Copyright © 2022 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 Catherine Sauvé Dowers Soliloquies Anthology, c/o Concordia University Department of English 1455 de Maisonneuve Blvd. West Montréal, Québec 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. Tiohtià: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 people. We respect the continued connections with the past, present and future in our ongoing relationships with Indigenous and other people within the Montreal community.
Soliloquies — 26.2
C O N T E N T S 05 Editorial Team
W O R K S
09 Between Unspoken Words and Stolen Fries Binh An Nguyen Cuu
31 Deadname: I buried her long ago, so why can’t you? Maze Laverty
15 The Drive Salomé Lafrance
33 The Bachelor Esme Bale
16 The Porchlight Keisha Emery
40 amber necklace Bridget Griffith
18 Fishnets Katherine Abbass
41 What a Raccoon Remembers Cassandra Sarah Pegg
21 The Immigrant Experience Yara Ajeeb
44 cybernetic closeness sam fisch
23 The Magic Kingdom Jennifer DeLeskie
45 Third-Hand Far Away Anonymous
Soliloquies — 26.2
53 No mail today Lily Inskip-Shesnicky
78 Another Keisha Emery
54 The Visit Erin Staley
79 Blind Spot Inuya Schultz
62 People Luna Moss
83 Cold Black Soup Zoe Marner
63 Coleoidea SMercedes
84 Pr00f of a Lily SMercedes
64 The Jewelweed Anaïs Ranger
Soliloquies — 26.2
E D I T O R I A L
T E A M
Editors-in-Chief Sophie Villeneuve Paola B. López Sauri
Managing Editor Sarah Lotfi
Artistic Director Catherine Sauvé Dowers
Poetry Editors Brett Huestis Jade Palmer Sabrina Papandrea
Prose Editors Uma Iqbal Isabelle de Leon Emmie Nicholson Danielle Renaud
Social Media Manager Candice Brown
Web Content Creators Maia Becerra Julia Bifulco Lucy Farcnik Swan Yue
Soliloquies — 26.2
F O R E W O R D Our second semester as Soliloquies’ co-editors-in-chief was entirely different from our first. Before opening submissions in January and with the help of our team, especially one poetry editor who would like to remain unnamed, we made several changes to our submission process, with the intention to better represent both local talent and work from underrepresented/marginalized writers. Due to those changes, our pool of submissions was more diverse than last semester’s, with the vast majority of the pieces having been written by members of the Concordia community. We’re beyond grateful for the support and interest we’ve received throughout the course of the semester. To everyone who submitted to issue 26.2 of Soliloquies Anthology, thank you for trusting us with your art. If your writing wasn’t selected for publication this round, please don’t be discouraged from submitting in the future; everyone’s journey is different, and we’re happy to have been a stepping stone in yours. To the writers whose pieces were selected for publication, we’d like to offer our congratulations. We hope you’re proud of this achievement, and that your experience with Soliloquies was as rewarding for you as it was for us. Of course, the success of the anthology depends on the work done by our fantastic group of prose and poetry editors, who read and considered each submission with care, our web content creators, our social media manager, Candice Brown, our artistic director, Catherine Sauvé Dowers, and our managing editor extraordinaire, Sarah Lotfi. We know the process wasn’t always easy or clearcut, and we can’t thank you enough for being willing to figure it out with us.
Soliloquies — 26.2
We would also like to thank the amazing team in charge of the Concordia Association for Students in English, as well as the folk running the Arts and Science Federation of Associations, who made it possible for us to create this anthology through their continued moral and financial support. We’ve learned and changed so much since we started our journey as editors-in-chief. Leading such an amazing team of editors has been an incredible privilege and we’re humbled to be part of Soliloquies’ history, however minimally—and we can’t wait to see how our successors improve on our work. To anyone reading this, whether you found us by chance, or you’ve known about our publication for years, we’d like to offer you our sincerest thanks. We appreciate you sharing your time with us and our talented contributors; we hope you enjoy Soliloquies 26.2. Sophie Villeneuve and Paola B. López Sauri Editors-in-Chief
Between Unspoken Words and French Fries
BETWEEN UNSPOKEN WORDS AND STOLEN FRIES B i n h
N g u y e n
C u u
On the day of her twenty-fifth birthday, Nga’s father emerged like an unsolicited dandelion amid fresh summer grass. The way it happened took her by surprise as she leaned in to greet her mother with a kiss on the left cheek without being able to reach the other, the sudden horrible sight of him having crossed her eyes. Part of the shock was charged by the way Nga had learned to solidify her father’s absence into familiarity. She had, to that day, spent the last six years without him – the first three from climbing out of her bedroom window at nineteen, and the following ones because he had died. When the ghost of her father plopped back on the family room’s most wrinkled couch, Nga did not dignify him with a shriek for a welcome. She glanced at the altar right above his head, the one on which his picture was framed in gold near incense and fruit platters, and turned to her mother to warn her in a whisper that the pruney ghost of a man was sitting across the room. The old lady, usually frigid and reserved, lit up in utter delight and shook her daughter’s hands with tears in her eyes which she usually cared to hide. Nga’s mother was ecstatic from the turn of events – not because she was eager to get rid of her husband but rather because she felt he had grown bored of haunting her. “He is finally ready to leave with you!” Nga was informed by her mother that her father roamed the afterlife as a ma đói; a Hungry Ghost driven out of his realm by hunger and sorrow. She assured that although most Hungry Ghosts were of violent nature, her father was rather stubborn and unpleasant on the occasion that he was poorly fed. When hungry ghosts consume their offerings, she warned, they extract the life out
Between Unspoken Words and French Fries
of their food, leaving its consistency ashy and cold. Regardless of the waste, they must be fed to safely return to their new home. When Nga asked her mother how long her father would stay by her side, the old lady left her with puzzling guidance before sending her away. “The mouth of a dissolving ghost is the last thing you’ll see.” *** Nga spent the following weeks ignoring her father’s ghost, hopeful that her indifference might tempt his departure. In her apartment, he sat on her furniture like a blanket of dust covering the scent of pine that usually perfumed her evenings. She often mistook the occasional glance of him for a strange painting hanging in her hallways, the beige on her walls bringing out the blue wash of his skin which stained darker around his knuckles and at the tip of his nose. Although he never uttered a word, she couldn’t forget about him, for his presence felt like a cold winter breeze seeping through the cracks of her wooden floor. Nga’s father specialized in all types of silences and despite the variety, she was reminded of how much she despised all of them. She remembered his eyes like stone beads looking over her from across the playground; the same eyes that would later reject the curiosity of her attention throughout her teenage years. Nga’s father never spoke of the war that washed him on foreign lands, and although her mother told her stories about the violence and the fugitives on boats, she understood that the sorrow would never be hers to reciprocate. In her youth, Nga believed her father did not talk because his lungs were still filled with ocean water. She remembered how his mouth was pressed in a perpetual line, and how she wished she could pick it up like a phone.
Between Unspoken Words and French Fries
Nga secretly felt embarrassed that even the ghost of her father recoiled from mending unresolved heartaches. By the fifth week of his stay, the consequences of starving a Hungry Ghost had grown to be insufferable. Usually hostile and vengeful creatures, the ghost of Nga’s father rather preferred to project his displeasure by engorging the stream of his silence until it filled every crack of her home. She felt the air thickening against her skin like a slime suit, the same way a fish would struggle to swim through gelatine. When she yelled at her father for being at the root of her misery, he quietly got up and sat at the kitchen table. Determined to get rid of him that evening, she cooked him his first meal. The meal that Nga presented to her father was one her mother would always put together when she was a child. She remembered the old lady as being excruciatingly meticulous with the food she put on the table, eternally committed to ensuring that the right oils and nutrients would go to her daughter’s brain. In a bowl, Nga threw together rice, pork belly and a boiled egg so radiant in their steam that she felt sad they were going to waste under the cold touch of a ghost. Under the glare of a ticking clock, Nga and her father shared a table for the first time in six years. When Nga went to retrieve her father’s bowl at the end of their meal, she was met with a peculiar sight that tied her throat into a knot. She was surprised to find the food half eaten, with a small portion of everything neatly tucked at the bottom of the bowl. She threw a glance in her father’s direction only for him to unravel an unprompted memory with a soft nod of the head. Nga started crying. Suddenly, she was washed in the silence of a late afternoon when the sun pulled shadows out of furniture. Sometime in her childhood, Nga was sitting down for supper and listening to the sunset while
Between Unspoken Words and French Fries
the sound of chopsticks clattering against bowls echoed like an orbit around her ears. She was ten, or twelve, or fourteen and the hair in her pigtails was in knots from a long day of studying and growing into adolescence. Platters were lined up before her eyes like domino tiles, the food in them disappearing with the afternoon. She ate very little to stay thin and paid less attention to her parents than her magazines. “You are getting too skinny. Rất gầy,” her mother would never fail to mention, “Eat some more.” Nga who was ten, or twelve, or fourteen always replied, “The weight you ask me to gain is the same weight you’ll ask me to lose!” In the torture of adolescence, Nga often understood her father’s silence as compliance. He always sat with his eyes lost in his bowl and as her heart was breaking, she thought he might as well eat them. Nga secretly longed for her father to speak in her defense and fill in the crevices of her mother’s abuse but instead, she found poison in his language of averted eyes. In the torture of adolescence, she wished for words to be the vessel of love. When Nga stared at the food that remained in her father’s bowl years later, no longer ten, or twelve, or fourteen, she did not dwell on her mother’s venomous words – she did not dwell on words at all. Instead, she was reminded of how her father never finished a meal. She remembered how he waited for her mother to leave the table before pushing his bowl towards her with the soft nod that never escaped her memory. Whether she ate his leftovers or not, he never commented. She often felt like a young bird following a trail of crumbs. When Nga took a bite out of the food that was left at the bottom of her father’s bowl, she did not cry from the taste of ashes in her mouth. Her tears streamed down her cheeks from realizing after so many years that when she climbed out her bedroom window at
Between Unspoken Words and French Fries
nineteen, a platter of fruit was sitting at her door – as it had been every other night. *** By the time her father’s ghost finally disappeared, Nga was around the same age as her parents at her birth. Five years had passed and the silences that furnished her home smoothly settled like a warm summer afternoon. The late evening suppers they shared never differed from the first, if not for the way silence rolled off Nga’s tongue with more ease. The words he spoke to her for the first time were the last she ever heard: “It is my time to go.” The night her father’s ghost disappeared, Nga did not cook him a last meal. Instead, she brought him to a place she thought he might have forgotten. Nga’s father rarely took her out during her youth, but when he did, they sat at a booth in an empty diner after school. He used to sit opposite her with his bills in one hand and a mug of coffee in the other – she always had a plate of fries. No words were ever exchanged between the two but as they sat together, she loved to pretend they were hiding underneath the stream of time. Those moments were the rare ones where Nga did not mind her father’s silence. She found solace in the way he glanced out the window, and then back at her to make sure she wasn’t having a hard time with her homework. Whether she was a child or a teenager, he would always steal her fries. As they sat in the same booth a few years later, the ghost of Nga’s father suddenly gleamed in the colors of youth as though they had once again briefly escaped time. They sat in silence, loving the
Between Unspoken Words and French Fries
other as best as they could, and as Nga’s father reached to steal a fry from her plate, she thought of her mother’s words at his funeral. “Your love keeps growing when you’re alive, and then it stops once you die. If you’ve loved enough throughout your life, you’ve loved enough to love through death. Perhaps then, the length of your grief is governed by the ghost of your beloved holding onto you from the other side while you, as their breathing half, are left to keep loving them until their second dying breath. That is why the mouth of a dissolving ghost is the last thing you’ll see.” Nga looked at her father for the last time as he started fading away, understanding that she was to truly be left without his love at that moment. His mouth stretched into a smile and although it had always been pressed in a perpetual line, the way it curved before disappearing was how she would remember it forever. After she dried her tears, Nga looked down at the plate of fries that was left for her to finish. They were glowing in their yellow color, crisp in their shape. And they were still hot.
THE DRIVE S a l o m é
L a f r a n c e
Five hours seemed to be forever, and then belmont: one after the other coffees: cream and sugar music: everything between folk and trap from east to west/west to east wasting gas is a good remedy. a last glimpse at the highway lights, five hours feel like nothing.
THE PORCHLIGHT K e i s h a
E m e r y
is clicked on and it stays that way. This old and cracked bulb blubbers stale light. Lone and flat against the darkness. The glowing head placed underneath a wooden top hat. Behind curtains of whispering cobwebs. Its cloudy luminance speaks: “Intruders steer clear, for no one possessing anything of value would be satisfied filling their back porch with light so muted.” It’s easy, waiting for something beautiful to be made of nothing. Hungry and swindling spiders catch nothing on those
whispering webs. And the dull light shines on.
FISHNETS K a t h e r i n e
A b b a s s
Against the slats of the fence, that’s where I remember Whitney best. Cigarette dangling, a boy on her neck. She told me he slipped her some tongue against those slats, a dozen rusted nails pressing into her back. I remember her nose ring, her short hair dyed silver. Help! I’d cried. I was stuck in the hole I made through my own snow fort. Whit flicked ash at the ground and ambled over, a tunnel burnt into the bank where she’d been standing. Couple of hard shoves to my rear and I was out like a finger through a greased-up ring. Whitney was wearing a leather jacket in the dead of winter, fishnet stockings. I said, Aren’t you cold? and she told me to go play. She’s been gone for so long, but she’s home now. She leans against me on Nan’s sofa, licking peanut butter off a spoon. Her hair’s blonde again, and longer – it’s a tangle of tangles, a nest. We’re watching the Kardashians on a TV so old it has antennas. Whitney points her spoon at the show and says, I’m Kylie, you’re Kendall. Looking at her, you can hardly tell about the missing time. About the slats Whitney was up against while she was gone. And I’d stayed put with Nan, waiting for her to come home, to bust down the door mid-blizzard. I stayed put, waiting, and she didn’t bring me anything back. Now, my shins are a backrest. Whitney leans against them, her tangle draped over my thighs. I look up at Nan and she rises from her recliner, the brittle sound of her a heartbreak. She wears three lifetimes of stress in her forehead, in the knit of her brow – a scarf
with purls too tight. I know she’s relieved. But she’d never put a voice to that joy, scared the sound of it might spook Whit, send her scurrying away again. Nan brings me a comb and I start on the nest. From the ends, then up the shaft. Whitney taught me how to give a blowjob. Dug her fuchsia nails into the peel of a banana and opened it right up. Her plum lipstick left tracks along the spine of the fruit when she set her mouth around it. I wore braces and was worried about foreskin; I knew a girl whose braces once grated a boy’s foreskin. From the crib in the middle of the kitchen, Whitney’s baby cries. He’s a huge baby, a monster. When she showed me her nipples from feeding him, I ran to the bathroom and gagged. What’s his name? I’d asked at the hospital. Whit hooted and covered her face, IV sticking out of her hand like a sixth appendage. I’m going to call him ‘Pat,’ she said. Short for ‘Patriarchy.’ Nan shook her head, then whispered to me, It’s Ben. After the father. Now, Whitney stands to get him. I turn sideways on the sofa and she crawls over me and lies down parallel and sets Ben between us. Against my back, he nestles. His breath comes warm through the thin cotton of my T-shirt. If he’d of been a fish, Whitney murmurs, he would’ve burst right through the net. I reach behind me, across Ben, to squeeze my sister’s hand. Her fingers tango on the stage of my palm. Nan returns to her recliner and its worn leather welcomes her weight. The lines carved into her lips are stoic secret-keepers; she’s been hunting. She knows how not to snap twigs.
No words compete with the Kardashians’. It’s winter again, it’s snowing, and Ben will turn one in the new year. I lie with my sister and think back to those slats, those stockings. All the holes for the air to get at her. All that Whitney, just bursting right through.
The Immigrant Experience
THE IMMIGRANT EXPERIENCE Y a r a
A j e e b
The faded scent of jasmine roses tails me to dreamland, beckons me towards a fragmented place. I wander into the pungent aroma of Arabic coffee that lingers in the air, way after the neighbours have passed. The smell of cigarettes crowds the space between my Father and me, tugs at the ends of the curtains, drifting back home. Sundays are freshly baked Ka’ak stacked with the smell of gasoline. Father behind the car, as Mother rolls her eyes. Burnt eggplant has an assertive odour; it seals my grandma’s shadow. Infuse it with some disappointed perfume, and you’ll taste my mother. Aftershave is distant from my home, it sleeps outside. The plastic whiff of pink lipstick and powdery eyeshadow smudges my fingers, enabling my womanhood. 21
The Immigrant Experience
The back of the classroom used to reek of day-old shawarma softened with vodka. Spread some trauma in there and you’ll experience my high school. Do you know what a packed airplane smells like? Crying babies, silent prayers, all seeking a melting pot of a country. The subtle trace of maple trees reach for me as I stitch the distance between now and then. A fusion of scents resides in each metro station, muffling Father's cologne. It pulls my days apart and kneads my mornings and nights. Take a whiff of the city, exhale as my breath hovers over the buildings. This place finally reeks of home. It's my sovereignty. I spray my pillows with this scent, a fragrance which has crossed borders. I split in the uncertainties, in the divide between here and there. Breathe, You’re here.
The Magic Kingdom
THE MAGIC KINGDOM J e n n i f e r
D e L e s k i e
By the time you’re in the fourth grade, you’re a head taller than all the other kids in your class except for Brianna Soucy, who has Marfan syndrome and doesn’t count. You camouflage your height by never standing up straight and trying not to draw attention to yourself, and in general, this works; there are enough other kids in the class with things wrong with them to satisfy the bloodlust of your classmates. Maya Gottlieb, for instance, is reputed to eat horse meat because her family is from Germany and is teased so badly at lunch that she often vomits. Ryan Gauthier, aka the Leper, has horrible eczema, and during gym class, when his red and scaly limbs are on full display, the other kids make a game out of it by running away from him. Ryan acts like he doesn’t mind, but he spends every recess alone, burning ants with a magnifying glass or making little forts out of twigs, so you think he probably does. Julia Wiggins is bullied all the time; at lunch, in gym class, at recess, and right in front of Madame Myron, who never seems to notice. Something about her dandelion-fluff hair and frantic neediness provokes it. Even you want to hurt her. Justin Szabo is usually the ringleader. At school he mostly leaves you alone, but it’s a different story on the bus because there’s no Julia, Ryan, or Maya to deflect attention from you. Every morning Justin slides into the row behind you and kicks the back of your seat for the full thirty-two minutes it takes to get to school. One time he even puts gum in your hair, a giant, sticky wad of it collected from several mouths, and you have to ask Tammy, the school’s secretary, to pull it out. A couple of the kids have things wrong with them but aren’t bullied, something that strikes you as incredibly unfair. Mia Pascal
The Magic Kingdom
has to go to remedial math with the special ed kids, but nobody calls her a retard because she is pretty and has a popular older sister. Lucas Gervais has a glass eye from being attacked by a dog when he was a baby, yet he, like Mia, is one of the popular kids. Supposedly he’ll take out his eye and show it to you if he deems you worthy. You often daydream about this happening to you. Generally, these fantasies involve you and Lucas getting separated from the rest of the class during a school wilderness outing. You demonstrate superior orienteering skills or the ability to make a fire by rubbing two sticks together, and Lucas admits you’re cool after all. Then he takes out his glass eye and shows it to you. The most popular boy in your class that year is Dylan Mott. Unlike Justin and Lucas, Dylan is not only popular but nice. In September, when the boys assign each of the girls in the class a hotness rating, Dylan gives you a five-and-a-half. This fills you with gratitude because the other boys have only given you threes and fours. Being a five-and-a-half means you are closer to Mia (a ten) than Julia (a zero). Dylan also invites you to join a secret club called Team Triumph, which, as far as you can tell during your brief membership, centers around the popular kids playing Truth or Dare in a secluded corner of the playing field at recess. But Dylan has to revoke your membership when you return to the classroom after your first session and spontaneously announce the club’s existence to Madame Myron. Your subterranean desire for approval often causes you to do things you don’t understand. During the summer between grades four and five, you practise being cool so Dylan will fall in love with you. You’re aided in your efforts by Jessie Turcotte, a socially gifted girl you meet at horse camp. But when you return to school in September with your cool walk, cool catchphrases, and cool new bangs, Dylan isn’t there. You wait all week for him to show up, slow to realize there aren’t any
The Magic Kingdom
unoccupied desks in Sister Mary Jo’s grade five class. Finally, you ask Emma Reimer if Dylan moved or changed schools. Emma looks at you like you’re a piece of dog shit and tells you that Dylan drowned in the lake just a few days after school ended. Because you live outside of town, on a rural stretch of road that might as well be a thousand miles away from your school’s social nexus, it’s not surprising you’re only finding out about Dylan’s death now. Pretty much everybody else found out at the time it happened, and are now mostly over it, except for Mia Pascal, whose mother is best friends with Dylan’s mother, and who saw Dylan in his coffin, dressed in his soccer uniform with his intercity league trophy tucked at his side. Mia’s proximity to Dylan makes her even more special than she already was, and everyone treats her with great consideration, including Sister Mary Jo, who lets her stay inside at recess with Chloe Patrick to read Seventeen Magazine and Frenchbraid each other’s hair. Even though you feel like a hole has opened up in your chest, you are smart enough not to show it. Everyone would just think you were trying to hog attention from Mia. The second of your classmates to die is Brianna Soucy. Brianna has never been bullied the way Maya and Julia are. There’s something wrong with her heart, and it’s common knowledge she could drop dead at any minute—and then anyone bullying her would be in big trouble. So Brianna is usually just ignored. One afternoon, when you’re allowed to stay inside at recess to nurse one of your many stomachaches, you notice that Brianna, who always stays inside, is reading Bridge to Terabithia. You’ve just finished the book yourself, and it made you feel large and extraordinary things no book ever made you feel before. You want to walk over to Brianna’s desk, tap her on the shoulder, and talk to her about the book. But you don’t do this because you don’t have enough social currency to squander on Brianna Soucy.
The Magic Kingdom
Over the course of the year, Brianna becomes increasingly invisible, frequently absent, excused from gym class, never joining in on class trips or outings. Then, the following year, or maybe the one after, she dies. You’ve mostly forgotten about Brianna by then, but on learning of her death, you start to think about her all the time. You invent a past in which you and she are inseparable friends, denizens of a magic kingdom that retroactively shields you from the cruelty of Justin, Lucas, and the others. Part of you may even be jealous of Brianna. Like Dylan, she has gotten death over with, whereas it still looms in front of you, the most terrible thing you can imagine. Lucas Gervais dies next. He’s killed over March break in grade eight when he runs his dad’s snowmobile into barbed wire. You hear rumours that he was decapitated, but years later, you wonder if you added that detail yourself. Even though you no longer really know Lucas when he dies, his death affects you. He, too, has crossed the slender chasm between life and death, and has become fixed and permanent in your mind as a result. Jerrod Lajoie suffocates to death in a silo the same week Ryan Gauthier commits suicide. You can’t remember if this is in grade nine or ten. When Ryan’s sister Alexa attends the school dance only a few weeks after discovering Ryan’s body hanging in the garage, then gets shitfaced and practically has sex with Anthony Fernandes behind the gym, public sympathy for her dries up. You start drinking that year, too. By now, you’ve stopped ruminating on the slender line between life and death, principally because it’s hard to do so while engaging in the reckless behaviour you’ve recently taken up. One of the things you like to do is climb the scaffolding on the church with your new friends, boys who are into gaming, skateboarding, and minor acts of public vandalism. Of them, only Tyler Hays goes to your school. You start spending a lot of time
The Magic Kingdom
with Tyler, cutting class to smoke weed in his basement. Tyler gets drunk and high as if it were his sole purpose in life. Unlike you, he doesn’t appear to be in any hurry to leave your small town, but you figure this makes sense. Tyler can blot out reality from his parents’ basement as easily as anywhere else. The booze and the pot make things funny that aren’t. When the drama teacher, Mr. Labelle, shows up at Ella Di Grassi’s party and spends more than an hour in a locked room with Jamie Richter doing coke and who knows what else, everyone, including you, acts like it’s hilarious, even though Jamie drops out of the play and, later, school. When Vanessa Cummings passes out at Mark Visser’s house, and half the basketball team purportedly has sex with her, you act like this is hilarious, too. She should be awarded MVP, you joke because you and your friends have already made every joke you can think of about her name. It never occurs to you to report these things. Nor do you feel any particular sympathy for Jamie, Vanessa, or anyone. You’ve had things happen to you too. By grade twelve, you consider yourself to be a skilled drunk driver. One week before prom, after a night of drinking at Tyler’s, you pull over to help Kyle McGarvey and Matt Saint Denis push Kyle’s Civic out of the ditch, then go home and make yourself puke so you won’t have bed spins. The next afternoon, you learn that Kyle and Matt crashed into a utility pole about five kilometres down the road, probably around the same time you were puking. You don’t know how to feel about being the last person to see them alive, so you try not to feel anything at all. This is now a familiar reflex for you. It takes years for the damage to work its way out of your system. When Tyler falls– or maybe jumps, from the church scaffolding during your first semester away, you break into an abandoned building and drop acid rather than flying home for the funeral. You
The Magic Kingdom
sabotage one relationship after another: friends, lovers, bosses. You aren’t sure why you make the choices you do, only that they don’t feel like choices. When you talk about your childhood, you do so with bravado, as if it were all a joke. But gradually, something inside you shifts. There’s a lover who is horrified rather than amused by your stories, and for the first time, you wonder if you’ve gotten the punchline wrong. There are roommates who don’t habitually wake up hungover or starve themselves because they don’t deserve to eat that day, and you wonder if you’ve gotten other things wrong, too. You learn how to take care of yourself mimetically, as if you were recovering from a stroke. Gradually, the enchantment you’ve been under lifts. The past loosens its stranglehold on your heart, and you’re able to have children of your own. On an August morning, when you’re still deep in the blur of parenthood, you run into Mia Pascal at a farmer’s market, and it’s like having a chance encounter with the only other person on the planet who speaks your dialect. Standing in the sunshine, by the gladiolas and the baskets of fresh corn, Mia tells you about the time she saw Tyler crying outside of the drama room after school. Pieces fall into place, and the pain is as fresh and immediate as stepping on a nail. You understand why Mia never told anyone that Tyler was being abused; Tyler made her promise. And Mr. Labelle ended up killing himself anyway. Still, you’re astonished you weren’t paying attention. It’s as if you and all the comrades of your youth were trapped inside a magic kingdom, one that offered no protection but required complete adherence to its rules. Rule number one was never to acknowledge the pain; neither your own nor anyone else's. The enchantment you fell under began the first time you called Julia Wiggins a fleabag and grew from there like a monstrous plant. Now that you’re mostly free, you sometimes think about reaching out to
The Magic Kingdom
Julia and one or two other people to ask their forgiveness. However, it has never occurred to you that you could have acted differently. You still imagine the past as something immutable; as stone rather than clay. Now you are middle-aged. Death no longer seems like a slender chasm to you but rather a long and gradual undoing. Dylan, Brianna, and Tyler have been gone for so long that their memories are fossils, buried beneath layers of sediment you are loath to disturb. But sometimes, when you’re bent over your desk with the light of a blank screen shining on your face, your childhood feels more present to you than the room you’re sitting in, and you imagine it’s a place you can return to, where the dead can be brought to life by the pouring out of your desire. *** One afternoon, when you are nine, you’re allowed to stay inside at recess to nurse one of your many stomachaches, and you notice that Brianna, who always stays inside, is reading Bridge to Terabithia. You’ve just finished the book yourself, and it made you feel large and extraordinary things no book ever made you feel before. You walk over to Brianna’s desk and tap her on the shoulder, and this thin, friendless girl looks up at you. Sister Mary Jo has noticed that both of you seem lonely, and she allows you to stay inside with Brianna over recesses that follow. Soon you are inseparable friends, denizens of a magic kingdom that shields you from the cruelty of Justin, Lucas, and the others. This kingdom has a different code from the one you used to follow, and you adhere to it as best you can. You no longer tease Maya about her lunch, run away from Ryan during gym class, or pretend that Julia has lice.
The Magic Kingdom
Eventually, of course, Brianna gets worse. You spend hours at her bedside, French braiding her hair and reading Seventeen Magazine. When Brianna dies (as she must), you hear the news from her mother, who comforts you even though she is experiencing the most terrible thing you can imagine. The funeral is held at the church across the street from the school, a church badly in need of repairs. Brianna’s parents ask you to do a reading at the service and, even though you are only twelve or thirteen, you manage to get through it pretty well. This is where we leave you, then; holding your worn copy of Bridge to Terabithia in front of a small congregation of mourners, inside a church that a boy named Tyler may—or may not—throw himself from on a warm September evening.
Deadname: I buried her long ago, why can’t you?
Content Warning: “Transgender identity crisis, dysphoria, loss of self, genitalia, facing transphobia.”
DEADNAME: I BURIED S O
H E R L O N G A G O , W H Y C A N ’ T Y O U ? M a z e L a v e r t y Deadname: I buried her long ago, so why can’t you? at the toll of a bell bonnibel melts into mushrooms : how perfect her shrunken truffle lungs spread spores of cotton white, cotton rot her flesh flakes into foam
snickering strands of black and welts blistering blue and apricot seal her up in a terrifying blanket I don’t dare to peel off : I found the first cap in her armpit it was coffee-colored, with soft gills I stroked them once to familiarize myself with the gentle, patient wrath of the silenced
Deadname: I buried her long ago, why can’t you?
then they took over her body silly me I thought to keep them trimmed would keep control but waxed reluctant snatching up her slugs and boiling them for soup tending her, postponing me as I brushed out her hair when I discovered the mycelium I knew it was too late I mourned her roots but marvelled at their invisible prowess I was host until I was ghost : it was I who was the unnatural bonnibel’s little girl shoes poke out from the mouldering mound of cotton and coffeecolored polyps mary janes suitable for Sundays immune to the organic and decay I bend and think to put them in my pocket I stop myself : she told me she was ready to decompose and I let her but that doesn’t mean that I am not perfectly nauseous
Content Warning: “Some mention of violence.”
THE BACHELOR E s m e
B a l e
He was handsome, with brown curly hair and bright blue eyes that made us question behind his back if he wore coloured contacts. “Have you noticed that they always seem much darker at night?” Ashley asked me one morning over breakfast. “I swear they are actually brown.” “I think it must be just the lighting,” I replied. Later that night, I stared at him intensely when he came to wish us goodnight. He slept in another room in a king size bed while we all slept in a giant dormitory in twin size beds. He began his nightly routine of kissing each of us on our foreheads and whispering into our ears, “Goodnight honey.” No matter how many times I tried to remind myself that he said this to everyone, for a second I felt special. Then I felt ashamed. When he left, I walked over to Ashley’s bed. Each night we whispered to one another until sleep eventually won. There was something comforting about being twenty-six years old and feeling like a little girl again. “You’re right. They’re definitely darker,” I said. She looked triumphant on her bed in her satin pink matching pyjama top and bottoms. Her blonde hair was sorted into a tight braid. We had made it a bet in the end. We only got dessert on Fridays, and this week, I had to give her mine. “I hope it’s ice cream and not dark chocolate again. I hate dark chocolate,” she said. I wasn’t too upset. I wanted to lose weight anyways.
In the morning, we had oatmeal and one piece of fruit. For lunch, we had a salad and a boiled egg. The salad never had any dressing on it. We complained about that at first but quickly learned to stay quiet. Dinner was always a plain chicken breast and roasted vegetables. That meal was my favourite. On the first day, a girl asked if there were any options for vegans, but we were told he didn’t like vegans. She used to leave the chicken untouched on her plate. After a few weeks, we all stared at her in silent awe as she ravenously devoured it. We offered pieces of ours. There was a look in her eyes that told us she needed it. She was no longer with us. We were only seven girls now. At the start we had been thirty. We all looked the same, all white petite brunettes, except for Ashley. She was the last blonde standing. I knew she was going to go soon but I didn’t like thinking about it. She was my best friend there. The days always went pretty much the same. We used to spend an hour getting ready and doing our makeup until one day he decided he no longer liked makeup. We’d spend most of the day lounging around by the pool wearing the same ugly coral bikini until it was our turn to be summoned, turning red like lobsters. At night, we’d cry out in pain as our skin peeled off. “I feel like a snake,” I’d tell Ashley as she slathered aloe on my back. “Do you think it hurts them as much as this?” She’d never burn as bad as me. Some days he would get in a mood and ask to be left alone. Those were the worst. We felt purposeless, singing a siren song on the side of the pool that no man could hear. With absolutely nothing to do, we’d remember why we were really there.
One day, he asked for me around 2pm. The girls looked at me with envy, except Ashley. She smiled. I was the first pick of the day; She knew it was a good sign. “You actually have a chance,” she’d whispered to me a few nights before, during one of our nightly chats under covers. I mulled over the statement in silence, trying to decide how I felt about it. In a way, winning wouldn’t be that great, perhaps even unbearable. But on the other hand, oh god did I not want to lose. “Yeah, I really do,” I whispered back. A security guard escorted me through the long and twisty hallways of the mansion. The guards never spoke a word to us. They wouldn’t even crack a smile. This particular guard was attractive, and young, maybe even younger than me. I couldn’t help but stare at the bulge where his gun laid. I wondered if he ever had to use it. “Have you seen how many rooms there are in this place?” Ashley had asked, when she came back from her first visit. “It doesn’t make any sense for all of us to sleep in the same one.” “It’s easier to watch us this way,” I replied. “Well, I am getting tired of hearing Rachel’s snoring,” she said. No matter how many times I was brought to his room, I could never remember how to get there. Sometimes I would try to memorize it: left, left, right, left, walk straight till you see the green door, left, left, right, and then I would be lost again. It didn’t matter anyway. We weren’t allowed in this part of the house by ourselves. He was lounging on his bed when I arrived. His head popped up from his book. “Good afternoon Cecilia,” he said, grinning. He gestured for me to come join him on the bed. His body was perfect and the subject of most of our conversations. He diligently
worked out every morning and every evening. He’d spend hours discussing the latest fad diet he was trying. In his room, there were always papers and books about how to live longer scattered across his bed, desk, and occasionally even the floor. It often felt like there was no room for me. He’d confessed to me one night that he’d been fat growing up. His voice wavered, and he started to cry. I looked at him and hugged him, his sticky hard body on mine, and my head became overwhelmed with images of softness: breasts drooping as a baby sucked them dry, bellies, thighs, droopy necks, and warm, warm, warm skin. “It’s okay,” I told him while patting his muscly back. None of it was okay. I never felt like I could touch him. I struggled to grasp that he was real, and so was I. With all his focus on his body, he barely paid attention to any of ours. At the start, some of the girls tried. They kissed his neck and led his hands to places, but he simply did not seem interested. We were confused, but a little relieved. We’d heard terrible stories in the past. This day was different. He quickly took off my bikini, revealing the pale skin untouched by the sun. For a moment, I was embarrassed. I felt awkward, exposed like that. His cold hands started to touch me. I shivered. I could tell that this was something he had meticulously planned and calculated. I could almost hear him think to himself, “And now I will do this.” This was not a moment built up with desire. I was eager to get back to the room. The girls swarmed around me at my arrival. This is always how it went. I got to be the star that day, who knows about tomorrow.
“We did it,” I declared giddily. “No way!” screamed Karen. “You had sex?” asked Millie. I nodded in confirmation. “What was it like?” asked Ashley. There was something erotic in telling the others the way he touched me. Though the moment had not felt particularly special or noteworthy, as I told the story to the girls, it felt spectacular. I stared at their faces contorting into shock, wonder, and eventually anger as words oozed out of me. They wanted to be me and knowing that made me want to be me too. “You really made them angry,” Ashley whispered to me under the covers that night. “Rachel looked like she was about to cry.” We made fun of people and laughed, in the way that you had to when you don’t really want to talk about what’s happening to you. “Who do you think will go next?” I asked her. “I don’t know,” she replied, “maybe me.” “Don’t say that,” I said. “It’s okay. I’m ready,” she said. Her hand grabbed mine and gave it a little squeeze. I didn’t want to cry that night. “Goodnight Ashley,” I said. “Goodnight Cecilia,” she said. I felt a hot breath on my skin. I opened my eyes and there was Rachel’s face a few inches away from mine. I would have barely had to lean in for a kiss. “What are you doing?” I asked. Her breathing just got heavier and heavier, like she had just run a mile in gym class. “Rachel?” I said a little bit louder.
That’s when I noticed the knife in her hands, small and sharp. We only had access to knives at dinner time. They always made sure we gave them back when we were done. “They don’t want us to hurt ourselves,” whispered Ashley one evening when we were waiting in line to return our dishes. “What difference does it make? We’re going to end up like that anyways,” I whispered back. It was all a blur. I screamed very loudly. Rachel jerked her arm up. I kept screaming. The knife was slashed across my face. I started to cry. I could taste warm metallic blood, and I liked it. As a kid, I’d lick the scrapes on my knees after I fell off my bike. My mom would scold me and tell me that’s not how a lady acts. I told her I never wanted to be a lady. Two security guards ran into the room. They took Rachel off me. She was kicking and screaming, “Die Bitch!” We all listened to her cries in the distance until she was lost in the twists and turns of the mansion. Millie offered to clean my cut. I said it was okay, I’d clean it up in the morning. I was very tired. We woke up that morning knowing exactly what was going to happen. There was no chatty banter, just a heavy silence in the air. Some of the girls had gotten up early to do their hair. They knew they would be seeing him at the ceremony. I instinctively reached for my black dress. I wore it to every one of these. It smelled damp. I needed to wash it soon. My hair was just one giant knot. Normally, Ashley would have made fun of me for this, but she wasn’t in the mood. “I have no idea what you do in your sleep but no matter what you wake up looking crazy,” she had told me a few weeks ago, while laughing.
She helped me detangle my hair that morning in silence. Sitting in front of the mirror, I stared at myself. My cheek had a large bright red scar. I held my hand up to my face. “I could cover it up with some concealer,” Ashley offered. “I kind of like it,” I said. “It gives some colour to my face.” I felt beautiful. We walked in a single straight line to the room, with two guards in front of us, and two guards in the back. When we got there, we took our assigned seats and waited. After five minutes, he entered and stood on the stage. He was wearing a tight black suit that looked like it was a size too small. Karen tried to make eye contact with him and smiled. He didn’t smile back. Following him were four guards and Rachel. She didn’t really have any expression on her face, perhaps there was a sense of numbness detectable. It was a stark contrast from last night, where one glance at Rachel would have revealed years of desperation. None of the other girls before this ever showed any displeasure or fought back. We had assumed they always drugged them for this, but maybe they just knew it was too late. The guards put Rachel in position. We all held our breaths. “Rachel, I enjoyed getting to know you, but you are not the one,” he said. The large knife came crashing down. Her head rolled off the table. I never really noticed how beautiful she was until that moment. She would have looked nice in a white dress. In unison, we exhaled. It was weird to feel such a sense of relief in front of such tragedy. The only person crying was him. He cried at every single one. I felt like he did it just out of politeness. I personally stopped at number eleven. That day, I almost wanted to smile; we were only six left.
G r i f f i t h
Maybe they were just a kid. Maybe they were teething.
Now, some beads are missing. Some skittered down a vent, between the couch cushions, circled the storm drain. Now, there’ s a line of black fibre, barren string, a hollowness between one promise and the next.
The wounded mother might call her child poison, might say to be around them is torture, might wonder about leaving for good. And the wounded mother’ s child will leave the worry dolls beneath their pillow and keep the obsidian in a box. They’ ll tell the mother they hate her and wear the amber anyway.
The wounded mother believes in the power of healing crystals, like citrine and moonstone. She rubs rose quartz between her weathered palms and carries tiger jasper in denim jean pockets. She'll gift her fourteen-year-old a necklace of amber beads, the kind designed for teething, and a little pouch of worry dolls. And when the fourteen-year-old asks the wounded mother to listen, to hear, maybe just sit for a while, the wounded mother hands them a chunk of obsidian and tells them to turn the radio off. Or let the balloon go. Maybe count some fucking sheep. Some wounded mothers say try St. John’ s Wort. Try running around the cul-de-sac. Try shutting your fucking mouth.
B r i d g e t
Content Warning: "Toxic Mothers”
What a Raccoon Remembers
Content Warning: “Mentions of death, but no graphic descriptions.”
WHAT A RACCOON REMEMBERS C a s s a n d r a
S a r a h
P e g g
What I remember was this: two of the brightest suns I had ever seen were racing towards me on the darkest night. When I opened my eyes, the world was colourless and indistinct. The ground had been so cold on my feet back in that other time, in that other world. But now they felt comfortable, like I was treading on warmed soil during the times where the sun stayed in the sky long enough that even I got to see it. I missed that light when it got cold, when I slept on frozen ground in the daytime and when I would trod on it through the night. It had almost been time for me to rest a while. I never intended to sleep this long. I did not think the ground would ever be cold here, that the air would ever take another bite from my ear or freeze my fur when my stomach was turned upside down in its emptiness. When there was no sun in the endless night. I was sure this warm would last. The nothingness was fading. I could see outlines of trees, could smell moss. Birds began to sing, and I was in a forest. My forest. The one where I had learned to climb trees. Where I had been taught to wash and drink from only the clearest streams, the ones that ran fast in the springtime. There were no false suns here, no black barren ground. I walked through the trees, the ferns underfoot soft and sweet-scented. I had wrestled with my sisters beneath this canopy, had raced my brothers across the leaf piles. There had been ten. There had been seven. There had been three who left this forest. 41
What a Raccoon Remembers
My ears pricked up, hearing jumping fish nearby. We had lived by that lake. Our burrow dug with careful paws, a warm pile of bodies taking our first breaths. It did not feel long since I had last been here. I waited to feel hungry, but it did not come. I waited to have to run. No beasts, necks jingling as they gave chase, smelling not like ourselves but like them, loud in a way you weren’t supposed to be in a forest, appeared to challenge my right to exist here. They were the intruders, but they wanted me to get lost on the expanses of dark, dead ground, and they chased me from the downed and cut and changed trees they used to build their burrows, always infinitely bigger than ours. Why build a burrow if you do not use it? Were your brothers and sisters hiding in there? If it was just me under these trees, would I have to make it all by myself again? Mother had tried to keep us from harm, had not sent us away when she had taught us everything we needed to know. We had tried our best to survive in a world that sent endless pairs of heatless suns rushing towards us, that sent the smallest of us scrabbling after food in the mouth of a beast that snapped closed behind him, that sent rocks that cracked the air of the forests like a lightning strike before impaling themselves in Mother’s fur. The same fur that had kept us warm when our eyes were still shut against the light and dark. After that, I was alone. I padded softly down towards the lake; I had always felt like the sun was a little warmer there. I blinked as the ripples sent flurrying specks of light across my dark mask. I was very tired, I should not have been awake to see this big, bright sun. I should have been blinking at the moon. It was a wonder the burrow was still there. Still as clean and solid as when we had first left it. I walked in cautiously, always wary of
What a Raccoon Remembers
who might live where I had entered. It was empty. I curled up on the soft, dry leaves that crinkled under my feet and fell asleep. I was very warm when I started to wake up. Very warm. It was dark in my burrow, but a moonbeam pierced through the air and illuminated the inside just enough. I was not alone. After a moment, the space of a breath of air, I nuzzled my nose curiously into the fur beside me, and that is when I knew I had died. It was okay. I settled myself back down into my spot, surrounded by my brothers and sisters. I was happy to wait here until Mother came to wake us.
c y b e r n e t i c s a m
c l o s e n e s s
f i s c h
when you share screen i follow the trace of your cursor moving with my cursor a rush of dopamine watching you type we watch shows sharing something beyond our bodies a rush of dopamine when my phone vibrates a notification from anywhere in cyberspace (i’m still disappointed when it’s not u bb) these screens we can touch bring into bed with us lacking soft and warmth but making up for it in connection never fully leaving, sometimes logging off for weeks months years the days go by, my DMs from full to empty to full again parading thru apps for new digital friends connecting to pass the time
Third-Hand Far Away
Content Warning: “Suicidal Ideation, Suicide Substance, Abuse Disorder, Dissociative Identity Disorder, Heavy Machinery/Automobile Accidents.”
THIRD-HAND FAR AWAY A n o n y m o u s Author’s Note: The intention of my work here is to address the fractionated state of the mental health conversation in the current world, and its reception by individuals affected by mental health disorders as much as by those that escape the blanket of neurodivergency. The central character in this story, Farrow, is a correspondent of mine and has been consulted during the writing process. Canada Suicide Prevention Hotline: 833-456-4566 Kids Help Phone: 1800-668-6868
Third-Hand Far Away
My work involves the treatment and de-escalation of individuals that suffer from mental health disorders. As such, it necessitates exposure to people that have suffered trauma and have survived. Both in training and on-call, I’ve had the opportunity to talk to people that have endured crises, learn their stories, and better adapt my own approach to accommodate people that need help when none seems available. I first met a man named Farrow during one such round of training in February, late last year. The time was white, and a cold had shown itself to the town. He wore a jacket with slashes cut into the breast to hang his hands. On his neck were tattooed two eyes heavy with mascara. Speaking to him at first was difficult. I couldn’t figure out which pair of eyes I should be looking at, and when mentioned, he smiled and said “It doesn’t matter.” Farrow was afflicted with Dissociative Identity Disorder. This disorder is better known as multiple personality disorder, and carries the stigmatization one would expect from such a condition. He was fairly lucid and spoke between cigarettes, occupying long silences while sometimes looking blankly ahead before opening his mouth in a way that suggested he was talking to someone else. I gave him my time, as that is my job, and in turn, he gave me his story, which I will attempt to relay on this page. I must apologize for any break in tone, or chronology, as our correspondence entailed both email and small talk. What I have written is my best attempt at corroborating and clarifying what they told me with respect to the diligence of capturing their experiences correctly. —//—
Third-Hand Far Away
I1 couldn’t imagine a worse way of killing myself until Mark told me of my friend’s attempt with a car. This wasn’t too creative - we’ve seen movies where they hook up gas masks to exhaust pipes and get the hockey tape to seal the deal. This was straightforward; anticlimactic in the way that you really wish wouldn’t happen to a friend that tried to kill himself. He ran into a wall. And he was going very fast. I saw him later - Charlie - in crutches and a scar on his throat from where they had to sew in the tube. He smiled at that point, but I’m guessing that everyone asks or thinks the same question: I wonder if he’s okay. And I’ll be fucking damned if I didn’t think the same thing. The next day from when I met him I drove down to the intersection where the bastard hit the brick wall. Apparently, he was going over one-honey on the highway. I can imagine it now the airbag like a party favor of glass and teeth. Only, there was no glass. No skid-marks. No black burning mass of a car or a dent where the bricks were. I met a guy once, you know, that worked on the cleanup side of these. They throw sand and salt at the oil stains and body stains because other people have to drive to work and they don’t want to inconvenience them. Same, I guess, goes for the actual look of the wreck, which there wasn’t none. So imagine my disappointment at only seeing a few specks of sand and salt where he tried. You look at the brick wall of an accident, and the voice in your head thinks (Wow, sure glad that wasn’t us)2 Farrow speaking. Some elements of their story have been provided through multiple mediums, however most given during the time at the crisis center training. I have separated my own commentary and narration through the use of dashes aligned in the center. Within footnotes I will provide information when necessary. 2 Interjections included by Farrow and recontextualized by myself through parentheses and italicization. When occurring through speech, they were heard almost as externalized 1
Third-Hand Far Away
and move on with your day before trying to find a way to say this to your shrink without getting like an affidavit or some shit on your record. So Mark told me that one day during a car ride when I asked him about Charlie’s suspicious Facebook post. He was in contact with his sister, and he had everything the rubbernecker would need to know about it. The stuff they don’t publish about the hospital bed and the incubation tomb3 where you can’t bring a comb in because the oxygen levels are much higher than anywhere else in the hospital. One spark while you’re trying to look pretty, and you’ll get another burning wreck that someone will come look at. He then bounced back to an earlier conversation we had on a mountain. Mark and I, talking about our old house and the childhood we don’t remember. The same brick wall can come up there if you’re really alone — and mind you, I’m writing this now on top (midway) midway up a mountain where it’s also quiet and where two crows fly tail-on-wing in a sort of bent dance4 — and it hit me that it was quiet. Quiet because the conversation had stopped in between the pizza box we had smuggled past the border patrol on the way to Vermont for the cabin. (y’know the crust apparently messes with the crops if you throw it in a ditch) “What happened?” I asked him. He smiles often.
internal commentary. When received in letters, they were hastily written as opposed to the otherwise fluently composed handwriting. 3 Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy. 4 Excerpt taken from letter written on back of hiking-trail map.
Third-Hand Far Away
“I saw it one day. I don’t really know with who, but I saw it. And because of that, I don’t think there’s anything I can stop from happening.” We were on the balcony at that point. It had rained, and, for an August night, it was freezing. Neither of us had shoes, but there was no want to go back inside while the night was still out. Trees and marsh; it was one of those sights where the branches crept through the moonlight like split veins. The sky was bleeding. “It wasn’t you,” he said before we could think about not asking the question. We do look back and think about why that was the case. The conversation didn’t really end there, though. We had an Italian guy that left for the weekend, and he left us the house. We talked around centrepieces; inside; a haven where we bring up work and music and girlfriends; outside. We’d shoot shit that would better be left not shot at. But it’s like holding a gun, right. Everything looks like a target in the dark. Anyways, Charlie tried. He didn’t get it right. Mark told me as much during that car ride and I told him about someone else that didn’t get it right. A teenager this one. “Was it recently?” He asked. “No, no. This isn’t now. This is some girl I knew back in high school.” “Funny how it’s always back in high school.” “Right?” So we told him about this girl, barely sixteen and a painter like one of those prisoners that create frescoes on the backs of scarred inmates.5 Schizophrenic I think 5
Possible reference to Brut Art.
Third-Hand Far Away
(She was schizoaffective) and you definitely couldn’t tell unless she told you. And she did, she told me one day while we were stealing bows from the archery locker to shoot ventilation ducts outside. The arrows made this soft pling sound when they punctured the metal. We heard a squawk once too. But, she told me offhandedly. Jenny had knocked an arrow and said, “So I got a diagnosis.” I asked what for. She said, “Schizophrenia.” And that was about that. The shaft buried itself halfway to the feather before we climbed back down from the roof. The sun was beating on the aluminum framework hot enough to melt the skin off your palms. Two years later, she didn’t come to class. That’s how it goes, right? You notice it first, then it creeps up, and later you find out someone took twenty pills of Ativan and enough heroin6 to slug a horse three times over. She survived. Later on, her own sister would tell me some of the details the same way Mark heard with Noah. The information feels dirty second-hand — third-hand you have the pleasure of being removed, but I guess that’s not always the case. You’re third-hand here.7 So I’ll spare the details to keep it clean. She said one thing and had to drink another.
Reference to prescribed opioids as opposed to heroin.
Direct reference to me.
Third-Hand Far Away
What Jenny said was, “My skin feels like it’s on fire,” right before they put her under. What she drank was three cups of ash.8 Her sister told me that her teeth were stained black. Imagine that now — a demon with black teeth and flaming skin. The last image of your sister. Fucked. Sticks in your head. —//— At this point, I asked Farrow why he was in the program. He had volunteered to be interviewed by mental health professionals after an association with a local crisis shelter. Upon mentioning this, he grinned through one of many cigarettes in his history. “I tried,” he said. “Tried what?” I had asked. We were surrounded by white walls in the centre. A painting of a lone tree hung on the wall, over the conversation. —//— So I’m there in the car, looking at the spot where he tried to drive into a wall. Charlie’s scarred throat on my mind and black teeth everywhere we go. Salt on the road and sand. Brick looking me down like the damn terminator. This is when (I drive to the outskirts of town. Windmill on a farm. There’s an iron tower far away — it looks like a place where a sad man would kill a lot of cows. Cattle; with the stun guns; it’s cold and the only thing we feel is snow and heat. I try to freeze to death here in March.)9 Activated charcoal, used to bind toxins to the drink to prevent or lower the risks during an overdose or poisoning. 9 This is the only pronounced instance of communication I had received from a dissociated identity. 8
Third-Hand Far Away
I wake up. I’m wet, fucking freezing, and I have sweats and no shoes on. In the middle of a snowbank. My car is gone, and my hands are blue. If you saw me you’d think I’m the ghost of Christmas-kill-me. Car’s gone. Keys are gone. Phone is close to dead. I have enough for one call, ‘bout to die too. I look up at the field in the middle of winter. Behold, looking at me is another red column waist high and leering in the white light of frost. Might have been a building at one point; might have been a fence, maybe some project someone abandoned once they ran out of mortar. I give the crisis center a call and they pick me up. Ambulance with the flashing lights. They took my blood out of me and poured it back in.10 Felt like a parade. —//— “You tried what Charlie tried?” I asked “Apparently, and what Jenny tried,” Farrow said. There are moments in every difficult conversation where I try to find the right words. Silence can be an ally at these times, if not drowning at other moments. I take a minute to think between the fluorescent light and the painting on the wall. “How do you feel after that?” “It depends on who you ask,” he said.
Hemodialysis treatment to recirculate warm blood through the body in response to Hypothermia. 10
No mail today
NO MAIL TODAY L i l y
I n s k i p - S h e s n i c k y
No mail today, maybe tomorrow maybe tomorrow the wind will carry you and the amethyst ring on your finger will make everything feel right. No mail today, the yellow-breasted warbler has turned red—ate all your seasonal stamps and gone belly up on the front porch. You stuff his stiff body in a bubble wrapped envelope leave him at the post office— an omen or an offering. You received a letter once, yellowed paper, the sender’s name obscured, reminiscent of a dark room a hole a projection of something you’ve never read but soon will.
Content Warning: “Mentions of homophobia and conversion therapy.”
THE VISIT E r i n
S t a l e y
It had been years since she had driven through this neighbourhood, its twisting streets and angled corners a distant nagging memory that was now becoming as familiar as the smell of rotting fruit that wafted from the compost under their sink. She rolled slowly to the stop sign, now only five minutes away from her parents’ house. The street cut through harshly here and she had to twist her head over her shoulder before she turned. These streets made her anxious. They always had. A dinged-up blue Volvo sped by much too fast, and she cursed under her breath. They were going to get someone killed, she thought. It’s what her mother used to say. Beatrice had gotten the call three days ago. The shrill ring of it pulled her out of her stupor as she sat flipping apathetically through the pages of a worn paperback novel. No one called their landline anymore except for doctors and telemarketers. She jumped when it rang, creasing a page of her book with her elbow. She ran her hand over it, smoothing the crease, and placed it on the coffee table before dragging herself to the kitchen and placing the phone to her ear. “Trixie?” No one called her that anymore. “It’s Beatrice,” she said. Her father sighed. “Sorry. Beatrice.” There was a long pause and she thought about hanging up, slamming the phone on to the receiver and ripping it out of the wall, but she didn’t. Instead, she listened to her father’s harsh breathing on the other side of the line, running through lines in her head, everything she wanted to say. She should have written it down. “Your mother is sick.” Beatrice waited for him to continue, nervously tapping her stray hand against her thigh. “She’s been in the hospital for the past couple of months, but she’s home now.
The doctors,” there was a crackling over the line and her father’s breaths were uneven. Beatrice thought he might be crying. “The doctors say the best thing we can do now is to make her comfortable.” Beatrice forced herself to swallow and shifted uncomfortably. She was vaguely aware of a cramp in her right hand, her knuckles a stark white against the dingy black of the telephone. “Is she dying?” “I thought maybe you could come see her. Before.” He paused. “You could bring Nicole.” “I’m not sure that would be a great idea.” Her father murmured in agreement. “And I can’t skip work.” Beatrice sighed and shook her head. “I can be there Saturday.” “Okay. I love—” Beatrice slammed the phone against the receiver. At least she could still do that. Her parents lived in a dingy residential part of town just past a fullserve gas station that was maintained by smokers and teens that worked there part-time, and a small fruit stand that was out of business for the winter. It stood shivering on the side of the road, a pathetic remnant of the warmer months. Beatrice cruised past, her mind a jumbled mess, eyes focused on the cracked streets desperately in need of repair. She hadn’t stopped thinking since she had left home. It had been a drawn out affair. Nicole had asked for the hundredth time if Beatrice wanted her to come, but she had been resolute. “That’s the last thing either of us need,” she had said, pulling her beat-up parka over her shoulders. “Besides, someone has to stay here to watch this little munchkin.” Oliver stretched himself up, perching on the tips of his toes, but he still only reached Nicole’s hip. Yet, at five years-old, he was still the tallest and most wiry boy in his class. He scrunched his nose and pinched his mouth as if tasting something sour. “I’m not a munchkin,” he exclaimed before toppling over.
Beatrice laughed. “Of course not.” She leaned over, placing a kiss into his mop of dark hair and turned back to Nicole. “It’ll be a short visit,” she said, “I’ll be back in time for dinner.” Nicole wrapped her arms around her, pulling her close, and Beatrice pressed her nose against her neck. She smelled of ginger and honey, the same shampoo she’d used for the last seven years. Beatrice had come to memorize this scent. It was what she missed most when she wasn’t home. The long conferences and stays in ammonia-scented hotel rooms were made bearable by the same honey and ginger shampoo squeezed into miniscule plastic bottles that she kept in the top pocket of her carry-on. “Don’t let them get to you,” Nicole whispered, her breath grazing the back of Beatrice’s neck. Beatrice slowed, sure she was nearing the entrance of the suburban neighbourhood her parents lived in. A car behind her honked loudly. Beatrice scoffed and rolled down her window. As she turned, she stuck her hand out, daintily lifting her middle finger and plastering a smile on her face. The man yelled something unintelligible in response and drove on. “Asshole,” she muttered under her breath as she brought her car to a crawl, scanning her eyes over the numbers tacked to the fronts of the houses. They all looked the same here. A collection of rusted brick houses and veiled windows pressed together like commuters on the Toronto subway in the afternoon. Each house came complete with a two-car garage and a manicured lawn with frozen sprinklers standing stalwart in the flattened grass. The streets wound confusingly through the pristine brick homes, a startling contrast to the dusty gas station she had just passed. Several cars were parked along the curb, covered in a thin layer of frost. Beatrice had spent fifteen minutes defrosting her own banged up Subaru that morning, frostbite threatening her bare fingers as she scraped the ice from the windshield, turning the heat up to full blast. Her parents’ house came up unexpectedly and she slammed on her breaks despite her slow speed, cranking the steering wheel and making a tight turn into the squat driveway. Her parents kept lawn gnomes in the flower bed that clung to the front of the house. The
roses had died by now and were replaced by brown stems and crinkled leaves that wilted sloppily over the pointed hats of the gnomes. One of them seemed to smirk directly at her as she exited clumsily from her car, almost slipping on a patch of black ice. She clutched at the door frame before slamming it behind her, the gnome leering at her, frost painting its ceramic teeth. Beatrice waddled toward the front door, careful not to slip again, before pressing her thumb firmly against the stained white doorbell. There was a clamour inside and her father opened the door, a wary smile plastered on his lined cheeks. “Trixie!” he exclaimed and shuffled his feet hesitantly, as if not knowing if he should hug her or shake her hand. He did neither. Instead, he moved aside, jumping almost, making up for his moment of hesitation. “Come in,” he said, gesturing to the small foyer. Beatrice took a deep breath, bracing herself, and lumbered in. “Can I take your coat?” her father asked, a mixture of apprehension and excitement on his face like a child before opening a Christmas present. “Sure.” She shrugged off her coat and handed it to her father. He took it delicately and hung it on the antique wooden coat rack they kept next to the door. Beatrice kicked her shoes off, letting them sit skewed next to the perfectly lined-up shoes belonging to her parents. She flitted her eyes to her father who frowned slightly, but refrained from commenting. A tense silence hung between them, thick and unyielding. Beatrice cradled herself self-consciously while she waited for her father to speak and fixed her gaze on the wood floor. “Your mother is just through here,” her father said quietly and began walking to the back hallway where the bedrooms were. They passed the living room and kitchen, which lay opposite each other, and her father paused suddenly. “Oh!” he exclaimed. “Did you want anything to drink? Something to eat?” “I’m good,” she answered. His face dropped slightly. “I had a large lunch.”
Beatrice glanced toward the living room which presented itself just as she remembered it. Two mismatched sofas sat beside each other at an odd angle—one bright blue, the other a deep burgundy that had always reminded her of rust and blood. A grey knitted blanket hung hastily folded over the back of the blue sofa and a chipped coffee table supported three crocheted coasters next to an off-white soy candle. A cross loomed menacingly over the television, dominating the room. It had always been there, that cross. Beatrice pursed her lips and followed her father. The floor shifted from pale wooden floors to scraggly white carpet as they entered the back hallway. Old family pictures covered the space. As they passed, Beatrice noticed one of her at the beach. She must have been ten or eleven years-old when it was taken. In it, she sat next to a meagre sandcastle on the verge of collapse, wielding a plastic purple shovel with a stupid grin on her face. Her arms hung awkwardly at her side, the puffy water wings preventing them from assuming their natural position. Another showed her and her parents when she was five—the same age as Oliver—in front of a bruise-coloured studio backdrop. “Do you remember that day?” her father asked, grinning at the picture. “It took us nearly an hour to get you ready. You were such a devil, screaming and crying. We almost missed our appointment.” “I always was a problem child,” Beatrice muttered and the grin slipped from her father’s face. Beatrice slipped past her father. Her parents’ room was at the end of the hall next to the bathroom. She gripped the bronze knob and pressed open the wooden door, not bothering to knock. She didn’t know what she had expected to see, but it wasn’t this. Her mother lay frail and wrinkled in the bed, propped up by an army of throw pillows, with a multi-coloured quilt pulled up to her chin. Thin white tufts of hair stuck up from her head, straining to cover the dark spots that painted her shrivelled scalp. Beatrice walked slowly to the bed and perched herself on the edge next to her mother.
“Hey, Mom,” she whispered, and her mother glanced up, as if just realizing her daughter sat in front of her. Beatrice placed her hand on her mother’s wrinkled one. Her nails were cracked in spots and her veins popped out in blues and reds and blended into the quilt like a growing bruise migrating over her body. Her mother’s eyes flitted to meet hers briefly, before closing them and feigning sleep. Beatrice wondered if she was too sick to speak, if her voice had gone with the rest of her. She hadn’t thought to ask. They stayed like that for a while, Beatrice listening to the faint sound of her mother’s wheezing breaths. There were no words, she thought, nothing she wanted to say. After the call with her father, her thoughts had run wild with insults, accusations, anything to make her parents understand what they had put her through. But how could she chastise a dying woman? This sack of withered skin was not the woman she remembered. The pristinely groomed middle-aged accountant with lacquered red nails and matching lipstick. She was not the woman who broke down in muddled sobs when she heard that cursed word, nor was she the woman who, three days later, told her she could enroll in the therapy program she’d found or she could get out. “I’ve already called the woman who runs the program,” her mother had said, “She seems very nice. A real Christian woman. A few weeks there and everything will be back to normal.” Beatrice glared at her father who had sat at the kitchen counter staring intently at his chicken and broccoli. “Listen to your mother, Trixie.” She left that night. There was a homeless shelter in the city for at-risk youths. One of the volunteers there was a heavyset black woman who kept her hair perpetually slicked back into a bun and kept a different sized ring on each finger. She had three kids of her own and had been donating her time there for nearly seven years. On her first night, the woman had lumbered over and sat next to Beatrice on the secluded bench she’d discovered in the corner. Her face had been flushed from crying and she still clung to the backpack she had
hastily stuffed before sneaking out the back door. The woman threw an arm around Beatrice’s shoulders, letting her lean into her. She was soft and warm. “You can call me Genie, sweetheart.” It was Genie who found her a room in a halfway house, helped her with her college applications, and got her a part-time job doing retail at a PetSmart downtown. She never asked too many questions, never stuck her nose where it didn’t belong, but Beatrice had come to rely on her all the same. Their late night talks when she couldn’t figure out her tuition, the time she took the wrong train and ended up going forty minutes in the wrong direction, even when she started missing home. And it was Genie who, all those years later, they had named godmother to their son, Oliver. Now, looking at her mother who had been overcome with sickness and fragility, Beatrice found all of the resentment inside of her dissipating into a numb indifference. The twenty-five years that had passed since the last time they had seen each other had softened the sharp blade of her memory and in its place was a hollow thrumming of grief. Beatrice stayed there a long while, losing track of time, until the sunlight faded and the two of them were illuminated solely by the watered-down light of a squat lamp on the nightstand. Her mother had truly fallen asleep now and her raspy snores filled the room. Beatrice squeezed her hand gently, a feeble attempt at goodbye, and stood to leave, closing the door softly behind her. Her father sat in the living room, lit up by the cold blue light of the television. He stood when she came in the room, wringing his hands and looking at her expectantly. “Heading home?” he asked. “Yeah,” she answered, “I told Nicole I’d be back in time for dinner.” He nodded. “I’ll talk to you on Christmas then?” She paused at the door. “It doesn’t just have to be on holidays. Oliver really enjoys speaking with you.” He smiled, a hesitant, toothless grin that made his eyes glow. “I enjoy speaking with him too.”
Beatrice nodded, her throat tightening, and stepped out into the frozen night.
PEOPLE L u n a
M o s s
Inspired by Renee Gladman’s ‘language with its skin pulled back’
If you want to hear the phone, stop ringing my doorbell. On the other side of this town that crinkled open from the spindly connection, the road stops. We moved here to get away from the grumble— we can’t hear it anymore, but our phone cords still get tangled and it takes so long to separate them again.
Thou scavengers of meaning slipping comprehension as easily as current through a heart That con ver gen ce of bilat eral dev we ose are me nt -ho w cl elop a ins? An ex cit us to co tory th le kes me ri pp ma that ought blue green Thou ll ion co with dappled affection act oi e it et susp dals of ended app mouthbrains thou d Two san undulating Rend ering a ulse for each imp one sin gle Entire worlds of you a multitude unto yourselves
Coleoidea Oh thou ancient gods filaments molluscan the striated muscles of the sea
S M e r c e d e s
THE JEWELWEED A n a ï s
R a n g e r
It must have been asleep. Buried somewhere deep, it felt the long awaited calm that covered the Earth like fog. The great noises from above had once travelled like shivers through the loam. Now, they were gone. Eruptions had shrouded the skies in ash-mist and death-fumes, and the Earth knew no Sun, nor day nor night. Now, they had raged themselves to sleep. Earthquakes had shaken the land until not one man-thing was left standing. Now, they weakened to a nervous tick of infrequent quivers. The roads disappeared, cracked and swallowed by the growing green. All the great disruptions of the world were like the droplets that fall and ripple the water, fading into the environment until all that remains is the unified swaying of the water. There was no one left, not one doctor, not one lawyer or librarian, not even a gardener left to explain what ‘It’ was. Was it an animal? Not quite. A plant? Not quite. It seemed ‘It’ was not quite anything, other than asleep. And a good sleeper it was! All those noises and this one had merely turned over, sinking into a deeper slumber like tulip shoots waiting for the snows to melt. This one had been alone a very long time, though it was indistinguishable from the rest of the universe. It, the earth, the whispering voices, the creeping things: they were all leaves on a great
tree. The noises were gone and as they left, the voices grew clear and strong. They called softly from far away, strange and inviting. A multitude of tendrils sprouted from its skin and slithered through the air pockets in the soil. They stretched towards the warmth that radiated above, finally piercing through to the surface. The wind blew over them. Anchored deep, for they had grown roots, the arduous task of emergence began. There was pain in the pull, but the pull was joyful and full of glory. Finally, the body was expelled from the earth, damp with snowmelts and mud. It undulated like a wounded snake, gasped, cried, and sighed, and let the heart slow its pace. It lay breathing for a long time and the fingers broke off and remained in the soil, alive on their own. The emerged body hurt, but it could only giggle and laugh, gasping in gulps of air. A finger from its hand twitched, then a leg jolted, an eye blinked, until it was rolling around laughing from the strangeness. All was new and fresh. When this one opened its eyes for the first time, the world was white and dazzling until the pupils adjusted to the sudden influx of stimuli. Then, the sky was blue and the grass was green and high above was a burning star. It’s awake It’s awake It’s awake ‘It’ unfurled itself like a fiddlehead fern and stood on two legs. Tall deciduous trees abounded, grown tall, thin, and pale-barked. Looking up, it saw the web, a weaving, interlacing of branches.
The voices sang and lightened its heart with greetings and exultations. It was the trees. The trees were singing. They accompanied the sh-sh of the sea of leaves. This one raised its hand to the tree, awed by the strength. Drawing closer, ‘It’ wrapped its arms around the tree and pressed its ear to the body. It stayed there for a long while, listening to the sound of the warming sap travelling faster through the tree’s entirety. Hello Hello Hello “Hi-lloa,” ‘It’ said in a gentle lilt, delighted by speech. The tree shivered. “Tree, Tree, Tree,” ‘It’ murmured, but a whisper of the past chanted Sycamore Sycamore Sycamore. A voice joined in. What is it? What is it? Does it sing? ‘What am I?” ‘It’ asked. Not them. They’re gone. “Who is ‘Sun’?” Sun Sun Sun Each utterance was drawn out, as if the name gave as much pleasure as the light dancing through the budded boughs.
“That burning star is Sun?” Again, a chorus of ‘Sun Sun Sun’. It basked in their joy. When this one was ready, it stepped back and wandered softly, always returning to its hole in the ground where it was born. It did not want to forget where it came from: the spot was reassuring. I came from the Earth. Slosh. This one shrieked and jumped, falling backwards when its foot landed in a melting mound of snow. It pulled its foot to its face, and pressed its lips to the chilled firm skin, feeling the wet cold. Letting go of its foot, this one crouched on its hands and knees and shuffled closer. Tentatively, it plunged its fingers in, then stuck them in its mouth. The snow melted on its tongue as it suckled. For a brief moment, this one saw cold winds and snow flurries, grey skies and a land covered in white. The memory passed and faded away quickly, leaving it grasping at an intangible knowledge. Snap. The crisp noise had come from behind. This one spun around and faced a golden creature. They stood still and perfect, observing the other. The beast stood on four legs, tall-eared and long-necked. The body was covered in golden-brown grass and two leafless trees grew from the head. The thing was almost as beautiful as the tree. This one raised its hand to touch and the creature flinched. From a pool of lost experience, it knew to make soothing sounds. It tried to mimic the wind in the trees. The strange animal huffed but stepped closer to it, raising his head inquiringly. It stretched out its arm and brushed over the neck. Not grass. Softer. Warmer.
Nothing seemed more soothing now than the warmth and silkiness of this beast. Moving closer still, this one did as with the tree and embraced the golden creature. He was much warmer indeed, as if his heat came from within and not from the burning star in the sky. It recognized a familiar sound: a heartbeat. “Hilloa.” “You smell of earth, grass, rain. Something warmer. Something hidden. I like your presence.” With that, he stepped back and treaded over the yielding moss-covered ground. This one looked down at its hands, the fingers still tingling from the deer’s fur. A foot came forward, followed by the other, and soon it was striding over the decaying leaves, the puddles of dark mud, and the little shoots, until it was at the deer’s side. His inane quietness made this one feel extraordinarily loud. As they walked, the land around them changed. The trees grew sparse and soon the two companions came upon a clearing that opened into rolling plains, where more deer ambled, grazing. They moved gently and all around them was made lovelier by their presence. “Hilloa!” it screeched in excitement, leaping forward. Startled, they skittered off, long limbs loping elegantly until they settled back to grazing. A doe lifted her head, surveying all. “We are cautious,” said the stag. “Of what?” this one asked.
“Of danger. Of wolves,” he answered. “Loudness isn’t in our nature, and predators do love to roar.” “Should I be cautious of them as well?” it asked, a hand seeking the warm fur of the beast’s neck. “No, you’re too much like the grass and those sun-worshipping trees for wolves to care. Prudence is vital to survival. That is our way.” He sauntered off and joined the doe who had so prudently observed her surroundings. This one remained rooted where it stood, chewing on the deer’s words. I must be cautious of my surroundings. I shall be like the deer! I will step silently and leave no trace of my passing. I will be ‘One of the deer’! This one leapt for joy for arriving to such a logical conclusion. As soon as it moved deeper into the meadow, a silence filled the space. It was not foolish; this was the breath before the song. Silence did not mean void. The deer had gone ahead scenting the air and sometimes, where its cloven hooves fell, ground nesting birds took to the air. Whinchats and pipits, thrushes and sparrows flew up. A cloud moved. The sky was dark with rain now. A soft rumbling filled the air and resonated in its chest. “Oooh. What was that?” it asked, shifting its weight from foot to foot, any unease forgotten.
“That’s thunder. Rain often follows. We might see lightning,” he mused, looking up at the rolling cumulonimbi. “Should we hide?” it asked, pressing closer to the stag, clutching at his fur. “Oh, I don’t think so. I said we were cautious, not cowardly,” he snorted. “See, already the wind is weakening. Besides, rain makes the grass sweeter.” Sure enough, the wind stopped. In the distance, a tree of blue light grew so swiftly from the earth only to vanish, that it questioned if it had ever existed. It was about to ask its deer what it was, when the loudest noise it had ever heard broke the sky. The whole world was shattering. It had heard these noises before. This one had dreamed but the noises were still there, screaming far beyond its memory. Another flash. It screamed in fear and delight, not knowing whether to leap into the air, bound over the earth running; whether to run back to its hole in the ground. The face was wet before the first drop of rain touched the ground. Sleet whipped the earth. An ache formed in this one’s belly. As the rain carried on and the skies grew darker still, the ache turned to a throbbing chill. The eyes drooped, the limbs went lame, and the steadfast heartbeat slowed. The stag caught this one as it fell, so that it was slung over his back. “Hold me fast. I will carry you the way,” he said. Half-hearted whispers slipped past its lips as a slacked grip around the horns tightened minutely. He felt the weight of this one’s hands upon his head, and of its body half-straddling, half-lying on his back. They rode across the land. Too tired to account for everything, it allowed its body to put to sleep certain senses; eyesight was first,
then hearing. Irrelevant. Simple. In the way. It felt only fur, the rolling joints and rippling muscle. Eventually that was lost as well as it fell asleep and dreamed of Mother. It awoke for the second time, huddled against the deer’s flank, and turned into the warm fur and wrapped its arms around the solid neck. Bu-Bum Bu-Bum Bu-Bum “You’ve slept for three days.” “I’ve slept longer.” “If you do, you will miss the flowers. I think you dreamed; you were restless in your sleep.” “What are flowers like?” It asked, eyes closed. The stag huffed. “Pretty plants that smell nice and look delicious, though they sometimes deceive,” he added. “Are they worth awakening?” “If you’d ever seen or smelled one before, you would recognize your foolishness.” And the deer straightened its hind legs, kneeling on its forelegs, knocking it forward. The deer’s voice hushed any objection.
“Come along,” he said, offering his antlers for support. This one took hold of them and let the deer raise it to its feet. He led the way to another meadow where the brush grew higher, providing excellent shelter. Outside of the shrub-land, they reached vast fields where the weather and terrain had encouraged the grass to grow faster under the warm spring sun. It had grown as high as this one’s knees and its legs glided through. Fwish. Fwish. Fwish. The sound was delicious. Among the blades, little spots of color swayed. Kneeling, it tipped a long fuzzy stem and tilted the red cup to its face. A brilliant red, with a dark center greeted it. Then, so gently, it kissed the soft petals. Breath came in long inhales and sighing exhales, as a soothing warmth unfurled in this one’s belly. More blooms peaked out of the grass, some white and brilliant, some yellow and smiling. Some were round while some were bushy. They smelled so gentle. Their voices were small and happy, and every word was a gaggle of giggles. This one is funny! This one is sweet. This one is the only one! We like this one! The deer was standing guard. In a daze, it lay down, surrounded by the flowers, and felt some peace.
It stayed with the deer as the trees came into bloom. When night fell, it fell asleep gazing at the stars, breathing deeply. Sometimes it heard infinitesimal voices, laughing and singing, whispering in forgotten tongues. One stronger and deeper voice joined them every night but one. By day, the deer migrated and settled, ran and basked in the sun. Some of the males fought, running to the other and locking antlers.
Some of the does swelled and one morning, a fawn speckled with white rose on unsteady legs, exploring but always returning to his mother. The trees bore fruits in the heat of summer. The sun shone longer and the rain seldom fell. Its skin had darkened from a pale glaucous to a near-brown shade. It felt firmer and some portions had grown abrasive. It still, at times, experienced spontaneous slumbers. The stag was calm, and lay beside it. It grew increasingly frustrated, always feeling as though it was on the cusp of some important message. On such days, when its mood was particularly foul, it would find a juniper bush, or sometimes a patch of valerian, and lie there until the painful torsions in its belly faded away. The fruit ripened on the branches and weighed them down. There was something it needed to find. It felt terribly annoyed at times, when the pull to depart flared up. It didn’t know what it was looking for or why it needed to find it so badly. So one day, it asked the deer for his advice. “I don’t have the answers,” said he, “but I’ll show you something, if you wish.” “Please.” They walked until a noise like thunder and rainfall grew louder and louder, becoming a roar. It looked up and saw a huge wall of stones with thick green moss and lichen covering them in patches. This stone was sacred. A torrent of water gushed forth from a split in the great wall into a large pool of water. The body of water was secretive: nothing could
be discerned from the dark brown depth. However, with a little patience, a realm of treasures appeared. Small shining pebbles peaked from the pool’s floor. The tiniest of creatures skipped over the water’s surface, balancing their weight on six legs. A small gathering of birds swooped low and hopped into a shallower part of the pool, ruffling and dousing themselves before shaking the droplets off. It could hear their delight. Their little voices screeched and whooped. Bath! Bath! Clean Water, Clear Water, Rain Water, Snow Water! The deer crossed to the other side. This one watched the ethereal crossing, for the morning sun had slipped through the clouds and covered him in golden light. Once he reached the other bank, the stag shook himself and rested on the mossy earth. Left to its own devices, it crept to the very brim of the pool and looked into the water. A shadow glanced off the water’s surface and it turned to look over its shoulder. There wasn’t anything there obstructing the sunlight. Returning its gaze to the water once more, this one noticed the shadow’s mimicry. Experimentally, it raised its hand and saw the motion matched most precisely. Sound dulled to the waterfall’s roar as it gazed, transfixed, at its own reflection. How strange I look. Not a hint of fur on me. Not even a pair of antlers. The shadow left quite a bit to the imagination. What little it could discern was perplexing and mysterious. It saw the eyes: two large, glossy things that sat not quite forward-facing. Two long, shell-like ears. It could barely see the nose’s detail, for it was very flat. Touch confirmed this. The shape of the head was round, though the bushy caul made it difficult to tell. For a moment, it wasn’t just a face: it was a hundred, a thousand, a million faces, all shimmering on the water. They were familiar and all strangers. This one felt it had somehow failed.
“Don’t linger there too long, my friend, or you may find yourself turned into a flower,” the stag spoke up from his lounging area. He appeared asleep, though he spoke. “I… I had forgotten about you, so lost was I in myself,” it replied after a long pause, and then, looking up, “Deer, what do you feel when you look at yourself?” “Nothing,” he said. “Nothing?” He sighed and lifted his crowned head, looking out over the water to his own reflection. “It is difficult to explain,” he continued. “I know all that I am. There is no doubt. And I know where I came from.” “I don’t understand,” it said, leaning forward to see the stag’s reflection. Weary and annoyed, it stepped into the shallows. Every part of its being tingled and sang as the fresh water was filtered in through its pores. A memory returned. That’s it, darling, kick your legs. Intrigued, it let itself fall into the pool. Thousands of bubbles rushed upwards, tickling its body as they went. It kept its eyes open wide in wonder. The world, as seen through water, was luminous. The sun’s light broke and appeared as a cluster of brilliant hands. It kicked its feet and waved its arms around, swimming in circles.
They stayed at the pool, swimming and listening to the waterfall. It lay resting against the deer’s side. “What were their names,” it said. “Who?” “Exactly! Who were they? Who called them?” it stopped short and turned, voice low and severe. “Deer, what is my name?” “I don’t know—” “Then who does? This one needs a name! Name Me and I will be yours and live with the herd!” “No.” The deer stood quickly and knocked it over onto hands and knees. “You would leave me then? Alone again!” He stopped. His eyes darkened like the depths of the pool and it could no longer see its reflection in them. “You are foolish. All things are singular. But we are never alone. One is never alone.” “But I. AM.” “You are.” He bowed his head. Tears bled from the large eyes and ran down either side of the flat nose. I’m going to die.
“Please, please don’t leave me. I’ll drown, I’ll fade. Disperse.” But gently, the deer shrugged the hands away and disappeared through the trees. This one slumped, cried, tore at the earth with clawing hands. It saw the swollen middle and felt the roiling inside. The water rushed away from the pond, the same way the deer had gone: a river that branched out to all lands. The river that all things crossed. “River, will you bear us?” it whispered. Yes, yes, I’ll carry you. I’ll bear you safely. Shall we go meet the Ocean? Again, it lay on the water floating. Just so, this one saw Sun, red and bleeding in the sky. And He spoke, for the first time, His voice loud and silent all at once. “I saw every moment of this life; yours and the world’s. I saw all things spoiled, I saw all things born. I’ve seen the end many times and more beginnings than endings. I saw you and I know what you are.” “What am I? Why am I here?” It laughed. It closed the eyes and still saw the glowing red. “I know,” it whispered. “Shieloh.” The jewelweed-being burst. A hundred thousand seeds the river carried away to sow the land.
ANOTHER K e i s h a
E m e r y
I stopped paying attention to whether or not coffee does what I want it to but lingering sleep draws me down, fourteen steps again and again and again and, what’s another morning without choosing a big-enough mug? What’s a new day without milk, and steam? And waiting and pouring and tasting something bitter, just for the sake of it, just to see. Without soft clatters and hot water on old dishes. Put the cup on the shelf for tomorrow. Throw away the used-up filter.
Content Warning: “This work contains distressing subject matters such as child abuse/p*rn, mild body gore and police intervention.”
BLIND SPOT I n u y a
S c h u l t z
i. Stale morning tone, a pressure throbbing since Magnotta You are a man overflowing I wore woman to help me fall asleep once It did not come off in the morning I adapt to spaces I am still too young To fill. Through keratin walls I watch you High off fumes from the Decarie freeway Blot out your birth date, reject mail Distort your identity on digital profiles, fracture When I stand, I stand in your blind spot Curious, exhausted, with a mother’s tongue Swallowed.
ii. I reject here Hydro goes unpaid, heat and hot water come In government-issued doses, in this a wasteland-home None of the doors close all the way I plot my sleeps in intervals, I watch the mold spread I bleach my boundaries and remember where I make the lines.
I reject here The medicine cabinet falls out of the wall I study the mosaic made of shatter, seized with regret for A rattle made of baby bones, broken baby skulls Brazen baby hearts that batter their baby ribs, pummelling them to powder Fissured baby lungs that look pulpy, a spreadable paste–– I reject here Pangs of jealousy tear through me like shrapnel I gather the evidence before you see the mess I made Before you see that I saw The mess you made, are making I throw these babies out. I store these images into the spaces of woman I have yet to fill out. In anxious sleeps, I listen to your typing I hear you whispering in code I reject here.
iii. You disappear for two days. You are my guilt, so I don’t call anyone Who might know where you are. During your absence I find an eyeball in my pillowcase The other I fish out of the toilet tank, scleras curdled I stay awake and keep them moist with saline spray Hold them still in a nest of failed math exams.
You come home, eyes sockets gaping, dank Like an infant’s infected mouth You have lost your borders You are sludge, putting your eyes in backwards I am crying in your blind spot You come home a Rorschach test.
iv. Overworking computer fans translate in dreams to a whirling helicopter, God descends on a ladder with rib rungs. He’s shouting apologies for being so late Through a bullhorn made of femur. I shout that child-support cheques do not cover the cost of anonymity. I turn and see you in a web I was never supposed to find you in. God lands next to me and covers my eyes. v. I don’t think about the raid Until I think about my bedroom Where I find my journal, open-faced like a butterfly On a page imagining what sex must feel like written in red ink Tossed on the floor are candy wrappers I’d stuffed like shame Into a box under my bed, now presented in a glistening, pukey heap I stand over a pair of period-stained underwear That must have been torn from the very bottom of my hamper. I make my bed in the chaos because that is the woman thing to do But still I seethe For the private parts of girlhood Meant for me and me alone.
vi. It must have been the zeroes and ones that decoded you They say that when the babies were found tethered To this I.P. address, hidden in encrypted folders and servers Some were so fresh they were still covered in afterbirth. I wait in your blind spot while they scrape you off the couch A wad of dry gum –– Someone says that it’s cold in here. Someone else mentions the state of the kitchen I like to think that I would have tidied up If I had known they were coming. I try to recall the faces because I cannot look at yours But all I see are bodies smaller than mine Bodies you wanted more than mine Bodies I wish I had done something for Bodies I feel solidifying as woman begins fitting. I imagine that you turn and look at me in those last moments Before you dance your shackled jig out the door I do not open my eyes, I am Trying to remember a you that was contained Awake, and bland as human.
M a r n e r
You have a dream about a text but your heater is broken. There's some stuff going on. You pretend to care and they believe you. Until frothing milk starts to feel like cosmic punishment. You'll never leave the city, not even for a matcha latte. Not even to masturbate in peace. Nothing hurts more than the sound of your neighbours fucking. Or a handful of long blonde hair. Is this all there is? Your hands are always too cold to type— you'll never know. You used to remember them but one by one you let it come, and pass. Like the snow falls for the MSG, the acne medicine, the morning construction, the spit in a museum toilet. The train rides that began alone. The flight from you, to you. Alone. You feel them feeling embarrassed of you at night. Until They're embarrassed all day. But they said it was good, wanted to change the last scene, hated the first draft. How could you rewrite it? For free, for a couple notes, a glass of wine and a phone call. You saw her on the corner. Recognized those boots and thought how nice it was you could smell her dryer sheets in the wind. It's just a story now. In December, you dreamt that the tap water froze. That rotten potatoes turned to cold black soup. That I sat down with a blanket, had coffee, and didn't think of you.
Z o e
COLD BLACK SOUP
Cold Black Soup
Cold Black Soup
Pr00f of a Lily
PR00F OF A LILY S M e r c e d e s The dress is yellow as a spring day. His fingers hesitantly trace its petals of silk. “Gorgeous, huh?” The Clerk watches as His hands race into guilt-stained pockets. A gold hoop glints in His nose as He nods. “It’s beautiful.” “Want to try it on?” His companion raises Her Red head from the counter across the room. Her love drunk eyes narrow to questioning parentheses: (Will He? / Won’t He?) He contemplates the soft yellow promise before Him. “Yes.” The Clerk wears Her wokeness like laurel leaves as She ushers Him into a fitting room, closing the curtain with an elastic smile. Confusion pools in the corners of Red’s stomach; why is She afraid? The curtain opens + He ≠ He. Has never been He? The neckline pulls taut as satin wire over collarbone. Sparrow hands swoop through the air as They approach the mirror, smooth shoulder seams. It is a perfect fit.
Pr00f of a Lily
Their love drunk eyes narrow to questioning parentheses when They look at Her: (Do You <still> love Me?) The Clerk is in the corner, adding up Her allyship points. The scene before Her makes a precise equation: (He ≒ T(he)y ) ≣ ⚥ ∴ ⚥ ♡ ♂ The Clerk wonders if Their boyfriend wears dresses too. Red is in the mirror, subtracting + dividing Her life. Him on bent knee with a ring. Him in a suit at the altar. They are in yellow, on a precipice. A 5-year-old Boy in Their sister’s dress. A 12-year-old Girl in Their father’s boots. Red calculates their reflections: Red + Yellow + Their eyes like defiant blue wounds. Her heart falls open; word dances on Her lips. The Clerk’s tally is a few points short. “You look fabulous...Your Boyfriend is going to love that dress!” The well-intentioned words sting like bricks. Shame creeps greenly at the edges of Their joy.
Pr00f of a Lily
Red opens Her mouth to catch the dandelion phrase
B E A U T I F U L
floating there. “You look… -
H A N D S O M E “
Their face falls like an egg. They painstakingly pull the tendrils of bloom back inside Their heart. She + (T)He(y) exit the store. The Clerk eyeballs them out as She rehangs the dress, fingers absently bruising yellow silk.
C O N T R I B U T O R S
Katherine Abbass (she/her) is a writer, editor, and English teacher of Phoenician descent. Her work has been published in The Antigonish Review, untethered, Plenitude, Glass Buffalo, and Riddle Fence. Yara Ajeeb is a Syrian refugee who moved to Montréal in 2017. She’s currently a Literature student and wishes to create work which reflects on a past tainted by war. As a newcomer to Canada, Yara hopes to introduce her Arabic culture to readers while still connecting with the ones who’ve had a similar childhood. Born and raised in Syria, Yara’s work expresses heavy topics of war, death, and mental health. Esme Bale is a writer based in Montréal, QC. She is currently studying Journalism and Creative Writing at Concordia. Jennifer DeLeskie (she/her) is an emerging writer based in Tiohtià:ke (Montréal). Jennifer's work has appeared in The Dalhousie Review, Chronicling the Days: Dispatches from a Pandemic (Morra and Ackerman, eds, Guernica Editions, 2021), and QWF Writes!, the online publication of the Quebec Writers' Federation. Her story "Ocosingo" was shortlisted for the 2021 Carter V. Cooper (CVC) 10 Short Fiction competition and will appear in the Exile Writers' CVC 10 Anthology, forthcoming in September. Jennifer is a graduate of the Humber School for Writers Correspondence Program in Creative Writing. She is currently polishing her first novel, a comingof-age story set in near-future northern Québec.
Keisha Emery is a writer from Toronto and is currently studying English and Creative writing at Concordia University. She enjoys cooking, talking about movies, and sleeping in. sam fisch is a multi-disciplinary artist/lab rat residing in Tiohtià:ke (Montréal) who eagerly awaits cyborgian futures where we may upload our consciousness to the online collective and do away with the limitations of physical time and space. Bridget Griffith is a writer from Calgary, Alberta. They are currently studying Creative Writing at Concordia University. If you invite her to talk about her interests, she will not shut up. Lily Inskip-Shesnicky is a writer and filmmaker from Ottawa, Ontario. She has been published in In/Words, People Department, PotPourri, The Charlatan, and The Northern Appeal. When she has time, she likes to play music for her plants and make collages. Salomé Lafrance is a student in translation at Concordia University and a tree planter that needs to write stuff down to let things go. She usually writes in French, but likes to switch up in English sometimes when she’s not too shy. Outside school and crafting with her hands, she’s probably somewhere between Montréal and the forest, either driving her 1993 Toyota or on her bike. Maze Laverty is a creative writing student at Concordia University. His interests include things that aren't real and things that live under the sea.
Zoe Marner is a performer, playwright, and student from Ontario. She studies creative writing and theatre at Concordia. Her play Book Club received the Gabriel Safdie award in 2021. She is exploring poetry and its relation to performance to enrich her playwriting. In the Montreal community, she has worked with Teesri Duniya Theatre on their connect-and-create events, webinars, script readings and performances. She guides students at Concordia in their exploration of performance art as the president of the ACT club. In various capacities, Zoe works to bring her peers’ stories to life. SMercedes is a Mad multidisciplinary artist and a founding member of Other Hearts Collective (other hearts.ca). She is currently pursuing her bachelor’s in creative Writing at Concordia University. Luna Moss is a writer and poet from Nova Scotia, currently living in Montréal. They are in their first year of Creative Writing and Ecology at Concordia University. Their ideal afternoon is a walk in the forest with a book. Binh An Nguyen Cuu is a Vietnamese writer and author born in Tiohtià:ke/Montréal. She is currently working towards a Bachelor's Degree in English Literature with a Minor in Creative Writing, and plans to pursue a career in publishing. She is passionate about grief in literature, as well as children's literature (a healthy balance!). Cassandra Sarah Pegg is a 21-year-old Concordia student with a passion for writing fiction short stories and novels. She is currently working on a fantasy novel that is seven years and counting in the making. She balances her writing endeavors with the pursuit of degrees in psychology and English literature.
Anaïs Ranger is a freelance Illustrator and English Literature student at Concordia University. Her inspiration lies in nature, literature, and music. She has a great love for foraging and dressing up in historical clothing. You can find her being weird somewhere in the woods. Inuya Schultz is a Tiohtià:ke/Montréal-based writer studying English Literature and Creative Writing at Concordia University. With a background in theatre and music, her work is phonetically rich and demands (politely) dramatic performance. Her creativetheory piece entitled: “Requiem for a House of Baby Teeth,” received an Integrative Activity award at Dawson College, where she studied English Literature. Her works have appeared in two issues of The Plant and Dawson’s Creations Journal. Erin Staley is a Montreal-based writer studying Creative Writing at Concordia University. Her previous work can be found in the anthology, Pie in the Sky, or on Instagram @empoetryy_.