October 2020 RCLAS Ezine Wordplay at Work, Issue 77

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8th Annual RCLAS Write On! Contest 2020 Non-Fiction Winners & Honourable Mentions

8th Annual RCLAS Write On! Contest 2020 First Place Winner Non-Fiction

THE TAIL OF A COMET © Karin Hedetniemi

I didn’t recognize my son at first. I peered into his newborn eyes, seeking our first connection. We don’t know each other yet, I whispered, but I have so much love to give you. Rejection started with my breast, then progressed to pacifiers, teddy bears, naps in my arms. I’d hold him close to snuggle, but he'd put his chubby hands on my chest, arch his back, and push himself away until he nearly bent in half. He carried a blanket, but not for security. It was his superhero's cape; parachute; magic carpet; mysterious cloak of invisibility. A blue fuzzy extension of his intense and endless imagination. My son attended the first years of elementary school, standing up. A counselor suggested he might have an attention hyperactivity disorder. We took him to a pediatrician, who diagnosed him as predicted and prescribed medications to help him concentrate. Still, he almost failed middle school. We hired evening tutors and struggled to limit his obsession with video games. When he showed a spark for astronomy, we explored the universe with books by Brian Greene and Stephen Hawking. My son disliked the way the medications made him feel. One time he took a handful of sleeping pills, to see how they felt instead. His father found him sprawled on the living room floor, and rushed him to hospital. As my son’s curiosity for substance experimentation grew, there were detentions, expulsions from school, car crashes. We left work countless times for emergencies, frantically rushing to his aid, then trying to settle life back to some semblance of normal.

In an act of desperation, I sent a plea to Stephen Hawking himself. "If you would write to my son, he might follow his passion for science and physics." My letter went unanswered, around the same time my son lost all interest in learning. He quit high school, left home, and then reached the age of legal majority. Now unreachable. A vicious cycle of employment instability began. Without an income, he couldn’t maintain an address, and by extension, possessions or a phone. He was repeatedly absent from family birthdays and holidays. We tried tough love; setting boundaries; removing boundaries; second chances; twentieth chances. It was impossible to know unconditional love and enabling.




My son drifted. Shaved his head. Had conflicts with the police. I slept poorly, physically nauseated by the fear my son would not only seriously harm himself, but some other innocent person. Our family was torn apart, changed. We ached to know an experience of calm. His father and I divorced, remarried; his brother graduated from university, then proposed to his girlfriend. We expanded the world of love contracted in the chaos.

The last time I ever saw my son was at my husband’s memorial service. My son miraculously showed up for the gathering, wearing a respectable button-down dress shirt. He stayed long enough to pose for one last family photo. I think he was high. But, he was there. I can't recall my son ever saying he loved me. But showing up in the button-down shirt that day, I think he did. Months later he was arrested for property and weapon offences, and incarcerated on his 24th birthday. His served sentence provided an opportunity for rehabilitation, but first he had to stay clean for a week, and willingly sign himself in. Instead, he put on his cloak of invisibility and disappeared.

The next crime he committed was stealing a car. He was arrested in another province and sent back to jail. I only know this because I read it online after he died. I don't know where he went or what he did in the last few days of his life, but it ended with an overdose of heroin. His heart stopped, his brain died, and the last unbreakable atom of hope I'd carried within me since his birth, split. This is only a glimpse, a condensed version of my son's complex life. In many ways, a story of omissions and selected truths. The version I default to when I think about how he died. If I shift my focus, I can recall happy family adventures: camping, fishing, and riding bikes under the moon; taekwondo meets, Saturday soccer games, and swimming lessons; building tree houses, backyard bonfires, and mighty snow fortresses. Evidence my son was once engaged in the world, curious and alive. I could close my eyes and remember what it felt like to run my hands through his toddler curls while he was sleeping, smell the top of his head, feel his pudgy fingers entangled in mine, and have love instead of drugs soar through our veins, making us blissfully euphoric. I could, and I do, and it softens things. Except for not ever knowing, what exact small choice might have changed his destiny. In his wake, we are traumatized, heartbroken, and silently exhaling. His absence leaves a dark and vast hole full of unrealized hopes and dreams for the little boy in the Spiderman pajamas, who once asked why the moon was so mysterious, and if God made the world, “why couldn't he break it, too?” “Because he wouldn’t want to,” I’d assured. “But he could if he wanted to,” my son had asserted. People try to offer comfort. Someone suggested my son might have been an Indigo child, born with a vibration too high to adjust to life on earth. I don’t know. Maybe.

Another friend offered a different perspective, shaped by her own loss experience with addiction. "He was so much more than the way he died." That felt right to me. Steven was so much more than the way he died. He was a fiery, once-in-a-lifetime blazing comet shooting across an inky black universe full of faint and twinkling stars. He was here, for a short disruptive time—a brief history—and then he vanished. I try to tell myself: I did the best I could. One day, I might believe it.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- copyright Karin Hedetniemi

8th Annual RCLAS Write On! Contest 2020 Second Place Winner Non-Fiction


The following are a couple of excerpts from a journal that I kept in December 2019, while my father was in the hospital after suffering a cardiac arrest that left his brain without oxygen for 30-40 minutes. For two weeks we clung to the hope that he would come back to us. He didn’t.

December 10, 2019

Last night Kent told us he had great news. He had stopped in to see Dad after having dinner with us, and he said his eyes were open and he appeared to be aware as Kent shared with him tales of the excellence of Tom Brady and his valiant New England Patriots. We went to bed with high hopes of recovery.

Today was a balmy December morning and I mentioned to my mother how beautiful the sun looked as the bright white light was trying to burn its way through the grey surrounding clouds.

When I was in high school I learned that writers will often use a technique where they use descriptions of the weather as a metaphor for the thoughts of a character, or sometimes to foreshadow upcoming events.

I had a tough time shaking this memory as we walked home from the hospital this morning, as the weather felt completely in flux. It’s December 10, but it feels like a mild autumn day. The wind was blowing the grey clouds all around the sky. Autumn, of course, being the season that transitions from summer to winter. I felt a cool breeze brushing one side of my face, but remembered that the breeze is actually quite warm for December. I looked back at the hospital and saw the sun right above it, a white glow burning bright in the clouds to clear an opening. On the left, the clouds were dark and ominous, on the right they were bright and white with the brilliance of the sun just behind the thin blanket. The winds continued to blow with the direction ever-shifting.

When we talked to the Dr. this morning he said he was going to stop the sedatives Dad has been getting to see if he begins to wake up, as after a week we should be seeing more response. While we have been getting flickers of response here and there, he should be waking from his comatose state by now. He said it could take a day or two to flush the sedatives out of his system as his kidneys are so weak right now, so we may see more promising results tomorrow.

Unlike in the case of a traumatic head injury, where there could be swelling that needs to go down before you can assess the damage, with

a cardiac arrest they say that after about a week it’s unlikely there will be much more significant improvement.

So all we can do right now, as the buffeting winds continue to rattle the patio door, is wait and see if Dad can find his way back to us. We’re still focused on those bright spots in the clouds, but are aware of the swirling darkness that surrounds. Tomorrow brings another day and we’ll see how bright the sun shines in the morning.

December 11, 2019

The sun was shining bright and the sky was blue as I got out of bed this morning. I had a shower and I shaved for the first time in a week. One of the benefits/drawbacks of being an adult is you grow a beard if you’re man, or an unlucky woman.

When I was a kid I couldn’t wait to become an adult. I wanted to make my own decisions, like whether or not to eat Fruit Loops for dinner,

whether or not I should do my stupid math homework, or whether to play with the Luke Skywalker or Han Solo action figure. I’m not a kid anymore.

Kent has been taking long lunches to visit Dad so we decided today we would all go in around noon so we could be with Dad at the same time. They were calling for snow, and by noon today the clouds had begun to roll in, covering half the sky as we walked to the hospital.

We got to the hospital and Kent’s girlfriend, Cecilia, was on her way out, but Kent was still there. Unfortunately, Dad’s eyes were still closed, though he was resting peacefully when I arrived. We played some old 50’s music for Dad and Kent and I just joked with each other and talked about what was happening in our lives, just like we did in the family room when Dad was sitting in his giant white chair. There would be occasional movements, but Dad was not responding to anything we said, only to physical reactions of his own body. Every now and again he would make some movement that I would try to imagine in my heart of hearts was some sort of response, but the truth is it’s too hard to tell if it is a reaction to us or to what is happening within his body.

When we weren’t in front of Dad, Kent did tell me that he felt confident that he did get a response from Dad last night. He said he caught him at a time when he seemed awake and a little responsive, he opened his eyes and looked directly at Kent for a short time.

Kent asked him if he could answer yes or no questions, and to look to right for no and to the left for yes. He looked left. Kent asked if he wanted him to continue to read the book. He looked right. Kent asked him if he wanted him to continue to play music. He looked right. Kent asked him if he wanted to continue to fight…He looked right.

We all know that’s far from definite, but it tracks with what I saw yesterday. Yesterday I was noticing that Dad’s breathing stopped more frequently than it had in the past. When this happens the machine flashes ‘Apnea’ for a bit and then it starts breathing for him. I watched it many times (VERY unnerving at first), and I began to realize that his brow was relaxing as the breathing stopped, and furrowing whenever it started up again. The one moment of recognition I saw yesterday was when my mother was talking to him. She was asking him to squeeze or show a sign that he knew we were there. Eventually, his eyes opened and he looked at her. She asked him how he was, what did he want - his eyes looked right up at the ceiling and stayed there.

One of Dad’s favourite funny stories was when a neighbour’s child walked up while he was raking leaves and asked him where Shogun was. Shogun was our recently deceased family dog. Dad looked up and said, “He’s up there, now.” The little boy looked up and said, “In the trees???”

Previously we’ve been holding onto hope he might come back to us, but as the snow began to fall on our walk back from the hospital this afternoon, we all realized we have to consider other possibilities. The cold hard reality of the situation is we now have to consider if we are giving Dad a chance to come back to us, or if we are keeping him from going where he wants to go: “up there”. No decisions are being made yet, but we have a “family meeting” with the doctors and nurses tomorrow to get all the info we can about the reality of the situation, what the medical prognosis is, what can be done, and what the possibilities are.

One thing my Dad has made crystal clear since I was a wee boy, was he did not want to continue his life if he wasn’t able to “live” his life. Breathing isn’t living, especially if you need a machine to do it.

Previously we only had to maintain hope that Dad would come back, now we must face the cold reality of what decisions we may have to make if he’s not coming back.

I miss the days of childhood decisions, because it was so obviously Fruit Loops and Han Solo.

The snow fell heavily this evening.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- copyright Pete Crutchfield

8th Annual RCLAS Write On! Contest 2020 Third Place Winner Non-Fiction

THE JACKKNIFE © Jennifer M. Smith “Wheredja get it? That’s so cool,” I said looking at my cousin enviously. “In the store,” Tim said, “behind the cash register. You have to ask the lady to get one for you.” “Wow!” I said looking at the jackknife with wonder. How had I missed this buying opportunity? I had blown my allowance on a comic and some chips. If only I’d seen those miniature jackknives for sure I would have got that instead. Back at the cottage on Grandad’s island in Georgian Bay I lived in a state of envy for days while my cousin Tim carved his initials in logs at the water’s edge, stabbed ants clean through, picked his fingernails, cleaned his teeth and flung his miniature weapon at trees with the expertise of an axe thrower. For an excruciating week, all I could do was look on, green-eyed. When we were out of milk I got my chance. Mom sent the men out in the big boat, The Fifty-Five, we called it, for the Johnson 55 outboard that hung on the transom. A marina outing – yes! We didn’t need propane, they weren’t taking the hundred-pound canisters that ran the fridge and stove, this was just a milk run. There’d be plenty of room for us kids. It wasn’t just the boat ride we loved, it was another chance to blow our summer allowance at the Marina’s General Store. I still had a two-dollar bill and some change left and that money had jackknife written all over it.

My Uncle Trevor eased the Cedar Strip runabout alongside the worn wooden docks at Killbear Park Marina. Trevor said he’d take care of the gasoline fill up. My Dad hopped out, tied up, and, with his list from my Mom, headed straight for the shop, telling us kids in no uncertain terms, “Trevor won’t be long at the pump. You’ve got ten minutes and I want to see you back at the boat.” There was no time to lose. We were a blur of fluorescent orange as we struggled to pull life jackets off over our heads and toss them back in the boat. Crumpled bills in hand and change in our pockets, our summer-browned legs scrambled up the dock and across the dirt parking lot to the store. We wrenched the screen door open and let it slam with a bang behind us. We were in. Consumer’s paradise. Let the big spending begin. As far as I was concerned, there was no need to look at the raspberry jellies, the Cinnamon Stix, or the Double Bubble. Ha! Candy was for kids! I was there to procure my weapon! I got in line and when my turn came at the till I pointed to the cardboard display behind the cash. “Can I have a jackknife please?” The middle-aged cashier handed it to me – what a thrill. Tim had the one with the Canadian flag on it, I chose one with a tiny image of a Mountie on the side. A dollar, ninety-nine plus tax. There was no doubt this was a premium cutting tool, a never-dull Swedish stainless blade. I was in heaven. My sisters and my cousins took their time filling penny candy bags from the boxes that lined the shelves beneath the counter and perusing the comic stand for new issues. Not me – I was already outside holding my new knife in the palm of my hand, unfolding it

slightly to see the blade gleam in the sunlight, refolding it to its neat little pocket size. I sauntered down the dock. My Dad was already waiting in The FiftyFive with Trevor. “Whatcha’ got there?” my Dad said as he jammed the Mae Weststyle life jacket over my head nearly taking my ears off in the process. “Oh, I see, you’ve seen how much fun Tim was having...” “Oh noooo…” I let out a mournful exclamation. To show my Dad my purchase I had pulled the blade fully out from its folded position. Only then did I realize that the mechanism didn’t work. The blade would not unfold all the way. Something inside was jamming. “What’s happened?” my Dad said somewhat harshly, he had no time for whining. “It’s doesn’t work!” I said crestfallen. “Let’s see,” he said. I handed him my prize with slumped posture, my chin sinking in to the head hole of the life jacket. I was drowning in a sea of buyer’s remorse. “Cheap Chinese junk,” my Dad announced. “You’re right it doesn’t open properly, looks like there’s a faulty rivet in the hinge.” He could see how disappointed I was. I’d blown most of my remaining summer money on this Mountie-adorned weapon. I hadn’t carved one single initial into one piece of wood and already my knife had let me down. “Take it back,” my Dad said, handing the jackknife to me.

I looked from the tiny toy in my hand and stared up at my Dad in horror. “Take it back to the store and get your money back,” he said. I hesitated. “Just tell the lady it doesn’t work.” My feet remained frozen to the dock. Take it back? Confront an adult? Make demands for reimbursement? The thought of it terrified me. I was just a kid. Surely, they wouldn’t believe me. Adults didn’t just give money to kids with broken toys - did they? “Come with me?” I said, in a weak plea for solidarity. “You can do it. Come on now, hurry up. And while you’re up there tell your sisters and cousins to hurry up too.” I turned and walked back to the Marina store my terror building with every step. I passed my posse at the door. “Dad says hurry up,” I told them. “Well where are you going?” Tim said. “This knife’s broken and my Dad says I should take it back.” This Tim had to see. I opened the screen door more slowly this time and took my place in the checkout queue, cousin Tim close behind me. When my turn came I gingerly placed the jackknife back on the counter and looked up at the checkout lady, my pink face the central disc in the safety-orange flower of my life jacket. “This knife’s broken,” I said as politely as I could.

“Do you want another one or do you just want your money back?” she said monotonously. “Can I have my money back?” I said, amazed that my declaration had gone unchallenged. She counted it out, two dollars and fourteen cents. I jammed it in my pocket and got out of there, chuffed at my coup. I swaggered back down the dock, my head held high. Cousin Tim, owner of cheap Chinese junk, in tow. “Well?” my Dad said, “Did you get your money back?” “Yes,” I said proudly. “See, I told you you could do it. Good stuff!” My Dad beamed at me. And I beamed myself. My hair flew in the breeze as my Uncle Trevor gunned The Fifty-Five back to Spruce Island. It was the only time I ever came back from a trip to the Marina Store with money in my pocket. I didn’t get a jackknife, but that was okay. That day I got something better.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- copyright Jennifer M. Smith

8th Annual RCLAS Write On! Contest 2020 Honourable Mention Non-Fiction


I was eight years old and sitting at the dining table of my family home. With an open box of Twinkie cakes, I searched the 1976, Simpson-Sears’ Spring catalogue for my dream home Barbie and Ken style. Flipping through items of favour I dog-eared the pages, editing and re-editing until I had it down to just a few special things. Tucked amongst the Barbie camper-van and Easy-BakeOven, something caught my attention. A small tear-out gleamed between the pages, Father’s Day Writing Competition—First place $500 shopping spree. A spark ignited inside of me, what if I could win? I grabbed my peppermint scented, candy-cane pen and my best stationary, adorned with Shultz’s Snoopy, the Red Baron. I knew exactly what to write about. My parents had recently purchased me a second—maybe third, hand bike. It was affordable and ridable, but needed TLC. Dad promised to take it apart, fix the bent fender and gear chain that incessantly fell off and add a chain-guard so the cuffs on my favourite denims wouldn’t get caught up as I rode. Grey duct tape crisscrossed the gold-glitter banana seat letting through small tufts of foam stuffing. But it was a banana seat, they were the coolest. The bike was my favourite colour, purple. Dad had been in the garage working on the bike for over a week. I hadn’t seen much of him or the bike over this time. Working

shifts that sometimes brought him home just as I was leaving for school, Dad would rarely be awake when I arrived home. He worked on the bike while I was at school and told me I wasn’t allowed to see it until it was done. It nearly killed me to keep away from the little port-hole window on our laundry room door that led to a view into the garage. However; I did as Dad asked, looking forward to an unveiling that would match a Christmas morning tree-footing that brimmed with unopened presents. Walking up our street, I was surprised to see the garage door was up. Dad’s mammoth tool cabinet was rolled out onto the asphalt drive. His Honda motorbike, which he seemed to love taking apart and putting back together just for fun, sat unattended beside the tool kit. Dad’s red t-shirt and patterned-blue welders cap were bent over something else in the driveway. As I got closer, I could see that Mom was there too, sitting flat on her bum with her legs open in a ‘V’. It was a hot day. She wore a hand sewn, mustard-yellow hair band tied with the ends dropping at the back. Her bell bottom jeans were pushed up around her knees and sweat darkened the back of her striped tank-top. Grandma’s sewing kit was at her side. Chin up and glasses low on her nose, it looked like she was examining something with great intent. Seeing me, Dad raised his arm in the air giving a slight wave, palm open toward me—like he was magically drawing me in with his powers. Feeling the pull, my walk turned into a full sprint. Was the bike finished? Out of breath, I stopped in the driveway just in front of them. “What’s the hurry,” Dad said, grinning. The fender of the purple bike peeked from behind him. I looked down at Mom. She raised her shoulders, smiled and turned back to her project.

“What’s that?” I asked, pointing around his side. “That’s not for you.” Dad said, tilting his head and squinting his eyes in disapproval. “It is!” I yelled and pushed him aside. There it was. My new (to me) bike. A pristine, sparkling banana seat had been attached. The fenders gleamed of polished chrome. Dad added rainbow streamers to the hand grips and reflective cherry-on-a-stem stickers to the back. He had recruited Mom, who’s crafting skills far surpassed his own. She added her own special touch wrapping colourful drinking straws around each one of the bikes wheel-spokes. Mom hovered over the bikes basket. She had small sewing scissors between her lips and was attaching pink and yellow crochet flowers she had made to the front of a new rattan basket fixed to the handlebars. She took the scissors from her mouth and placed them into the sewing kit before standing up beside Dad. “Mrs. Beasley will fit in here perfectly,” Mom said, grasping the edge of the white basket. Suddenly I felt my life had changed. I was on the map of cool-bike-kids in the hood. And most notably Dad had done something for me that was just for me. Not something that was piggy-backed upon someone else’s gift, like rides on Dad’s new motor-bike or treats brought back from tropical holidays my parents took without me. I loved that bike, and with my best-doll, Mrs. Beasley in the basket, I felt proud and sure. Shortly after this, never before and never after, Dad sat down with me while I was colouring at the kitchen nook. Hunched over my Holly Hobby activity book, I could feel his warm stare. I looked up at

him and he smiled. I skootched over the bright-orange, vinyl covered bench seating to make space for him. He sat down and without words he picked up a coloured pencil and began to shade in the opposite page to mine. There we were, my Dad’s thick, callused millwright’s fingers, tenderly filling in the fine lines of the little fawn tucked at Holly’s feet. Me, dusty-rose tinting Holly’s cheeks just so. I can’t say exactly what I felt that day, but it shone. Somehow our worlds came together in a way so deeply connective that it stirs emotion for me even today. The sensitive energy of this rugged and sometimes gruff man as he gently coiled himself into my world of rainbow-dreams and imagination made me feel special. These events are what I wrote about in the Father’s Day essay contest. Stories of my Dad at his best. The contest readers at Simpson Sears must have felt this too because I won the contest. I was the recipient of five hundred cold, hard Simpon-Sears dollars! I bought Mom a new cotton, floor-length nighty. I fulfilled several pages of my dog-eared dreams, including a Barbie-Boing 747 airplane, (fold-up suitcase style) and a Barbie-Motor-home with Jeep towing capability. I bought a leather-elbowed, tweed-knit sweater for my Dad, and though it bears many holes and snags, it still inhabits a hanger in my parent’s closet. Dad, is long retired now. He showers his granddaughter with heart felt deeds, showing his love for her by building the perfect rope swing or repairing her wobbly scooter. Donning his vast millwright’s skillset, he is our family’s personal plumber, painter and electrician. And at eighty, though it takes him a little longer to put them back together, he still loves taking things apart just for fun. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- copyright Leesa Hanna

8th Annual RCLAS Write On! Contest 2020 Honourable Mention Non-Fiction

WALKING NAKED © Janaya Fuller Evans

They said you were crazy, you’d been locked up, and I wanted to know you. I introduced myself, walking down the long hallway of gray lockers lining salmon pink walls, no reason to be there but you. You smiled and flipped your blonde hair out of your listless blue eyes and when I asked, you told me your story. I didn’t hear what you were diagnosed with but Lithium was mentioned. You said you were like Kurt Cobain. It didn’t work for you. “He has stomach pains,” you explained, as if the Lithium was at fault and I should know that. I nodded. The next day I skipped school for the first time. We hid out in Hackett Park and decided to be French exchange students even though we didn’t know much French. “Comme ci, comme ça? Très bien!” we’d shout, laughing high and loud amidst the quiet trees. And then we invented our own language. “Fibonaco, delimas, saesaecani,” and so on. We whispered our new words to each other, understanding each one as we lounged against the old log and watched the teeter totter tilt in the breeze.

We walked through Sechelt speaking in tongues, hoping someone would hear us and think we were from far away. Everyone was too busy working to notice. Afterwards you taught me to hitchhike, our thumbs taking us from one town to the next. We stood beside the cedars on those dusty shoulders, taking the road to Gibsons, then back to Sechelt. The two towns much the same – autobody shops and building supplies and gas stations and no way out after the last ferry left at 8:30 p.m. You were brilliant, your face animated by every new idea that crossed your fevered mind. You could not move fast enough, and I was always trying to keep up. We made up imaginary friends, as we hadn’t had them in childhood, and invented involved lives for them. Each had a name – Kurt, Jerry, and so on. We gave them our personalities. One day my boyfriend John phoned, tormenting me over the line again, telling me he didn’t want to see me in public, demanding all my attention, and refusing to allow me any little bit of myself. That afternoon, Jerry came to mind as I sat, weeping on the deck of my parents’ house. I pressed my feet into the shards of wood that made up the second step leading down to the yard. Jerry consoled me at first, talking to me in my head, but then he grew stronger and louder, yelling until I thought the neighbours would hear. He picked up a metal pipe tucked away in my brain, and he began to beat me. I screamed until my mother came. I went to the mental health unit a few days later to ask for help but they took some time getting to me, so I went home instead. Our minds were in sync after that.

We once wandered through town connecting the deaths of Jim Morrison, Elvis and Tupac, and I called a friend from a payphone, certain we’d discovered a secret bigger than us. You made me ecstatic. He didn’t understand. You stole three bottles of wine from a neighbour, bringing them to my house when my parents were away and we drank them all. I passed out in front of the fire we lit in the fireplace, and when I woke I was convinced I was in hell. There was the time I was raped at my 15th birthday party and the time you were raped on the beach, and all the times we got each other through those times. There was the Saturday we ran off to Vancouver and bought purple hair dye at The Underground and dyed my hair in the sink of Eaton’s Department Store. You gave some guy our ferry fare in exchange for a bad acid trip. I cried when we were caught trying to sneak onto the ferry, and they let us through. I once found you sitting on the roof outside the window of your foster home, cutting Kurt Cobain’s name into your leg with a piece of glass while Queen played from your boom box. We decided to become a band, with Lily of the Valley as our first song. We practised by singing into the freezer, a trick you taught me. It had great acoustics. On the night before I was shipped off to live with my aunt, we walked in the soft rain, undressing a little more with each step. Eventually we were naked in December, shivering and holding bundles of clothing and feeling transcendent. I split my toe open on the asphalt and soon after my mother pulled up in her brown Buick, furious. There was another moment, the one when you told me you were trying to get pregnant, lying to the boy you were dating. I was done

with the Sunshine Coast by then and along with it, done with you. I moved to Vancouver and left you behind. I saw you again, one night outside the Royal Bank on Commercial Drive. You were visibly pregnant, huddled over a sign asking for money, protecting your stomach. It was dark but I could see a crack pipe in your hand. You were looking at the ground as I walked by. I hurried past. I’ve found you a few times since then. Occasionally I’ve been able to give you the money I couldn’t spare at the time. But I don’t stay in touch. Your life is a frightening place now, with boyfriends who control what you eat, how you earn money, who you are. Your back is in pain and your body is in need and there is little I can do. Despite that hopelessness and the sense of loss in the shape of you, it is your light and vivacity that blares through the blur of the past, connecting with me. I am grateful to you and for you. But I am always afraid of ending up back beside you, whispering gibberish to each other and pretending we’re in Paris.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- copyright Janaya Fuller Evans

8th Annual RCLAS Write On! Contest 2020 Honourable Mention Non-Fiction

ON MY WAY © Alex Hamilton-Brown

Southampton, England, December 5th 1970.

With a loud splash, the last hawser rope was unhooked from the port moorings and drawn aboard the passenger ship, Maasdam. Three weeks previously, I was granted immigrant status to start a new life in America. The morning air was crisp and clear as the twenty-thousand ton liner left the English Channel and entered the choppy waters of the Atlantic Ocean. To help me get my sea legs, I made a practice of walking the promenade deck before and after meals. It was on one of those jaunts that I met Ken Gustafson. Ken was a lanky, lose jointed journalist from Boston, who had made this trip once before. “It’ll be like a six day cruise,” he said. “It can be a bit bumpy at times, but the food is fantastic; that is, if you can keep it down,” he added with a grin. For the first two days the dining hall was full to capacity. On the early morning of the third day, however, we ran into more severe weather. Some passengers, who would have been delighted by the savoury smell of sausage and bacon, took on a greenish pallor and vanished from their tables. After lunch, I was on deck leaning on a handrail, when a sudden cross-swell tilted the ship sideways. Inky black clouds had gathered overhead, and I could see in the distance a line of sparkling white foam leaping along the horizon. The ship gave another lateral roll, this time more violent, causing people on deck to stumble and fall. A crewman

appeared, advising everyone to go to their cabins. Instead of doing that, I went to a lower deck at the prow of the ship. Ken was there, dressed in a dark oilskin coat and a sou’wester hat. Like me, he shared a desire to experience the violence of a storm at sea. “I’ve just come from the chart room,” he shouted over the wind. “The ship’s barometer is plummeting like a lead weight. According to the second officer, we’re heading into the teeth of a tempest. He reckoned we should be getting out of its way.” Later, I learned that the captain thought otherwise. He believed his ship could ride out any storm the Atlantic could throw at him. His prime objective was to get his passengers to New York on schedule and on time. By mid-afternoon, we were pounded by gale-force winds and the ship began pitching erratically. In the main passenger lounge, screams rang out as a baby grand piano snapped loose from its fasteners and began random lurches across the dance floor. Its errant path ended, when a young couple, sitting in rattan armchairs, were pinned against a wall. Two pursers quickly helped them to the medical centre, and the PA system called for everyone to immediately leave the lounge. Meanwhile, overlooking the prow, Ken and I clipped ourselves into safety fasteners, and held to a handrail like limpets to a rock. The fierce wind slapped at our raincoats as forty foot waves exploded over our heads. Ken was shouting something to me, but his words flew in fragments past my ears. I caught the words, God, and, hell-of-a, as one wave, enormous in volume, was bearing down on us. Suddenly, we were facing the sky; and just as suddenly it felt like the whole ship was being lifted out of the water. Exposed turbine props roared in protest as the vessel reached the crest of the gigantic upsurge, sending a violent shudder over the ship from stem to stern. Like slow motion, the vessel tilted and dropped down into a deep abyss. It landed with a violent shuddering, as if it had slammed, not on to water, but on something solid and unyielding.

Having had enough of ocean sight-seeing to last us a lifetime, we had almost made it to our cabins, when I saw a two -foot wave rushing down our deck toward us. I grabbed on to a wall stanchion. But Ken, who was behind me, took the full force of the flood. He was swept off his feet and hurtled down the stairwell of an open hatchway. Gasping for breath, and with a gash on his forehead, he scrambled back up the stairs. I grabbed the back of his oilskin coat and managed to steer him to his cabin. By evening, the storm worsened. With sustained winds of over a hundred miles per hour it was assigned a full-blown hurricane. The captain realized he was fighting a losing battle and ordered the ship turned about. Our new heading was south, toward the Azores. Following those two days of Poseidon’s wrath, we entered warmer weather and the peaceful waters of the Azores. Passengers appeared from cabins like sleepy-eyed bears waking up from hibernation. With much handshaking and embracing, a new spirit encompassed the ship. Miraculously, appetites returned, and tables in the restaurant were once again being gradually occupied. To make up for lost time, the captain ordered a full head of steam toward the cooler temperatures of America’s North East coast. When the Maasdam finally nosed into New York City’s Port Terminal, instead of the usual six day crossing, we had been at sea for eleven days. After bidding goodbye to Ken and other friends, I cleared immigration and took a taxi to the 34th YMCA. Once settled, I telephoned David Langdon. David was the CEO of the music publishing company I worked for, and the only person I knew in America. “Who’s calling please,” drawled a nasal voice from the other end of the line. “It’s John Patterson from the copyright department in London,” I said. “I’m here in New York. May I speak with Mr. Langdon, please?” David came on the line. “John! Welcome to America! Where are you staying?” he asked.

“I’m at the 34th Street Y,” I replied. “Good for you,” he said. “Why don’t you join me for lunch? You know where we are on 5th Avenue. Come to the 16th floor at one o’clock and ask for me.” At one o’clock sharp, I was seated in the company’s luxurious waiting room. Five minutes later, David Langdon appeared. He was immaculately dressed in a slim-fitting grey worsted suit, and sported a flamboyant floral tie. “Good to see you John,” he said, warmly shaking my hand. “I hope you’re hungry. We’ll have lunch at the Athletic Club. They’ve got the best rib-eye steak in the city. When the elevator doors opened, standing in one corner, was a small man wearing an ankle-length camel coat. He wore large glasses, and his rust-coloured hair was plastered flat with pomade. His dark eyes blinked as we entered. “Hello David,” he said in a high crackly voice. “Oh, Hi Igor, how are you?” said David. The man nodded and gave a brief shrug. “Igor, this is John Patterson,” said David, turning to me. “John, this is Mr. Stravinsky.” At the sound of that name, my stomach muscles tightened to the beat of my quickening heart. I instinctively smiled and politely bowed my head, not so much in reverence, but in the hope that I would not say something idiotic. “John has just arrived from London,” said David. “Ah, so? I too have just come back from London,” said Stravinsky. “They performed my three string quartets at the Festival Hall.” I knew it was incumbent on me to say something, but what to say to one of the world’s greatest composers? I managed to fumble out, “How did the London audience appreciate your work, sir?”

“Oh, very well,” he replied, “the audience there understands my work.” The elevator doors opened and together we walked on to 5th Avenue. A cold wind swept down from the skyscrapers above. Stravinsky wrapped a soft black scarf around his neck, and, over the gusting wind, shouted to us, “Good day, gentlemen.” Then, turning to the sidewalk, he melted into the throng of people passing along 5th Avenue. At the athletic club, while David was chatting to the head waiter, I thought to myself: ‘you have just survived a hurricane at sea, and met one of the giants of 20th century music; what could possibly top that? Perhaps it was the basic sensory experience which overtakes us all?’ Holding that thought, I sank my teeth into what had to be the most delicious rib-eye steak I have ever tasted.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- copyright Alex Hamilton-Brow

2020 RCLAS Write On! Contest BIOS: Non-Fiction Winners & Honourable Mentions Karin Hedetniemi lives on Vancouver Island where she photographs and writes about nature, place, inspiration, and being human. In a former life, she helped lead an environmental education charity. Her creative work is published/forthcoming in Prairie Fire, Sky Island Journal, Barren Magazine, Capsule Stories, Door is a Jar Magazine, and other literary journals. Her home is filled with travel, gardening, spiritual, and bird books – her pockets are usually full of sea glass. Karin shares her writing at: AGoldenHour.com.

Pete Crutchfield is a writer living and working in the beautiful mountain community of Whistler, British Columbia.

Jennifer M. Smith is an offshore sailing adventurer and an author. Her travel memoir, Green Ghost, Blue Ocean, winner of the 2019 Pottersfield Prize for Creative Nonfiction, was released by Pottersfield Press in June 2020. Her short stories and essays have been published in print in The Globe and Mail and Canadian Stories, and online on Feminine Collective, CommuterLit, Scottish Book Trust, Quick Brown Fox and 50-Word Stories. For now, she is living a land-life in Burlington, Ontario, waiting impatiently for the pandemic to be over and for adventure travel to be possible once again.

2020 RCLAS Write On! Contest BIOS: Non-Fiction Winners & Honourable Mentions Leesa Hanna is a writer and artist living in Port Moody. Inspired by the natural beauty of the West Coast of Canada, she works in multiple mediums to parlay her thoughts—but the theme of her work remains the same; humankind’s connection to nature and to mother earth. Her first children’s book, The BIG Adventures of Little O - A song for the salmon is a nature/fantasy novel, which portrays young ocean and forest creatures of the Pacific Northwest. This book was longlisted for CANSCAIP’s Writing for Children Competition 2019 and is available through her website, www.leesahanna.com.

Janaya Fuller Evans is a psychology student, a writer and a former reporter. She is a mother of two, and the wife of another writer. She can often be found playing dress up with her youngest child. She owns a lot of wigs. She loves to read – everything from classical literature to comic books, everything within that spectrum. She is also an oversharer with a nostalgic bent. Her writing has been featured in local papers and on various websites during the past decade. This is the first nonnews piece she’s had published since becoming a professional writer.



has written and produced documentaries for television channels worldwide. His awardwinning poetry and short stories have been published in anthologies and literary journals in Canada, U.K, and America. He lives in the Fraser Valley of British Columbia and is presently working on a historical novel entitled “The Maverick King.”

2020 WRITE ON! CONTEST COMMENTS FROM OUR NON-FICTION JUDGE 2020 Non-Fiction Contest Winners First Place: Karin Hedetniemi – The Tail of a Comet Second Place: Pete Crutchfield – Heartbreak Journal Third Place: Jennifer M. Smith – The Jackknife 2020 Non-Fiction Honourable Mentions Leesa Hanna – Father’s Day Shopping Spree Janaya Fuller Evans – Walking Naked Alexander Hamilton-Brown – On My Way


First Place The Tail of a Comet by Karin Hedetniemi It’s never easy to tell a sad story, but it takes a very good writer to take the reader on a journey with them into that sadness and loss. I felt not so much like I was reading this story, but more that I was sitting at a kitchen table, over a cup of tea in the evening while a dear friend told it to me. Very well written. Second Place Heartbreak Journal by Pete Crutchfield A fine piece of writing. I was struck by how the writer was able to portray the desolation and loneliness that one feels at the untimely and unexpected death, or impending death of a parent. The writer portrayed this with subtlety and skill. Excellent pacing, and an excellent ending. Well done. Third Place The Jackknife by Jennifer M. Smith Bravery is sometimes a huge thing, and sometimes is an act of remarkable simplicity. Childhood is full of self-discovery. Discovering our own bravery, and a moment to be proud of ourselves can be one of the most cherished memories that we hold. The writer found one of these times and tells us the story beautifully. I could feel myself there beside them. A thoroughly enjoyable read. “It was a difficult job, as there were a number of high quality stories .Thanks for the opportunity.” - Bryant Ross


Ruth Kozak

It’s almost Halloween, that time of year when ghosts, goblins and spooks roam the earth. In ancient times, the Greeks celebrated this day with rites to Hekate, Goddess of the Underworld, and sacrificed a black dog. The Celts celebrated it as Samhain, a time when the dark spirits roam the earth. They had rituals around an open fire, told stories, and threw white stones into the fires – one representing each person in the group – and when the fire burned down, if one of those stones was gone, that person would die. In modern times, we celebrate it as a fun time, with costumes and jack-o-lanterns in our windows and children collecting ‘trick or treats’ in the neighbourhood. But are there really ghosts and goblins out there to spook us? As a child I was convinced of the existence of ghosts. My playmates used to tease me. One playmate pointed out some white berries on a bush and told me they were ‘ghost eggs’. I believed her! We sometimes played in a decrepit abandoned barn that had a dirt cellar. I was convinced it was haunted! I didn’t believe in the kinds of ghosts that hide in your closet or under your bed. To me, they were real ‘spirits’ who haunted dark hallways and abandoned buildings. But do they really exist? One night, when I was about fourteen years old, I recall waking suddenly from a deep sleep. There, standing beside my bed were

two men: one a short Asian man and the other a tall, thin man wearing an overcoat and fedora hat. At first I wondered if they were thieves who had broken into our house, but I was too afraid to cry out to my parents downstairs. I just laid there without moving and the men stood smiling down at me. To this day I don’t know how long this scenario went on. Eventually I must have fallen asleep again. But I have never forgotten this encounter. It troubled me, but I too scared to tell my parents because I simply didn’t know if these men were real or some half-waking vision I’d had. I wondered if they could have been the spirits of men who may have at one time lived in the house. Who were they? Some time ago I read about this kind of phenomena. I can’t recall what it was called, but evidently these “spirits” often appear as a kind of reassurance. These men were certainly not menacing me, even though I was frightened. And to this day I can remember what they looked like, smiling down at me. I have had ‘ghostly’ encounters since then as well. My mother died at the age of 53 and I recall that the day I was preparing to attend her funeral I was sitting at the dresser looking into the mirror fixing my hair. And there was my mother standing behind me, smiling. “You look lovely, dear!” she said. Then she disappeared. I’ve felt her presence many times in my life and my father, also. I frequently find myself talking to him, as if he is near by. And another encounter I had was after my dear Chilean friend Anibal Munoz died of cancer. I was walking along Commercial Drive near where he used to live, and suddenly I felt him beside me. He didn’t speak, but he took my arm as we walked along together. Another ghostly encounter that I experienced was on a trip to Long Beach, Vancouver Island. My friend Susan and I were on the beach at Florenzia Bay one night sitting by a beach fire. I felt a presence near me and looked up to see a young man standing beside the log where I was sitting. He was dressed in a tweed jacket and jeans or dark pants. He didn’t speak, just stood there as if waiting to be

invited to join us. I turned away to speak to my friend and when I looked back he had disappeared. I thought it was the spirit of one of the hippies who used to frequent that beach. I was very curious about this visitation and decided to do some research about Florenzia Bay. I discovered that in the early 1800’s there had been a shipwreck off the shore near there and many people, mostly British passengers, had died. I thought of this unusual visitation by the young man and I wondered if he was one of those people. I have never forgotten that sighting and thought about it when I visited Florenzia Bay again recently. These ghostly ‘sightings’, feeling their presence and knowing they are there, are real. And I’m sure other people experience them as well. Perhaps they are there to reassure and comfort us. Ghostly sightings at Halloween might be scary. These other visitations by spirits of those gone before us are definitely not!

--------------------------------------------------------------------------- copyright W. Ruth Kozak

Good One, eh Charlie Brown? © H.W.


Continuing the great tradition of The Wonder Pumpkin Watch Night, Petey dons his orange Great Wonder Pumpkin cape and trots through the dusk to the Wonder Pumpkin Patch, home haunt of the Great Wonder Pumpkin himself. Hero of eons of folklore, Wonder Pumpkin’s reputation had captured Petey’s undivided attention the day he first heard the story. And that story was that the Great Wonder Pumpkin would appear in the pumpkin patch on Hallowee’en night when it was foggy and eerie and dark. Tonight is foggy and eerie and dark. The moon shadows the earth. Petey looks pale. Petey takes up his position. It is a lone watch because the other kids laughed at his belief in the Wonder Pumpkin. They said it was supersition and that he was a foolish boy, that Wonder Pumpkin was a figment of the imagination, invented to fool kids into behaving. This made no sense to Petey. Petey’s steely eye sweeps the foggy scene. Surely an orange pumpkin, especially a magic superhero pumpkin, would show up against the wistful wispy lightness of the thin fog.

Then, thinks Petey, he’ll grant me my wish to get even with that pesky TUDY. Tudy is a girl in Petey’s Grade 2-3 class whose mission in life is to torment him, Petey, who has done nothing to deserve tormenting. Tudy, therefore, is a bully. Why she, like Peanut’s Lucy, is the kind to pull the football out from under you. She always offers him PEPPERMINT PATTIES, and when he reaches out for it, she pulls it away and stuffs it into her own big fat mouth. And Petey always falls for it. Peppermint patties, Tudy knows, are his favourites and that they are an offer he cannot refuse. There is a stir in the pumpkin patch. A sour wind twitches Petey’s nose. It is late and time is running out because the Wonder Pumpkin is due at the stroke of midnight. “it’s him! Petey strains to see him, his heart pounding. A cloud obscures the moon. The cloud passes. There it is again. Petey cocks his ear, willing the blood flow pounding loudly in his head to be still. A “Hoo-hoo,” comes from the trees surrounding the pumpkin patch. “Oh, Henry,” Petey tells the owl, annoyed. “Be quiet.” Then, nothing. “Ohh, “Petey groans, “not again this year. I’ll never get even.

In the distance, there is a raucous sound. It is the gang coming to jeer at him and to take him home. No doubt Tudy will be leading the pack. Petey get a fiendish idea. Lucky for him, Tudy is so busy bragging to the gang about how Petey is such a sucker and how she always fools him, that they have stopped walking. “It works every time,” Tudy brags to the pack,” sarcastic as ever. “Bet he’ll be asleep,” young Kelly says as they approach Petey’s lookout spot. “No, he won’t be asleep, Kelly. He’s too scared to sleep. I’m surprised he’s even brave enough to come out here alone. If his mother only knew. I should tell on him. Yeah, that’s what I’ll do. I’ll tell on him this yea—EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEK!!” Tudy has stumbled over, and landed on her back. As she sits up to right herself, she is staring at “Punkin Head,” on Petey’s body. Wonder Pumpkin’s revenge. The gang circles around staring, not knowing what to do. Slowly the big pumpkin rises from the ground, a muffled “OOOoooooo” eminating from it. Tudy runs off into the dark of the night screaming, “Wonder Pumpkin ate Petey. Wonder Pumpkin ate Petey.” That pesky cloud covers the moon again. There is a loud “Hoo-hoo” and the sound of flapping wings as Henry, too, takes off.

The gang dances on one foot, then the next, petrified at the loss of Petey. Two hands reach up from the pumpkin and wiggles the pumpkin to raise it up. And there stands a pumpkin-gut smeared Petey face. Petey laughs. “Wonder Pumpkin came,” he announces. “He granted my wish!” And he swiped some pumpkin off his face and stuck his finger in his mouth.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------ copyright H.W. Bryce

Sherry Duggal on the Ghazal form of poetry:

• The ghazal originated in Arabia in the 7th century. It remains popular as a sung form in parts of the world where the distinction between poetry (words for the spoken voice) and song lyrics (words for the sung voice, with specific melody) is not so distinct. • One line is called a misra • Sher: A poem of two lines, not necessarily rhyming. Not to be confused with a couplet, which rhymes AA. Each segment of a ghazal is a sher. • Beher: The meter of the sher. Both the length and the rhythm. All lines in a ghazal must be of the same beher. • Radif: The repeated refrain that ends the first two lines of the first sher and the last line of each other sher. • Kaafiyaa: The rhyming pattern of the words that precede each radif. They need not be the same word, but they should ryhme. • Matla: The first sher in a ghazal. The one where each line ends with the radif. The opening couplet of the Ghazal is always a representative couplet it sets the mood and tone of the poem and prepares us for its proper appreciation. • Takhallus: The pen name the ghazal poet is known by. •

“Ghalib” is the takhallus of Mirza Asadullakhan.

• Maqta: The last sher of a ghazal, where the poet uses his takhallus.

A true ghazal must have all of these elements. The result, after a great deal of passion and toil, is a beautiful and memorable artwork. Also, it is a deep expression of its cultural roots.

Even The Rain By Agha Shahid Ali What will suffice for a true-love knot? Even the rain? But he has bought grief’s lottery, bought even the rain. “Our glosses / wanting in this world”—“Can you remember?” Anyone!—“when we thought / the poets taught” even the rain? After we died—That was it!—God left us in the dark. And as we forgot the dark, we forgot even the rain. Drought was over. Where was I? Drinks were on the house. For mixers, my love, you’d poured—what?—even the rain. Of this pear-shaped orange’s perfumed twist, I will say: Extract Vermouth from the bergamot, even the rain. How did the Enemy love you—with earth? air? and fire? He held just one thing back till he got even: the rain. This is God’s site for a new house of executions? You swear by the Bible, Despot, even the rain? After the bones—those flowers—this was found in the urn: The lost river, ashes from the ghat, even the rain. What was I to prophesy if not the end of the world? A salt pillar for the lonely lot, even the rain. How the air raged, desperate, streaming the earth with flames— To help burn down my house, Fire sought even the rain. He would raze the mountains, he would level the waves; he would, to smooth his epic plot, even the rain. New York belongs at daybreak to only me, just me— To make this claim Memory’s brought even the rain. They’ve found the knife that killed you, but whose prints are these? No one has such small hands, Shahid, not even the rain.



Engaged as a sub-gardener at the age of fourteen, Victor Fife had worked his entire life in servitude to the estate of the late Earl of Carrick. After eighty-six years, he stood alone in the empty greenhouse attached to the garden in which the castle’s vegetables and herbs had been grown. Empty but for one ancient plant imported from the Americas a month before it had been assigned to him as its sole caregiver. It was so small that the pot in which it had been rooted fit snuggly in his young hands.

Through rheumy eyes, Victor scanned the empty greenhouse remembering the grandeur first revealed to him – a myriad of exotic flora bearing unique blooms and fruit, like banana vines, tomato plants, pawpaw trees, cucumbers, pumpkins and other gourd vines, the beauty and marvel of which he could never have imagined, but for his fortunate employment. Some plants did not bear fruit. Instead, they bore beautiful, often fragrant and always colourful

blooms, including small monkey-face orchids from Peru and the putrid smelling plant nicknamed the Corpse. Fortunately, he thought, that one had rarely bloomed.

With trembling hands, he raised a cup as small as the pot with which he had first been blessed and drank deeply of the clear, tasteless liquid.

It was the Earl’s wife who driven the acquisition of the unusual plants - her preferred pastime. She had borne the Earl the required number of children then abandoned them to the care of a nursemaid. She had refused any form of needle work, or other tasks expected of genteel women. Victor Fife had often overheard her muttering that gardening was her passion. Indeed, that passion had been obvious.

On the occasion of each new acquisition for her greenhouse, the lady of Carrick had engaged a child from the village as its caregiver. Each engagement had been for the lifetime of the plant, thereby ensuring guaranteed employment so long as the child took care to be successful. Some children had lasted only a matter of weeks or months, forced to return to their families in tears and shame for having caused the demise of one of the estate’s priceless plant.

I will not be one to return in tears, Victor had declared confidently, as he had set off all those years before, and, indeed, he had not. After eight-six years, he had out-lived them all . . . even the lady who had acquired his curious plant and engaged him as its tender.

Victor sighed and stroked the edge of a silky bloom affectionately. “I have lived a hundred years,” he said hoarsely. “My bones creak, my plumbing is faulty, my teeth have rotted. It won’t be long before my beating heart ceases. Then what shall become of you my love?” His trembling hand reached to stroke another bloom.

Tears escaped his near-blind eyes. He felt the need for sleep overwhelm him.

“We are both old, my friend,” he said wearily. “And we have lived well. You have grown in size and stature all these years, because I have loved and tended you well. So well, that you shall outlive me only for a short time. Alas, this one last meal will be the death of you too.”

With that final statement, Victor shed his clothes and climbed onto the cushiony pillows of his beloved bloom. His devotion had cost him both wife and family, but his pride had brought the estate honours and awards beyond anything his employer had ever imagined.

He tickled the fringe of hairs as delicate as eye lashes and felt the cushions rise to embrace him. He tickled them again and felt the gentle pressure cocoon him as a lover never did. He wriggled a few more times, seeking a comfortable position. As his mind drifted on the opium cloud, he felt his lover’s sticky juices squirt over him like saliva. Soon, he thought, soon, you shall release me of my obligations and my loneliness. Soon…

~ Some weeks later, a gardener from a neighbouring estate opened the greenhouse door calling Victor Fife’s name. When Victor failed to answer, the neighbour stepped into the massive, empty building that had once seen such splendor, only to find the old man’s prized Venus Flytrap in its last throes of death. Next to it sat a neat pile of Victor’s clothing.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------- copyright Jerena Tobiasen

Burning Bridges Š Donna


As usual Heather awakes with a cold stone of dread bearing down on her chest. She crawls out of bed with new resolve to bring order to her home. She sits on the edge of her bed and looks toward the open closet. She had long ago stopped trying to wedge yet another hanger onto the sagging, wooden rod. She was lucky that she had found the vintage armoire at Value Village but that too is now stuffed to over-flowing.

Heather is handy with tools and has screwed some sturdy brass hooks onto the bedroom walls. They groan with their load of layered sweat pants and caftans and loungewear. The cardboard boxes lined up and stacked against the walls hold thrift store jeans in a range of sizes and styles which will surely come in handy eventually, depending on the success of Heather’s dieting efforts. Some will be cut up and used for the denim quilt that Heather has been planning to make just as soon as she gets time. The various shades of indigo will create a seascape scene, just like she remembers from that Broken Islands kayaking trip

with Matthew back in 1984 or was it 1985? How could she forget? It had to be 1985 since he moved out soon afterwards to live with the girl he met while working at Expo. He left with no concern for the half-finished patio he and Heather were building with scrounged wooden pallets in the backyard or for their travel plans to hike around Lake Arenal in Costa Rica that winter. Over the years the grass and weeds grew over, through and around the pallets so that no trace of them remained.

The laundry basket beside the bed overflows and smells musty -- a good place to start. During a quick stop in the bathroom on her way to the washing machine she notices four near empty shampoo bottles lined up along the side of the tub. She could empty them all into one bottle and recycle the empties. Heather steps over the laundry basket and opens a kitchen cupboard to look for her funnel. Empty yogurt and cottage cheese containers cascade out of the cupboard like a waterfall. Some contain black, seed-like mouse droppings. Heather reminds herself to set the traps again. The containers will come in handy to freeze the blackberries that she plans to pick in her back lane this summer. Blackberry tarts were her signature pot-luck dish -- everyone loved them and praised her tender pastry. But recently social invitations have dwindled to a sporadic trickle.

She re-stacks the containers, finds no space on the counter so sets them atop a Rubbermaid bin holding a stack of Vancouver Suns which her neighbour has passed on to her. She is a few issues behind. The stack rises far above the top of the bin. What would happen if she recycled the whole pile without reading them? She looks down into the blue bin and sees a couple of white envelope corners peeking out from between the newspapers. She slides the envelopes out of the pile and opens them. One is her municipal tax notice, now overdue, having earned a ‘late’ penalty. The other is her reimbursement cheque for $467.00 from her extended health plan. The physio, the chiropractic and massage user fees add up fast but the human touch in any form brings comfort, conjures her memories of intimacy and youth. Her health history ranges from chronic conditions and rare disorders to mysterious ailments that numerous health practitioners have been flummoxed in trying to treat.

Heather can’t imagine how her mail could have gotten mixed up with the old newspapers. She reminds herself to sit down and sort through the whole stack, just as soon as she finds the time. She carries the letters to the living room and adds it to the pile on the coffee table. The room is littered with plastic grocery store bags that hold the ‘treasures’ she has found at Liquidation World for next to nothing – great deals like bright metallic Mexican garlands, white gym socks by the dozen and lime-green St. Tropez beach bags. She convinces herself that each find will come in handy, be useful to someone. The thrill of finding a

bargain gives her moments of reprieve, a break from feeling the shame of compulsive buying and the dread of knowing that her secret is becoming obvious. Secrecy must be maintained by limiting visitors but the loneliness is almost as hard to endure.

Heather returns to the kitchen and opens her refrigerator. It is packed full of food, much of it bought at the low-income store and close to or past its expiry date. Since being ‘down-sized’ from her tech company she has to stretch a dollar as best she can. Heather feels a sense of security to be so well prepared for unannounced guests or a food shortage of some kind. She finds an orange and peels off its wizened rind. Even before she removes the bulging lid of the compost bucket in her sink she can smell the putrid, fermenting rot. Inside is a writhing mass of crawling maggots. They taunt her – she feels a gag reflex rising in her throat.

The doorbell rings. Heather freezes. “Dong, dong” it rings again. She slaps the plastic lid back on to the pail of gyrating larvae and looks out of her front window, pushing aside a tangled mass of gnarled aerial roots on her split-leaf philodendron so she can see. The plant’s proper name is Monstera Deliciosa -- it thrives on neglect.

Parked outside, displaying ReMax realtor signage, is a sleek, silver compact car. A small Asian man is standing at her door, dressed in a sport jacket, holding a slim, zippered binder over his head to protect him from the early spring rain.

By the time he leaves Heather is holding his business card and brochure. He says that he has a buyer for her property. They will pay more than $900,000 and will want to knock her tiny house down and re-build. Heather tries to think of the steps she could take to empty her house – yard sales, Craig’s list, trips to the Salvation Army, the sorting, the culling, the remembering of the pain of rejection from promising relationships that failed to deliver. Enlisting help from her diminishing list of friends is out of the question. Heather could not weather the judgment, the faces registering disbelief, disgust, horror.

Later she sits on her couch dressed in jeans, hiking boots and down vest. The realtor’s card is in her pocket. Her Toyota station wagon is packed with camping supplies. The backpack at her feet holds maps, laptop, passport and camera. On the coffee table in front of her, beside a chaotic pile of bills, flyers and junk mail sits a barbecue lighter.

Heather thinks of the collection of canning jars in the basement, now empty and useless and the boxes of plant pots, seeds and gardening tools that are dormant and covered with mildew under the back steps. She pictures her

collection of disintegrating patch kits for bicycle tires, canoes, tents. Relationships? In a corner by the furnace are crates full of her dead father’s memorabilia, covered in cobwebs. They remind her that pain is an inherited family heirloom. Despite her devotion to his care, the finer pieces of china and collectibles were gifted to her siblings.

Her mind drifts to an overheard conversation about the best place to see the desert flower bloom -- Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in California. The cold stone of dread in her chest grows warm, soft and floats away. She picks up the barbecue lighter, ignites the flame -- the deep blue and orange are like a desert sunset.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------ copyright Donna Terrill 2020 Write On Contest Fiction Judge