Page 1

Soliloquies

Anthology


Soliloquies Anthology 23.1


Copyright © 2018 Soliloquies Anthology Soliloquies Anthology retains first North American Serial Rights. Except for brief passages quoted in a newspaper, magazine, radio, television, or website review, no part of this anthology may be reproduced in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying and recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. Manufactured in Canada Printed and bound by Caïus du Livre Design and layout by Bronwyn Carere. Design based on a photo by Daniel Olah on Unsplash. Soliloquies Anthology, c/o Concordia University Department of English 1455 de Maisonneuve Blvd. West Montreal, Quebec H3G 1M8 ISSN 1496-4910 (Print) ISSN 2369-601X (Online) soliloquies.org We would like to acknowledge that Concordia University is located on unceded Indigenous lands. The Kanien’kehá:ka Nation is recognized as the custodians of the lands and waters on which we gather. Tiohtiá:ke/Montreal is historically known as a gathering place for many First Nations. Today, it is home to a diverse population of Indigenous and other peoples. We respect the continued connections with the past, present and future in our ongoing relationships with Indigenous and other peoples within the Montreal community. Written by Concordia University’s Indigenous Directions Leadership Group in 2017


Contents 5 6

E d i t o r i a l Te a m Foreword

Po e t r y 11

Leah Baker Mudbath

12

J. Robert Ferguson Something Yet Deserves to Live

14

R.J. Keeler Along the Shore

16

Diane G. Martin Forecast Hazy

17

Linda M. Crate i won’t be contained

18

Shugofa Danesh Léo-ng Distance

19

Alia Bhimji White Idli

20

Valéria M. Souza Limes

22

Robert Beveridge Whiskey Wisdom Carl Boon SOUTHEAST

23 24

Matthew James Babcock The Poem of the Future


26

Ilona Martonfi The Swallows

28

Louise Carson Backhoe

29

Aubrey Nash Water Cycle

30

Manahil Bandukwala Girls at Dhabas

Fict ion 33

Bridget Mountford The Slider

47

Ian Taylor Outside Tweed, Ontario

55

Jessica Manchester-Sanchez Communion

59

Aubrey Nash These Are Withered Days

63

Curtis McRae We Should Change the Curtains

Non-Fict ion 73

Pamela Stemberg Doll Party

(cw: describes sexual assault)

83

Katherine DeGilio Murder on the Elementary Express

93

Cont ributors


Editorial Team Editors-in- Chief Gabrielle Crowley RaphaĂŤlla Vaillancourt A rtistic Director Bronwyn Carere Ma naging Editor Nicole Harris Po e t r y E d i t o r s Elena Dakka Paige Keleher Faith ParĂŠ Abby Stewart Prose Editors Celia Caldwell Avelynne Kang Lynn Sharpe Anabelle Zaluski On line Content Editors Brenda Odria Hania Peper Socia l Media Editor Bea Keeler 5


Foreword This year, Soliloquies has seen many of its veterans go. Editor-inchief for the past two years running, Meredith Marty-Dugas, has moved on to become our CASE president, and prose and poetry editors have left their positions in the hands of an equally fantastic new team. After all the hard work put into past publications, we— the members of Soliloquies 23—have big shoes to fill. In 2018, a darker side of Concordia University was once again brought to light. Years of institutionalized sexual violence are ingrained in the history of both Concordia’s literary community, and the broader Montreal literary scene. Soliloquies will continue to stand with survivors, work to prioritize and uplift voices that have been pushed down and ignored for so long, and fight for safe and welcoming creative spaces. Soliloquies is more than just a student-run literary journal. It is more than just a compilation of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. Soliloquies is a place of trust; a platform for a multitude of voices; and above all, a space where creativity continues to inspire and astound us. This year, our poetry is poignant, and gripping, from race horses to limes to women reclaiming public spaces within communities. Our prose pieces have sent shivers down more than one spine, taken us on a morning coffee run to a Tim Hortons in small town Ontario, and had us laughing out loud at Cher posters on Tuesdays. The nonfiction pieces forced us to stop and rethink things, look closely at the world we live in today, and to reflect back on younger years when even the darkest mysteries seemed solvable. We did not go into the semester with a theme in mind, but one appears to have emerged all the same. Soliloquies 23.1 is about people and our various tangled lives. People young and old, people all across the spectrum of

6


emotion and experience, people who have dealt with grief, loss, and trauma. It is about people who get to know themselves, be it through puberty, marriage, elementary school mysteries, or relationships. It is about all of us. As editors-in-chief, we would like to thank everyone who submitted to the journal this semester, and congratulate the authors whose pieces we have chosen to publish. Thank you for giving us so many incredible pieces to read. Of course, Soliloquies wouldn’t be possible without its amazing team of content editors, website and social media team, and our managing editor, Nicole Harris. A special thanks goes out to Bronwyn Carere, our artistic director, for sticking with the journal for another year, and for creating such a beautiful journal once again. Thank you to Meredith Marty-Dugas and the Concordia Association for Students in English for your support and your guidance this semester, and thanks to the Arts and Science Federation of Associations for your financial support and making this journal possible. We dearly hope you enjoy Soliloquies 23.1. It’s been a wonderful journey in the making. Make yourself a cup of tea and get cosy. Happy reading. Gabrielle Crowley & Raphaëlla Vaillancourt Editors-in-Chief

7


Poetry


Leah Baker

Mudbath How long since I said, This is my body, this is the sun, bird? I ran into mudgroves, out of logic, pasted play into the back corner and let it lie there while I rolled down a dusty hill onto a plain of flat flatness. My hair was ochre, my heart uninflamed and I forgot what words would let my tongue form the shape of oh yes. I’m letting these legs stick together at the knees, kneading my fingers into my thighs and pressing. Honest air, come. Throat, weep. Knuckles, recall the tender wound of mangling rage and let there be wrapped soft lace around you. Learn, uncoil: let the lesson be madness more than retreating, running rather than hiding. Come, sweetness. Come, soil.

11


J. Robert Ferguson

Something Yet Deserves to Live He gauges how far the train following his dragged the woman along the platform last week with a sweep of his arms, Moses parting the kitchen table’s plates and empties. Committee-vetted language upholds the distance a transit worker needs to dodge a breakdown. An Incident. An Emotionally Disturbed Person. A fated statistic for him, this his tenth year as an operator. When I talk some bad-taste bullshit about it he’s quick to stop me. He did feel compassion for her. What he resents is the eye contact she made with him before her half-jump, before some indwelling counterforce pulled her back to safety a little while longer, like God’s own ragdoll. Eye contact like that of miserable thousands he sees every day from the train’s cab. In a town where all look down, passing eyes are dared only underground. Our talk branches back to the village of our births,

12


Poetry

the land he and his wife plan to buy there. I start clearing dishes when he goes to check on their daughter, asleep in her crib. Jack Spicer was wrong. Something yet deserves to live. Note: The last line of this poem references “The Day Five Thousands Fish Died Along the Charles River� by Jack Spicer.

13


R.J. Keeler

Along the Shore —i.m. Mimi Baez Fariña Winds out of the SSE form and preserve high ocean curls and along a changed shore, life lives or dies in tiny increments; put your ear down now into that wet, shifting sand. What’s the music bled out of that high-crashing surf? If you listen very closely, what you may hear is a rising and falling harmony of slush and simile. At what point did your entire universe shift to desert, dry and lifeless, shift back to adversity, seem annexed? When in spite of crushing forces laid upon you, when at last you were just given to sing, you survived powerfully. In time, your song shifted into feeling and at that point you climbed up to higher, fitted peaks to look out over a fertile valley, over some flat tabletop. Now break out of your tunnel, find lasting calm in honor. And what’s divine out of all this, this mess? Only the kiss of your wave’s moving curl as you glide along, as your native blackbird batters at walls of a too-stringent tunnel.

14


Poetry

What a long deluge of light—so push down then, down harder on your ancient reverberator pedal. Winds blow back to her, blow her strengthening self back at us.

15


Diane G. Martin

Forecast Hazy for Dr. Blasey Ford Certain details never pale. Slammed, locked door. Icy sweat sheen. Heart’s drumming beat. Deaf panic. Taunts. Ripping clothes. Stale beer stink. His hand over your mouth. Hush of murder? Fade to blackout? His hand squeezing your throat shut. Up. No one will hear your shout. Drunk with foul power, a whim, boys with nothing to fear, made for plunder. Your recall dim? Lurid colors never fade.

16


17

i won’t be contained

maybe some people don’t like me because they cannot neatly fit me in a box. i would have ripped the cardboard before they even tried to contain me. maybe some people don’t like me because i am intense, but i will not apologize for these bones: i am who i am, with all my scars and flaws, i am a beautiful person all the same. i refuse to sit on pedestals or be restrained in gilded cages, i will never be tamed, i am wild and always will be. i will offer my love to those who understand i cannot be contained. i have seen the cages people put themselves in, have been ripped apart by pain and grief that wasn’t mine, i have faced so many monsters, masks and nightmares. i promise that i will always be the heart of light. i know that even on days where i can only see the blue of rainbows, this isn’t my only color. i will know again greens, yellows, days of orange and lilac scented spring; i will follow after the dreams, leave behind the torn and embittered nightmares in my wake because i choose to be better not bitter. i refuse to be the beasts and torments that ripped me into scars. i will be the white winged valkyrie, the keeper of golden moons, the goddess of love and light, the queen of dreamers chasing the darkness until is no longer has a place to hide.

Linda M. Crate


Shugofa Danesh

Léo-ng Distance When I returned home, my brother told me: “He’s an imaginary friend.” He says that long distance relationships Are sinking ships Fighting waves of miscommunication Heart strings tied to an apparition I remember We sketched each other under the moonlight I imagine my drawings litter your room now, Scattered like autumn leaves Or folded in between books. The smell of Aleppo soap, A scent I previously despised, grew on me It became my way of finding you in the dark Until we smelled the same Summer nights with a forest view The air is crisp The cicadas stopped singing long ago, But our summer isn’t over. 67 days in counting, Paris —> Montreal Our time zones will be the same.

18


Alia Bhimji

White Idli Whether we let it welter or let it ease I have clambered atop each pothole of the deepest degree safer now. A harbour in the gooseberries who are not of poisoning mood but rather tapioca bursting in blue flesh, as the ballooning tick-belly does. Your teeth are keen and you hardly notice how different it is chewing sand and chewing turmeric The latter my father uses for colour wheaten colour, holi weaponry To stain our shower floors and our breakfasts— white idli on banana leaves The former lingers, of course in the filaments of the tapestries, under our nails when we scratch away the salt dusting our scalps, through to each corn maze brain, laced in & in like oxygen tubes an itch

19


Valéria M. Souza

Limes What I can’t forget about the first two years is the hunger. Lying flat on my mattress, stomach a fingered meat grinder, repeating: close your eyes, go back to sleep. I’m decimated. A game of rock-paper-scissors. Tired always wins over hungry. Lidded drift in and out. Four hours pass. Wake up and think: I’m so hungry. Eight hours. Still hungry. Twelve. So fucking hungry. TKO. Sixteen hours. Diagnosis: Multiple Sclerosis. Twenty. Slept overmuch. Still. I consider getting up, foraging. But the walk through the living room, past the bathroom, into the kitchen is long, and I am an invertebrate. So I lie flat, limbs extended, a sobbing starfish. Sometimes I make it to the fridge, kneel before the glacial metal altar in a lethargic prayer of deli roll stuffed cheeks. Shuffling, I grasp walls and radiators for support. Apartment-as-walker. Whenever I have to do something very difficult that requires an extensive amount of concentration—like locomoting or taking a piss—I listen intently to my own breathing. Did you know that air has a texture, that it heartbeats an imprint? For the longest time nobody touches me for any reason other than medical intervention. Nurses grip my arms, snapping tourniquets and inserting needles with Lysoled efficiency. Doctors place firm palms at the ready as I fail and fail and fail my Romberg’s. Imaging techs position my head into plastic lockboxes for MRIs with and without contrast. Here I am: strapped, tied, punctured, swabbed, infused, scanned. They tank my immune system in order to stabilize it, leave me with the red and white blood cell counts of someone HIV+.

20


Poetry

The recipe is this: 1,000mg I.V. Solumedrol mixed with 500ml saline solution. Plus thrice weekly subcutaneous injections of Rebif, self-administered. I remember leaving Brigham and Women’s at rush hour on a weekday, the #66 sardine-canned and me bandaged, glassy-eyed, wobbly. I crouched down on the floor. Stubborn in my willingness to convalesce on tile, tarmac, earth. No, I don’t care who is looking. No, I don’t care what you think. I am sitting. Right now, right here, what I am doing is sitting, and I will get up when I am good and ready, and if you want to leave me here then go, fuck you, I don’t care. I just need a minute. I just need an hour. A day. A week, maybe. A month at most. A couple of years, actually. BRB. Just need to get my bearings. Just need this wall. This is a sea-worthy wall. I love this wall. It’s not going anywhere, and I can float by the whole entire world on it. Holy shit: this wall is amazing. I love you, wall. Wall, I love you. Post-infusion, I forever crave Vietnamese food from Lês in Harvard Square. Pho chay, specifically. I need limes from Star Market. I need Vietnamese food. I need limes. I need, like, 40 limes. I need to get them before the crash. I have to go, now, to the grocery store and buy like $40 worth of limes. Right now. Don’t bother me. Go away. Stop texting me because I need limes, OK? Goodbye. Stop texting. I need limes.

21


Robert Beveridge

Whiskey Wisdom for Maj Ragain I never bet no horse with a drunk name, no sir. I remember the days when my insight, too came from the bottom of a bottle. But this guy drew the Hollypark sweet spot, post six, never beaten, can fight it out or win, drawing away like the burn of Maker’s Mark at the back of the throat. He reminds me that sometimes, as the bottle dropped empty to the floor, my reason broke sharp from the gate, ran faster, never needed to look back. Note: Whiskey Wisdom was an Ontario-bred racehorse who primarily competed in 1997. His most famous race, the 1997 Breeders’ Cup Classic, is the focus of this poem.

22


Carl Boon

SOUTHEAST I went through Rocky Mount. through Raleigh and all the way to Charleston looking for the woman in the mint-colored gown who loved me once. I went to Savannah and south, to Jacksonville with her letters in the pocket of my jeans and scrubbed my body in the ocean after a hurricane had passed, sweating and full of elemental need. She’d gone on a motorcycle with a bartender from Dover, easy in his ex’s leathers, her hands around his belly, her hair the Potomac in storm. I went because we’d agreed to love each other in a motel lobby north of Portland, while we ate vanilla fudge bars and Doritos. I went Daytona and wept in the men’s room of the Hogwild Tavern, imagining them splitting sticks of Juicy Fruit gum and studying dangerous machines. I discovered America was everywhere silly men like me pursuing, looking around corners, waiting to be amazed by anyone who looked like anyone they might have known before.

23


Matthew James Babcock

The Poem of the Future will be a jumpsuit of perpetual energy, a popsicle of sadness. The humming hangar where a snarl of test tubes and electrodes gets clipped to your tongue, fingers, retinas, eardrums, and nostrils. You will suck liquefied poem of the future through mucus-tipped antennae and digest it for seven years before dropping the ovoid gold seeds in gray loam. The poem of the future will run on the afflatus of the dung beetle. It will coo and moo. It will come equipped with mood-controlled, octo-directional, zinc-infused thrusters. With a third penis. With a hooked foreclaw as sharp and gnarled and yellow as a warlock’s toenail, perfect for digging escape tunnels, goring rivals, and scooping out their greasy purple guts. The Ministry of Editorial Taste will streamline and mass produce the poem of the future. To use: 1) tear open the silver packet and 2) squeeze the red protein-enriched paste on your soul. Embracing the poem of the future will require

24


Poetry

the absolute surrender of the will. The poem of the future will be so far ahead of anything anyone has thought of, when in anti-gravity body pod you power up your coil of holographic cantatas in Central Park— even at your work’s debut—people will dismiss you as a beatnik prophet with a doomsday sign as they throng the colorful jumble of rented kebab wagons and ice cream vans like asylum seekers, and only one or two will glance at what you have brought the world, and even those few, so addled with the stress of life, will forget what they saw before they arrive home.

25


Ilona Martonfi

The Swallows Cupping memory in my hands when I think of mud nests in shrapnel holes swallows born in brick walls taking the long way home a 1952 photograph of Confirmation at the Gothic Regensburger Dom on the bus with grandmother Mariska strawberry cake, blue glass beads rosary when I have children I will say to them, on a moonlit night in the 1952 photo, the sun is high; we are picking May bugs off linden trees a refugee girl dressed in white pigtailed ten year old wearing a silk flower crown taking the long way home. Few of us could be funny amidst father’s Schnapps and dark beer. Apu collected scrap metal in his Opel truck. Censored letters from behind the Iron Curtain.

26


Poetry

An ode to food in the Magyar cabbage rolls, paprikås, galuska in sour cream. He came from the earth. A potion made of nine leaves that spring of marsh violets mother’s attempted suicide with sleeping pills some swallows sang for Magda, some brought dried grass and feathers and some brought meadow buttercups. Taking the long way home.

27


Louise Carson

Backhoe I dig and plant all morning, my hands, arms, back shifting tools to make a bed for broccoli, the machine’s drone my background. Change resented, a new home goes first down then up I recognize my arm, shockingly large, imitated in orange-painted metal. Gentle motions outline the perfect scoop, perfect lift, in precise reinforced arcs having the strange pathetic grace given to all robots.

28


Aubrey Nash

Water Cycle I suggest you stand in the storm, look up and trace the origin of each raindrop. Let them rinse your eyes in grease then yield the world through your rain-speckled cornea until you find yourself sitting in the back of your father’s caterpillar green station wagon. And your eyes are those of a child staring out the backseat window as raindrops race to the finish line and your father’s grip on the steering wheel reverberates across the car and you feel safe in his grasp not like how you know the sun will fill your room each morning though you close the blinds anyway, but like how the winter wind fills my lungs so fully that there’s no room to breathe. Watch onward at the headlights shattering open on the falling rain and try not to blink.

29


Manahil Bandukwala

Girls at Dhabas after Safia Elhillo Karachi of my childhood abu sat outside on Sundays watched us bike up and down the street Sunday when phupi took us to Dunkin Donuts chocolate sprinkle munchkins roll rotis out on child-sized belan patla mama cooked them on the tawwa and ate them when no one else would Karachi of my adolescence first sip of tequila first step in high heels first kiss behind a garden shed first base in the house where they keep generators where girls could not walk freely without male escort followed around mall at fourteen Karachi have you gotten better? I see women sit at dhabas alone would you know that this is women’s rights that biking on a street built from your blood makes you believe the child in your arms will be music art poetry not wife mother servant

30


Fiction


The Slider Bridget Mountford The Colonel was only gay on Tuesdays. The rest of the week it was a regular bar of no definitive origins. They served nachos and haggis and spaghetti, never settling on a single cuisine. Romance languages waged war on the menu and décor. The Colonel must have been a soldier at one point, but was now stuck in no-man’s-land, decorated in bright papel picado flags and spilt Guinness. Being the only bar in Fox Creek meant The Colonel had to be everything, including the host of a weekly gay night. It was mostly truckers on Tuesdays, or guys doing seasonal work on the oilfields. At last call the patrons would stumble out onto Main Street. They headed back pink, gin blossomed, and shivering, in pairs if they were lucky, to a motel room next door. Their system was discrete and efficient. On Tuesdays they put up a picture of Cher in the window as a shy sign of solidarity. It was torn from a magazine and weatherworn blue. When I was in school I hated the photo. We’d see it every week walking home, a procession of boys pressing their faces against shop windows, backpacks swinging into traffic. The rules were always changing, but the penalty stayed the same. You had to spit at the door, cross the street, spin around three times, punch your friends arm, and run fast so you weren’t last to pass the photo. If you failed or,

33


Bridget Mountford more likely, were caught out on some improvised technicality, you were the same as all the Tuesday strangers. Switch would always hang back so far back he couldn’t lose anymore. I don’t think the others minded but it bothered the hell out of me. It hadn’t occurred to me that these were games you could excuse yourself from, but even if it had, I’d hate to seem like a poor sport. But Switch was always hanging behind or rushing ahead, a few paces out of step. The rules didn’t apply to him. A policy of deferential silence came into effect after what happened at Doug Bailey’s house. Inside a quiet and diminutive preteen there was a magical will no one wanted to provoke. His power outranked The Colonel and all our small town superstitions. Rumours of what Switch was actually capable of varied, but no one gave him a hard time after that. Maybe I was jealous of that. In high school when we’d long since dropped the rules, I would still walk fast and avert my eyes on Tuesdays, knowing what it meant, not wanting Cher to see me. I’d seen Tuesday at The Colonel only once before when my father died. I had a boyfriend then who convinced me to look inside. “How have you never been to your town’s only gay bar?” I shrugged. “It isn’t really a gay bar. It isn’t really anything.” As soon as we were inside I wanted to leave. My boyfriend kept pointing out all the anachronistic décor, speaking too loud and with a kind of ironic affection that mortified me. We’d met in the city where he had lived his whole life. He

34


Fiction insisted he come with to my father’s funeral, for support I guess, but really I think he was curious, full of voyeuristic appetite for small town kitsch and small town decay. He kept nudging me, telling me to turn around and notice the man at the bar with an eye patch. The whole thing depressed me to tears. He let us leave because he thought I was crying for my father. I rested my head on his shoulder and let him try to comfort me. This time I came alone. I was in Fox Creek to be with my mother while she died and to clean up afterwards. Once the funeral was over I spent every day scrubbing, boxing, and taking calls from and to the broker. The broker, Christa Carter, had been a couple years behind me in school, but I don’t think she recognized me. Now Christa wore little skirt suits and talked about negative gearing and settlement dates, and I was a stranger. Everywhere I turned I saw some man borrowing the features of my old friends, standing in line at the grocery store with their wives and children, their little lives hidden behind me by a checkout divider. It hadn’t been the same when my father died. There was still my mother then, the house I’d grown up in, land and flesh tethering me to Fox Creek. Some days I’d walk out to the side of the highway, hoping that the sound and spectacle of cars might stir something in me. Might puncture the stillness. I was walking back from the hardware store when I saw Cher in the window. The sun was setting over the town,

35


Bridget Mountford spilling out red and gold over Main street. The lampposts blinked on prematurely. There she was. I flinched for a moment, but my body resisted any of its old superstitions. It seemed ridiculous that she should still be there, but for the first time the poster seemed sort of nice. A well-intentioned ritual, something blue and familiar. We recognized each other, she wasn’t afraid to acknowledge me. I took a deep breath and pushed through the door, breaking every rule we’d ever kept. Beyond sat Switch. He was in the center of the room, as if The Colonel had been organized around his barstool. The air around him seemed charged with something electric and quivering, like heat rising off a highway. For years I thought about that night at Doug Bailey’s, and wondered if I’d imagined it. Now it was real again. His old magic seemed to fill The Colonel, coursing between the tables, the strangers, then us. He smiled and waved me over. Switch sat alone. He was tall enough now that his feet far surpassed his stool. Beneath stubble there were the same freckles and smile. He looked like himself. I wondered if I still looked like me. “Dave!” He beamed. “H- hey, Switch,” I stammered, steadying myself against the edge of the table. He laughed and shook his head. I tried to back away and mumble some excuse, but he grabbed my wrist. “No, no, Dave,” he smiled. “Please, stay. Sit. It’s just that

36


Fiction no one’s called me Switch in a long time.” “Sorry,” I said. “I guess I just haven’t seen you in a long time.” “Don’t be sorry. Don’t be.” We ordered beers and exchanged updates. Neither of us were married. Both of our parents had died. I’d been in Edmonton. He’d been here in Alberta, but was staying at the motel next door looking for an apartment closer to work. He had the same job his father and my father had, working at the Peace River oil sands. “Do you like it?” I asked. He shrugged. “I like it alright—” He revised his statement. “I like it alright most days.” “And the other days?” Three pints in, conversation was coming easier, my curiosity was beginning to work faster than my inhibition. “Sometimes I imagine we’re astronauts from the future.” “What?” I asked, choking on my lager. “Astronauts,” he repeated. “I really do. Like we’re walking around in these heavy suits and helmets, exploring some big lunar crater. Or maybe studying the ruins of an ancient alien civilization. We look around, maybe take samples from the ground, and try to figure out what went wrong, how this big hole got here. But sometimes that story doesn’t work. You can’t trick yourself anymore, ya know?” I nodded even though I’d never pretended to be an astronaut.

37


Bridget Mountford “Sometimes you look down at the quarry, this giant scab you’ve left, and you just know it’s your fault. You know that there are no mysteries left to solve.” “But it isn’t your fault,” I said under my breath. Switch shrugged and we sat in a long silence. The rest of The Colonel hummed around us, men like Switch and strangers like me nursing their drinks, eating their enchiladas, pizzas, mince-meat pies. We’re all nowhere. I wanted to ask him about the lights, about his magic, but the question sat at the edge of my teeth. He broke the silence. “It’s good to talk to you Dave. Sometimes I forget what it’s like to talk.” “It is good,” I agreed, and really meant it. “I get really lonely when I’m home. I never remember everything being so empty until I’m back.” “But the city isn’t like that?” I took a sip and thought. “The city can be. There just aren’t so many familiar faces there. You can fool yourself into being lonely by believing everyone else is lonely too. And if you get tired of someone, or they get tired of you, you’ll probably never see them again. So that’s… good.” Switch laughed. “Is it good?” “I dunno,” I laughed too. “Maybe I need people too much.” Switch furrowed his brow. The chili lights seemed to pulse a red halo around his head.

38


Fiction “Like, when we were kids. I always felt like I was on the outside of things. No matter what I did I could never get close enough to those other guys.” I picked at the edge of my napkin, trying not to meet Switch’s gaze. “Like they were all in this big group of carefree boyhood shit. But they could smell desperation on me. It seemed like no matter how hard I tried I could never—” Switch leaned forward and pressed his palm over my hand, which was fidgeting. “I think they liked you fine, Dave.” Some static shock rushed through me and I pulled my hand away. Switch kept his resting flat on the table. I looked around The Colonel. It was fuller now, each table was a copy of our arrangement: two men leaning in close trying to tune out the world, thankful for the conversation. “You know it’s silly. When I was a kid, my mom used to say that I’d grow up and forget about the friends I’d had in Fox Creek. That it wouldn’t matter who liked me and who didn’t. But I’m here now. I’m out. I’m reasonably happy, and it still breaks my heart. There’s no proof that I ever lived here. No one remembers me.” “That’s not true,” Switch said, “and I think everyone feels like they’re on the outside. Even guys like Kevin or Doug probably feel like that.” “Not you,” I point out. “You always seemed above all that.” “Above companionship?” Switch pulled away, leaning back on his stool. “No, no. Just above us, when we were young I mean.”

39


Bridget Mountford He shakes his head. “C’mon, Dave. What does that even mean?” I looked down at my drink, hoping to find an answer suspended in the amber. “I mean c’mon, Switch, you were like a superhero to us. You had like powers or something.” Switch stared blankly at me. “Oh, you know…” “I know what?” “The lights!” I blurted out. “That time with the lights, with the electricity. Oh my god,” I moaned, “holy shit I sound insane. I sound like an insane person.” “No, no, it’s okay,” Switch said carefully. “I know what you mean.” “So I didn’t imagine it.” “No, you didn’t,” Switch admitted. “But I’m not a superhero. It’s not magic or anything like that.” “It isn’t?” “Sorry to disappoint,” Switch chuckled. “I don’t know why but I’ve always been like that. Sometimes I think I can control it, sometimes I can’t. It’s all has to do with magnets. It’s just electrical interference.” There was a thrill in knowing my childhood could still be demystified, that the past could still surprise me. There was still so much I wanted to know. “So it comes from your body?” “Yeah,” Switch said. He opened his mouth to say

40


Fiction something else but the words fell back into his throat. “Sorry, Dave,” he sighed. “I’m not used to talking about it.” “That’s okay,” I said, trying to hide my disappointment. “We don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to.” “No I want to,” he said quickly. “It’s nice if you think it’s cool. It isn’t a secret but it may as well be. No one I work with knows anything about it. Maybe they’d be interested, but I don’t want to scare anyone like I did growing up.” “I wasn’t scared!” I sounded silly, like a little kid trying to sound brave. Switch held my stare and smirked. “Okay, you weren’t scared then.” ‘If anything I was jealous of you.” Switch looked puzzled and drank from his beer. “You wouldn’t want people being scared of you, Dave. No one wants that.” “But—” “Believe me.” “Alright,” I said. “I believe you.” “Anymore questions?” Switch asked, leaning back in his chair. “I like feeling important.” “Do you know anyone else that can do it?” “Know them?” Switch shook his head. “No. But I’ve read about them online. They’re all over the world, I guess. Just not in Fox Creek. They’re called Sliders. There’s all different kinds as well. Some people screw with TV frequencies, or maybe they can’t wear a wrist watch. I guess I overload

41


Bridget Mountford circuits. I’d reckon I’m quite average.” “You’re definitely not average.” Switch grinned down into his drink. “You have a career as an alternative energy source.” Switch laughed so loud the other patrons began to stare. I grabbed his arm, half-heartedly trying to shush him. “You know,” I said, still holding his arm. “You can tell me that it’s magnets, or circuitry or neuro-whatevers but I’m never gonna change my mind.” “Yeah, how’s that?” “What you were saying before about mysteries…” I trailed off. “Yeah?” My hand hadn’t moved. It still rested at the crook of his elbow. He swung his other arm up from his side to hold me the same way. We laughed at the bizarre stance like we were locked in the stiff start of a dance or an arm wrestling match. This was an unfamiliar intimacy. It insisted on something. I couldn’t turn away from him now. For all the years I’d known Switch I’d never touched him before. I don’t know if I’d touched anyone in Fox Creek, definitely not Doug or Kevin or any of the boys. But now it was Tuesday and I was a part of his circuitry. “Can you still do it?” I asked. Switch bit his lip. “Maybe. But never again like that first time.” I nodded. “I remember.”

42


Fiction *** We sat crowded around Doug Bailey’s bedroom window, passing around his brother’s air rifle. We were firing at the lamppost across the street, trying to shatter the bulb. None of us were particularly good shots. Kevin Fowler got his plastic pellet to ricochet against the glass, but it wouldn’t break. We had to take turns, even though Doug thought he should get to go twice because it was his house. I waited impatiently, certain I’d be the one to make it. When the gun came to me, I was careful to line up my shot, lying still like a sniper across Doug’s bed, resting my finger on the trigger, waiting for the right moment to shoot. When I made the shot things would be different. At last I’d be incorporated into their imaginary sanctum. I’d be in on the joke. I’d help make the rules. I couldn’t lose. Right when I was about to make my shot, Kevin slapped me on the back. “Hurry up, Dave!” The pellet sailed up above the lamp, hit nothing, and disappeared into the black sky. I wanted to scream, to kick, bite and throw my weight against them. But I didn’t. It was Switch’s turn. “Skip me,” he requested. “Fuck that,” Doug said. But he paused, because fuck had only recently and tentatively entered his vocabulary. “You’re going.” “No I’m not,” Switch said calmly. “I don’t want to.” “Why not?” Kevin demanded.

43


Bridget Mountford “I don’t want to break it. We might get in trouble.” The others laughed. “You’re not going to break it,” Doug scoffed. Switch took the gun and aimed reluctantly. For a moment his bullet sailed above the lamp, following the same trajectory as mine. I let go of the jealous breath I’d been holding. But then the lamp burst apart, glass and sparks showering the road. The boys cheered, rushing down the stairs and out of Doug Bailey’s house. We poured out onto the sidewalk that glittered with glass. “You did it—you did it,” Kevin sputtered. “Nice one, Switch,” Doug said, wrapping his arm around Switch’s shoulder. Switch wriggled out from under Doug’s arm, looking purple and woozy. “Hey are you alright?” I asked. He nodded, and the rest of the lights burst. A fiery fuse slithered up the street, round the corner into town, and each streetlight shattered. The lights of the houses below evaporated up into the air, into the thunderous, raging fire of sky. Something happened above us that was cataclysmic and insistent. The prosaic and usually imperceptible hum of electricity droned to a halt. Sparks and glass floated towards the pavement, cast a dull glow on our heads. Little by little the concrete extinguished each spark. We were left in the complete dark and stillness. The air radiated warmth.

44


Fiction *** Switch’s hand brushed across my hip as he reached for the lock. I pressed myself to the door and his fingers fumbled blindly at my back, pressing skin to the steel teeth and plastic plate of the motel key. It found its groove and he twisted. The door swung open and I fell backwards into the brightness of Switch’s room, his body pressing against mine. Missing the bed we broke the urgency of our kissing and laughed wildly on the carpet. We wrapped our arms around each other and sunk deeper into the soft, woollen floor. We held closer and closer, pulling everything tight into our ourselves, trying to fill up the microscopic spaces that exist between cells. That kind of knowing and absolute occupation of space seemed possible for the first time. The Colonel was emptied and so were the streets. All life seemed to glow from this little room. Whatever mystery coursed through Switch he was here now, animated by something ancient and magic. A conduit for an invisible heat that rushed into me. We would never be strangers again, at least not to one another. Even in the morning, when I was gone and he was picking at a scab in the earth, there’d be this. I stretched out my leg and kicked the door shut, sending a shutter through the old motel. Our embrace deepened, and with a sudden, gentle click, the lights switched off.

45


Outside Tweed, Ontario Ian Taylor So Assistant Manager Holly’s kid died, like, probably two or three years ago now, it’s gotta be. I think it was he got too high and fell asleep at the wheel or something. Flipped the car like six or seven times apparently. I don’t know. Real quick, though, it was a large earl grey, you said, right? Sounds good. Yeah, but he bit it pretty hard. They said he had enough different kinds of, uh, drugs in his system when they finally got some blood out of him that he probably wouldnt’a made it much longer anyways even if he hadn’t crashed. There was a whole load of stuff in the trunk, too. Like boxes of pills and cash and stuff. It was really a lot, yeah. We all knew Keiran was into that sorta shit, but not like—no one thought it was that bad, you know? It’s not like everybody our age around here isn’t doing it, either. It’s just kinda like you don’t ever expect it to, like, to get that real, I guess. Keiran was the kid, by the way. Two tea bags? Got it. And is there anything else I— oh you’ve got, like, your whole family out there? No, it’s all good. Not like it ever gets too busy in here around this time anyways. Lay it on me. Sizes? They’re all just up on the board there. No worries at all. Take your time. But yeah, no, so Holly—Assistant Manager Holly— took it real hard. She got up at the front part of the church at

47


Ian Taylor his funeral—and we were all there ’cause he was just a year and a bit out of high school then, so we all remembered him pretty well—she got up and she started yelling about damn this and damn that, damn drugs, damn criminals, started on about how smart her baby had been and how angry she was at God and the world for taking him away from her like that. What was that? Alright. And dark or regular? Cool. Yeah, she started crying and turning all red at one point, and they got her off of there pretty quick after that, and my aunt said something to me about how you shouldn’t judge someone for the way they, uh, grieve, ’cause I was laughing a bit. The thing you got there, though, right, I’m getting to it. So no one sees Assistant Manager Holly for a week after the funeral, and we all just kinda assume, like, “oh you know, she’s having a hard time, she doesn’t wanna talk to anybody.” They get someone from the Madoc store to swing by and help out for a little bit, and things go on pretty much like usual. But then I come in one Monday or something, and she’s just there. She doesn’t look or act that different or anything, like she’s pulling cashes and assigning us all positions and stuff like nothing’s happened. I remember it was weird as hell. But I’m figuring she’s just, you know— like, she’s trying to put it all behind her and move on with her life or whatever, and I’m thinking like I guess things are back to normal now, so I just go about doing my job, and it’s while I’m over at the garbages there changing out the bags,

48


Fiction right, that I see a stack of those things—little pamphlets, sorta. They haven’t changed at all since she first started bringing them in, either. I think she just keeps them all boxed up in her basement or something. Which one? No, we don’t do that anymore. Boston cream is pretty close to it though, probably. But, so there’s no one around, and I don’t have all that much of anything better to do, so I start going through one of these things, and it’s just blowing my mind, right? Like, it’s got that big “DRUGS AND THEIR CONSEQUENCES” scribbled on the front there, which is scary enough, but then the inside is just gory as all hell. Like, there’s all these pictures of needles and people bleeding and shit. The writing doesn’t even make sense a lot of the time, either. It keeps changing up in the, uh, style, and words are spelled wrong all over the place. It’s, like, basically gibberish. Like, I think she had to’ve just stitched the—all the writing together from a bunch of different internet sites, because sometimes—like, if you look here, and some other places too—you can see stuff underlined for no reason like it was probably something you coulda clicked on at some point. There’s this whole section too about this one type of — yeah, here — “ ben-zo-die-ah-zuh-peens,” where she just goes on and on for like five pages, sometimes in, like, all capital letters and with even worse spelling. What a friggin’ mess, right? Everyone started taking them home and passing them around to each other after a while, and people got to talking, and they all started saying those were

49


Ian Taylor probably what Keiran was off of when he flipped the car, ’cause you can tell she was real angry when she was putting that part together. Oh wait. I don’t think we have any Boston cream either. Yeah, sorry. Would they want, like, a muffin? Yeah, we have blueberry, I think. Anyways, so at first, I have no idea what these things are supposed to be. I’m thinking one of the crazy, election lawn-sign kinda people from the edge of town’s been going around and—because they pull shit like this all the time — a nd trying to get some sort of campaign-thing going. So I keep one of them to show to my buddies, and I throw the rest out, and then I go back to cash and do whatever until the end of my shift. But the next day, I come in and they’re there again. I really have no idea what to do at that point, so I take them to the back and show them to Assistant Manager Holly, and she’s like, “Oh just keep those there,” and tells me they’re from corporate. Sorry, what kind of bagel with that? Everything would have poppy seeds on it, yeah. No, no cheese. But, so, that was when I started thinking something was up. ’Cause, like, if you look over the things, they’re all just stapled together and there’s no Tim’s or, like, uh, copyright logos anywhere. But I figure Assistant Manager Holly knows what she’s talking about, and I don’t want to get written up or anything, so I take them back and leave them at the garbages. Nothing really happens for a while after that. Sometimes people look at the pamphlets for a bit and maybe think about drugs and

50


Fiction get sad or whatever a little, but mostly they just ignore them. Assistant Manager Holly never says anything else about them to me or anyone else either, but whenever one of them gets moved around the place or left at a table or something, she goes out right away and puts it back over on top of the stack. Yeah. Did you want sausage or bacon? And two, you said? Alrighty. Okay, but now this is where things get nuts. So, when District Manager Beth came in to do the look-over she does every month, I actually started to kinda figure out what was going on. I’m over cleaning the outside of all the coffee pots, because we’re trying to have the place looking real nice, and District Manager Beth comes in, and she’s walking around, and she’s looking at the tables and the donuts in the display case, and she’s writing things down in this little notebook she has. And when she gets to the garbages, she stops — a nd Assistant Manager Holly’s been following her around this entire time, right— a nd she picks up one of the things and starts flipping through it. She does this for, like, a couple seconds, and then I guess when she realizes how insane they sound, she picks up all of them, and she throws them out right there. Well, Assistant Manager Holly lets out this high pitched kinda yelp noise, like if you accidentally stepped on a little dog or something, and she turns all red and I can see from behind the counter that she’s opening and closing her fists real fast and, like, pinching at her work pants and stuff. District Manager Beth goes to ask her what’s wrong,

51


Ian Taylor and she just reaches right into the garbage and pulls out all of the pamphlets and starts crying and, like, trying to stack them all back up. Did you want anything in the coffees? No, I don’t think we have, uh, lactose free. I could do, like, skim though probably. Is that cool? Alright. So, yeah, like, people have stopped talking and eating, and they’re all just staring over at the garbages, and so District Manager Beth says something like “I think we need to have a talk about this” and takes Assistant Manager Holly by the arm, and they go off into the back room together. Some people get up and start picking up the pamphlets that Assistant Manager Holly’s dropped everywhere and looking at them all confused, but a lot of other folks just kinda go back to what they were doing. I stick around on cash until my break, and when I head back to grab my lunch, I hear the two of them over in the little nook-thing where the fridges are. Assistant Manager Holly’s crying real hard, and she’s saying something about paying rent and her commitment to the company and about how she’s been riding in on one of Keiran’s old mountain bikes every day just to get to work on time. District Manager Beth sounds like she’s about to start trying to get a word in there, but Assistant Manager Holly doesn’t stop even really to breathe, and she starts crying even worse and talking about how all she wanted to do was make sure everybody was informed and that nobody would have to get hurt anymore. I don’t hear much more, though, ’cause I get out of there real fast, and I don’t even use the

52


Fiction microwave for my meat pie ’cause I don’t wanna be letting either of them know I heard anything. Like I said though, all of this was, like, two or three years ago now. Nobody knows really what happened, but the pamphlets are still around and Assistant Manager Holly hasn’t been fired or anything. Nathan who works here sometimes told me she ended up literally getting down on her knees and begging District Manager Beth to let her keep her job, and they worked out some sort of thing where she can keep the pamphlets in the store, but she’s not allowed to talk about them, and they have to be kept under the sink in the bathroom. Nobody knows, like, a hundred percent, but that’s where they started turning up after District Manager Beth came through. It’s actually weird you found that one. Everyone in town’s heard about them now, though. They’ve become kind of a local symbol or, uh, like, artifact or something, I guess you could call it. Like, look — see? — you notice how there’s some pages ripped out there? That was the section where she talked about how heroin made it so that you couldn’t get hard anymore, and I remember Big Alex Sherbrooke’s girlfriend taped a bunch of them to his door after he had sex with Emily Bronson or something, and then a month later was when he got arrested for selling dope. Wild stuff. Oh? Yeah, right, sorry. Twentytwo-seventy. Just tap right down there, yeah. Thanks a lot. I, uh—you can just leave it with me, I guess. I’ll put it back. Have a good one.

53


Communion Jessica Manchester-Sanchez Had it not been for the preparation of my first holy communion the desire to see a naked woman never would have entered my mind. I was eight years old. What did I know of sin? Sister Carmen explained to our Catechism class that before we could receive the holy sacrament we would need to absolve ourselves. My best friend Jimmy told me he would confess picking on his big sister. I was an only child who never bullied anyone. I was more likely to be bullied. I first needed to commit a sin if I were to be absolved. I’d considered stealing gum before an opportunity to sin was delivered to me. My dad had pitched for a minor league team before I was born and he’d been forced to abandon his dreams of joining the big leagues to join the family business and become an insurance salesman. I think he would tell me that he didn’t reach his growth spurt until he was sixteen to encourage me but all his words achieved were anxiety. Even Molly Warren, who was only an inch taller than I was, enjoyed tormenting me. She would grab my glasses, try them on, and snicker. “Man, oh man, are you blind,” she’d taunt. “Why do you think he wears them, his health?” Jimmy, my only friend, would growl. He’d give me back my glasses but not before scolding me and telling me that I needed to

55


Jessica Manchester-Sanchez stand up for myself. I asked Sister Carmen if being a wimp was a sin and she just looked at me the way she looked at the kid in class who ate paste and still wet himself sometimes. Confession day was a week away and I still hadn’t sinned. I’d seen older kids leaving the confessional booth, ashen and shaking. Sometimes I heard them whisper on the bus about how scared they were of judgement. As soon as they realized I was eavesdropping they’d stop speaking. In those days there was no school bus to pick you up at your front door and take you straight away to the school. The year was 1961. I attended third grade at Saint Brutus Elementary and it was up to me and Jimmy to catch bus 16 on 18th Street, and transfer to bus 9 on our own and be at school before the bell rung at 7:35 a.m. Somehow, we always made it to school on time and in one piece. One day my opportunity for sin arrived on the afternoon bus ride. Jimmy and I sat in our regular seats. We were next door neighbors. Across from us sat a man in a rumpled suit. He looked a mess and smelled of booze. He pulled the bell to be let off the bus and shuffled away with a cardboard box in his hands. The laid off man had dropped something. I picked it up. The Lord works in mysterious ways. I was holding in my hands a Playboy Magazine. Jimmy rang the bell and we jumped off the bus. We didn’t transfer like we were supposed to. Instead we hurried to a pocket park about a block away and started to look through the pictures.

56


Fiction Jimmy was sure he was in love with the redhead on page 52. “Her measurements are 34, 22, 34,” he read out loud. “What are they measuring?” I shrugged my shoulders. Later, Jimmy and I realized an hour had passed. We needed to get home before our mothers worried about us. Since I found the magazine I got to keep it that first night but I had to pinky swear to let him have it the next day. Jimmy’s dad had built him a tree house and that’s where the magazine wound up. I had a real sin to finally confess. We still took turns with the magazine though. Looking at the pictures was better when you had privacy. You felt perverted if you had company. Alone, looking at the naked women felt almost venerating. I figured out the measurements. I discovered that nudity was not as awkward as we make it out to be. Adam and Eve weren’t kicked out of the Garden of Eden for being naked but for thinking they knew more than God. It was spring when I found that magazine. I confessed on a weekly basis to looking through that magazine. Every week I said my prayers and was forgiven. A year passed and it was spring again. Jimmy’s mom discovered the magazine when she decided to sweep out the treehouse. She told my mother all about it. Mama said I’d go blind but I already wore corrective lenses. My palms never sprouted hair. Maybe all those prayers I’d been reciting for a year protected me. For whatever reason, Jimmy’s mom left the magazine

57


Jessica Manchester-Sanchez in the treehouse. Eventually a bird began to use bits of the magazine pages to create a nest. Jimmy was upset because the mama bird used up page 52. A blue egg was nestled into his imaginary girlfriend’s nether regions. Another egg was cradled by a pair of pink nipples. Life has a funny way of providing exactly what you need right when you need it. Jimmy didn’t see it that way but I certainly did.

58


These Are Withered Days Aubrey Nash The lacy smoke escaping roof top thickens and threads the world to the cheap cigar between his index finger and thumb. He pulls too delicately and rests it in the small dip of his black glass ashtray, no longer particularly fond of smoking, but old habits die gracefully with flesh. He swirls the silver can of butter yellow liquid, warmed by his life-charred palm, before taking a deep swig, interrupted by the touch of warm beer on his tongue. Spitting it into the planter pot beside him filled with only musky dirt and perhaps withered roots, remnants of his wife’s softness, the back of his wrist wipes away his grumbled words: monkey piss. He cracks a fresh beer as the couple across the way pulls into their driveway. Fabric tote bags of groceries with leafy greens spill out as they approach their door and are greeted by a familiar barking. The day is an indistinguishable Sunday. After church he drinks four beers on the deck. “Veranda worship,” he remembers his wife so christening it, though his memory frays like the curtains their cat used to climb before she too grew tired. His thoughts are disturbed by a honking horn on the street. Once a sign of greeting, he still finds himself raising fingers to pass a wave at the sound, but the prolonged pull on the horn reminds him of changed times

59


Aubrey Nash as one driver punishes another for a delayed right turn at the quiet intersection of Pine and Arbutus. He remembers when they paved the road, some forty years ago, not long after the new school was built a few blocks over and all the new housing complexes took over the bushes along the river. They put an offer on the house after his wife first heard the sound of the river in the distance while standing on this deck. “The river will guide us home,” she’d told him with only steady truth in her voice. His wife and he would make their way through the dense growth to go sit along the shore and read, talk, or embrace in uncertain privacy. They never took the same route in or out of there. She once told him she wanted to step where no person has ever stepped before. She’d pull her dress up in front of her like a bouquet of wildflowers and lead the way. She always led. They never had kids, he and his wife. They knew too little of the world to pass it on, so instead they went out searching. On occasion the night breeze would enter his bedroom window and whisper accusations of selfishness for having crafted a repertoire of wisdom that will expire with them, but they lived with careful love. He joked they should buy a boat and name it Hedonist. Some years later they bought a small sailboat on which she wrote in eggplant cursive The Seadons, his wife’s subtle humour making the joke theirs alone. They never sailed too far in that boat but on slow weekday evenings they’d chase the stars.

60


Fiction His fourth beer is only halfway finished but three o’clock has come and she’ll be ready for her tea. The doctor told him routine would help. He didn’t notice a change in her but it helped him find his footing. She had stopped asking who he was last year. At first he thought this was a sign of remembering, but of course it was only indifference. These are days, he thinks, of darkness tugging at shadows, pricking a hole in their casing until they spill evenly across the forest floor, days of river’s moans shrouding the jagged scrape of dry gray stone under careful barefoot prance. He lets the screen door bounce closed behind him, leaving such thoughts on the porch for next Sunday. He’s forgotten, as many do, that darkness is the shadow that puts her children to bed and symphonies are built on the cacophony of cohesion. Smoke exhales off the cigar, more ash than not now, and continues its travels, briefly rubbing against a shovel planted erect in a mound of musky soil. The wooden pole shudders as it feels the smoke breeze through its phantom limbs.

61


We Should Change the Curtains Curtis McRae

“We should change the curtains.” It had been a while since either of them spoke. He couldn’t remember what she had last said. He watched the dust rising through the filtered light, doubled through his smoke, and took another drag. “What’s wrong with them?” he asked. “They don’t hold the water in.” He squinted and looked at the stiff drapes a while longer, those curtains crusted over in time, then turned to take her in. She was smoking a cigarette, her legs hanging over the armrest of her chair, while staring intently at a fixed spot on the wall. A great stillness glossed over her face, a synthetic unawareness, as if she had briefly stepped out of her corpse and left the room. He thought of those storefront mannequins. He wondered if she was thinking about the last time the water came in—he didn’t know what that meant. “You mean the condensation?” “What?” “The condensation,” he said. “You mean they let the condensation in.”

63


Curtis McRae She nibbled the cracked coat of lime green polish on her fingernails, the tobacco stubbed between her middle and her ring finger, as she ran her unoccupied hand over the seat of her leather upholstered chair. He observed the spot she had been studying where the wallpaper had begun to peel. It was between their family portrait, taken at their orchard years ago—the two of them holding their daughter and their puppy who had moved away and passed on, respectively—and his mother’s piano, which they inherited after moving her into a nursing home. He tried to remember when the photo was taken. They all looked so young. His hair hadn’t greyed and his wife’s face had wrinkles in the good spots, the kind that come with laughter and wide eyes, not furrowed brows and sullen sulking. He decided not to compare the image with the lady sitting next to him. He lit a cigarette and decided it had only been a few years. “I meant the shower curtains.” “Oh. I thought you meant those ones.” He pointed at the window. “Why, what’s wrong with those?” They looked like they might shatter if the wind blew through. “Nothing,” he said, “there’s nothing wrong with them. I just thought that’s what you meant.” “Right. Well I think we should change the shower curtains.” He scratched at the growing scruff on his face, looking

64


Fiction at the same spot on the wall, and wondered how long it had been. “Why do they need to be changed?” he asked. “I already told you. They don’t keep the water in.” “Right,” he said. “I’m sorry.” They sat in silence a while longer, hardly stirring, moving only their cigarettes towards their lungs. They did this often, sitting in their living room while it rained, looking out onto the highway and the tracks. They made it a cozy room for just this design, so they could sit, and smoke. They lined the room with family portraits, a brick mantelpiece littered with trophies, an old inherited wooden piano, yellow wallpaper printed with red swirls, and two sun-dried leather chairs on each side of the futon which they bought in case they had guests over—or Darlene. Neither happened often. When they did, the room’s stale odor was masked with lemon scented air fresheners. “Do you even listen?” “What?” “When I talk to you, do you listen?” she repeated. “I always have to ask you something twice before it registers, and even then, when I ask you the same thing a week later, you’ve already forgotten.” “I’m sorry. I listen. I’m sorry. We’ll change the curtains. You just catch me lost in thought sometimes.” “Darlene used to say the same, you know. She complained about it all the time. You should try to listen more.”

65


Curtis McRae He gave up with the spot on the wall and trying to remember. He knew he would have to buy new curtains at the mall now that she had asked and this made him uneasy. Walking by those storefront mannequins, the blank stares of indifference eyeing him down as he passed them by, gave him an uncanny resemblance to the valley of his own life. He wondered if they were manufactured in sets and if they stayed together beyond the seasons. “I’ll go to the store tomorrow. What do you want?” “I don’t know,” she exhaled with her smoke. “What do you think?” “How about one of those old maps? The ones they used to have in our dorms.” “God no. That’s a horrible idea,” she said. “Aren’t we a little old for that?” “I’m sorry, you’re right, we are. I was just thinking of those days. What do you think then?” He watched her light another cigarette and gaze at the piano, he thought of Darlene’s fingers when she did—her slender fingers stretching across the keys, tickling those ivory chords. They bought her lessons when she was a child and she played beautifully. She had learned Bach’s Goldberg Variations in her third year and began composing by her fourth. On rainy days, often early on Sunday mornings, her fingers overrode the sounds of the passing trains and cars rolling by, shutting out all the noise and all the rooms outside of that one. He imagined a whole world of people

66


Fiction sitting and smoking, all looking out onto the tracks, all waiting for the train to pass them by. He shifted his gaze to the window and watched the raindrops follow the paths of the ones that fell before them. They started slow when they landed, but picked up momentum the longer they rolled and the faster they fell. This was until, like all the others, they disappeared out of sight, gone over the edge. He wondered if she still played. “Maybe just a solid color,” she said, “something that will match the accents. How about blue?” He thought about it for a while. “No, I don’t think so. Darlene wouldn’t like that. She’d call it square or something. How about polka dots?” She took a drag and sighed with each breath. He had unsettled her. He pulled out another cigarette from the carton. “So why do you even ask,” she said, “if you’re going to reject all my suggestions?” “I’m sorry. You’re right. I’m sorry. It’s not a bad idea, I just don’t think it’s what Darlene would want.” “Well she doesn’t live here anymore, does she?” He thought her question was accusatory. He wondered if he should make a big deal of it, but thought better in the end. “I know, but if she comes back I want her to feel at home.” She was out of smokes and asked him for another. He gave her one.

67


Curtis McRae “Well it is her home and that’s not dependent on the shower curtains now is it?” “No, it isn’t,” he said. “If she doesn’t feel at home, for whatever reason, of all the possibilities, the shower curtains are the least of our concerns for God’s sake.” He thought about that as he lit the last cigarette from his pack: about his wife, about his daughter, about the shower curtains they bought years ago, and about God’s sake. He tried to remember when they bought them or where they bought them, but he couldn’t quite recall. He held the notion that they had the same pair at the cabin near their orchard. He would have to buy two new sets if that were the case. But of course, it had been a while since he had been to the cabin, since any of them had been, and so it might not be the case. He sat there, his mind elsewhere, and thought of the first time he tried playing piano. A pot of coffee was percolating on the stove top as he huddled over it, trying to warm from the cool evening of stolen bed sheets. The most beautiful sounds he had ever heard trickled into the kitchen from the living room, a warm drift of wind he had never heard. He stood there for a moment in foreign bliss, wondering how his own daughter had so much exposure to a world he had been denied access to, wondering how a stolen angel had made her way into his living room. He left the stovetop espresso maker bubbling over the flame and floated into the

68


Fiction next room. His entrance went unnoticed as he watched the curls of brown hair fall down his daughters back, bobbing as she hunched over the piano. When she finished, she turned around and smiled at him as he stood there, expressionless. “When did you learn that, sweetheart?” “This morning, while you and mom were sleeping.” Not a note of vanity in her voice. She was still young enough to be unaware. “I wish I could play like you.” “Don’t be silly, Dad, of course you can. I’ll show you.” He sat next to her on the bench She began playing it once more, he watched her hands dart across the keys. “I could never play anything like that.” “You can one day, Dad, you just need to start somewhere. Here,” she started playing “Chopsticks”, “try playing that.” After a few stumbled attempts he got the notes right, and she started improvising a waltz riff over the melody in a lower octave.. She was sitting right next to him, but she already felt out of reach. “You see, now you can play.” “You’re right. You’re so very right, darling.” She giggled, and he kissed her on the cheek before she began to practice the Chopin songs she had learned for her recital. He went back to the kitchen and found that the coffee had bubbled over and caked onto the stovetop. Whenever his wife leaves the house he will rise and float to the piano, and even now without his waltzing, bobbing

69


Curtis McRae counterpart, he will still play “Chopsticks”. “What do you think?” his wife chimed in. He woke from his reveries and sat there while thinking about it. He looked between the rain and the picture on the wall, then back again to the cars passing and the trains rolling by. He thought about it, about the blue shower curtains that might have had polka dots, about Darlene, about why they kept the piano if no one played. Maybe it was for God’s sake. He tried not to care about the polka dots or the number of years, but got the feeling that he’d spend the rest of his life in that chair. “So, what do you think?” It had been a while since either of them spoke. He couldn’t remember what she had last said. He looked at the curtains and the world setting behind them, both filtered through that room, and took another drag while taking it in. “Blue should be fine.”

70


Non-Fiction


(content warning: describes sexual assault)

Doll Party Pamela Stemberg Smitty, Lisa’s dog, jumped up on me as I walked in the door. He placed one paw on each shoulder and licked my face, expecting a hug. With Barbie case in one hand and extra dolls in the other, I leaned against the wall for support and waited for her to pull him off me.    “Down,” Lisa said, deepening her eleven-year-old voice to sound larger or older or both. The dog didn’t move. “Get off her!” She pulled him by the collar and his nails caught my shirt as he reluctantly dropped to the floor. Even on all fours, Smitty came up to Lisa’s waist. “Get out of my way!” She learned how to deal with being small by using her entire body when she wanted something done, or when fighting off one of her older brothers.   We climbed the stairs to her bedroom. Smitty plopped himself on Lisa’s bed. Above him on the wall hung a wooden cross, one of many in Lisa’s house.    The trains rumbled outside at the evening rush hour. Lisa closed the window. The August sun settled in her room. I was sad because it reminded me that school was starting soon. Smitty rolled on his back. I sat next to him and scratched his belly, his hind legs kicked helplessly in the air. “If Grandma were here she’d throw you off the bed,” Lisa 73


Pamela Stemberg wagged her finger then leaned over to scratch him behind the ears. Rose, Lisa’s grandmother, was out shopping for dinner. I wasn’t supposed to be at a house when there’s no adult, but her grandfather was downstairs sleeping. He lost both legs to diabetes and doesn’t speak English. If there was a fire he couldn’t do anything, but he was the adult. And no one’s checking. “Did you bring the silver lame pants?” she asked, reaching into Barbie’s pink plastic wardrobe for clothes and laying them on the bed away from the dog. “No, I looked but I couldn’t find them.” My stuff was in chaos since I started sleeping in the living room. “Here take this.” Lisa pulled out a hot pink miniskirt and put the rest of the clothes on the white bedspread. I searched for my own version of the skirt but couldn’t find it. “Okay. Here’s a matching top,” I held up a white halter the size of my thumb but didn’t find matching shoes, so I left her barefoot.   We put on a fashion show. She dressed her goldenhaired Barbie in a green flowery dress and walked her down an imaginary runway.   “I’m going to have a tea party,” Lisa made her Barbie say to mine. “Would you like to come over to my new house after the show?” “I’d love to!” I held up an identical doll, spread her arms, and turned her to face Lisa’s Barbie.    She opened the doll house and assembled a plastic table

74


Non-Fiction with stick-on place settings. She also set up what looked like new living room furniture. “Wow, when did you get this?” I asked, amazed by the new couch and coffee table. “Nick bought it for me,” she said proudly sticking out her chest while talking about her mother’s new boyfriend. “I think we should invite Barbie’s friend Barbie to the party,” I said holding up another doll, naked with unkempt hair. They all looked like they had been in the washing machine, but this one was really bad.   We started to dress the dolls for the tea party. I looked through the tiny closet of my aqua Barbie carrying case with all the missing and mismatched outfits, then spilled the rest of the contents on the bed. I got a pair of pink boots, a blue mini skirt, and a white shirt made from an old towel. As I was pulling on the tiny boots, Smitty barked. I looked up and saw Tony, Lisa’s fourteen-year-old brother and his friend Jerry standing in the doorway. Tony was cute with brown wavy hair, big shoulders, and dark skin. Jerry was gawky looking with flappy ears, pimply face, and tall thin body.   “Ma says you can’t come in my room!” Lisa yelled. “Ma says you can’t come in my room,” Tony mocked. “Well, Ma’s not here.”   “I’m going to tell.” She jumped from the bed making fists and put her foot out to steady herself for the blows. Lisa stood about a head shorter than me, and Tony was about my height. She’d still fight her brother, even if she’d lose

75


Pamela Stemberg because he was bigger and stronger. “You’re not going to tell Ma anything,” he said as he entered the room. Tony and Jerry rushed Lisa. I watched as they bent her arm behind her back and she crumpled to the floor. They leaned her against the side of the bed. Not understanding what was happening, Smitty hopped off the other bed and barked at them, jumping up and down as if he wanted to play too.   “Shut up, Smitty,” Tony yelled but the dog paid no attention and continued to act playfully.   I was used to Tony beating up his sister. Usually, I was running off to tell the adults but only her grandpa was around and I didn’t know Italian.  So I stayed and watched as they pushed her face down into the bed and twisted her arms behind her back. It happened so fast that I didn’t think about there being two of them. Usually Tony tortured his sister by himself. “Awww look at the babies’ doll clothes,” Tony taunted. We were equidistant to the doorway, he on one side of the beds and I on the other. The doorway formed the point of the triangle. We raced to the door but he blocked me. I couldn’t bring myself to hit him. I covered my face with my hands and tried to barrel through the doorway.   Even though we were the same height he was much stronger. He dragged me back to the bed. I fought back by stepping on his feet and tried to move my arms, but he never

76


Non-Fiction lost his grip around my body. He forced me to fall face down. I crawled over to the other edge and tried to slide off, but he grabbed my legs and pulled me back. I gripped the white bedspread, but that only slid out from under my fingers. I blanked out, feeling nothing but the sensation of his body on top of mine. In the distance, I heard the dog barking. I kept telling myself to break free. When I couldn’t get away I wanted to disappear. I twisted violently and nearly threw him off me. “Jerry, show Pam what happens if she fights.” Jerry pulled Lisa’s arm and she screamed in pain. “Just behave and she won’t get hurt.” I stopped struggling. Tony had never shown any interest in me. I was tenyears-old. I didn’t know why he was doing this. When he began to move his body against mine I stopped wondering. He ground his crotch against my leg and I felt him stiffen through his jeans.    “You should like this. Fat girl like you.” But I didn’t. He pinned my hands above my head, kicked my legs further apart and began to hump me. I felt the length of his body against mine. I heard Lisa struggling but Jerry had her in a hold with her arms behind her back. She was still kneeling on the floor with her face on the edge of the bed. Her long brown hair had broken free of her ponytail holder and laid wildly over the edge of the bed. She struggled but was no match for Jerry. Her hand came loose and she tried to hit him in the crotch, but helplessly grabbed at the air.

77


Pamela Stemberg “Bite him, Pam, bite his face off.” But I couldn’t do what she asked, and I felt bad. “I know it’s what you want. Isn’t that right, Lisa?” Tony’s face is above mine and his hot breath on my mouth. I just want him to get this over with. “Didn’t you tell me she thought I was cute?” Is that why he’s on top of me? “Bite him, Smitty!” she screamed. His long nails clattered on the floor as he scampered around and barked at Jerry who kicked him away. Tony’s movements became more insistent. Unable to change my own situation, I focused on Lisa. Her fighting gave me hope and I decided to try to get away. I twisted but all that moved was my head. “Jerry, pull my sister’s arm tighter.” Jerry did as he was asked and Lisa screamed. “Just stop fighting. I told you already,” Tony said to me.   “Stop!” I cried. I wished the dog would rip out his throat. But Smitty didn’t come to my rescue.   Tony’s movements became faster, his body moved up and down. Some of my hair was caught between our fingers and when he moved, it pulled. I told myself that I’d bite his lips if he tried to kiss me, but he didn’t.   How could I get out of this? Get out from under him? I know Lisa is going to get hurt. I begin to cry. “Cry baby,” he said. “That’s useless.” He crushed my fingers.

78


Non-Fiction “Get off me!” I screamed. Jerry had her whole body on the bed now and he’s holding Lisa’s face down while she struggled to turn over. She flashed her teeth and tried to bite his hand. “Lisa? Lisa? You uppa stairs,” Rose, her grandmother called. As though I had caught on fire, Tony hopped off me. Jerry let go of Lisa and they ran out of the room. Lisa ran to her doorway screaming, “I’m telling Ma!”   Lisa and I looked at the mess. Dolls clothes spilled on the floor, the dollhouse on its side. Lisa quickly cleaned up the beds and pushed the doll clothes into a pile.   “Hey, those boys ran outta the ‘ouse. It’s okay here?” The little lady with her dark brown hair and black cardigan stood in the doorway, looking as confused as we felt.   “Yes, Nona we’re fine,” Lisa lied. Rose turned and went into her bedroom.   I collected my Barbies, stuffed the clothes into my case, and left the room. Rose stepped out into the hallway. “You wanna to say for dinner?”   “I can’t tonight, my…my aunt already made food.” I dashed down the stairs with Lisa close behind. “I can’t tell, you’ll have to,” she said before I went out the door. My grandmother wouldn’t let me play with my friend Isabell because she was mean to me. I’ll never be allowed back in Lisa’s house. I didn’t know how to tell this story and didn’t want to. I

79


Pamela Stemberg wanted to forget it happened. But two weeks later Lisa finally convinced me. At four o’clock in the afternoon I stood at the doorway of my older sister Totsy’s bedroom, watching her watch television. Lisa was behind me as I waited for the right moment, for the correct words to strike me and make clear what happened. My plan was to tell her about Smitty and my dolls thrown all over the floor, and the bedspread, and my bruised fingers. Then I’d tell her that Tony was on top of me, pretending to do the real thing until I was saved by Rose. Suddenly I thought about Lisa telling Tony that I thought he was cute. Was it my fault? I turned away from the doorway but Lisa pushed me back. Having to say that I was pinned to a bed, under a boy who was making those kinds of movements, made my stomach turn. I just wanted to see Lisa again, but what if telling separated us forever? “You have to tell,” she pushed me forward. “Let’s do this together,” I said. I held my breath. Lisa pushed me again into Totsy’s bedroom. “What am I going to say?”   “What he did,” she said.   “What he did,” I imitated. “It’s not so easy.” Once we were inside Totsy’s bedroom, she finally noticed us. “What are you doing?” Totsy asked. “We have to tell you something.” I said. “About what?”

80


Non-Fiction “Nothing.” I turned to leave. “No no no no,” Lisa put her body between me and the doorway.   “Can I tell you something?” I turned around. “What is it?” Totsy turned off the television. “It’s about Tony,” Lisa stayed hidden behind me. “What about Tony?” she perked up. I looked at Lisa, and she moved the index finger on her right hand in and out of a circle made by the index finger and thumb of her left hand. Totsy’s eyes widened, and then she looked puzzled. “What does that mean?” she said. “Tony tried to do that to me.” She shot up from the bed. “What? What happened?” “Well... he held me down,” I felt all giggly and looked at the floor, shuffling my shoes and shrugging my shoulders. “He pushed me on the bed. Got on top of me. Moved up and down.” No dog, no doll, and no bedspread. “Did you have your clothes on?” Her voice several octaves higher. “Yes,” I panicked, thinking we were in trouble.    Lisa came out from behind me. “I was there. Jerry held my arms behind my back.”    Totsy looked at me. “Was this the first time? Did he do this before?” I shook my head. “He never did anything before.”  She stared at me. “I was afraid you wouldn’t believe me,” I finally looked

81


Pamela Stemberg at her.   “Of course, I believe you. Tell me exactly what happened,” she said sitting at the table in the dining room. I told her everything. “Am I in trouble?” “No! I have to make some phone calls. Go play in the living room.” Even though playing Barbie was our favorite we didn’t have fun. The whole time, I thought about what her family would think and what would happen to Tony and Jerry. Would they get in trouble? was really worried about Lisa. Even though she wanted me to tell, it was still her brother and she lived in a house with him. Even if my grandmother let me go back to her house was Lisa going to want to play with me? I never had Lisa over again. Her mother forbid her from coming over, or at least that’s what Lisa told me. She never invited me to her house either, and I was too shy to invite myself. I was lonely. A neighbor told me Tony was sent to live with his father in California. Eventually Lisa turned into my enemy. She ignored me on the street and whispered to whoever she was walking with whenever she saw me. I thought this would one day change but it never did.

82


Murder on the Elementary Express Katherine DeGilio The sun had been out with full force, but now resided a little to the left, allowing the children to run around without being sentenced to shady areas. The elementary school had its face near suburban sunshine and its back to an old wood. There was a flimsy chain-link-nothing between the playground and the trees, that stopped children from wandering too far, but not from sliding their arms through the holes, grabbing whatever poison ivy they mistook for a flower. I laid down on the blacktop, stretching out in the sun like a tomcat. I was never an active child. The only thing active about me was my imagination, and it took all the energy I could muster, leaving room for nothing else. I turned to my friend, Lisi, and we discussed how it didn’t make sense that people drew pegasuses with unicorn horns and called them unicorns, when pegasuses and unicorns were two entirely different species. We spent a few minutes deliberating on how to fix this issue and concluded that we would call pegasuses with horns PeggyUs. After the initial election of the name, we got up and pretended to be these hybrid horses. We galloped around

83


Katherine DeGilio the schoolyard and shook the invisible wings on our back. Lisi challenged me to a race, so we dashed to the other side of the playground, where the fence seemed to fade in and out of existence as the sun flickered on its metal chains. I don’t remember who won the race. I don’t think we even set a finish line, but I do remember that I found myself standing on top of a pile of dirt that would ultimately become my legacy. Now, a reasonable adult would have stepped on the unusually bouncy pile of dirt, and rationalize that it must have mesh under it for gardening purposes. I, however, was not an adult, and back then my rationalization had a lot more imagination in it. I invited Lisi to jump on the pile with me, and she commented on how odd it was. As far as we had known, dirt didn’t bounce. Dirt was a part of the ground, and the ground was certainly not bouncy. Lisi bent down, dug her fingers into the pile, and removed the dirt just enough that a piece of cloth became visible. Neither of us knew that the cloth was polypropylene, let alone that it’s used for gardening, and from that little blimp of ignorance, a conspiracy was set on foot. Growing up, I had developed a dark sense of humour that seemingly came out of nowhere. I wasn’t allowed to watch horror movies as a child; I wasn’t even allowed to watch The Lion King until fifth grade, because my mother thought it was too violent. However, the weekend before the dirt conspiracy, she had let me watch two R-rated movies.

84


Non-Fiction It was Saturday morning. The smell of fresh paint wafted through the newly renovated kitchen and into the living room. My mother opened the front door leaving only the screen, and I sat on the armrest of our brown leather couch. No one else sat there, but I was a child, and as such, had to sit like a lunatic. I flipped through channels looking for something to entertain myself with, and across the screen came a commercial for American Idol. I turned to my mother and asked her if you had to go on that show to become a singer, or if there was another way. Instead of explaining to me the process of self-marketing and record deals, my mother decided to make me watch movies about famous singers. I suppose it was her way of interactive teaching. Instead of explaining, I could see firsthand how it happens. Now, my mother was a brilliant woman, with chestnut brown hair, and a warm smile. She was a good mom, but she had something in the back of her mind that would sometimes create the worst ideas. It seemed that the idea-making factory in her brain had a small glitch. Out of every ten good ideas, there was one that felt a little off, a little jagged. One of those ideas was not only allowing but encouraging me, at eight years old, to watch The Coal Miner’s Daughter and La Bamba. I don’t remember a lot about The Coal Miner’s Daughter, except for a scene where she was singing by a river and then one where she cussed on the radio. La Bamba I remember

85


Katherine DeGilio even less, besides one scene that had seared its way into my little mind. A man and a woman whose names I don’t remember got into an argument. The fight grew heated, and the man threw a beer bottle, which shattered on the linoleum siding of the house, just missing the woman. I never really understood how anyone in that movie became a singer, but my young brain took note of one thing: beer bottle equals violence. I came to school Monday, and the movie had already left my mind. I was concerned with more pressing issues, such as the pegasus/unicorn debate. However, my dark imagination was ever-present. Lisi dropped the fabric polypropylene and asked me what I thought was wrapped up under there. In third grade, I had no understanding of basic biology. I did, however, have an understanding of cartoons, and how bouncy the human body can be within them. This led me to the conclusion that this bouncy dirt wasn’t a conspiracy, but a crime. A murderer must have buried a body under the earth. It only made sense: dirt wasn’t bouncy, but cartoon people were. Lisi didn’t believe me at first, and I had no other proof, until the following day. After lunch the next day, I found myself on the playground. Lisi and I brought other children into our PeggyU game. We had about four extra players now, each with different horse names. I told my fellow PeggyUs about our findings in the dirt pile, and the other children followed

86


Non-Fiction me across the yard to inspect and throw in their theories as to what gave the dirt pile this uncanny bounce. Two of the kids accepted my homicidal homily. Two had other ideas. One boy, with sun-beaten stripes across his cheeks, thought maybe a scientist had created the first all-natural trampoline. One girl, with kinky curls and a wide freckled grin, heard about this theory from her older cousin that we all lived in a simulation, and thought this must merely be a glitch. Lisi didn’t have any theories. She was the type of person to enjoy the oddities of life without questioning them. Lisi listened to everyone’s conspiracy theories, and when they finished, she ushered us all back to the blacktop. We sat on the edge of the asphalt, and I watched as the girl with kinky curls and the boy with red cheeks stood each other off in basketball. The girl with kinky curls made a basket, but the ball bounced off the court. I ran to catch it, bent down to pick up the ball, and right there next to it was a shattered piece of glass, exactly like that of the beer bottle I had seen earlier that week. The green glass glinted in the sun, as I held that piece of beer bottle up to the sky. I had two pieces of evidence: a weird mound of dirt that could, in my mind, be where someone buried a body, and a murder weapon. Apparently, in “Law & Order: Minor Sleuths,” two clues is all you need for a conspiracy to become a conviction. I walked over to my friends, glass shard in hand. I had

87


Katherine DeGilio more evidence than anyone else, and soon, people started to believe me. Kids walked around looking for more pieces of evidence, eventually finding the whole bottle, adding fuel to our crime-solving fire. Theories on what had happened ran rampant. Maybe there was a lovers’ quarrel. The woman, a tall Victorian looking princess, loved another man, and her fiancé found out, threw the beer bottle at her head, and sliced her throat. Since we were children and had no understanding of physics, that scenario seemed entirely plausible. We passed notes in class depicting her decapitation. Lucky for us, we were all terrible artists, and when the notes were inevitably confiscated, our teacher had no clue what we were trying to draw. By Wednesday, a new theory had been thrown into the ring: Maybe it wasn’t a random person who committed such a crime; perhaps it was a teacher. We thought it might be Mrs. Miller, who shouted all the time, but that seemed too easy. We needed scandal, a twist. No, it had to be the sweet Ms. Smith who had left for three months due to “maternity leave”...or as we suspected, murder leave! We became invigorated, way too invested in our stories. This wasn’t a job for the police, but for the prepubescent. By Friday, we were in a frenzy. Everyone had a theory. Everyone had jumped on that pitiful mound of dirt. Saturday and Sunday were spent deliberating alone, preparing to share our new developments.

88


Non-Fiction We came to school Monday with the same fever we had left with. We sat at our desks, twiddling our thumbs until we could go back to the playground. We raced down to the dirt pile in droves, but, once we got there, we hit a bump in the road. Someone had removed the pile of dirt and left nothing, but dull, flat ground. I had to be quick on my feet. I don’t know why, but for some reason, little me did not want this mystery to die as our fictional victim had. I scanned the schoolyard. To the right of the dirt, just a few feet away, was a woodshed. The shed was always locked, and no one in my class knew exactly what it was for. “The murderer must have moved the body.” I pointed to the frightful shed. “They put it in there!” This new revelation was greedily accepted. No one wanted to stop the fun, but while it was exciting, it added a dicey new problem to the mix. If someone had moved the body into a locked shed on school property, then the school must know about it. Now, it wasn’t just a teacher in the hot seat, but the entire institution. Maybe, a man from the woods had made a deal with the school to hide his victims here. Or perhaps it was Ms. Smith, who had been killed, and the school was covering it up. Our theories grew rapidly but in whispers. This had to be under the radar, or we could be next. Months went by, and not a single child said another word about it. Our only acknowledgment was when we’d get

89


Katherine DeGilio up to sharpen our pencils. We’d walk up to the sharpener that stood beside a window that looked out directly at the shed. We’d do our best to sharpen quickly, and get back to our seat. No one wanted to get caught showing too much interest in the shed. Each recess came and went, and we glued ourselves to the swing set far away from the whole debacle. Every so often, one brave child would be designated to play near the shed, to stop any suspicion as to why no one would go there. Three months passed before anyone said a word about the murder or the shed. We were either too scared to speak, or it had fizzled out of our minds. It wasn’t hard for us to forget; children tend to have the attention span of lightning bugs. I admit, I too let the mystery slip away from me. That is, until one day, a boy in my class got up to sharpen his pencil. It was during silent work time, the most tumultuous time of the day. He stood up, and no one looked up from their papers, rushing to get their work done. He slumped over to the window and put his pencil in. His eyes drifted outside a second, then back to the sharpener, but then suddenly he looked out again. His eyes grew wide as he turned around and exclaimed: “There’s only computers in there!” Every child hopped out of their seats. They rushed over to the window to see what the boy had seen. I pushed past the crowd, who blatantly ignored the teacher as she told us

90


Non-Fiction to sit down, and looked outside. There across the yard, a few feet from where the mound of dirt used to be, was the open shed. Inside, stacked beside each other were clunky PCs, the off-white kind with boxy screens. The boy sat down first, and soon the rest of the class joined him. I lingered for a second in the window, flabbergasted by how fast my fantasy had come crashing down. No one had been murdered there, and I was devastated. I now know that the fabric was for gardening, and the shed was for computers. I never did find out why that beer bottle was broken, or how it ended up on our playground. Maybe it was a violent act, or maybe my mother shouldn’t have let me watch TV. All I know is you don’t have to go on American Idol to become a singer.

91


Contributors Matthew James Babcock. Idahoan. Writer. Failed breakdancer. Books: Points of Reference (Folded Word); Strange Terrain (Mad Hat); Heterodoxologies (Educe Press); Four Tales of Troubled Love (forthcoming, January 2019, Harvard Square Editions); Future Perfect (forthcoming, May 2019, Ferry Street/ Engine Books).

Leah Baker teaches writing at a public high school, and has had her most recent pieces published or forthcoming in The Bookends Review, Lit Tapes, Thrice Publishing, Panoplyzine, and Twyckenham Notes. She is a fierce feminist, yogi, and traveler. Leah resides in Portland, Oregon.

Manahil Bandukwala is a writer and artist currently living in Ottawa. Her chapbook, Pipe Rose, came out with battleaxe press in 2018. Her work has appeared in the Puritan, Room Magazine, carte blanche, Coven Editions, and Soliloquies Anthology, among other places. She is on the editorial teams of In/Words Magazine and Canthius.

Robert Beveridge makes noise (xterminal.bandcamp.com) and writes poetry in Akron, OH. Recent/upcoming appearances in The Blue Pages, Minute, and Chantwood, among others.

Alia Bhimji is a Montreal-based poet and an undergraduate at Concordia University. She is fascinated by societies—their troubles and their triumphs, and the subtleties of human rhythms always linger in her writing.

93


Soliloquies Anthology

Carl Boon lives in Izmir, Turkey, where he teaches courses in American literature at 9 Eylül University. His poems appear in dozens of magazines, including The Maine Review and Posit. A Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee, Boon is currently editing a volume on food in American literature.

Louise Carson’s poetry has recently been published in The

Maynard and QWERTY. Her collection A Clearing appeared in 2015 from Signature Editions, Winnipeg. Her latest book is The Cat Vanishes, a mystery set in Hudson, QC. With her daughter and pets, she lives in the country where she gardens, runs and shovels snow.

Linda M. Crate’s poetry, short stories, articles, and reviews have been published in a myriad of magazines both online and in print. She has five published chapbooks A Mermaid Crashing Into Dawn (Fowlpox Press - June 2013), Less Than A Man (The Camel Saloon - January 2014), If Tomorrow Never Comes (Scars Publications, August 2016), My Wings Were Made to Fly (Flutter Press, September 2017), and splintered with terror (Scars Publications, January 2018), and one micro-chapbook Heaven Instead (Origami Poems Project, May 2018). She is also the author of the novel Phoenix Tears (Czykmate Books, June 2018).

Katherine DeGilio is a writer, currently working for Psych2Go

Magazine. DeGilio has also been published in Litro Literary Magazine and featured in November Falls, an anthology by Zimbell House Publishing.

J. Robert Ferguson’s poetry has been published in multiple Canadian literary journals, most recently Prairie Fire, The Dalhousie Review, and Contemporary Verse 2, and is also forthcoming in filling Station and The Capilano Review. Originally

94


Contributors from the village of Bible Hill, Nova Scotia, he now divides his time between Winnipeg and Montreal, where he is pursuing a Masters in English Literature at Concordia.

R.J. Keeler was born in St. Paul, Minnesota. Lived in jungles of Colombia, S.A., up to age twelve. BS Mathematics NCSU, MS Computer Science UNC, MBA UCLA, Certificate in Poetry UW. Honorman, U.S. Naval Submarine School. “SS” (Submarinen Service) qualified. Vietnam Service Medal. Honorable Discharge. Whiting Foundation Experimental Grant. P&W’s Directory of Poets and Writers. Member IEEE, AAAS, AAP. The Boeing Company. Does not subscribe to the cattle-prod paradigm of poetry. May tend to melancholy. Keeler’s collection Detonation will be published in December.

Jessica Manchester-Sanchez lives in Houston with her husband of 20 years, 17-year-old son, and two grumpy cats. She studied journalism at Texas State University then worked as an editorial assistant at a newspaper in Harlingen, Texas where she wrote obituaries and filled in for the bird watching column. She was first published in Cricket Magazine at age 7. She has recently been published in The Gnu Journal, Havik, The Write Launch and Hyphen Literary and Art Magazine. Her YA novel When the Buddha in Beaumont Met God’s Gardener is available on Amazon. com.

Diane G. Martin, Russian literature specialist, Willamette University graduate, has been awarded first prize at Lunch Ticket’s Diana Woods Memorial Award for Creative Nonfiction, and has published poetry, prose, and photography in numerous literary journals including New London Writers, Vine Leaves Literary Review, Poetry Circle, Open: Journal of Arts and Letters, Breath and Shadow, the Willamette Review of the Liberal Arts, Portland

95


Soliloquies Anthology Review of Art, Pentimento, Twisted Vine Leaves, The Examined Life, Wordgathering, Dodging the Rain, Antiphon, Dark Ink, Gyroscope, Poor Yorick, Rhino, Conclave, Slipstream, Stonecoast Review, Steam Ticket, Third Wednesday, Pigeonholes, Shantih, Zingara, Shooter, The Grief Diaries, Lunch Ticket, Lady Liberty, Lowestoft Chronicle, The Ekphrastic Review, and forthcoming in Tulane Review, and The Bangor Literary Journal.

Ilona Martonfi is the author of three poetry books: Blue Poppy

(Coracle Press, 2009), Black Grass (Broken Rules Press, 2012), and The Snow Kimono (Inanna Publications, 2015). Forthcoming, Salt Bride (Inanna, 2019) and The Tempest (Inanna, 2020). She writes in chapbooks and journals: Canadian Woman Studies, carte blanche, Vallum, Soliloquies, Fiddlehead, and elsewhere. She is the Artistic Director of The Yellow Door and Visual Arts Centre Readings. Ilona received the QWF Community Award in 2010.

Curtis McRae is pursuing an Honours BA in English Literature and a Minor BA in Psychology at Concordia University. If he had it his way, he would also be pursuing a BA in Philosophy, History, Creative Writing, Linguistics, Cognitive Sciences, etc. But of course, there are only so many minutes in a day, and so many days in a year. If there weren’t, he would also be pursuing sailing, rock climbing, carpentry, skiing, pottery, mountaineering, etc. But of course, there are only so many years in a lifetime. And so for now, he spends his time writing short stories.

Bridget Mountford is a Creative Writing and English literature student in second year at Concordia.

Aubrey Nash is a graduate student at McGill University. The winds atop the Stawamus Chief and waves of the Howe Sound call her home.

96


Contributors

ValĂŠria M. Souza holds a Ph.D. in Luso-Afro-Brazilian Studies & Theory, specializing in Disability Studies, from The University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. She is currently employed in the Human Services sector and lives with her wife in Mattapan, Massachusetts.

Pamela Stemberg has published an excerpt of her memoir on the website This Great Society. Fiction and non-fiction pieces have appeared in the Free State Review, New York Daily News as well as other publications. Stemberg has an MFA in creative nonfiction from CCNY and currently teaches English Composition at several CUNY schools.

Ian Taylor is outside of your room right now, banging two pieces of metal together really loudly and yelling about something. He lives with two roommates in an apartment that’s probably being used to launder money, and he enjoys stew and riding his bike.

97


Profile for Soliloquies Anthology

Soliloquies Anthology 23.1  

Soliloquies Anthology is Concordia University's undergraduate literary journal. The journal publishes poetry, fiction, and non-fiction from...

Soliloquies Anthology 23.1  

Soliloquies Anthology is Concordia University's undergraduate literary journal. The journal publishes poetry, fiction, and non-fiction from...