Board of Directors President: Nasreen Pejvack Viceâ€“President: Janet Kvammen Secretary/Treasurer: Antonia Levi Director at Large: Aidan Chafe Director at Large: Alan Girling Director at Large: Alan Hill
RCLAS Board Assistants
Deborah L. Kelly (Membership, Workshop Host) Lisa Strong (Website Management)
Write On! Contest 2017 Non-Fiction Winners & Honourable Mentions
5th Annual RCLAS Write On! Contest 2017 First Place Winner Non-Fiction TRAFFIC COP © Grayson Smith
Right now, I work as a traffic cop. If most people don’t like cops, it’s because of traffic cops. The truth is that 85% of police officers have no idea where their ticket books even are, which means that most of the tickets are written by we chosen few – the really cold-hearted bastards. And it’s not just the public that hates us, either. If a police department was a high school, traffic cops would be the uptight, arrogant debate team captain that nobody ever invites to anything, because he overconfidently floats from group to group talking loudly about his intellect, or his athleticism, or whatever other prowess is the topic of conversation. Traffic cops show no discretion, have no compassion, and live and die by the clear line between right and wrong. Traffic cops are monsters. So it was that I was tucked in down at the bottom of a hill, at the base of a 5-lane city road that turns into a highway just a few steps past me, in order to destroy the days of unsuspecting motorists whose speedometers had crept above the moral code of the speed limit. And of course, like all heartless people enjoy, it was like shooting fish in a barrel. I was working with a partner that day, and we had our hands full. Now my partner, a cop who had just switched to the section, was a mere tourist. He was only pretending to be a traffic cop, as he had spent the better part of 10 years as an emergency response guy, kicking in doors and calling out hostage-takers and heating up gangsters and lifting weights and overfilling his uniform and doing Hollywood police work, while we real cops kept the real danger at bay – yes, the real danger – driving and texting. So as you can imagine, my partner looked pretty much like me. Me, except he was bigger, and stronger, and faster, and fitter, and very likely better at his job, and he probably got paid more, and his hair was better. And as we worked at the bottom of that hill, where the road turns into a highway, my partner saw a guy walking along the grass shoulder, head down, but purposeful. The only issue was that there was no purpose for a pedestrian
to be in that area – there was nothing around there for businesses or homes or sidewalks or footpaths. So my partner calls out and asks him where he’s going, and the guy responds that he’s walking to a city that was 50 kilometers in the opposite direction. My partner told the guy to stop and chat with me, which he did. I, too, asked the guy where he was going and he instead casually told me that he was walking to the 250-foot bridge just a few steps away to jump off and kill himself. Now, because I’m a highly-trained professional police officer, equipped to efficiently and safely deal with instantaneous life-and-death decisions, I did what any tactically-sound police officer would do: I hugged him. I told him that I would rather he didn’t kill himself, that I would like to talk to him for a few minutes before he made his final decision about it, and that I was curious to know some of the reasons he was going to go jump off a bridge. It’s a police officer’s duty to apprehend a person who is going to harm himself – the question that always remains is how. All the while, my arm still over his shoulder, I was giving my partner the wild eyebrows to get him over here. While my partner was sending another lucky customer on her way, I continued to chat with the guy, baffling him with bullshit, and managed to convince him that we would all be better off if I put him in handcuffs while we talked. He agreed, and he told me about some of the things that put him on the side of the road that day. He was cooperative, easygoing, quiet, and at one point, he asked if I could take the cuffs off so he could have a smoke. Normally, in the face of mellow behaviour like this, I would have no problem doing this, but on this day, the cuffs stayed on, and he had his smoke like Jimmy Dean. When someone is apprehended because they are going to harm themselves, police officers are required to deliver them to a doctor immediately. My vehicle was not equipped with a prisoner transport compartment, so we handed him off to a uniformed patrol officer to drive him to the hospital. While we were waiting for the transport to arrive, we learned from a check of police records that this guy had over 30 charges specifically for assaulting cops. Despite this, the guy was apparently calm, cooperative, and quiet throughout the ride and inside the hospital. By the time the transporting officer and the guy reached the private waiting room, nothing had changed. The officer removed the handcuffs, and in an instant the fight was on. It was an unexpected explosion of violence from a quiet calm that resulted in an officer-needs-assistance call over the radio and multiple people to subdue the
guy on the hall floor of the hospital. The officer ended up being off for months while several broken bones healed. When I found out what had happened, I was incredulous in the way that someone is who has just walked over a bridge and then turns around to watch it collapse. I know what would have happened had the guy decided I was going to be his sparring partner. Worst case scenario, I would have taken a sucker punch behind the ear and it would have been game over. Best case scenario, we would have grabbed each other and spun out into traffic until we finally fell the ground, locked up like a schoolyard spat, if we weren’t hit by a car first. I envisioned myself getting wailed on while my partner loomed over us, calling for me to pull myself together and deal with this guy, don’t let him do that, why hadn’t I trained harder, until finally he would have stepped in to save me. The guy was short, but he was wide, and bold, and obviously never met a cop he didn’t hate. And yet on that day, the guy didn’t pick me. On that day, his immediate response wasn’t aggression, but compliance in the face of someone who didn’t jack him up. I have no idea why a guy like this, who seems to have had every reason to respond with violence, chose not to. I still get ribbed on the job about being a hugger from this interaction, but I think it might have been worth it. It certainly beats getting tossed around or having to hurt a guy badly enough to force him to stop fighting. It may just have been that a compassionate response, instead of the aggression that he anticipated, was enough to put him back on his heels long enough to see his way into a different type of interaction. And maybe it’s something that this cold-hearted traffic cop can put into his toolbox for another time when it’s needed.
5th Annual RCLAS Write On! Contest 2017 Second Place Winner Non-Fiction
PRIVATE DANCING – IN THE LANE © Marylee Stephenson
He is a druggie and a dealer. I’d been “acquainted” with him for a couple of decades. My office was on the Drive, the old Italian area of Vancouver, replete with lesbian life, cappuccino bars, up-and-coming residents in renovated homes, and beggars and pit bulls on every block. The office was below his flat, and secretive characters would slink up the stairs now and then. He must have been the main supplier to his wife, who seemed to move in slow motion, eyes glazed, permanently guilt-ridden and cringing look on her face. He was wiry to the point of gaunt, with un-braced canine teeth that made him look somehow cunning and rapacious. But of the latter I can't be sure, but once on a latenight-deadline’s work, I heard crashes and then a thump from above that actually shook the ceiling that was their floor. I called the police, thinking of his wife, alone with just him. The police came, quickly. When they left, he arrived at our door, screaming in outrage that I had dared to invade his privacy and call the police. Somehow holding my voice steady I returned a yell that said if I ever know there is a woman alone and I hear noises like that “I call the police!” Somehow I held it together and he backed away. From then on he was somehow obsequious when our paths crossed—eyes not meeting mine, small tense smile. I went back to my usual explanation for such behaviour, that he must have been terribly abused and bullied as a child and when someone showed some strength he would turn to trying to please them. In contrast to all of these happenings, over time I’d seen that there was one aspect of him that was somehow touching. He works for the city, driving a half-ton truck, for repair work or gardening -- I can't tell exactly, but it takes him from place to place and I suspect from buyer to buyer. For himself, he has an old, no-name American car, cheap in its day and surely worthless now. But not to him. Every week he goes out into the backlane shared parking lot, where he cares for it meticulously, total wash and wax. It was one of those long Vancouver evenings -- the rare sun blasting down still, and full daylight at 8 p.m. or so. I came out the back of my building
to get to my car. He was stripped down to shorts, his body lean but not conditioned. There's no hose, so he had buckets scattered here and there, and he was singing. Rough voice, not strong but in tune, and certainly audible. From My Fair Lady -- "On the Street Where You Live." He finished a few words and saw me smiling. It was one of those few days when I was dressed up for meetings, wearing high heels even, a great contrast from my usual cargo pants and t-shirt. I felt very "up" myself and rather tuneful. He stopped swabbing the car and called out, "Is that Tony Bennett that I hear? Could that be Tony Bennett?" No, I said, searching back for other Italian singers of bygone days, "I think I hear Vic Damone!" Laughing, he went on with the song, quickly running out of the words, but humming loudly. By then I was not far from him, near my own car -- but I know all the words to the song. I thought, "What the hell, you're a performer!" So I turned and singing at a near yell, so he could hear from a distance, began..."I have often walked on this street before/But the pavement always stayed beneath my feet before." I walked closer, keeping up with the song, so he would hear the words, and see I was joining him. "All at once am I / several stories high / knowing I'm on the street where you live." His eyes widened, a huge smile appears. He got up, began to walk toward me. He tried to join in when he could, mostly humming and clearly delighted. "People stop and stare / They don't bother me / Cause there's no place else on earth that I would RAHTHER be!” By then I was running out of words and he was just in front of me, beaming. Suddenly, he reached out, took me in a very formal waltz position, arms outstretched, no contact except hand to hand and a light guiding pressure on my back. I kept singing, “Let the time go by / (BIG note now): I-I-I-I-I don't care if I / can be here / on the street / where you live.” With that he began twirling me round and round in that filthy, needle-strewn parking lot. His hand and shoulders sweaty from his work, me going back to the first verse and still singing, only a little softer this time, as we were face to face, hand to hand. “And OH the towering feeling / just to KNOW somehow you are near / the over powering feeling / that any second you may suddenly appear..." Round and round and round -- the blur of beat up cars, dying weeds, garbage bins, condoms, flashing past my eyes as we whirled.
A few more turns and then our laughter broke up the song and the dance. He dropped my hand, his other hand moving away from my back. Stepped back a pace, performed a gentlemanly bow from the waist. Straightened up, and in his raspy, smoke-shaped voice said, "Thank you for being romantic." his.
Dance over, mutual smile -- I went to my car, he went back to sloshing
5th Annual RCLAS Write On! Contest 2017 Third Place Winner Non-Fiction
TIME TRAVEL IN LANTIAN © Neil McKinnon
We were lost, the driver was mad, the temperature was forty-five degrees, and my ass hurt. I gingerly leaned forward to absorb the next pothole. Unanchored, my sodden ache of a body went up as the Toyota roof came down. Lightning flashed in excruciating symmetry with pain waves in my skull. I hung on and bounced back into the seat. Nauseous and dizzy, I blocked out the others and thought of why we were here. *** We had been lazing in the restaurant in Lanzhou munching on bao-zhe and washing it down with Qinghai beer. "The project's going well, I think we'll finish early." Michael smiled through his black beard and his eyes sparkled as he went on. “It would be a shame to be in northwestern China and not visit Lantian. We can catch the midnight train to Xi'an and then rent a car.” He continued, but I hadn't heard him. My mind was already sixteen hours down the track in Xi'an. Xi'an, in the centre of Shaanxi Province, is the historic and prehistoric Mecca of China. For over two thousand years it served as the imperial capital, starting with the Western Zhou Dynasty and ending with the Tang Dynasty one thousand years ago. Camel trains, carrying silk and other exotic cargo for the courts of Roman Caesars, started here and followed the old Silk Road across Asia. Nearby geographically and more distant in time is Banpo, a seven thousand year old village, where the Neolithic Yangshao people settled and developed agriculture. Farther east, near Mount Lishan, is the terracotta army of Emperor Qin. Even closer in time and distance is Hua Qing Hot Springs where Chiang Kaishek, minus his false teeth, was captured in his pajamas and forced to ally with the communists in 1936.
But the ultimate in time travel is to visit Lantian, not the home of a new dynasty or culture, but one of the few known cradles of humankind. In 1963 geologists discovered a Homo erectus mandible near Chenjiawo village. A year later a skull-cap with facial bones was found at Gongwangling Hill in the foothills of the Qinling Mountains. Both sites are in Lantian County near Xi'an. Both yielded quartzite choppers, scrapers, and other stone tools along with remains of extinct sabre tooth tiger, stegodon, and giant macaque. Lantian Man is more than 1.6 million years old. But, he is an impostor, a fake—for it has now been shown that Lantian Man is a woman. In fact, both Lantian men are women! *** We had arrived the previous evening. After sixteen hours the train jerked to a stop and a prolonged hiss outside the open window announced our arrival. I pulled myself out of my reverie, rubbed soot from my eyes and peered through hazy clouds of escaping steam. Ancient city walls loomed alongside the track reflected in the murky water of the Wei River. Solemn, dirty faced kids, looking for treasure, crawled through the train windows as we dragged our luggage to the front of the car and stepped down ... into Xi'an ... and back into time. Now we are about to visit our very beginnings. We know Gongwangling is about fifty miles southeast of the city and decide to ask directions along the way. This isn't easy, however, as we soon discover we are being piloted by China's answer to Mario Andretti—a very bad humored Mario Andretti. Two harrowing hours, a headache and one traffic ticket later we climb Gongwangling Hill. We're welcomed by Mr. Gao, a thin man whose cheeks wrinkle as he gives us a big grin and introduces himself as the site director. He leads us into the museum. Soon we are staring past massive brow ridges into cavernous eyes. The skull is low and wide and the bones are thick. No dainty doll, this lady is sturdy and stable. “Homo erectus meet Homo sapiens. Our Lady of Lantian, it's us, your misbegotten sons and daughters.” My companions speak in whispers. To look across a million years is very intense. We climb to the site and from high on Gongwangling gaze across lush landscape patterned in dark green and yellow squares punctuated by leafy trees
and toadstool haystacks. Lantian Lady had looked across this land. She had stood here above pine forest now turned to canola and cereal—then had slept an eternity surrounded by soft red clay. “What was here,” I wondered, “that allowed her to survive? Why here? What other secrets do the Qinling mountains hold? Where did she come from? Did she have children? Had she known love, fear, warmth, hunger? How did she die?” A thousand questions and few answers. What is Michael saying? “Homo erectus had fire.” Wow! Fire and cooking, one million years ago! His voice is hushed. I understand. He too has dreamed of this place. The answers are here all around us. If we treat them right the stones will tell us. The skull and the dirt itself will tell us. Is this lady God or Prometheus? Are we on Mount Olympus or Last Stand Hill? Locked beneath our feet are all the answers. I return to look at the bumpy brown cranium. This woman had survived. She was still surviving. She'd spread her genes throughout the world and now her offspring had returned to pay homage. Soon it is time to leave. A grinning Mr. Gao brings us tea and cigarettes. He's very proud of his site which has attracted so many from so far. I take his picture to send back. Chenjiawo is dusty and dirty brown. Dry clay flows from streets into walls; from walls into houses. Noisy chickens scratch the clay. An old lady with tiny feet stirs a large pot in the middle of the street. The dust hangs in the heat mixing with flies and the smell of burning dung. Sheep and pigs and goats split apart as we inch up a transporter trail in our overheated van bullied on by our overheated driver. Both he and the van will kill us going down. But we don't care. We are in Eden, where it all started. We are too excited to notice dirt. The town's beauty is in its past, not its present; in its setting, not its houses. Two boys run ahead. They're not afraid of crazy foreigners. Others have been here before us. One is serious in yellow t-shirt and shorts; the other grinning and outgoing. Both have brush cuts and curious, open faces. They run ahead to show us the place that has made this tiny village known in Moscow, Phoenix and Calgary. They are puffed up and proud that we have come to their village from Jianada. Excited white teeth flash and chatter nonstop as they clamber down the red clay of the cliff.
They are right to be proud. This clay the village stands on, and is built of, is that used by God to create Eve. The Sunday School story pales beside this earthy lady who has bridged the genus gap en route from ape. We pause at the top of a 100 foot cliff, red clay hanging from our heels and ponder our infinite past. Then sliding and falling, we scramble down, back beyond the timelessness of the village to our beginnings. The Lady stood here; made tools here; cooked food here; had children here; hunted here; perhaps went hungry here; and eventually died here. Then like her sister at Gongwangling she had rested for eons in the reddish brown clay. The dry clay preserves and produces. It is the essence of civilization. From it grew grass which fed the animal which fed the Lady. From it now grows green hued cereals, and yellow rape, and white flowered potatoes. In a sense she'd sown herself in this fertile land and in a million-year growing season produced a vibrant, thriving, self-sustaining cropâ€”all of us. I hear a shout. High above me a yellow t-shirt is waving from today, beckoning us back to the village. Later, as we silently inch down the trail to the main road, even our driver is subdued. We have all been touched by something sacred. There is a connection; a common bond through the centuries. Each of us gives thanks to the Lady for enduring. Our debt is large. It must be acknowledged but can never be repaid. How can we repay our own existence? Perhaps we can only protect tomorrow for our children's children and make a world where they too, centuries in the future, will feel the link to the past and so connect with us who go before.
5th Annual RCLAS Write On! Contest 2017 Honourable Mention Non-Fiction IN THE PRESENCE OF AN ANGRY GHOST ÂŠ Lozan Yamolky
In a dimly lit big room on a cold winter night, we sat silent watching and listening to men sitting around a wooden board with letters on it and a little glass cup turned upside down. Two of the men had a pointy finger on the bottom of that glass. It moved over the letters to form words in what we were told was the spirit of the dead answering questions asked by the living. The man our dad invited to host the terrifying ritualistic scene was apparently an expert at conjuring up spirts. This was to proof to our dad that this whole Ouija Board is not just a `load of bologna` as he argued when he first heard of such phenomena. It was a big deal for us to witness our dad change his mind and be convinced. Our dad was a man who was an atheist and believed only in science and the laws of physics. That is why when grown men told him about this Ouija Board phenomenon, he insisted on seeing it with his own eyes. The sight of dad`s shocked facial expression was as if he had just seen a ghost, It was quite an unforgettable sight because what communicated through the alphabet, created words only dad and his father knew. Few days later, my sisters and I got this terrific idea; why donâ€™t we do it ourselves? Despite being told by the grownups not to do it, we decided to do it anyhow; it would be our little secret. For a group of four teenage girls, it seemed like a great idea at the time. Recalling the memory of that day even years later sends chill down my spine. On a quiet afternoon, four of us girls gathered together in the biggest room on the second floor while the house downstairs was full of guests. I mean honestly, what's the worst that can happen, we thought. After all, it's just a
stupid wooden board with words on it & an upside down small glass. No matter what happens, we felt we can handle it. Since nobody we knew was dead, we decided to contact a dead famous Arabian singer or someone like that and ask their spirits questions to prove to us they’re real. Besides we wanted to prove we can do what grownups do. Our room had 4 beds in it; it was a rectangular shaped room. Roxy sat on the bed by the Ouija Board that was on the floor below her and I was standing with my back to them. Neither Roxy nor I took this seriously because to be honest besides being skeptical, doubtful and chatty, deep down we were a bit afraid so we chose to make humor out of it. I was the one who dimmed the florescent lights by placing large thick newspaper pages over the long tube up near the ceiling. Just as you hang a towel over a towel rack. I stood below one of the lights ironing my brother’s military uniforms while Roxy sat doing her homework. Viyan and her friend started the rituals and before we knew it, we had a spirit answering questions by moving the cup over the letters and words as the friend asked questions. Roxy was sitting there with pen and paper recording each letter the little glass cup was stopping on. “Is somebody here?” my sister’s friend asked. The little glass cup moved to the word: “Yes!” “Are you male or female?” “Male.” “Are you a good or a bad spirit?” Pause. The little glass cup didn’t move. “What is your name?” “Shamhurish Murrah El-Abiad Abu El-Hareth”
Both my sister and her friend pulled their fingers away from the cup, looked at each other and looked at us and whispered, “Did you see how long and weird his name was?” My sister said, “This means he`s from the bad side not the good side. We must let him go by telling him to leave.” As they were gathering themselves to ask the next question to let him go, Roxy and I giggled and laughed, Roxy said, “Bad side my ARS, here`s something will turn you into a good, sweet ghost.” She grabbed a handful of little candy, tipped the little glass cup up, shoved candy into the cup and tipped it back over with candy full inside. At the same time as she did that, I waved my hot steaming iron up in the air shouted, “Hey, come here oh bad ghost, I can straightened you up with my iron.” Now what happened in a split second after that, nobody could have made me believe even if a thousand people told it. We all looked up at the florescent light above me, it looked like as if two invisible hands plucked the large newspapers off the light and in a lightning speed threw them both in a straight line clear across the other end of the room! It was humanly impossible for anyone to move those heavy newspapers in that speed and that manner. The four of us ran so fast out of that room screaming, non of us can recall us even getting through the door or taking the stairs downstairs. Suddenly we were hugging dad and talking all at once about what happened. Naturally, he didn’t believe us entirely yet calmed us down and after he inspected our room, he took the Ouija board and told us not to worry any longer. He thought we simply had wild imaginations. Nothing could have convinced us otherwise; we were in the presence of an angry ghost. We knew we did something terribly wrong. We learned the hard way that it is a bad idea. I was told that Ouija Boards are a doorway, and unless we know how to interrogate the spirit, we have no idea whatsoever who or what is communicating with us; what it is capable of and worst of all, when it refuses to leave. We learned the scary way that we have opened a door, and called the spirit through.
After few sleepless nights of hearing strange voice, flickering lights, objects moving in our room and just plain scared out of our mind, the man who did the first session in our house, came back and did a seating in our bedroom and contact that spirit and ask him to leave. There were a couple of spots on his board â€“hello & goodbye. We sat politely and witnessed how that spirit â€“for a lack of a better explanation, argued with the man stating that the girls brought him here; they disrespected me he said. After few polite requests, the man managed to set the spirit out of our room, out of our house and out of our lives. He cleansed our room sending Shamhurish Murrah El-Abiad Abu El-Hareth back to where he belongs; the bad side!
5th Annual RCLAS Write On! Contest 2017 Honourable Mention Non-Fiction
PILGRIM © Margaret Lynch
Early morning on the Camino is my favourite time of day. The stiffness in my legs eases as I start to walk. After sunrise, shapes materialize and bulging knapsacks create an army of hunchbacks. There is little conversation yet, as peregrinos consider the day ahead. Only the sound of walking sticks attacking the pavement, like woodpeckers gouging a tree. I have already walked 200 kilometres of the Camino de Santiago, following in the footsteps of pilgrims dating back to the 11th century. Carrying my belongings, I walk from village to village, staying in communal refugios at night. The air is unusually fragrant today. At first, I think it’s my muscle liniment then remember I’ve used that all up. I look around for flowers, but there are none. I‘m in a forest. With peeling bark and slim ribbons for leaves, eucalyptus trees tower above me. For the first time in days, the sun is out, casting my long pilgrim shadow ahead. I inhale deeply and savour the moment, at peace with the world and myself. *** The Camino had been on my bucket list for 10 years. After reading an article in the Globe & Mail about a man who walked it, I knew I would too. I thought it would be with a partner, a friend, a group of people. It was too dangerous to go on my own. I didn’t speak Spanish, what if I got lost or sick. Who would help me? They say the Camino calls you; that you walk when you’re ready, when you need it the most. October of 2013 was that time for me. I was working at a job I loved, fundraising for the hospital that had saved my life. It was the definition of a dream job. My boss Lynn was also a friend and mentor. But she had died six months ago in April and I still missed her, grieving her loss. She had died of cancer and I was celebrating the 25-year anniversary of my cancer experience, wondering what I would do with the next 25 years. The
juxtaposition of the two events provoked a complicated mixture of joy and guilt. I was on my own again at 56, after two failed marriages, with no children. I had a good life and thought it could be even better shared with a partner. So, one day I tried online dating. I wanted companionship, certainly not marriage or children or financial security. Ideally, there would be a partnership of equals. Two people bringing their best to a relationship with a mutual commitment to learn and grow. I met many decent people, some broken people, and more liars than I thought there would be at this later stage in life. I felt sorry for some of the men and made excuses for their selfishness and thoughtlessness. Mostly, I learned a lot about myself - my neediness and my insecurity. The last breakup was especially painful, prompting me to wonder, not for the first time, “What’s wrong with me?” I booked my trip to Spain that day. Tired of waiting for someone else, I knew it was time to walk the Camino by myself, for myself. *** I have walked for nine days. Rainy days were a blessing, masking tears that streamed down my face. Raging wind muffled my voice, raised in anger at an uncaring universe. Eventually, drained of emotion, I felt lighter. Conversations with people I met along the way were remarkably similar, regardless of nationality, stripped down to bare essentials, “Who am I? What do I want? What do I need?” Now, leaving the eucalyptus forest, I meet other pilgrims and trade the familiar “Buen Camino” greeting. Mid-day I stop in a small town for lunch and café con leche in a medieval stone building, grateful for the break from the hot October sun. After lunch, I walk alone and lose track of time. Putting one foot in front of the other, I forget about blisters and aching knees. Green hedges separate the quiet country road from fields of golden wheat on both sides. The road stretches ahead, gently rolling westward, towards the sea. There are no cars or people around, so I walk in the middle of the road.
A voice startles me. It begins in my belly button and rises up through my body. Like a speech bubble, “Aham Brahmasmi” explodes inside my head. If I believed in God, I would think he is speaking to me in tongues. My mind is blank except for those words, and they echo inside my head. Later that day, I Google the foreign words and learn that it is a Sanskrit sutra. Maybe I had heard it in a meditation once, who knows how I remembered it? The phrase relates to our awareness as whole beings, connected to the universe. Loosely translated it means, “I am the creator of myself.” Finally, I know that I am enough.
5th Annual RCLAS Write On! Contest 2017 Honourable Mention Non-Fiction THE SHORT CUT © David Delaney
Early morning, normally too early for us these days but my wife had a pathology appointment, so the idea was to get there as the doors were opening to get it over and done with. Arriving at our destination, and of course there were already a number of cars parked, obviously these people had the same idea as us, so I decided to wait in the car then watched my wife walk up the ramp and through the opened door. I was enjoying listening to the music playing on the radio when I had a sudden, slight pain that I needed to go to the. Knowing the pathology toilet was not opened I remembered the servo on the main road. I quickly went inside to let my wife know where I was going. Walking outside and again being reminded of my need to go, I didn’t want to walk all the way around the building, down the side street to the main road then to the servo. Yes! I know you are all thinking, “Why didn’t I just drive there! Well, I had this brilliant idea to take a short cut; this would only take about ten minutes, tops! See part of the servo’s parking area backed up to the rear corner of the pathology property separated by just under a meter guard rail then about a two and a half meter high sheer drop to the bitumen below. Stepping over the guard rail and onto the edge of the brown built panel fence retaining wall, squatting down with my right hand on top of the wall I looked down to where my landing point should be and thought, “Piece of cake, easily did this when I was around 20years old.” So with my confidence tank full to the brim, I launched myself off the top of that wall. It was like ultra slow motion (similar to Kung Fu Panda performing one of his round house kicks) but something was terribly wrong. I thought, “This is
not going to end well,” for during my descent my body had turned around. So now, I would land facing the wall, not at all what I had calculated. Touchdown was made with my left foot first as it searched for terra firma. This was a bad move for this threw me off balance and when my right foot hit the ground I was jettisoned away from the wall, backwards; must have looked like an Olympic walker only in reverse. I can’t remember how far I travelled like this but eventually gravity took over and down I went. Placing my hands behind me to hopefully break my fall I landed on my right butt then my back, badly scraping my right elbow as I skidded along the bitumen stopping with both my legs vertical, pointing skywards. The speed at which all this happened was no comparison to the speed I rolled to my left, grabbed my hat stood up and looked around to make sure no one saw my crash landing to earth. Dusting myself off, my butt was feeling sore, right shoulder blade felt on fire and my right elbow was emitting immense pain. On further investigation I found quite a decent amount of blood coming from this wound. I retrieved my hanky and dabbed the area several times before entering the servo, as I had an increased, intense reminder I needed to go. The automatic doors slid open as I walked inside, It was at this point the air conditioning hit my elbow sending excruciating pain up and down my arm. Trying to hold my composure without contorting my face with the pain, I walked down the aisle, sided both sides with the usual chips, lollies, two minute noodles, toys, magazines etc. I noticed the two workers at the counter. One male and one female sporting huge grins. “How are you today sir?” the lady asked. “I’m fine thank you, could I have the toilet key please?” I replied. She handed me the key. I thanked her and started to walk out. I was almost at the door when I looked back to see them watching me, still sporting those huge grins. “Don’t know what they are so happy about,” I thought to myself.
In the toilet I unrolled a wad of paper towel, folded it into a palm size square, dampened it then placed onto my painful elbow, persevering and doing what I originally went there to do. I went back to the basin where I unrolled some more paper towel as the first one was quite bloody and needed to be replaced. I held my arm up to the mirror and could see my wound was about the size of a twenty cent piece and reasonably deep. Tucking the paper towel into my rear pocket, I walked back inside the servo where once again the air conditioning hit my elbow sending pain up and down my arm. The two staff were still grinning like a pair of Cheshire cats. Handing the key back to the woman, I thank her then proceeded to walk outside where I retrieved the paper towel from my pocket and placed over my still bleeding elbow. Reaching the corner of the building I glanced over to where I had my mishap and shook my head in disbelief as I looked up to the sky, and then I saw it, a damn security camera fixed onto the corner of the overhang and facing, you know where! Yes! No wonder those two were grinning so much, they were probably in fits of laughter until I walked in. Head down, ego fully deflated, sore, aching and feeling sorry for myself, I walked the long way back to the car. Moral of this story.........when in your sixties donâ€™t listen to the twenty year old on your left shoulder, stick with the older and wiser bloke on your right.
2017 RCLAS Write On! Contest BIOS: Non-Fiction Winners & Honourable Mentions Grayson Smith was born in Alberta, but spent most of his school years in Germany before moving to the Lower Mainland to attend Simon Fraser University. For the vast majority of these years, he spent time writing stories when he should have been paying attention in his various classes. He is currently a police officer, and also the primary at Peppermint Toast Publishing, an independent small press in New Westminster that produces children's books in active partnerships with local charities. Grayson lives in New Westminster with his wife and three sons, each of whom are smarter and better-dressed than he is. Marylee Stephenson has been a non-fiction writer most of her adult life. Aside from hundreds of research reports as part of her professional career, she has authored a guidebook to the National Parks of Canada (3 editions, 3 languages) and a guidebook to the Galapagos Islands (currently out in its 3rd edition). Her vignettes, such as the 2nd prize winner for the 2017 RCLAS Write On! contest, have been published in the Tyee, the Monitor of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, the Asian Post, Globe and Mail, Senior Living, and the Scrivener. She is a very active story teller in the local spoken word community â€“ at the Flame, the Slam, and recently in an International Story Contest in Sequim, Washington. Neil McKinnon's articles have appeared in Canadian, Mexican and U.S. publications. His book Tuckahoe Slidebottle was short-listed for the Stephen Leacock Award for humour and for the Alberta Book Award for short fiction. His novel, The Greatest Lover of Last Tuesday, was published in 2015. He has served on literary juries and has also edited and published academically. He and his wife Judy have been married for 52 years. They live in Langley.
2017 RCLAS Write On! Contest BIOS: Non-Fiction Winners & Honourable Mentions Lozan Yamolky is a Canadian-Kurdish from northern Iraq. In Ankara Turkey as an asylum seeker, she worked as an interpreter with UNHCR, Canadian and Australian embassies and immigrated to Canada in ’95. In her teen years, she wrote poetry but kept it a secret and destroyed her poems fearing being judged for having strong feelings others didn’t seem to have or speak of. She started reciting and writing new poetry in fall of 2013 through open mic. She works as a freelance Kurdish & Arabic interpreter. Her second poetry book, Counting Waves (Silver Bow Publishing) launched October 2017. Her first book I’m No Hero was published by Silver Bow Publishing in October 2016. Visit her website https://lozanyamolky.com/ Margaret Lynch is an emerging creative non-fiction writer. She is a life-long learner and a curious traveler on roads off the beaten track in Europe, Asia, South America, New Zealand, and Australia. After an early career as a technology geek and fundraiser, she launched Lynch Digital Group, a boutique communications and social media consulting practice. She can be found and followed on Twitter at @lynchmm.
David J. Delaney, now in his late 60’s, left school at 15 years old only 3 months after “making” grade 8 feels in many ways has been a drawback involving his literary goals as he only starting “writing” in late December 2007 and has been a huge learning curb for him, he is still tackling how verbs, adjectives, nouns, syllables, etc, etc, work. As a poet, and memoir/short story writer, he has had wonderful support, in Cairns, Queensland, Australia and worldwide. His love for writing and the impact it has on everyday people, has, definitely been an inspiration for him to continue with something he honestly enjoys, and says “if I inspire one person to write and or showcase their work, then I have done my job”.
*** Copyright remains with the author. All rights reserved. Do not publish or use in any form without the authorâ€™s permission.
The Last Train from Avignon © Candice James
My name is Memphis Andromanya. I stand deep inside the parallax flux between yesterday and tomorrow. It is the day after yesterday. It is today. It is the day before tomorrow. It is today. Time moves in static shadows cast forevermore against the solid statue of upward mobility’s downcast eyes. This is the universe I live in. This is a world of torn tears caught in the treacherous jaws of a barbed wire riptide. I stand unzipping the sky, loosing lost demons, carving my voice onto the black of the night in the parallel flux between yesterday and tomorrow. Ear to the hard edge of the wind, I listen for the hollow whistle of the approaching train to nowhere. I am Memphis Andromanya. A drooping, pale-yellow horizon melts into the surreal train tracks. A bright navy-blue ribbon of twilight falls lazily across a fading summer field of wheat. Gray butterfingers of dusk slowly spread dark honey onto this moment in time. There is a face in the train window. A lonely face stained with teardrops, etched with a deep sorrow, grooved into a memory the soul can’t recall and the heart can’t forget. In the window of the train there is a lonely face that looks like mine; that has witnessed a million miles of melting surreal train tracks slowly disappear into a fading tear stained horizon.
~ I board eternity’s train. The zipper of time breaks. The groin of the world is exposed. Darkness seeps out; sweet, cloyed, lurid, tempting. It snakes through watery canyons gathering tears for alms; sliding, slinking toward the pending chaos. The shadow people emerge to drink from the darkness and caress its slake. They are battered bowling pins strewn down life’s lanes. They harbour and hold fast to their needles of iniquity, piercing the eye of midnight, slaying the moon, sun and stars to become one with the darkness they’ve become. They are daylight dragons hiding in the corners of this continuous night, ready to clip the nails of life to the quick, threatening to sew the groin of the world to the broken zipper of time.
I sit at the edge of darkness on the last train from Avignon. The flickering overhead lights are dim, covered in caked-on dust from another century. I am trying to flail off this feeling of dank trepidation that rests on my shoulders and creeps into my mind like gritty sand pushing into an empty shell. I am so weary, so tired; but my nemesis, sleep, continues to evade me along the hazy steeplechase we travel on. Ghosts come out to play with my mind throwing up jagged images to impede my journey into unconsciousness. In a darkened corner of my mind I hear disembodied voices, tangled in broken vines and fractured veins of sound, chanting their shrill incantations; hurling them at me like poisoned spears. They hang from broken branches protruding from my heart. Somewhere in my freefall into darkness, a spark of sentience bursts forth, jarring me into a state of semi-consciousness; and in this haze I wonder: “Am I awake? Am I asleep?” and then in horror, “Am I dead?” I grope for a tissue to wipe the sweat from my forehead. I try to settle myself as the train lurches and groans through the ebony edge of this endless night. Inside this speeding metal cocoon, I am lashed to the cross of frailty, stoned with barbed-wire words and crucified with sordid deeds from my past. These rabid ghosts of the fourth kind snake through my spirit, lacerating my soul with their rusty spears and arrows pillaged from yesterday’s ill-fated battles. In my nightmares, I have seen the blood of lovers running rampant over broken hearts. I have seen the scarred aftermath of love’s most treacherous wars; and more of these atrocities will be perpetrated in the name of the dark angel, turned ghostly, sitting beside me tonight. The drooling black lips of night whisper my name in a babble of muted incoherence. The dark angel that knows no mercy takes my hand and leads me away from everything I’ve ever held dear yet, at the same time, never held near. He leads me away from everything I’ve ever known as we travel in tandem alone yet together on the last train from Avignon.
~ A fading train whistle invades my consciousness. I awake on the other side of time and place in a land where everything looks the same but is totally different. Windows are doors; doors are windows, and people are people but they are a race of another ilk. I see them but they do not see me. I am an invisible, interloper; an interdimensional observer unable to interact. I simply watch. I don’t know how long I have been here, but it seems like forever. I crave conversation, touch, sleep but none of them come; none of them come. I am totally alone, trapped in a bubble of insanity it seems, suspended between heaven and hell. I am the ghostly residue of the millions of dreams these strangers in this strange world dream. I quantum leap in their space for awhile
and them am shunted like ghostly boxcar to another line, another life, another dreamer’s dream.
~ The dark side of night is fading, burying slices of moonbeams in its damp sticky pockets. A reluctant sun pokes its eye through fading beads of sweat on the sky’s forehead. In the cool wet damp of an ebbing rainfall I hover at the edge of Charlie Usher’s dream. He stands casually staring at the mist covered horizon. Here there is a cool wet damp expanding beneath a drunken sun riding broken bicycle dreams down a lost highway to nowhere. Charlie is daydreaming of a shimmering beach, tanned bodies walking, running, splashing and laughing. He stands casually waiting to hitch a ride to anywhere. Charlie is running away from cardboard creatures and lost souls. He’s tired of candling the night down to the core and weaving phantom dreams that won’t come true. Under the vapid eyes of a paling twilight, he breathes in the foggy remnants of second hand wishes. He churns them and burns them to ash beneath the hot buttered sparks of train wheels grinding the tracks of his tears to dust. He drinks in the horizon, gulping it like wine. On this hot thirsty night of no reprisals, he sways in drunken repose and mind-chases his shadow down the path of better days gone by. His soul, weather beaten, hangs in pockets of leather chafing the edge of night, opening his wounded dreams to the scalpel of his own home-grown terror. His face is wet, but he hasn’t been crying. The sky is crying. He doesn’t remember when the rain started but he’s certain it shows no sign of letting up soon. Each random drop, whipped by the want of its own need, relentlessly pursues the razor’s edge of the one in front of it. He’s trapped in a never-ending circle game of never win. Charlie broke his mirror of truth years ago; lives in a fantasy world; thinks he’s still handsome. His torn mouth twitches, groans into a grin showing yellowed and cracked teeth that glint in the broken bits of moonlight that decorate the one shoe he wears; the other foot bleeding and scarred. This damaged Prince Charming limps along these railway tracks searching for his broken Cinderella, knowing full well he will not find her. Wasted chants and wishes, unanswered prayers and rituals, shattered hopes and dreams and broken Cinderellas and damaged Prince Charmings are living and dying in obscurity; and I am forced to bear witness to their pain and live through their sorrow. The story, told through the scarred black lips of night, is always the same, only the faces and names change.
The walls narrow; the floorboards fly away and I fall through the ceiling of an unmanned, runaway, pump-car trolley traversing the tracks of Jenny Chalmers vibrant and dangerous dream. White time cracks building to black. Raindrops unstack. Clouds come untacked from the frayed fabric of a weakened sky. Jenny’s secrets and lies lure the ghouls of a demon train into her lair of lust. One touches her gossamer nightgown as she throws her crown of thorns onto the devil’s throne, becoming a satin doll, falling, barely alive in this altered atmosphere she has been transported to. She’s spent a lifetime polishing her tears to a shiny gloss with the mist from her wine scented breath. She rides the rails of karma seeking expiation from this deep black chasm where the hands of time hold court every night. She sees a tunnel too narrow looming in the distance. She and the train are hurtling toward it; toward their destruction. The night squeezes the light into lost works of art painted for her dark demise. Now, back to the wall Jenny’s rose-coloured glasses shatter and she is blinded by the light. Slowly she regains her focus and sees a bony, accusatory finger pointing to her blood-stained portrait. She bears silent witness to the depth of her fall. Crash! The charcoal smoke lingers then fades. Death! The train wreckage shape-shifts into a cracked and broken tombstone bearing her name which is unreadable; leaving not trace of her at all. I am her pain, her sorrow and her death. It’s all too much, but still not enough. Winter’s soul exits this mad masquerade ball and throws off it’s tattered disguise. I keep trying to climb out of this unblessed hell hole that keeps sucking me deeper into it’s depth. Torn dreams on parade mimic and ape the dreaded moment of truth approaching in thundering of engines and grinding wheels. I am ripped from this universe into the dining car of an antique steam engine train.
~ I’ve been catapulted into another dream. There is no rest for me. No reprieve. No respite. I am standing on a railway platform. I see a newspaper. It is the Transylvania news. The date is 1871 and I am one of a handful of people waiting at the Cluj-Napoca train station. Beside me on the slick, gun-metal gray platform, a snowy woman stands, hand in hand, with a midnight man packing a small child on his back. The child is crying, his sobs growing louder. The snowy woman reaches for him, gently caresses his fevered forehead, pressing her cold cracked lips to his burning cheek. They are the lost souls written onto the dogeared pages of eternity. Rain streaks down the cracked, dusty windows of the stations facade, fighting the dirt in a paned wrestling match. The black, sweating train pulls up to the platform and belches out a pale gray column of steam into the thick atmosphere. I board the train with the dreamers I am escorting: The Snowy
Woman, The Midnight Man and The Small Child. We sit in silence. They cannot see me or interact with me, but I am a part of them. I feel each of their emotions, worries, sorrows, pains. There is no end… no end to this hell I am trapped in. The train leaves the station and continues its journey. The dreamers fall asleep. I stare out the train window. Damaged landscapes, scrap metal yards and broken buildings scar the dark side of the cities we pass. Finally, the train stops. The Snowy Woman, Midnight Man and Child debark the railcar. Danger and death shadow these lost orphans of a lesser God as they stumble toward the skid row alleys they call home. Unmasked, and stripped of all disguises, they’re ghostly apparitions, caught in the cold clutch of an icy hand, trapped in the harsh hold of a strangled scream. The last thing I see before the train departs is the lost souls shuffling like worn out cards into the wounded deck of night.
~ The last train from Avignon stops at its final destination. A wayward star glistens on the whetted lips of an outlaw breeze. Across a pale-yellow sky a rising moon sits astride twilight’s fading coat tails, spinning haphazardly, riding slices of shadow and shimmer. I, too, spin haphazardly on a torn and tossed renegade wind, dissolving in the misty tears of a dying sun under the half-mast eyelids of a pale-yellow disintegrating sky; the sky and I, both old beyond our years. The scarred black lips of night whisper my name, in tones growing louder, as I step down from the train. The dark angel that knows no mercy lets go of my hand and leaves me back in the warm hold of everything I’ve ever known. Finally, the nightmare is over. I am home; in my own time and place. My name is Memphis Andromanya. I held hands with the devil on the last Train from Avignon and lived to tell the tale.
The Last Train from Avignon Copyright Candice James
Irena © Brie Wells
We argued again last night. You don’t get over a fight like that. Well, I don’t anyway. Eric forgets all about it and tells me I need to learn more about forgiveness. Pain just stays with me longer. I work in the Film Industry as a digital effects artist. It’s not all that glamorous. It’s tenhour days six days a week in front of a computer designing explosions for super hero movies. It’s a lot of smoke and fire but what I really want is to design water effects. I love the way it shimmers and shines. My escape from the grind is my house. It’s old, drafty and the wooden floors creak everywhere but there’s a shed out back with a window. Under the window I set up a drawing table for a studio. On Sundays, I go out and paint. When Eric moved in we made a space for his tools. His tools have multiplied like some uncontrollable weed leaving little space for my art. That’s the focus of our arguments. The only time I relax is on the train. It’s a long ride from the edges of the suburbs to downtown. Sometimes when I stare out the window it looks like a computer screen. I was on the train when I first saw her. She looked out of place in a pleated skirt and matching jacket that she must have bought at a thrift store. Her bag, shoes and gloves all matched and she wore nylons. I wondered does anybody still wear nylons. Then I noticed she was studying the classifieds. Job-hunting, I shuddered and slouched down in my seat. The next time I saw her she sat beside me. “My name is Irena, Irena Romanov.”
I muttered my name was Natasha. “Oh, you are Russian, too.” She was young with brown eyes and blond hair. Her eyes filled with tears. “I’m sorry,” she said apologizing for crying. “My boss is very angry with me. I showed him mistakes in the accounts. Money was routed to the wrong bank. He said I was misreading numbers.” She leaned in and whispered, “He told me he would investigate.” I asked where she worked. She said Blue Bay Sports Entertainment. I shrugged. I don’t pay attention to sports. Eric and his friends frequent a local bar. They watch whatever sport is on television, drink and argue. Eric’s been kicked out of the bar a few times for causing trouble. Irena smiled like a proud mother. “The stadium is almost finished.” She dried her eyes. “It looks wonderful. The opening ceremonies will be on national television,” she said and looked up. “Oh, my stop!” She got off and disappeared into the crowd. I thought she moved fast for a girl in high heels. The next few days I didn’t see her and wondered how she was getting along with her boss. Eric and I were barely speaking. He rearranged the tool shed and ran a cable to add a television set out there so he and his friends could watch the games and drink as much as they wanted. I screamed how dare he move things without asking me. He shoved me into the kitchen cabinets saying I’m always at work, when I do have a Sunday off I spend the day sleeping. I don’t blame him. I’m an alien in this house even the walls are hostile. I’ve forgotten why Eric and I are together. The train was packed when I caught a glimpse of Irena again. Her eyes were red and puffy. She put on a brave face and waved a gloved hand. I noticed the palms of her gloves were dirty as if she fell. Instinctively, I felt the bruises on my thighs. When I searched through the crowd she was gone.
Pressures at work intensified with only two weeks to delivery so naturally a nasty cold circulated in the office. I caught it but as I was supervising a sequence I had to be there for my team. I got on the train late that morning. She sat next to me and said hello. I tried to croak an answer. “Oh you have a cold.” She said, “My Grandmother has a remedy guaranteed to kill all germs over night.
One cup of hot water, one tablespoon lemon juice, one
tablespoon of raspberry jam and,” she leaned in, “two shots of vodka.” We laughed. People on the train looked our way but that just made us put our heads together and giggle like schoolgirls. She said her Grandmother taught her how to read palms and asked if she could read mine. I figured why not and held out my hand. “Oh no.” She said, “Place your hands palms up on your lap and close your eyes.” In a Russian accent she said, “You vill meet tall dark stranger.” We laughed again. More people stared. Then, I realized they were only looking at me. She said, “Eric no longer holds you in his heart.” The pain in my chest was unbearable. Bitter tears stung my eyes. All I could do was nod. L knew it, but I hoped things would get better. Eric would change, or I would. She whispered, “Soon you will meet a good man with a rake.” The next time I saw her it was evening. I was on my way home after a long day. She chatted about how much better things were at work. She said her boss was proud of her diligence. He found the trouble in the accounts and wanted to speak with her tonight after his son’s baseball game. She pointed out the window to a rusty fence behind several tall trees. I asked if she was going alone. “His son will be there.” She got off and waved a pristine gloved hand.
That was the last time I saw her. After a month, I finally called the police and asked about Irena Romanov. When I didn’t hear back I called several times. Sometime I called late at night when I wasn’t exactly sober which annoyed Eric. Finally, a detective named Wilson contacted me. He asked me how I knew Irena. I told him about the train, the discrepancy in the accounts, how her boss reacted and meeting him after his son’s baseball game. He listened. After I hung up, Eric said I should stop bothering the police because I sounded like a crazy lady. I yelled back if I was so crazy maybe he’d better move out, crazy might be catching. That was the hardest he ever beat me. I stayed home to heal. A few weeks later, Detective Wilson came to my work. He looked as gentle as he sounded. “Irena Romanov was reported missing five years ago,” he said. Detective Wilson told me Irena’s boss was interviewed at the time she disappeared. Her boss told the police he caught her stealing $20,000.00 from the company accounts. He told her he wouldn’t take any action if she returned the money. She promised she would but he said he never saw her again. Detective Wilson pulled out an old photograph. It was Irena in her suit and white gloves. I circled her face with my finger as large tears fell from my eyes. Detective Wilson said he wondered about that old field and searched the area with a cadaver dog. “We found human remains. The dental records matched Irena’s. We’ve reopened the case as a murder,” Det. Wilson said. I believe Irena came to save me. All she asked of me was that I find her. I never went back to Eric or the house.
Copyright Brie Wells
Spirit Bear Island © Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki
A giant house spider lives in the ceiling. She makes surprising visits to various places in the bedroom, hunting for food, alone, empty-nested, having devoured her mate and any other living creature in the room. “That’s island life for you,” chuckled George when I reported my first sighting. “Don’t worry, she won’t harm you. Nothing on the island will harm you.” Anne and George, old friends of mine, own this ramshackle retreat for terminally ill on the Spirit Bear Island, a less-known isolate in the Strait of Georgia. I am not ill, just an utter failure. “Midlife crisis,” said Ann, but she was too kind. I have no job, no children, and a husband who deserves someone much better than me. I don’t even have a cat. “You don’t even have a cat,” my mother said on the phone. "Margot," she added pleading. “I want a grandchild.” I used to be proud of my art career until my creativity dwindled, and last week I was let go from the last art gallery that represented me, taking away my last bit of self-respect. That's when I called George and Anne and packed my bags. The Rainforest Resort consists of ten cottages tucked into the clumps of red cedar and western hemlock, their bark fragrant, soaked from torrential
Pacific Northwest rains. I am its only guest. There is no electricity, no running water, and no propane delivery at this time of the year. Only a mad woman would want to be here in January. But, here I am, self-sufficient with a wood stove and a generator to charge my phone. Ann and George live in their mainland home during the winter. George gave me a booklet with instructions he had made for rare reclusive visitors. “Phone if you need help. I’ll be here in a jiffy.” Jiffy means half a day to drive from his house to the shore, start his Japanese-built converted gillnetter coastal cruiser, and sail to the island. On the first night of the retreat, I take a triple dose of NyQuil for my cold before going to bed. I have a joyful dream. I dream of cats doing figure-eights around my legs, their raised tails striped in multicoloured fur. Their purring is electric. It activates all the right spots in my brain. I am euphoric. The dream feels endless and I wake up thick-lidded, my throat parched, but I am energized enough to head to the shore. The chant of waves helps empty my mind, and I succeed in not thinking of anything. I spend the whole day beachcombing and watching little waves lap the ancient lava sediments knotted with giant strands of ocean seaweed, tangled like umbilical cords, glassy and plump with murky amniotic fluid. Rock caverns smell of rotting shellfish. I collect dismembered crab legs, pink and smooth, pretty like fine limbs of some fantastic doll lost by a sea-siren child. On the second night, I take one dose of NyQuil and dream of levitating in
a cylindrical chute. Dazzling pictures cover its walls, but the images flee from my sight, dissolving into a jumble of colors and patterns. “This is your work,” the voice of a child tells me. "Wasn't that enough?" I am lifted into a sunny meadow and placed on a bed of grass and wild flowers. A mellow breeze shifts strands of my hair, tickling my cheeks, sticking hairs between my lips. “What else do you want?” The voice is now a whisper. It belongs to a little girl and I feel that I know her. Her breath scorches my earlobe, and I wake up with a gasp. I lost my baby on the last day of the first trimester, seven years ago, while Mark and I were vacationing on the island. I was forty-five. It was my last chance to have a child. I wanted her and I didn’t want her. I liked my life the way it was, and I hated it. I was torn in too many directions. Mark was devastated. He never said it but I knew what he thought. He thought I lost her because I didn’t want her. “It doesn’t work that way,” explained my obstetrician. “It’s the course of nature. Some embryos just don’t make it. It’s nobody’s fault.”
The canopy of conifers paints the bedroom window green and I know that dawn is near. There is a shift in the colours, a curious quiver of shapes, which makes me abandon the warmth of my quilt. I tap barefoot over the linoleum floor. The she-spider crouches in a corner of the window, undisturbed by my
presence. I gaze into the woods that back the cottage. There is a swift tremor of shrubbery. Something glides through the forest. I duck and close my eyes to recall what I’ve seen, my heart beating madly. A fawn, perhaps? No. Folds of fabric. Woolly plaid. A long skirt moving between placid trunks of spruce. A bonnet. She wasn’t alone. People in strange clothes, like costumes from a museum, faces forlorn, glancing at me in the passing. Souls not of this world. I hide in my bed until the light reaches its normal muted daylight level. Then I gather my courage, make a run for the bathroom and get dressed. Still trembling, I decide I must have had a particularly odd dream. No more NyQuil for me. I revive the fire and boil an egg for breakfast, which I eat feeling wretched and sorry for myself. I yearn to phone Mark, but I am not ready yet. I know what he would say - the same things he said as I was leaving. “Why are you doing this? It won’t make you happy. Nothing ever does.” “Just two weeks,” I said, trying hard not to cry. My dear Mark. He knows my demons. I experimented with drugs. I wasn’t faithful to Mark. Some kind of despair was lodged in me and I’ve been trying to claw it out with any experience I could throw myself into. Nothing worked. It was one failure after another. Maybe alone in this place that means so much to me, with nothing else to face but myself, I will figure out how to repair my life. I take my tea outside and I am rewarded by a brief breakthrough of the sunshine between heavy clouds. My steps are silent, feet sinking into strata of
fallen leaves, pressing into the undergrowth. The ocean is stainless steel. Burdened clouds hide the snow-capped mountains on the mainland. An oil tanker inches its way north. Not a breath of breeze all day. After dinner, I phone George and Anne to tell them about my dream. â€œThe retreat has comforted hundreds of grateful souls in their last months on this earth," says Anne. "Before that, there was a mission, and before that, who knows. This place was loved, Margot. Relax and let it soothe you.â€? I go to bed resolved to do as I am told, to let go of everything, to open up to whatever this place has to give me. For the longest time I can't sleep, and when I do, I still see the darkened bedroom, the twin size bed covered with Anne's quilt, a black dresser against the opposite wall, a door ajar to the kitchen. I imagine the spider catching moths in the corners of the room. At some point, I am aware of a movement. I feel it more than I can hear it. Soft, barely audible padding on the floor. Pause. Something lands on the bed with a light tap, then slinks toward my head. A cat. Did I leave the entrance door open? I stare into darkness but can't see anything. Perhaps it came from another lonely cottage, exploring the night world, visiting humans of its choosing. The cat purrs, claws catching the threads in the quilt. I imagine the long lean body stretching. The tail touches my face and I reach to caress it, but instead of fur, my fingers feel the smooth cool skin of a human limb. I feel an arm of a child, a tiny hand reaching to touch my face. Terror and yearning sweep
over me. “Do you know me?” It’s more a sigh than a voice. A stream of moonlight enters the room and I see her. A girl sits on the edge of my bed, a book on her lap. Her skin is very pale, like Mark’s. Eyes and hair dark like mine. Six or seven years old. If our daughter lived, she would have been this age. The air in the room is ice cold and it’s hard for me to breathe. A thin luminescent nightgown is all she has on, but she doesn’t shiver. “Mommy, is that you?” she asks. "Yes, yes," I cry. "What do you want me to do?" Oh, to sit next to this child, stroke her hair, take care of her. Be her mother. My heart soars with love for her, yet I am horrified by her presence, and at the same time, by the possibility that she might disappear. I want her to stay and I also wish that I never came here. I wonder if I died and went to hell. I feel crushed, useless as a human being. “Oh, silly, I don't need you to do anything. I don’t need you at all. Don’t you know that?” Her tinkling laugh radiates through the room, through the walls, and into the forest, like millions of little jingle-bells. Her words should hurt, but they don't. A deep sigh fills the room and melds with the sound of the wind in the forest. I hear trees drop their needles onto the roof. I will wait for the dawn, and then I will call Mark.
Spirit Bear Island Copyright Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki
An Image of Her Mother ( The Mirror Trilogy, Part Two) © Margo Prentice
After Carole’s father was killed she stayed on the small ranch to help her mother and brother John takes care to the few horses they had. She loved her brother and considered him a good friend. Carole did not like her mother. There was something in each of them that pushed the wrong buttons and they would argue and fight. When she met Dave, Carole knew it was time for her to leave her mother’s home. She fell deeply in love and shortly after they met married. After losing her first baby, Carole needed a break. It was good for her and David to get away. They both liked the outdoors. The morning was glorious with the sun shining; a perfect high autumn day. The air is cool and fresh. The leaves are beginning to turn orange, red and yellow. Carole could smell bacon before she opened her eyes; she quickly jumped out of her sleeping bag, pulled up her jeans put on a heavy sweater and her hiking boots. She unzipped the tent opening and walked outside. Dave is tending the food cooking on the grate over an open fire. “Good morning sweetness, I hope you slept well. I slept like a rock. Woke up starving.” “Smells good,” Carole replied with a big smile, as she approached him. “Such a nice spot here, with the stream so near. I could hear the water flowing in the dark, sure helped me sleep. So peaceful. I even heard an owl hoot.” John handed her a plate, and plopped two eggs and bacon on it. Help yourself to coffee.” “Before we go home, let’s do a hike around here, it’s so pretty, time get some more pure air in our lungs before we go back to the polluted city,” Carole asked as she ate her food. “I am not looking forward to going home and back to work. I’m not looking forward to seeing Mother; with all the shit that’s going on with her dementia she’s even meaner than ever.”
“John’s taking care of her he’s been a doing a good job as caretaker. Don’t worry, she is in good hands. Johns always had been a Momma’s boy. You know how I can’t stand her. I’m so glad he’s caring for her. Me caring for her would be a nightmare. Let’s clean up after we eat and go for a hike.” The day was made for hiking in the woods. Dave and Carole followed the stream. Stopping for a rest, Carole excused herself to go to the bathroom. She went into the bush; she pushed the branches out from her face and discovered a path. As she washes her hands in the stream she turns, and says to Dave, “There is a path back there pointing to the spot she just came from. Let’s take it and see where it goes to. A little adventure to end our camp holiday, come on.” Dave puts on his backpack and they walk down the path. Trees shadow their way. The only noise they hear is the crack of an odd stick and the soft swish of hiking boots pressing damp leaves. Carole had a foreboding feeling tinged with excitement. They had walk for twenty minutes until they come to a clearing. There is a fence enclosure covered with the overgrowth. The fence had fallen over with only some parts left standing. A house is at the far end of the property. A fire had left the house; still standing and the windows had fingers of black charcoal around them. The porch and steps to the front door are intact. “Oh look,” Carole said, “I want to go in and explore.” She walks to the front steps of the porch. “Seems stable enough to walk on, Carole yells back to Dave, I’m going in to have a look.” “Be careful Carole, looks like there was a fire, I’ll wait out here. The sky is getting dark. I think a storm is coming.” A deafening crash of thunder is followed by flashes of lighting. Dave sits on a tree stump catching his breath while he waits for Carole to finish exploring. He zippers up his jacket then he pulls up his collar. Carole walks out the front door. “I found a gorgeous mirror. It is completely intact. I want to take it home. See, pointing to the fence, there’s a road just outside the gate. Probably leads to the main road, let’s go pack our stuff and come back here. I want to take the mirror home.” At their camp Dave packs their gear and drives the truck onto the path to the house. When they arrive at the house, torrential rain splashes on them. They rush inside the burnt cottage and carefully carry the mirror to the back of the truck.
Carole wraps it in a blanket and they drive on the road to the highway towards home. Three Months Later “I don’t think you should proceed with another pregnancy,” Dr. Wilson tells Carole. “Your last fetus had many deformities, maybe we should consider genetic testing if you do decide to get pregnant again. Come back to see me the second month after you missed your period and we will proceed.” “I will.” Carole says under her breath. She had cleaned the mirror she found in the burnt out cabin and hung it on the back of her closet door. Over time, she becomes obsessed with looking at herself and talking into the mirror. Her anger towards her sick mother is so much stronger and fills her with rage. It was dark in the room the night Carole came out of the bathroom. Her reflection startles her. She is glowing. Exhilarated Carole spreads her arms outward twirling in the glow. Exhausted she drops on her bed and into a deep sleep. Carole has an intense sexual dream of making love to her brother. Each day as she dresses for work in front of the mirror Carole talks to the image of herself. “Well look at you.” She pulls up her panties.” You’re beginning to look like your mother more and more. The old bitch isn’t making sense anymore, not that she did before. I wish she’d die; it would be so easy just to smother her. It’s a damn good thing Dave is on the road so much. He sure doesn’t realize how I have changed.” She takes a long look at herself and smiles. On her weekly visit to see her mother her thoughts about killing her become stronger. “What in the hell is going on in my head?” As she drives along the long driveway to the house she sees John leaning on the white fence that keeps in the horses. Her beautiful white mare is running freely. John turns, waves, and walks to the road. Carole drives both of them to the house. Inside all is quiet, “Mother is asleep,’ John sits beside her. Let’s talk.” and motions her to the sofa. “Sit, you can see her later,” he says. “Can you get me a drink?” Carole asks. John mixes them both a drink and sits beside her. He is silent as looks into her eyes as he rubs her back. “You are the image of our Mom,” then the unexpected happens. She kisses him. The sensation she feels is so intense it overwhelms her. Carole wishes it would last forever.
“Stop, what is the hell are you doing. This is so wrong,” he says, “Are you crazy” “I don’t know what to say, John, but somehow it is what I wanted too.” Carole gets up and looks at her shocked brother and says with a slight smile, “I am going to see mother, I won’t be long.” She slowly walks up the stairs and down the hall to her mother’s room. The only sound is the ticking of the grandfather clock at the end of the hallway. She opens the door and walks quietly to her mother’s bed. Unmoving, breathing in a raspy breath, she smells of pee. In spite of the grey pallor on her face, Carole can see John has combed her hair and put some make-up on her face. She looks at her with distain. “Is she comatose or just sleeping? Why can’t she die and save us all this trouble. I wonder if she can hear me if I speak to her?” She takes her hand, and says, “I hate everything about you; there isn’t a drop of love in me.” Carole throws her mother’s hand down, stands, turns and starts to leave the room. She is detached and feels like ice when she hears her mother’s voice. “Carole?” Carole does not turn around she walks towards the door. As she reaches for the door handle, she hears her mother again, “Carole,” her mother whispers. Startled and fearful, she turns around. Her mother is sitting upright, her eyes bulging, her hand pointing towards the closet. “There is evil is in your closet.” Carole opens the door and yells, “John, mother just sat up and talked!” She turns and runs into her mother’s closet. John runs up the stairs, into the room and goes to his mother’s side. She is still and barely breathing. “She actually said something to you? What did she say? Something about a closet.” “What are you doing in her closet?” “Come on we’ll look in her stuff after she is gone. Mother is a real hoarder when it comes to her possessions. Let’s look later. Together they walk out of the bedroom into the hall. “I have no idea, about the closet, maybe she’s got a box of money hidden amongst all her junk. Come let’s go downstairs, we need to talk about what happened earlier.”
“No need for discussion. It probably won’t ever happen again.” Carole says as she walks down the stairs and out the door leaving John standing at the foot of the stairs. Carole drives home in a warm glow of the passion in her brother’s kiss. Dave is to return home from London that night. As she gets ready for his homecoming she looks into her mirror, pleased. Slowly her image begins to change, before her is the image of a man. Carole blinks. The reflection before her is her dead father. “Daddy?” He smiles and put his arms out to embrace her. She pressed herself against the mirror and cries, “Daddy, Daddy I have missed you so much.” She closes her eyes and when she opens them the image is gone, and her wet tears smudge the mirror. As she peers into the mirror, she realizes that she does look more and more like her mother. She is filled with an overwhelming sense of hatred for her. A few days later Carole phones John and makes arrangements to visit her mother. Her hands shake and wild thoughts run through her mind, as she thinks on how she is going to kill her mother. Slowly and deliberately, Carole tells her reflection how she will do it. Later than afternoon she drives to her mother’s house. John answers the door, does not hug her and stands at a distance from her. Carole smiles, “Nice to see you too, and how is our dear mother?” “Not well, I’m afraid; she’s having a bad time. Would you like to see her?” “Aren’t you going to offer me a drink first?” Carole says with a smirk. “No, too early in the day, go help yourself if you want,” he says off handily, still keeping a distance between them. “What’s the matter, you afraid I’m going to kiss you again? I promise it won’t happen again, honestly.” Carole smiles as she pours herself a drink of vodka straight-up. She finishes her drink, puts the glass down on the liquor cabinet, turns and smiles. “I’m going upstairs to see our dear Mom-ma.” “Okay, John replies, I’ll be outside checking the horse’s feed lots.”
As she climbs the stairs, she hears the screaming in her head, exploding into a black rage of hatred towards her Mother. She walks quietly to her mother’s room and opens the door. She lies on her pillow, pale and shallow barely breathing with her eyes closed. “Oh dear, look at you. I came to say goodbye. You were such a bitch.” Carole slowly pulls the pillow from under her mother’s head. Sitting on her knees she holds the pillow above her head and pushes onto her mother’s face. She struggles and shudders and then stops. Carole sees that she is no longer breathing. She takes the pillowcase off goes to the closet and gets a clean one. She puts the new pillowcase on and gently puts the pillow back under her mother’s head. With a smile she says, “My, that didn’t take long,” as she smooths her mother’s hair and wipes her smudged lipstick. She takes the old pillowcase and stuffs it into her big purse. Carole takes a deep breath, regains her composure and runs downstairs, shouting, “John, John something is wrong. Mother is not breathing, I think she has died!” John runs back to the house and up the stairs to their mother’s room. He takes one look and takes out his phone. He dials 911 and asks for an ambulance. He falls on his knees, takes his Mother’s hand and sobs. Standing behind him Carole puts her hand on his shoulder and smiles. The ambulance arrives and the attendants listen to her heart, look into her eyes and declare her dead. After the men from the funeral home take her mother away Carole looks at her brother and says, “It was for the best. I’m not sad she is gone.” She picks up her purse, looks at John, “I have to go home; I’ll phone Dave and get back to you later.” Carole drives fast feeling completely exhilarated by what she has done. She drops her clothes on the bed and goes to her mirror. The phone rings. It is her husband. She takes a deep breath, smiles and then in a feigned sad voice. “Hello, oh darling, she says sobbing, Mother has died. When can you come home?” “I’ll be home as soon as soon as I can,” he replies. After the call she opens the door to looks at herself in the mirror. Her image is misshapen. Her reflection is a blackened evil fiend. She hears a screaming in her brain. Everything is black; her body is tormented with pain. Nothing matters.
Carole dresses, takes the mirror off the wall, wraps it in a blanket and carries it to her car. Carole is no longer Carole. Rage consumes her like a raging fire. Her body is racked with pain. Something or someone possesses her body and mind. Carefully she puts the wrapped mirror in the trunk of her car and drives to a bridge that crosses a wide fast flowing river. She stops and takes out the mirror, braces it over the railing and slides it out of the blanket letting it drop. When the mirror hits the water, it does not break but gently slides into the fast flowing water. Then Carole climbs over the ledge and jumps. She is in her own screaming hell of horror.
to be continued
An Image of Her Mother (The Mirror Trilogy, Part Two) Copyright Margo Prentice
Over the fields the moon sails, a polished orb in a velvet sky. Tiny wisps of fog wind around the tombstones; silver fingers of frost tat lace on the grass; charcoal shadows crouch under skeleton trees wooden fingers grasping. All is silent but for the distant bang of firecrackers. No trick or treaters here. Nothing now but damp and dark and drear silent feet on frozen grass sightless eyes with unshed tears. The mist twists, curls. A ghostly gathering swirls and curtseys a translucent tango the music heard by long-dead ears. No glad revellers here. Nothing now but shades of merrymakers past of promises forgotten of deeds undone of lips unkissed their sorrow too oppressive to surrender
this one bleak night at liberty to dance yet trapped relentlessly in eternity An everlasting dance of death.
ÂŠ Julia Schoennagel
RCLAS Upcoming Events Info: email@example.com
RCLAS Writing Workshop: The Dynamic Presenter Facilitator: Ben Nuttall- Smith Reserve your spot: firstname.lastname@example.org Date: Saturday October 28, 2017, Time: 1:30pm – 3:30pm Location: Anvil Centre, 4th Floor, 777 Columbia Street, New Westminster Reserve your spot: email@example.com Workshop Fees: RCLAS Members $15/Non-members $25 Pay via Paypal here: https://rclas.com/workshops/ Description: Engage a listening audience with your written words. Voice and performance skills for poets, performers and public speakers. Voice development and the spoken word. Ben Nuttall-Smith studied Theatre, Voice and Music at McGill University, at the Saint Michael’s Choir School in Toronto and at the University of Windsor, and earned a Master’s Degree in Theatre from Western Washington University. He has taught Theatre and Voice at all levels from primary school classes to senior secondary school and adults and has directed numerous Theatre and Musical Theatre productions. Ben has worked as a radio announcer and has experience as an actor, performing numerous roles including Henry Higgins inMy Fair Lady and Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof. Past President of the Federation of British Columbia Writers and member of The Writers’ Union of Canada. Ben Nuttall-Smith taught Music, Theatre, Art, and Language until he retired in 1991. Ben’s poems and short stories have appeared in numerous anthologies and online publications. He is the author of two novels, a memoir, books for children, several collections of poetry and a number of chapbooks. RCLAS and Poetry New West present “Poets Wanted: Dead or Alive” Date: Sunday October 29, 2017 Time: 2:00pm – 4:00pm, Free admission. Location: The Heritage Grill, Backstage Room, 447 Columbia St, New Westminster, BC
Description: Join Janet “Lady Raven” Kvammen & Deborah “Witchy Woman” Kelly for a spooktacular afternoon. Read your own dark, eerie, mysterious poetry OR a Dead Poet of your choice. Prize for Best Costume. RCLAS presents “Tellers of Short Tales” Date: Thursday Nov 2, 2017. 6:00pm – 8:00pm, Free admission. Location : Anvil Centre, Room 411, 777 Columbia Street, New Westminster Host: Nasreen Pejvack, featuring a different author each session. Feature Author: Patricia Sandberg Open Mic Sign Up More info https://rclas.com/recurring/tellers-of-short-tales/ Description: A program of monthly readings designed to engage fans of the short story genre with emerging and published short story writers. Also, an open microphone will be available for writers who would like to share their stories. RCLAS presents “Songwriters Open Mic Night” Date: Tuesday, November 7, 2017 Time: 7:00pm – 9:00pm, Free admission. Location: The Heritage Grill, Backstage Room, 447 Columbia St, New Westminster, BC Hosts: Enrico Renz, Lawren Nemeth and Poul Bech More info https://www.facebook.com/groups/150810881784465/ Description: Original music only, performed by the songwriters! Great venue: good sound, food, beverages and a friendly, supportive audience that actually listens. Every First Tuesday of the Month. RCLAS presents “Wordplay” with Alan Girling Date: Wednesday, Nov 8, 2017. 7:00pm – 9:00pm, Free admission. Location: Buy-Low Foods Community Room, 555 – 6th Street, New Westminster Host: Alan Girling More info https://rclas.com/recurring/wordplay/ Description: Wordplay is our monthly idea-generating drop-in series for writers of all kinds. Find new approaches to your writing; unlock that treasure chest in your head! This group generates some fabulous first drafts; all you need to bring is writing tools, paper, and a ready mind. This is not a critique group; let’s have some fun! RCLAS presents “In Their Words: A Royal City Reading Series” Date: Thurs, November 16, 2017, 6:00pm – 8:00pm, Free admission Location: Anvil Centre, Room 411A, 777 Columbia St, New Westminster
Host: Alan Girling Featured Readers: Cynthia Sharp reads Timothy Findley Deborah Kelly reads Rumi Pauline Probyn reads Patricia Highsmith Description In Their Words happens on the 3rd Thursday of every other month. Feature speakers present their favourite author from any genre in poetry, fiction, non-fiction or drama. Presentations include a brief commentary about the author and a reading of selections that exemplify what the presenter loves about the author’s work. A short Q&A follows each presenter. RCLAS presents “Poetry New Westminster” Sunday Afternoons (except Holiday Weekends) Time: 2:00pm – 4:00pm, Free admission. Location: The Heritage Grill, Backstage Room, 447 Columbia St, New Westminster, BC Hosts: Rotating Each Sunday features two poets and Open Mic. RCLAS presents “Fred Cogswell Award For Excellence In Poetry” Awards Ceremony” Date: Saturday November 25, 2017 Time: 3:30pm – 5:00pm Description: Awards presentations with emcee, Nasreen Pejvack featuring 2017 judge Candice James, Poet Laureate Emerita and Kathleen Forsythe, daughter of Fred Cogswell.
RCLAS Holiday Party & Membership Drive Saturday Afternoon 1:30pm – 3:30pm Dec 16, 2017 at Anvil Centre Please visit our website and facebook group for more event info
WORDPLAY AT WORK FEEDBACK & E-ZINE SUBMISSIONS
Janet Kvammen, RCLAS Vice-President/E-zine firstname.lastname@example.org Antonia Levi email@example.com
RCLAS Members Open Call for Submissions No theme required to submit. Upcoming Themes: Remembrance Day, Winter Deadline Nov 1, 2017 Issue 49 Ongoing Submissions for upcoming a “New Westminster” Theme Special Feature. Poetry, Short Stories, Book excerpts, articles & lyrics are all welcome for submission to future issues of Wordplay at work. Submit Word documents (Please include YOUR NAME and Title on document name) to firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you to our Sponsors & Venues
City of New Westminster
Arts Council of New Westminster
The Heritage Grill
New Westminster Public Library
Judy Darcy, MLA
“Golden pennies of sunshine trembling on white skeleton fingers Grey-blue mountains edges etched on brilliant blue sky.”
~ Julia Schoennagel
See upcoming events at www.rclas.com
Facebook October 2017 Wordplay at work ISSN 2291- 4269 Contact: email@example.com RCLAS Vice-President/ E-zine