For Ms. Kim DeBon, without whom Quills would not exist.
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Table of Contents SECTION I: POETRY 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40
Ink Stains, Sarah Gnocato This Is For You, Jared Levinson Outliers, Carter Rouleau Loss, Corrina Mosca Arbeicht Macht Frei, Olivla Arski Flicker, Sama Anvari Posture, Noah Spencer The Lighthouse, Sama Anvari Wristwatch, Sama Anvari Misunderstandings, Sydney Bradshaw Magma, Welcomed Guest, Becca Serena Tomorrow, Abigail Ardila Corpses in a Storm, Sydney Bradshaw Side Effects of Stars, Brittany Barton Addiction, Kieran Colonne Madman with a Box, Melanie Stewart Simple, “Suburban” Kitchen, Noah Spencer Fingerprints on a Window, Sama Anvari Waltzing Willies, Kelly Martin Hollow Magnificence, Kelly Martin Fine, Jordan Poloniato Far From Alone, Hannah Bauer Gilgamesh, Emily Parsons The Crowd, Nina Gaind It Can Grow, Quinn Kennedy SOS, Jared Levinson The Spaceman, Quinn Kennedy Part of Nature, Amin Mashayeki Wind, Jocasta Marshall Ten, Annabelle Moore Choice, Quinn Purdy Beauty Without Desire, Rose McParland Like Before, Jared Levinson One Emptier (Watership Down), Rachel Lacroix
Table of Contents (Continued) SECTION II: SHORT FICTION 43 51 53 54 62 68 70 73 81 82 84 90
Dry Petals, Keaton Kwok The Runaway, Olivia Arski I am the Clay, Sarah Dissanayake The Empty Cradle, Sarah Gnocato Tea with the Time Man, Sydney Bradshaw The Last Canvas, Becca Serena Red Footprints, Carter Rouleau The Painter’s Daughter, Sama Anvari PS, It’s Me, Nicole Arski As Always, Quinn Kennedy The Hurricane, Corrina Mosca Stream of Consciousness, Jared Levinson
SECTION III: NON FICTION 92 95 98 100 102 105 109
The Keys to Freedom, Carter Rouleau Outsiders to October, Sarah Gnocato Daddy’s Little Girl, Corrina Mosca A Thousand Shooting Stars Ago, Megan Kamps Moving Day, Noah Spencer On Childhood and Cherries, Sama Anvari Why I, a Heterosexual Teenage Boy, Want to See More Men in Speedos, Noah Spencer (Published in the New York Times)
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Letters from the Co-Editors
“Let the world burn through you. Throw the prism light, white hot, on paper.”—Ray Bradbury
The beauty of Quills, to me, has always been its ability to showcase student writing. Creative writing’s power lies in its ability to make the abstract tangible.Thoughts, emotions, and experiences may all be harnessed by words, but the act of shaping these things into a poem or short story is an art unto itself. Our student body is well versed in this art; while compiling this anthology, I was repeatedly impressed by the sheer talent of HSC’s student writers.
This year’s anthology is a diverse offering, showcasing a variety of different voices and styles. Yet, every piece shares a common thread of humanity. When its writer puts pen to paper (or finger to keyboard, as it were) and creates, they cannot help but leave pieces of themselves— however small—behind. These fragments of self may colour the word choice, shape the tone, or decide the theme, but their presence is what gives creative writing its ability to speak to others on a personal level. Sharing oneself with the world is not an easy task, and as such I applaud and thank everyone who has contributed to Quills. I hope that readers will find something here that speaks to them, or better yet, inspires them to create something of their own.
Sama Anvari, Co-Editor
Quills has always acted as a medium for discovery. Whether this lies in unearthing new sources of emotion and imagination within the self that were previously suppressed, or simply seeing a peer in a new light through their writing, Quills never fails to teach us something about the world around us. While compiling this anthology, I was captivated by the beauty and imagination found in the minds of our student writers. Through your work, I learned so much about not only all of you, as writers, but also about humanity. Causing your reader to undergo this sort of self-reflection certainly isn’t easy, and I would like to congratulate and thank everyone who contributed his or her talents to this year’s publication. Also, thank you to all of the visual artists who added their pieces to Quills. The beauty that each of you have managed to capture in your work is absolutely breathtaking. Our anthology simply would not be complete without it. With this, Sama and I would also like to thank our Artistic Director, Rebecca Serena, for compiling all of the artwork for us and also for designing our beautiful cover. We would also like to thank Mrs. Nancy Gamble for her publication and printing assistance: without her, we would have been unable to fully realize our vision for this year’s issue of Quills. Most of all, we would like to thank Mrs. Yvonne Testa and Mr. Adrian Hoad-Reddick for their assistance in editing, compiling, and formatting this publication. Without your support, enthusiasm, and direction, this project would not have been possible. Finally, I would like to personally thank my co-editor, Sama Anvari. I couldn’t have possibly had a better partner to experience this with. I am completely in awe of the talent that you display in your own writing, and am amazed by your knack for uncovering the beauty in the works of others. Enjoy! Corrina Mosca, Co-Editor
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Ink Stains Sarah Gnocato| Grade 12 Concrete, permanent. Make your mark. Write in ink. Show territory in the world of beauty, Let it stain the page. Write in ink. Let your words find their place. Let it be debated, degraded, and loved. Write in ink. Let it touch the fibers of your being. Let it become faded and often hated. Write in ink. Blue or black, itâ€™ll all end up grey. Thatâ€™s where beauty exists: Interpretation. Write in ink.
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This is For You
Jared Levinson | Grade 11 This is
For the teachers who stay, waiting for our dreams to grow like ears For the youngest child who never gets his own clothes, looking for himself in between the seams of his brotherâ€™s hoodie For the recovering alcoholic helping his daughter jot down numbers
For the kid that never takes his shirt off For the 3am coffee drinkers, and for the midnight bike riders trying to fly.
Let your smile twist, and let my words lick the teeth, dancing precariously on the tips of your fingers, staining them both. This is for the school dance wallflowers, For the kid whoâ€™s always late for class because he forgets his locker combination For the tired and the dreamers, for the boy that hides in his room, for the girl who loves someone else. This is for you. Every letter, every time my pen touches the page, I am cutting out little pieces of me to give to you. Walk into it, fingers trembling, breathe it in, and run forward. Because this is for you.
Outliers Carter Rouleau |Grade 12 I find myself borne by current to the ocean, Rushing water burned by sacred tears. Spilt from scars of senseless devotion, Cursed wounds birthed of black fears. Faces once loved watch from distant shores, Where I had lived in their blessed company. Yet now, their gaze is stone, holds warmth no more, And blinds, sears flesh, a sea of scorching apathy. The current is fierce, my strength nothing to its will. Yet I shall not resign to this cruelest of fates. To myself I swore an oath, â€˜fore end of days fulfill, My secret must be passed, lest pain of death awaits. For when I am gone, so shall it be. Their future lives and dies with me.
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Loss Corrina Mosca | Grade 12 A white balloon Floats high above A humming city. Carried by a breeze, It dances a peculiar ballet With graceless winds. Below, A small boy weeps As if all the worldâ€™s beauty Has come to an end.
Arbeicht Macht Frei Olivia Arski | Grade 11 A haunting mist crouches among the shivering smokestacks, Shrouding the gates of hell with silvery wisps of breath. Scrawled black words loom from the darkness: Arbeicht Macht Frei. The night laughs at the cruel joke. A chimney belches, And simmering smoke Rises into the air. A hundred souls Drift towards the Sky.
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Flicker Sama Anvari | Grade 12 in a shifting sea of white, I am a drop of ink, a speck of dust. the wind steals the air from my lips, my breath a white ribbon trailing through the empty air my footsteps are smoothed away by small invisible hands. my name shatters, becomes shards of ice lost in the swirling snow here, in the barren space between cold, distant stars there is only chill and bones and silence; reduced to nothing more than a flicker a whisper a heartbeat I am the pale, shivering truth of our existence. 12
Posture Noah Spencer | Grade 12 A master bows. His work is finished. He stands distinguished from his colleagues And rests comfortably upon his tool, while humbly accepting the public’s assessment of his life’s work. An old man stoops. His work has finished him. He stands alone and leans hard on his cane, while sadly accepting the end of an era—his. A master stoops and an old man bows. Their work is finished and finishing. They stand united and squeeze each other’s worn hand, while accepting the things they’ve done.
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The Lighthouse Sama Anvari | Grade 12 The lighthouse hums a briny tune Of laughing wind and oceans deep Not noticing the fearful moon, Nor the girl who longs for sleep. The girl is a fading storm. She stands Barefoot, knees slightly bent. Her necklace drops from tired hands, As she prepares for her descent. She leaps with silent, dreadful grace, Arms outstretched in feathered bliss Towards the rocksâ€™ jagged embraceâ€” They claim her with a crooked kiss. The lighthouse screams but cannot quell The pallid light that burns the shore Where, like a small abandoned shell, Lies the girl who wakes no more.
Oliver Smith, Grade 12 14
Wristwatch ( A Companion to Lighthouse) Sama Anvari | Grade 12 she had always hated the tick tick tick, the impatient drumming, like fingernails on glass, or rain she was a cracking hourglass, each tick tick tick a grain of sand, slipping from between her ribs with a sigh like clouds drifting apart even the stars seemed to tick tick tick one thousand blinking eyes that watched her as she fell one thousand ears that heard her shatter against the rocks tick tick tick (silence) Quills | 15
Misunderstandings Sydney Bradshaw | Grade 12 I am sick of reading vague understandings of the universe. People say and do but don’t know why, So they copy the archaic words scrawled on slabs of stone, Or they capture the thoughts of humanist philosophers And collect the riches from false originality. I have heard the same things so many times That all of the words have just become a muddle Of clichés and anachronisms. Oft repeated metaphors don’t contain the Mystery they once did, And I can see through thinly veiled intellectualism To peer at the distressing competition of pretending. We all think we are right, But we are borrowers, imitators, thieves. Long days and longer nights copying and pasting And waiting for acceptance. I refuse to fall into that whirlwind of uncertainty. Life is uncertain enough as it is and Passing off foreign feelings as one’s own Just makes it worse. No – I will push through. I will be an architect of original thought; I will not let my vision of the universe be Tainted by preconceptions. I will lie under the vast night sky and Create my own constellations.
Magma Becca Serena | Grade 12 Love cannot be harboured from uncertain ships. He is a mere sailor perplexed by weary waves. He cannot contain your soul in an equation or scan you like lonely pages of a worn book bound in leather. He can pour over you for days and weeks and months but he will never fathom the worlds inside your eyes or the constellations residing in the fabric of your enchanting voice. He cannot imagine the galaxies in your heart or comets in your stardust lungs because You defy the laws of physics and science conquered his frozen mind. You twist into fireworks and unravel into hurricanes and burst into winter sunrises. You are an erupting volcano. Lost in the dust is a boy composed of stars and overlapping planets who breaks into tidal waves. When your galaxies collide, you will forget how magma fell in love with dynamite.
Welcomed Guest Becca Serena | Grade 12 Each night I find Pain at my door with a red suitcase. Maybe Iâ€™ll stop answering.
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Tomorrow Abigail Ardila| Grade 12 Promise hung in the desolate air, As the heavy fog permeated the rising morn. Yesterday is gone With the misfortune and doubt, And all that remains is the prospect of tomorrow. Tomorrow. When everything is new, and nothing is the same. So we trudge on, And the fog becomes mist Wistfully anticipating The breath of a new day. The dew returns each morning, Knowing the sun does rise again. The darkness that once existed, Now draped with light, Overthrows our gaffes And a new tomorrow Is blessed upon us.
Corpses in a Storm
Sydney Bradshaw | Grade 12 Wandering in the vast unknown world With quavering breath, waiting to fly. Onward with swords unsheathed and banners unfurled, Hearts beating while mountains scream at ashy sky. Bloodied and muddied steel slashes with the drum Throwing broken corpses into the dirt. Eyes unseeing, limbs numb as they succumb Too far from paradise to be hurt. Twas a bloodbath refusing to cease. Above, churning bleakness cries choking rains On rotting shells devoid of peace. Lives traded for dust, locked in chains. And so the little boy puts his soldiers away Back to their toy box, waiting to play.
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Side Effects of Stars Brittany Barton | Grade 12 We fight to leave our mark on the worldâ€” But all we manage to leave are scars, Finding sweet red in little infinities When hope was grey. I lived life believing I was the grenade. Suppressed by fear, I forgot to have fun. We opened our hearts to each other, But you just ended up numb. Everything is a side-effect of dying But one thing is wrong Death is actually a side-effect of love, Which I failed to learn for far too long.
Akhila Rachakonda, Grade 12 20
Addiction Kieran Colonne | Grade 12 The pursuit of happiness is neverending. We dance, we drink, but in the end Our happiness exists within a common friend. Keep her closeâ€”she comes at a price. Follow her into your imperfect paradise. Welcome her to your golden throne, But when she leaves you all alone Your soul aches for her and needs mending.
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Madman with a box Melanie Stewart | Grade 12 There is a man who is neither good nor bad He romps through time and space always there when you need help He changes face like others change clothes but itâ€™s still him the one that will die trying to save the world He hides away locked in his blue box waiting for his time to come to be needed, and wanted He will never ask for thanks He will just slip away back through time and space
Simple Noah Spencer | Grade 12 Simple is good and simple is safe. She wears no hood, no mask, no cape. She lets the mind wander, that’s what I like the most. Worry’s beyond her, she’s dry on the coast. Simple’s efficient, she gets the job done. So straight is her vision, so ready her gun. But for all of her perks, my head still turns ‘round when I hear that that temptress Desire’s in town.
“Suburban” Kitchen Noah Spencer | Grade 12 If I listen close, through the growling dusk, I hear the dead chicken beeping—done! Let me at it.
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Fingerprints on a Window Sama Anvari | Grade 12 At first, I thought the smudges were hideous blemishes on the clear, cool face of the window, and I told you so. But when I looked closer, I saw mountains, a river, the swirling sea; a tiny map of you, your mysteries laid bare, revealed to me in swirling, looping script, then gone; faded away to nothing. I turned to ask you for another glimpse, but you were gone, vanished in a breath like your fingerprints.
Waltzing Willies Kelly Martin | Grade 12 Willies glide along fog-dusted air. Their draping, translucent gowns rest upon pale, lifeless skin.
Dried tears remain on their bloodless cheeks, and their eyes are hazed with memories of grand love lost.
Arms cradled protectively in front of their tortured souls. Their hearts forever blankâ€”passion is eternally lost. One may be curious as to how these once lighthearted, vibrant girls were sentenced to an eternity of shadows of emotionless abyss.
Rebecca Serena, Grade 12 Quills | 25
Hollow Magnificence Kelly Martin | Grade 12 All are born in an era ruled by worth. Judged, driven and defined by our wealth, we seek the unattainable from birth. An iconic dream so grand, greatly felt, that it wraps our values with paper bills. Need for more, for furthering self-progress money is the ticket to vibrant chills, which are produced by glamourous excess. Infinite choice derives from our status and opportunity is presented based on oneâ€™s wealth as an apparatus. Money is the key to be invented. Now success braodcast by wealth-produced sparks, fills space, but canâ€™t occupy voids in hearts.
Fine Jordan Poloniato | Grade 12 To lose yourself to panic is a very strange time, Disconnecting from reality, pushed back from life. Cast down to the bottom of a deep dark well, I’m Unable to speak, unable to see, internal strife. The clouded mind, you see, plays tricks on me. For the heart beats like a pounding drum, Faster and stronger, gasoline to fire, it may be The final few seconds of life panic laughs, numb Sensation, or lack thereof, the limbs they struggle To wipe the cold sweat from my brow, nothing else But weak murmur of inaudible volume, smuggle Pangs of pain like ice whips, worry torture dealt Shivers under thick blanket, a frozen, domestic hell. “Just relax, you’re fine! Stop freaking out!” a yell.
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Far From Alone
Hannah Bauer | Grade 12 I wandered the great woods, Matching my breath to The heartbeat of the earth, As my feet moved on. I wandered through tumbling leaves, Paused to watch a tiny dancer perform Her final waltz, Blushing for an audience of one. I wandered past the lingering Darkness of dawn, Drawn to the elderly spruce Groaning about a time past. I wandered over scars In the saturated earth, From those who walked before me— Carrying loads too heavy. I wandered towards the lull Deep within, And stumbled upon the place— My place— Far from alone.
Rebecca Serena, Grade 12 28
Emily Parsons | Grade 12 With iron, firm and true, my name is carved in all but time; it does not flex, does not bend to smouldering urgency, spiralling desires that roar in my ears— until time, it whispers: The earth, it does not liken one mass of bone and grain to its brother, nor shall I. But I will live! In the writhing colours, red and exultant, beneath crystalline skies. I will live in power’s recycled madness. Although my wrinkle in time will smooth, though my ashes will scatter, softly trip the wind, fill hollow lungs, the face of the earth will still smile in a thousand years. Why can’t mine?
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Nina Gaind | Grade 11 Each gathering serves one single purpose: A contest, competing against each other. We wear our smiles that we have purchased, Upon the painted plates that we smother. Our bodies are wrapped in tight fabrics, Hardly allowing a breath to escape Our drowning lungs from non-stop madness. In the mirror, we self examine our shapes To comply with desires of those who fuss. Internal loneliness leaves us broken, We surround ourselves with those who break us. At these events, no true words are spoken. Only insecure souls without true minds, Going through life as they close the blinds.
It Can Grow
Quinn Kennedy | Grade 12 There’s a monster Sitting on that man’s shoulder. It’s only a small one— But it can grow. It can grow Until it blocks everything else out, And it’s just him— And it— Drowning in a smothering black.
Rebecca Serena, Grade 12 Quills | 31
Jared Levinson | Grade 11 SOS. Little embers flung wildly into space. tiny sparks, spinning, cooling, gone, except one, with its beautiful flickering kiss transforming the greasy darkness into a mighty yellow fist.
Quinn Kennedy | Grade 12 In the distance, a blinding light shone It cut through an empty sea of black And a spaceman was floating, all on his own. Into the void he had been thrown Ejected from his vessel, there was no way to get back And in the distance, a blinding light shone. He had cried out for help, until all he could do was produce a low moan Eventually he gave up, and his mouth went slack And the spaceman, defeated, floated alone. He had no god to which he could atone No religious item in his pack And in the distance, a blinding light shone. The source of the light would never be known And as his only barrier between the void began to crack The spacemen floated, all on his own. He floated along, until he was nothing but bone A skeleton swimming in the black Far away, the blinding light shone And the spaceman floated forever, alone.
Billy Reeves, Grade 12 Quills | 33
Part of Nature
Amin Mashayeki| Grade 10 Trees, trees Every where I can feel the grass beneath my feet, I look up, I see it grow, hopping and hopping, through the grass, I hear birds chirping all around me. A greeting begins with a member of the Owsla, We talk, we chat, for Hrair. I can’t tell how long, because I don’t know, The Owsla member leaves and I continue my walk, I reach my destination, my home my house. Other rabbits walk around, I see them play I see them talk with each other. A rabbit, a friend, offers me a Flayrah. I accept it with gratitude, and then munch on it in a corner, I look around, I feel so tiny. Lonely, is what I am at the moment. When I look around, I see everyone happy. My dream is to stay like that, always. A thought goes through my head, How small am I? A rabbit can’t do much in this world. I am going to die eventually. Whether I get killed, whether I starve. I will die in a life this small…. Because, I am a Rabbit, after all.
Jocasta Marshall | Grade 11 The wind runs free Escaping the clutches of the trees By an inch or twoâ€” Sending a rush of adrenaline And newborn freedom Through the air. We watch from inside Where the air sits stillâ€” Grey and dead. Although it is torturous, I would rather have windows I cannot fathom not knowing what is out there. I cannot stand the thought that this stale air That suffocates us Is happiness.
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Annabelle Moore | Grade 10 Tremors riddle supple skin Disillusioned, rid of reason. The thought of which heightens quake (8.1 on the Richter scale) as Saltwater pools, blurring vision (Precarious) droplets hang from tired lashes (An ocean) now teetering on the brink of— Flooding into— My throat, my lungs! I’m choking on fear! (I sense noise, inaudible: yet Seeping into my quivering ears! Help! Help! Is anybody there? [The silence of Terror cacophonously blares])
Megan Kamps, Grade 12 36
Quinn Purdy | Grade 11 “Good morning class, What would you like to be when you grow older?” “I wanna be...” Interrupted. “Here. Let me decide. Jimmy, you’ll be a scientist. John, an astronaut. Dave, you’ll be a marine biologist. You: A lawyer, a doctor, an artist, a dancer, an athlete... And Steven, you will be an actor.” “But teacher, I don’t want to be an actor. I want to fly planes.” “Well then Steven, I guess you’ll just wind up a garbage man, like everyone else.”
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Beauty Without Desire Rose McParland | Grade 12
The sphere of orange and fiery desire, A balloon suspended over distant land. Over apathetic eyes—growing tired, Who are useless for poetic command. From the water’s edge, another sea begins— One of shingled rooftops and concrete blocks. Absent trees, never whispering to winds Make room for everyone’s pretty box. At the expense of natural beauty, Our Mother’s amazement is forgotten. We must open our eyes—it is our duty To marvel in awe of her sunsets often. Without beauty, life is unbearable— Inaction makes this cycle terrible.
Jared Levinson | Grade 11 I would like to take your heart smoothly out of your chest. Some nights I can hear it trembling, Like a silent train known by movements Across the midnight rails. A shiver through a child. A dog having a dream. Like before, when we wanted to be 12 years old and alive and meet a girl who was 12 years old and alive and walk with her down hallways. To sit and hold hands with, To sit and kiss with To sit and sit with Like it was something you would miss, But that never was
Rebecca Serena, Grade 12 Quills | 39
One Emptier (Watership Down) Rachel Lacroix | Grade 10 I Dewdrops collect in the crevices of each blade of grass, Shivering with each puff of wind that passes by— Much like the skeletal bodies of the hlessil. Over the hill—in the deceiving mist—the weak bodies stumbled: With little practice, the newcomers fell in step, As though they’d been in the warren for a lifetime. Hope given to sad souls was the unsung gift from the arrival: Hope for life or death; hope that the latest to arrive Will be the first to be “dismissed”. II The uplifting fantasies of El-Ahrairah, Told with such feeling that other rabbits are hypnotized, Echo, meaningless, throughout the underground chamber. The insecurity in their faces is evident, Here, the once inspiring stories are now only empty words. Five tedious years are enough To convert even the strongest of believers. Why had I never left? III It was a thought that often blew through my mind, Usually when paired with the darkness of the burrow at night While I dreamt, images of struggling and flailing limbs, Broken necks and crushed, shattered bones, Needy cries and sometimes, even half-hearted laughter Replayed, as if I had seen it many times before. And I had. We knew, just by the feeling of that morning, How the hain of the songbird had weakened, How the chamber felt emptier than the previous day, That yet another had fled, horribly, to the farmer’s dinner table.
IV Each death is different from the last; Yet, always the absence of tharn in their eyes, As if this is fated. Like trees in November, When fully in foliage, they appear full of life, well fed, thriving. But as they shed their disguise, A new reality: Bare, empty branches, alone in the breeze. Leaves drown us in a paralyzing coffin, These continual deaths, each deemed an â€œunfortunate circumstanceâ€?. Our vicious unchanging cycle, Like the seasons that circle each year.
Rebecca Serena, Grade 12 Quills | 41
Short Fiction 42
Keaton Kwok | Grade 12
he lantern filled the room with an uncertain glow from where it stood, posing on the dresser. The
Gentleman lifted a thick hand and grasped its handle.
“Good night,” he said curtly. Then he left, shutting the door and letting
the heavy darkness settle into the cold room. George lay in his bed, allowing the heavily starched sheets and thick wool blankets to engulf his body. He waited until he heard the Gentleman’s heavy footsteps thud down the stairs. He counted to thirty, then slowly pushed off the stiff layers on top of him and slipped out of bed. He took light, calculated steps, avoiding floorboards that he knew to squeak and groan. He reached the door and delicately took hold of the knob, clutching it like it was a sparrow with a broken wing. Slowly, he turned it and pushed the door open just a crack. With one eye, he checked to make sure the Gentleman was indeed downstairs. He then padded carefully over to the staircase and sat on the top step. A draft blew through the hallway, like cold fingers tracing his back. He ignored it and listened to the sound of conversation coming from the kitchen.
“Walk over,” commanded the Gentleman.
“How am I supposed to see?” Ingrid’s voice bit back.
George winced at the sharpness of her tone. Even though they were
the same age, at twelve, Ingrid was twice as bold and always outspoken. It was a deadly combination to have, especially when the Gentleman was present. He delivered his response low and sharp, as if every word he spat out was a razor.
“Big girls shouldn’t need a light to get over to the cabin,” growled the
Gentleman. “Big girls are able to find their way in the dark.”
George heard the indignation in Ingrid’s footsteps as she bit back a Quills | 43
retort and marched out of the kitchen, letting the door that led to the backyard slam behind her.
“Don’t worry,” purred the Gentleman. “Our child will never speak like
that to either of us when he’s born.”
“Of course he won’t,” answered Helen’s sweet voice. “But, what if he
“Hush,” cooed the Gentleman. “I don’t want to hear your childish
thoughts for the thousandth time.”
“It’s not that,” rushed Helen. “It’s what happens when I sleep that’s
troubling me. What if the baby isn’t healthy? What if I’m doing something wrong—”
“Helen.” He whispered sharply. “You will not discuss this matter while
we are in George’s house.”
“I thought he was in bed.”
“Hush,” snapped his voice. “Come. Let’s go to bed.”
George heard them stumble out the back door, taking the lantern and
its light with them. He sat perfectly still for a moment longer, taking in the feel of the house that was now vacant of any light, person, or sound. Then the moment broke, and he pushed himself up, raced to his room, and slammed the door. He dove under the sheets, pulling them over his head, waiting for the ringing silence of the house to lull him to sleep. ***
The next morning after breakfast George followed Ingrid around as she
mopped the foyer. Her black hair was pulled back into a ponytail and her grey smock hung loosely on her slight frame. The room had a high ceiling and a large wooden door that stood between two great windows. Dead sunlight fell through them and into the entrance.
George was walking along a line of marble tile that ran the length of
room. He precariously balanced each step in front of the last, as if walking on a tightrope a hundred feet in the air. 44
“Why is it that you three sleep out in that cabin?” asked George sud-
denly, “Why not in the servants’ quarters in the basement?”
“That’s just how it’s always been,” answered Ingrid. She had found a
spot on the marble floor and was scrubbing furiously to remove it.
“That’s not really an answer,” mumbled George. “Can’t you go any
faster? I’m getting bored just standing here.”
Ingrid paused and scratched her delicate nose.
“Do you think you’d like to come out to the cabin later so I could show
you something?” she asked, as she took her attention off of the spot and looked into his eyes.
“I don’t think I’m allowed to,” he said cautiously, staring at his shoes.
“Has anyone ever said that you can’t?” There was a certain excitement
in her voice that seemed to dance its way into George’s ears.
“Then as soon as I’m done we’ll walk across.”
“You don’t think Helen will mind? What about him? Do you think he
would allow it?” he asked nervously.
“He never gets mad at you. Besides, he’s locked away in the study and
Helen won’t mind.” She returned to scrubbing, as if she had settled the matter.
When her work was completed, they walked through the kitchen where
Helen was chopping carrots with a chef ’s knife. Her wavy, auburn hair framed her pale face, creating the picture of an idyllic housewife. The pristine white apron she wore over her floral patterned dress ordinarily fit her small figure, but now it barely tied over her pregnant belly.
“Where are the two of you off to?” she questioned.
“Just out back to do some exploring,” said Ingrid in a falsely sweet
voice. She led George out the door, and they crossed the rotting deck that jutted out from the house. As they trod down the stairs, they heard the faint instruction to be back in time for lunch.
The grass that stretched from the main house to the cabin was wet and Quills | 45
muddy. The air rubbed its damp hands over George, and his body convulsed at the sensation. When they reached the cabin, Ingrid stepped boldly through the door, and George scurried in after her.
Inside, there was a dampness to the room that made George rush
to catch his breath. A long table sat in the middle of the floor. Its surface was gnarled and rough, as if it had been used in a butcher’s shop for several generations. A single chair, painted black, stood at the end of it.
“That’s where he sleeps,” said Ingrid, pointing to the chair.
A stove crouched between two doors at the back of the main room. He
heard the crackle of burning wood, but the fire seemed to have little effect on the chill that inhabited the cabin. George drifted towards the door on the right and peered inside.
It was barren. Empty.
“Do you sleep in this one?” asked George.
Ingrid shook her head, “Helen does.”
“Well, why doesn’t she take a mattress from the main house? It can’t be
comfortable sleeping on the floor.”
“She would never bring something from there in here. Come, look in
my room, I want to show you something.”
She pulled him by the hand into the room to the left of the stove. It
held only a single bed in its clutches, and the walls were bare, save for a window on the wall across from the door. Bundles of dried flowers sat on the window sill, their sickly sweet scent fighting through the dampness to invade George’s nostrils. Ingrid reached up and took down a small bouquet that was tied with white butcher’s string. The petals were muted shades of red and orange, the leaves skeletal. As she grasped it, George heard a faint crunch from the dryness of the plant and he watched as a few leaves broke off and fluttered to the floor.
“What is this for?” he asked as she put it in his hand.
“It’s for good luck. Put it under your pillow when you sleep and you’ll
dream of something better.” 46
“Better than what?”
“Just better.” ***
The following afternoon, they sat quietly on the back porch, facing
the woods. Mist floated lazily through the air, covering the clearing in the trees where the cabin stood in isolation. Ingrid sat with her elbows resting on her knees and her hands cradling her chin.
“Did it work last night?” she asked.
“Sort of. I dreamed that you slept in the room across from mine in the
“That’s good,” she sighed. She moved her elbows to the step behind
her and tilted her head back to look at the sky. The sun was blotted out by mist, making the expanse pale and blank.
“How does it work?” he asked. “Aren’t they just—”
“Did you hear that?” she interrupted. They both paused, their posture
stiff as they strained to hear any sound.
Ingrid stood up, her body tense as she entered the house, letting the
door shut behind her. George followed. He heard a low hurried whisper as he walked under the frame, but it was too muddled and rushed for him to understand. He looked to Ingrid and saw her rigid body frozen and her eyes round, staring at the opposite corner of the kitchen.
He panned his eyes across the room. The linoleum floor was littered
with fragments of broken plates and drawers that had been torn out of their sockets, ferociously scattering silverware in every direction. A graveyard of cracked bowls and spilt leftovers lay strewn in front of the fridge, as if someone had reached into its chest and ripped out the appliance’s organs.
His eyes travelled to the corner where Ingrid had been staring; Helen
was slumped on the floor, leaning against the cupboards. Her eyes were fixed ahead, and her hands twitched and squirmed over her swollen stomach. They were covered in tomato sauce, as if she had been making pasta then decided Quills | 47
to use her hands as tools. Her apron was stained and she kept pulling at it, like she was trying to take it off. She was muttering to herself, but he still could not understand what she was trying to say.
“Helen,” said George. He took a few meager steps towards her and
crouched down. “Helen,” he said, in a louder voice.
She didn’t respond. Sounds kept sputtering out of her mouth but her
eyes darted around and made contact with his. She swallowed and barely whispered three words.
“It’s my fault.”
Her body stopped trembling, and she pushed herself up with her hands
and leaned forward, staring deep into George’s eyes. “I’m going to disappoint him. It doesn’t feel right anymore. Something’s gone wrong and it’s my fault. He’s going to blame me.”
“Helen, what happened?” asked George in a timid voice.
She shattered. “Didn’t you hear me?” she sobbed. “I said it’s not right
anymore and I can’t do anything to fix it.” She maniacally tried to pull herself up, her hands clawing at the counter. “It’s not my fault. Tell him it’s not my fault,” she screamed.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” responded George fearfully,
backing up. He turned to face Ingrid, her eyes transfixed on Helen.
“What’s she talking about?” he asked.
She didn’t get the chance to answer. The Gentleman exploded into the
room and shoved Ingrid and George out of the way. “Why the hell didn’t you call me, Ingrid?” he yelled. He pulled Helen up by the arms and she stood weakly. Her head rolled back and forth. Finally, her eyes landed on the Gentleman’s face.
“No,” she pleaded meekly. “Don’t.”
“Quiet,” he said sternly. “Not here.”
He picked her up like an infant, as if she weighed nothing. She con48
tinued to protest as he carried her to the door. He paused, his shirt still tucked neatly into his black pants.
“George, go to your room. Ingrid, clean up this mess.” They watched
as he walked out on to the porch, and then melted away into the mist.
“What happened to her?” repeated George.
“I don’t know,” said Ingrid, “But this is the first time it’s happened
during the day.” ***
Later that night, George pushed bits of unrecognizable food around his
plate, his elbow resting on the mahogany table. Ingrid sat across from him with a straight back and took noiseless bites, while the Gentleman chewed his food at the head of the table and stared blindly at the wall. Tall white candles stood unflinchingly on a runner down the middle of the table, casting a dim light in the room. Their flames were unnaturally still, and the inert light made the silence around the table larger.
“When does Helen come back?” George asked.
No one answered. ***
The next morning George woke up and trampled down the stairs in
his pajamas. He was surprised to see Helen frying bacon at the stove and Ingrid and the Gentleman sitting at the table. They were dressed as usual, Ingrid in her smock and the Gentleman with every hair in place. George walked past Helen and sat down.
“Is everything okay?” asked George.
“Of course,” the Gentleman answered tightly. “Why wouldn’t it be?”
Helen carried a plate of bacon over to the table, set it down, and wiped
her hands on her apron. It was tied perfectly around her small waist. George looked up at Helen from where he was sitting, her eyes vacant and her face paler than usual
“Please eat,” she said. Then she sat down next to George and wearily Quills | 49
nibbled on a few bites of toast. They all ate silently. When they finished, the Gentleman spoke forcibly.
“You may take a break from chores this morning, Ingrid. Helen will do
the dishes.” Ingrid stared straight ahead, her expression carefully blank.
“Thank you,” she said dully. She stood abruptly and left with George
trailing behind her. They went out and sat on the back porch.
A soft but bitterly cold wind pushed Ingrid’s dark hair around so she
had to keep dragging it out of her face. A thick watery blanket of cloud was perched in the sky.
“Do you remember that little bundle of flowers I gave you, George?”
“I want it back.”
The Runaway Olivia Arski | Grade 11
2 hours. That is how long I’ve been on the run. And it’s not just me; there are twelve of us together, twelve
“aliens”. At least that is what the government of the United States of America like to call us. There are other names too: Day-crossers, illegal immigrants, runaways. Everything, it seems, except for human beings.
They’ve been hot on our trail since we embarked for the Sonoran
Desert. I was split from my older brother, Jose, and the rest of the group on the second day during a dust storm. Now, at sixteen years old, I am conquering the unknown alone.
Yet, I am still walking. It gets harder by the hour, as the blazing sun
continues to rise in the seamless sky. Glaring rays breathe a sweltering mugginess as they scorch the terrain of prickly cactuses and low-lying sage bushes. And of course, it isn’t easy with no one by my side. Even though it was just yesterday, it seems like a million years have gone by since I last saw Jose. I feel lonely and frightened, haunted by the thought that I will die alone.
Yes, I have forced myself to accept my accursed destiny. Even now, as
the sun beats down on my weary face, I feel Death stalking me. Time ticks by my last hours, marking the minutes of my fate in this strange, foreboding land.
I look out over my grave.
In the distance, I make out a blurred figure. I stop incredulously and
rub my eyes, fearing a mirage. Impossible, I think. I decide that the heat and thirst must have gone to my head.
As I journey farther, I see that I am wrong. I am not alone. There are Quills | 51
vague figures approaching my direction, smiling as they draw near. They are clad in white and move gracefully, their feet skimming the ground with small, supple steps.
Ghosts. Or are they angels?
The earth is now steaming, and the warm fog spreads out in in front
of me. I sink down onto my knees, embracing the pain of the sizzling sand as it burns my flesh.
In the midst of the desert, with my death approaching, I spread my
arms out and begin to pray.
I think about Jose, who has undoubtedly escaped the hands of judge-
ment, and who will be able to live a better life in America.
“Come.” A voice whispers. I look into the angel’s face.
And as each droplet of energy drains from my body, I have one last
thought. Today, I will die a free man in this country.
I smile as I take the angel’s hand.
I turn my face to the sky.
I close my eyes.
Rebecca Serena, Grade 12 52
I am the Clay Sara Dissanayake | Grade 11
took you for clay and molded you unto my own will. I took away your form and pose, and I reshaped and
transformed you into an object of my possession.
A mere thing. I didn’t let you grow, and now I am disappointed at the
result. But do you think the potter himself was once the clay? I myself was molded, but not beautifully, not with integrity and smooth edges.
There is no grace in my being. I am the clay whom the potter gave up
on. My stubbornness and rigid heart he could not change. But you are the clay that was made beautiful. You were always nice and soft, accommodating and easy to be molded. You gave up your form, your will, and your entirety.
You surrendered everything you were to the potter. And he made a
magnificent work of art out of you. You were decorated and displayed for all to see. You were your master’s pride. His joy and his delight. I only brought him shame. I thought myself worthy and brought him pain.
I refused to be churned by his hands. To succumb to his will. So here
I am. A broken, dry mound of clay. Not wanting to be seen or touched. The potter, alas, could not melt my heart of ice in his kiln of fire. I am useless. What joy can I bring? But the potter has kept me. Kept me from shame.
He cannot use me, for I am of no value to him. The air is worth more
than I am. But he tells me, “the air is what brings life, and so you are precious.” I say to him that I haven’t anything to bring to his table. If I were fresh and supple to be molded, I would offer myself at his hands. He then says to me: “You are no less special to me than the rest of my clay. However dry and brittle you are, you are mine. And all that is mine is special!” Quills | 53
The Empty Cradle
Sarah Gnocato| Grade 12
lick. She sat numbly staring at the humming light above her, enjoying the way it burned her eyes. She
needed a cigarette. She wanted the smoke to burn her throat and thicken her tongue. She wrenched open her small prescription bottle and choked down the pill. She felt the lump in her throat grow. With a sigh, she ventured aimlessly into the living room and shook her head as she sat down, the room spinning around her. The cushion was soft, like a newborn’s cheek; at this observation, she winced and slumped to the ground. The soft cushion propped her up and she leaned against it now. Amy was comforted knowing that it was behind her. She reached into her pocket and felt a crumpled cigarette. Her shaking hand clasped its tattered paper and she jammed it between her lips.
The sensation calmed her.
She had known before she picked up the phone, she had known before
she saw the doctor, and now she sat feeling the hollow canyon within her. Her loose shirt hung on her delicate frame. She desperately craved something to wash down the rage, to numb the emptiness. Maybe tea would subdue her anxiety, she thought. As she filled the kettle she wondered what Joseph was doing, and she wondered how she had ended up back at her parent’s home at the age of thirty-two. The shrill of the ringing telephone snapped her back to reality. She abandoned the kettle and raised the receiver to her ear.
“Amy?” He breathed. She shivered at his tone and glanced at the clock 54
on the wall. Noon. He was on his lunch break. She wondered if he was eating his egg salad sandwich or indulging in the stash of Cadbury chocolates he hid in the top drawer of his desk. A smile tickled her lips at the thought. She guessed the chocolate, since she hadn’t been there to prepare the sandwich.
“Amy?” His tone was weary and desperate. “Did the doctor call?”
She wrapped her knit sweater around her, as if it were the only thing
holding her together. Like a clasp on a locket without a photograph to fill it.
“He called.” Her voice sounded small and distant. “It came back posi-
tive. Not that it matters anymore.”
The kettle hissed.
“I should go,” she heard herself say.
“We meet with the lawyers tomorrow.”
“Are you sure you can take time off from your precious job?” she
sneered, hating her bitter tone.
“Don’t. Not now.”
Her lungs yearned for a cigarette.
“What do you want me to do with the crib?”
The line went dead.
She poured the tea and let the steaming cup sear her hands, the hands
she had once found cupped perfectly in Joseph’s. He was always her shield against reality, but now, she realized, she had to become her own shield. The tea burned her throat. She needed a distraction to numb the pain. She got the vacuum, in hopes of sucking away her memories.
Amy busied herself cleaning the house. Her parents were at the Church
luncheon and she needed to distract herself. She dusted old picture frames, dodging the eyes of the people that smiled at her from within them. With a swipe from her duster, a rusted frame fell, hiding the photograph it held. As Amy turned it upright, she caught her reflection within the bright blue eyes of Quills | 55
the smiling child in the photograph. She blinked, hardly recognizing herself. The young girl’s eyes were juvenile and breathed life into the stagnant air that consumed the house. Her smile was frozen in time, her full eyes twinkling as they reflected the mid-July sun. Not a trace of worry. Pure euphoria. Amy broke her gaze. She needed to keep busy. She scrubbed the dishes and polished the silverware, neglecting the pack of cigarettes that weighed down her pocket, silently taunting her. She needed to have a purpose, to be useful.
Once she had exhausted her work, Amy stood back and assessed the
kitchen. It was so sterile and spotless that it made her dizzy. It looked like a hospital. She needed a cigarette. As the afternoon wore on, Amy collected the cracked China that her mother had kept hidden in the kitchen cabinets. She couldn’t remember an occasion when they’d been used. As she piled them gently into a cardboard box, she realized she couldn’t remember a meal her family had shared together.
Amy climbed the stairs slowly up to the attic, careful not to shift the
dishes in the box, her lungs burning with each step. When she finally reached the cluttered room, she gently placed the box next to many other dull boxes, collecting years in the dust that coated them. Amy sat down to catch her breath when it caught her eye. Its chipped paint and thin wood sucked all the air out of the tiny attic. It lay buried beneath her old childhood toys, undisturbed. She froze. A baby cradle. Her gaze drank up the nostalgia, as the room began to revolve around her.
Suddenly she was waiting eagerly in the kitchen as she listened for her
father’s footsteps, her six-year-old eyes darting to the door at every sound. He had been on a business trip to London for the past three weeks, and she shifted anxiously on the sofa as the ticking clock tested her impatience. Time sauntered by and soon she had drifted off to sleep in her mother’s tender arms. She was awoken by her father’s excuses for arriving at such a late hour. He looked down at Amy then, and smiled. The smile touched each corner of their tiny home and, looking back, it was the only time Amy had seen him truly happy. He looked to56
ward the ground, suggesting to Amy that she follow his gaze. It lay still, touching his favourite loafers: a small baby cradle, only large enough for the porcelain doll that rested inside of it. That cradle sat in her room and provided a safe haven to the tiny doll, even as U2 posters covered the walls and wedding magazines littered her desk. It was the reminder that her father had thought of her, even if it was just once, in London, in 1987. That had been enough to satisfy her all these years.
Amy blinked and was back in the attic, the golden rays from the fresh
outdoors filtering through the foggy window. She hardened her stare and looked down at her shaking hands. For the first time, she felt her empty stomach knot as she stumbled down the attic ladder, her eyes blurred from tears.
“Amy?” She hadn’t heard them come in, but her parents now stood
in front of her as she crocheted a baby blanket into a scarf. She sat on the sofa, soothed by its softness. She looked up, calmly and wearily, her grey eyes meeting her mother’s. She examined the woman who raised her with envy, her eyes tracing the curve of her hips and the brightness in her eyes. She was the kind of woman that inspired one to become a mother; she had been Amy’s best friend her entire life. Now she felt as though the empty ocean that was within her plunged between them.
“Thanks for cleaning the kitchen.” Her father appeared now, uncon-
sciously wrapping his arm around her mother. Amy winced and turned away.
Her mother sat down beside her on the sepia-toned couch, and Amy
shrunk away from her, letting the soft cushions consume her.
“Joseph called us.”
Amy felt her lips purse together.
She needed a cigarette.
“Maybe now you two can move past this. Accept it, move on and-“ Her
mother reached toward her calmly, but immediately shrank away from Amy’s bleak glare. Her slight frame was swallowed by the thick sweater she wore. She hadn’t remembered Amy looking so small in years. Quills | 57
Amy bit down on her dry lips and felt the blood pool in the wound. Its
warm sensation caught her off guard. “You know it wasn’t just that.”
Amy’s mother studied her carefully, her eyes caressing Amy’s blank stare
and dry skin.
“Have you taken your anti-depressant today?”
Amy focused on her crocheting, knowing she couldn’t meet her
mother’s eyes. “No.”
After her mother retrieved another pill for her, Amy let the room whirl
around her as she climbed the stairs to her room.
The house was silent as night’s shadow crept upon it and Amy paced
her childhood bedroom. Soft carpet cushioned her exposed feet as she padded back and forth. Tomorrow was the day she was to meet Joseph in court. As she sat on her bed, she lit a cigarette, allowing the lighter to burn her hands. Her lips curled into a slight smile as she thought about smoking in here as a teenager, hiding from her parents for fear of disappointing them. She recalled lying awake all night after sneaking in from seeing Joseph and worrying that she would throw her life away, fearing she would be a mother at seventeen. The thought made her grimace now; if only she had known then. She could have told Joseph when he got down on one knee with his eyes full of hope and bliss. If Joseph had known that their dream of a family was impossible, would he have still married her? She sighed, wishing that she had known what she was getting into. Even now, after twelve years of their marriage, Amy couldn’t recall a night Joseph came home before eight p.m. Maybe she would have conceived a child if she hadn’t spent every night sitting up in bed, frantically crocheting as she listened for the sound of his polished loafers tapping against the bedroom floor. Amy rose and flicked the ashes out the tiny window. She turned around and saw a woman staring back at her. A woman with a girl’s body, swimming in her sweater and straight as a board. But the woman’s eyes had aged, her face scarred with frown lines, her forehead traced with a fissure of worry. Her eyes were almost as vacant as her stomach. Amy pitied the woman; she wanted to reach out to her. When she did, 58
her hands smeared the reflection in the mirror.
Suddenly, there wasn’t enough air in the room. The smoke clouded her
mind and stung her eyes. She crept toward the bedroom door, opening it slightly to slip her slender body through, trying to prevent the smoke from escaping.
Amy snuck into the kitchen, her body trembling. She paced and
hummed the lullabies her mother sang to her when she was a girl. The thought scorched her memory as she rummaged through the cupboards, in search of another pill. She needed to sleep. The melody of her mother’s voice sung faintly in her mind as she reminded herself that the house was silent. A tall bottle of whiskey caught her eye; she thought of her parents, who were sleeping soundly in their bed. With this reassurance, she lowered the bottle onto the counter and nervously retrieved a glass. She carefully watched the empty glass become full as the liquid gurgled into it. The stagnant scent stung her nostrils. When the bottle was empty, she couldn’t remember if she had taken her medication. Amy gulped back another pill with a swig of whiskey. This would help her fall asleep, she thought, her head thick and heavy. She slowly climbed the stairs back up to her small bedroom.
She couldn’t breathe; panicking for air she began shaking. Desperate
for vision, she pushed her eyes open and saw a glaring red “Exit” sign over the door. She gripped the rails on the rickety bed to steady her quivering. It was too familiar. The white walls, the futile air. She heard beeping from beside her and felt herself exhale. She sulked at the realization she could still breathe. Then, she felt a warm, broad hand rest on her own as she blinked, fighting for her sight. Within seconds his chocolate brown eyes came into view and Amy drank them in. “Dad?” He wiped the tear that skated down his pale cheek.
“Why?” She demanded, watching another tear glide down his solemn
expression. It reminded her of sliding down the slide at the waterpark with her mother when she was little. “What’s wrong?” She felt like a child again, who Quills | 59
used to climb up on top of his lap, playing with his tie as he poured over paperwork, ignorant to her undivided attention.
“I am so glad you’re alive.” She felt his rigid hand tighten against her
own. Amy frowned. Her body felt barren.
She needed a cigarette.
“Your Mother came into your room to see where all the smoke was
coming from, and then—” He choked and looked down. “What happened to my baby girl?” Amy trembled and met her father’s eyes once more. “Dad. I just wanted to fix everything.” Her voice broke.
“Oh, Amy.” His lips trembled. “I should’ve been around more.” Amy
nodded and watched as her fingers traced the stitching on the tight, bleak bed sheets. “Maybe that’s why…” He stopped and surveyed her face, evading looking at her gaunt, concave stomach, hidden beneath the thin gown.
She nodded. The thought had never screamed out in her mind, but it
had always whispered in the wind. She had always wanted to prove to her child that she was a better parent than her father had ever been. She had wanted to fill that void, but that emptiness was now her entire being.
“I’m sorry.” He said it genuinely. It was the first time Amy had ever
trusted her Father.
“I never wanted to give up on you.” She breathed, her hands dancing
over her stomach subconsciously.
“I have too many regrets.” He tugged nervously at his collar.
He eyed her anxiously. “This was beyond your control,” he continued
“Why me?” She squeaked out, her fingers rubbed over her narrow hips.
“Bad things happen to good people.” His narrow eyes fixated on his
creased palms. The sound of the beeping machine echoed through the room. 60
“You don’t know me.” She declared.
The corners of his lips turned down, his eyes glistening. “I wish I did.”
She looked away.
“I wish I had realized it at the time,” he added.
“I wish you had too.” She exhaled, the void within her expanding.
“I’m sorry Joseph turned out to be just like me.” He reflected on his late
nights at the office. Amy clenched her jaw and felt the tension build up as if she were a volcano about to erupt. It rumbled up through her stomach and gushed down her cheeks. She sobbed silently into her father’s broad shoulders, soothing her cheek against his cotton shirt. She gasped for air and gazed up at him.
“It was our last hope. The baby was supposed to save us.”
A long silence dipped between them like a deep valley. Amy fell back
against the pillows.
“It’s his loss.” Her father winked, catching her eye.
The abyss inside her settled, as her stomach warmed with acceptance.
The sun was setting out the small window when he decided to go home.
She would be released tomorrow; maybe she would call Joseph. Her father was beginning to leave when he stopped to place an object, delicately wrapped in his soft handkerchief, in her shaking hands. Their eyes met briefly before he kissed her gently on her creased forehead and left. The clock ticked in rhythm as she worked up the nerve to unveil what was hidden beneath the cloth. With a deep, fresh breath she gingerly lifted back the kerchief, gasping at the sweet face that gazed peacefully up at her. Her cheeks flushed with a smile as she cradled the porcelain doll.
Quills | 61
Tea with the Time Man Sydney Bradshaw, Grade 12
is house was a precarious mess of wood and glinting metal sitting in the sky. From far away it
looked like a strange sculpture with various materials sticking out at awkward angles. At times a cold wind blew the clouds until the house disappeared from view, nothing visible but dim lights from the windows, a tiny lighthouse in the sky. Its location was well known, but that did not make it easy to reach. After all, the man had secrets to keep. And his decisions could not be reversed.
The man possessed a withered old body that had spanned millennia,
but had the pleasure of a mind on fire. Ideas came to him and left just as quickly, leaving piles of used parchment on the floor. He was the ultimate archivist and he knew just about everything. He was attracted to chaos, the only great stability in life, and refused all semblances of pattern and normality. Most of all, he didnâ€™t believe in death.
The girl met him in his little house in the early morning, just days after
she had left home. She had overheard two middle-aged women speaking about the man the evening before. Despite her distrust of this new place, of its airiness and silence and emptiness, she knew he was a man who could be trusted. Sometimes she just had a feeling about people.
And so she found herself there in the early morning, surrounded by
cold mists and wavering shafts of sunlight. Gathering her courage, she stepped up the little porch and gazed at the door. Tiny droplets of water were streaming down the wooden surface; the sun gave them the look of golden rivers. She gave 62
a sigh and a timid knock to the door. Moments later, it opened with a dull groan.
Suddenly he was there, the man himself, wearing a threadbare brown
suit adorned with dozens of pockets. He was old and frail, with wispy white hair and a wrinkled face that spoke of ages gone by. But beyond the delicacy of his body, there was a deep sense of preservation linked to him, something almost tangible. Perhaps it was the way that his blue eyes and toothy grin blazed through her. She looked down.
“Could I…” she gulped. “Could I please speak with you for a mo-
ment?” The man looked her up and down with those searing eyes. “Ah yes,” said the man at last, nodding and smiling. “I’ve been expecting you.”
“Oh.” There was a pause in which she crossed her arms and peered
over his shoulder into the shadowy house. Of course he knew. For a moment she had forgotten that he knew everything.
The man moved aside and held open the door. “Please come in.”
“Thank you.” She stepped over the threshold and followed him into the
As her eyes adjusted to the dimming light, she was faintly aware that the
house had a certain stuffiness, a warmth that was both comforting and constricting. The darkness gave way in moments. She looked about in bewilderment. The inside was somehow stranger than the outside; clocks adorned every wall, filling the air with a feverish ticking that reverberated in her head. Bookshelves and desks were covered with strips of parchment and various knick-knacks. A fireplace crackled on the left wall, casting a glow onto a plump chair, which was also covered in papers.
“Well, this is it,” said the man, who stood stationary beside her. He gave
an apologetic smile. “I’m sorry for the mess. I can never find a moment to put things in order, you know. Quite unfortunate.”
“I don’t mind.” She was being quite truthful. It was strange, in a way,
that this man—the man who had all the time in the world—could never find a moment to organize himself. Then again, time was a messy thing. Other things Quills | 63
took precedence. He brought her into the next room: a cramped kitchen made lovely by a large skylight in the ceiling. The counters here were messy as well, covered in an assortment of jars and dishes filled with bright pastries. Several of the cupboard doors had been left ajar, displaying stacks of mismatched plates and mugs. The man directed her to the center of the room, where a table with two chairs sat in a most unassuming fashion. She sat down.
“Help yourself,” he said, gesturing to the plate piled high with crumpets
in the middle of the table.
She took two. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. Now, tea?”
“Oh, that’s all right. There’s no need to make a fuss-”
“You’re in luck,” he told her, walking to the stove and ignoring her
protests. “The kettle has just boiled.”
“Well, I suppose I could have some then.” She blushed slightly and
stuffed a crumpet in her mouth.
The man rummaged about in a cupboard and produced two china
cups. He added the hot water and tea leaves, humming a tune to himself. In the meantime, the girl took an additional crumpet.
When this was finished, he crossed the room and entered the pantry. In
moments, a great shuffling noise was heard, followed by a crash. The man made a noise of frustration, and began muttering under his breath. The girl craned her neck, trying to peer inside.
“Are you all right, sir?”
A flushed face emerged from behind the door, causing her to start. “Yes,
yes, I’m quite fine. Now, what do you like in your tea? Honey? Milk? Sugar?”
Taken aback, she said simply, “Milk.”
He ducked back behind the door. There was more shuffling, thankfully
without a crash. He came back out again moments later carrying a pitcher of milk and a jar of sugar-cubes. He placed them at the table beside the crumpets 64
and doubled back to bring the tea itself. Once this was done, he sat down opposite the girl and took his own tea. She followed his lead, and added a stream of milk while he took out four sugar cubes. They splashed as they dropped into the drink and then bobbed about on the surface. The man placed his finger into the cup and began to stir.
The girl cleared her throat. “I…I need to ask a favour.”
She wrung her hands together in her lap and took a shuddering breath.
“I need to talk to them.”
He sighed. “You must know by now that I cannot take such requests.”
“Why can’t you talk to them? Let them know it was an accident?” Her
voice rose ever so slightly. “Do you need something in exchange? I have money! I could help you, I could—”
Sadness filled his eyes, and he looked down. “I’m sorry. It will not hap-
pen. Cannot happen.”
“Please—I need them to know. I can’t…. ” But her voice trailed off into
the dusty air.
“I was afraid this was what you were seeking,” he said. “You know there
is nothing I can do. Why would you come to me?”
“I just…I just thought you could help me.” She cast her gaze down
at her half-empty teacup. “I never meant for it to happen that way. I thought I would be fine, I thought everything would be fine. But then it wasn’t, and I was g-gone.” She had choked a bit on those last words, and she was ashamed to find tears welling in her eyes. She rubbed them away angrily. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have come.”
“Nonsense,” said the man. “It is perfectly understandable.”
She tried to swallow a sob, but it came out all the same. She put her
face in her hands, trying to stifle the flow of tears. With a flourish, he pulled a cloth from one of his many jacket pockets and placed it in front of her. She took it graciously. As she took deep breaths and attempted to compose herself, he Quills | 65
sipped at his tea. His warm gaze never left her face.
At long last she spoke in a quiet murmur, staring down at the sopping
handkerchief. “I wish I could fix things. I wish it hadn’t ended like this, with them thinking that I had done it.”
He smiled at her. “Don’t give up hope, my dear. After all, it hasn’t end-
“I don’t understand.” She looked up at him.
“Time isn’t linear, you see. It never just ends. It is chaotic and messy.
Their time hasn’t run out. Your time hasn’t run out. It never ends, like a great circle. There is always a second chance at things.”
She was silent for a moment, and then said timidly, “I don’t know what
“Nobody does. At times, even I fail to see what lies ahead.”
He sighed. The lines in his face seemed deeper suddenly, as if time was
pressing down on him. Stronger than gravity. “But, I do have something that might help.”
He stood up, gave her a wink, and disappeared into the next room. The
girl drained the rest of her tea, sniffling as she listened to the sounds of rummaging and shuffling. He emerged from the room after a few minutes with a small, deep blue box in his hands. He placed it in the center of the table and sat back down. She looked at him quizzically.
“Take it,” he said, pouring himself another cup of tea. “It will help.”
She took it, rubbing her hands over the soft velvet case. It opened with
a slight snapping noise. Inside was an ornate pocketwatch. Its exterior was worn in places, but the intricacy of the floral patterns was still discernible on the metal surface. She looked at it for a moment, and then looked up at the man with questions on her lips.
He spoke first. “It’s a special little thing. Never stops ticking.”
“Why does it…“
“I couldn’t tell you,” he insisted, giving her that playful wink. “Put it 66
around your neck, dear. It’s a gift.”
She shook her head and pushed the box away. “Oh, I couldn’t.”
He just chuckled. “It would make me quite happy. Besides, I have no
use for it. I’m not exactly short on clocks in this house.”
That much was true—even now, that never-ending ticking sound was
boring into her head. She found herself smiling. “If you insist…” She pulled the chain over her head and let the clock lie heavy against her chest. “Thank you. It really is lovely. But why did you give it to me?”
“Because you needed answers,” he explained, taking a sip of his tea. “As
I said before, the clock never stops ticking. Time goes on. It has a way of changing things—letting wounds pale and memories fade. But it does not stop…not for you, not for anybody. And so long as it keeps going, so does life.”
She thought of her family then, all those leagues away. The space
between them would grow bigger with each tick of the clock… But perhaps that was a good thing. “So, in a way, time will make things work out?”
He smiled and nodded. “Precisely.”
For a moment they were quiet. The man poured the dregs from the
tea kettle into his little cup. Taking long sips, he leaned back on his chair and looked up at the sky through the window. Something about him, staring out at that misty blue, made the girl feel a twinge of sadness, an aching in the pit of her stomach.
“I…I’m glad,” she began, toying with the chain around her neck, “that
He smiled, not looking away from the sky. “As am I.”
“Thank you. If it would be alright, I think I would like to visit some-
The man turned his focus to her. “I would like that very much.”
And so she said her goodbyes and left the Time Man alone in his house.
With the pocketwatch in her grasp, and the promise of eternal time hanging in the morning air, she unfurled her wings and vanished into the sky. Quills | 67
The Last Canvas Becca Serena | Grade 12
is numb feet shuffled down the gravel path as snow groaned beneath battered boots. The frosty
wind had kept everyone else inside, huddled around dying fires in the governmental absence of electricity. He fumbled for the key in the otherwise empty pocket of his worn coat. His frozen hand finally captured it and shakily prodded it into the old lock. The townhouse was small; the master bedroom of his previous house had been larger than the entire building. The broken windows had been boarded up in attempt to keep the hungry frost at bay, though it didnâ€™t do much good. The bolt finally ground open and he slipped inside.
He flipped the light switch. Nothing. He sighed, the breath puffing
between his chilled lips, and bent over to retrieve the pile of unpaid bills from the door mat. He found it hard to believe this was what his life had amounted to. He clunked down the narrow hallway and dropped the envelopes onto the counter. Bending over, he produced a small gas lantern from beneath the leaking sink. His hands shook as he lit a match.
Once the lantern was illuminated, he descended into the basement,
the stairs sighing beneath his frozen boots. He paused part way down the steps, the door to the makeshift storage closest in front of him. Reluctantly, he opened it. It creaked and moaned as he lifted the gaslight to view its contents. The bed remained hanging horizontally from its position on the wall, much like the cabin beds from the cruises he had gone on with his family. He had left it just as John had, before child services had deemed the house unfit for a child to live in. There 68
was mold on the walls.
After a moment, he shut the closet door, unable to think of his son any
longer, and stared at the disorderly basement. The light flickered eerily across the cluttered room, passing over the dusty objects that had decorated their previous house. He hadn’t been able to bring himself to sell Anna’s many elaborate belongings, even when everyone told him he must. They would be taken soon enough anyway. Consumed by grief, he had lost his job. The bank had already taken his house, his car, and now his electricity.
He pushed through the piles of silk curtains and damp cardboard boxes
that overflowed with his wife’s writing on yellowing pages. He had read them a month after she left, realizing she hadn’t been his Anna for a long time. He kept walking. At the back of the room, he reached the racks of her fur coats and designer dresses. He pushed them aside. Hiding behind them was the collection of guitars which she rarely touched; she only liked the look of them. He should have sold them to pay the rent, but even the things she never used were a part of her. On the right, pressed against the decaying wall, was a large bed sheet. He discarded it, the smell of old acrylic paint wafting from her canvases. He sat. The first painting was the one he had been searching for.
He should have known she was ill when the colours used in her work
had strayed from vibrant to dull, mirroring her heart. It had been that painting — the last she had created before she left him and John with nothing—that should have made it obvious. It depicted their old living room, the one with the glittering windows and the piano bench with a sturdy rope coiled atop it sitting beneath the chandelier. He had told her the painting was ‘lovely, but plain.’ Had he known she intended to hoist herself upon it and force her own departure, the three of them would still be living in that sizable house. Together.
From the corner of his eye, he could see that same bench, scuff mark
and all. He could see himself standing on top of it, his feet tempted by the edge.
Quills | 69
Carter Rouleau | Grade 12
nticipation builds deep within his soul. His skin is armor, a powerful shield against the biting cold
of the desolate night. The heavy stench of rotten wood stabs at his nostrils. His powerful arms and chest glisten red, the inevitability of the sacrificial ritual he has just performed. Before him lies the victim of his ceremony. Gasping her final breath, her eyes meet those of her captor. In that moment, she sees the energy and pleasure alight in his piercing blue eyes. A crimson pool forms upon the rutted ground. It grows with every second, slowly covering his bare feet. Mercifully, her world turns black.
He is alone. This experience is foreign to him. He has never been alone.
She had always been with him. He cannot remember the first time she spoke to him. He often wondered why she came into his life. Was it destiny? Was it predetermined? He will never know. In times of trouble, times of indecision, she had been there for him, guiding him. When she spoke, he listened. She had been wise. She had seen the new ways of the world, shone light into the darkest caverns of his confusion. She had chosen him, as he had learned to accept her. Others could never perceive her divine influence. Even the men whom he considered to be his closest companions turned their backs on the two of them. They were alone, cast aside by society, yet he remained faithful, despite the alienation she had induced. Her influence was strong. She had shown him a different side of the world. A powerful side. A hateful side. Now, he was ready. He no longer needed her guidance.
Tonight, she had foretold, would be a night of great importance. As he 70
stands now before the decrepit framework of brick and wood, he is confident in her prediction. He is waiting. She had never before led him astray. Some time ago, the sun had begun its retreat. Sliding below the rooftop of the buildingâ€”the lone structure dominating the clearing in which he standsâ€”its deep crimson rays are blocked out by the hulking form.
As he takes in his surroundings, he is impressed by his own sense of
calm. His breathing is slow, controlled, mechanical. His skin is glass, perfectly smooth despite the piercing cold of the night. His terrible blue eyes are unmoving. She had prepared him for this. This crumbling construction has been deserted for over fifty years. Any mere mortal would be terrified if he were to find himself within one hundred feet of this godforsaken place, but this man is no mere mortal. Over the past year, she had been with him constantly. So much, it seemed, that they had become one. Together, they became much, much more than any one man could ever hope to be. A gust of wind rattles through the dead, overgrown ivy, which, in its youth, hungrily consumed nearly every inch of wall available to it. Its gnarled limbs reach out towards him, wizened hands, beckoning him inside. As the wind plays through the brittle wood, a branch, no longer able to support its lifeless weight, detaches with an earsplitting crack. It hangs for a moment, lifted only by the cushion of air, then falls. Its journey is short-lived, and it shatters instantly upon reaching the ground. Shards of bark fill the air, brushing against the bare skin of his arms and chest. The wood is rough, the touch chilling.
The wind blows with vengeance now. It whistles a frightening tune as it
whips through the expanse of the dell. The two great Oaks on either side of the doorway bend to its might, being forced to an impossible angle, the uppermost branches scratching at the uneven, mossy earth. The lonesome shriek of an owl overshadows the howl of the wind. The macabre note reverberates in the very depths of his soul. Never before has he perceived such a dreadful quality in a sound. As the last echo of the cry fades away, the wind seems to retreat with it. Suddenly, the entire world is still. The Oaks, having submitted to the fearsome Quills | 71
power of the gale, do not straighten. They remain bent, broken, mercilessly beat down by the unrelenting wind.
Night hangs heavy, the moon and starsâ€™ feeble attempts to shine through
the muddied sky are thwarted, and the great celestial canvas of the universe is unable to break through the barricade of fog that stretches endlessly across the heavens. The owl screeches again, the sound much louder than before, cutting effortlessly through the dense air. The second call. The time has come. He kneels, his head bowed, eyes closed. With blood-stained hands, he reaches towards the limp form before him. The rippling muscles of his shoulders and back show no strain as he gently lifts her body. Carrying her tenderly in his arms, he begins to traipse towards the empty archway, his feet pressing gently against the uneven ground, leaving a trail of red footprints behind him.
The Painter’s Daughter Sama Anvari | Grade 12
lisa had always loved to watch her father paint. Her earliest memories were of sitting at the foot of his
bench as he worked, his familiar smoke and turpentine smell curling into her nostrils. She would watch, transfixed, as a flurry of seemingly random brushstrokes became a landscape or a portrait, her own small canvas and brush lying forgotten on the floor beside her. Her father painted as if the art were already asleep within the canvas, and it was his job to awaken it.
Elisa’s mother had died in childbirth, so most of her childhood was
spent in the studio with her father. The studio was a long room with dust-grey walls and three small, square windows. Canvases and easels lined the walls like old friends, and the air smelled permanently of paint. When she was small, she would sit by his feet as he taught her about light and color, his deep voice a soothing lullaby. Once, when she was eight, she had dashed blue paint up the side of one of his paintings in a desperate attempt to prove her merit as an artist. Trembling with fear, she had held her breath as he silently appraised the canvas. Then, his face crinkled into a smile, his green eyes twinkling. “How did you know?” he had said. “That was exactly what it needed.” She had exhaled with relief. He had touched her cheek with a warm, rough hand, and pressed a paintbrush into her palm. “You’ve finished the painting for me, my dear. Now you must sign it.”
She had written her name with shaking hands below his elegantly loop-
ing signature, so that the corner read “Dante and Elisa.” The landscape, which Quills | 73
depicted the town at dusk, had fetched a high price—its buyer had loved the spontaneity of the blue stripe. Elisa did not share her father’s gift for painting, but, occasionally, when he wasn’t satisfied with a painting, she would ‘finish’ it with a splash of color, signing her name below his in her small, curling script. ***
Elisa flew down the stairs in a flurry of brightly coloured skirts and
long, dark hair. Dante looked up from his seat at the breakfast table as she skidded across the worn, wooden floor. She stopped abruptly with her hands resting on the back of the chair across from him, wearing a radiant smile. The kitchen was small and painted pale yellow, with rough-hewn wooden furniture and a large window to let the light in. As she stood bathed in morning sunshine, Elisa’s youth and vitality were almost tangible, a shimmering aura that dipped her curls in gold and danced in her eyes.
“I’m going into town today, Father,” she told him. He gazed at her with
the green eyes they shared, chewing thoughtfully. “The town masquerade is next week, and I’d like to get something new.” Her father still said nothing; under his scrutiny, Elisa felt self-conscious, as if he were appraising her maturity. She was nearly eighteen, but sometimes he treated her as if she were spun from glass. She poured herself some tea and hastily cut a slice of bread to keep her hands busy, hiding the way they trembled in anticipation of a refusal. “May I have some money? Please, I don’t need much.” He continued to look at her. Elisa drew herself up solemnly and met his eyes. He sighed, his lips quirking into a reluctant smile.
“You may, my dear. Be careful, and get yourself something nice.” She
squealed with delight, twirling around the table to plant a kiss on his leathery cheek before taking the money he handed her.
“Thank you so much,” she said over her shoulder as she headed for
the door, her breakfast forgotten. Dante smiled into his teacup, but he couldn’t ignore the sudden tightness in his chest as he watched her leave. 74
Elisa breathed deeply as she walked towards the town square, her skirt
whispering over the cobblestones. It was early spring; the scent of new flowers perfumed the air with a gentle spice, like diffused cinnamon. The sky was a deep, welcoming blue—azure, her father would call it—and silver-white clouds glided across it lazily like puffs of smoke coiling from a pipe. Sunlight caressed her cheeks and played through her hair, filling her with warmth. The road was long and straight, twisting loosely though rows of stone houses—Elisa had never walked it alone before. Yet, she knew it intimately: knew where forget-me-nots poked shyly through cracks in the stones, when the path curved, who lived in the house with the tiny garden and the overflowing clothesline.
She heard the market before she saw it, its characteristic hum punctu-
ated by the occasional laugh. Someone had already begun decorating the square for the masquerade; the red and purple ribbons that were wrapped around signposts danced in the breeze. The market itself was a patchwork of brightly colored booths, selling bread and candles and everything in between. People moved between them like bees in a multicolored hive, and Elisa realized she was holding her breath. She inhaled, savoring the salty aroma of roasting meat as she wove between the stalls.
She was picking out a new mask when she noticed him. He stood apart
from the crowd, leaning against the wall in the shade of an awning, watching her. When she met his gaze, he grinned and beckoned her over with a fingertip. She set the mask—white and edged with tiny seed pearls—back on its stand, and strode towards him, her features arranged in what she hoped was a disgruntled, yet attractive expression.
“Didn’t your mother ever teach you that it isn’t polite to stare?” she
called, wincing internally at the girlish tremor in her voice. He took a step towards her and into the sun; he was tall, with finely carved features and black eyes that twinkled mischievously. His face reminded her of her father’s knife, a dagger whose hilt was carved with flowers that had been passed down in his family for Quills | 75
generations: beautiful, but sharp.
“I am sorry,” he said, not sounding sorry at all. “You look so lovely in
teal that I couldn’t help myself.” She blushed and looked at her shoes. “I don’t think we’ve ever met before. What’s your name?”
“Elisa.” She looked up at him through her eyelashes, unconsciously
winding a lock of hair around her fingertip and attempting an alluring smile. “And yours?”
“Leonardo.” He grimaced, as if the name tasted bitter. “Old fashioned,
isn’t it? My friends call me Leo.”
Her lips curled. “Am I a friend?” A slow grin spread across his face like
watercolors seeping into paper. He walked towards her until they were inches apart.
“We could be.” He bent his face towards her and, despite herself, her
eyelids fluttered closed. “Meet me by the clock tower an hour before midnight,” he whispered. She could hear his smile in the way the words curved into her ear. She kept her eyes closed until he had walked past her and was swallowed by the crowd, a little smile playing on her lips. ***
The stars had always enchanted Dante. Whenever he had money to use
for himself, he bought astronomy books. His favourite was a huge, leather-bound tome that illustrated the constellations and discussed the mythology behind them. As a young man, he had stayed up well into the night to witness the heavens spin around him, to track the moon’s slow pilgrimage across the sky.
Dante ignored the way the window seat made his back ache, or the
tiredness that seeped into his bones and weighed his eyelids down. Now, watching the stars was an escape, the only way that he could forget that every night Elisa’s bed was still perfectly made, that her shoes never failed to disappear from the front hall. It helped him to ignore the door creaking open at dawn, and the footsteps up the stairs that weren’t quiet enough.
During the day, the sky appeared whole—a clear, endless expanse of 76
blue glass. Dante now knew that this was a lie. Night showed the truth, with starlight shining through every little hole and crack. ***
Elisa had only seen her father destroy one painting. Usually, if he didn’t
like the way a piece of artwork had turned out, he would sigh and sign the corner anyway. “Just because it isn’t what I imagined doesn’t make it worthless,” he would say, more to himself than to her. Personally, Elisa thought everything he created was beautiful, but he was too humble to listen.
Once, however, she had wandered into the studio and caught him
angrily slashing at a painting. She took a step forward, unsure of what to do. His shoulders shook, and she realized with horror that he was sobbing. Through the mumbled curses, she caught the words “forgotten” and “so sorry.” She was closer to her father than she was to anyone, and yet she felt like a stranger as she backed out of the studio, leaving him alone.
She was eleven then, but despite the torn canvas she knew enough to
recognize the face in the shredded portrait. It was her mother’s. ***
On the night of the masquerade, Dante took his opportunity to follow
Elisa. He knew that there must be a boy; he had been young once, and recognized midnight’s sirens’ call to young lovers. A fist clenched around his heart as he watched his daughter get ready. Her dark hair was braided elaborately and piled onto her head like a crown, and her mask was white and edged with feathers.
“How do I look?” she asked him. He said nothing, words catching in his
throat. She smoothed her skirt down with anxious hands. “Is it too much? I was worried about the colour—“
“No, my dear. You look beautiful.” Too beautiful. Watching her leave,
alone and unprotected, was torture.
He waited for five minutes before slipping into the night after her, a
dark blue mask obscuring his features. The moon was nearly full, a glowing eye Quills | 77
that observed him as he followed her into the crowd. Masked townsfolk filled the square, and the air was alive with laughter and the reedy trill of music. Dante waited in the shadows, watching as a tall young man in black approached Elisa. The boy took her hand and kissed it; her smile shone brighter than the fairy lights woven through the tree branches overhead.
Dante watched from the shadows as they danced. He saw the boy whis-
per something to Elisa, who nodded and smiled again. The boy melted into the throng. Curious, Dante followed him, making sure he stayed out of sight. Dread pressed cold hands against his chest as he followed the boy into an alleyway far from where Elisa stood, alone. He saw fragments, broken images, in the darkness. An abandoned mask. A red skirt. The boy, with his arms around someone. Someone who wasn’t his daughter.
Dante couldn’t breathe. He spun on his heel and tore through the
crowd, desperate to find Elisa. Mercifully, she still stood where the boy had left her. She had taken off her mask, and her eyes widened in surprise as he seized her forearm and pulled her after him. “We’re leaving,” he told her through clenched teeth.
“What are you doing?” she demanded, her voice shrill. She struggled
against his grip on her arm, digging in her heels. “Father, stop! What are you doing? You’re scaring me!”
He spun around, rage and dread blurring into some unidentifiable
emotion. “Who is he, Elisa?” he asked, his voice deadly quiet. She bit her lip, grinding the toe of her shoe into the dirt.
Leo,” she half-whispered, not meeting his eyes. “Father, I was going to
“You are never to see him again!” he roared. She flinched away from
him as if she’d been burned, her mouth falling open with horror.
“Father, you don’t understand,” she shrieked. “We’re in love! He told
me we’re going to get married soon.” He laughed; it was a low, bitter sound.
“You stupid, foolish girl. You have no idea what he’s really like.” He 78
barely recognized this harsh, lifeless voice as his own. “I forbid you to see him again. He’s dead to you.”
Her face seemed to close, fury stilling her features until her expression
was blank—a beautiful, horrible mask. She yanked her arm from his grasp with a strength that surprised him and stormed off, leaving him to watch, helpless, as she was swallowed by the ravenous dark. ***
It was after midnight when Elisa slowly climbed the stairs to her father’s
studio, her body trembling with rage. Her father was so selfish, so terrible. She pictured the look on his face when she left; suddenly his worn features, as familiar as her own, were monstrous, grotesque. He did not love her, and she felt her heart chill with this realization. It was mere lead in her chest now, every pulse filling her veins with ice.
The door creaked plaintively as she opened it, as if it could read her
thoughts. If her father thought he could control her, she thought bitterly, he was mistaken. He would not suspect that she had it in her to destroy his masterpiece, his most precious piece of work. He did not know her new, cold heart.
Her footsteps were silent as she approached the canvas, her fingers clos-
ing around the knife—his knife. She gripped the hilt so tightly that the carved flowers bit into her hand, a final plea for her to stop and reconsider—but she was beyond that now. She knew that there was no going back. Her father would never forgive her for what she was about to do. ***
Dante slept fitfully that night. Every time he closed his eyes, he saw
Elisa, her face contorted by fear and anger. Those awful, awful words he had spoken echoed against his skull like a terrible heartbeat. Nightmares plagued him, causing him to thrash and call out, the thin cotton blanket tangling around his limbs like the tentacles of a sea monster. He awoke drenched in sweat, and ran his fingers through his damp hair in a frantic attempt to calm his nerves. He had not heard Elisa come home, but that did not mean she would never return. Quills | 79
She was his daughter—perhaps she was angry now, but she would forgive him. That was the way of family; he just needed to give her space.
When the first sunlight trailed its pale fingertips along the edge of his
bed, Dante gave up on sleep altogether. He sat by the window, watching as the sun emerged and bled into the clouds, staining them orange and pale pink. The town seemed to glow, the golden haze of morning enveloping the silhouettes of buildings in a halo of light. Suddenly inspired, he dressed quickly and climbed the stairs to the studio. When Elisa returned, he would surprise her with a painting. She had always loved to watch sunrises—he had taught her to love them, as he had taught her so many things.
Dante was surprised to find the door to the studio ajar. Perhaps it had
been carelessness on his part—he had certainly been distracted lately. The room was dark, cold. The rows of canvases no longer seemed welcoming, their shadows looming over him like strangers. He blinked and shook himself, striding purposefully to the back of the room in an attempt to ignore the sense of foreboding that was a weight in his stomach.
His most recent landscape stood propped against the wall, an island
in a sea of easels and paint bottles. Dante noticed a spattering of red paint in the corner that had not been there before. He felt lighter then—Elisa must have forgiven him if she had taken up their old tradition of accenting his work with her own.
Dante exhaled, a small smile playing on his lips as he berated himself
for his earlier paranoia. He stepped gingerly over the edge of one of Elisa’s cloaks as he approached the canvas; he would have to speak to her about leaving a mess when she returned. It was only after he took a few more steps that he noticed the knife.
The mark on the canvas was not paint.
P.S., It’s Me Nicole Arski | Grade 11
ou thought he was gone; the touch of his lips just whisperings upon your mouth as the sunlight
streams down on the empty and cold space beside you. But wait! There he was— the sheets stained with the scent of his cologne.
His warmth is captured in the long woolly sweater of his that you pull
tenderly over your head. His laugh is found in the brass bells swinging in the wind on the porch, and your favourite mug is still marked with his coffee-stained lips.
The air dances upon your skin like his fingertips, the red roses in the
garden reminding you of the way he painted your cheeks with their vivid color as compliments slipped from his tongue.
Though the piano keys lay abandoned without him, you swear the
ivories play a tune of their own through your wistful breath and sighs.
There were his eyes! Captured in the golden dawn of the sunset. And
maybe the sterling rimmed photographs reminded you of when you first met, and the creak on the third step brought you back to the times he’d bustle around it with no avail. The shadows cast on the walls seem to take his shape, and his smile is hidden everywhere—even the sad one in your mirror’s reflection.
You trail your fingers restlessly across every surface, searching for some-
thing—someone—who is not there. But everything in this lonely house continues to whisper his name and urges you to keep waiting, waiting, waiting.
Quills | 81
As Always Quinn Kennedy | Grade 12
t is the sound of dripping water that wakes me up, as always. The sound is what wakes me, but it is the cold,
uncaring rocks of the cave’s floor digging into my body that force me to move. Once I am awake and moving, it takes me a moment to find my bearings. It is dark down here. Always dark. The only light is a faint blue glow, given off by the strange vegetation that grows around the circumference of the cave. My eyes grown become accustomed to the unearthly blue tinge that the cave—my world—is bathed in. I would pay any price to see sunlight one more time. To feel its warmth on my skin. To feel something besides dampness and cold.
I begin to traverse the terrain of the cave floor, worn smooth as glass
by my footsteps. A stagnant, damp smell permeates the air. I have never been able to get used to that smell. There is something strange about it, some ancient, alien quality that I can’t describe. Occasionally I walk through the puddles of perfectly still murky water that form randomly throughout the cave. I hardly notice when I do anymore. I walk across the cave and back again, as I have done every day for who knows how long. There is nothing to do but walk. Walk and think.
There is only one place in the cave that I don’t dare to go. Cut into the
stone walls of the cave is the mouth of a tunnel. The air grows colder as you approach it. The ancient damp smell radiates out from it. A terrible sense of foreboding and a crawling darkness seep from its mouth. And there are bones, ivory white bones, littering the path of the tunnel for as far back as you can see; 82
they are lighthouses in a sea of darkness, warding off the curious. The tunnel is apparently the only way out, but I wonâ€™t explore it. I donâ€™t think I could bear to face the horrors that must dwell in that creeping darkness.
I often think about why I am in this cave, what purpose my being here
could possibly serve. I think I might be in hell. That this cave is a punishment for what I have done in a life I no longer remember. I must have done something truly awful to deserve this fate. To be left down here in the dark forever.
I am pondering this very possibility when, from the corner of my eye,
I notice something new is happening. Movement in the tunnel. I look into its murky depths, and the darkness seems to swirl, like a curtain blown by a gentle breeze. I walk towards it, drawn to its hypnotic pull like a moth to a flame. For the first time, I step into the tunnel, into the unknown. The darkness in the tunnel is oppressive, crushing me on all sides. The hypnotizing pull of the swirling dark is gone, leaving me alone and disoriented in the tunnel. With no other options, I continue to walk to wherever the tunnel leads. The further I go, the faster my pace becomes. As my walk becomes a run, I realize something is wrong. My body begins to fail me. The first thing to go are my legsâ€”they lose all feeling. The warm numbing sensation of paralysis then begins in my arms and spreads to the rest of my body. I drop to the floor of the tunnel, not feeling the jagged cut open on my cheek or the warm pool of blood that spills from it. As I lay there, powerless to move, I hear the footsteps. The footsteps give off a wet rotted sound. Some sort of unimaginable monstrosity dwelled in that horrible dark, shambling towards me. For the first time in a long time, something stirred in my chest. Fear, a buzzing, maddening fear, screaming through my body louder and louder as the shambling grows closer. The fear rips through my body, and for a moment, I feel beautifully, wonderfully, alive. And as the monstrosity stands before my lifeless body, the sight of it driving me into the exquisite depths of insanity, the world falls away.
It is the sound of dripping water that wakes me up, as always. Quills | 83
The Hurricane Corrina Mosca | Grade 12
he train was dead quiet, save for the measured ticking of Nick’s wristwatch. He glanced out the
window, hoping to see some sign of motion on the deserted platform below him. He watched as the barren maple trees around the station surrendered themselves to the icy November winds, their limbs waving frantically in the air. Nick sat back in his seat and firmly shut his eyes, trying to ignore the peculiar ballet being performed outside.
Grace’s face was the first image to appear in his mind. The delicate
curves of her jawline swam before him as he drowned in the overwhelming memory of her. He yearned to trace the high arches of her cheekbones, to lose himself in the lush green of her eyes, to trail kisses down the slender bridge of her nose. Most of all, he ached to run his fingers through her unruly auburn hair once more, remembering how the curls had flowed like spun silk between his fingers.
Nick clutched at the padding of his seat as a haunting memory twisted
his thoughts. He was gripped by the remembrance of himself hunched over Grace’s body, weeping despairingly, as if all the world’s beauty had come to an end. Her lovely hair was splayed around her face, red as the blood that pooled on the floor beneath her naked figure.
Nick’s eyes shot open. He violently shook his head, trying to scrub the
indelible image from his mind. His heart raced as his hands fumbled around in his pockets, hunting for Grace’s wedding band.
The pounding of his heart slowed as his fingers grazed the smooth edge 84
of the ring. He held it gently in his sweaty, shaking palm, and ran the flesh of his thumb over its untarnished surface. He had taken to carrying it around after the incident, a desperate attempt to keep a piece of her with him. He pocketed the small, golden circle, a tangible, infinite promise that could not be broken.
Nick checked his wristwatch anxiously. The train would be departing
shortly. He’d be at his brother’s house soon, safe from the violent storm that surrounded the end of his marriage. He turned back to the window and felt the blood drain from his face as his eyes began to focus. As if in a dream, he saw Grace standing on the platform, her curly, red hair whipping around her face in the wind. ***
Grace was a hurricane. She had blown into Nick’s life quickly, com-
pletely obliterating the importance of everything that had come before her. She was impulsive, wild, and unattached, everything that Nick was not. They had met in their late twenties. At this time, Grace had been employed as a secretary at the architectural firm that Nick worked for. He’s had to stay late the night that she’d made her advance, drawing up last-minute blueprints for a new set of law offices. He was sitting at his desk, sketching feverishly, when she approached.
“Nick,” she breathed, her lips inches from his ear.
“Yes?” He’d replied distractedly, turning around. He nearly fell off of
his chair; he was utterly stunned by the harshness of her beauty. A long mane of wild, crimson hair fell across one of her eyes and down to her waist, an unruly curtain that she concealed herself behind.
A coy smile played at her full lips. “I’ve been watching you for a while,”
she’d confessed, grinning down at him. “I’m Grace.”
He squinted up at her, feeling as if he was staring directly into the sun.
The blood rushed to his cheeks as he struggled to form a reply. He found himself ensnared by her beauty. The sweet scent of her floral perfume snaked its way into his nostrils and drew him closer to her. He was caught hopelessly under her Quills | 85
spell. She leaned over him, her hair draping over his shoulder, and slipped a small card into his front pocket. “Call me,” she whispered. She flashed him her dazzling smile once more as she walked away. ***
Nick needed to get her attention. He pounded his fists against the
window, hoping desperately to catch her eye. He shouted her name and beat the glass, only managing to attract the attention of the few other passengers in the train compartment. Grace overlooked him, distracted by something further down the platform. Suddenly, a metallic voice spewed from the speakers above his head.
“All passengers, please return to your designated cars. The train will be
Nick scrambled to gather his possessions and dashed towards the front
of the car, clambering to reach the doors in time. He heard a small clattering noise as he ran towards the exit, and stopped briefly to see what it was. Grace’s ring had fallen from his pocket and was about to roll under a seat.
He knew he couldn’t leave the ring behind; it was all he had left of her.
He dropped all of his belongings and crashed to the floor, frantically searching for the slender, gold band against the horrid geometric print of the carpet. *** Nick’s love for Grace was all consuming. She opened his timid eyes to a whole new world, one filled with adventure and spontaneity. Grace encouraged him to travel the world with her, and together, the two had experienced the boundless splendor that the different cultures of the planet could provide.
It was on one of these trips that Grace had proposed to Nick. The two
of them were walking down the Las Vegas strip, studying the strange tourists that passed. An older couple in matching floral-print shirts hobbled by, smiling at each other affectionately as they strolled down the strip.
“That’s going to be us one day,” Grace prophesized, smiling lovingly at 86
“I’d like to think we’ll have more fashion sense than that when we’re
sixty,” Nick teased, nudging her playfully.
“I love you,” she said, a serious look taking shape on her face. She
turned to him suddenly. “Let’s get married. Now.”
“Now?” Nick said, expecting this impulsive idea of hers to fizzle out like
the rest of them had. The week before, she had suggested they go to Hawaii to get SCUBA certified. They had made it as far as the boat ride out to a live coral reef before she balked, suddenly remembering her fear of deep water.
“Now.” She replied, tugging at his hand. She steered him towards a
small, strange looking building on the side of the road. A sign on the worn, white brick of the building read The Little White Wedding Chapel.
Nick laughed and embraced her, excitement fluttering in his chest. “I
love you,” he murmured, completely delighted by their spur-of-the-moment decision. He loved the recklessness she displayed almost as much as he loved the idea that she belonged to him; she was a force of nature that he had tamed for himself. ***
The gleam of the ring caught his eye just as the metallic voice came
back over the intercom.
“The doors are now closing. Please stand clear of the doors,” the voice
Nick slipped the band into his pocket and rocketed towards the exit,
hoping to God that he could still get off of the train. He could see Grace directly ahead of him, daydreaming with that foggy look she always adopted when she was deep in thought. ***
Over the course of their marriage, Grace became a stranger to Nick.
She was nothing like the carefree, exultant woman he had once known; as she aged, she fell into a deep depression. The dazzling smile that had once rendered Quills | 87
Nick speechless was replaced by a hazy, blank look. Grace no longer yearned to travel the world, or to even leave the house: her days were spent in bed. He hoped this despair was just the eye of the electrifying, breathtaking storm that was his wife, a minor break from her wild nature.
As her depression worsened, Nick began to notice small cuts on Grace’s
wrists. The sight of the thin, bloody lines profoundly worried him. After one trepidatious and sleepless night, Nick confronted her. “Grace,” he whispered, rousing her from a deep sleep. She opened her eyes and stared at him confoundedly, her mouth molded into an indignant scowl. Her hair was matted against her head, the mark of a restless sleep. He wrapped his arms around her. “Baby, there’s something I need to talk to you about,” he confessed. He turned over one of her wrists and ran the flesh of his thumb along the fresh scars. He stared into her troubled, green eyes. “How did you get these?” He asked. She tore her hands out of his and rolled over on the bed. “I fell and scraped my wrists last night,” she offered. “I’m fine.” Nick got out of bed and stood above her. “Grace,” he said, “we need to address this. Either you tell me what’s going on with you, or we’ll visit a doctor who will.” “You wouldn’t understand,” she screamed. “Nobody understands!” She pushed him out of her way, rushing to the washroom. Nick heard water running into the bathtub. He sat on the bed, listening to her sob, while he deliberated his next move. Suddenly, Grace’s weeping stopped. Worried, he walked over to the bathroom door and tried the handle. It was locked. “Baby,” he tried, “let me in. Help me understand.” He wriggled the doorknob, hoping the lock would pop open. “Grace. I’m not asking anymore. Open the door!” He yelled, desperate to reach her. He heard her choke out a muffled cry. As he listened, he noticed clouded, ruddy water pooling at his feet. With this, Nick slammed his full weight into the door, busting the lock. 88
As the door swung open, Nick was met with a vast sea of red. Grace lay in the bathtub, the water stained crimson. The tap was still running, causing the bloodied liquid to spill out over the lip of the bathtub. He screamed and ran to her, lifting her out of the tainted water. He laid her naked body down on the floor and hovered over her, his tears mixing with the blood that pooled beneath her. ***
Nick was sprinting towards the exit, his belongings long forgotten on
the ground. As the doors slammed shut, he pressed his hands against the glass and stared longingly at Grace. He felt his body relax, immediately calmed by the mere sight of her. He then watched, confused, as a young boy with vibrant, red hair tottered up to her and wrapped his arms around her legs. Grace smiled down at the small child and lifted him up to her chest. The child slumped his head against her shoulder and sucked his thumb contentedly, intoxicated by her presence. Nickâ€™s confusion turned to irritation as a tall, classically handsome man joined them, smiling as he kissed the young boyâ€™s head. Grace looked up at him, her green eyes glowing with overwhelming love. Unbearable grief overcame Nick with the realization that this woman was not his wife. He began to sob as he watched the young family embrace. Emptiness seized him as the train began to heave itself down the tracks. He watched the wind roughhouse with the trees outside, his hurricane tearing away from him once more.
Quills | 89
Stream of Consciousness Jared Levinson | Grade 11
n an unprotected slumber, working its way through the grey folds of skin, I’d like to imagine fluttering down
over his eyes like silvery butterfly wings, never able to open them again;
silvering wings fragmenting and scattering like fish scales flung into
a tidal wave, above the clouds, disappearing into the world like a whisper—a pushing hand—slipping through words as easy as palmed prisms of salt slip through fingers, shimmering, raining, confused, and no matter how spectacular, forever unable to brace their fall, down through the silver—the fish scales—and into oblivion. Living right up to the hit, and not waking this time—never waking—but sleeping right through it: the slamming into the ground, the pounding, the bounce. The realization of what sleep has just now delivered, that bloody handmaiden, her toiling fingers wet with boiling deformation, oozing in the mutilations of labor: heartless and unholy, black with afterbirth.
Rebecca Serena, Grade 12 90
Non Fiction Quills | 91
The Keys to Freedom Carter Rouleau, Grade 12
My parents were never much for taking pictures. In all of the planning,
packing, and last minute panic of family trips, our camera was the one thing that never seemed to make it into a bag. Perhaps it was due to a lack of interest in photography, or perhaps they simply managed to forget it every summer. Either way, there is a lack of polaroid proof of family events and milestones in our photo albums, most of which were purchased optimistically in the 90’s, hoping one day to be filled with the chronological progression of the quintessential young family. Instead, the photos sit upon the same dusty shelf, as untouched as they ever were. Although the lens has not captured my childhood, my memory has never failed to. As I turn the pages of my mental photo albums, I am often reminded of the boy attending his first piano lesson. His young, innocent smile, his overzealousness and his Speed Racer t-shirt appear as clear as they were on that day ten years ago. Looking back, it is difficult—yet so easy—to remember this boy and his first time playing the piano. It is often that this memory plays in my brain. It is one of the happiest of my life and, as I recall, happened something like this:
Walking through leviathan hallways, the young and eager boy final-
ly comes across Room 1102 of the local public high school. Steeling himself, he enters the room without waiting for his teacher or his mother. Before him, the expanse of the unlit classroom stretches seems to stretch for miles. A quick glance and he becomes cognizant of the black piano standing against the far wall. As the sweat beads on his brow, he locates the light switch to his right and his finger gently caresses the hard plastic. An audible click echoes through the room, followed by a blast of light from the halogen bulbs set into the ceiling. He suddenly feels horribly exposed. Had anyone seen? No. He takes a deep, reassuring breath and begins his journey across the room. Each contact between his feet 92
and the ground seems to ring out with the sound of a thousand drums beating in unison. The bright neon green and red bulbs of his light-up sneakers penetrate the dry, still air of the room, threatening to catch the eye of the passers-by on the other side of the door with its two glass windows. Step after step, he proceeds cautiously, reaching and passing through the center of the room. After what seems like an eternity, he finally reaches the piano at the far side of the room. A swift glance about himself reassures him that he is indeed alone. With a great effort, he hauls himself atop the bench before him. Finally, he relaxes and gazes inquisitively at the instrument. A sea of pristine white and black spreads out beyond his fingertips. He reaches towards the pedals; his legs, dangling a foot off the ground, are shaking with nervous energy. Slowly, ever so slowly, he lowers his fingers to the ivory keys, his clammy skin brushing gently against the cold, hard surface. Like a blind man seeing for the first time, he presses down, and is met with a cacophony of clashing notes. Unperturbed, and with the worries of being discovered behind him, he releases the keys and makes a second attempt. Again, he is met with an unpleasant jumble of sound. Determined to find the right notes, he tries again and again, until he is rewarded with the sweet, soothing sound of a major chord. The feeling is one of pure elation and fulfillment. Fulfillment of a seven-year quest that has finally been achieved. Much as Holden set out to find for himself a purpose and reason, the young boy of seven set out to find and play his piano, his McGuffin, that which he had journeyed long and hard to find.
Ten years later, this boy has become a gawky high school senior with a
passion for science and a chronic awkwardness in social situations. This is likely attributed to any number of things, most of which should not be divulged in any non-professional situation. However, one possibility is that, given the choice, he would much rather be at home sitting at his piano than stumbling through the labyrinth of societal customs that has become known as â€œhanging outâ€?. Whether it was through a God-given passion, or the many childhood hours, his piano has become his safe place, his outlet, where all the dayâ€™s hardships can be poured Quills | 93
out into his black-and-white confession box. While the boy of the past in the Speed Racer shirt did not likely share this view on the piano, it is clear that his excitement for the instrument has been a major influence on the young man of the present. To this day, he feels the same delight as the boy did before him each time he sits down to play. In that moment before the first note is struck, his freedom knows no bounds. He and his instrument are one, in as perfect harmony as the notes of the major chord.
Outsiders to October Sarah Gnocato | Grade 12
Four people look carefree: a foreign concept nowadays, but not com-
pletely strange. I recognize it, probably too vividly. “All right, everyone smile, let’s get this before the sun sets.” Snap. “Michael, come on, you actually have to smile.” Snap. I feel something shaking my head as it rests on my Dad’s stomach. His laughter. He’s not just amused, he is genuinely giddy, and his laugh fills his belly and rumbles up through his throat. I feel a smile spread across my face, warmth, like the setting sun on the apple trees.
Dad’s shirt, the one my brother now wears, is sandpaper on my cheek,
masking his gentle demeanor beneath it. Was it a shield, a defense against my Mom’s harsh words that still hung bitterly in the sweet air? The concealment of his compassionate nature is now evident in my brother, and they both wear that shirt like armor against a harsh world. The smooth pumpkin is familiar in my young hands, and I cannot help but smile as I study the photo and notice Quills | 95
another tiny pumpkin clenched in my firm grip. It’s my favourite every year, the underdog, the one nobody wants; I felt like I was saving it. It was juvenile independence. It was my own.
It smells like fallen leaves, and tastes like apples: sweet, followed by a
bitter aftertaste. I can hear a deep humming in the midst of a silent evening. The fifth family member, my sister, is behind the lens, playing photographer. My smile is broader because of this: knowing she was missing out on a close family moment; knowing that, for just a minute, I was Daddy’s little girl. I wince at the naivety of my own appearance, regretting that one day, that curse of jealousy would push my sister away.
My eyes scan and stop at Mom, whose eyes sing, “home,” but whose
smile reads, “fake.” She is the only one who carries the shadows: the hint of imperfection, the falter. Without it, the fight from earlier that day would have seemed to evaporate in the sunset, but it still poisons the crisp air. Her forced smile erases time and it all comes back. The throwing of kitchen utensils, Dad’s car engine roaring to life as he sped away, salty tears on my sister’s soft pillow as we hid on her bed, trying and failing to ignore Mom’s resentful voice that followed Dad out the slamming door.
A mere two hours later we all stood in the pumpkin patch one street
over. No apologies, for fear of losing pride. The tension monopolizes the patch until it consumes the area, like the weeds threatening the pumpkins. The silence sounds like the rare family dinners we have now and feels like the cold, empty rooms in the home that once sheltered us all. The tautness was broken by a screen door swinging shut, and the appearance of an elderly man: Mr. Coverdale, an old friend my whole life. His face lit up, and relief swept over with the warm breath of blowing leaves. As pumpkins were selected and old memories exchanged, anger melted into the warm October afternoon. That was the last time we ever went to that pumpkin patch, and the last time I saw Mr. Coverdale smile. A year later we would drive past the overgrown field, and his widow would shy away from visitors. 96
Four people keep smiling back at me, blind to the precious moment
they share. I won’t see them all together again until a big holiday, and I have yet to see my Dad’s smile reappear in such an honest way. I remember the picture like I have been studying it forever. I remember the little girl, but I don’t know her. I remember October 9th, 2005. The day we all became outsiders.
Quills | 97
Daddy’s Little Girl Corrina Mosca, Grade 12
I have always been a self-proclaimed daddy’s girl. As a young child,
I absolutely worshiped my dad – I craved his attention more than the sugary sweets he would sneak for me when my mother wasn’t around. I respected, loved and adored him, and he never failed to occupy only the highest of pedestals in my mind.
Every Sunday morning of my childhood, I would wake up and race
downstairs to find my father reading The Hamilton Spectator. My little body would practically shake with excitement when I saw him seated at the kitchen table, armed with his favourite coffee mug and the business section of the newspaper. Unable to contain my delight, I would scurry over to the chair next to him. There, I was greeted with my dad’s familiar scent—a mixture of cigarette smoke, stale coffee, and his musky cologne.
As I climbed into my seat, my dad would hand me the Sunday funnies.
I couldn’t really understand their jokes, but the bright colours of the illustrations enchanted my young mind for hours on end. The best part of each Sunday 98
morning, however, was the little “good morning” kiss that my dad would give to me along with my comics. I remember the scrape of his whiskers on my face, and the way I would dissolve into a fit of giggles after receiving this customary peck on the lips.
This photograph captures one of these sacred Sunday mornings per-
fectly. At the moment my mother took this picture—she fancied herself as being a professional photographer—I am caught in the middle of a bout of laughter. I remember this moment perfectly. My dad gave me a quick kiss as I heard the whirr and click of my mother’s camera. My tiny, five-year-old fingers were dirtied with fresh ink from the newsprint, and I wiped them off on my favourite pink skirt as my mom placed a plate of fluffy blueberry pancakes on the table in front of me. My younger brother was restrained in his high chair, mindlessly babbling about the Cheerios he was eating in the way that most two-year-old children do.
In the twelve years that have passed since this photo was taken, our
family situation has changed drastically. We have mourned not only the loss of my father’s father, but also the loss of our family unit. However, throughout the violent tempest of changes that shook and ultimately destroyed us, the reverence I held for my dad remained constant.
My father stayed strong and resolute throughout this period of loss. He
was the unwavering pillar that my brother and I clung to desperately as the walls of our household crumbled. As I watched him trying his best to hold together the cracks in our family’s foundation, I was deeply inspired. The raw determination and strength that my dad possessed moved me to push through all of the adversity that I faced during the downfall of my parents’ marriage and the loss of normality in my everyday life.
My dad is my best friend, my role model, and my motivation to never
stop fighting for those that I care deeply for. He is truly a god among men; his resolve and power are much more than that of a mere mortal. I am truly blessed to be his daughter, and I will never take his affectionate and caring nature for granted. Quills | 99
A Thousand Shooting Stars Ago Megan Kamps, Grade 12
I find myself uncomfortably alone in the Math and Sciences wing.
With minutes to spare before Biology, and no errand to run, I instinctively reach for the smooth apple device in my backpack, employing a standard technique of young adults who would like to appear as if they have something to do. Not in the mood to respond to any communications, I visit the photo album of my phone; it has been a long time since we last saw each other. Half of my attention is directed at the images I am leisurely scrolling through, the other, less secure half searching for a friend to talk to among the students who brush by me on various quests. Then, I arrive at a snapshot that commands both halves of me. It is a photo taken by my mother, a photo of her daughter in the suggestively lit lobby of a Santa Monica Hotel. Her daughter is hours away from embarking on her first trip without her parents. The photo is of my motherâ€™s baby, her bags packed, counting down the minutes until she is to meet the rest of the students she will be travelling with this summer. It takes me a moment to find myself in this picture. I have to look carefully through the smile that is trying so hard to conceal the whispers of nervousness.
The shirt that I am wearing in this picture, owing to some miscommu-
nication at the Laundromat, never made it back from Indonesia. The version of myself captured by my motherâ€™s worried, unsteady hands did not find its way home either. This version of me is unsure how to juggle her two bags, believes herself under-packed, when the truth is the opposite. When this photo was taken, my sketchbook had not yet been blessed by the doodles and tic-tac-toe games of my host sisters. I had not yet played host to the lice that lived in their cocoa-coloured curls, and seven hours still seemed like a long flight. At the time of this photo, it was not my blonde hair and fair skin that drew stares, it was my crocs and socks combo that clashed with the dĂŠcor of the glitzy L.A. hotel lobby. 100
This photo was taken a thousand shooting stars ago.
This edition of me, who was already starting to miss her dog, could not
yet miss seeing the glittering ocean through cracks in the floor, could not yet miss being gently woken by the abstract sound that was a unification of a hundred singers of Adhan, voices rising with the sun. This version of me did not yet know how hard it would be to strip down and prepare my experiences from the summer into neat little stories to tell my friends and family. Because how could this girl foresee what a beautifully raw, sublime knot of an adventure she was on the brink of ? This girl did not know how much she could feel.
I peer intently into my screen and return to the moment immortalized
by this image. My carabineers jingled softly on my backpack as I set it down to hug my mother. This was before they had wandered away quietly, one by one, on their own adventures in Jakarta, BauBau, and Masihulan. My motherâ€™s anxiousness is evident in the smell of cigarettes that decorate our embrace. Her maternal anxiety gives away her secret knowledge of the impermanence of the girl in the photo.
Quills | 101
Moving Day Noah Spencer | Grade 12
On Marked Tree Road, sunlight dappled through the canopy of
towering trees, spawning checkerboards of light and shade in the neighbourhood below. Birds sang freely here, their art uncompromised by the sounds of parking lots and shopping malls. Lawns sprawled from their houses, rolling smoothly into each other without the barriers of privacy fences. The houses that lined this street were traditional New England boxy colonials with large shutters. Their colours appeared in trios: a white house with red shutters and black trim, a blue house wi
On Marked Tree Road, sunlight dappled through the canopy of
towering trees, spawning checkerboards of light and shade in the neighbourhood below. Birds sang freely here, their art uncompromised by the sounds of parking lots and shopping malls. Lawns sprawled from their houses, rolling smoothly into each other without the barriers of privacy fences. The houses that lined this street were traditional New England boxy colonials with black shutters and white trim, a tan house with purple shutters and black trim, and so on. For a long time, one of these houses was my homeâ€Ś until it became someone elseâ€™s.
Moving Day was August 25, 2005. Coincidentally, it was the same day
that Hurricane Katrina would touch down in the southeastern US. Although that storm would soon become a tragedy, it was far down on my list of concerns when this photo was taken. I was far more afraid of our transition to life in a 102
new country, to a place where I knew no one—especially since I was coming from a town where everyone knew everyone. The circumstances that led to our departure from the US were both very straightforward and far too complex for me to understand at age nine. Simply put, when George W. Bush was re-elected, my parents decided it was time to take the “us” out of “USA”. I don’t remember the conversation during which my parents told me we were moving, just that there was a lot of crying involved. I can’t imagine that they could have accurately explained their reason for leaving the country to me then, because I can’t imagine that I would have understood. What I do remember is being very frustrated at my inability to comprehend why we were leaving our home in Holliston, Massachusetts, to move somewhere I had never even heard of: Hamilton, Ontario.
Being a nine-year-old, my frustration did not count for much, and soon
after that conversation took place, Moving Day had arrived. The box in front of me in this picture describes with an eerie accuracy exactly how I was feeling then: fragile. I didn’t feel tough enough to move away from my small hometown into the suburban sprawl that is Southern Ontario; to leave my friends, my house, my lifestyle. You can see that fragility in me in this photo; my fidgeting fingers, my bent legs, my watery eyes. The look on my face is questioning, seeming to ask the photographer, my mother, “Is this really happening?”
The answer, of course, was yes. It was really happening and in many
ways the move was the pivotal moment of my life. So much changed for me when we came to Canada, both externally and internally. I think that the mild adversity—though it seemed monumental at the time—I faced throughout my transition matured me more quickly. The move was when I truly started to embrace the role of a big brother. The first day at our new school, I guided my two younger siblings, my sister barely three years old, through halls that I’d only ventured through fleetingly weeks prior to the move. For the rest of the year, I served as their guardian while we tried to familiarize ourselves with our new habitat.
While I think that moving to Canada helped me to mature faster than Quills | 103
I would have had we stayed in the US, there are so many other outcomes that seem impossible to predict. Would I be a different person today had we stayed in Massachusetts? Would I have acquired my passion for music? Would I have lost my passion for sports? How would I be doing at school? Would I have grown uninterested with what my parents found to be an unchallenging curriculum, or would continuous success and approval have piqued my interest in certain subjects? What about socially? Would I be the quiet, reserved young adult I am today or would the minor adulation that comes with being somewhat athletic in a sports-crazed town have made my head bigger and my tongue looser? You could ask these questions endlessly, without reaching any answers.
So, while it may be entertaining to think about parallel universes, I
think it is far more useful for us human beings to simply live within our own: to accept the things that happen to us and use them to better ourselves; to accept that life is full of surprises and that that is what makes it worth living.
On Childhood and Cherries Sama Anvari | Grade 12
I have always liked looking through photo albums. Curled up in a
corner of the library, I have spent hours flipping through page after page of pictures, chuckling at unfortunate haircuts and waxing nostalgic over particularly vivid memories.
You, my sister in everything but blood, appear many times over the
years of birthday parties, vacations, and trips to the park on the corner of the street. We are captured together on swing-sets and in swimsuits, in laughter and in tears. Each picture has its own fingerprint, a uniquely patterned tile in the mosaic that is our friendship.
And yet, despite the fact that these snapshots are as abundant as grains
of sand, I find myself returning to one photograph. I clearly remember the birthday party during which it was taken. Held at my grandparentsâ€™ orchard, the air tasted of summer and the promise of presents hung in the air as thickly as the June humidity. Cherries, like plump red stars, dripped from trees that to a (newly-minted) four-year-old seemed impossibly high and held every manner of secrets. The orchard was an endless labyrinth of knotted trunks and unfamiliar Quills | 105
relatives, brimming with light and life. It was a perfect day.
Perfect, at least, until it was time to cut the cake. As the birthday girl, I
was given the first slice, and in my excitement ran back to my chair to eat it. This was a grave mistake: I have never been gifted with coordination and so seconds later, I lay sprawled on the ground with grass staining my dress and my cake upended in the dirt. Tears were inevitable, and persisted until my mother had cleaned me off and cut me another piece. After that, the memory becomes foggier, but I remember you being the one to cheer me up, in the way that you always could—and still do. Perhaps that’s why I like this picture so much. I look at it and I return to that day. I can feel the sun on my face, smell the sunscreen we were wearing, and remember the days when a hug from my best friend was enough to make everything all right again.
The memory seems unimportant, even comical now, but it’s nice to
know that our relationship hasn’t changed thirteen years later, when so many other things have.
My grandparents sold the orchard five years ago, when my grandfather
was too old to maintain it. The last time we visited, I walked amongst the trees once more. I was twelve then, still a child in many ways, but I recall my sadness when I realized that much of the magic had disappeared. Without my grandfather’s care, the grass had grown ragged and cherries lay discarded on the ground by wayward birds, like a child’s toys after a tantrum. The trees were still tall, but no longer grand, their gnarled trunks slumping as if in acknowledgement of the fact that I had grown up. I no longer ached to climb them, too worried that their old limbs might buckle under my weight. Their sorrow was almost a tangible thing; I could feel it in the cool breath of wind whispering a plea for me to stay, stay and be a child again. The orchard has since been cut down, the land used to build houses—it is unrecognizable now.
But then, so are we. Those little girls with wide eyes and tousled hair are
no more; their innocence has been folded up and packed away with the party dresses that no longer fit. Now, we cry over death or heartbreak instead of spilled 106
cake and grass stains. Gone are the carefree days of childhood, and challenges— real ones—circle overhead like birds of prey. It is breathtaking and terrifying, beautiful and terrible, and altogether too much to experience at once—and yet we must.
Many people have to face life alone. I, thankfully, am not one of them.
Unlike the trees in my grandparent’s orchard, I have never once doubted your ability to hold me up.
Quills | 107
Why I, A Heterosexual Teenage Boy, Want to see More Men in Speedos Noah Spencer | Grade 12
The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition recently celebrated its 50th
birthday. As an 18-year old heterosexual male, I was happy to join in the festivities. However, one section of the magazine left me feeling something less than festive.
It wasn’t the “Legends” section, featuring former models old enough
to be my mother, nor the controversial photographs of Barbies in bathing suits (though that was pretty creepy). What upset me was the “Athletes” (pg. 196-205). Just two summers ago, I had watched Alex Morgan, star of the US women’s national soccer team, seize victory over the Canadian team in the Olympic semifinals with a gorgeous, heart-wrenching (for a Canadian) header in the 120th minute. Now, I saw her posing seductively in a blue bikini, lumped together with dolls of both plastic and flesh.
It wasn’t Morgan (or WBNA star Skylar Diggins or surfer Anastasia
Ashley) posing in the magazine that spawned my guilt. An athletically refined body is a source of great beauty and has cultural significance. In fact, my issue with the “Athletes” section wasn’t with what it actually contained, it was with what it left out: Morgan et al.’s male counterparts.
Nowhere in this edition, nor in its 49 predecessors, was a male athlete
photographed. By having exclusively female athletes model in scarce clothing, Sports Illustrated belittles their athletic accomplishments and serves to increase the gender inequality that is so widespread in sports.
Start typing “Alex Morgan” into YouTube and its first suggestion is
“Alex Morgan hot”, click that and the top video on the page is one uploaded by “Sports Illustrated Swimsuit”. (By contrast, the first suggestion that YouTube generates for “Cristiano Ronaldo”, another world-class, attractive soccer player, is “Cristiano Ronaldo skills”.) I can only imagine how dispiriting it must be for 108
young girls who dream of becoming athletes to realize that even if they score a game-winning goal in the Olympics, their legacy will be more concerned with how they looked doing it.
According to the New York Times, the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edi-
tion reaches millions of people worldwide. It has the power to influence readers’ views of the athletes they feature. Currently, this power is being used to objectify women, but it doesn’t have to be that way. My proposed solution is that Sports Illustrated rebrand their swimsuit issue to be similar to ESPN Magazine’s “Body Issue”, focusing solely on athletes, male and female. By presenting the issue in this egalitarian method, athletes’ bodies are celebrated for their beauty and Sports Illustrated would be once again distributing magazines that are sports-related. Most importantly, the issue would no longer be contributing to the gender divide in sports, which would allow me to ogle Alex Morgan in good conscience.
Quills | 109