Soliloquies Anthology 22.2
Copyright ÂŠ 2018 Soliloquies Anthology Soliloquies Anthology retains first North American Serial Rights. Except for brief passages quoted in a newspaper, magazine, radio, television, or website review, no part of this anthology may be reproduced in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying and recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. Manufactured in Canada Printed and bound by CaĂŻus du Livre Design and layout by Bronwyn Carere Soliloquies Anthology, c/o Concordia University Department of English 1455 de Maisonneuve Blvd. West Montreal, Quebec H3G 1M8 ISSN 1496-4910 (Print) ISSN 2369-601X (Online) soliloquies.ca
Contents Editorial Team 5 Foreword 6 Poetry Josephine Blair Adelaide Potter Jeni De La O Aye Wollam Sneha Subramanian Kanta
genealogy 11 There Are Small Things Between Us 12 One Million Peaches (a confession) 13 Burmese Way to Socialism 1989 16 The Sublime 18 How I Save Trees In Dreams 19
talah e exile dance 20 untitled 963 21
Oonagh C. Doherty MOTORCYCLE ON THE VERGE 22 Mick Hennessy Shamu 23 Interregnum 24
Jasmine Throckmorton Sabrina White Nicky Tee Matthew James Babcock Ilona Martonfi Nikki Donadio
Conduit 26 july 1995 28 Meditation Vibes 30 Running in New Hope 31 The Necklace 32 Night Vision 33 Sometimes 34 Outloud 36
Manahil Bandukwala In Bloom 37 Dirk Termagant The poet waxes existential after being stood up for third time at Aux Vivres on St. Laurent 38
Sam Silva Hannah Josepha Karpinksi Rebecca Ruth Gould Ally Turner
CIGARETTES IN OCTOBER 39 last looks 40 Yerevan in Winter 42 Obsidian salt 43 What leaks from the grass 44
Matteo Ciambella Clean slate 45 Fiction Heather DubĂŠ Daniel L. Link Les Hunt Jeff Burd Jack Braun
Shannen 49 Siren 55 The Silents 61 Hardware 73 Timothy Nautical and His Lifetime Supply of Lettuce 77
Creative Non-Fiction R.L. Aseret Faithful Confessions 91 (cw: describes familial abuse)
Imola Zsitva Djukim 95 Mina Mazumder Lost and Found 103 Sylvia Sukop Mary/Me 107 Contributors
Editorial Team Editor-in-Chief Meredith Marty-Dugas
Artistic Director Bronwyn Carere
Managing Editor Jennifer Mancini
Poetry Editors Kieran Airey-Lee Annah-Lauren Bloom Adrian Ngai
Prose Editors Gabrielle Crowley Thomas Molander Salena Wiener
Media Editors Tyson Burger Megan Hunt Jessica Kinnari
Foreword This January, we were reminded of the violence and exploitation that Concordia’s writing community has accommodated for decades. Attempts to stop this have been affected by legal threats of retribution, as well as institutionalized dismissal and silencing. Soliloquies Anthology will continue to support survivors and work to build a community that promotes positive literary relationships and prioritizes the wellbeing of its members. Kailey Havelock, our past Editor-in-Chief, wrote an essay for The Puritan that’s been an important addition to denouncing professors and the pervasive silence. The mobilization I have seen in the last few months has given me great hope and comfort despite the weight of institutionalized corruption. Through these battles, I have found the students, professors, alumni, and allies who I want to imagine my literary futures with, and they have grounded me while we responded to this year’s revelations.
Soliloquies works to connect international and local writing, so that we can foster community and speak beyond the boundaries of distance. We’re honoured to feature authors who have sought us out despite the space between us, as well as the locals who remain faithful to us. After three years with Soliloquies, I am very proud to present Soliloquies Anthology 22.2 as my final contribution, featuring such amazing talent. Our non-fiction interrogates how we navigate violence, loss, and desires for love. Who are we in the heartbreak? Our fiction searches for that missing affection in whole bites of lettuce heads, secret letters inscribed into library books, and the Plumbing aisle. We know it is somewhere at the bottom of lake, or an online article, but what calls to us with such longing? Follow our prose as it yearns, pursues, and
sometimes discovers. The poetry in this issue tries to find the playful in the political. We need to wade into the wounds and sadness before we can start to heal. Sometimes, finding humour in these places can rekindle our strength to begin. Laugh at the situation on Aux Vivres, the syntax, the fool’s smoke, the Q-tip in the pocket. Mock Bill Clinton and the euphemisms of autocorrect. Find refuge for feeling in where the stillness surges; take root under the arbour and honour the exile dance, until you are ready for a fresh spring of water. My editorial team has put an amazing amount of energy into our journal and website. I thank them for their continued efforts. I am especially grateful for the dedication of Jennifer Mancini and Bronwyn Carere. This year would have been impossible without their talent and hard work. I must thank everyone on the Concordia Association for Students of English, for their financial support, friendship, and action this year. I’m grateful to Kailey Havelock and Jake Byrne who made my earlier years on Soliloquies so rewarding. We couldn’t create this journal without support from the Arts and Sciences Federation of Associations. Thank you to everyone who submitted to Soliloquies this year, your contributions are what keeps us passionate. Thank you to our audience; your readership is what keeps our work important.
Soliloquies Anthology 22.2 pushes you to carry the stones forward, sip your own soup in the morning, and hang in, even in those last looks. Meredith Marty-Dugas Editor-in-Chief
genealogy they chirp in open vowels and words that end in -ism. one had my eyes once and wears a skirt that canâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t untangle memories of fleshless hanging from a curtain rod in the salt-boned house by the lake where no one swam but Mama drowned that time i forgot to turn off the lights before unraveling
There Are Small Things Between Us Last month, I placed a stone in my chest And it fell down to my toes And my feet got heavier Until I took off my socks, shook them out and the stone rolled onto the ground You picked it up Placed it in your pocket And said â&#x20AC;&#x153;Here, I'll keep this for youâ&#x20AC;?
Jeni De La O
One Million Peaches (a confession) Seriously. Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;m not as cool as those kids with sleek and new, despite their lax wealth. what was sewn for me is suggestion and like free range, here I sit with paper and no thoughts just the imagined obligation to tell you about that night before they come for what is left of me. Parts of me I left that night (some cells, some fibers) were purchased by half-eaten peaches and repetitious middle school teachers do we see the irony? Do we note the syntax? Complex machinery can tell you it was cold or if you remember, you know it was cold, insignificant except that I was nervous and the cold pinched at my nipples like the clamps I fondled in a sex shop, under neon and fluorescent lights that make everything seem unreal and therefore tenable, but on that night it was just that cold and equally untenable nothing felt real, nothing was alive, nothing was dream so I walked into Tim Hortons and
Jeni De La O bought a cup of coffee. I hate Tim Hortons and that is insignificant because everyone hates Tim Hortons. I bought the coffee, you’ve seen the grainy, jumping video that stop-motion animates my hooded head and jet puffed arms reaching like a toddler swaddled too tightly, wrapped close, and told the lady keep the change. Memorable. One million peaches rotting in the dirt. I did not take one sip. Well, one sip; it was freezing. And waited in the dark in the bushes in the cold in the dark. He walked up my hand in pocket my hand outstretched, a stain of mustard on his tie— Bang! —the smell, that smell of just lit matches, the shaking world when he crumpled— then one foot in front of the other, one foot in front of the other one foot in front of the domino street lights playing telephone tag one light, two light, red lights, blue lights and I can tell you it was so funny to hear
Poetry my laughter pierce the night, rip its way out of my mouth and pull back the flesh on my jowls until bone shone under that cold fat moon and my howl filled the sky, cleared the air like denshing and all of a sudden everything is real and calculating its tenability was secondary to the right to remain silent, gruff hands along my hips, and everything alive and everything dreamed so I walked into the police station, rolled my fingers in ink— this is significant because the last time I did this my daddy stood in line at the mall and thought about that dead boy whose head was cut off at Sears, so he made me dip my fingers in ink and blot and smile for the polaroid, in case the worst ever happened— how does that help me now? Did you catch that irony? How do you feel about the syntax? Are you half wondering what ever happened to your hot Math teacher? Mine murdered his girlfriend, bludgeoned her to death with a rotary telephone —who had a rotary telephone in the 90s? They found him in his car, naked and laughing too!
Burmese Way to Socialism 1989 The electricity is shut off again not because we forgot to pay the bill but because we pay too regularly The utility man knows the household that pays
the bills can pay the bribes
The sun comes and we take dirty clothes outside
except for underwear and cloth pads
My mother stands under the coconut tree with a tub full of water scrubbing
our school uniforms
with a carbolic soap The soap turns the water gray The soap turns
the collars white
The soap eats her fingers red From the wooden stool my father reads the Newsweek magazine that the diplomats Someone got killed
he tried to cross the Berlin wall Princess Di wore a satin gown and took New York City by storm She held babies with AIDS which was the thing thatâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s supposed to kill by touch
A storm gathers in the sky
and my mother runs to the clothesline She fans her face
with the state-run newspaper Crush All Enemies Within Her body a warm kettle thickened by Burmese Sun My father says
he can eat rice
with nothing but salt because the war has taught him how to make a meal out of anything What war?
My brother wants to know
Are we at war now?
My little sister wants to know
Donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t wars have two sides that carry guns? My grandma wants to know My mother pounds chili and garlic with stone pestle My father says he can make a feast with a bowl of rice and a ripe banana He says even chalk would taste good if you have a little salt
Sneha Subramanian Kanta
The Sublime after Mary Ruefle But I, have known mountains and hills. I do not know whether the hairpin bend at the end of a road would have someone scared or awestruck. What when lightning strikes the quiet symphony of an undisturbed slope? That terror often goes unnamed. Bones shrill in outside cold, make an avalanche of paradise. When Adam and Eve met, a steadfast exchange of gaze passing between them. A pastiche of forgotten memory. What about the merciful catharsis when someone breathes their last, the slow dissipate of light that fills and scatters in the room of their last hours?
Sneha Subramanian Kanta
How I Save Trees in Dreams We are mixed with land and ice shards quiet, casual December air upon sleets of plants that bloat in water. Can you imagine waking on a cold earth your eyelids full of slant dreams perched beside the Yggdrasil? Somewhere, we are aware it is easier to cut trees on land than trees that spread their roots everywhere. They wouldnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t know where to begin soon enough, it would be autumn again with its faint surprise of half-sprouted leaf, half unopened flower, crows cawing into the onset of pearl-embossed dawn. There would be no need to take away from an atmosphere already bleakâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; empty orchards, vacant stretches of fields disguised with thick ribbon fog.
exile dance i wear u in celebration and in sway and shake and in a mourning where ur song is not the coins or the rooster call or the sucking of bone marrow at our table lately i have worn u in silence and u are forgetting how i move
untitled 963 to carve out sacred on scorched. breathe in light bathe in perfume of a home that no flee or sacrifice no kneel or starve i could taste more than concrete and pipe and my teeth would not bend back into my mouth to hide from u could u touch me in anything but ruin? and i rise riserise my throat isnt the ribbed metal of my ancestral homes could u see me sitting on the couch w my knees turned in and head thrown back holding the manuscript of a white god and laughing at the massacre that could have been mine?
Oonagh C. Doherty
MOTORCYCLE ON THE VERGE Eternal slide of front tire across sandâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s grainy glitter, each pore of leather, every zipper tooth shining, air hissed as we flew the goal being flight always; we landed in silence, the metal wheels spinning. The blood spread wet poppies of warmth all about us; your gaze fit my eyes like my back to your belly. The sky blue as hyssop, the sun blew an aura from the hair of a woman who, angelical, shielded our crash from the search of the greedy spectators, and the silence was blissful, the silence was rippling the colors so brilliant, the tarmac so gentle, your gaze fit my eyes like my back to your belly. I saw an ant crawling and waving antennae, the acacias a-tremble dropped flowers on the highway, dried twigs and glass blades and your blood pooling vivid; the light on the paintwork off cars as they shuddered. The stretchers touched down and the quiet hands liftedâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; our flight had unfastened your arms from my body.
Shamu I haven’t been to the ocean in three years or maybe four—can barely remember how it feels to walk in the wet sand—shoes in my hands—to advance on the line where the foamy flat ends of waves skim over feet— erase my steps—and each other on a visit to the suburbs—I find out all of the seashells I have ever collected are now in a bucket—mixed up with my mother’s—I consider them lost forever—place them in my mind under “things lost forever”— an impossible mess of chipped periwinkles—scallops etc.—then I bring them all to my apartment summer vacation after summer vacation—I’m drifting nearly out of sight—a speck on a churning grey reflection—feeling real danger— keep going keep going—the sea continues its project of reworking the sediment—the apex predator dances in a lighted box for 32 years—a serrated pink mouth that never smiles—remembers—every time he drags someone new to the bottom of his pool—a six-foot dorsal fin collapses—a piece of licorice folds between two fingers click click echo I try to drown out an insidious Canadian R&B song—play a YouTube video of some beach near San Diego—like a mixtape—waves and gulls—a dog barking—people yell and throw themselves at waves on boogie boards—the ocean fittingly spits them out onto the sand—where they belong I don’t belong in the water—I’m a city person—I’m where the tide is other people—long for a vacation—dance grotesquely in the apartment—a diminishing collection of dishes—houseplants—and a part Himalayan cat—teeter on the edge of the continental shelf I paddle away from— while something pulls at my feet—inviting me to move out again—on the same day as everyone else
Interregnum “OBAMA DOG SUNNY
The Bitch Has Bite BUT NO HISTORY OF AGGRESSION ” —TMZ there is no truth truer than the heart of a bad dog and a bad dog is a bad dog forever always a wolf after all— her teeth are teeth for reasons the President’s dog channeled Cerberus wet nose up, hackles up as boxes shuffle out of the Oval she can smell the not so distant pall—of what? there are words she knows, like “NO” and “bad girl”—but now she’s had a taste of blood from a small cut on a hard cheek split like a new fruit snapped in a second
on the last morning she rolls belly up in the thin snow on the South Lawn uncovers dead grass, then pauses to scratch clumsily an ear on her other head whose shag is dusk, dusty, matted she shakes her other other head and pulls at the leash
Conduit I Resting in a downy sleeping bag, I watch the velvet of space unfurl. The Milky Way in ¾ time saunters past, mirrored on the Appaloosa’s dappled back, then muted daybreak reaches the poplars. Everything is gilded: ponderosa and blue spruce bathed sentinel, junipers with indigo fruit surging, amethyst wildflower and a platinum antler. Shivering, I watch light wash over burned brush, salt and pepper debris revealed, rich magnesium for spring. Some conifers only germinate in firestorms, a serotiny sparked from kismet lightning, struck at an altitude where even the hairs at my nape quiver as conductors. II Colorado, adj: literally ‘colored.’ Here, bison remember an eroded history, bending slender knees to drink at ruddy banks, an ochre moon burning.
Trickster coyote come yipping, recount how wagons rumbled, describe harvest in the auburn of August and rush for a land of sagebrush and silver. “Pike’s Peak or Bust,” settlers chant, eyes set on one crest in a grand cordillera. Aspens curve the slope, a grove of coalesced selves. Latticed roots, a clonal colony, they conduct leaf after leaf to copper, gold, burnished bronze— precious metals sewn in foliage. III Indebted, I am taking root, verdant under the arbour where my grandmother’s ashes were spread. Since then, I have tended each garden, cultivated this secondary pyriscence and every year, when the lavender blooms redolent, their sheaves conducting a symphony of honey bees, I know the loam has honoured the cinders.
july 1995 bill clinton walks like the jelly in a jelly sandwich men in black tuxed tight with curly wurlies in their ears surrounded!! bill clinton is safe his desk is mahogany two balls with pens sticking out he sighs sighs sighs what do we have today he says and twelve hunched vultures look at their clipboards shooting in missouri e coli in the water hurricane in florida the republicans are pushing for prayer in schools there's a weird kind of bee in texas it's getting real hot in chicago bob ross died muslims in srebrenica are getting killed by the thousands the governor of rhode island is wait wait wait says bill clinton bob ross died? aw shit aw fuck bob ross?? aw man the chinese ambassador comes to see him later and they shake hands he has a tuna sandwich for lunch thinks about the economy he meets twelve lucky! children who wrote good essays
and tells them all about following your dreams it's dark when bill clinton can finally catch his breath again so he sits down has a cup of coffee gets his dick sucked and gives himself a pat on the back.
Meditation Vibes I came to crack lollipops, Turn them into artificial Sweeteners as cosmetics I can collect rain In a cup, drink it up to Become a fairy sun tanning By my pond; it doesnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t exist I came to crack a cloud In half with a Q-tip, Scrape some morning Dew off of cheap bark In my lawn with a Q-tip I put it in my pocket
Matthew James Babcock
Running in New Hope Stillness surges. Turn after turn the burned world unrolls gold corridors of corn. Light is born. Quills of day impale the damp sway of tiger lilies. NO TRESPASSING signs unravel the way to the old mill wheel. Curiosities multiply. Nailed to a tree: a toboggan christened “Swan.” Arrested in air, a sprained blue jay windmill. Maples leaves sprawl like fresh gashes under a sky as gray as gravel. The human domain invades. Goldenrod frills the footpath Charles Kellogg trod in another century. Yellow bombs streak the rusty flight of warfare across abandoned cargo holds from Shay’s of Dansville. A man who won’t wave back enters the museum of his motions. On the return, bold battlements of clouds mold bolts of sun. Monarch butterflies trade flames. Breezes of mint skim power from Queen Anne’s lace and settle bees in the ruins of the hour.
The Necklace My mother had a red coral necklace, which I played with as a child. Red smooth glass. Oh so berry red. I keep seeing my mother Magda lying unfound on the grey cement floor. One spring long ago, at Easter, she took sleeping pills. Oh so berry red. That spring long ago, at Easter, I sat reading a blue and white fairytale book, moving the witches from room to room. While my mother stayed in the hospital. Oh so berry red. In springs long ago, I saw the gate open, and a child who went out into the deep forest where a small creek flowed picking wild violets with silver leaves.
Night Vision sweep my thumb over the sleepy ranunculus, shut-up and find you on the grass prone, legs pestle white, socks heavy with dew-dirt, nails clipped into the sink. catch your cheek-soft words, nestle them inside my palm the sky is milk blue and clotted with light without my glasses everything loses its sharp edges.
Sometimes For Trish Salah’s “Reading The Book of Suicides” I Sometimes salt shimmers in the sun, thrown as prophylactic onto the pavement. Later the rain writes its language, slips down my neck, spreads like a dipthong onto my collar. A sentence of raindrops dampen my hem, mutes the light-screech of headlamps passing. The swollen moon tugs on the sky-lid pulls clouds away, reaches down to read: shoes sopping, like a page fed through a printer twice. Indeterminate. The message, veiled. II A change of sheets. Sometimes I sweat in the night, make salt pools in elbow-crooks and behind the knees. The wet dries into white snags, patterns a chemical language, elemental; and to translate it would mean to awaken unmuted and breathe out— unyoke the words yanked back. Be okay with being another poet with a crush on the moon.
Some nocturnal alchemy beyond me, veiled. Inscription of dried sweat on my waistband. III Sometimes I let the barometer do the talking. Mercurial forces push the needle to the right. Language ridicules. Thereâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s no correct way to read a crystalline lawn overgrown with fractals. Soon itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ll melt back into dew-rain. Maybe mute the sparrow making home of my broken shoelace. Above, the always-moon gives the sky to the sun. The sparrow guzzles back a worm wrestled from deep. Veiled, the language of blooming, growing Expanding things.
Outloud Outloud is out. Like if there’s a check box are you in, or out, or outloud? Autocorrect suggests load instead of loud which is ha ha telling, no? I wear my secret on my sleeve plaid yes plaid because sometimes stereotypes are true and I use them to show you instead of tell you and for a writer that’s a cardinal sin. Red like the stripe in the rainbow (look for purple) red like the way your face will melt when I one day unlock my jaw and come out, loud. Carry my labrys on my shoulder Demeter is my homegirl Dike is the goddess of justice and sounds like Nikki. Coincidence. Besides, there is no measure to this secret non secret. No how longs (always) no whens (always) no temporal justification. No measure, no fault. Just light soft light pouring through the window turning dust motes to sun seeds. Just waiting to be seen and here, take my glasses. Expect blurriness at first let your eyes adjust and there I’ll come into focus. Focus enough and see sun seeds surround me. Dust is a given but light is not.
In Bloom Urdu grows in mama’s garden coriander curried with brinjal and okra. The r’s elude my tongue, Nimra’s name butchered like goats on Eid Hindi in the next flowerpot cumin pods roost in soil dhana zeera go together you say Namaste I reply walaikum asalam Gujarati mint crushed by bare feet. Words strung together by my novice lips, mama says maari dikri, maari jaan Arabic a simple face adorned in makeup, decked with jewels peel away façade, find curvatures of meem and noon Quranic melody on Qari Sahib’s tongue Persian fountain fresh spring of water: Manahil
The poet waxes existential after being stood up for a third time at Aux Vivres on St. Laurent Hummus? I hardly know us
CIGARETTES IN OCTOBER A fool’s smoke!…the habit that I am exhaling into the blind cool night of orange sunset and the dimming light. And yet your paintings and your passion give me meaning …as one so naturally close to God from childhood on! Without any pride or smugness! …so that death is just another lullaby …part of an endless song!
Hannah Josepha Karpinski
last looks the year begins like the last one ended like the last year began all comes down again, comes down to semantics, some pedantic explanation of this year or the next or something no one catchesâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;thatâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s the catch cheers to repetition! indignant beginning again at the end only there were words (this time) there werenâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t only words there was a bed, not the bed but there was a bed, a gesture the gist of the situation slicing through cold silent morning like the sound of the bathroom door jamming. look: in the dreams we do the things we do in another version of our waking lives
weigh the versions, find a way (in my dreams—the easy way) looks harder in sharp contrast to the early hours which illuminate the no-longer possibilities of night blooming in the face of the moon looking in through the window, the moon looking out—one moon look, it’s cool. it isn’t looking good for us at least we’re looking sharp hang in, hang out—last looks in the city—in it ’til I’m out drop a line from time to time though we do not align, but see: when I look back it all looks back at me.
Rebecca Ruth Gould
Yerevan in Winter As we hewed words from the stone tower, the planets completed their orbit. Ice cracked and froze. Our glass walls gazed on the circus below. Cars sailed through smog. Buses creaked their way to work. As we sat secluded in our icy fortress, the firmaments lit the horizons that met in our union. I watched you stare into the abyss. I watched the passage of the lives we could have lived. I watched our fates diverge, and our shadows merge. I watched the images from our quarry twist and turn, then melt like snowflakes in the crisp morning snow.
obsidian salt in the winter months, I would make soup. for you, mostly, to prove my health. I learned to use a special tool to strip the flesh, unspooling pinkness from bone, letting the blood pool in the bowl beneath. all day, I would fail to eat, saving myself for supper. and later, while you would sleep, I’d spend slow minutes dreaming of tasting the things you kept in the fridge: the morning’s toutons, the salt meat, the wild berry jam (partridge and wild blue) the staling bread, the cow’s milk, and the bone broth soup.
What leaks from the grass The air around the juniper bush is heavy and ripe In the meadow, bug sounds are like waves I sit, drinking my special water watching the sun sink into sleep going blue, floating slow leaving you to your Neptunian secrets It seems easy to be inside of the sky watching the winter months pass over my home with this new faraway view
Clean slate A string of pearls to tie your arm and stop the blood from falling on the sidewalk. Fork roots, tendons, tentacles, fat â&#x20AC;&#x201D; chew, lick the plate. From now, the state of all things new and gone â&#x20AC;&#x201D; clean slate. Like the single marble block that became David, or the patch of sea in my living room: me and mom pulled a blue sheet sending waves across the fabric, laughing at how we played the wind.
Shannen Heather Dubé
With lines from Fawn Parker’s poem “Dania”. She said, I thought you were a nihilist. At least that’s what I figured in context. She’d relaxed into speaking at a normal pace with me. She widened her eyes at me. It was her M.O. to make me look foolish. She was always jostling me out of my shell. She didn’t respect my intensity. I was so maudlin, she would insist. My reliance on monogamy was a crutch. It meant I was living in fear. I said, Well it’s a matter of scale. I would have put up more of a fight but I didn’t have the nerve. I was heavy at the time. Or heavier at least. I’d eaten too much the night before so same difference. I was sweating on the face and my hair was bad. I couldn’t afford to say no to these things. Besides it was summer, and it was all in-province. I could be there and back before you were even ready to see me again. Sofia’s white thighs were crossed over the kitchen chair. They had small freckles like on her face. What to do. Where did you put the…, I motioned with my hand. She passed me the opener over our plates. Fresh & Fruity, I said, holding the Kronenbourg up in a cheers motion. She continued to eat. I was in the wrong outfit for games. My stomach was stretching my skirt and distorting the pattern. Had I been put together then I may have had the necessary charisma. Shannen is a bull, she said. What are you even doing? First it hurt my feelings, but then it made me nervous. I 49
Heather Dubé curled pasta around my fork and it fell off when I lifted it toward my mouth. I’ve had too many boyfriends, I said. They smell it on me, you know. Le foutre. She grinned. Oui, I said, playing up the accent. I couldn’t charm women the way she could. Fresh and fruity. She clinked her bottle against mine. Besides, with me you don’t have to blow your cover. I could tell she was sitting with her breasts forward like she would do to a man. She’d had boyfriends too. We were drinking the case I’d bought for you and I. What could I do? You were always so wrapped up in your writing. I spent hours on the websites, reading articles that told me now was the worst time for you and me. I guess she swayed me. The bus left mid-afternoon. We sat with our backpacks at our feet and paper cups of coffee. Sofia didn’t say much. I wondered if she was changing her mind. My head hurt before the coffee and it may have been worse after. I hadn’t slept the night before. I was up thinking about you, waiting for you to ask to see me. We stopped at a gas station and the stillness woke me up. I watched four men in orange across the freeway load dead tree scraps into a wood chipper. Sofia twisted her body in her seat and lay her head on my lap. Two men crouched and lifted a log, the other two standing with their hands on their hips. I touched her ear where the sun was hitting it. Her hand was between my legs. I listened to the teenagers chatting in a group at the front of the bus and thought about the bad news from earlier that week. Another one had passed—a girl I played field hockey with in high school, Jennifer. A month previous, Elena, a girl I would
Fiction see around, who sold me her bike. Young women whose trails I would follow for hours on the internet, their beautiful young faces still and unmoving. But I recalled them in my mind with turbulence around their eyes. No one would ever say how it happened. No one would say they did it themselves. I looked up the dead girls from my high school and wondered: why did I so keep to myself? Here I was with Sofia leaving you with your thoughts. Did you ever think like I did, Shannen? We went straight from the bus to a bar on the main street. I drank something expensive because I ordered first. She was ordering glasses of IPA. I was feeling affected by Elena again, thinking about her empty bedroom in Parc Ex and her parents having to fly from the West Coast to clear it out. I was on my third and saying too much. The only girls you talk to me about are the dead ones, she said. I set down my glass too hard and it splashed. The busboy came by and wiped our table with a rag. Was it so much to ask to be left alone? She wanted to know about you. Had she brought me here to dissect me? I was drunk. The busboy asked if I wanted another. I waved my hand and she kept her head down. My crossed leg was pressed against her shin. We were turned on but the game was to keep the night going. I feel like it might be good, I said, with her. She nodded to the busboy for the bill. She was amused. I love her, I said. Careful, she laughed, I might tell her you said that. Ha-ha, I said. She knows. Ah. And? She went, hmmp, when I said it. I put enough money down for the whole bill and she added
Heather Dubé her half on top, flashing me a look. Funny how I’m the one being bad and you’re the one who won’t give. We walked to the edge of town where we found a public lot by the lake. Sofia sat down on the wet sand in her jeans. I lay my sweater down and sat beside her. I was nervous about the motel. Wasn’t it getting too late to check in? I was so swept up in her before, I hadn’t thought about the time. I felt a pang of not wanting to be there anymore. Across the lake a light flashed. She picked up two shells. They must have been poured there by landscapers, they were big like ones from the ocean. I lay on my back and felt my spine settle. She placed the shells on my stomach where my shirt had ridden up. I made a face to catch her attention. She played along and held my gaze, and then she looked away. Had I been wrong about being in the lead? I sat up and rubbed my legs. It was cold by the water even in July. She asked if I was tired. The beer had gone sour on her breath. Shannen, Shannen. In your bachelor with your books and your painting, your instant coffee in the middle of the night. It tastes like shit. Sofia knew about a party across town from somebody she’d talked to at the bar. We’d have to wait twenty-five minutes for the night bus into town. She took a bag of strawberry candies out of her bag and we ate them and waited without talking. Four grad students from the local university were renting the house. A man with square glasses was cutting lines of MDMA on an end table. A group of people stood around him waiting. Sofia went straight for them without looking back for me. I hovered by the kitchen island and talked to a blonde man in an orange shirt, like the men with the wood chipper. He had just been in Asia. All over, he said. When I asked he said it was o-kay. He noticed that I didn’t have a drink and said I could get
Fiction one out of the fridge. His were the tall cans. Sofia came back to me with her eyes wide and kissed me on the mouth. I went outside and crouched by the garden. I tried to feel something like remorse but I was too busy playing victim. Somebody hold me, somebody touch me, somebody watch me and tell me I’m good. Shannen you would think I looked so beautiful then. I could see my reflection in a basement window. That was just before I cut my hair, when it was long. A man came and offered me a cigarette. I was uncomfortable with all of the taking. He lit it for me and hovered afterward. Sofia came out like she’d been watching from inside and asked if she could have one too. He liked us, sized us up as possibilities for later. The two of them were high and excited. I was starting to spin. Sofia handed him her purple zip-up sweater to put on. He zipped it up and hunched with neanderthal posture. No one could get over the hilarity of it. He went back inside and paced in the room, and we chased him and tried to hold him still. We took turns hugging his body close to ours and he would repeat, “No, no, no.” We loved the bit and giggled like children. When we turned our backs, he would follow us slowly. Sofia looked over her shoulder and laughed. But when we left he kept following. We were reaching the bus stop when I said, Let’s keep walking. I wasn’t as drunk as she was. I didn’t want her to know I was afraid. I would strike a match and hold it until my fingers melted if she were watching. We reached the edge of town where we could start to see the water again and we hadn’t lost him. Too scared to check if he was still in character, I grabbed Sofia’s hand and pulled her faster, pulled her all the way back to the motel. We went inside, our breath a little bit fast, and waited by the lobby door. He didn’t
Heather Dubé come. The night receptionist gave us two keys. I locked the door and undressed with the light off. I was bloated from the beer. The bed was cold and it smelled musty. I laid on my back and Sofia nestled her face into the crook of my neck. I missed you, I missed you. I should have stayed there in the glow of your laptop, on the mattress on the floor with the city noise outside. Hard to believe just yesterday I was in the bathroom, my face smothered in rose clay and Canadian willowherb. You floated in the bath, surrounded by the white ceramic, the lukewarm water. Oh Shannen, you would be so mad. You squeeze my hand so tight when others are around. You would be so mad if you knew I let her use her mouth. Anyway, I didn’t like it. She fell asleep with her clothes on and her hand cupped in my underwear. I lay still with my arm around her shoulders. I knew I wouldn’t fall asleep like that. I’ve been having the dreams about marrying you again.
Daniel L. Link The call came with the wind, light and melodic. It grew more forceful as the breeze became a swell. Ana tried to ignore it, to pretend she hadn't heard, but she was fooling herself. “Mother? Where are you going?” Felix's voice cut through the song, startling Ana. He was at the door to the cottage. She realized she was on the dock, walking toward the lake. When had she gone outside? “You know the weather in the mountains,” she said. "It can come on fast. I'm going to check the boat.” “Since when do you care about that old boat?” He was right, of course. She hadn't gone out on the lake since she'd lost Emil. She'd sworn she never would again, but here she was. “I don't want the wind to take it,” she said as she walked toward the boat. “Let me do it,” he said, pulling ahead of her. Felix was a good boy. Her youngest son, he looked after her and his sisters. He was a man now, tall and strong. She followed Felix to the end of the dock. The call was stronger there. He tightened the rope to the metal ring, smiling at her. “See? Nothing to worry about.” “Let's take her out,” Ana said. “But Mother, the wind.”
Daniel L. Link The gusts made the surface of the water ripple and roll, some spots churning as if the lake was boiling. Ana knew how dangerous it could be, and on a small craft, how easy to capsize. Still, the call tugged at her, growing louder, vibrating in her ribcage and pounding in her temples. “Don't worry,” she said. “I know this lake. It will be fine.” They paddled out into the lowering sun, looking out at the pine trees that lined the shore which glowed a verdant earlyspring green. The song pulled Ana westward. The water, though clear, was too choppy to see anything that might lie beneath. “You're not searching for the treasure, are you?” Felix's words disturbed Ana. He was not old enough to remember the last expedition to search the lake, but they all knew the rumors. The Nazis had gutted thousands of estates of their wealth, plundered museums of priceless artifacts, stolen small countries' entire reserves of gold. When they were finally forced to turn back and flee, it had all gone into the lake—as much as a thousand tons of gold and art, some said. She scowled. “I would never waste my time chasing after trinkets.” “Wouldn't you?” He said, a note of accusation in his voice. “Isn't that what happened to Grandpa? And to Emil?” “That's not it at all," she said. "During the war, they took so much from us. Father used to own a house with four rooms, and land to grow wheat and potatoes.” The astonishment on Felix's face was satisfying. A house that big would have a room for everyone. Felix wouldn't have to share
Fiction a bed with his sisters. “They say there's proof in this lake: proof of what they took from us. Just because our name is Oberlander, they took our home and killed your grandmother, and so many others. Your grandfather and your brother died looking for your birthright, Felix, not some foolish Nazi gold.” “Let's find it then,” he said. When her son spoke, the song softened. They were back on the water the next day. She knew the call had come to Felix as well. She no longer had to steer him. He navigated in silence, pulled along by a signal only they could hear. They approached the narrowest part of the lake, where the walls of the canyon above drew close, the high cliffs looming overhead and jutting out over the lake like a bridge that had long ago collapsed. The call was again pounding in her ears; she knew they were close. She looked for landmarks along the canyon on her left, rows of pines lining the edges on her right. The spot was cold, in the shadow of the canyon. She helped Felix with his tank, then took his face into her hands. “Just look around. Get a feel for it. At about twenty meters the salt is thicker, and it will be harder to dive.” “I know, Mother,” “There's a layer of logs about halfway down.” He looked annoyed, but Ana held on. “Don't go beneath that. It's too dangerous.” “Did Grandpa make it past?” She nodded. “Many times. He saw a plane down there. But
Daniel L. Link even if the song tells you to, don't go down yet. You're not ready.” He looked startled. She hadn't spoken of the song before. “They heard it too?” “We all hear it.” They dove the area for weeks, Felix pushing deeper with every dive. Ana had to remind herself to breathe while he was under. When he surfaced, she always wept with relief. It was late spring when he popped up with a triumphant grin on his face. “Mother, I think I've found it.” They had to rent a bigger boat, one with a winch. The box was too heavy to pull up any other way. Ana sat terrified at the controls until the three pulls on the line told her that her son had gotten the canvas straps around the crate. When it surfaced, Felix was sitting atop his prize, arms crossed like a superhero. The metal was almost black, but she could make out NK 28 on the side and the familiar eagle of the Wehrmacht on the lid. They took the crate back to the cottage. It took both Ana and Felix to get it inside. They opened it in her bedroom where the girls wouldn't see. Felix held his breath as she pulled off the top, the rusted hinges grinding as they moved for the first time in fifty years. She hadn't heard the song since they pulled the case from the lake, but when Ana stared down at the stacks of English Sterling banknotes, it started up again, a quiet trilling between her ears. One look at her son told her he heard it, too.
Fiction “I'm sorry, Mother.” “Don't be, my son," Ana said as the tears started to fall. "There's still time.” Her son put a consoling arm around her, but Ana shook it off. “Come now, let's take it to the shed. We'll keep searching.”
The mayor and treasurer stood hand-to-shoulder with a district schoolgirl as she cut a long blue ribbon, signifying the public library’s reopening. They crouched, nearly level with the girl, and laughed before the cameras and the noise. Twenty days later, Walt went back to work. He was seventy-eight years old and took a job at the library’s circulation desk. He had spent the past year and three weeks as a conscript at the nearby Senior Living Center. The home. He’d been ten years retired. His first day as an administrative clerk saw him approached by a younger man. The man wore a long tweed overcoat and asked him how to access the file directory on the library’s computers. To Walt, these words felt out of place, or out of order. He apologized to the man before turning to find someone who could help. “Hello?” he called into the guest washroom, standing with a foot in the doorway and another on the tile. “Hello?” someone called back. “This is Walt. I’m trying to find someone who can help me with a computer problem.” He felt a hand graze his shoulder. “Mary,” he said. “Walt, step out of the bathroom,” she said. Mary was an archivist who doubled as library manager. She was pregnant, and forty years his junior.
Les Hunt He backed out of the entryway and let the leaden door swing back to place. “Walt, what’s going on here? Do you need to sit down?” Her hand did not leave his shoulder while she spoke. That night, the tweed coat man came back, this time to return a pile of books. He wore heavy boots that made him look taller and thinner than Walt remembered. The man stood over the help desk to find Walt perched on a wheeled chair behind it. The man heaved an armful of books onto the desk before thanking him and carrying on. “Good day,” Walt said, flashing a smile. He eyed the stack of hardcovers from top to bottom and counted six in total. Carefully, he pulled one from the top with both hands. Giovanni’s Room. He placed the remaining five in the black milk crate by his feet. Opening the book, he skimmed the synopsis from the dust cover: “...a drifter who lands upon Paris to rekindle an old, unforgotten flame. Giovanni’s Room explores the contours of identity and self amid place and displacement. It is a cultural landmark for those desolate souls who yearn…” He flipped to the back. There were blank pages at the end of the book. He paused to question the utility of blankness at a story’s end. Walt tore the final page lengthwise, from edge to pale edge. He laid the yellowed page flat on the desk and began to write. He wrote steadily until the page was heavy with sunken ink.
Fiction I wish I could decide what words do and do not get spoken. What stories do and do not get told. But you already have. And you have left me powerless and weak and I am now old. Ain’t that a bite? I’m much too old to be this lost, without a second pair of waiting hands to clench. For this I have nobody to blame but you. He signed the letter under a false name and slipped it underneath the inside dust cover. He looked around for cameras or watchful eyes. At eight o’clock, he punched out and walked through the glassy atrium and into the snares of early spring in Northern Ontario. He listened to the rock salt crunch under his shoes as he stepped heel-first in the cold. He pulled himself, piece by piece, into his four-door pickup. Its green paint bubbled around the wheel wells, evidence of coming rust. It growled to a start. A few minutes passed while he sat in the driver’s seat, letting the car warm and the frost thaw from the windshield. The wipers streaked runny condensation across the glass. Dewy blues and greens marbled the sightline, resembling cheap watercolour paints or gasoline. He sat on the couch cushion that laid on top his seat. He craned his neck over the steering wheel. He pulled out of the parking space, sputtering onto the open asphalt. He crawled onto the boulevard, cautious in the dark. There was a dusting of snow on the road. His tires tread through it, tracking parallel arrows in the white.
Les Hunt The sound of music forced its way into the vehicle. It sounded digital and foreign and it made the five-seater cabin feel crowded. The tune died before he realized it was his cell phone causing the noise. He fished through his jacket pockets. Only once the phone was in his hand did he register that the car was still in motion, gliding in silence toward opposite lanes. He cranked the wheel the way alarm clocks are set, how the needle whirls round. Walt’s phone was sounding off again. He slowly rolled onto the roadside. “Hello?” It was Laura, the warden from the home. “Laura, can you give me a hand?” She sent a housekeeper, Ryan, out to search for him. He found Walt’s truck slumped halfway on the curb halfway from the home. Walt kept quiet as he shuffled into the passenger seat, freeing the space behind the wheel for the younger man. “How’re you doing there, Walt?” Two thumbs up. He drove Walt’s truck the remaining couple blocks. Walt made sure to mention that the clutch was going, and that the wheel was getting stiff, and that he ought to grip it tight. Laura called him a cab to work in the morning. Wanting a new start, he wore a blue bengaline vest and a navy bow tie. Ryan slid Walt’s socks up papery shins. He laced Walt’s shoes. He had a cheerful domesticity to his way of moving about the world which Walt admired greatly.
Fiction At work, guests were slow coming, so Walt’s day began with cleaning the bookshelves by row. He started with FICTION AA-AS. The AARONs, the ABBETTs, the ARTHURs. He used his damp cloth to wipe the cherry wood beneath each book. His knees wobbled whenever he bent down to reach the bottom ledge. Walt made it to CA-CR before noticing him. The younger man who’d asked about the computers stood at the opposite end of the shelf, browsing through books whose authors’ names were CHANDLER and CHEEVER and CHILD and CLINE. He drew from the shelf a white paperback but returned it before heading off for someplace else. Walt coolly eyed the shelves where the man had stood. He scanned for the white book and found it. Opium…COCTEAU. He dropped it in his inside vest pocket and walked back to the circulation desk. He sat down in the desk chair and threw away his now-dry cloth. He laid the book on his lap and turned to the back. He found no empty pages, though there were many with illustrations only. He tore one out and scrawled on the reverse side. Where have you left me? I’ve missed you for so long since you said you were going. I thought you meant home. You left me here to starve, didn’t you? To waste and rot until I am no more. We must keep quiet about such things because they cannot be spoken about. After all the admiration I had for you I cannot imagine it. Because it is carnal evil. Evil in its most suiting flesh. You can do better by me. You can come
Les Hunt back to me. while I still have remains for you to find and a soul for you to salvage. While I still have evidence of my existing before it Walt’s head lifted from the page. He crumpled the unfinished letter in his hand. A woman stood at the far side of the desk, her knuckles rapping on the desk. She asked where to find books on cassette. Later, Walt reopened the book to its middle. He unfurled his letter and flattened it between two pages before closing the book. He then placed it in the milk crate between his feet with some ten or twenty other books waiting to be reshelved. As the days passed the library started picking up. Each day saw more visitors than the day before, so Emily took over desk duties while Walt kept to cleaning. This tired him. Often he would ask to sit by the entrance to hand out pamphlets and talk weather or politics with anyone walking slow enough. This new position soon became permanent and with it came the regret of no longer being able to enjoy much time alone. His bathroom breaks became longer and more frequent. It was in a bathroom stall, on his fifth day of work, where he wrote his third letter on the back of a pamphlet. Me again. I’ll cut the crap. You think our friendship was disposable? And to go and blab around about that? Thats close, buddy. Right on, you. You can be such a sewer. And I’m on to it, on to you, always have. If you want to fade on out go ahead, but know I always remember these things. They stick forever, unlike forget it 66
Fiction There was little room left on the sheet, so he stopped without finishing. He folded the letter and put it inside a video gaming magazine he found on top of the photocopier. He returned it to the rack where the other issues were displayed. By the second week, most his time was spent passing out handbills informing guests of the week’s programming. He kept a wheeled cart next to his chair for guests to leave their returned books. He would flip through them on the quiet days. And on those very rare days when guests would trickle in like water from worn taps, he would stray from the page and stare through the sliding entrance doors, looking for the world and wondering what it remembered of him. On busy days he printed handbills. There were stop-limits on the number of copies that could be made at one time, so supply often ran low. Mary taught him how to create a print order on the library’s copier. He liked the machine. He found computers to defy common sense, but the copier was beige, familiar, and bowed to his touch. By his tenth day of work, the small talk about weather and politics began to wane. That day, the tweed coat man walked through the entrance doors. Walt unclenched his shoulders and extended a handbill while he composed his opening line of conversation. “Some weather.” The man gave a nod and an exhalation that stood in, Walt supposed, for laughter. He pulled a small paperback from his coat pocket and placed it on the wheeled cart beside Walt’s chair.
Les Hunt The man refused the handbill and continued on his way, while Walt, with each further step, felt of no particular use to anyone. Walt’s fourth, fifth, and sixth letters were penned on notepad tear-offs brought in from the home. One morning, Ryan gave him a stack so newly-peeled that the glue was still drying on their backs. Walt was grateful for Ryan, he felt proud of him for performing so well at his job. The fourth letter was written in the morning’s cab. Come back. At the least you must tell me where you have gone. First I didn’t bother asking or making how I felt so apparent but I am a more cynical man now as time runs thin. I am so deeply torn by the possibility of you never coming back or telling me where else to go, such has been my reliance upon you. The fifth letter was written in the guest bathroom. I want you now to be here. Without our babys. In the dark, maybe at the old ravine. Its so bright where I am these days. You would hate it. And I would crave you as I do. Your muscled arms. Those ticklish hairs on your neck, though we never touched did we. Isn’t it such a pitiful thing? That we never touched. That you never came home to find me waiting as if to say ‘what kept you’
Fiction The sixth letter was written in the evening cab, by the passing flicker of streetlights. Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s been all day u can com e home nuw its getting too late t dont keep me like this u know things are diferent now, we went our opposite ways but these things dont last do they. Funny how I drive down this road now but it is the same one we once did yet darker
too dam dark
All three letters found homes inside the dust jackets of childrenâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s novels whose authorsâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; names began with R. He took care the next day to make sure they returned to their proper shelves. It was then that Mary started checking on Walt. First at noon that day, and then twice again before close. She brushed his arm at the photocopier, chatted with him in the coffee room, and put her hand on his back at the water cooler. In the weeks that came, Mary shadowed Walt more attentively. He no longer sat by the entrance; she moved him into the main lobby, into a more open space to carry on under her watch. It became rare that she would ask Walt if he needed help. She grew into the role of Supervisor in the sense of the word that Walt once understood when he was a younger man, and he appeared no less content.
Les Hunt Why was I so naive to think that I’d let this all slide? Remember in the nursery, when you pushed me onto ice? How you laughed? I always thought that meant a little something more to you, like you were crying out for me to join you and take pleasure in the kind of boyish kicks we got back then. You may be glad to know you’ve pushed me back again, back onto that unforgiving sheet of ice where I cannot find my feet From then on, letters were written in the cover of the evening. He wrote under bedsheets, with his bowing body supported by pillows against headboard, greeted only by the outer noise of wheeled carts and walkers over carpets. Work was picking up, and Walt became increasingly tired and slow-moving at home. He rang Ryan for increasingly menial tasks. Often to heat his tea, sometimes just to talk. He felt himself retreating, a feeling that soon became immovable, fixed in place. Let me start over. I know I haven’t been very civil about any of this. I can get so emotional you know. Always such an actor. but don’t worry about me, no, I’ve come to terms with you not coming back. I just hope that wherever you are you’re happy with yourself and that you know I’m in a better place too. like today, today was fantastic. I gave up and ran. that’s right, I ran to our spot under the overpass. nobody to told me I couldn’t. because no one was there. And I screamed. and there was no one to hold me back or tell me not to. because I’m a free man. I have everything I’ve ever wanted
Fiction here. nothing keeping me from being happy like I always thought I’d be. sometimes I just wish you’d believed that it were possible. You know? well anyway I hope you take this all well. I know it can be hard to hear that others are thriving without you. but believe me, I’m thriving. this is the best I’ve ever felt. i’ve left, and like you I’m on the move. Moving on to bigger things, new places. There is still time for new beginnings, believe you me. although I wish the very best for you, I hope I never see you again. You will never be what I had hoped. You are as old as the days we spent under the sun. Those days I cannot forget so I will remember you by them, those old days, and I’ll keep them with me. so do not bother remembering me, because I’ve forgotten you already. do not speak my name because I have forgotten yours by now. do not come finding me because Ive lost you at last, and what is left is more perfect than what you ever were or could ever be On Walt’s last day of work, Mary asked him to take out a trash bag. She told him it needed to go to the dumpster out back across the lot. Tasks like these were normally reserved for the part-timers, though she and Walt were the only staff on lobby duty. Mary was fast approaching forty weeks of pregnancy. She was told not to move much, and to carry nothing, by doctor’s order. She told Walt that if he couldn’t do it he shouldn’t bother, that somebody else would be in the next morning. “No sweat.” Two thumbs up.
Les Hunt He found the bag slumped against the emergency exit doors. They were unlocked and windowless, airbrushed with symbols of little white men running someplace safe. Walt propped open the doors. He gripped the bagâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s plastic tie with both hands and pulled. Though it moved, it was hopelessly heavy. The bag, lumpy and misshapen, slid out the door and onto the salted asphalt. Walt dragged it inch by fighting inch over the rocky pavement for some time, letting the bag follow his steps as he lumbered on. He was halfway across the lot before he noticed the bag lighten. With his next step he felt it lighten more. He turned to find the bag torn and its contents spilled across the cool, wet tarmac, leaving a small trail leading to where he stood. They were books, most of them. Some magazines. Around thirty in all. They were familiar to Walt, because each of them had at one time housed his letters. Each one of them. Walt glanced down by his feet where a book lay on the ground, its white cover dampened. Turning it over, he found no letter inside. He picked up another and again found nothing. And another. There were no letters in any. They had been removed. He tried to put them back into the torn bag. He tried to carry them in his hands, in his arms. â&#x20AC;&#x153;Hello?â&#x20AC;? he called silently to anyone. He wept, he howled.
A lot of joes when they show up in the morning tie on their aprons, grab coffee, and disappear in the stockroom or down their aisles. I don’t know half their names, so I call them by their aisle, like Nails, or Chains, or Tools. They are super focused on hardware. It’s not normal. It’s good if you need a certain type of pipe clamp or tenpenny nails. Maybe a few feet of chain. But if you’re wandering around and you come down their aisle, forget it. They get super busy rearranging shelves, or they make like they’re talking on their radios. It’s like it’s painful for them to talk to customers. They don’t even say good morning. That’s not me. I say good morning and hello because I like showing up here. It beats the hell out of being home. All that happens there is Walter and the kids play on their phones until their minutes run out, and my parents lay in their room all day and stare at the TV. I patrol this place for people who need help. They’re usually cranking their necks to read the signs hanging in the rafters to see what section of the store they need. I’m scoping a guy just now and that’s exactly what he’s doing. I’m ready when he looks down. I’ve screwed a big smile on my face. My name is in huge black letters on my apron. DAWN. Right across my chest. I drew a sun rising behind the letters. Super cute. And yes, my sleeves are rolled down since Kevin told me my tattoos are unbecoming. Unbecoming. But okay. I might not look like much, and this guy will probably look right over me because I’m so short, but I know I look friendly and welcoming. The guy’s eyes fall on me and he adjusts his glasses. He might 73
Jeff Burd be a professor or something. He scopes me. I ask him what’s he looking for. He looks surprised, and this is what pisses me off about a lot of joes that work here. If they cared like I do, nobody would be surprised when they get help. Anyhow, the guy says he needs a bucket. Easy-peasy. Gotcha, I tell him. I reach my hand out to him and I really want to take his arm, but Kevin said that’s too friendly. It makes people uncomfortable. But okay. It’s like you can’t touch anybody anymore. Walter and the kids even pull away when I put my arm around them or hug them. The guy comes with me to Cleaning, and I chat him up some. How are you this morning? How’s the weather outside? You got a big project going at home? He nods his head and says he does and smiles at me. I like this guy. He’s kinda handsome. Tall like Walter, but he looks like he goes to the gym. We get to the buckets and I ask him what kind. Does he need a mop bucket with wheels? I point to a few. Does he need a garbage pail? He’s scanning the buckets. He tells me he just needs a regular bucket. I tell him we have those and take him to the end of the aisle. We have twelve quart. Eighteen quart. And they have spouts in case you’re pouring stuff. He says he needs the smaller one and reaches for the one at the top of the stack. Let me get it, I say. The stack might fall over. They stick together sometimes, I say, even though they don’t. I pull the bucket out and tell him the price. A buck ninety-seven. He says that’s fine. He holds out his hand to take it, but I tell him I’ll carry it for him. I have to go up front to the registers anyhow. He smiles, and I know he appreciates my help. Plus, this is killing time. Like a lot of time when I’d be doing other shit like sweeping. Or mopping. Or getting carts. We’re halfway up to the registers when I tell him we should
Fiction go over to Plumbing because I think they have other buckets over there. There aren’t any buckets over there, but he doesn’t know that. I know because I moved them to Cleaning last week. Single location is best, Kevin said. The guy is walking pretty fast ahead of me, but okay. I ask would you like to go over to Plumbing? He says no, but okay because I have to go up front to the registers anyhow. And I have his bucket. I look around and Nails and Chains are down their aisles looking super busy. I don’t see Tools anywhere. Or Kevin. More customers are coming in. I’m hoping a lot of them might need Dawn help.
Timothy Nautical and His Lifetime Supply of Lettuce
On the first day of 2018, Timothy Nautical won a lifetime supply of lettuce. He had put his name in the raffle a few months before as a silly joke, but had forgotten about it. The Lettuce Raffle, organized by Tatum Prince, a British entrepreneur who wanted fame and publicity, was the “raffle of the century,” according to the New York Times. The Washington Post had called the then-unknown winner a “lucky duck” and the Chicago Tribune called it “life changing.” This was why Timothy wasn’t overjoyed when he won the jackpot. He didn’t want to be the winner of a century, or a lucky duck. He didn’t want to change his life. He was happy just the way he was. He never actually thought he would win the raffle. He did not want weekly shipments of lettuce. The shipments started coming on January 5th. Romaine, iceberg, butterhead, bibb, celtuce, leaf. Timothy looked at the lettuce. It was green and round. It was mostly water, and it was boring. He didn’t know what to do with it. For the next few weeks, Timothy stockpiled the lettuce in a storage cabinet and continued on with his life. He went to work, his boring office job as boring as it always had been and always would be. He took the bus to and from work everyday, ate fast food for the majority of his meals, and went out at night 77
Jack Braun with his friends. His daily routine only differed when he went for a normal checkup at the doctor’s office. He had been having trouble urinating and was getting a crap ton of headaches. “Timothy, I’m afraid that you have stage four prostate cancer.” The doctor’s full beard was, upon closer inspection, full of poppy seeds. “I’m sorry, what?” A poppy seed fell onto the doctor’s blue and white plaid collar. “You have stage four prostate cancer. It’s hard to detect, but the x-rays I ran...” “I...is it terminal?” More and more poppy seeds started speckling the doctor’s collar as he kept talking, and there was onion on his breath. Did he eat a bagel before this? “There’s a 29% chance you make it past five months from now—” “What did you have for breakfast?” “Pardon?” “Breakfast. What did you eat?” “Timothy, I’m afraid that you’re in shock.” “What did you eat for breakfast?” “I, uh, I had a bagel. Everything. With lox and lettuce.” Lettuce. Holy shit. Timothy knew his cancer was terminal. He could feel the tumors creeping up his spine and into his brain as the doctor talked about potential side effects of shock. At this moment he
Fiction decided he was ready to die. He had lived a full life, a finished life. Timothy’s next epiphany came instantaneously. His eyes darted to the doctor, his beard, his collar, the poppy seeds. He had one thing left in the world, only one thing left unfinished: lettuce. Lots and lots of lettuce. Just a month earlier he had won a lifetime supply of lettuce, and just one minute ago he learned he only had five months left of said lifetime—he could not let this opportunity go to waste. He needed to eat a shit ton of lettuce. He needed to eat so much lettuce that his shit would turn green. He needed to eat so much lettuce that his balls would shrivel up like butterhead. He needed to eat so much lettuce that when he died in five months he would decompose at twice the rate of the average person. Timothy Nautical started his quest to eat a lifetime of lettuce in five months or less on Monday, February 5th, 2018, when the next shipment of lettuce arrived. For breakfast he ate a peanut butter and lettuce sandwich; for lunch, it was macaroni and lettuce; for dinner, it was lettuce quiche; for dessert, lettuce ice cream and lettuce pie. For a midnight snack, Timothy took one of the many heads of iceberg lettuce in his fridge and, making a bowl out of it, filled it with ketchup. He bit into it. It tasted like life. Timothy woke up the next morning and decided to eat a ball of lettuce topped with brown sugar for breakfast. He decided to talk to the lettuce as if it was his pet. “Good morning, lettuce. How are you?” And then, in a different voice, “Good, how are you?” “I feel kinda dead.”
Jack Braun “That sucks, man.” Timothy took a bite out of the lettuce. He looked at it again, and used a higher pitched voice for its narration: “Oh no! I’m dying!” “So am I. Get over it,” said Timothy to the lettuce. This is why he didn’t have any pets. He wasn’t even responsible enough to take care of a piece of lettuce without killing it. He sprinkled a shitload of brown sugar on the ball of lettuce and ripped another hunk off with his front teeth. This is some good lettuce, he thought. He ate the lettuce while watching television—the news, mostly, and some Keeping Up With the Kardashians. Timothy found it funny how, faced with death, he still enjoyed mundane things like eating lettuce for every meal and watching reality tv. He watched tv until late at night, maybe midnight, until he finally fell asleep on the couch, using his lettuce as a pillow. He woke at noon the next day, and the next, and the next, until he started sleeping in until three or four and stopped showing up to work. He grew accustomed to eating breakfast at five or six, lunch at eight thirty, and dinner at midnight. He didn’t go outside much: only when he needed to buy ketchup and other condiments, or to take the occasional stroll by the river and community garden. Three months later, on May 16th, as Timothy was taking a walk, he passed his community garden and realized just how imminent his death was. He imagined himself in the fetal position, lying amongst the tomatoes and cabbage, taking his last breath...
Fiction It is quiet. There is a tomato stem pressing into his temple, massaging him, comforting him. He breathes in, out, in, out. On the other side of his head, the side pointed towards the sky, his tumor presses against his brain, echoing and trying to break free of the constraints of his skull. It is dark out; there are stars in the sky. In his hand, he holds a piece of lettuce. Slowly, fragile and broken fingers rise from the ground and rip a piece off, bringing it to a dry mouth and dying body. Timothy eats his lettuce as he dies, drawing in the air around him like a hit from a cigarette. The ground opens up beneath him, and Timothy Nautical becomes one with the community garden. His feet turn into radishes; his dick a cucumber; his eyes grapes; his nose a carrot; his mouth a tomato. Is this a stage of prostate cancer? he wonders, dirt filling his ears, making it impossible to hear himself. A gasp brought Timothy back to the present. He didn’t want to die—he wasn’t ready to die. Maybe there was more than this. He wrapped his hands tightly around the community garden gates and wondered if there was an afterlife. He would like to believe in reincarnation, he would like to come back to life as a head of lettuce. Maybe romaine, or iceberg. Those were his two favorite kinds. He liked to make bowls out of them and fill them to the brim with balsamic vinaigrette, using a spoon to scoop the dressing out like soup. Timothy realized he had eaten lettuce for every meal for the past three months. He wondered if this was healthy, but then remembered that he was going to die. He wandered aimlessly around his apartment, most of his stuff already sold on eBay. He didn’t even remember walking
Jack Braun back to his apartment. He sat down with crossed legs on the hardwood floor and looked at the bare ceiling. He looked to his right. “Oh, hello,” he said. A ball of romaine lettuce with arms and with sunglasses on was sitting in a lotus position. “Hello,” said the lettuce with a creaking door for a voice. “Are you real?” Timothy inquired, his voice unconsciously creaking to match the lettuce’s haunting pitch. “I’m as real as you make me.” “I’m hungry,” said Timothy. He picked up the ball of lettuce and brought it to his mouth. The lettuce started screaming. “Please no, no, I have a wife! I have kids!” “I don’t care,” said Timothy, biting into the lettuce with a satisfying crunch. Its sunglasses fell to the floor; its grass green arms fell limp and hung from its lettuce body. Timothy Nautical woke with a start on his white tiled kitchen floor. There were leaves of lettuce sprawling across the floor and a full head of lettuce with one bite taken out of it next to his head. What had he become? The head of lettuce was beautiful yet unaware of its situation. It was Desdemona— and Timothy, Othello, murdering the lettuce without a second thought. Timothy’s skin was yellow with carotenodermia, and his eyes were red with insomnia. He wondered how much longer the cancer would take to kill him. He looked at the bitten head of lettuce again. It was mostly round, with a nub sticking out of it like a nose. Timothy’s bite had penetrated right through the top of the lettuce head so that its fibonacci spiral pattern was
Fiction interrupted by ripped leaves of a defenseless weed, a cheetah biting into an antelope, a bear biting off a fish’s head. Timothy felt bad for the lettuce, but he knew it hadn’t suffered. It lived a happy life, just like he had, and it was all he had left. He had no choice. It was the lettuce’s duty to help him. He grabbed the lettuce by its bottom and went to take a bite—no. He couldn’t have any more. But he was so hungry. He was craving the leafy green that had given him hope, had given him life again. He needed the lettuce. Swiftly and unconsciously, Timothy grabbed the head of lettuce, sat up, and stuffed a leaf into his mouth. He moaned. It tasted like honey, like the inside of a succulent plant, its water rolling down his chin and falling into the hand he was using to catch it. He licked his fingers. It was quick, humiliating, and over before he could even process what had happened. Yet again, he had let the lettuce take advantage of him. In a flash of anger, he ripped apart the lettuce head, its leaves spread out even more than before, and a trail of lettuce followed Timothy Nautical to his bedroom and onto his pillow as he fell asleep. At two-thirty he slowly arose, walked into the kitchen, and prepared himself a lettuce sandwich with iceberg bread and celtuce filling. While eating, he watched a spider spin a web in the corner of his room. Once the spider’s web was finished, Timothy ripped off a small piece of lettuce and stuck it right next to the black spider so it hung in its web. The spider slowly moved towards it and gripped its small legs around it. Apprehensively, it moved the lettuce towards its mouth and
Jack Braun nibbled on it before swallowing it completely. Timothy realized that this was his first social interaction in months. He didn’t care. It was a Friday; a new shipment was due to arrive at any time. He watched more TV while he waited, and waited, and waited. Nothing came. No lettuce. Fuck fuck fuck, where was it? Timothy paced anxiously back and forth, from the TV to the couch, from the couch to the TV. He decided to call the Lettuce Help Center Number on the packages he had received. “Hello?” “Hello, sir. How may I help you?” “My name is Timothy Nautical, I am the winner of the Lettuce Raffle, and no lettuce has come today.” “Oh, hi, Timothy. Congratulations! We have changed the weekly shipments to Sundays due to a small operations error.” “You mean I won’t have any lettuce until Sunday? That’s in two days!” “Yes, sir, yes it is.” Timothy slammed the phone down in a blind rage. Twenty minutes later, Timothy Nautical stood in front of a Whole Foods. His black hair was gelled back with grease and oil. He was wearing a black zip-up hoodie and oversized blue jeans with flip flops. He was about to push open the doors when they opened automatically. Fuck Whole Foods, Timothy thought. He walked inside and stood silently, staring at the fresh fruits and vegetables section. A Whole Foods employee walked up to him. “Hello, may I help you?”
Fiction Timothy stuttered for a few moments before spitting out the first thing that came into his head. “Lettuce...?” “The lettuce is in aisle two, next to the cabbages and fresh legumes.” “Lettuce,” Timothy repeated, apparently the only word he could verbalize. “Um, yes. Have a good day, sir.” Timothy hobbled over to aisle two and stared blankly at the piles and piles of lettuce. He reached out to touch one, caressing its skin like a baby’s head. He realized how much he had missed the leafy vegetable. A whimper sneaked past his lips, and he recoiled from the lettuce. How could he let the lettuce control him like this? How could he let it hurt him? How dare it? This was obviously not his fault; it was the lettuce. He picked up the head of lettuce, cradled it like a young child and threw it across the aisle. It hit a box of pasta and, acting as a domino, toppled over five more boxes. Timothy looked away quickly, stuffed ten heads of lettuce in a bag, and ran to the self checkout counter, furiously scanning one ball of lettuce after the other. Lettuce, lettuce, lettuce—each head was ten dollars but Timothy didn’t mind—and shuffled out of the store before anyone could see him chomp into one head of lettuce on his way out. His eyes were red and his pupils were dilated. As he bit into the lettuce, his migraine subsided—he didn’t even realize that it was there until after it had disappeared. Timothy lies on the dirt in the community garden. It is raining. The rain washes the dirt away, revealing mud, and Timothy
Jack Braun Nautical starts sinking into it. It feels like he is sinking into tomato soup, and he tries to scream but mud creeps into his mouth and down his throat; he swallows. He realizes that he isn’t wearing any clothes, just lying naked in the very mud he wanted to decompose in. He curls up in a ball, hoping to wake up soon before— Timothy woke up in his bed. He didn’t know what day it was. He didn’t know what time it was; the blinds were closed. The spider in the corner had long since died, and its web lay shriveled on the floor. Timothy hoped it had a good life. A tear rolled down his cheek, then another, and soon Timothy was crying a stormcloud of tears and using lettuce leaves as tissues to wipe his face. He just wanted to die already. He wanted to get it over with; he wanted to feel whole again. There was too much lettuce in the world to eat in five months; there was not enough lettuce in the world to help his pain go away. He rolled over and looked in the mirror. He stared into the mirror at Timothy Nautical, but the Timothy Nautical in the mirror was not Timothy Nautical. If lettuce was a person, the creature in the mirror would be it; eyes stark red, scraggly chest hair protruding from carotenodermic skin, water dripping from his eyes every time he blinked. Slowly, Timothy pulled himself out of his bed and hobbled over to his phone, legs shaking. His salty tears mixed in with the lettuce he was stuffing hastily in his mouth, creating an ocean scent and taste. His fingers were convulsing rapidly and uncontrollably, and his eyelids were twitching with anticipation. It took him five, maybe ten tries to get it right, but
Fiction he soon dialed the Lettuce Help Center. “Lettuce?” Timothy itched at his chest. Flakes of skin fell to the floor. “Hello, sir. What can I do to help you.” “I am Timothy Nautical,” started Timothy, “winner of the Lettuce Raffle.” “Congratulations, sir! How may I help you?” There was a long pause. Timothy kept scratching at his chest until there was a small pile of dried skin on his counter. He leaned against the cold surface, goosebumps rising on his arms and veins poking out like the veins on the head of lettuce he held. He dropped it. Slowly, carefully, Timothy Nautical uttered the words he had been wanting to say for so long: “I would like to cancel my lettuce shipments.”
(cw: describes familial abuse)
Faithful Confessions R.L. Aseret My family interfered with my vow to become a nun. I tried to kill my brother, Larry, once. Burning with righteous rage, I rammed the point of the blade into his breastbone, but produced only a drop of blood. The only other effect was a bunch of little white impact marks. They looked like tiny white Pick-up Sticks, scattered in the middle of his chest and faded rapidly. The only thing that saved him, and me, was the dullness of the blade. I guess his breastbone was stronger than the dull knife. If the knife had been sharper, his life would be over and the rest of my life would be very different. In the confessional at church, I pondered how I could explain about my brother to the enrobed, cloistered creature behind the bronze steel mesh window set into the dark wooden panel. I couldn’t explain about him any more than I could explain how my little sister Judy embodied a demon from hell. I stabbed Larry because nothing else would stop him from pounding me into the ground with his fists, smothering me with pillows or towels, or gripping my skinny neck to hold me in place while he repeatedly slammed either my head into the floor or the backdoor against my head. The priest probably wouldn’t believe how my brother treated me—my mother didn’t. The priest would never believe that my two-year-old little sister, Judy, delighted in getting me beaten. She retaliated whenever I refused to indulge her, which I usually stubbornly did. If I did anything she didn’t like, failed to grant her whims, or simply stayed away from her, she would burst into tears and point at me just as our mom or Larry entered the room, causing them to beat 91
R.L. Aseret me with any handy weapon—a broom handle, in Mom’s case, or with knees, fists, and feet in Larry’s. After all, I must have done something awful to Judy to make her sob like that, right? When we were alone, Judy would smirk and laugh about how any time she could get the others to beat me. She would threaten to make them beat me again unless I did everything she wanted, like play dolls or games or bring her candy. When I went to confession, I had trouble coming up with sins to tell. It might be a sin to pretend not to pay attention to trick the teacher into calling on me. A lie of omission, according to the Mother Superior, equaled a lie of commission. Perhaps I should I confess that to the Father. I could never say that I wanted to kill my brother sometimes, and my little sister, too. I could not hope for forgiveness even in the privacy of the confessional. I knew my soul would not be washed clean no matter how much penance I did. If ever driven to commit the unspeakable, it would be better to have it look like an accident. It looked like an accident when I was two years old and my mom put a bottle of Drano on a low table before she left the room to answer the phone. At the hospital, when the doctor asked my mom why she mixed water with the crystals of caustic lye in a Coke bottle, she said it was the only bottle she had available. I wondered why she had the bottle in the living room. My mom did not tell the doctor what she later said many times as she recounted the story throughout the years, that when I was two years old my favorite drink was Coke. Spitting out the Drano saved me, that and my congenitally thickened esophagus. According to other stories my mother often told, more than one “accident” occurred the year I was two. We lived on the top floor of a two-story apartment building. The white stone stairs
Creative Non-Fiction went straight up without a landing. Standing at the top, she called me to come upstairs, holding out my favorite candy, a Tootsie Roll pop. With each step higher than my knees, I climbed those stairs all the way to the top to get that candy. Reaching up to grab the lollipop, I lost my balance and tumbled backwards all the way down the stone stairs to the concrete sidewalk, cracking open my skull. My mother often insisted she could see my brain and had to hold my skull together on the way to the hospital. Recently, my mother claimed she does not remember anything like that ever happening. My brother said he did not remember ever hitting me, but he cried and said he was sorry for hurting me. Judy dropped by unexpectedly and breezily announced that she was sorry for anything that she ever did that bothered me. I asked if she could be more specific. She left without saying anything else. A fissure still zigzags across my skull to the scar. Scars remain around my mouth and nose. Only I kept going to church, so the rest of my family never had to confess.
Djukim Imola Zsitva
They ran across my back, the two of them, as I slept. I knew what they were even before I turned on the light and shuddered at the thought of their ghastly white legs coming in contact with my bare skin. “Djuk!” I shrieked and jumped up, waking up my brother. “Ma kara?” What’s happened, he asked. We were speaking in Hebrew. “Djuk!” I repeated, as if it were somehow his fault, turning on the lights and pointing at the pair of cockroaches perching on the wall above my bed. Djuk was the first word we learned in Hebrew upon our arrival in Lod, two years before. It was the first thing to greet us in Israel, turned onto its back on the kitchen floor, flapping its white legs frantically. My brother and I had stood above it, riveted, watching its every move. We had never seen anything like it. A shiny, dark brown thing, with a small head, flat body and long, flexible antennae. It was disgusting, sure, but there was something admirable, if not loveable about it: the way it seemed content to bathe in the light. “Fasza,” Cool, my brother remarked in Hungarian. At that point, we still believed that we were on our ‘Easter vacation.' We were ‘going to see some palm trees,’ my mother had promised, and then return home. But things rarely turn out the way adults promise, we would soon discover. The place mum called a ‘hotel’ was in fact a Maon Olim, a dwelling for immigrants, for Jews wishing to exercise their ‘right of return’ to the holy land and 95
Imola Zsitva become full-fledged Israeli citizens. We were supposed to be Jewish too, except we were not. But that is something we learned only nine years later when my grandfather produced our baptism certificates. I was nine when we landed in Lod, and my brother, seven. “DJUK,” a man’s voice boomed from behind us. He’d introduced himself as Avi. He was our mother's Hebrew tutor. We later renamed him 'the man with the dandruff, or nits' since we could never tell which. He pushed us aside, and without further ado, squashed the djuk with his hiking sandals. The crushing sound of our first Israeli buddy meeting its death mortified us. Avi roared with laughter. “Dead djuk,” he declared in a blend of English and Hebrew, languages as foreign to us as the djuk itself. “Koos emek,” my brother swore at the cockroaches in Hebrew. They deserved to die. We had seen enough of them by now to know better. They were pests of the ugliest kind, and this was our home (even if mum frequently reminded us that it was “an office first, home second”). This twenty-three square meters ground floor office/home in central Tel Aviv was all we had when we were not at school or climbing trees. “I’ll get the spray!” said my brother as he sprung out of bed. “No! Mum said it stank too much. She said to use a shoe.” “Why don’t you go and get one then?” He had a point. I stepped off the bed hesitantly, as if I was about to dip my toe into some dangerous waters where ravenous sharks were waiting to chomp bits of my body. It was only fair that the shoe should be hers. I chose her favourite black pair and handed it to my brother. He raised the shoe in the air and was about to strike when I noticed another roach running across mum’s drafting table and snaking
Creative Non-Fiction its way between the pencils. “There’s another!” I cried out, startling my brother, who had, thanks to me, missed his shot. “Quick!” I bossed him around as usual. “You have to act quick, or they’ll escape!” “Why don’t you try then? You’re older.” “Yes, but you are the one with the Judo black belt,” I countered. “Yellow,” he said. “Doesn’t matter. You are better at this,” I said. It was the right thing to say because my brother’s second attempt was an astounding success. Not only was the djuk completely flattened, but it happened to meet its death right on Barbra Streisand’s nose. Mum loved Barbra. Her picture was the first to go up on our wall; the Israeli flag was second. Serves her right, I thought, for all the bloody memories I had to endure. On the rare occasion my mother was at home, Barbra was there too, singing in the background “let the memory live again,” as if there were any memories worth reliving. “Isn’t she beautiful?” my mother would say, but I don’t think she cared much for my opinion. If I didn’t like the rules of her house, she reminded me, I was welcome to leave and find myself another mother. Or ask my father to raise me. Everything my mother liked, I hated: Barbra Streisand, The Beatles, Kate Bush, Leonard Cohen, Woody Allen, Shimon Peres, Feminism, Zvi Hecker, Bauhaus, Chagall, Oriana Fallaci (whoever she was), tuna, olives, honey, Camembert cheese, avocadoes (especially avocado soup), Shabbat, Passover, matzo, and Rosh Hashanah. My sense of triumph, however, was short lived. I spotted another roach darting across the floor towards the bathroom, and another happy pair dallying on the kitchen window.
Imola Zsitva “There are just too many of them!” I burst into tears. “Let’s go get mum.” “But where?” My brother shrugged. “At the restaurant?” “I don’t think she’s working tonight.” “It’s worth a shot.” He put down the shoe. Shoshanna’s Real Hungarian Blintzes was one of the hottest restaurants in Tel Aviv. Shoshanna was a Hungarian immigrant like us, who believed that blintzes were a Hungarian invention and not a French one. She liked to debate this point, always politely, with her French customers. We loved Shoshanna. She was our Hungarian safta, grandma. Our mother, however, was not at the restaurant, and Shoshanna didn’t know where she was. “Would you like me to take you home?” she offered. “We’re closing in just a few minutes.” I glanced at my blue Benetton watch. It was already one thirty in the morning. “No, it’s okay. We will manage.” “Anyone you would like me to call?” Call who? I thought. Who was mum’s boyfriend of the moment? Was it the hairy, fat one, or the skinny, curly-haired guy who forgot to bring her flowers? Besides, we didn’t have their phone numbers. We were home alone fighting an army of cockroaches with a shoe, while she was with God-only-knowswho doing disgusting things. My eyes welled with tears. I blinked them away before Shoshanna would notice. I shook my head ‘no’ and took my brother’s hand. “Would you like some blintzes?” I was salivating at the thought of warm, sweet blintzes, but mum had taught us that it was ‘good manners’ to decline food no matter how hungry you were. “No, thank you. I’m not hungry.”
Creative Non-Fiction “For later then? We can have it packed.” Shoshanna smiled. “Chestnut, was it? Your favourite?” “Hers is chestnut, mine is walnut!” my brother interjected. “One chestnut blintzes, and one walnut,” she ordered the waiter and winked. “I hear cockroaches are afraid of loud music.” “What kind of loud music?” I was intrigued. “Any kind. As long as it’s loud.” It sounded simple enough. Armed with Shoshanna’s ingenious advice and the best Hungarian blintzes in our belly, we were ready for round two. Those manyaks, they were gonna get it good. “Our neighbours will kill us. It’s two o’clock in the morning.” I hesitated as my brother loaded the cassette into the tape recorder. “Who cares? They wouldn’t even let you use the roof for your birthday party, remember?” He pressed ‘play’ and after the dramatic drumming, Samantha Fox began to moan: Ooh, Touch me, touch me, I want to feel your body… This is the night, she cheered us on. This is the time, It was our time. We’ve got to get it right. We had to get it right. No djuk was going to take over our home. We ran out quick and locked the door behind us, leaving Samantha Fox the exterminator to take care of our problem. “Flying?” My brother put his arm around my shoulder, and I was happy to comply. What adults would belittle as ‘skipping,’ my brother and I called flying. Arm-in-arm we could reach unimaginable heights. And we had Tel Aviv’s busiest streets all to ourselves! We flew down Natan HaHaham street to Ben Yehuda, then Gordon, all the way to HaYarkon and Gordon Beach. The beach at this opportune hour was deserted, and the comfy beach chairs that we had always envied from those rich manyaks were ours for the taking. We collapsed onto the damp
Imola Zsitva sand in convulsive giggles, laughing about something we had already forgotten. Life was good. We dragged two of the beach chairs to the edge of the sea and sprawled out, pretending to be important people. My brother was Moshe Dayan and I was Golda Meir. We were miming smoking like true experts, though we had never gone near a real cigarette. We watched the coal black sea in front of us in self-important recompense. It belonged to us, and us only. I loved this sea, even if “it wasn’t the most beautiful sea in the world,” as my father had pointed out on his fleeting visit. He’d said he couldn’t just “kidnap us back” to Communist Hungary, as we had repeatedly pleaded him to. All he could do was sneer at the sea—the sea of a country which my mother chose, which he had no say in. I loved the sea dearly despite being stung numerous times by mean-spirited jellyfish. And I loved even more what lay beyond its pitch-dark horizon: a promise of something new and better, waiting to be explored. “Sorella,” sister, my brother called me by my Italian nickname, knowing how much I hated the Hebrew name that mum had given me. “Si, fratello,” I replied in my flamboyant Italian accent, though ‘yes’ and ‘brother’ were two of the dozen words I knew in my favourite language. “You must admit it’s pretty awesome.” “Si. Si. It’s not bad. Molto bene.” I attempted to gesticulate like a true Italian. “I just wish…” “What?” “Wouldn’t you love to be able to fly, or walk on water, or at least own a magic carpet that could take you anywhere in the world?” “You’re crazy!”
Creative Non-Fiction “So are you! We come from the same parents!” I took another exaggerated inhale of my pretend cigarette. “Where would you go?” “Anywhere. Italy maybe.” “Why Italy?” “Why not? It’s sunny, it has the most beautiful language in the world, and you don’t have to join any army.” “What about the Mafia?” “What about it?” “I hear they do some crazy shit.” “Crazier shit than what goes on here? I don’t hear about people blowing up on buses in Italy, or soldiers dying.” “I’m sure people die there too.” “Not like here, they don’t. I mean, have you thought about it? You could actually die, fighting for this stupid country.” My brother was silent. The army was in the cards, we both knew it, but it was nine years away for my brother, and seven years away for me. “Well, let me tell you, if anything happens to you… as much as a teeny-weeny scratch, I’ll be using my Uzi on mum.” “Really? Would you do that for me?” “Of course I would. It’s her fault that we’re here. I never asked to see any palm trees.” “They suck.” “Big time.” I took another drag of my mimed cigarette. “Sorella?” “Si?” “I’m sorry for pulling your hair.” His sincerity made me uncomfortable. We had been sworn enemies until now, pulling whatever we could grab: Him—my hair, I—his ears. “That’s okay. It has grown back.” I wasn’t quite ready to
Imola Zsitva apologize for being mean to him in my own creative ways. “Do you think they are dead by now?” “Who?” “The djukim.” “Dead, I doubt it. Gone, I hope.” “Should we go home and spray the hell out of them then?” “No. Let mum worry.” We smiled and burst into giggles, the crushing waves of the Mediterranean slowly lulling us to sleep on the beach chairs.
Lost and Found
When I was five years old, I simulated a missing-personscenario. If you'd asked the younger me: “why would you do such a thing?” I would have lied adamantly. I would have said: “I was stuck under my mother’s bed, trying to grab my flourescent green tennis ball.” It all started on a chilly, wintry night. My mom was making spaghetti in the kitchen and my brother was playing video games on the living room couch. That day, I remember feeling so lonely that I resorted to playing with a tennis ball all by myself. I walked down the hallway and threw the ball towards the ground over and over again. The bounce reminded me of the elasticity of a trampoline. Suddenly, the toy rolled into my mom’s bedroom. I slowly entered the room, grabbed my ball, then, for some reason, quickly hid under the bed, careful to avoid cracking the floor tiles. I felt a sense of intimacy and a shiver as my bare skin touched the cold, wooden floor. After twenty minutes, my mom started calling me. “Minnie, supper is on the table. I’m going to bed. Mina?” When I did not answer, she repeated. I was silent. Ignore her. Don’t say anything, I thought. She then started yelling my name, but I was nowhere to be found. “Mina! Where are you!” I’m not here. I’m not here, I kept thinking. The room was soon flooded with the smell of tomato sauce. My stomach growled. Then, I heard my mom calling my brother 103
Mina Mazumder to help her look for me. Thirty minutes had passed, and I still did not answer. They kept yelling my name. I heard the floor tiles crack as their footsteps walked all over the apartment. Soon after, I heard my mom’s voice at a distance. “Did she leave home?” she said, frantically. I don't know why, but I enjoyed this experience. I wondered how long I could go on without facing serious consequences. Deep down, I knew that what I was doing was not only for attention. I wanted to be seen. I wanted to feel that my existence mattered to the small world around me. After forty minutes, I heard my mom crying and my brother’s voice. “Should we call the police?” he said, trying to calm her. I felt a sudden heat of anxiety taking over my body. My mind told me that I was doing something wrong. Out of guilt, I closed my eyes, and all the world was black. At that moment, I heard someone running to the kitchen and someone else entering the bedroom that I was in. When I opened my eyes and turned my head to the left, I saw my brother’s eyes looking back at me. You found me! Finally! Call mom. Tell her I’m in here. I hope she gives me a hug. I hope she realizes that all I wanted was for her to spend time with me, I thought with glee. “She’s in here!” he yelled. My mother barged into the room and grabbed me out of that tight space. Her eyes were bloodshot with tears. “Why didn’t you say anything!” she screamed. To this, I did not utter a single sound. I was empty and wordless. When I think back to that day, I realize why I did what I did.
Creative Non-Fiction I sought reassurance, which I got when my mom and brother finally discovered me. It was as if they found the missing piece of a puzzle. After that day, my mom began spending more time with me, though I sometimes still feel the distance and loneliness that I felt before they caught me. Nevertheless, I was desperately searching for signs of loveâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;and on that night, under my motherâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s cold bed, I found it.
My younger sister and I shared an upstairs bedroom with matching twin beds and between them a bureau that held aloft a Virgin Mary, one of our mother’s prized possessions. As newlyweds, she and our father brought the plaster statue with them on the ship from Germany, packed inside a barrel among goose-down comforters and pillows, baking pans and black iron pots, a bread slicer with a jagged circular blade. In the suburbs of Reading, Pennsylvania, we kneeled on shag carpet to say our bedtime prayers. Hands clasped at our small chests, we looked up at Mary while our mother watched. With painted blue eyes and silent nod Mary returned our gaze, half-raising her arms in blessing. We wore Snoopy pajamas and our short hair in bangs. Mary’s wavy tresses slithered from beneath her long white veil. Cinched at the neck, her blue cloak parted to reveal a gown like vanilla drapes. Peeking out at the hemline, Mary’s toes long as fingers squashed a silver serpent, eyes popping, jaws agape, pink ribbon tongue split at the tip. With sweetness and poise and no hint of fear she crushed the monster Evil and I believed that she protected us. When we moved away from home, Mary stayed with our mother who said the Rosary alone till we came back to pray with her when she was dying. Before her body was laid in the coffin, I pressed my mother’s yellowed hands together, winding the shiny black beads around them just as she had asked me to. Twenty years after our mother’s death, Mary reappears when we’re sifting the last of our parents’ things, lobbing into a rented dumpster what’s left after yard sale and donations. I take Mary in my arms—she’s the little one now—and strap her upright on the 107
Sylvia Sukop front passenger seat. At the office supply superstore, I spring for the expensive packing material and prepare her for the journey west in one of seven numbered boxes. Under fluorescent lights, Mary lies on the laminate counter, her expression changeless, same for the choking snake. I consider faith’s failures and resolve that evidence of its existence is worth keeping. The next day I fly home to California and when the shipment arrives a week later, Mary’s is the first box I open. She crowns through the bubble wrap and styrofoam peanuts and I can see she’s made it, hair, eyes, shoulders, hands—then suddenly further down my fingers meet the sharp edge of cracked plaster. Lifting the statue fully out of the box, I find a fat chunk of the cloak is gone, broken despite my best efforts. I gather the fragments, place them in a miniature pail at her feet, an uneasy offering for our uncertain troth, and in any case stowed in a corner of the closet.
Contributors R. L. Aseret earned an MFA in Creative Writing and is constantly in the middle of a book, journal, and an issue of New Yorker magazineâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;believing daily reading (& writing) necessary for survival. She has published a few fiction and nonfiction pieces, but has not submitted nearly enough.
Matthew James Babcock: Professor. Writer. Failed breakdancer. Books: Points of Reference (Folded Word), Strange Terrain (Mad Hat), and Heterodoxologies (Educe Press). Debut fiction collection, Future Perfect, forthcoming from Ferry Street Books (2018). Has also donated unicycles to the less fortunate.
Manahil Bandukwala is an artist and writer currently living in Ottawa. An editor for In/Words Magazine, she organizes the monthly reading series and open mic. Her work has appeared in Bywords, In/Words, the Ottawa Arts Review, where is the river, and re:asian, among others.
Josephine Blair is a Miami-based writer and activist. She is the girl wishing for snow and reading dystopian fiction on the Surfside beach. Her poetry can be found in Meniscus Literary Journal, Twyckenham Notes, and elsewhere.
Jack Braun is a sixteen year old, aspiring writer from New York City. He enjoys writing mostly about things that would never happen to him but still would be found enjoyable and (even slightly) realistic. He also enjoys drawing people and planets and other space related objects, for which he has a small business devoted to. He is looking to get recognized more in the writing world!
Jeff Burd is a graduate of the Northwestern University writing program, and was recently announced as a winner of the George Dila Memorial Flash Fiction Contest. His writing has appeared in Third Wednesday, Dislocate, Imitation Fruit, Mount Hope, The Baseball Research Journal, and Flash: The International Short-short Story Magazine. He works as a Reading Specialist at Zion-Benton
Soliloquies Anthology Matteo Ciambella studies English at Concordia University. His poetry and short fiction have also appeared on The Void and Headlight Anthology.
Jeni De La O is a storyteller and poet from South Florida. She lives in Detroit, where she writes poetry and short stories about warm waters and personal catastrophe. Her work has appeared in the York Literary Review, Oakland Journal, Five:2:One Literary Magazine, Rockvale Review, Rigorous Magazine and other places.
Oonagh C. Doherty has published prose in 34th Parallel, The
Connecticut Review, Evening Street Press, Common Ground Review, Epiphany and others; and published poetry in Margie – The American Journal of Poetry, Homestead Review, The Midwest Quarterly and The William, Mary Review and others. She been nominated for the Pushcart Prize twice, once for prose, once for poetry. Her book During the Truce, a memoir of Bogota Colombia during the mid 1980s was published by Levellers Press in October of 2015.
Nikki Donadio is a graduate of the Humber College for Writers and holds degrees in English and Adult Education. She is currently an MA candidate in Creative Writing at the University of Gloucestershire.
Heather Dubé is a writer and wine-drinker living in Montreal. talah e is a syrian artist. their works focus on their identities and struggles as a syrian in exile from a homeland under destruction.
Rebecca Ruth Gould’s poems have appeared in Nimrod, Kenyon Review, Tin House, The Hudson Review, Salt Hill, and The Atlantic Review. She also translates from Persian, Russian, and Georgian and has published After Tomorrow the Days Disappear: Ghazals and Other Poems of Hasan Sijzi of Delhi (Northwestern University Press, World Classics series).
Mick Hennessy is about to finish her (6 year) undergrad in Creative Writing and Sexuality Studies. Last year, she received the Irving Layton Award for Poetry which she wishes were named after someone else.
Contributors Les Hunt is a Toronto-based writer who received a Master of Arts degree from Dalhousie University in 2017. He has bad taste in art, and thinks that the designation "Master of Arts" was a poor choice of words. He now writes copy for such products as cat litter scoops and silicone door mats, for which he is paid in table scraps.
Sneha Subramanian Kanta was awarded the prestigious GREAT scholarship, and has a second postgraduate degree in literature from England. She is the cofounder of Parentheses Journal, a literary initiative that straddles hybrid identities across coasts and climes. Her work is forthcoming in VIATOR project, Cold Creek Review, figroot press and elsewhere.
Hannah Josepha Karpinski is one of the Editors-in-Chief of Yiara Magazine. Her work has appeared in publications like Subversions: A Journal of Feminist Queries and The Void, and she has performed her poetry for Metatron. A couple of her favourite word pairs are “glass jacket” and “wet lettuce.” She is currently working on a series called Beach People by exhuming her memory landscape; the forthcoming collection is simultaneously a sort of scrutiny of and a love letter to the neighbourhood where Hannah grew up, the Toronto Beaches.
Daniel L. Link lives in Northern California where he writes short stories, novels, and flash fiction. He's an assistant editor of the Gold Man Review. His work has been featured in ALM Magazine, the HCE Review, the Lowestoft Chronicle, the Eastern Iowa Review, the Penmen Review, Ariel Chart, and RavensPerch.
Ilona Martonfi is the author of three poetry books: Blue Poppy
(Coracle, 2009), Black Grass (Broken Rules, 2012), and The Snow Kimono (Inanna, 2015). She writes in chapbooks, Canadian Woman Studies, carte blanche, Vallum, Soliloquies, Fiddlehead, and elsewhere. She is the Artistic Director of The Yellow Door and Visual Arts Centre Readings. Ilona received the QWF Community Award in 2010.
Mina Mazumder is putting the finishing touches to her bachelor’s degree in English Literature with a minor in Professional Writing. She is attracted to literature revolving around gender and sexuality, fantasy,
Soliloquies Anthology psychological thriller, gothic horror, short fiction, and autobiography. Mina hopes to one day use her writing to heal others and make a significant impact in the world.
Adelaide Potter is a Montreal-based poet who has spent much of her life moving around the globe. While traveling the world, she has absorbed different experiences, which have shaped her confessional poetry. Now, she studies Creative Writing at Concordia University, attempting to hone her skill.
Sam Silva is a relatively well-known poet living in Fayetteville, NC. He has early chapbooks catalogued at many major universities and has full length collections of poetry available at many online bookstores.
Sylvia Sukop is a 2018 MFA candidate at Washington University in St. Louis, and a recipient of fellowships including PEN Emerging Voices, Lambda Emerging Writers, and a Fulbright to Germany. A finalist in The Southeast Review's 2017 Narrative Nonfiction Contest, she has an essay in their current issue 36.1. Previous essays have been published in Creative Nonfiction (2017), the Lambda Literary anthology Emerge (2016), the Heyday anthology LAtitudes: An Angeleno's Atlas (2015), and the PEN anthology Strange Cargo (2010).
Nicky Tee is a writer in Montreal. His poems have appeared in Bad
Nudes Issue 2.3, Soliloquies Anthology 21.2 and Half A Grapefruit Magazine in Toronto.
Dirk Termagant wandered far from home. Trapped in a vortex somewhere in Mile Ex, they have turned to writing poetry as a coping mechanism. Over a nice cup of tea, they will happily bother you about their homemade preserves and the sorry state of Crystal Palace football.
Jasmine Throckmorton was born and raised on a small farm and riding stable in Colorado. She received a bachelorâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s degree from the University of Chicago in both English Literature and Fundamentals, and is currently pursuing a Masters in Creative Writing at University College Cork in Ireland. She is attending UCC on a Fulbright fellowship.
Contributors Ally Turner goes to Concordia and you can usually find her listening to Terence McKenna in the JMSB building. Her work appears in Bad Nudes, The Void, and The City Series: 6.
Sabrina White is a Toronto-born, Montreal-based writer. She is in her fourth year at Concordia University. She studies creative writing and history and would really love to tell you about Peter the Great.
Aye Wollam was born and raised in Burma, and now lives in St. Louis, Missouri, where she makes her living as a genomic researcher and connects to her roots through poetry.
Imola Zsitva is a playwright, mother, yoga teacher and interpreter who is currently working on her first novel. She was born in Budapest, grew up in a kibbutz, and lived in London, New York, Madrid and New Zealand, before meeting her Canadian husband in India. A geek at heart, she loves to study, especially languages. She speaks five (imperfectly...) and can't help incorporating them into her writing.