education and Society minor. She’s writing both Chinese and English poetry. For Chinese poetry, she prefers the Chinese ancient metrical poems 律诗绝句, and has some works published in one of the Chinese poetry online magazine 《诗刊》. Mahum Masroor—a first year student at the University of Toronto—enjoys reading all genres of books but especially appreciates memoirs. She started creative writing at the young age of 11 and has been previously published in The Mike. Mahum hopes to write a novel one day, whilst enjoying her future job as a highschool English teacher. Rebecca Wan is a student at the University of Toronto.